Saturday, 15 October 2016

THE INFINITY POOL by Jessica Norrie

4.5 out of 5 stars

Dark contemporary drama/suspense

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

This was one of those surprise gems that I find now and again on Rosie's review team list.  An unusual and intelligently written holiday drama, the story takes place on an unnamed island where the locals fail to find accord with the owners, staff and guests of Serendipity, a New Age/bohemian/back to nature type retreat.  It centres round some jagged relationships: charismatic womaniser Adrian, village girl Maria who catches his eye, Serendipity regular Alice (wonderfully obsessive and creepy!).  Then there is the effervescent Ruby who finds love with a local, female detective Chris, who isn't quite sure what she's signed up for, and Bernard, the creative writing teacher who is frustrated and bitter about his own inability to produce any work of note.  Eventually the resentments and incompatibilities erupt, not only between incomers and locals but between the camp residents.

The book starts with a dramatic episode, then goes back to September 2010, which sees Adrian at his lecherous best, the camp successful, but the seeds of discontent among the villagers are already sown deep.  Fast forward to June 2011, and Serendipity is all but falling apart, with key people missing, guests unhappy, and finances falling short.

The subtle characterisation in this novel is excellent; there's a hint of mockery of the New Age claptrap in some of the guests' silliness, and I smiled at the smugness of those who considered themselves more 'in touch with their feelings' than some of the newcomers (especially those who had not yet experienced the wonder of Adrian).  The comparison between the simple lives of the villagers and the spoiled Northern Europeans who aim to slough off their weight of privilege by rather self-consciously going 'back to basics' is artfully portrayed.

At the dramatic end, some of the characters who were dubious about the place find that their lives have changed for the best after all, though perhaps not in the way that Serendipity intended.  

Alice is an excellent character; I spent much of the novel wishing that more was being done with her, and felt some of her potential went undiscovered by Ms Norrie, but her end scenes really worked and I decided that, in this case, less was more.  The high spot the whole novel, though, is the sections from the point of view of the character who has a head injury.  So good I read them twice.  I've been close to someone with a brain injury and worked with some sufferers, and this gives such an insight into how it (probably) really is for them.  He has quite an adventure; it's entertaining to read as well as being an eye-opener.

This is how to write a novel with a fair bit of domestic detail and without great swathes of thrills and spills, and still make it a real page turner! 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

HELLIFAX (Mountain Man #3) by Keith C Blackmore

5 GOLD stars

Zombie Apocalypse/Horror

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

What a belter of a book this was!  I've reviewed part one of the series HERE, and part two HERE, loved them both but suspected this one might be even better, and it was.  I believe it could be read as a stand alone, as any info needed from the other books is given, and this is a whole new adventure with many new characters.

The main character is Scott, who became friends with mountain man Gus in the first book ~ this follows his fortunes as he sets off for Halifax (Canada, not Yorkshire!) to seek out the evil Tenner, who massacred his friends.  In 'Hellifax' Scott meets up with a new group, martial arts student and teacher Amy and Vick, and former cop Buckle, amongst others.  The book's written partly from his POV and partly from that of psychopath Tenner ~ and, talking of psychopaths, we also meet the terrifying Norsemen, a group of road warriors who know no fear and have an alternative strategy when it comes to keeping themselves fed and alive.

Then there are the rats....

This is not a zombie apocalypse book for the faint of heart, and there are no nice little groups of survivalists.  It's horror, from beginning to end.  Absolutely gripping, I loved it from start to finish, one of the best books I've read this year.  The story itself is multi-faceted and unpredictable with never a dull or safe moment, and the characterisation is terrific, too.  There are a few editing 'glitches' but they're minor, and didn't spoil it at all.  At the end there's an author's note saying that Blackmore was not sure if there would be a book 4, but happily there is.  I am now going to start reading it. :)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

SAFARI (Mountain Man #2) by Keith C Blackmore

5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Apocalyps/Horror

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I loved the first book in this series, reviewed HERE, and this one was great, too - I read it all in one go.  

Aside from the odd brief guest appearance, the book features only one character, Gus, a chronic alcoholic survivor of the zombie apocalypse, in Canada.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone who can write a book featuring only one character and make it a real page turner is a pretty smart writer.  This was gripping, and gathered pace as Gus discovers the mystery of the missing zombies (see book one) ~ I wasn't expecting that!  

Keith Blackmore is one of those rare writers who manages to make intricate practical detail interesting to read, and he can do mounting terror and suspense with the best of them.  I actually wasn't sure if the last invasion by the new foe at Gus's house on the hill was just the imagination of a drink addled and traumatised mind, or not ~ I've only just finished it, I think I need to go back and read the bit about 'what anyone would have seen if they'd been watching' again.  But I liked the end very much... and am going to go straight on to read Hellifax, the third book in the series now.

If you love zombie apocalypse books and if you liked the film 'Castaway' that featured one man and his imaginary friend, you'll love this :)

Saturday, 8 October 2016

THE WALKING DEAD: THE FALL OF THE GOVERNOR Part Two by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Apocalypse

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I didn't think much of Part 1 of The Fall of The Governor (too much grisly brutality for the sake of it, I thought, not enough story, seemed rushed) and nearly didn't bother to read this one, but I'm glad I did, because it was WAY better.  I really enjoyed it and read it nearly all in one go, late at night when my eyes were saying 'go to sleep'.

Taken from the original comic books rather than the TV series, it was interesting to see how the TV series took ideas from this and turned them into different story lines; plot lines in this story were included in both the Woodbury story in Season 3, and Season 4, when The Governor teams up with Tara and co in his new camp.  The Philip Blake of these books is much more overtly terrifying and psychotic than David Morrisey's version, and my only disappointment with this book is that the residents of Woodbury did not learn how he had duped them all into thinking that Rick's group were a bunch of bloodthirsty assassins, as they did in the TV series.  

