Saturday 29 August 2015

FRENCH KISSING by Lynne Shelby

4 out of 5 stars

Chick Lit

On Amazon UK HERE

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

Well, this was a pleasant and undemanding afternoon's reading!  Light romance/romcom is not a preferred genre of mine, but there was something about the blurb that appealed to me.

Anna Mitchel, London girl, has been writing to French penfriend Alexandre since she was eleven.  Now, they're in their late twenties, and Alex has come to visit.  Anna's boyfriend Nick is not pleased about the sudden appearance of this sexy Frenchman, and Anna is disturbed by the fact that all her friends fancy him.  Then there's the girl back home, who Alex is still in love with....

This book is very well written chick lit, with a bit more substance than your average zany-cupcake-and-kitten-heels type novel.  I didn't actually like Anna very much—I thought she was rather selfish and lacking in self-awareness, especially concerning the way she treated Nick, and her attitude towards Izzy and Beth.  At the same time as being annoyed with her, though, I noticed how excellent the characterisation is; each character is clear and well-defined.  Being annoyed with a character means that he/she has come alive, after all!

The last third of the book is set in France; there is much description of Paris, etc, but it is not intrusive and is artfully woven into the story.  I guessed the outcome only about half way through, which is good for a chick lit book - in the past, I've guessed it in the first chapter!  And there's a nice unexpected turn of events at the end, too.

This is professionally presented and I'd have no hesitation in recommending it to lovers of the light romance; I haven't got anything negative to say about it at all.


4 out of 5 stars

1960s family drama, 3rd part of a trilogy

On Amazon UK HERE

I was looking forward to reading the third part of Judith Barrow's warts-and-all saga about the working class Howarth/Booth/Schorrman family living in Wales and northern England.  The first part took place in WW2, the second in 1950, and Living in the Shadows takes us into the next generation, in the late 1960s.

These books are very much an every day story of ordinary people, a bit like listening to The Archers or watching Emmerdale Farm before it lost its 'Farm'; I'm sure someone makes someone else a cup of tea every ten pages!  They will hold a great nostalgic appeal for those who have lived through these times in similar circumstances, which explains their popularity.  But they're more than just a real life drama; Judith Barrow has a clever and subtle way of showing the attitudes of the time amongst Mr and Mrs Average, rather than giving them a gloss, like a nostalgia programme on TV; this, for me, is their greatest strength.

So, the 1960s... it wasn't all free love, Union Jack minis and Twiggy; the atmosphere of the war years of the 1940s and the struggle back in the 1950s prevailed.  The extended family in this book come face to the face with scenarios of the type that were brushed under the carpet fifty years ago, ie, homosexuality and domestic violence.   The storyline I found the most interesting was that of eighteen year old Victoria, who experienced the sinister side of the hippie movement; it shows how young people, eager to take on new trends, can be manipulated and taken advantage of.  Oddly enough, I had only recently watched a few TV programmes about Charles Manson and his strange commune of brainwashed young women; Victoria's tale rang all too true.

As for the older members of the family, the loss of one of them near the end made me feel very sad, even bringing a tear or two to my eye; this bit was very well written indeed.  I suspect this is not the last we shall see of this family!

PATTERN OF SHADOWS by Judith Barrow reviewed HERE

CHANGING PATTERNS by Judith Barrow reviewed HERE


Thursday 20 August 2015


5 out of 5 stars

18th Century murder mystery

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I wasn't sure about this book at first; it's written in the style of literature of its time, which took me a while to settle into.  Then, at around 10%, it began to 'click'.

Young doctor Adam Bascom comes across a body in a churchyard, which he soon finds out to be that of a person of some importance.  A verdict of accidental death is given swiftly, but Adam believes that the truth is being covered up.  Much of the story is about his unravelling of the mystery, but this is far from all there is to it.

