Monday 29 June 2015

QUARTERLY ROUND UP: April - June 2015

This is my top ten of the books I've read (or listened to) in the last three months.  As before, I have not included any re-reads of old favourites, or more than one by the same author, though will mention the others if I've read any this quarter.

I've listed the ten not by preference (too hard!) but in the order I read them.  I've added a note to say how I came across each one; it's useful for both writers and readers to take note of how books were discovered.  Please click the title to see my full review (with buy links) ~ and read my note at the bottom!

1.  A DIVIDED INHERITANCE by Deborah Swift.  17th century historical fiction about an orphaned girl trying to retain her inheritance.  I discovered Deborah Swift via Twitter, because I came across her (history) blog. Published by Pan (Trad pub).

2.  ULTRA VIOLENCE by Mark Barry.  Violent drama about football hooligans.  I met Mark via Twitter, when he asked me to appear on his blog about two years ago.  Self-published.

3.  SURVIVING THE EVACUATION: Book 1 - London by Frank Tayell.  Zombie Apocalypse set in England.  I came across this series during an Amazon browse of books in a similar genre.  It's a series of 5; I've read 4 of them and they're all worth reading, though I've liked this one and number 4 best.  Links to reviews for the others can be found on this review.  Self-published.

4.  CONCEALMENT by Rose Edmunds.  Cracking financial and psychological thriller about a high achiever who grew up in terrible circumstances.  I review books for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team; this was one of my choices. Self-published.

5.  CHANGING PATTERNS by Judith Barrow.  1950s family saga, the sequel to the first which was set during WW2.  I got to know Judith on Twitter. Published by Honno (Indie press).

6.  FUTURE PERFECT by Katrina Mountfort.  Futuristic post apocalyptic drama/thriller.  Rosie Amber invited me to review this for her blog.  Published by Elsewhen (Indie press).

7.  BOARDWALK EMPIRE by Nelson Johnson.  The history of Atlantic City, and the inspiration behind the television series.  I listened to the audio book; husband looked it up after we'd watched the series.  The Kindle version is published by Ebury Digital (Trad pub).

8. THIEF'S GAMBIT by Scott Marlowe.  Novelette length, third in a fantasy series about an assassin.  Another one I chose to review from Rosie Amber's review team list.  Published by Umblerland (Indie press).

9. THE BASTARD PRINCESS by G Lawrence.  The story of Elizabeth 1st's early years, told in first person fiction.  I got to know the author via Twitter through our mutual interest in the Tudors.  Self-published.

10.  THE KINDNESS OF NEIGHBOURS by Matthew Iden.  Long short story about a tragedy striking a surburban community.  I read a review of the audio version on Between the Lines book blog (link in review) that interested me enough to buy it.  Published by StoryFront (Indie press).

Aside from my Rosie Amber review team choices, the others have originated from interactions on Twitter (a good reason to actually click on links, talk to people, read blog posts, not just use RTing apps, for readers and writers), from Amazon browsing and a book blog, as before.  Unlike on Amazon, on which you have to read reviews with a discerning eye because some are from well-meaning friends, or authors doing 5* review swaps, you can rely on book bloggers to give a fair assessment.

It gets harder and harder every month for writers to be discovered by readers; if everyone reading this went to one book blog and bought one book via a recommendation... all of these ten are worth reading; if there's one that sparks your interest, just click on the review!

Saturday 27 June 2015


4 out of 5 stars

Memoir ~ the coffee industry in Ethiopia

On Amazon UK HERE

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

In November 2013, Robert Leigh travelled to Ethiopia with a brief to write a paper on the country’s coffee industry.  Leigh takes us on a 6000km journey from Lime Street Station in Liverpool to Addis Ababa, through the Rift Valley and on to the verdant, southern region of Yirgacheffe.

Not having been anywhere much myself, I love to read travel memoirs about faraway places and lifestyles so different to my own.  I found Robert Leigh's descriptions of life in Ethiopia fascinating, and the workings of the coffee industry out there equally so, though the system by which the farmers are forced to sell their produce is an absolute scandal; however, I am reviewing this book, not the industry - that was Leigh's job!  His portrayal of characters he meets, his driver, Sammi, the charming Endale and other incidental ones added colour to the account.  What I liked about this book was the observations about the life of the ordinary people out there; it was a real education.

Although I read the book avidly because the subject matter interested me so much, I found the writing rather flat at times with the inclusion of mundane detail that did not add to the story.  How the author came about getting the job was a sensible start, but every detail of his checking through customs, ordering a cup of coffee, etc, was finely described.  I never knew what John, the guide throughout the trip, was actually like, because his reported conversation was so information heavy.  Having said this, though, I felt Leigh got into his stride in the second half of the book, when it becomes looser, more 'real' and more amusing. 