The second half of the book was absolutely riveting; a continuity error was annoying, as the Woodbury militia seemed to multiply; they started off with 24 but still ended up with about 8 of them going into the prison, even though more than 16 had been killed beforehand - but never mind!  It's very good - if you love the series, you'll like these. 

The Road to Woodbury is reviewed HERE 

Thursday, 6 October 2016


3.5 out of 5 stars


On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

This is a very readable mystery with a romantic sub-plot, involving the feud between two brothers when bad boy-turned-multi-millionaire-philanthropist Dane Carlisle returns to his small home town and finds that the residents have long memories.  Dane has been widowed for two years; his adopted son, Jesse, arrives with him, and soon becomes interested in clearing his father's name.  This is all set against the backdrop of Eclipse Lake, where Dane meets dedicated photographer Ellie.

By far the best illustrated character is Jonah Carlisle, who did everything right but ended up with so little in comparison with his brother, and can't forgive Dane for neglecting their late mother.  The complicated relationship between the brothers comes over well, and Jonah's bitterness, resentment and loneliness is most convincing.  Other characters, I found less so.  Through meeting a businessman who believed in him, Dane metamorphosed from a juvenile deliquent, convict and hobo into this golden success story with the outlook of a puritan priest, who looks like a Greek god but lives a celibate life (I know he was heartbroken when his wife died, but it still didn't ring true) and, when he falls in love with Ellie (who adores him too, and is much more real), behaves like a 1950s Mills and Boon hero without the passion.

Then there are the teenagers (aged 16-18) who don't drink, swear, or even smoke the odd dodgy cigarette, and hang out in ice cream parlours.  Jesse behaves like a trucculent 14 year old but the next minute is using the vocabulary, reasoning powers and articulation skills of one much older and more experienced.  I did wonder if this is specifically written for the 'clean read' market, in which case I suppose many of these observations would be considered plus points!  

Having said all that, it is a well thought out plot, I enjoyed reading it for the most part, and I'll give full marks for the end twist which I totally didn't guess - something that always impresses me.  Mae Clair writes well, I just think that more realistic characterisation would make all the difference; for instance, if Dane had just cleaned up his act rather than become a dynamic, super-rich Chris Hemsworth/Josh Holloway lookalike.  Then, I could have believed in him.

Josh Holloway
Chris Hemsworth    

Sunday, 2 October 2016

THE 45TH NAIL by Michael and Ian Lahey

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

The basics: Bob, a middle-aged French teacher from middle America, receives a strange communication from his long-lost Uncle Jim who he believed to have gone MIA during World War II.  The contents of this communication are sufficient to send Bob off to Italy to find him.

From the blurb I was expecting an adventure type thriller, but the beginning is more like dark comedy, as Bob tells wife Beth untruths about where he is going (the portrayal of Beth was hilarious, I'd like to have read more about her), has his luggage and wallet stolen by a con artist/pickpocket gang as soon as he arrives in Italy, then takes a series of part-time jobs in order to clothe, feed and house himself before he can even think of travelling to Anzio to seek out the mysterious Uncle Jim.  His experience 'winging it' as a sommelier is very funny indeed, and some of the characterisation of the people he meets is first class (I particularly liked Edigio, the hotelier who helps him along the way).

As for the plot itself, I wasn't really convinced by it at first; it seemed to be more of a story about this funny guy who has all sorts of accidental adventures in Italy.  Then, at about twenty per cent, a well plotted twist made it all clear, and the tone changed.

The book shows the legacy left by the war, a love of Italy, the language, archaeology and social culture; I didn't know what some of the dialogue meant and had to do a certain amount of 'winging it' myself, but this wasn't a problem.  The last fifteen per cent of the book provides the terrible truth about Uncle Jim and the 45th nail - I was engrossed, and found it sad and moving.  The end is excellent.

I thought the story rambled a fair bit and gave more detail in many places where a more succinct account/stream of conversation would have had better effect, but the writing itself is great.  If it was trimmed down a bit it would be worthy of at least another half star, as far as I'm concerned.

An unusual book, and a good one.

Friday, 30 September 2016

DEATH BY PUMPKIN by Noelle Granger

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Death by Pumpkin is a cosy murder mystery (if that is not a contradiction in terms), featuring female sleuth Rhe (pronounced Ree) Brewster, a part-time investigator with the police department in Pequod, Maine.  At the annual Pumpkin festival, an unknown and unfortunate person is crushed to death by a giant.... well, you've guessed it.  Along with her brother-in-law and Chief of Police, Sam, Rhe sets out on a search for both victim and murderer, leading her all over the state and bringing back some blasts from a highly uncomfortable past.

I am not a lover of police procedurals/forensic investigation, etc, but I liked the way this is written - there's a good balance of plot and Rhe's own story (including a frustratingly tangled love life), so that the novel is about her as much as about the solving of the murder (and, indeed, made me want to know more about her past - this is the way to write a series, giving you just enough detail to make you want to read the others!).  There's plenty going on, including another death I didn't foresee and an hair-raising airborne adventure.  It's light in style, with some pleasantly humorous parts in both observation and the convincing banter between characters.  I also enjoyed finding out about the Native American population of Maine, and life in that state; it's one I'd love to visit.

The book is well presented and professionally edited, intelligently written and very readable, and the plot works;  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a good, clean(ish)-read type of cosy mystery. I haven't read much at all in this genre but I would imagine that it's a very good example of it.