Friday, 11 August 2017

THE BERLIN AFFAIR by David Boyle

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
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 novella length story; I wondered if such a plot could be fitted into a novella, and if there would be a lack of detail, but it is well structured and fits nicely into the shorter length.

Xanthe Schneider from Cincinatti arrives in Cambridge as a student, six months before the outbreak of World War Two.  During her childhood, she was endowed with a love of and talent for crosswords by her father, and, in England, during the 'phoney war' of the first eight months following September 3rd, 1939, she gets to know the mysterious Ralph Lancing, a code cracking enthusiast.  Then Ralph disappears, and Xanthe is approached by war officials to take part in the world of British espionage.

One thing I liked about this was the portrayal of the England at the time; it's very well done, but subtly, and it came over, to me, a bit like a black and white film.  I also liked that Boyle has used real life characters, such as Goebbels, and I felt Xanthe's growing fear; the atmosphere of menace certainly worked.  Sometimes I felt the choice of words was a little odd, and I wasn't always sure about the way in which, for instance, a naval commander spoke to Xanthe, a woman he had only just met.

This is a good read for the historical detail in itself, and it is well plotted; an undemanding, enjoyable book with which to curl up for an afternoon.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

TWISTED MEMORIES by Kate L Mary @kmary0622

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've read all the other books in this series, links at bottom of Twisted World review πŸ˜€ Genre: Zombie Apocalypse.

The first book in this series takes place 20 years after the group from the Broken World series, Vivian, Axl and co, finally find perceived safety in Atlanta.  I liked it very much, but was longing to know what happened in those intervening 20 years.  This is the book I was waiting for!

Best of all is the character of Angus James, the Merle Dixon of Kate L Mary's zombie world, who is imprisoned for experimentation at the CDC after it's discovered that he's one of the few people in the world who are immune from the virus.  I felt every tear he cried, I'm sure I did, and his strange relationship with the icy cold Dr Helton kept me completely engrossed.   It's one of those books that's so frustrating, because you, as the reader, can see the peril that the cast are in, and you want to scream at them, 'Go back to Colorado!  Now!  Just go!'  Of course, that I felt so strongly shows how good the characterisation and general storytelling is.

I very much liked some elements of the sinister practices going on behind the Atlanta population's back, such as the orchestration of an uprising, leading to a couple of deaths, so that the evil Star's government could put new, restrictive laws in place under the guise of keeping the people safe.  Something that *many* think happens in the real world....

The pain of the characters I've grown to know so well was heartrending, and some of this book was the very best stuff I've read by this author.  She has a real knack of choosing exactly the right POV for each part of the story, and really seems to understand that sometimes a not fully informed, third party account of another character's situation can tell the reader so much more than the actual words.

This is an excellent book; my only slight complaint is that it seemed a bit rushed at times, with some areas needing more detail; I thought it might have been better stretched over two books, as I didn't get a feeling of time passing.  But I still loved it, and the fact that I would have liked it to be two books instead of one says it all, really. 😌


Saturday, 29 July 2017

AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey @MarcusSakey

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book:  I read a review of it on Between The Lines book blog 

What if death is just the beginning?

The basics:  A serial killer on the loose.  Investigation led by detective Claire McCoy, involved in a love affair with subordinate Will Brody.  A main character dies at the hand of the killer, after which we see them in the afterlife 'echo', a strange parallel earth with different players and rules. 

The book starts in the 16th century, when a boy is shipwrecked, dies, but then wakes up to his own 'echo'.  I loved this, and looked forward to reading on, and seeing how this fitted into the 21st century plot.  

I was a bit 'hmm, not sure' about the main story at first; I liked the author's writing style, but was less keen on the slightly hackneyed detective characterisation (the overworked, world-weary female boss with no food in the fridge, the maverick young FBI agent who doesn't play by the rules but gets results).  Within a few chapters this didn't matter a jot, but it was an early reaction, so I've recorded it.  I soon became much more interested in Claire and Brody, and found their relationship believable; the emotional connection between them was perfectly described, and I cared what happened to them, which is, of course, what it's all about.

