Sunday, 17 September 2017

DO YOU REALIZE? by Kevin Kuhn

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.

This is a most unusual and interesting novel, categorised on Amazon under 'metaphysical and visionary', and 'time travel'.

George is your average American middle-aged husband and father, unstimulated by his job, with a marriage that's lost its joy and the usual teenage children angst.  On his morning journeys to work he gets to know the curious Shiloh, who philosophises about life, the universe and everything, and asks him to beta test a new app for an Apple watch.  There is, of course, more to both Shiloh and the app than meet the eye.

Meanwhile, back in his normal life, George struggles with family problems ~ his daughter has a bad car accident, his son is being difficult and secretive, and his job is giving him headaches.  Soon, he realises that Shiloh and his mysterious app are giving him a completely different perspective on life, introducing him to the idea of parallel universes.

I loved the first half of this book.  I really like the author's writing style; George and his family are very real, and the narrative is darkly comic, interesting and highly readable, with lots of popular cultural references; I liked that each chapter has the name of a song.  I also loved the philosophy, ideas and views of Shiloh, many of which echoed my own, though this was not the only reason I was toying with 5* for the book at this stage.  I read the first 50% almost in one go.

The quality of the writing does not falter throughout, but at around 60% my attention started to waver.  Story threads that seemed interesting were quickly resolved and everything was hunky dory in George's world for quite a while - nice for George, and, indeed, this served a purpose for the outcome of the story, but it was not that interesting to read about.  Without giving too much in the way of spoilers, the app means that George relives days in his past life.  He also has vivid dreams.  I thought the dream sequences were far too long, slowing the progress of the story down, and the relived days from the past could have been written more succinctly, especially when a day was lived more than once.  Also, Shiloh's long explanations became longer (or maybe it was just me), and I thought there was too much explanatory dialogue, generally.

In the second half is a tragic episode which I thought was well done; all the threads lead to the outcome, as Shiloh reveals his purpose; sadly, by the end I felt less involved with the story.  The whole idea is a terrific one, and Mr Kuhn clearly has much talent, but I felt that the second half was written less with the reader in mind than the first. 

My overall rating is based on the fact that I'd give the first half 5* and the second half 3*.  It's a good book, and readers who are particularly interested in the metaphysical and visionary will probably enjoy it very much indeed.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

PLEASING MR PEPYS by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

5 out of 5 stars

*Released on Sept 28, available for pre-order*  
On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: The author has been a great favourite of mine ever since I discovered her books on her history blog, via her Twitter page.  I was sent an ARC, but would have bought it anyway!

Set in 17th century London, the two main character points of view in this excellent novel are Deborah Willet, a young girl who goes to work as a lady's companion for the wife of Samuel Pepys, and Abigail Williams, an actress and mistress of a lord, who has a tragic past and a dangerous present, working as a spy for the Dutch.  Deb unwittingly gets more involved with Abigail than she intends, and before long finds herself a part of a terrifyingly dark world.
Samuel Pepys

It is clear, all the way through, that Ms Swift's knowledge of 17th Century London is extensive; I particularly enjoyed this rare look at how life was for Londoners, post plague, Civil War and, of course, the Great Fire.  The depiction of the dark alleyways, filthy lodgings, women of the night and the poor, unpaid sailors was so good I could see it all.  Abigail Williams, though a 'baddie', is written in such a way that I liked and felt sympathy for her, and, indeed, for all the women, simply because of the social restrictions of the time.

The plot itself is cleverly executed, building up pace gradually; by half way through the book I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, so eager was I to find out what happened.  This novel works well on so many levels: as a thrilling tale of espionage, as a peep into the world of 350 years ago, as an historical education and also a love story, that of Deb Willet and the delightful curate, Jeremiah Wells.

The Author's Notes at the end of the book were quite a revelation, as I discovered I'd been reading more of a true story that I'd thought; I deliberately left them to the end.  Pleasing Mr Pepys is one of those pieces of historical fact/fiction that makes you want to find out even more. :)

If you're as fascinated by this period of history as I am, you might like this 'fly through' of 17th Century London (pre-Great Fire), which I have looked at several times, and gave me an even better idea of what the capital was like in those days.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

PARALLEL LIES by Georgia Rose @GeorgiaRoseBook #NewRelease

4 out of 5 stars

*New Release*

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads


‘My name is Madeleine, Madeleine Ross. It is a name chosen with thought and because it is classy, and that is what is needed here…’

Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it.
Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job.
Company… when she wants it.

It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers.

But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets.

And they never stay buried for ever.

Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him.

Or her past.

Here he is, on her doorstep, with a proposition she is powerless to resist but which could devastate the future she hoped to have.

Can Madeleine satisfy the old love while keeping the new?

You can’t always get what you want but, desperate to preserve the life she has worked so hard for, Madeleine is willing to risk everything to prove that she can.

My Review

How I discovered this book: I've got to know the author via the Twitter writers community, and was interested to read her new release ~ here she is on Twitter.

