Tuesday, 16 October 2018

NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU by Nikki Crutchley @NikkiCAuthor

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.

Genre: Crime and abduction, set in New Zealand

The book opens with an excellent prologue about Faith, a teenage foster kid getting abducted, back in 2001.  It then goes back to the main story, about Zoe, a thirty-something, recently unemployed teacher whose life is all at sea, going back to small town Crawton because her mother has died.  Zoe's feelings about this can hardly even be called 'mixed' ~ her relationship with Lilian was cold and distant, and she hasn't seen her since she was eighteen.  When she arrives in Crawton, though, she is left wondering what really happened to her mother.

Meanwhile, meth-head Megan has been abducted, and is kept prisoner in a storage cupboard.

Despite the themes of abduction, murder and the sleazy underworld of drugs, I'd describe this as a low-key thriller; much of the novel concerns Zoe's relationship with her mother and the other issues she is working through, and there is quite a lot of domestic and day-to-day conversational detail, which, together with the writing style, lends itself more to a dark drama with gradually unfolding sinister developments than edge-of-your-seat suspense.  It's nicely written and the characterisation is good, particularly Faith, with whom the book opens.  One of the characters has Alzheimer's, and I thought this was most realistic.

I had a feeling who the baddie(s) might be about half way through, but that's probably because I watch a lot of TV of this genre; it's not at all obvious.  The plot is convincing and cleverly structured, I thought the descriptions of what the abducted girls went through was particularly well done, and the ending was good ~ I do appreciate a well-thought out ending.  I can imagine this being the sort of book you might get into reading on holiday.







Thursday, 11 October 2018

FARM LAND: Sentience by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I will read anything by Gemma Lawrence; coupled with my love of dark, dystopian futures, I could hardly open this quickly enough, once I'd bought it!

Genre: Dark fantasy, dystopian, horror

This story takes place thousands of years into the future, after the world as we know it has been all but destroyed by the greed of those in power.  After widespread war, death and famine, the waters rose and many species became extinct.  Now, the corner of the world in which this story takes place is governed once more by the rich and greedy, with the less affluent in society doing as they're told.  But there is a yet less fortunate underclass ~ those who fought against the rich back in times of war were enslaved, with their descendants kept captive and used for meat.  They are bred in the Factory, never seeing the light of day.  At puberty, suitable girls become 'breeders'.  

There are those, though, who still live free, or have escaped the Factory, and are hunted by the flesh-eaters; wild, non-Factory meat is much prized.  The free people eat only that which they can grow in the soil of their land.

'Those who founded this place, our forebears, told us that All Life Is Sacred...as the flesh-eaters had denied our rights, we should not deny them to other sentient creatures...who can think, feel and experience pleasure and pain.'

Then there are the other dangers; insects have evolved and become larger.  Much larger.

Farm Land: Sentience can be read as a dark, futuristic fantasy ~ it's great fiction, exciting and well-written.  I think, though, that it has deeper meaning, and I've found myself thinking about it a lot, when I'm not reading it.

The flesh-eaters believe that those bred for meat have no feelings, are not the same as them; they choose to believe this, because they have been told it is so, by those who rule over them; if they see anything in the slaughtering process that makes them feel uncomfortable, they close their eyes ~ except one, who begins to understand what is actually going on.

The story is told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl; an old woman she meets tells her more about how and why the old world ended.  There are so many parallels with our own destruction of our planet and the evils of animal agriculture that I could quote away until this review was far too long, but the book does not preach, at all.  It talks of belief in gods, and whether or not they were all imaginary; either way, by now they are long gone, with the flesh-eaters living only to satisfy their own immediate needs.  

The main character discovers that she is a 'Reacher', in that she can enter the thoughts of others, and communicate with the few who have this ability.  Much about this, and the evolution of other species, made me think of something else I've read lately, ie, that man as we know it now has not necessarily finished evolving.  For all we know, we may indeed develop other abilities much, much farther down the line ~ if we do not destroy ourselves.

'They are careless with lives because they do not consider anything to be as important as themselves...they started to use everything, exhausting the world, ignoring warnings screamed by the earth... the greed of man is such that they will seek to consume the world, and never stop to wonder what will be left for them to stand upon.'

Whether you read this as compelling and unpredictable fantasy fiction or see more parallels with our own society within, it's a terrific book.  It's about the possibility of love, acceptance and care for others being allowed to triumph over greed, selfishness and evil.  Unmissable.


Monday, 8 October 2018

QUICK FIX by J Gregory Smith

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.

Genre: Crime, heist, kidnapping.

This book has a great opening.  Military contractor Kyle Logan messes up his already messed up life by assaulting his wife's divorce lawyer, who also happens to be her lover.  He's then offered a role in the theft of some pieces of valuable artwork, by his friend Ryan.  Kyle is also suffering from injuries caused by an IED when he was in Iraq.  