Despite my slight reservations, I'd recommend this book if you have any interest in the subject; it taught me a lot.  My only other disappointment came when I told my husband about it; he's a coffee snob - whoops, sorry, I mean a coffee connoisseur - and, when I began to (proudly) relate what I had learned he said, "Oh yeah, Yirgacheffe, there's some in the cupboard."  He even knew all about the difference between the dark and light roast.  Oh well!

KILL LINE by Robert Leigh reviewed HERE

ANY MAN JOE by Robert Leigh reviewed HERE

Tuesday 23 June 2015


4.5 out of 5 stars

Short story, psychological thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

I downloaded this short story via Kindle Unlimited after reading a review of the audio version on another book blog, Between The Lines

Set in suburban Washington DC, Jack Tate is a recluse, a freelance illustrator who doesn't fit in with his neighbours.  When disaster strikes the local community, parents are looking for someone to blame.

At first I liked Jack Tate, and even when I started to think he was a bit odd I still sort of liked him.  I certainly didn't think he was as weird as his neighbours did...

This is a long short story, took about forty-five minutes to read, I think.  Very sharp and well-written, clever, with a certain amount of dry wit and clues about the truth of the situation so subtle that it's easy to miss them.  I was on Jack's side, hating the small-minded, blinkered views of his neighbours.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, even taking my Kindle with me when I was making tea, etc, as I was so keen to keep reading.  I would have given it 5* if I hadn't guessed the twist about two thirds from the end; a good short story is all about the twist, is it not.  

I see the author has written lots of full length mysteries, too; I have just downloaded a compilation of more of his short stories.

Sunday 21 June 2015


5 GOLD Stars

Historical fiction based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE

I adored this book.  It's a first person account of Elizabeth I, from her earliest, hazy memories of her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the rightful taking of the throne by her sister, Mary Tudor.  If the next one in the series, The Heretic Heir, had been available already I would have downloaded it straight away and been reading it now instead of writing this review!

Ms Lawrence has a real talent, and I'm delighted to see that this book is selling well on both sides of the Atlantic.  I worship at the altar of such historical fiction authors as Phillipa Gregory and Norah Lofts and, honestly, this is as good.  The story is written simply, the language is perfect for the time, the style clear and highly readable, and the factual element not only accurate but so detailed, teaching me more about this period than I already knew.  It's the best story of Elizabeth I've read, and illustrates every impression I have always had of her, from her old head on young shoulders to the reasons why she chose never to marry.  Ms Lawrence's young Elizabeth is impulsive, passionate, wise, philosophical ~ there are some wonderful passages: 

"It is a great sadness of this life that those who are dull of wit and understanding are sure enough of their beliefs , whereas those who are intelligent and wise know only too well that they can never know everything."

"But love is a complicated and jealous friend at the best of times.  Even the littlest infraction can lead the heart of one who loves deeply to suspect the darkest of things.  We are such fragile creatures, when we give our love to another."

This book will delight all fellow Tudor addicts, and I hope it does as well for the author as it should ~ it's magical.

THE HERETIC HEIR (the follow up) reviewed HERE

Friday 19 June 2015

ELI'S COMING by Darcia Helle

3.5 out of 5 stars

Supernatural/dark fantasy thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie's Book Review Team

I chose to read this book from the review team list because I had read another of Darcia Helle's books, underworld crime thriller Killing Instinct, and loved it.  Eli's Coming, however, comes under the genre headings of supernatural/dark fantasy; I'd mistakenly thought it was a psychological thriller with a supernatural slant, but the fantasy side of it is the main element of the story. My error!

Amanda becomes involved with the mysterious Eli who has secrets and demons, which are revealed to the reader gradually; I liked the way Ms Helle did this, highly effective, allowing just enough information to seep out at a time to maintain interest.  It worked!  I thought the characterisation of the tormented, isolated Eli was most convincing.  There is a more real life element to the beginning of the story, too, with Amanda's frustration about her domestic situation, and her relationship with her parents.  Her mother has Alzheimer's; this was represented with care and realism.

A hint: at 99%, ie, after the end of the book, there is an information section about the Native American people who were the inspiration for this story.  I'd advise you skip to the end and read this as soon as they are mentioned, as it will make the story mean more.

