Saturday 28 March 2015

QUARTERLY ROUND UP: January - March 2015

I've read lots of books so far this year!  Now that I've started this review blog, I thought I'd do a round-up once a quarter of my favourite ten books of the past three months.  All those featured have a rating of over 4*.  I've given a brief description of each book; if you click each title it takes you to the full review and buy links.  I won't include two by the same writer (for purposes of interest and variation), but if there is another I've read in this quarter that I've enjoyed as much or thereabouts, I'll give it a mention, too.

Here, in no particular order, is my Top Ten from January, February and March 2015

1.  Once Upon A Time In The City Of Criminals by Mark Barry

Brilliant, shocking, contemporary drama about a small-time crook who falls in love with a beautiful young woman.

2. Inkker Hauser Part II - Literastein by Phil Conquest

Novella about an eccentric young man with delusions both literary and romantic.

3.  The Turning Of The World by John Privilege

Realistic post apocalyptic drama set in Northern Ireland.

4. Mantle of Malice by April Taylor

Alternative history - part 3 of The Tudor Enigma series: Anne Boleyn lives on, and a lowly apothecary with unusual talents...  see also Taste of Treason

5. The Great Law of Peace by Zoe Saadia

Native American historical fiction, about the Iroquois; part 3 of the Peacemaker series ~ see also Across The Great Sparkling Water

6.  The Goddard Affair by Scott Marlowe

Sharp, witty fantasy adventure novella about an assassin.

7.  Living By Ear by Mary J Rowen

Former busker Chris Daley has difficulty taking on a conventional lifestyle 

8.  Mad World by Kate L Mary

The third and best in the Broken World series - US zombie apocalypse 

9.  Six Months To Get A Life by Ben Adams

A father heading for middle age struggles through life post-divorce

10.  A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift

17th century historical fiction - I am only half way through this book but it's so good I had to include it!  Please click the title for Amazon UK link.  Full review coming soon. 

A final word: I'd recommend these ten to anyone; all writers are excellent and I've read more than one book by seven of them.  Whether going it alone, published by an indie press or traditionally published, it's getting harder and harder for writers to get noticed as the market becomes increasingly flooded; those with the right contacts and a publicity machine behind them overshadow those who are just as good at what they do but on their own when it comes to marketing.  If you're an avid reader, please do take the time to look at book blogs and pick up recommendations, rather than just heading automatically for the bestseller shelves; you never know what you might discover.  Oh, and please, please take five minutes to leave a review, if you don't mind doing so; just a line to say what you though of it is enough, don't think you have to write a full literary critique!  Reviews help make books more 'visible' on Amazon, and are a great recommendation to others; they make a writer's job just that little bit easier.

Thank you for visiting, and I hope you have found something that appeals to you; may you find joy, escapism, comfort and adventure between the pages!

Wednesday 25 March 2015

THE LIE OF YOU by Jane Lythell

2 out of 5 stars

Psychological thriller 

Audio Book

On Amazon UK HERE

I listened to the audio book of this.  I was looking forward to it - what a disappointment.

You know, sometimes I wonder why I, as a self-published writer, take so much trouble over the feasibility of my plots, the motivations of my characters.  In best selling (and, I imagine, traditionally published) The Lie of You, London architectural magazine editor Kathy - ie, an intelligent, professional, educated and presumably switched on sort of woman - gets pregnant by and marries Finnish architect Markus, despite the fact that he refuses to provide any details about his life before they met, and I'm talking absolutely zero; he might as well have just appeared one day from the ether, and none of his family or friends came to the wedding.  Kathy has no friends, family or even sympathetic colleagues who encourage her to perhaps give this a bit of consideration; aside from their work, the couple lives in unexplained isolation.

I mean, seriously?