Aylsham, Norfok, where Adam lived

I loved reading this book, it's beautifully written.  Some of the phrases and sentences were so delightful I lingered over them; the charm of the novel is as much in the prose as in the plot, if not more so.  Its real strength is in the subtle yet acute characterisation; the entertaining apothecary and ladies' man Lassimer, garrulous old seafarer Captain Mimms, the society ladies who took tea with Adam's mother.  Witty and entertaining asides are made, clever observations about human nature.  The 18th century is not one of 'my' eras, so it was good to learn more about it, too, in particular the social structure and pretensions, the problems resulting from religious prejudices, the criminal element and corruption within the higher echelons of society and the church.

The story takes place in North Norfolk, an area I know well - I used to work in Holt, and recognised the names of all the pubs, and also The Black Boys in Aylsham.  The domestic descriptions and those of the problems of travel were most interesting to read about, too.

The Feathers, Holt, as mentioned near the end of the book.

If I have any complaint it's that on occasion I felt that the solving of the case was a little lengthy and repetitive, and there is one section with lots of backwards apostrophes that did not make for easy reading and could so easily be remedied, but on the whole I'd recommend this book to anyone whose preferences lie in this direction, and I am pleased to award it 5 stars, something I do not do lightly.  If you find it a little slow to start with, do stick with it—it's worth it.  I will most definitely read another book by this author.

The Black Boys, Aylsham

The Code for Killing by William Savage reviewed HERE

Sunday 16 August 2015

AN UGLY WAY TO GO by Iain Pattison

4 out of 5 stars

Short story collection

On Amazon UK HERE

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

Iain Pattison's 'quintessentially quirky tales' is a collection of short stories of varying length, all except one of which are in a broad fantasy/humour genre.  The exception is 'Hampered', about a couple who take a balloon ride, which is rather touching.

The book is very well presented and all the stories are competently written, with some amusing and well put together turns of phrase.  As is usually the case with short story collections, they varied in quality.  I very much liked 'A Rum Tale', a comic book style story about a pirate; cleverly done and atmospheric, with its over the top characters.  Other favourites were 'Open Sesame', about an unhappily married couple facing a zombie apocalypse, and 'Interview With The Vampire' (clue's in the name); both of these were excellent, with a funny and unexpected turnaround right at the end.  The end of 'Crowning Glory' was good, too.  Others were less well executed; the ideas were great, but I think the key to writing a good short-story-with-a-twist is that the twist MUST be unexpected (otherwise it's like guessing the punchline to a joke!), and come at the very end, ie, the last thing you read, not two pages before the end; with a couple of them I knew exactly what was going to happen, and the 'twist' went on too long.  However, all the stories were highly readable; none of them were boring. 

A guest story by Chloe Banks, 'Missing Signs and Wonders', provides an enjoyable end to the collection.  I spent a pleasant couple of hours reading these, and would recommend the book to any lovers of short stories.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

L A PUNK ROCKER by Brenda Perlin and others

4 out of 5 stars

Teenage memoir

On Amazon UK HERE

The main part of this book is Brenda Perlin's memoir from her teenage years, when she was a rebellious middle class schoolgirl flirting with the punk scene of Hollywood.  It's no Sid and Nancy type story, which was what I was expecting; it's actually rather sweet, a memory of Brenda and her friends having a great time together seeing bands, meeting people like Billy Idol and Iggy Pop, and having arguments with her mum.   Brenda's punk experience seemed fairly innocent as she wisely stayed on the periphery, just dipping her toe into sex, drugs and rock and roll.  The affection she has for that time comes across very clearly.

I wasn't into punk; it started in 1976 in England, which was the year I left school (and I was a long hair and heavy rock type!), but in my very early 20s I hung around with a few people who were into that scene, so it was interesting to read about it from the golden hills of Hollywood as opposed to a grey English town.  If you have similar memories to Brenda you will enjoy reading about the bands she saw, the places she went - it's highly enviable!  I would have liked to hear more about Skid Row and the darker side of life at the time, but I imagine that the decision was made to keep the book fairly upbeat.  At the back there are some of her own photos of the bands she saw.