Ms Helle is a competent writer and I would imagine that this book will fulfil all the requirements of dark fantasy addicts.  Alas, I am not one, so I did not enjoy the book as much as I had hoped, but this is not a reflection on the standard of the writing.  I enjoyed the first 20% very much, when it was more about Amanda and her father and friend, but the two elements did not mesh well together, for me.  Having enjoyed Killing Instinct so much I would definitely read another of her books, but will stick to her crime novels from now on.

KILLING INSTINCT by Darcia Helle reviewed HERE


Tuesday 16 June 2015

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Phillipa Gregory

5 GOLD stars

Historical fiction based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE

At first it seemed a bit daft to review a Phillipa Gregory book, because what the hell does someone like her need a review by little old me for, eh?  But then I remembered - reviews are for primarily for readers, to spread the word about those that are wonderful.

I've taken an enforced break from Kindle reading as I have a poorly Nexus tablet, so I thought I'd treat myself to an old favourite until it's mended ~ I've just finished reading this for the third time and was, once more, humbled by its splendour.  It's the story of Mary Boleyn, the mistress of Henry VIII before he fell for the charms of her sister, Anne.  Much of it is drawn from Ms Gregory's imagination following her research into the social rituals of the time and her extensive knowledge of the Tudors; episodes such as the courtship details between Mary and her second husband, William Stafford are largely fantasy, obviously, but it's written in with sufficient reference to historical fact for the reader to imagine it might have been true - which is, I think, the key to writing this sort of book.   It's unputdownable, it really is.

In The Other Boleyn Girl, Gregory has named Mary as being the younger of the Boleyn sisters, though since the book was written it has been proven that she was the elder.  What interests me so much about this version of events is that Gregory portrays Anne as being only motivated by her ambition; we read that she was not in love with Henry at all, but wanted only the crown.  I don't know how true this is; nobody does.  I like to think that there was genuine passion between them, though.  However, this version did not hamper my enjoyment at all.  It's historical fiction ~ the author can do what she likes with it.   Aside from anything else, situations can be perceived so differently, and are not black and white; perhaps Anne Boleyn was ruled by her ambition, but we don't know that she didn't love the man, too. 

With a book this popular there are bound to be 1* reviews - there are 28 of them, in which readers bring forth the historical inaccuracies, often countering them with inaccuracies of their own; one compared it unfavourably to Hollywoodised The Tudors television series, another to the horrendous film version starring Natalie Portman....!!  The truth is that none of us know what really went on, what Mary Boleyn or Katherine of Aragon or any of the rest of them were like; all we have are letters and quotes and accounts written at the time, which themselves vary in detail.

This is a novel about people; the characters are clear and consistent, the emotions so believable, particularly Mary's grief at being parted from her children, Anne's growing despair as her favour waxed and waned, George's weary acceptance of the life he was forced to live, the ruthlessness of the Duke of Norfolk ~ oh, I could go on and on!   

One thing I love about this book is the passages describing, for instance, Mary's rides out to Hever Castle, or when her lone quest to Essex to regain the love of William Stafford (LOVED that bit) or the summer progress, in which we are given such a feeling of what England was like at that time.  How peaceful it must have been, how much of it was rural, unspoilt.  This, as much as the cloying and cut-throat atmosphere of the court, I found so absorbing I was almost reading the words off the page.  The way travellers were welcomed at monasteries and farms for a bite to eat and a place to sleep.  I'd love to go back 500 years and see it all for myself, wouldn't you?

Sunday 7 June 2015

THIEF'S GAMBIT by Scott Marlowe

4.5 out of 5 stars

Fantasy thriller ~ novelette length

On Amazon UK HERE

 Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

In this further adventure of the Assassin Without A Name, our hero is recruited by his ex love, Liz, for a special mission.

As with the other books in this series, I felt that its charm lay not so much in the plot itself as in the writing of the incidental parts.  I am not particularly interested in reading long, blow by blow accounts of fights or daring escapes, but I love the bits about the Assassin's life, his thoughts, etc.  I like to picture him in his 'working gear', climbing over his rooftop empire like a cat, unseen by the Black Guard who seek him below, and reading little snippets about his life, like his secret hideout in the deplorable Shambles area of town, where one takes one's life in one's hands simply by entering its streets...

Scott Marlowe has invented a marvellous character, and writes beautifully, with wit and a wonderful turn of phrase.  I'd like to see a novella telling about the Assassin's early life, something that makes more use of the writer's powers of observation, character portrayal and presentation of atmosphere.  Again, this reminded me very much of some of Roald Dahl's stories; the style of writing is very similar.  Good stuff!

The Goddard Affair by Scott Marlowe reviewed HERE 

The Killing Knife by Scott Marlowe reviewed HERE