The whole plot hinges on characters keeping secrets about themselves and no-one else thinking this is a bit weird and bothering to investigate.  Had the author's editor said to her, "sorry, luv, this isn't feasible", as indeed he/she should have done, Ms Lythell would have had to re-write the whole novel.  Kathy mentions that Markus is a man of mystery, and gets ratty if she asks him anything about himself, as if it is a cause of minor irritation only.  Like, just one of his quirks, right?  But wouldn't she have at least looked him up on Google just to make sure he wasn't a serial killer?  She is irritatingly eager, wholesome, lacking in confidence and desperately, schoolgirlishly cheerful, to the extent that one wonders why the sexy Markus hasn't serial killed her after a month in her company, anyway.  I would have done.  That might have just been the narrator, though.

I won't even get started on Heja, the Finnish ice queen colleague who stalks Kathy.  Wonder what her connection is with the mysterious and also Finnish Markus, eh?  I'll give you a clue - the tag line on the cover gives it away.  
I listened to this for a few hours whilst doing domestic chores and some bits of it seemed fairly good at first, but I became so annoyed by it I didn't care how it ended.  The dialogue was pretty weak, too.  

3/4 stars for the Heja narrator, 2 stars for Kathy, who sounded more like a 1950s hockey teacher.

Tuesday 24 March 2015



Violent drama

On Amazon UK HERE

This book is of the type for which the 'indie' or self published world was made - fearless, quality writing that would probably never get taken on by a traditional publisher or larger independent press, because it fits into no established genre and would perhaps not appeal to the mass market, but for style and talent can rival the best and leave half of them standing.  This is the sort of novel that reaches cult status; maybe in five years' time people will be saying, "What, you haven't read City of Criminals?  Where have you been?"

I read it over a period of a couple of days and would have finished it sooner if I'd been able to.  It's terrific.

In brief:  Terry Valentine is an ex-con, a part-time crackhead, a ex-football hooligan, and a small-time crook with a chip on his shoulder about the middle classes and control of the populace by the rich.  Rapidly going to seed, he gets an emotional kick in the pants when he takes on the job of driver to young lesbian prostitute Chloe, and falls in love with her.  Once he gets into his head that she needs saving from her major client (who happens to be in love with her, too) and the gangsters who control her, all thoughts of a reconciliation with his one time love, sexy dope fiend Marge, go out of his head.

At first I worried that the free flowing writing style of narrative interspersed with Terry's inner dialogue, together with the lack of speech marks in conversation, might get on my nerves or even seem a little contrived, but it doesn't - it really works, more so as the book goes on, and is perfect for this story.  Mark Barry knows what he's doing.  The dark and dangerous underclass of brutal criminals, football hooligans, drug users and gamblers is obviously one he understands so well, too.  One thing I loved was the way in which the language of the world between the pages is not explained by some patronising glossary at the back of the book; if you're not sure exactly what is meant by a phrase or word on its first outing you soon pick it up, or if you don't it doesn't really matter. 

Barry has written before about a man with a serious dark side who falls hopelessly in love with and thinks he can save a woman half his age (in Carla), but this is an entirely different sort of novel, and by far his best of the ones I've read, I think.  What struck me most was that in the first half of the book Terry Valentine just seems like a bit of a sad case, but as the story moves on to violent confrontation you start to understand the mind of the type of man for whom only a fairly constant supply of class As (and large amounts of black market prescription medication) can replace the thrill of the brawl.  Although his feelings for Chloe are the basis for the whole story, it's about so much more. 

You'll like this book if you appreciate brilliant, sparky writing that doesn't nod to convention, if you have any interest at all in the football violence of the 1980s and gangsters in general, if the 'c' word and decidely unromantic sexual reference doesn't make you wince (actually, I found the sexual depiction in this book a lot less cringe-making than the would-be sexy bits added to many otherwise not otherwise erotically orientated novels these days.  It's real, it's not written to titillate; not an arched body or ecstatic moan to be seen). You'll like it if you're not put off by the mention of blood, and if you enjoy reading sharp, edgy, contemporary drama by a novelist who knows his stuff and isn't afraid to use it.

