Monday, 31 December 2018

BAD PENNIES by John F Leonard @john_f_leonard

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter

In a Nutshell: Lad Lit meets Supernatural/Horror.

Chris Carlisle is an ordinary guy doing an ordinary sales job that he hates, with a couple of mates that he sometimes loves and sometimes loves to hate, and a gorgeous girlfriend: the nauseating Becca.  She was meant to be nauseating, I think; something about the way she calls Chris 'special fellow' and 'my special man' all the time.  Chris is always skint, a typical lad lit hero who doesn't bother to clean up unless he's likely to have company.  He's a nice guy; you can't fail to like him, with all his flaws.  The scene-setting was quite long and fully sketched, which I liked; I'm not one who needs to be plunged into action on page one.  

At the end of most chapters are hints that danger is around the corner, in a 'little did she know this was the last time she would see him' sort of way.  I liked this; I thought it added to the suspense and made me want to keep turning the pages, and it worked along with the slightly comic book tone of the novel.  

Chris's life changes when he discovers a bulging wallet, the property of a man he saw run over.  It's not just an ordinary wallet...and Chris little understands that, by claiming it as his own, he has opened doors that should have remained shut.   There are some good dark and dingy descriptive pieces in the book, particularly a scene featuring a detective in the home of the repulsive Ronald Hodge, in the bleak and mysterious Empire Road.  

I enjoyed the 'real life' elements of this book most, and the darkly comedic side.  I liked the whole 'totally ordinary guy in super-weird extraordinary circumstances' thing.  John F Leonard has a witty, easy-to-read writing style, with some good turns of phrase: 

'No milkman in his right mind would have delivered to Brabham Building, Ashton High Street.  Even the postmen wanted stunt doubles and danger money.'

'...tall wide and ugly in every way you could imagine.  He looked like he ate BMWs for breakfast'

'My source of income, other than my shit job at the ISWS misery factory?  Well, you see, I found, sort of stole I suppose you could say if you wanted to get pedantic about it, an enchanted wallet.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it's shag me in the ass without lube mental, isn't it?' 

My general feel about the novel as a whole was that it needs another tidying-up draft, and perhaps the intervention of a more experienced copy editor/proofreader, to sort out the lack of vocative commas and the few editorial errors, and cut some of the funnies that need a bit of fine-tuning.  All of this would have made it the book it deserves to be; there is no doubt that Mr Leonard is a talented writer, and I enjoyed it.  I did guess the twist, from early on, but it's well done and was in no way obvious; my mind jumps ahead when I'm watching TV shows, too.  I especially appreciated the well-thought out last chapter and a great epilogue that definitely makes you want to see what happens next!


Friday, 28 December 2018

THE STAND by Stephen King (original edition) @StephenKing

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: it was recommended to me by book blogger Mrs Bloggs The Average Reader after she read my book Tipping Point.

In a Nutshell: Post Apocalyptic, worldwide pandemic, battle between good and evil.

This should really have gone on my Top 20 Books of 2018 post, but I hadn't expected to read another so excellent when I did my rundown the other week; it was an impulse read!

I know it's a classic, so probably doesn't need too much description, but in case you don't know, the story is thus: a pandemic is accidentally released from a lab, and kills almost everyone, worldwide.  The book follows the stories of several characters who prove to be immune, and their journeys both physical and personal.  All are having strange dreams, drawing them either to Nebraska, where an old woman, Mother Abagail, awaits them, or to Las Vegas, where the 'dark man' is planning his new world.  It can be read as either a battle between God and the devil, or, if you don't believe in all that stuff (I don't), about the battle between good and evil within man.

I read the original version, which was a mighty tome in itself; there is an extended version showing all the back stories of some characters that were originally cut out by the editor.  I've read reviews that say the extended version is not so well put together, and contradicts itself, so I decided on the original.  As it was, every back story did not pull me out of the main plot but had me totally engrossed.  My favourite parts were the slow unfolding of the virus in the first 20%, and the last 15%, which involved the inevitable long post apocalyptic journey, with all its struggles and near-death experiences.  It's a terrific book, and I was gripped throughout.  Recommend most highly, and thank you, Mrs B, for putting me onto it!