I warmed to the characters and the writing style straight away.  There's plenty of dark stuff going on, but lots of humour, too - I liked the observations about characters, and often just the way stuff was phrased ('I hated losing her to a puke like Fenster').  The guy-on-his-uppers-with-wife-who-has-moved-on-to-a-more-straight-and-successful-new-man thing is an oft-used scenario in this genre in both books and on screen (I'm currently watching the TV series Get Shorty - there it is again!), but it works every time, and J Gregory Smith has painted all participants most colourfully.

When Kyle realises that involvement in Ryan's criminal schemes means re-acquaintance with childhood chum-turned-gangster Danny 'Iceballs' Sheehan, he knows his life is not going to be easy.  Smith has portrayed the atmosphere of the criminal underworld of Philadelphia so well; this book is fast-paced and flows very well, with a convincing plot, and is, basically, a good, solid novel.  I haven't got anything negative to say about it.  Nice one.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

TREASON IN TRUST by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I love Gemma Lawrence and have read the rest of this series, of which this is book 5!

Genre: History, Biography, Tudors, Elizabeth 1st.

Treason in Trust covers the middle part of Elizabeth's reign, or some of it ~ not a period of history with which I am familiar, so this was quite a new experience for me with one of Gemma Lawrence's books. 

The attention to detail in this book is as good as ever, and I especially loved the descriptions of London itself and how the people lived, made all the more meaningful because of Elizabeth's well-documented view that she was married to her country, with her subjects her children.  She talks often about the reasons for her remaining single, and her thoughts about the patriarchal society in which she lives ~ an early feminist, indeed.  

I enjoyed reading about Francis Drake, battles upon the seas, the customs, medicines and superstitions of the time ~ and the introduction of the wristwatch: "A clock... for my wrist?" I asked.  "What a novel idea, Robin!"

Much of the novel deals with the problem of the disgraced Mary, Queen of Scots, and the rebellions within her beloved England, as the problems of religious differences rear their ugly heads over and over again.  Death haunts her, as she thinks of all those she has lost, especially as she grows older and succumbs to illness ... and learns of terrible massacre and relgious persecution abroad.

Reading this, you will feel as though Gemma Lawrence knows the older Elizabeth every bit as well as she knew the girl.  There has not yet been one of her historical novels that I don't consider worthy of five stars.



Tuesday, 25 September 2018

MURDER BY INCREMENTS: A CITY OWNED and KILLING COUSINS by O J Modjeska @OJModjeska

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I had already bought Book #1, because I'd read and loved GONE: Catastrophe in Paradise by this author, but then it appeared on the Rosie Amber's Book Review Team list; as a member of this review team, I said I would read it for Rosie's blog, too.  I bought the second book, about the killers, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, as soon as I'd finished it.  Thus, I am reviewing the books as one. 

Genre: True Crime (non fiction); serial killers.

This two part series, Murder by Increments, is about the crimes of the Hillside Stranglers, who made LA a frightening place to be in the late 1970s.  The first book, A City Owned, starts with a picture of what LA was like back then.  Such a clever way to start; to understand the lives of the victims and why Bianchi and Buono went undiscovered for so long, we have first to be aware of the culture of the time.  LA was a seedy place indeed, peopled by many who'd arrived seeking the Hollywood dream, only to be sucked into the underworld of prostitution, porn, drugs and crime.  The cops were overworked and jaded, with few resources; these were the days before the internet, before reliable criminal profiling, and before DNA databases.  Reading how carelessly they bungled the investigations, over and over again, made me think that crime solving had moved on very little in the hundred years since the London police tried in vain to identify Jack the Ripper.

O J Modjeska writes about the victims with great respect for each girl's short life, drawing a heartbreaking picture each time.   These are not just names, and the book is far from being just a list of heinous crimes.  Only towards the end of the book do Bianchi and Buono themselves appear, and by then I had to know the whole story; I went back to Amazon and bought Killing Cousins as soon as I'd finished A City Owned.  



I found Killing Cousins the most absorbing of the two books, as I am more interested in the psychological background of killers than the solving of crimes.  The drawn out trial was at times farcical, not only because of Bianchi's attempts to convince psychiatrists that he suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder, but because of the self-interest and prejudice of many involved.

'There were the cops who thought the lives of prostitutes were worthless, the officials who wanted to look good in front of the media, the shrinks seeking professional recognition, the prosecutors who assumed middle-aged women were crazy, and the politicians seeking office.  There was stupidity, there was self-aggrandizement, there was sexism and the tyranny of the herd.' 

This two-book series is everything that true crime should be, without being in any way sensationalised.  O J Modjeska has not only written a riveting account of the victims, perpetrators and law enforcement bodies, but also shown how very different attitudes in general were, only forty years ago; if just a few incidents had not taken place, a few people not spoken up, if a few jurors been swayed by the individuals who defended these two monsters, the outcome might have been very different.





Saturday, 22 September 2018

INCENDIARY by Carl Rackman @CarlRackman

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: After reading Jonah by this author, there was no way I was not going to read his next novel! 