I couldn't put it down, abandoning my own work-in-progress in order to finish it.  It's fab, it really is.

CARLA by Mark Barry reviewed HERE

THE NIGHT PORTER by Mark Barry reviewed HERE

ULTRA VIOLENCE by Mark Barry reviewed HERE

Saturday 21 March 2015


3.5 out of 5 stars

Short stories: crime, mystery, ghosts, light drama

On Amazon UK HERE

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

Twenty-two stories from Geoff West's jolly nice, slightly bumbling and Jonathan Creek-esque hero, Jack Lockwood, all set in a village near Canterbury in Kent.

When you start reading something by Geoff West you know it will be intelligently written and well edited with some clever turns of phrase, with no sentences that make you think 'ouch!' - and that's always a good starting point.

The first few in this collection are ghost stories, followed by crime/mystery and finishing up with a few of a lighter type.  I thought the crime/mystery ones were the most well put together, and by far the best is Leaving It All Behind, which I thought could have been very nicely developed into at least novelette length.  The author is very good at creating atmosphere, so much that I actually wanted to be holed up in that little country pub during the snow storm....  his characters are very clearly defined, sometimes in an almost pantomime-like way, but this is all in keeping with the whole Jack Lockwood scenario of not too serious crime solving in an idyllic part of England that comes straight from a BBC Sunday evening drama. 

Some stories I felt could have been developed more; they were more situations than actual stories, and I'd turn the page thinking there was more to come only to find the beginning of the next, but the writing was still entertaining and on the whole I'd say that if you're a short story fan of these genres, reading The Jack Lockwood Diaries is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

The book ends with the first chapter of Geoff West's latest novel, Sheer Fear - a better opening for a crime drama you couldn't find!

SHEER FEAR by Geoff West reviewed HERE

Sunday 15 March 2015

EENY MEENY by M J Arlidge

4 out of 5 stars

Serial killer crime thriller

Audio Book

On Amazon UK HERE

I listened to the audio book of this.

Since the ghastly hype that is Fifty Shades, WHY do all books, regardless of genre, have to have the obligatory explicit sex bit in them?  I don't want to know about DI Helen Grace's explosive orgasms, I want to know the identity of and story behind the serial killer, and such diversions always seem a little incongruous if the rest of the book isn't sexually orientated.  Most writers can't 'do' erotica anyway; so often it comes across somewhat cringeworthy and TMI* rather than genuinely erotic, and this is no exception.  When I was listening to the bit when she finally gets round to shagging the person you know she is going to shag from about the fifth chapter (and hope she does so behind a closed door), I actually said, "oh, give it a rest!" out loud, which amused my husband who heard me from the kitchen....   I thought the S&M sub-sub-subplot was a bit daft and pointless, too.

Anyway, moving on from that little outburst (it's in the first half of the book).....  in Southampton, people are being abducted in pairs by a seemingly friendly woman in a van, and held in various makeshift prisons without food, water, or any contact with their captor apart from one message on a mobile phone, which is left on the floor.  Next to the (pin locked) phone lies a gun; the message tells them that if one of the two captives kills the other, the killer gets to live.

The plot is unusual and well thought out.  Some reviews say that too many aspects are unfeasible, but I don't think it's any more outlandish than other stories of this type.  Not that I'm a connossieur of this genre, far from it.  For a murder thriller to work the outcome has to be a surprise, and though I made several guesses I didn't get it right, or see how the threads linked together.  The story switches point of view frequently, which I like, and the timing, suspense and cliffhangers worked well.  It was around a fifth too long (I started to think, is this ever going to end?) and a tad heavy on the cliches (wouldn't you just love to read about/watch a fictional detective who hasn't got all sorts of personal demons?) (and the characters keep hoping 'against hope' ~ does that actually mean anything?) but it's basically good - if serial killer detective type stuff is your bag, I'd definitely recommend it.