On the cover, a comparison is made with The Matrix.  If, like me, you found that particular film confusing for the sake of confusing and a bit 'emperor's new clothes', generally, you might feel similarly about this book.  At first.  I wasn't always sure what was going on, and started to wonder if I cared.  I decided to give it to 40% ~ but it clicked into place well before then.  The 'echo' of afterlife became intermingled with real life ~ and I began to understand Sakey's take on what-happens-when-you-die. 

I jogged along, quite enjoying it, but then I got to chapter 26, at 42% ~ for me, the turning point, when I realised how brilliant this book is.  16th century Edmund's role became clear, and I understood that this isn't a novel about the catching of a serial killer, or a kooky idea of people in the afterlife charging around having battles with each other.  It's about the energy of the universe, the reason for the atrocities man commits against man, the manipulation of the living by powers far stronger.  The layers of life, of which the waking world that we surface dwellers experience, in blissful ignorance, is just one.  Awesome concept, I loved it.

Now and again I found it a little long-winded and was tempted to skip-read, but I'm so glad I stuck with it, as it's one of those books that explodes into something else half way through.  Yes, I'd definitely recommend it 😈

Thursday, 20 July 2017

THE LAST DETECTIVE by Brian Cohn @briancohnMD #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

Before the alien invasion, Adrian Grace was a cop.  Then the 'slicks' arrived, and their word is law.  Two years later, Adrian is ekeing out a dreary existence in a motel, with his family far away in Boston.  A group of the city dwellers work for the Authority, and police the population according to the rules of the slicks.  Food is short, there is little fuel, and life is one of darkness and danger, with the Authority herding chosen people off to labour camps from which nobody ever returns.  But there is revolution in the air.

Then Grace is asked to solve the murder of one of the slicks.  In an action-packed plot taking place over a period of just a few days, he is drawn into a labyrinth of corruption, lies, dubious loyalties and misplaced assumptions about those with whom he comes into contact.

Brian Cohn has created a compelling dystopian world, with lots of evocative detail and ponderings on life, the universe and everything.  Grace makes for a likeable and interesting first person narrative, in turn depressive, philosophical, cynical and dryly humorous; there are some amusing touches, such as the daily game of Russian roulette with his food - the tins are not labelled.  He always hopes it won't be dog food.  Sometimes it is.

I did enjoy this book, and love Cohn's writing style, but I wished for a little more rounding out of the circumstances ~ we are taken from the day of the alien landing (in the prologue), to two years later, only ever seeing hints about what happened in between.  I wanted to know how the slicks took over, who they were, why they arrived, how the society broke down.  And what happened in the labour camps.  The darkness of the city is illustrated beautifully, but as the novel concentrates almost solely on the situation in which Grace finds himself, I was left with lots of unanswered questions.

To sum up: it worked well as detective/mystery/conspiracy novel, less so as a sci-fi/post apocalyptic, which was the aspect that attracted me.  I'd definitely read something else by this author, though.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

EVERLASTING by Jo Carroll @jomcarroll

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com


How I discovered this book: A few years ago I won one of Jo Carroll's travel memoirs in a blog competition, and I've bought all her books ever since!

This time Jo spends six weeks in Malawi, and the 'Everlasting' of the title refers to her sixty year old guide ~ that is him on the cover. πŸ˜€



What I love about Jo Carroll's books is that they read as though she's written them from the heart, without thinking too much about it, just her opinions of the country as it unfolds to her; her impressions often change back and forth as her time there goes along.  The short cameos of the people she meets are always so vivid; I can usually see exactly what they are like (particularly those with whom she has a less than totally positive experience!); there's a touch of Bill Bryson about her style.  The star of the show in this case, of course, was Everlasting himself, who sounded delightful.  Oh, and that's something else that I like ~ her portraits pick out the amusing aspects without ever being patronising.  I am always left feeling that part of Jo doesn't want to go home to her First World life... 



