Thursday 29 October 2015

SIX LIES by Ben Adams

3.5 out of 5 stars

Lad Lit/Humour/Family Drama

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK HERE
Available for pre-order on HERE

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

A very short way into this novel, I realised that Dave, the main character, is actually a minor one from Ben Adams's first book, Six Ways To Get A Life, which I read earlier this year, and I thought, what a great idea!  I love this sort of thing on TV dramas, when a series tells the story of a different member of the cast each week; it always brings home to me how little we really know about each others' lives.

The plot: After his mother's death, bank cashier Dave Fazackerley discovers that she wasn't really his mother at all.  It's a confusing time in his life, as his wife has left him for another man, and he's stuck in limbo emotionally, having ill advised one night stands and trying to lead his 1980s pop covers band in a favourable direction.

Ben Adams has a readable, conversational style of writing that flows along; it was no hardship to read this book over a short period of time.  There are some good lines: 

"Is that the best drummer you can find?  My gran could do a better job and she's had Parkinson's Disease for the last twenty years."

"It is a place where middle-aged, middle class people with large middles live."

"one bloke with an unruly beard that seemed to morph at about neck level into a brown cardigan"

"...your foreplay leaves a lot to be desired."
"I don't remember you moaning at the time."
"Exactly, Dave, exactly."

It's a good plot, too.  I think I preferred Graham's story in the first book, though; it seemed more 'real'.  I felt this was a little formulaic: Dave is a likable, good looking bloke (but not too good looking), desperate to get back with his former love who he lost through his own incompetence.  There's his group of mates that include the wacky best friend and the serious one (Graham), he has a couple of casual sexual encounters that he regrets, and listens to records from his youth when feeling morose ... not unlike most other 'lad lit' heroes (High Fidelity, The Understudy, etc).  This isn't necessarily bad, because he's a well drawn character and some genres do follow a formula; indeed, their readers like to know what they're getting. I did enjoy much of it, certainly enough to read it quickly because I wanted to know what happened.  I was just hoping for something with more spark; it was all a bit too safe. 

Although the book is mostly written from the first person, there are also chapters from the points of view of Dave's father, Terry, and his mother, Sue.  I was pleased to see this variation at first (I do love books from multiple points of view), but, alas, there wasn't much to differentiate between the 'voices' of the characters.  Aside from a couple of recurring slang words used by Terry, he and Sue told their sides of the story in much the same language and mood, with similar attitudes and rhythm, which gave no sense of being inside the head of a new person.  However, finding out what happened in their respective pasts added another dimension and rounded out the story nicely.

There's a particularly neat twist near the end; I knew something was coming because there were a couple of hints earlier on, but I couldn't guess it, hadn't a clue - good shot!

To sum up, Ben Adams can certainly write, knows how to make a reader keep turning the pages (not a quality all writers can boast, by any means), and has the cosier end of this genre down to a 'T'.  I didn't spot one single error in it, and although I prefer something with a bit more bite, I imagine it will do very well for him and will appeal to many.

SIX MONTHS TO GET A LIFE by Ben Adams reviewed HERE

Sunday 25 October 2015

ROSETTA by Simon Cornish

3.5 out of 5 stars

Novella - archaeology based mystery

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I quite liked this; it's a terrific plot.  Following the unexpected death of his old university professor, Graham Chandlers travels to Exeter for the funeral. He is bewildered by the strange ritual performed by the professor's adopted daughter at the funeral service, a ritual delivered in an ancient language that only a handful of paleolinguists, Graham included, would have a hope of understanding. He is drawn in further when he studies the professor’s private journals that hint at a cover-up concerning the professor’s last dig.