Parallel Lies falls in the genres of mystery and romantic suspense.  The main character is Madeleine Ross, who lives in one of those BBC Sunday night drama type villages, where she fits in very well ... or so it seems.  Right from the start, we realise that there is more to her than meets the eye, that she has big secrets about her identity.  She's an interesting though not a particularly likeable character, often cold, cynical and critical, which was a plus point for me; I admire any author who has the confidence to make her main character someone the reader will not necessarily warm to, and I enjoyed her astute observations about the pretensions and social hierarchy of the villagers.  

Because of the shocking and traumatic events in Maddy's past, she holds people at a distance.  She does not form romantic attachments but finds partners for emotionless sex amongst regulars at her local gym; one can only imagine the conversations in the men's changing rooms. Then again, part of her charm is that she cares little for what people think, or so she would have us believe; that she tries to convince us of this speaks otherwise.  And then the man appears who will turn her heart on its head....

I gave a big round of applause for the way in which the mystery unfolds; the information is fed to the reader at the right time, in exactly the right amounts, to hold the reader's interest and make them wonder what's round the next corner.  Just when Madeleine's new life seems to be on the up, a love from her past arrives. He knows everything about her and threatens to insert a particularly malicious set of spanners into the works.

There were some elements about the novel that stretched feasibility for me, but, of course, disbelief suspension ceilings vary from person to person, and mine is probably lower than most.  Recommended readers: anyone who likes an artfully unravelling mystery, heists, plenty of love life shenanigans and a fair few unexpected turns of event.  

About the author

Georgia Rose is a writer and the author of the romantic and suspenseful Grayson Trilogy books: A Single Step, Before the Dawn and Thicker than Water. Her fourth novel, Parallel Lies, encompasses crime along with her usual blending of genre.

Georgia has never found a TV series to beat her all-time favourite, ER, and nowadays only Game of Thrones or Ray Donovan stand any chance of keep her attention for any period of time. Her background in countryside living, riding, instructing and working with horses has provided the knowledge needed for some of her storylines; the others are a product of her passion for people watching and her overactive imagination!

Sunday, 10 September 2017


5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  I had previously read The Last Detective by this author, and very much liked his writing style.

Brendan Meeks is schizophrenic.  He thinks his head contains an important, secret code, and that mysterious men in dark suits are trying to get inside his brain.  He comes from an affluent, middle class, dysfunctional family; his mother is cold and aspirational, his father a weak shadow, but his sister is the one light in his life.  Brendan lives in a run down apartment block, where his friends are a druggie, a drunkard and a dealer, but they've become his new family.

When tragedy strikes, Brendan is sure that the police are not doing enough to solve the crime, and takes on his own investigation.  Trouble is, he is unable to tell what is truth and what is just the voices in his head...

'My voices commanded me to do awful things, like jump off a bridge or slit my throat or step out into traffic.  They never told me to do anything useful or productive, like, 'Eat more vegetables' or 'Don't forget to floss'.'

I read this book over just two days, it's very good indeed.  Brendan is likeable and totally believable, and every character, even the minor ones, shine out.  Mr Cohn's writing style is intelligent, incisive, and subtly amusing, which is just right for this unusual and highly original story.  Cliché alert: I couldn't put it down!

Brendan makes some excellent observations:

About a DEA officer ~ 'His voice was low and soft, with a backwoods Louisiana accent, Cajun and Creole and jambalaya all mixed together.  I envisioned him living in a house on stilts, driving a fan boat and wrestling alligators in his spare time.  He probably put Tabasco sauce in his coffee'.

About a dealer: '...a pudgy white guy with short blond hair ... he looked like a bloated Eminem, and I wondered if he had eaten the rapper and taken on some of his persona in the process'.

The plot itself is interesting, some of it almost black humour, but it's tragic, too, and I had no idea what the outcome would be.  When it came, it wrapped all the threads up nicely, and gave me hope for Brendan too.  I don't throw 5* around but this book definitely deserves it.  The author has masses of genuine talent, the sort you can't learn, or fake with 'by-numbers' plots.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

CONDEMNED: An Overview of Exection Methods Throughout History by Darcia Helle @DarciaHelle

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read about it on Maria Savva's blog post about new self-published releases.  I've read a novel by Darcia Helle that I liked very much; here is my review for Killing Instinct.

This is a novella length book, and quite a grisly read, as you can probably imagine.  It starts with methods of execution from early history, then moves on to the invention of the guillotine, the electric chair and the lethal injection.  Fascinating stuff.  Darcia Helle has quoted passages from others, and used information from the medical records of some more recent executions.

The book is very well put together and researched, and includes personal detail of both victims and the people who invented these instruments of death.  Because of its length it is obviously not an in-depth study, but Ms Helle puts the information over clearly and concisely, and I discovered much I didn't know, most of which made quite difficult reading; suffice to say that if you'd ever thought that lethal injection was a humane method, think again.

