Wednesday, 27 May 2015

BOARDWALK EMPIRE by Nelson Johnson

4.5 out of 5 stars

American history: non fiction

Audio book

On Amazon UK HERE

I started listening to this because I adored the TV series Boardwalk Empire, which was taken from this book - not the other way round, oh people who reviewed it saying it has a lot of boring history in it...!

It tells of the rise of Atlantic City from a tiny fishing village in nowheresville, South Jersey, into a resort for the entertainment of the working man.  The idea was the brainchild of one Dr Joseph Pitney, whose original idea was to turn it into a health resort - but the first thing he had to do was negotiate with the railroad companies, so that visitors could actually reach this isolated outpost. By the end of the 19th century, the basis was in place for the Atlantic City empire of treasurer Nucky Johnson, on whom Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is based. 

The pre-Nucky section of the book is probably about a third of it, and I liked this part the best.  If you're interested in Americal sociological history you will find this book as fascinating as I did, though if you're expecting lots of dramatic gangster type stuff in the Prohibition era you will be disappointed - people like Al Capone are scarcely mentioned, and Arnold Rothstein not at all, I don't think; much of the story in the televison series is fictional.

Narrated by actor Joe Mantegna, of 101 gangster films fame ~ the perfect choice. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

DEAR INTERNET: IT'S ME, AVERY by Jennifer Ammoscato

4 out of 5 stars

Chick lit

On Amazon UK HERE

Jennifer Ammoscato's debut novel is the story of thirty-six year old Avery Fowler (love the name Avery!) who has just discovered that her husband doesn't love her anymore and is leaving her for his secretary - a plot kick-off that never gets old, does it?

Avery is an internet obsessed journalist, with (as in all good chick lit novels) a couple of super-supportive best girlfriends and a gay guy friend who dispense drinks and advice.  Sound familiar?  Yes, this book is Extreme Chick Lit very much in the Bridget Jones mould, but Avery is a twenty-first century girl, who also has an internet life coach called Clementine and doesn't sit around waiting for Mr Darcy to appear on her doorstep with red roses.  If you loved the Bridget Jones books, though, I think you will adore Avery!

Ms Ammoscato's style is very sharp and witty, with SO many great lines:

"Online dating!  Of course!  It's like shopping on, but for guys.  In my pyjamas.  What's not to love?"

I couldn't fault the writing, all the way through it.  There's a definite formula to this genre, but it's one that works, if it's done well.  Now, listen.  As many know, I am absolutely not a chick lit fan (not enough flu pandemics, zombies, sixteenth century executions and fatal addictions for me), in fact it rates on my list of go-to genres only just above YA fantasy, sweet romance and vampire trilogies, but I hope I can tell if something is good of its type, and I reckon this is.

Any negatives?  I did think the book lost its way slightly in the middle, getting a bit too zany for me, though probably not for fans of this genre.  However, it totally picks up in the last twenty-five per cent, with a satisfying ending that made me want to know what happens next; yes, I read the excerpt of part two at the back!  It was good to see the story become more real, and Avery become less ditzy; a bit more like someone who *no spoilers here!* might fall in love with - and who might get the better of her boss-from-hell.

To sum up: a very respectable debut, highly recommended for chick lit lovers.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

THE WIDOW'S TALE by Paula C Moss

3 out of 5 stars

Historical (romantic) drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon US HERE

Reviewed by me for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team 

The Widow's Tale tells the story of wild, spirited Charlotte Hart, a seventeen year old widow living in the time of the English Civil War.  Land she sees as rightfully hers has fallen into the hands of her late husband's family.  Charlotte and her own family become embroiled in the crossfire between Royalists and Parliamentarians, especially officer Nate Wetherall.
The three stars I've given this book represent the fact that the author has clearly has much love for and knows her subject; I am not very knowledgeable about this period but most of the historical and domestic detail seems accurate, with details woven in subtly - all good.  There is enough description about the landscape, etc, to set the scene, but not too much, and most of it is well done - another big tick.  Many of the characters speak in a rural Yorkshire accent and this is convincing, too.

It's never easy to review negatively, but, alas, I did struggle a bit with this book.  Rather than a piece of historical drama about the clash between the two sides and the effects on the family, which is what I was expecting, much of it has the atmosphere of a jaunty, light romance.  (Note: since I wrote this review the author has altered the blurb)  If this is what the author intends it to be, that's fine, but the Amazon blurb does not reflect this.  Aside from it needing a bit of tightening up generally, there are editing problems: repeated use of the adjective 'snarky', for instance, which did not make its appearance in the English language until the early 20th century, and the term 'spooning', in its modern sense (ie, a physical position involving two people), which originated in the 1850s.  The other main downside is the punctuation.  There are errors all the way through: numerous missing and ill-placed commas, random semicolons and capital letters inserted here and there, missing question marks.  If the author has paid for a proofreading service she should ask for her money back.