In poverty stricken countries such as this one, Jo Carroll delivers a fair and uncomplicated view of the problems facing the country.  In the case of Malawi, she felt she was going round in circles as she talked to aid workers from large organisations, villagers who were helping themselves, independent aid providers, tourists and white settlers.  She has a way of picking out the essential information, but her delivery is never preachy, and there is much else to enjoy, simply about the beauty of her surroundings and her experiences.  With every book she writes, it makes me want to visit the country.  Thus, as far as I can see, her work is done!

Everlasting is only novella length, I read it in one evening, and I recommend it most highly if you have any interest in this sort of book.







Monday, 10 July 2017

WHISPERS IN THE ALDERS by H A Callum @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book:  It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  Interestingly, I didn't initially choose it as the genre and blurb didn't particularly appeal, but then I got talking to the author on Twitter (about something else entirely) and he asked me if I would take a review copy.  I'm glad I did.

Lesson for readers: don't bypass books just because they don't immediately appeal; you never know what gems you might find behind that quiet cover.
Lesson for writers: talk to people on social media!

Whispers in the Alders is set in the small east US town of Alder Ferry, where young teenagers Aubrey (female) and Tommy both suffer loveless, cold childhoods. Aubrey's family are wealthy, whereas Tommy's are poorer, and his life is quite brutal.  They meet in a wooded area behind Aubrey's family home, amongst the alders, a place that both of them feel is their only home.  This is described by the author as an 'alder stand', not a term with which I am familiar, so I looked up some pictures on DuckDuckGo images to make sure it was as I imagined it!


The book starts in the present, with Aubrey in Portland, Maine, as an adult; she has left her family and the prejudices of the small town long behind.  It then goes back to her early teens, and the loneliness she feels.  The books spans the period of this time until early adulthood, and follows the tragedies of her and Tommy's lives.

I'd class this book as literary fiction, as well as a contemporary 'coming of age' story.  Much of the writing is beautiful; I read that Mr Callum is a poet, too, and this is evident, but it's not wordy for the sake of it.  It's quite a dense sort of novel, with much description, and on occasion I felt it could have been trimmed down just a little, but that's just personal preference, and I certainly appreciated every line.  The plot itself develops slowly, with some shocking outcomes (child abuse and homophobia, but nothing graphic), and it's perfectly plotted.  It's a heartrending, lonely sort of book; I longed for Aubrey and Tommy to find happiness.

A hidden gem by an extremely talented writer, very American (which I liked), and one I definitely recommend ~ I hope some other members of Rosie's team pick it up, or that anyone who reads this takes the plunge and clicks 'buy'!




(incidentally - and this isn't a criticism of the book, but an observation - why do Americans say 'I could care less' about stuff, when they mean the exact opposite?  I've often wondered this!  I wonder if one day one of the 318.86 million might suggest they adopt our version of 'I couldn't care less'!)

Friday, 7 July 2017

SQUALL by Sean Costello @SeanCostello51

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book:  Amazon browse.  Attracted by the title (I love anything about disaster in terrible weather).  Liked the blurb, and it was free.  It's a short book, only 178 pages on Kindle.

The blurb:
Bush pilot and family man Tom Stokes is about to face the worst day of his life. On a clear winter morning, he sets out to do some repairs on a remote hunt camp, leaving his five-year-old son and very pregnant wife snug in their beds.

On the return trip, a squall forces him into an emergency landing and he winds up—quite literally—in the lap of petty criminal Dale Knight. Dale, now a fugitive from the law—and worse, from a merciless drug lord who just happens to be his brother—draws Tom into a web of mayhem and treachery that puts not only his life at risk, but the lives of his wife, son . . . and unborn child.