Wednesday, 26 December 2018

How do we discover the books we read?

At the end of last year, I did a quick count up of how I discovered all the books I had reviewed (I don't review all of them on my blog; if I have little to say, it might be just a short paragraph on Amazon), and how I discovered them.  It's HERE, if you would like to take a look.   I think the results of such count-ups are interesting for both readers and book bloggers, but most of all for writers; I will let you draw your own conclusions!


Now and again the categories collide; for instance, if a favourite author submits a book that I would have bought anyway, to Rosie's blog.  In this case, I chose the one I felt most apt.  Here are the results. πŸ“š

How I discovered the books I read (or started to read/will finish soon) in 2018


Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member ~ 
authors submit their books to a list, and team members 
choose those that appeal to them.
25


Read one, went back for more 
This might mean a favourite author whose new books I always pounce on, or just one book bought because I liked Book 1 of a series enough to want to know what happened, even if I never got round to the whole series.  
Either way, it's that all-important 'did I like it enough to read more?' question.
24
 
Amazon Browse/recommendations on Kindle
When browsing, usually through 'also boughts'
10


Book Blog
Read a review of it, or feature about the author; 
either the book or the author interested me enough to buy
7
  

Twitter
Either via a random tweet, or after talking to the author
8


Review Request
I do not take submissions, but on occasion a writer I know 
through social media might ask me for a review. 
2


Recommendation from friend
3

Bought after watching a TV programme/film.
2


Re-reading of an old classic
2

Present from a friend
1



Wednesday, 19 December 2018

KILLING ADAM by Earik Beann #RBRT @EarikB

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



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

In A Nutshell: Scifi/dystopian. Brains are implanted with altered reality chips, controlled by artificial intelligence.

A fantasy future, in which most people spend all their time in altered reality, via a chip: an ARC, on the ARCNet.  The world they inhabit is whatever they want to it be, and 23 hours a day may be spent this way, with only 4 breaks of 15 minutes a day to deal with bodily necessities such as eating and washing.  All existence is controlled by Adam, the artificial intelligence, even the people's perception of what occurs elsewhere in the world.

Some, though, cannot have the chip implanted, for a variety of reasons.  These people are considered 'disabled'; Jimmy, the main character, is one of these, because of a football injury.  Their being left behind in the real world keeps them separate, a minority group.

I found the idea of all this quite exciting, and dived straight in; Earik Beann's writing was certainly good enough to keep me turning the pages.  I enjoyed the first 20% of it very much, as a picture of the world was being built up.  I liked the way that the author did not explain much at all, but let the picture of his created world gradually become clear, by what was happening to Jimmy, and going through his mind.  However, as I read on, I felt the whole premise needed a bit more thinking through.  For instance, Jimmy's wife spends 23 hours a day in a catatonic state, as do many.  Wouldn't cities of people spending all their days lying on sofas create massive health problems?  How would the production of life's essentials be maintained?  Would society not just collapse?  Or am I over-thinking?

It's an odd one; I did like the basic ideas; perhaps it is intended to be a comment on our present lives, and the way in which people are so often plugged into online life that the 'real' world has become less and less relevant - especially as the ARCNet and Adam are the work of a corporation: BioCal.  I liked the writing style very much, and the characterisation was solid.  But there were too many times when I found myself thinking, 'yeah, but hang on a minute...'.  On the other hand, it's science fiction. Or is it fantasy?  I couldn't make up my mind.  Either way, I think how much you enjoy it will depend on how far you are willing to suspend disbelief.


Monday, 17 December 2018

My Top 20 Books of 2018




My book blog tells me that I've reviewed 72 books on the blog this year; there are others I've reviewed just on Amazon, and probably half as many again that I've started but not finished for whatever reason.  I love it when it's time to select my favourites of the year, and hope you enjoy perusing my choices.  