Also in the book are some other peoples' memories, plus an introduction and story about Billy Idol by the fabulous Mark Barry - which, I hear, Billy Idol has actually read!  This is certainly worth a read if you're on a punk nostalgia trip, and I imagine it's something Brenda will always treasure.

Monday 10 August 2015

KILL LINE by Robert Leigh

5 out of 5 stars

Murder thriller

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I liked this book a lot, so much that I've already downloaded Robert Leigh's latest one, Any Man Joe.

Shaun Dolan works in a call centre, and murders customers who are unnecessarily rude to him.  Yet I still kind of liked the guy.  I didn't want him to get caught.  That's a real art - making the reader root for a brutal psychopath.  Oh dear, I hope it's not just me...

The strength of this book is the sharp observation by which the characters have been created, from Shaun's boozy mates, to the chav ex-girlfriend, to the begging victims Barry Johnson and the revoltingly pompous Derek Page-Dove (great name!), and, best of all, the ghastly, dreadful supervisors and management at Skymiles and Calltex call centre.  Well done, Robert Leigh - the section in the middle about the changeover from Skymiles to Elevation, with all its corporate BS, is a masterpiece - it's obvious the author has worked in one of those places, and the production of this novel must have made every soul destroying moment worth it.  The dialogue is spot on, with every awful buzzword and phrase these people use; yes, and don't they always refer to their staff, etc, as 'you guys'??!  Ugh!  

This is not a novel for the squeamish; the violence is graphic, and you'll want to weep for the victims.  But it's kind of funny.  If you can believe that.  Not laugh out loud funny, but witty and clever.  

I wavered between 4 and 5 stars all the way through it, eventually deciding on 5.  I think it needs some tidying up, I thought the Harry Collins part was too much, and I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending, but these are very minor complaints (in fact, not even complaints), are only my opinion, and the good bits are so very good that I couldn't have given it less.

Highly recommended!

From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe by Robert Leigh reviewed HERE

Any Man Joe by Robert Leigh Reviewed HERE

Monday 3 August 2015

OWEN - Book One of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

4.5 out of 5 stars

Historical drama based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I am deeply fascinated by all things Plantagenet and Tudor, so leapt on this book when it became available on Rosie Amber's review team list.  I was particularly eager to read it as Owen Tudor is someone about whom I knew little, apart from his having been Henry VIII's great grandfather.  My knowledge of the events leading up to the Wars of the Roses is sketchy, too, so this book was an education as well as a great story.

The novel is well edited and proofread, which was a real treat in these days of dubious standards; I could tell that Mr Riches had spent a great deal of time drafting and redrafting, and the structure of the novel itself is extremely well thought out.  The story flows beautifully throughout and is simply written, in the present tense, which is always an odd choice but worked well in this case.  

At first I was not very taken with Riches' Owen Tudor; he seemed like a bit of a stuffed shirt and I couldn't imagine why he aroused such passion in Juliette the servant girl and Queen Catherine de Valois. I found the prose a little stilted, though not terribly.  I much preferred the latter half of the book, after Catherine's death, when it loosened up considerably, Owen's adventurous side came to the fore and I became engrossed.  I looked forward to the introduction of characters about whom I know more: Margaret Beaufort (one of my favourite women in history), and Jasper Tudor, who I've always rather fancied; well done, Mr Riches, you portrayed him so well!

That the book is well researched is clear; many domestic details are included, but these are artfully woven into the story, rather than lumped in to show how much the author has mugged up before beginning to write.  I did wonder if a reader who knows nothing of this historical period might get a little confused by all the dukes and bishops and their various allegiances, but then it is likely that anyone reading this would already have an interest in the period.  There is an author's note at the back to explain which characters come from Riches' imagination and which are from real life.

If you're interested in the Wars of the Roses and the origins of the Tudor dynasty I'd definitely recommend this book, and I look forward to reading the next one in the series - about Jasper!