I regret not being able to be more encouraging, but I hope that the author will take these comments as constructive, and bear them in mind for future works so that she may use her descriptive and dialogue capabilities and knowledge of her subject to greater effect.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

LOST WORLD by Kate L Mary

4.2 out of 5 stars

Zombie apocalypse

On Amazon UK HERE

Book 4 in the Broken World series ~ a bit better than 4 stars but not quite 4.5!

So many of the reviews for this series say that Kate Mary has borrowed much from The Walking Dead that I won't point out all the similarities; I thought at first that we had a guest appearance of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, too, aka Brady, the educated, articulate dwarf who can beat a man twice his size with verbal arrows, but he didn't turn out to be him after all, about which I was pleased!  But is Hope Springs as sinister as whatever-The-Governor's-community-was-called?  We will have to wait until Book 5 to find out!

Something the less positive reviews have failed to point out, though, is that there is a hell of a lot in this series that isn't TWD.  Daryl Dixon might be Ms Mary's ideal, but Axl in the Broken World series is very much his own man.  There are plenty of characters and situations that are the author's own invention, and very good they are too.  The love stuff isn't over the top in any of the books and the (very occasional) sexy bits aren't smut-for-the-sake-of-it, they're just real.  These books are not about zombies, they're about people.  And people fall in love, get jealous, feel insecure, argue - and do sex.  Vivian and Axl's relationship is too believable, too down to earth, for a moonlit kiss fading to asterisks!

 It never isn't a good time for a picture of Daryl Dixon...
I was disappointed not to have chapters from Axl's POV in this one, as in Book 3, but Hadley's story was a good diversion from the main one, and her 'voice' very different from Vivian's.  I enjoyed this book very much, and the scene at the end when we nearly lost a main character is terrific, so well done, the best I've read in these books so far.  The dialogue is great, the characters clear and easily identifiable, all the way through.

The Broken World series is not great literature, it's popular, easy read fiction, but that requires as much storytelling talent as any other sort, and Kate Mary has this in spades.  

Recommended for any fellow lovers of this genre, and I can't wait to read New World when it comes out in the summer!

Book 1, Broken World is reviewed HERE, with links to my reviews of books 2 & 3

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Id by P. Craig

3.5 out of 5 stars

Psychological thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

This is a good idea, and an unusual structure that I have read before and liked (and, indeed, have written myself). It's an ingenious psychological study of a killer, with the story unravelling backwards; you can actually read it the other way round!   The book is only just novel length, being 51K words long (under 50K is a novella).

Id is very well written and I kept reading even when it dragged slightly, because I needed to see what happened. I was impressed by the use of language and the insight into the subject; the beginning really gripped me. For me, it was a bit long on description of inner turmoil and short on actual events, though this is only a personal preference; this guy can certainly write. A bit more variation would have made it a real winner, I think, and much more commercial, though you can only write the book you want to write, of course!  I'd still recommend it for those who like this genre. Yes, it's gory in places, but the blurb clearly warns of this - if you're put off by gore (I'm not), then perhaps it's not for you.  I only say this because one review complained about it - duh!!!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

RISE OF THE ENEMY by Rob Sinclair

4 out of 5 stars

Espionage thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this at first, as espionage thrillers are not a usual reading choice for me, but I liked the cover!  I didn't realise it was a sequel when I first began to read it, but the necessary backstory is provided artfully, in an unobtrusive way, and it works fine as a stand alone.

Carl Logan is an agent working for the JIA, the Joint Intelligence Agency, which employs both US and UK agents.  Rise of The Enemy is based around his capture and escape from the Russians and his realisation that he cannot trust his own people, either.

I wasn't grabbed by the story until it got to the 'three months later' bit of Chapter 4, when, for me, it went up by about ten notches and I became totally absorbed, looking forward to getting back to it when I had to put it down.  The structure of the part in Siberia in which Carl Logan escapes from his Russian captors is one I like: chapters alternating between the present, and flashbacks of an ongoing story that leads up to that present.  I loved reading about Siberia, too; it's clearly been well researched.

The book is very professionally presented, which is always a big plus for me; I don't think I found one proofreading or editing error, which is practically unheard of in a Kindle book, even for the traditionally published.   I read in the Q & A with Rob Sinclair in the back that he loves spy thriller books, films and TV series, and it shows; he's obviously very au fait with the genre, and thus there are a few clich├ęs to be found in this story, but not too many.  

