Saturday 30 January 2016

THE CODE FOR KILLING by William Savage

5 out of 5 stars

18th century murder mystery

On Amazon UK HERE

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

I loved William Savage's debut novel, An Unlamented Death, so was eager to read the next in the series.  The Code for Killing re-acquaints us with 18th century Norfolk doctor Adam Bascom, who has, once more, become involved in a murder mystery, this time to do with a possible spy passing information to the French.  I enjoyed this book even more than the first; it was one of those I was disappointed to finish. 
Kings Lynn, Norfolk, 18th century.

 As with the previous book, the murder mystery itself plays a second part, for me, though it's well thought out, intriguing and not predictable.  What keeps me turning the pages is the prose itself, a joy to read.  The main body of the novel is conversation, and the characters are so beautifully illustrated by their dialogue alone that they need little else to bring them to life.  I was pleased to renew my acquaintance with Adam's apothecary friend Peter Lassimer, a cheerful ladies' man, with the eccentric Captain Mimms, and his mother's sparky companion, Sophia LaSalle.  New characters are introduced, too: the lovely Daniel Foucard, an aristocrat on his deathbed who befriends Adam, and delightful incidentals such as 'lady of the night' Molly Hawkins, and sailors Peg and Dobbin.  Forming the backdrop of the story is the unrest amongst the common people of Norfolk due to the greedy and illegal practices of a certain miller, and the dissatisfaction that results from the war with France.  Times were as uncertain and dangerous then as now...
18th century Norfolk

When reading this book I became completely absorbed in the time and the characters; however, I did find myself wishing for more descriptive detail.  I am familiar with some of the landmarks, such as the Maid's Head Hotel, Gentleman's Walk and Cow Tower in Norwich, and also the Black Boys in Aylsham, so I could imagine the settings, but for anyone who doesn't know Norfolk it might not be so easy to do so.  For instance, on Adam's journeys to London I was looking forward to reading about what the landscape was actually like between Norwich and London.  What was the inside of a Drury Lane theatre like?  A London Inn?  The inside of the seedy Lampson's cafe?  How about the road from Norwich out to the coast?  Historical fiction addicts like me love to read about times gone by because we want to immerse ourselves in the past—so we want to know what these people of over 200 years ago would have seen!  The same with the insides of the houses, the day to day activities.  There was more description as the book went on, but I yearned for yet more!  I am not a one for pages and pages of description of soft furnishings and clothes, but a little more creation of atmosphere would have made me enjoy this book even more. 

Despite this very minor complaint (which I am sure would not be an issue for many), I have no hesitation in giving the book 5 stars; I think more description would take William Savage from being an extremely good writer of historical fiction into a truly great one.

An Unlamented Death by William Savage reviewed HERE


The Fabric of Murder by William Savage reviewed HERE

Wednesday 27 January 2016


5 GOLD stars

Contemporary drama ~ psychological ~ music

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I read Mary Rowen's other novel, Living By Ear, about a year ago and liked it very much indeed, but hadn't got round to reading this as I knew it centred round a woman's struggle with bulimia, not a subject in which I have much interest.  Then I decided to give it a go - and I'm so glad I did.  It's nothing like the serious, emotional drama I expected.  Yes, of course it centres around this eating disorder, but the story's about so much more; Erin Reardon's bulimia is only one element of her bizarre, chaotic life.  Whether it is a symptom or the cause of the all the problems, it may be up to the reader to decide (or maybe Mary Rowen knows best of all).

'A novel of obsession and music' ~ lots of music.  Great to read about the rock stars and songs of my younger days (and yes, I agree, Erin, Station to Station was totally Bowie's best album, and the title track one of his best five ever).  It's about college, loneliness, growing up and feeling fat, ugly, isolated and wanting to impress, sex, delusion and obsession.  Lots of obsession, too.  The younger Erin lives in a cloud of serious erotomania with an ever changing cast of targets: her friend Colin (who's engaged to her friend Suzanne), rock star Lenny Weir, Jim Morrisson, David Bowie ~ and don't forget Elvis Costello...  She tries to blot out her loneliness with music, alcohol, and the endless cycle of junk food bingeing and purging.

The books alternates between the past, starting in Erin's mid teens in 1978 then moving onto her college days, and later chapters that take place when she's aged 28-30.  Although the subject of the novel is no laughing matter, it's often funny, in a dark sort of way, and there are some brilliant side characters: her boss and casual sex partner Salon Don, ghastly college friend Toni, and her mixed up, lonely mother.  I loathe the word 'quirky', but it's the best one I can think of to describe it.  It reminds me a bit of Catcher in the Rye, a bit of Alex Garland's The Beach ... I haven't read anything quite like it before, it's very unusual, different, and fabulously well written ~ Mary Rowen has talent oozing from her fingers!