This short novella is intelligently written and unusual.  It's a shame, though, that it wasn't a bit longer with a less abrupt resolution; the story lends itself more to a full length novel, or at least a longer novella.  I felt that it needed another redraft and perhaps a closer edit.  Example: 'they ate sitting at the table by the double sash windows'.  Why 'double sash'?  Just 'window' would have been enough, or even 'they ate at a table by the window' (most people sit when eating, it's not necessary to state it).  I know that seems a little nit-picking, but it's just one that jumped out at me.  Novellas work best when they contain absolutely no superfluous information; some of it seemed to come directly from the research notes.  Had the story been longer, such sections might have fitted in more smoothly.  It could do with another proofread; there are a fair few punctuation errors.

I thought the characterisation of Tinkerbell, the jovial and hard drinking Dr Timothy Bell, was excellent, the exchanges between him and Graham spot on.  I liked some of the observations very much:  'there was a stillness to the place that was both restful and lonely' (that gave possibly the best impression of the house), also: 'Funerals are never nice, people say they are nice or that the service was lovely, but mostly funerals are just uncomfortable', and the one with which the story begins: 'There is a denial of finality that comes with the arrogance of youth.'

To sum up: a great idea, nicely written, needs a bit of tidying up.  Graham Chandlers is a quietly appealing character who could be taken further, I think, and I am sure that people who enjoy stories of cover-ups and mysteries will like it.

Saturday 24 October 2015

THE SICKNESS by Dylan J Morgan

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK  HERE

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

First of all I have to say what a terrific cover this book has!

James Harris is a divorced, part time dad, living on a run down London estate.  He has a warm, close relationship with his wayward, punky daughter, Ruth - which goes a long way to make up for the horror of his childhood and the breakdown of his marriage.  But something's happening in the isolated village of Nash, where he grew up, and a phone call from his sister moves him to return....

Dylan Morgan is so adept at writing the underlying sinister atmosphere of the one horse town or small, 'Straw Dogs' type village - he did the American version in his excellent 'Flesh', which I read earlier this year.  Travelling through Nash, I felt the silence, the claustrophobia, the despair, from the depressing mood of the sparsely populated pub, to the darkness of his former family home; there almost seems to be a sepia tone over the whole book.

This book is subtly rather than in-your-face creepy, at least at first, and the story unfolds at a steady pace, the supernatural element and details about James's dreadful childhood being released gradually, building up to an explosive end; this is a writer who totally 'gets' suspense.  The characters are so well drawn, even the minor ones, particularly Ruth's creepy stepfather.  I loved Ruth, she's a great kid, tough and ballsy but with a sometimes most mature outlook, and James is very likable, too.  

Definitely recommended for all lovers of supernatural horror.

FLESH by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

THE DEAD LANDS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

HOSTS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

Monday 19 October 2015

DEATH & DOMINION by Carol Hedges

5 GOLD Stars

Victorian Murder Mystery

On Amazon UK HERE

I was looking forward to this book being published, and I loved it so much I want to give it six stars; I shall have to make do with five big shiny gold ones instead!

First, the basic plot.  Dashing bounder Mark Hawksley is busy enticing the gullible moneyed of London into investing into his diamond mine.  A pornography loving, wife betraying solicitor (the thin, grey haired Frederick Undershaft, marvellous name!) narrowly escapes being poisoned by some arsenic laden cakes.  The sharp-witted, sexy and ambitious Belinda Kite takes up a position as ladies' companion to the dreary Grizelda Bulstrode, sister of 'bluff, no-nonsense northerner' Josiah.

The plot is expertly worked, with many threads and red herrings, though in some ways it actually comes second to the descriptive passages and crystal clear characterisation.

I love Carol Hedges' portrayal of atmosphere, from the chill of a Victorian London winter: "Wind batters the city, rattling the windows and inn-signs, whipping up the Thames into a white-capped rage".... "A foggy morning in London...the river an oozing stinking miasma of low-tide mud.  Grimy pavements.  No shade lighter than slate greyHoofbeats hollow in the fog" ... 