About my Top 20
  • Please click the book's title to see my review, with Amazon links.
  • All those chosen are books to which I awarded 4.5*, 5*, or my occasional 5 Gold Stars, for the very best.
  • Numbers 20-11 are in no particular order, but I've done a proper countdown for the Top Ten, as I think it's more fun, and I like to name my very favourite book of the year. πŸ†
  • All come highly recommended!

(previously called Clone Crisis)
YA SciFi/Dystopian



Family Saga 



18. THE SWOOPING MAGPIE by Liza Perrat
 1970s Aussie drama about unmarried mothers




Horror/SciFi Thriller



Fantasy/Dystopian



Showbiz memoir



by Barb Taub
Humour, articles



Post Apocalyptic



Psychological Thriller



True crime: serial killers



🌟🌟🌟

~ The Top Ten Countdown~

Fantasy, Dystopian



Memoir: escape from North Korea



Memoir: hiking the Appalachian Trail



SciFi



Relationship drama/memoir




 ⭐ ~ The Top Five ~ ⭐

Five: three wonderful historical novellas from different eras, all connected by the Pembrokeshire mansion in which they take place.


Four: the sixth in this marvellous series of Victorian murder mysteries; each one is a stand-alone, but you should read them all! 


In 3rd place: actually two books, but they go together: the final two parts of the only series you need to read about Anne Boleyn.


The runner-up: the international best seller, about who we are, where we come from, why we do what we do and what we might do next!
 

🌟🌟 ~ My favourite book of 2018 ~ 🌟🌟
  
One of the best historical novels I've ever read, set in the 17th century London  of Samuel Pepys.  I recommend reading my review and buying it immediately!


 Thank you, and enjoy!



Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: the paperback was sent to me by a friend, for my birthday last summer.

In a Nutshell: 'a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question: What makes a life worth living?'

Not an easy book to review, or indeed to read.  It starts off with Kalanithi's diagnosis - the unlikely occurrence of a man of 36 who (I assume) didn't smoke, getting lung cancer.  At the time, he and his wife were about to separate, but they came together again when he fell ill, and had a child, Cady, who was just 8 months old when he died.

The beginning of the book tells much about what led Kalanithi to become a neurosurgeon, and his search for meaning in his life - I enjoyed this part.  Less so the mechanics of some of the work he did (not for the squeamish).  Then comes his suspicion that he's ill, the diagnosis and treatment.  From the point of view of one who has known people who have died from and some who have recovered from cancer, I found the information about the treatments and his reaction to them, and the thoughts that went through his head, most interesting to read about.

What is so sad is that he didn't know how much time he had left; in the end, it was less than perhaps he'd thought.  The last section of the book is written by his wife, after he died, and it's heartrending.  Some reviews have said it's the best part of the book; in some ways I agree.

It's probably not one to read if you're not in a good frame of mind, but I'm glad I did.


Sunday, 9 December 2018

FRIENDS & OTHER STRANGERS by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I loved Liza Perrat's two novels set in 1970s Australia, so downloaded these when I noticed they were on offer.

In a nutshell: Short stories and essays on life, mostly set in small town Australia from the 1950s to the present day.

These were great; there aren't any weak ones.  Many of them were either submitted or shortlisted for various short story awards, or actually won.  They're not all stories in the sense of having a beginning middle and end; some are more snapshots of a life lived.  They're all beautifully atmospheric, though; a fine collection.

My favourites were Daughter of Atlas, about a Greek family who emigrated to Aus in the 1950s, Corner of Acacia and Beach Streets, a heartrending tale of loss (in more ways than one), and Santa Never Made It, about a Christmas time cyclone in Darwin.


Sunday, 2 December 2018

ALL THESE NEARLY FIGHTS by Richard Cunliffe @CunliffeRich #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



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

In a nutshell: Lad Lit: Car salesman Jimmy Harris has problems of the financial and romantic kind.