Life changes for Erin after Elvis Costello, and again when she hitches a lift with a man called Luke ... there's a brilliant twist near the end that I didn't guess at all, very skillfully done indeed.

Loved it :) 

ps: Mary, I've had 'TVC15' playing in my head ever since I read it....

Living By Ear by Mary Rowen reviewed HERE 


4 out of 5 stars


On Amazon UK HERE

Poetry is not my thing at all, but sharp humour of the dark type most certainly is, and I've enjoyed many of The Grumbling Gargoyle's observant verses on Twitter and her blog.

Some of the poems are heartrending, some harsh, some funny, always cutting straight to the point and never mincing words; the most valuable of any art form is that which dares to be honest, after all.

My favourites:

A Tired Brow
The Kid
The Path of Yesterday
Going Home
No Salads for Sonya
The Change
Night on the Prowl
The Window 

A worthy addition to anyone's poetry collection!

Tuesday 26 January 2016

ON LUCKY SHORES by Kerry J Donovan

4 out of 5 stars

Colorado Rockies adventure

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me for Rosie Amber's Review Team 

Well, this was a cracking good yarn!  Not the sort of book I'd usually choose at all, but I enjoyed it. 

It's set in hick town Lucky Shores in the Colorado Rockies, in winter.  All I know of Colorado is Dynasty and South Park, and Lucky Shores is definitely more Skeeter's Bar, South Park, than Krystle and Blake Carrington.  The story starts when drifter musician Chet Walker (what a great name!) wanders into town, looking for a gig and a place to rest his head.  Lost on a lonely road, though, he sees a motorist suffer a crash, and he runs to save his life - and so his trouble begins. 

This is an adventure story, a crime mystery whodunnit thriller, with a nice little bit of romantic suspense to keep Chet from wandering back the way he came.  The action picks up on a mountain hike when Chet and his female companion can't work out who their enemies are... 

Kerry Donovan has done 'slightly scary American hick town' very well indeed.  The characterisation is extremely good, the plot totally works, and the dialogue rips along, tight and realistic, often sharp and funny, too.  Oh, and as for Chet Walker - well, you know a character's come to life on the pages when you start to fancy him, don't you? 

Well written, a proper page turner.  Nice!



Saturday 23 January 2016

THE BAD GIRL by L Donsky-Levine

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

I liked this book a lot.  It's witty, sharp, unusual, touching and so well written.  Set in downtown New York in the 1970s, this is a fairly long novella about Riley, a lonely girl working in the sex trade with no company except her beloved cats, and Fitz, a one-armed Vietnam vet. 

I read in the author's bio that she's a native New Yorker, and her knowledge of and love for the city is so apparent in this story.  It's what I think of as warts-and-all New York, the impression I had of it when I was growing up—more 1970s cop show than Carrie Bradshaw and Mr Big! 

The story is mostly told from Riley's point of view, but there are some lovely and clever sections through the eyes of cat Samson, the last one of which made me cry.  It's not like anything else I've read for some time, and unlike some novellas that seem as though they're a novel squashed into something too short, this is exactly the right length.  There's an element of dark comedy to it, too.  I loved Riley, Fitz, Samson and old Bennie Sadowski who befriends Riley in her hour of need.  You will, too :)

It's great - Ms L-D is a terrific writer and I'd like to read more by her.  Definitely recommended.

Wednesday 20 January 2016


4 out of 5 stars

Travel memoir/sailing

On Amazon UK HERE 
On Goodreads HERE 

Tonia, her Italian husband, Guido and baby James spent a summer sailing around the Med on their boat ~ what bliss, eh?  As soon as I read about this book I had to get it!

I loved reading about how they coped with the storms (I'm a bit of an extreme weather enthusiast), about the islands they visited (and their history), and the mechanics of sailing itself - all the better for being described in laymen's rather than technical terms, fear not!  Capri and Lipari made me drool, in particular, but I think I would have agreed with Guido, when Tonia said his favourite part of sailing was when they were out at sea, with no land in sight.  

Tonia's love of Italian food is most evident throughout ~ I could be heard whimpering with longing at the descriptions of the bread, the oil, the fresh tuna, etc (especially as I was existing on a diet of hospital food at the time of reading!).  Between each chapter is a relevant recipe, which I thought was an excellent touch, much better than putting them all at the end.  