I quite enjoyed this.  It alternates from various points of view all the way through, which I liked, the pace is fast, the dialogue good, the characters clear and well-defined.  It didn't quite hit the spot, though; it was a nearly-but-not-quite for me as far as the storytelling itself was concerned.  There's a bit of sloppy proofreading (words like 'defuse' that should be 'diffuse') that wouldn't have bothered me if I'd really loved it.  

The story is good, and mostly well thought out, with some nicely psychopathic killers, a ruthless slapper, a likeable junkie, and, of course, the 'goodies' ~ Tom and his family.  There are some dodgy plot points, though, such as why Tom would have gone out in a flimsy plane to repair a building (that could have waited) when a severe storm was on its way, especially when it was his and his beloved son's birthday and his wife was about to give birth.  Then the whole reason why the aforementioned killers find his house - he left his wallet in the plane after it crashed into the house in which Dale was taking a bath.  Seemed completely out of character for someone so conscientious, especially considering that his license was in it, and he knew Dale was being hunted by dangerous people.  

It's like a less compelling Blake Crouch novel.  I'd try something else by this author, though.



Thursday, 6 July 2017

ABOVE ALL OTHERS by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I adore all Gemma Lawrence's books, and leap on every new one she brings out!  First discovered through our mutual interest in the Tudors, on Twitter.

'He wanted all to know that he adored me above all others'.

One of those novels that has given me that 'what on earth do I do next?' feeling, now it's finished... the third part of Ms Lawrence's series about Anne Boleyn, Above All Others is concerned with the years 1527~1530, when she and Henry have pledged their love to each other, and think it will be only a matter of months before she is his queen - only to discover what a long, tedious process the King's Great Matter would become, as they come up against the all powerful Catholic Church, and the scheming 'fat bat', Cardinal Wolsey.   But this book is so very far from tedious.


Even more than the first two books, I'd say that this episode is a work for those who already have a deep interest in Anne Boleyn and the Tudors.  It explores the theological questions of the time in great detail, and illustrates, with no stone unturned, the difficulties faced by Anne and her King with regard to the social traditions and beliefs of the time.  I know how well-versed Ms Lawrence is about her subject, and I see this book as an education, too; it explained much to me.

Gemma Lawrence's Anne has much to say about the corruption within the Church, the hypocrisy; I loved her pronouncement on Wolsey's wearing of a hair shirt, something that has often occurred to me when I see the flaunting of piety:  'It seems to me, however, that when such a thing is done, and it is made known that it is done, it loses the benefit of true and honest spirituality.  It becomes, rather, a pretence, a show designed to tell the world how very good that person is'.  


Wolsey was '...no man of God; he was a man of gold.' 

The way in which Anne's spirit progresses from the still girlish lover at the beginning of the book to the wiser woman, who realises that she must use every atom of her wit to fight her enemies and get what she wants for her and Henry, is so clever, and subtly portrayed.  It is apparent that she is the stronger of the two, though, of course, she is wise enough not to let Henry realise this. This version of the much-maligned Anne is the person I always saw her as, too ~ no means without fault, but her good intentions were genuine, and she had ambition for her people, her country, as well as for herself.  Secondary characters of her family (including the slippery Norfolk) are as vivid as Anne and Henry.  


Something I appreciated is that the author never falls into the trap of allowing Anne to think like a woman of later times; her point of view is always very much that of a far less enlightened period, when the Church controlled the behaviour of the population, and the lot of women was a frustrating one, indeed.

The novel ends just after Wolsey's death, when the coming of Cranmer and Cromwell into her circle gives Anne new hope for a solution to their problems.  

I believe this series to be the only fiction about Anne Boleyn that you need to read.  I was completely absorbed by it all the way through, and my only task now is to stand by Gemma Lawrence's desk with a threatening expression and a big stick to make sure she hurries up and gets the next book, The Scandal of Christendom, out as soon as possible!

Monday, 3 July 2017

WOLFSANGEL by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, but I had downloaded it anyway because I love Liza Perrat's books.