Audio-wise, I'd give it about 3.5/4 stars; it wasn't bad.  I didn't think the voices were particularly well chosen but they didn't irritate me or spoil the story at any point.  Certainly good enough, anyway.

*too much information

Friday 13 March 2015


3.5 stars

Psychological Thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

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

Keen marathon runner Moya Waterford has had a brief relationship with Martyn Cousins, and thinks she will hear no more from him when she calls it a day.  This, however, is when the trouble starts, as he insinuates himself into the life of her family and manages to convince everyone that he is a really nice guy.  Moya suspects differently, especially when she finds out details about his past.  Alas, no-one believes her....

This is a fairly standard plot, but it's in the telling, right?  I sped through the first fifty per cent of the book on a long train journey without even noticing I had read so much of it; I found the writing style very readable, and there were no long boring bits or diversions that might have tempted me to skip read.  Martyn was delightfully slimy, sister Evie and mother Belinda irritating in their naiveté; the dialogue is mostly smooth and the book starts with a good punch.  

I'm in two minds about this one; one the one hand I did enjoy it, but on the other hand I felt frustrated by it because the whole premise by which the plot hangs is, I think, unfeasible.  Very slight spoiler alert here; skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know anything at all about the plot.  Right from the beginning Martyn gives Moya's friends and family the impression that he dumped her and she is upset and jealous because he is now with her sister, Evie.  So why doesn't Moya make clear that it is she who finished it and she doesn't even like him much, thus putting her family in the picture about what sort of man he is?  She's supposed to be a strong, outspoken sort of woman but for some reason is struck dumb about this detail until much later.  Next, someone from Martyn's past travels hundreds of miles to reveal shocking details about her own experience with him, and to warn Moya that he is dangerous, but, curiously, Moya does little about it, and doesn't even seem to give it more than a cursory consideration although the pattern is clearly repeating itself.  When she does finally start to reveal details, her lifelong best friend chooses to believe Martyn over her, despite all the evidence.  

I liked Faith Mortimer's writing style; she knows what she's doing with tension building, dramatic effect, etc and I'd be happy to read another book by her; if you are good at suspending disbelief this might work for you (as I can see by the reviews it has for many), but for me it needed more thinking out, perhaps another draft or two to tighten up the prose, and less inclusion of unlikely occurrences in order to push the plot forward.  I was expecting much more of a twist in the tale all the way through, and suspected another character's involvement in the evil-doing; I thought I'd been really clever and guessed it at 57% but I was wrong.   A really great twist at the end would have made the novel so much stronger, but I'd still recommend it if you like this sort of book.

Thursday 12 March 2015


3 out of 5 stars

Romance, country music

On Amazon UK HERE

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

The debut novel by Julie Stock is a sweetly old-fashioned romance, in which English country singer Rachel meets her handsome prince, Jackson Phillips - who just happens to be a rich and successful independent record mogul from Nashville.  It's strong attraction at first sight, but the path of true love is not a straightforward one.

I think this novel will appeal very much to readers who love traditional romance stories; I describe it as 'old-fashioned' in a good way; there's little reference to popular culture or general 21st century attitudes and it's very much of its genre.  It's not what I gather is called a 'sweet romance' as there is a bit of earthy passion there too, but of the 'mounting desire' type, nothing at all graphic, and there's no bad language in it, a factor that will appeal to many.  Obviously it will have an added attraction to country music fans, too!

This is a difficult book for me to review as Julie Stock has written a weekly blog about her path to publication, many episodes of which I have read, so I know a little about the quandaries that presented themselves during the process.  As far as the continuity, structure and pace go I think she has made an excellent job of it, and she made a good decision to tell the story in two alternating first person points of view, which always adds interest.  The book is well presented with minimal errors.  I read that she was worried about lack of description of her settings, but I thought that the beginning, in particular, was illustrated very nicely.  The sense of an idyllic British seaside town in August is all there; there's a slightly dreamy quality about it which really worked. 