My only problem with this book is that, despite it being extremely well written as a drama, it stopped being so thrilling at around 60%, after which the suspense only made me think 'hmm' instead of 'oh my God, WHAT is going to happen NEXT?'  You know those bits in programmes like 24, when Jack Bauer overcomes four enemies against all odds, in a seemingly hopeless situation?  Carl Logan does this sort of thing, too, but it's all a bit laboured.  Sinclair has painstakingly described every action, down to which hand he jerked into which arm, in such a way that it's just an account, a sequence of events, and not action packed.  Some bits that should have been in-your-face thrilling were actually quite boring; if I had not been reading the book to review I would have skipped them, and just gone to the end of the section to find out who was still alive.  The beginning of the book is written in a very dramatic way.  A suspenseful way.  With short sentences.  To add impact and drama.  And it works, but doesn't carry on throughout the book.  My interest in the plot tailed off towards the end.

To sum up:  A bit less detail, a bit less repetition, a bit more punch, and this book would be excellent.  If this is your favourite genre, I'd definitely recommend it because it's intelligently written, feasible and well thought out.  I suspect, too, that Rob Sinclair's writing will develop positively the more he writes; the talent is obviously there.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

My new review category (perhaps Amazon ought to adopt it, too!)

It's this:

5 GOLD STARS ~ for the books that I didn't just love, I seriously loved! 

Yes, like everyone else I find the 5 star rating system far too limiting, which is why I give .5 ratings, and even sometimes .2 or .8, because sometimes a book is better than 4 stars but nowhere near 5 stars, or nearly 5 stars but not quite, or not good enough for 4 stars but better than 3, etc etc etc.

The other day I was thinking, though, that some books are not just worth 5 stars but are so excellent I want to say that bit more about them.  Which is why I introduced my 5 GOLD STARS, for my very favourites.  Sometimes I'll give a book 5 stars even though there are a couple of things I didn't like about it, if the rest of it is really good, but if a book has the gold star rating, it means that I loved everything about it, wanted to carry on reading it when it got to the end, am dying to know what happened next (if part of a series), and may well bore people going on about how much it blew me away! 

Oddly for one as picky as me, I can still, on occasion, give a book 5 gold stars if it has a few (but not too many) proofreading errors; we all make mistakes, and they can be fixed with a more diligent proofreader (such as @ProofreadJulia or @WendyProof).  Consistent grammatical errors such as THIS ONE or bad editing are more likely to make me mark down than a few typos or the occasional missed word.  But generally it's the quality of the writing, the intelligence with which a book is presented, the spark of genuine talent, that makes me say "I adored this book", and abandon my own work so I can carry on reading it. 

Click HERE for my 5 Gold Star books so far.  There's more than one page of them; you can click 'older posts' at the bottom to see the rest.

Friday, 8 May 2015

FUTURE PERFECT (Blueprint Trilogy book 1) by Katrina Mountfort


Sci-Fi post-apocalyptic drama

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I LOVED this book!  Read it over a period of 24 hours, hated having to put it down.

The story takes place in year 2181.  120 years after various events that devastated the world as we know it, the chosen people of 'State 11', formerly the UK, reside in 'Citidomes', in which their lives are easy, comfortable - and controlled.  Residents live not in families or couples but with their selected 'resmates', and aspire to join the BodyPerfect clan: women who look like anorexic supermodels, men so metrosexual they are no longer masculine.  Televisual entertainment has returned to the age of baying crowds and gladiators with non-stop reality shows in which those not conforming to Citidome standards are cruelly mocked.  Bodily 'imperfections' are considered a sign of inferiority, emotion is discouraged; residents have 'connections' rather than friends.  There is no religion, no creativity, no literature, and sex is outlawed, seen as dirty.  Children are created by artificial means only.  Details of the country's history is available from the 'Knowledge Fountain', but there is little information available about life before the Citidomes.  However, underneath all this shallow perfection and unquestioning conformity there is a rumbling of discontent; the 'subversive thinkers' want to discover the truth, and find out if life on the outside is really as savage as they are told...

I suppose this is the modern '1984'!  Aside from being entertaining, it all seemed frighteningly possible, especially when I found out, later, what really happened to the UK back in 2065.  I'm very interested in the way the population can be controlled by those in power, in ways more underhand and seemingly innocuous than many imagine (who needs Big Brother when you have the internet?), and how quickly what once seemed to be a ludicrous idea can very quickly become accepted as the norm.  This book is a brilliant portrayal of subtle mind control.

Of course, a great story is only as good as the way it's told, and this is SO well written, the superficial atmosphere and hidden horror of life in State 11 Citidomes told so artfully.  Once the book moves outside (to what was Derbyshire), I loved reading Ms Mountfort's vision of a country left to its own devices for over a hundred years, and how her Citidome residents discovered the old, forgotten ways of their ancestors.

Although the main character, Caia, is only seventeen, I didn't realise the book came under the heading 'YA' until I came to write the review; there's certainly plenty to think about in it that I perhaps wouldn't have seen if I'd read it when I was sixteen!  

A terrific novel, I'm so glad it came my way and, Katrina Mountfort, this is me hassling you for the next one in the series NOW!

FORBIDDEN ALLIANCE by Katrina Mountfort reviewed HERE