This fulfilled all my escapism fantasies, but is also very down to earth - it wasn't all easy for Tonia being a mother of such a young child on an adventure such as this.  Yeah, yeah, okay, I wouldn't have minded having her problems!  Very readable, interesting and often amusing, too.  Recommended, whether you're a sailing/Italian food enthusiast or not :) ~ includes pictures!


4.5 out of 5 stars

Adventure for older children or adults

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

The Skipper's Child is a story for older children and adults of all ages ~ in other words, anyone from ten to eighty years old!  It takes place on the canals of Belgium in the winter of 1962 when twelve year old Arie and his family become involved with a young Russian fugitive, Dmitri.

I've read three of Val Poore's non-fiction books, about her time living in South Africa and her own life on board barge, but I'd never read any fiction by her before.  I'm glad I did; this is a delightful book, and I felt completely immersed in the life of the skipper and his family of fifty years ago (and maybe a little wistfully wishing I was there....).

The story is very well plotted, no complaints there at all, but the beauty of the book lies in the picture Val Poore paints of this strange and appealing parallel world, and the thoughts of Arie as he treads the shaky path between child and adulthood.  I thoroughly enjoyed it - one to snuggle up in bed with!   

Val's inspiration for this story comes from real life ~ she wrote a blog post that makes it all mean much more - includes pictures :)

It's HERE 

I know they're houseboats not barges, I just liked the picture!


Saturday 9 January 2016

THE HERETIC HEIR by Gemma Lawrence

5 GOLD Stars

Tudor history as fiction

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

"I wanted not a husband who was fine to look on but useless for counsel, company or conversation.  What would I do with such a flower?  Put him in my buttonhole and wear him as an ornament?"

I read the first in Gemma Lawrence's Elizabeth of England series, The Bastard Princess, last year, and was hugely impressed by it.  This is even better.  I started it yesterday, read about twenty per cent, and today I let nothing take me from it; it's seven pm and I haven't even got dressed.  I'm not being over the top here, and neither am I drunk: honestly, this book is a masterpiece.

This second episode takes Elizabeth and the reader through the dangerous world that was the reign of her sister, Mary.  Much of the story I knew, much detail I didn't.  Written in the first person, Ms Lawrence's writes Elizabeth just as I have always imagined her, showing her strength, charisma, wit and confidence, her love for her family (both blood and from the bonds of loyalty and friendship), and her sense of duty towards her country.  She shows so well all the Princess's motivations, in particular the reasons why she would never marry.  I enjoyed her understanding of other characters, too: Stephen Gardiner, Philip of Spain, The Duke of Norfolk, and in particular Anne of Cleves; there is a delightful tribute to her at the time of her death, ending with this line, which I loved:  "She passed from this life the greatest and least celebrated survivor of my father's reign."  How true!

The other leading lady in the story is, of course, Mary ~ and Ms Lawrence made me see (and feel) Elizabeth's conflicting emotions towards her; the fear, the pity, the sadness, resentment, frustration, all bound up together, never forgetting that in her own bitterness she cause so much pain and suffering to so many. 

"She put the wishes and wants of her heart above those of her people, and covered it all in a mask of religion."

The narrative is interspersed with the occasional short chapter from the viewpoint of the older Elizabeth, fifty years later and nearing death; in both this and the main story Elizabeth speaks so many truths.

"The heart is the most dangerous enemy, and all too often it becomes the master of the mind."

"A thousand people could read the same text and see a thousand different ideas.  Writers and their books are but platforms for the imagination of a million minds.  We can take nothing from books but that which is possible in our own imaginations."

I highlighted so many quotes, too many; I could write an essay on this book.  We see Elizabeth's wit, too (inherited from her mother, one presumes!); the descriptions of Henry Bedingfield, under whose weak but watchful eye she suffered house arrest, made me smile a lot.

The story is written in the first person, in a simple way, never trying to overdo the language of the time, and it's completely convincing.  I was reminded of another series of books I'm reading at the moment, 'The Last Kingdom' by international bestseller Bernard Cornwell.  Ms Lawrence's style is very similar and it's as good, it really is.   Aside from the accessibility of the way she writes, she shows so much insight into the spiritual beliefs of the time, into the desires and machinations of men.

Love, love, love this book.  If you've got any interest in this period of history (it's one I find fascinating), I do hope you will take my recommendation and read this.  It's the best Tudor fiction I've read.
"If ever something is done in the name of religion that brings naught but disorder and destruction, then you can take a fine bet that it is not the heart of God that is involved, but the heart of man." 