This is the second of the Liza Perrat's Bone Angel trilogy to be written, but the latest in historical period; it takes place during the Nazi occupation of the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne in World War Two.  I think it's the best of the three.

The trilogy's theme of medicine woman and herbalist continues in the form of the mother of twenty-year-old Celeste, the main character.  At the outset of the book, Celeste is dealing with the occupation of Lucie with the same quiet fear and anger as the other villagers and her friends.  As time goes on, the demands of the Germans increase in their severity, and no one is sure who is collaborating.  Celeste goes to work with the Resistance in Lyons, but she has has her own dark secrets with which to contend, as she falls in love with someone she shouldn't.

The book is a real page-turner, and the sense of growing fear is so well done.  I was pleased that it was realistic; Celeste loses people she loves, and there are some truly gripping scenes, such as when she and other Resistance workers rescue two prisoners from a hospital.  The last twenty pages, when a truly shocking event takes place, took me by complete surprise; I was engrossed.  The 'afterwards' bit is written with great sensitivity, too, with a couple of surprising reuinions, but it avoids becoming schmaltzy; it's too respectful of those who really suffered such tragedy for any such cheap shot.

I found the hot-headed Celeste irritating at times, but that was fine, because she was meant to be like that; she worked.  The book is so well researched, and there is a section after the novel has finished that tells of the real life events that inspired some of this fascinating story.  Well done, Liza Perrat!


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

SINCLAIR by Julia Herdman #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

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


Sinclair is a drama set in the late 18th century, mostly in various areas of London.  It begins with the Scottish protagonist, James Sinclair—eager to escape the disapproval of his father yet reluctant to leave the woman he loves—setting sail for India, where he is to take up a post as a physician/surgeon.  Alas, he gets no further than Dorset; after violent storms, the ship is wrecked.  Sinclair is among the meagre number of survivors, along with the outgoing and friendly Captain Frank Greenwood.  Together, they make their way back to London. 

Meanwhile, back in Southwark, widow Charlotte Leadam is in great difficulty.  Mourning her husband, she faces bankruptcy, and also has to deal with an overpowering and aspirational mother and sister, both eager to run her life. 

The novel is extremely well researched, with all sorts of historically interesting snippets, much about the medical practices of the time and plenty of social and domestic detail.  The author has a pleasantly readable writing style, and I very much liked the social tittle-tattle and snobbery aspect involving the wives and mothers, which made for some excellent, amusing characterisation. 

A slight downside for me was the lack of plot direction; there are many, many characters, and the narrative 'head-hops' constantly between character points of view, of which there are many.  There are so many plot diversions and side-plots that it was a bit like reading an 18th century version of The Archers or EastEnders.  However, I understand that this is the first in a series, so I'm guessing this is exactly what it is: the continuing story of the colourful characters connected to Tooley Street!   All the relationships, possible relationships and social gatherings certainly entertained me, though I kept expecting plot threads to develop into a main storyline, or deepen; certain aspects could have made for interesting reading, such as the corruption within the East India Company, the HMS Bounty, Charlotte's potential bankruptcy, but were only touched upon in passing, with the main storylines remaining domestic.  Personal woes for Sinclair and Greenwood provide more intrigue, and bring some of the other threads together.  I liked the last paragraph very much, incidentally.

To sum up, as a 'life and times' sort of work, or an illustration of the period, it's a good example, and, although a bit too 'cosy' and HEA for me, I'd recommend it to lovers of the family saga genre or anyone who likes nicely written, lovingly researched, light historical fiction.

 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

BLOCK 46 by Johana Gustawsson @JoGustawsson @OrendaBooks

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads




How I discovered this book: I'd read several positive reviews for it on book blogs, but it was the one on Swirl and Thread that made me take the plunge!

I'm not usually one for police procedurals as I get bored with the endless conversations discussing the ins and outs of the case, but this attracted me because of the Scandinavian setting and the connection to Buchenwald concentration camp in WW2.