The majority of debut novels have room for improvement and, for me, the weak points in this book were the dialogue and the feasibility of some of the characters and their reactions.  I thought Rachel's co-musician Sam was very realistic and by far the most well written character; his reluctant sulkiness about Rachel and Jackson's attraction was spot on.   However, sadly, though I found Jackson delightful he didn't come over to me as a successful, multi-millionaire record producer.  Why not?  It's a hard one.  This is what I think: to have achieved all he had at such a young age would probably mean his being confident, very worldly-wise, street sharp, artful in dealing with people and no doubt experienced in romantic matters too, especially as he's a handsome chap, whereas Jackson comes across as just your average nice guy-next-door with insecurity issues.  The 'big row' that explodes in the middle of the book didn't quite work for me; I couldn't see a man of Jackson's age/standing/charisma/experience reacting in as extreme a fashion as he did to a few bitchy remarks (I won't say any more: spoilers), especially when he was so happy, and Rachel didn't behave like someone who loved him, either.  I do get that the story about their relationship is much to do with overcoming their own misgivings and hang-ups due to past events, though.

The problem I had with the dialogue in the first half of the book is that it's a tad stilted; characters talk to each other in perfectly structured sentences, giving just the right amount of information required to take the plot forward, whereas in real life people use colloquialisms, half sentences, private jokes, make grammatical errors, go 'um' and 'er' and 'y'know', have personal conversational quirks, etc (admittedly, Jackson says 'sweetheart' a lot, an endearing trait of his!).  I'd have liked to see a better understanding of how young single women talk to each other, how men discuss women between themselves, dialogue that illustrates character rather than merely supplying info.  I'm happy to report, however, that it does loosen up about halfway through; the lovely happy bit when Rachel and Jackson are first in Nashville together, and meeting his family, is very sweet and should put a smile on the faces of all romance lovers, as will further sections later in the book.

To sum up - the research of practical details throughout the book cannot be faulted but the lack of insight into the music industry and character realism weakened it. However, there are plenty of positives, lots of happy gooey bits for romance addicts, and I'll give this suggestion to Julie: try writing a big emotional scene over a couple of glasses of wine, it helps you to let go and feel what people really would say under certain circumstances.  I wrote a difficult chapter of one of my earlier books via Blossom Hill red, and it's one that people say actually makes them cry.  It works!

Monday 2 March 2015

MANTLE OF MALICE by April Taylor


History, fantasy, magic

On Amazon UK HERE

Yes, she's done it - the third episode of the Tudor Enigma trilogy is by far the best of the three!  I loved it, and read it in just two days.

This third book has all the elements that made Court of Conspiracy and Taste of Treason so good, but so much more, too.  The series takes place in an parallel world in which Anne Boleyn carried Henry VIII's son to full term and they stayed married; Henry IX is now on the throne.  Much though I've loved the storylines of the other two books, about apothecary Luke Ballard and his associates and friends, I always wanted to know what else might happen in this alternative universe ~ and in Mantle of Malice we meet the Dukes of Northumberland and Somerset (Dudley and Seymour), along with Thomas Cranmer, Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, and find out what might have happened to other members of the Tudor court, too; I will say no more except that I think Ms Taylor views the Seymours and the Dudleys in the same way as I do....  

 Wolf Hall, home of the Seymours

I had absolutely no idea about who was the ultimate evil behind all the shocking events, and, as with the last book, was completely surprised by the ending.  A better outcome than I could possibly have imagined.  For those who like a definite romance element to a story, too, in Mantle of Malice we see much more of Luke Ballard the man, rather than just the elemancer and apothecary. 

I felt a little flat for some hours after I'd finished this book, and then realised why: I wanted to still be reading it.  I wanted to still be in the world on the pages.  Yes, it's one of those books.  If you like fantasy and magic you'll LOVE this series, and if you are interested in Tudor history, even better.  I'd recommend it to anyone, though.

COURT OF CONSPIRACY by April Taylor reviewed HERE 

TASTE OF TREASON by April Taylor reviewed HERE