At the end, she discusses the executioners themselves.  While making clear that she is against the death penalty, it is not at all preachy.  What struck me most of all was that human beings are just as barbarous in the present day and in so-called civilised society as they were hundreds of years ago; they just have a better press.

Aside from being an interesting read, I think this book would be useful for research for any fiction writers needing such information for novels.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

PHAETHON by Rachel Sharp @WrrrdNrrrdGrrrl

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  I didn't choose it at first, but did so after reading this review of it by Lilyn, another member of the team, who runs the Sci-Fi and Scary website.

Jack and Rosie are a young married couple living in downtown Boston.  They have an obsession with all things techy, and spend their time pulling them apart, posting 'how-to' videos, reports on the latest software, and troubleshooting tips; they have menial jobs but supplement their income from donations via their online life.  They care more for what they do and love than upgrading to a better apartment or slipping into the American middle-class 'norm'; domestic and material stuff is unimportant to them, in comparison with their tech world.  I loved Jack and Rosie!

When the new 'Phaethon' phone is introduced, they're among the first to buy it, in order to make a bit of much needed cash from their critiques and how-tos.  But this is no ordinary phone.  When Rosie pulls 'Lassie' apart, she discovers that the inside is more like something from the pre-camera phone 1990s.  After a long, long night in conversation with Lassie, Jack suspects other-worldly goings on....

Basically, this book is about a magical world of faeries and other beings who exist alongside our world, unbeknownst to most ~ think Harry Potter.  Not a subject that is absolutely up my street, generally, but I enjoyed this, and sometimes I loved it.  Elements of the faerie world are rising up against the humans; you begin to find out why at about 60%, just as I was wondering what, exactly, it was all going to be about!  Calthine, the fae creature who labours alongside Jack, Rosie and their friends to put things right, is hilarious, so well written.  The tech stuff is spot on, clever and current, as are the observations of popular culture.  It's sharp, funny, intelligent and (of no little importance) it's perfectly proofread, edited and formatted ~ which is no less than I would expect from the creator of Jack and Rosie 😉.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

STRANDS OF MY WINDING CLOTH by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Gemma Lawrence is one of my favourite authors ever, and I adore all her books!

I have been so looking forward to this, the 4th book in the Elizabeth of England series.  It covers of the reign of Elizabeth I from 1560-1567, after the death of Amy, wife of Elizabeth's great love, Robert Dudley, to the resolution of the succession question.  The Queen is under great stress as she is pressured by Robert for his hand in marriage, and by the rest of her realm, and beyond, to choose a husband and name an heir.  In case you are wondering, the 'winding cloth' of the curious title (which I love) refers to her death shroud; Elizabeth is only in her late twenties, but feels that death is ever with her, not only in the passing of those close to her and her own health problems, but because of the endless discussion about who will sit on the throne after she is gone.

This book has much to do with the politics behind the gaiety of court life, as Elizabeth struggles against her cousins (Mary of Scots, Margaret Lennox and Katherine Grey), and those who consider them to be not only the rightful heir, but, perhaps, to have a better claim on the throne that she has, despite her being the last child of Henry VIII... meanwhile, there is trouble to the north, and in France and her own country, with the never ending Catholic vs Protestant wrangles.

This part of Elizabeth's reign is not something I knew about, which meant that I learned much from this book.  I didn't know, for instance, that James 1st was the great-grandson of Henry VII, though how that had eluded me I don't know.  I knew how all the cousins (second and otherwise) were related, but had to stop and think, often; I would have loved a family tree at the beginning of the book (hint, hint!).  I felt I understood Elizabeth more and more as I read; this book is listed as a biography rather than historical fiction.  Clearly her personality is shaped by her early life: the fate and loss of her mother, her father's attitude to marriage, her abuse (and the shame she felt at her response) at the hands of Thomas Seymour, and her abandonment by just about everyone.  Those who she could rely on were her friends: Parry, Blanche and, of course, Kat Ashley.  As the book went on, I came to wonder if she was by nature, or was made to be by circumstances, almost asexual; not a bad thing for a monarch to be, in those times; certainly friendship was more important to her than romantic love, and she clung to Kat Ashley as a young girl clings to her mother.   I had sympathy for Robert Dudley ~ she expected him to remain true to her whilst never giving him what he really wanted, but dangling it, always out of his reach, letting him believe that she would one day grant him her hand in marriage.  No wonder, then, that he sometimes acted outside her best interests ~ and will, in volumes to come, replace her.

Threaded throughout the story is the drama and catastrophe of Mary, Queen of Scots; fascinating, I must read about her soon, too.  At the end of the book, Elizabeth and Robert draw parallels between their own situation and that of Mary's.  

I loved the representation of Tudor life, the changing of the seasons, the peep into how the people of 450 years ago actually lived, and the strange beliefs held by even the most educated and intelligent.  When the winds whistled around the castle walls, I could imagine being there.

Terrific book, a great achievement, well worth the hours spent reading it ~ it's long!  Highly recommended, but do start at the beginning, with The Bastard Princess. 👑