In Sweden, high-flying jewellery designer LinnΓ©a Blix is found gruesomely and artfully murdered; it is clear that her killer was intent on her being discovered.  Her friend, crime writer Alexis, becomes involved in the investigation, much of which is led by forensic profiler Emily Roy.  The murder shows marked similarities to recent murders of young boys in London. 

Alongside the unravelling investigation runs the story of Erich Ebner, a German medical student interred in Buchenwald, and his relationship with a Nazi doctor occupied with medical experimentation.  Gradually, the two threads converge.

I was most pleased to discover that the ins and outs and whys and wherefores of the case discussion actually held my attention—a round of applause to the author.  One particular part of 'the reveal' had me wanting to go back to the beginning and see all the clues I'd missed; I didn't guess the outcome at all!  A side element I liked was the incidental information about Scandinavia, in general.  I didn't find any of the characters particularly vivid (Emily was the one who 'spoke' to me the most), and I found it hard to remember which cop was which (there are a lot of them), but it kind of didn't matter, because the plot itself, the neat structure, the building of suspense and the interspersing of story threads totally carried this novel.

It's a bit on the grisly side in parts, but given the subject matter it could hardly be anything but, and I didn't feel, at any time, that this was just sensationalism.  My only complaint was that I found the explanations of the killers' motivations a little vague; I was never exactly clear what need was being fulfilled or what the work of the Nazi doctor actually was, other than general sadism and psychopathery.  But that might just be me.  I was absorbed by the book all the way through, looked forward to getting back to it, and would definitely recommend it, whether you're a fan of this genre or not.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

SECRETS by Judith Barrow @barrow_judith

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com

How I discovered this book: I've read the three books in Judith Barrow's Howarth family saga, so was interested to read this offshoot collection of short stories. **Only 99p**

I read the whole collection this afternoon, and really enjoyed them.  Each story deals with a character who has a secret; the first few are quite short, the longer, more involved ones nearer the end.  I recognised some of the names from the series, but it wouldn't matter if I had or not; they're all terrific stories in their own right.  The best ones are, I think, Alun Thomas and Stan Green's secrets, both of which are heartrending and take place during the First World War; I imagine I will meet these two when I read the prequel to the trilogy, which is out this summer. 

What the characters have in common is their social class, and the book is a great illustration of how some situations caused great trauma for the subject, yet wouldn't matter at all today, or even occur; a boy of fourteen lies about his age and signs up to fight in the war, a girl survives a mother and baby home where the children are taken away for adoption, a battered wife has no choice but to stay with her husband.  The characterisation is spot on, all the way through.

Judith Barrow has done a great job of ending some stories with dangling threads, leaving you dying to know what happens next ~ thus, the outtake short story collection for a series.  It certainly worked for me!  But they stand up perfectly well on their own.   I definitely recommend them for a great couple of hour's reading.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Stanley Gazemba

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

Forbidden Fruit is a novel about life in a Kenyan village, about the vagaries of human nature, but I felt it was more an illustration of the life and times of the people; the plot comes second.  The 'forbidden fruit' of the title refers not only to an illicit affair, but other aspects of the story.

The main character is impoverished villager Ombima, who, at the beginning of the novel, is stealing food from the farms owned by his employers, simply because his family do not have enough.  I found the differences between the poor and the wealthy starkly delineated; this interested me and was very well done.  The descriptions of the rural life were quite an education, and even though, by Western standards, the lives of the villagers is harsh, I felt that they were no badly off than we are.  Certainly there was much joy to be found.

I found the dialogue a little strange at times; I don't know if it was translated from another language or if the author's first language is not English; there is no author profile on Amazon for me to see.  But it was a mixture of Americanisms and some curious choices of words; I don't know how Kenyans talk so I can't say whether or not it is authentic.

If you are interested in every day life in rural Africa I am sure you will love this book; every aspect of life is explored in great detail.