I enjoyed this book, it's well-written and jogs along nicely - the plot is fairly domestic with only the occasional surprise, but such was the quality of the writing and that all-important characterisation that it kept me interested throughout.

It takes place over five days in any-town, England, mostly in the downmarket car showroom where Jimmy works, and at his home, which he shares with the beautiful and virtuous but rather bland Charlotte. Few people know that Jimmy won the lottery recently, and Charlotte is not one of them.  Before the win, he was planning to start his own garage with best friend Ash, but his new circumstances have affected his plans - and so have the feelings he still has for the gorgeous and fickle Isabel, who broke his heart.

I've read a fair bit of lad lit over the years, and notice that the heroes tend to fall into two categories: the cute nerd who makes a big deal out of the lyrics of songs and is trying to win back the heart of a girl (often called Laura), or the more swaggering jack-the-lad who cheats on women and calls his friends 'mate', 'buddy' and 'Big Man' every time he talks to them.  Jimmy Harris belongs to the second crew, which makes for a livelier read.  The other truism about this genre is that the women fall into two basic types: the beautiful, good-hearted and bland, and the sexy-but-a-bit-nuts.  Kind of the Madonna-whore thing.  Charlotte is the former, while Isabel is the latter.  Jimmy spends his time swaying hither and thither in his feelings for the two of them.

The characters who work in the showroom are great, very real, and the sales scenarios were totally realistic; even though I know nothing of this world, have zero interest in cars and loathe sales patter, I really enjoyed reading this side of it.

I was a little disappointed to find that the book ends with no wrapping up of any of the storylines, to be continued in Book 2, Fault On Both Sides, because there is no indication in the blurb that it is not a complete story.  I like continuing stories and am happy with cliffhangers, if I know what I'm getting, but it is not listed on Amazon as part of a series.  I turned the page expecting to carry on reading, only to see 'The End'.  However, I liked it enough to download the sequel on Kindle Unlimited, which speaks for itself about the quality of the book; I do want to know what happens!

It's a sound debut novel; I would suggest that Mr Cunliffe adds the term 'Lad Lit' to his keywords to make it show up in this category on Amazon, and also lists them as a series, with an indication in the blurb for this one that it is only part one of the story.  At £3.48 for the pair they'll hardly break the bank, and they're available on Kindle Unlimited, too.  Yes, I recommend!


Monday, 19 November 2018

CHRISTMAS ONCE AGAIN by D K Deters

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

 

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

In a nutshell: Christmas time travel short story

Madison Knight is an antique consultant with financial problems, a demanding boss, and no one with whom to spend Christmas.  She's looking forward to shutting the door on the snowy season and getting cosy all alone.  Then customer Zach Murdock gets in touch to say he wants to retrieve his grandmother's beloved painting, because he should never have sold it to the company Madison works for.  Unfortunately, retrieving it is more complicated than Madison originally thinks it will be.

The snow gets worse, and Madison gets stranded.  She seeks help from a local family, but there's something decidedly odd about them.  They seem kind of... old fashioned.

This story is not overtly Christmassy, which, for me, was a plus; it's not as sugar-coated as some.  I love a time travel story; it's the slow dawning of what has happened, and the gaping chasms in language and technology that never fail to entertain.  This is a good story, and nicely plotted, but I felt it could have done with a bit more spit and polish; a bit more re-drafting of both narrative and dialogue, and thinking through of the emotions of the characters when they discover what has occurred.  But it was an enjoyable half hour's reading, nevertheless.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

CHRISTMAS IN SWITZERLAND by Melinda Huber @LindaHuber19

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter!

In a nutshell: Cosy Christmas novella set in a Swiss hotel

Spa hotel managers Stacy and fiancΓ© Rico are so busy organising a perfect Swiss advent for their guests that they hardly have time for each other. The arrival of Rico's widowed father, Ralph, is a lovely surprise, but is he hiding something?

Widow Carol arrives at the hotel for a relaxation week with a friend, en route to Australia, to visit her son and grandchildren. Pushed into the holiday by her friend, she can't wait for the week to be over.