Genre: Thriller, horror, military, government conspiracies, dragons.... yes, really.

When I read that this book was a naval military type thriller that featured a fire-breathing, wing├ęd monster, I couldn't see how the two would work together, to the extent that when Mr Rackman first tweeted about it I thought he was joking.  But he has totally pulled off the challenge with Incendiary ~ the dragonesque Horla and her species are completely plausible and I hope they are real.

The story starts with a gripping scene from the Vietnam war, then moves onto a ship with a top secret cargo ~ all the stuff of which good action horror stories are made.   The novel is pacy and suspenseful, factually convincing and cleverly put together, told from the third person points of view of Dr Mel Villiers, researcher, and the man with whom she has recently become involved, Captain Steve Warren from the elite SBS unit.  Threads of governmental falsehoods, cover-ups and conspiracies run through the book as it moves from Porton Down research centre to a submarine in the Arctic ~ which is where the greatest twist of all takes place.  Got me there; I love a surprise I didn't see coming, and it's one that turns the whole story on its head.

The thought of a world in which the human is not the dominant species gives much food for thought, as do several passages about the way in which those in power keep hold of it; the book has a fair bit to say, as well as being a good story.  It's an unusual, intelligently-written page-turner, and the Author's Note stuff about dragons at the back is worth reading, too.  Tick! ✔


Friday, 21 September 2018

THE GIRL IN HIS EYES by Jennie Ensor @Jennie_Ensor

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads




How I discovered this book: the author asked me if I would like an ARC for a review/quotes, and I said yes please!

Genre: Dark family drama/'grip lit'.

The Girl In His Eyes is a disturbing family drama, told from the points of view of the three main characters: mother Suzanne, daughter Laura and father Paul.  An affluent, middle-class family living in a nice area of London, their lives seem fine to their set of equally successful friends, but behind closed doors lie dark secrets of the most heinous kind.

Suzanne was a frustrating character to read about, which I am sure was intentional.  Although around fifty, she behaves and thinks like a child, is emotionally dependent, and wishes to know only about her nice little world where everything is, she needs to believe, safe and discord-free.  Laura, in her twenties, lives alone in a rundown flat where her life is coming to pieces, a slow unravelling that began when she was eleven or twelve—when her father started to touch her.  She can't hold down a job and has no friends aside from the horribly censorious and insensitive Rachael.  I thought Laura's inner thoughts were beautifully depicted, so real.

What makes this novel such a page-turner is not only the slow unfolding of the chaos within, but the clever inclusion of Paul's point of view: Paul, the handsome, well groomed and athletic fifty-three-year-old, with a penchant for young girls.  This was exceptionally well done, and most disturbing without being remotely tacky.  He tells himself that he is only acting on urges common to all men.  Every time he feels bad, he excuses his own behaviour.

Laura's life continues to unravel as she pursues a maybe unwise solution to her debt problem—an aspect of this novel that kept me engrossed.  Meanwhile, back in suburbia, Paul is asked to take a friend's daughter swimming ... and over the course of five months, the family's lives change forever.

I imagine this novel will do extremely well in this ever-popular genre of dark domestic drama; it deserves to.  It is structured well, and the writing really flows.  I enjoyed the first three quarters, in particular, and looked forward to opening my Kindle each time I was able to get back to it.  Now and again, though, I did find the writing a little 'safe'.  Also, I wasn't convinced by some of the developments in the last quarter; it all seemed too neatly tied up, particularly the choices made by Suzanne and the brother's change of heart.  Other than that, though, it is a most compelling novel, and I'd most definitely recommend it to those who love well-written stories of family turmoil. 



THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by R A Hakok

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read Book #1 Among Wolves, following Amazon browse, and had to start reading Book #2 straight away!

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian, SciFi, Horror

I found this book almost as compelling as the first ~ although a continuing story, it's a different chapter, as protagonist Gabriel and his friend Mags set off in search for a haven safe from those who threaten their group, and come across some who they trust, at first, later to find out that not all of them have their best interests at heart.  The sense of bleakness, of cold and silence, is so well done all the way through.

As with the first book, I applauded the structure of this book ~ it starts with Gabriel trying to get out of the pickle in which he has found himself, then goes back ten days to show how he got there.  Running alongside is the associated story of a boy kept imprisoned; the way in which this gradually intertwines with the main story works so well.  I loved the building of suspense, and the hints of danger to come.

One thing I was not so sure about, in this book, was the way in which Gabriel seemed to know so much about how the world was before the fall, given that he was six at the time and had received little formal education, learning things only by conversation, and reading novels and the odd scrap of old newspaper.  It didn't bother me a great deal, and I was able to suspend any disbelief most of the time, but I felt that the author had sometimes forgotten that he was writing from the POV of a seventeen year old boy who had lived a very insular life for the past ten years.   But the end was full of the unexpected, I really enjoyed the book and will certainly be reading the next one ~ which is what matters!