 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

THE LAST MERIDIAN by Joe Hefferon @HefferonJoe

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon.co.uk
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



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

'The past is a stone - you can carry it around with you, or you can step up on it to see what's coming over the next hill'.

The Last Meridian is a crime novel set in the 1960s, in the 'noir' sub-genre; it's not one I've explored before, and somewhere near the beginning I realised I should read it out loud, leaning against a lamp-lit wall down a dark alley, wearing a fedora and smoking a French cigarette.  I imagined this; it really did make the dialogue work! 

In the first chapter in 1948, a girl drives away from Illinois, along Route 66, heading for LA.  We don't know why, but Lynn becomes Nina, and starts a new career as an interior designer for the stars. Meanwhile, back in 1965, a man associated with the underworld is murdered, and the murder is witnessed by the teenage son of the victim's girlfriend.  Nina's involvement in this is one I didn't guess at all, and, as the mother of the boy tries to save her son, a private detective called CS and a journalist/writer called Jimmy are brought in, centre stage.

The book took a short while to gel for me as there are a lot of characters to remember, at the beginning, but before 10% I'd settled into the back-and-forth-in-time structure, and begun to really enjoy it.  Mr Hefferon is masterful at creating atmosphere, and I loved the cynical, seedy crime/Hollywood characters.  I especially liked some of the short backstories; that of CS, and mother Larissa, in particular.  The character I found the most interesting was Jimmy, and I liked the extracts from his manuscript, and his philosophical pondering... 'in some cross-layered way, each of us is the supporting cast for all of us ... how do we arrive at the places where our lives mesh with the people we need for our own narrative?'.  

...I liked the observations about the people, fashions and culture: 'Beards, shaggy hair and abraded clothing were just becoming the craze of the anti-establishment, yet this juvenile bandito remained stuck in 1958, unconcerned with change.  He had chosen his look ... he would wear it proudly until time and prison sucked the black from his mane'.

...about the locations: 'No one with any style lives in Bakersfield ... it's all money and no pizazz.  What kind of claim is 'Halfway to Fresno'?'

....and about Nina's dysfunctional marriage: 'In a lovers' paradox, they found each other attractive at different times, but never at the same time... it was a marriage of inconvenience'.

Joe Hefferon is an intelligent and talented writer, and I hope he is as proud of this clever and delightfully atmospheric novel as he should be.

The novel ends at around 90%, after which there is an author's note, acknowledgements, and an excerpt from another novel from the same publishing company.











Sunday, 4 June 2017

FARING TO FRANCE ON A SHOE by Val Poore @vallypee

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book: I got to know Val Poore on Twitter some years ago, and have read all her travel books; African Ways is my very favourite.  Links to Watery Ways and Harbour Ways on the above review.

In this memoir, Val and her partner Koos travel to France via their home of the Netherlands and Belgium, on their barge the Hennie-Ha - which really is shaped like a Dutch clog; see cover!

The beauty of this book is, I think, that it's so very real and unpretentious.  Nothing particularly breath-taking happens, but every time I picked it up I smiled at the way that Val Poore can even make a trip to the supermarket good to read about.  It's so genuine; there are no flowery descriptions for the sake of it, just Val's impressions.  And it's funny, too - not split-your-sides laughing, deliberately 'hilarious anecdotes' like some books of this type; her writing doesn't need that, because it hits the right spot so effortlessly.  Especially the nerve-wracking cycle ride to buy food:  juggernauts flying past, a flat tyre and the bed of stinging nettles....

As someone who believes that the simpler your life is, the happier you are, I sighed as I read about Val and Koos' memories of a happy evening that could not be captured in words or by camera, the liberation from the 'must do' stuff of the world left behind, and her appreciation of the occasional makeshift 'shower', after days and days of stand up strip washes.  The more I read, the more I liked it, until about half way through, when I wished I was IN it.

There are links to Val's photos of the trip on Flickr, which were great to look at.  A lovely book.