With tension building between Stacy and Rico, she feels envious of the guests who have time just for each other.

This is a cosy, 'feel-good' story, with all the atmosphere of Christmas in Switzerland, and I enjoyed reading all about the various Advent customs in this part of the world.  It's most definitely a 'clean read', and I think would be appreciated most by readers who like sweet romances, as this is the general tone of it - and all HEA and Christmas addicts, of course!  A book to curl up with on a cold day, with a huge mug of hot chocolate; this might even make it snow. πŸ˜€




Saturday, 10 November 2018

THE SWOOPING MAGPIE by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

 
How I discovered this book: I loved Liza Perrat's other book set in 1970s Australia, The Silent Kookaburra, so I pounced on this as soon as it came out!  Also reviewing it for Rosie Amber's Review Team.

In a nutshell: Emotional drama about the plight of unmarried mothers in 1970s Australia, based on true life events.

This is a fictional story about the terrible injustices committed towards young, unmarried mothers in Australia until the 1980s, when they were forced into homes and made to sign papers to give their babies up for adoption, often without even seeing them.  It's hard to imagine such a crime now, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when this book is set, a teenage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy was seen as a disgrace to a family, with the girls made to feel like the lowest of the low.  No consideration was given to their feelings, or the resulting trauma they would experience throughout the rest of their lives.  Liza Perrat lists her research material at the back of the book.

Headstrong, pretty and popular Lindsay Townsend has an unhappy childhood with a weak mother and a bully for a father, when she begins an affair with Jon Halliwell, a teacher at her school.  The first half of the book describes not only the passage of the affair and her belief that Jon truly loved her (I loved this part of the book!), but also her time at the home, during which she is finally beaten down.  On a happier note, though, it is there that she made lifelong friends with the other girls who shared her plight.

Jon's treachery is worse than she knows, as the middle of the book shows us, with a truly shocking twist; I was gripped.  We then move to the immediate aftermath of Lindsay's loss, and then to the early 1990s and finally to 2013, as she and her friends aim to right the wrongs done to them.

The books is dialogue-led, with much of the story told in conversation.  The emotions are real, and well-portrayed, and there is no doubt that Liza Perrat has in no way exaggerated the effect on the women who were at the home with Lindsay; I admit to shedding a tear or two during the final ten per cent of the book.  Most of all, though, for anyone who might think, 'well, I wouldn't let that happen to me', Ms Perrat has depicted so well the hopelessness, the reality of being completely trapped and without options, that the girls experienced.  It was, indeed, a different world.  Well worth a read.

 

Friday, 2 November 2018

LONG SHADOWS by Thorne Moore @ThorneMoore

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



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

In a nutshell: three novellas, set in different historical eras, about the same place, Llys y Garn, a rambling Pembrokeshire mansion in which aspects of its former lives still remain ~ and not just within the building itself.

I loved every word of this book; I kept trying to read it slowly, so it wouldn't end.   The stories are haunting and sad, and say much about the sad lot of women in eras in which they are set.

The Good Servant takes place around the turn of the 20th century, and is about an old spinster maid, Eluned Skeel, who has no one and nothing to love but the unwanted nephew of the family she serves, taken in by them when he has no one else.  As Cyril Lawson grows up he causes everyone around him pain - but he is Skeel's reason for being, whatever he does.  

The Witch is the story of 17th century Elizabeth, daughter of a father who cares nothing for her aside from the fortune or social standing she can bring him through marriage.  Elizabeth, though, cares only for Llys y Garn, and wonders if she might be a servant of the devil, as ill falls all who would seek to take it from her.

The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad, in the 14th century, who longs to escape from the brutality, pain and death of her father's house, and see the world.  

I didn't have a favourite; they're all as good as each other.  Beautifully written, marvellous stories.  This book reminded me, in subject matter and writing style, of Norah Lofts' books The House at Old Vine and A Wayside Tavern.  Can't recommend too highly.