....and her gift for conveying exactly what a character is like in just a sentence or two: "..a red mouth, determined chin and hair the colour of falling Autumn" (Belinda Kite, my favourite character!).  Or "The young lady reminds Belinda of a watercolour painting done by someone who had not much colour but a lot of water, giving off the impression of not only being colourless, but rather damp."  That was Grizelda Bulstrode, who, when eating breakfast "conveys tiny squares of buttered toast into her mouth with the cautious apprehension of one posting letters."   Or the street urchins: "Average age in years: about eleven.  Average age in cynicism and malevolent evil: about one hundred and thirty-five".

At the forefront of all crime solving is the Victorian version of Reagan and Carter of the Sweeney: Detectives Stride and Cully:  "...whereas some people could say things in a cutting way, Stride could listen in a cutting way.  Stride could make something sound stupid just by hearing it".  Okay, no more quotes (apart from Stride's observation about many of the reports on his desk: "Most of this stuff isn't for reading, it's for having been written.")  I highlighted so many terrific lines and passages; perhaps the best I can do is just to advise you to buy and read this immediately! 

This is the third in the series, but they're all complete stand alones.  There are references to events in the previous books but it's not necessary to read them first.  This is my favourite of the three.

I read some passages several times to enjoy them all over again, there's not one single boring bit.  It's so well researched, too; I wonder if Ms Hedges actually time-travelled to discover those dark, dangerous alleyways herself!  Best way to read it?  Sitting up in bed with lots of pillows, in a warm room with coffee, tea and possibly cakes, it's a delightfully 'cosy' book.  

To sum up: a work of art :) 

DIAMONDS & DUST by Carol Hedges reviewed HERE

HONOUR & OBEY by Carol Hedges reviewed HERE

Wednesday 14 October 2015

CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS by English Historical Fiction Authors

4.5 out of 5 stars

Short historical articles

On Amazon UK HERE

This is a long book, and worth every penny!  It's a collection of articles about the history of the United Kingdom, in more or less chronological order.

I admit to having not read all of them yet ~ I'd read loads, then had a quick look and discovered I was only at 28%, so after that I dipped in and out, depending on the subject of the article.  There's so much to choose from: tales of conquests, information about the life of the common person of the time (I loved the mediaeval ones), to discussion ~ who was the most evil, Richard III or Henry Tudor?  Some have more information than others, some are of speciality interest and others more general; if you're a history addict like me, it's a must-buy!

As with all anthologies the quality of the articles varied, but every single one was well put together and worthy of inclusion.  I liked those by Rosanne Lortz, Judith Arnopp, Debra Brown, Katherine Ashe and one of my favourite authors, Deborah Swift (click link for my reviews of her books), best, along with a few others; they were the names that sprang immediately to mind. 

I read the first part on a long train journey, and noted down pieces I'd particularly liked: one about Athelstan, another on William Wallace by Rosanne Lortz, the Monarchy series by Debra Brown, Judith Arnopp's William II and Stephen and Matilda, all of Katherine Ashe's (trying to read my scribble here!), and I also loved the foreward, 'Falling in love with England and its history', by Stephanie Cowell.

There was only one aspect on which I was not so keen, which was the plugging of the authors' books in some of the articles.  I think an Amazon link to the relevant book at the end of the article would have been a better idea, less intrusive and possibly more effective.  There is a list of novels by each author at the front, too, for reference.

This is really a terrific book to keep for reference, or just to dip into now and again when you fancy reading something short; I know I will be reading more of it in days to come, and probably looking at my favourite articles over again.  I liked that some of the articles named their sources, too, as this is so useful for anyone who is doing research.

Monday 5 October 2015

LETTING GO by Kimberly Wenzler

4 out of 5 stars

Family drama

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I was confused as to how to review this book as it's difficult not to give the whole theme of the story away, so I'm going to tiptoe through it.  Suffice to say that there's a great surprise very early on that made me think, "oh, clever!", and I imagine it will have the same effect on you!

Set in Long Island, New York, Letting Go shows wife and mother Lucy observing how the the shocking event of 2007 (I'm not telling you!) affects husband Max, son Sam, best friend Hope, and even the troubled babysitter, Benjamin, whose story runs concurrently.  It's a great idea, and Kimberly Wenzler has made a good job of it.

The novel is very well presented and nicely written, the characterisation very good, particularly Max, I thought.  He's a writer whose creativity is facing a brick wall; his emotions zigzag through many highs and lows.  I thought he was so realistically written.

The people in this story live a conventional, middle class life, with conventional attitudes, a little too much so for me; Lucy describes her 'picket fence' existence.  She's quite a 'girly' sort of woman (who went down in my estimation when she described the brilliant 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy as 'incredibly dreary'!), but you couldn't not like her.

The only problem I had with this novel was that it was a bit short on plot; not much happens.  It's emotionally driven, an exploration of family relationships, to a large extent.  That's not to say there isn't a proper plot, there is, and it has several strands, but domestic detail, incidental conversation and Lucy's observations/impressions form a large part of it; elements of conflict are touched on only lightly, and I kept thinking there was going to be something to get my teeth into only to find that the drama I hoped for didn't happen.  However, it's well put together and is a book you can put down and pick up again without having to remember the kind of intricate detail that has me searching back over previous pages.  There was one relationship I saw brewing very early on (and I was glad I was right, I wanted it to happen!), and a mystery is solved at the end in an unpredictable and very convincing way.

One very positive aspect of this story is that the subject could have been oozing with schmaltz, but it's not.  I don't do tearjerkers at all, and wondered if this might become overly so, but it didn't, it's the sort of book that makes you feel a little bit sad and smile a little bit, but doesn't slap it on with a trowel.  

I think this will be greatly enjoyed by people who like a slow-paced, emotionally orientated study of family relationships, with plenty to ponder over.  It's certainly an original idea, and is very well executed.  

Friday 2 October 2015


5 out of 5 stars

Post apocalyptic UK drama

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I adored John Privilege's first novel, The Turning of the World, so leapt on this when it came out.   I started to read it almost immediately, but couldn't get into it.  Has that ever happened to you?  You start to read a book you think you're going to love and it just doesn't 'speak' to you at all? 

I left it.  I started it again yesterday, two weeks later—and, from the first sentence, I found it unputdownable.  Weird; I think I must have just been tired or in the wrong mood the first time!  Then, I thought there were too many characters, and I couldn't work out what was going on.  The second time, I could visualise it all straight away.  I'm only saying this because there ARE a lot of characters introduced in the first 5%, and it leaps straight into the action, so if you get confused, too, put it down and try it again later!

This is really, really, really good, I loved it, even sneaking five chapters in at 4.30 in the morning when I woke up to go to the loo!  The basics:  It's set in London, a fair amount of years after a pandemic which destroyed the world as we know it.  Enter The Collective, formed by (amongst others) relics of the old government, who transform London and the South from a dangerous world of terrorising gangs into a supportive and safe society.  Detective Timothy 'Con' Conlan is charged with solving a gruesome murder, the first in the capital for two years.  But this is no ordinary murder.... 

Con is a terrific character, so much more than your average American cop with a personality disorder.  I loved the structure of the book, in particular.  I'm a great fan of well-placed back story, and this has plenty of it—gradually, we are shown what each major character did 'Before' (ie, before the pandemic), and, most importantly, during the 'Breakdown' (when the world went to pot afterwards).  We also, later on, learn more about Con's upbringing.  I love stories about the breakdown of society, so found these parts fascinating, and they brought the whole thing together—that's the art of good back story writing, I think, to not only stick it in the right place, but also write it so well that the reader finds it as absorbing as the main plot line.  And this book is certainly written well.

The Kindle formatting is a little random in places, I've mentioned that for those who are bothered by such things, but it didn't matter one jot, I would have loved reading this if it had been typed on a manual typwriter and presented to me on tatty bits of paper.  John Privilege has a fabulous imagination, and has dreamt up the state of the post-pandemic world so well.  The suspense is just right, and the end 'twist' not only worked but surprised me.

It's great.  Get it!

THE TURNING OF THE WORLD by John Privilege reviewed HERE