THE BASTARD PRINCESS by Gemma Lawrence is reviewed HERE

Friday 8 January 2016


5 out of 5 stars

Travel Memoir ~ India 

Dig that crazy camel!!
  On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

"Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone's shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country's square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn't possibly miss.  

It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we've got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis." 

If you're a fan of Barb Taub's excellent blog you will love this book, and if you've never heard of her until this moment, you'll love it just as much :)

It's short, a very pleasant afternoon's reading, and so funny!  I started off highlighting passages for quotes, soon realising I would end up quoting more of the book than I was leaving out.  Not many books make me laugh out loud, but this did.

Barb's account of her, Janine and Jaya's Indian adventure (or 'attempt to eat our way across India') certainly brings the parts they visited to glorious technicolour life, but equally (if not more) entertaining are her observations; a couple of mentions of the motorbikes carrying whole families (and their shopping), and the generous hospitality of those they met (often, Jaya's friends and relatives); she was to discover that an invitation to someone's house actually meant (quote) "Please let me feed you until you look like a balloon with tiny hand and foot appendages waving weakly".  And then there are the parathas... loads of parathas*...
There is much food talk ~ Barb's omelette experience: "One bite later, and my tastebuds went from innocent bystanders to drive-by victims of green chilli omelette assault".
With driver, Suresh

The ladies meet up with driver Suresh, who takes them out to Munnar and Kerala, which sounds wonderful.  "Janine and I had escaped winter's grip just before Mama Nature barfed blizzards and subzero arctic blasts back in Washington and Scotland.  Everyone we knew back home was miserable.  Obviously, we needed to take pictures by the pool to make them jealous cheer them up."  Here, they visit a tea growing plantation, have a amazing lunch served on banana leaves...later on, Barb comes down with Delhi Belly when she cleans her teeth in water she was assured had been filtered.  "By that evening, I realised I didn't have a single bodily orifice that wasn't actively involved in attempting to evict my internal organs."  

When Barb was planning the trip, she said she had two goals ~ to see the Taj Mahal, and to see wild elephants.  I've never fancied going to India, but this book made me want to.  Oh yes, I forgot to tell you about the wild elephants, that bit's great.  Then there's the auto-rickshaw, crossing the road in Mumbai ~ look, you'll just have to buy it for yourself!

Many pictures are included in the book, with a link so you can see bigger versions (I think this is called high res, I'm not very up on these things!)

Many thanks to Barb for letting me use her photos for this review; I wanted to do the book justice.  You can peruse Barb's blog HERE
I love this picture ~ a mobile ironing service!

DON'T TOUCH by Barb Taub reviewed HERE


*I know about the parathas!  20 years ago, my boyfriend and I visited an Indian friend of ours.  He was out, and we were entertained until his return by his father, who insisted on bringing us a feast of parathas.  This was in the middle of a summer afternoon.  Every time he went out to make a different type, I wondered how I was going to eat them all, or not do so without being rude.  Marcus had a solution; when we got back in the car, he produced about ten from all trouser and shirt pockets.  Flour, etc, everywhere.  But at least we had managed not to offend dear Mr Raja!

Thursday 7 January 2016

THE RED DOOR by Rosa Fedele

3.5 out of 5 stars

Australian mystery

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Review Team
The Red Door is a dark mystery set in Australia, and the main character is artist Maddie who has bought a mansion, 'Rosalind', letting out apartments to tenants.  As she is completing her renovations, she begins to have suspicions about the tenant in number three, who won't let her in.  This is all linked to some local murders that occurred in the 1950s.  There are unanswered questions surrounding Maddie herself, too. 

The book is illustrated by Ms Fedele, and these pictures are really lovely; I just wished my kindle was bigger so I could see them better.  Honestly, they're gorgeous.  She's a very good writer, too; her dialogue is realistic, sharp and often amusing (thank you for 'blessed are the cheese makers'!), with each character cleverly observed and clearly defined.  I was immediately entertained by Maddie's friends, unconventional Annie and bitchy, self-obsessed Monique, and tenant Mrs Hewitson; her dialogue was excellent.  Maddie has a young friend, a schoolgirl called Claudia; there is intrigue surrounding her, and her apparently unpleasant family situation, from the beginning.  There's room for a secret love affair or two, as well...

Some of the writing is a real joy to read.  The problem I had with the book is that it's very disjointed, with new characters/situations/locations appearing every few pages.  It switches between points of view without any introduction, as though the author had stuck in bits in as she thought of them without any thought for structure.  One minute I'd be reading from Maddie, in the first person, and then after just a tiny line of asterisks I'd find I was reading a third person conversation between Annie and Monique ABOUT Maddie, then it would be back to the main character in the first person talking to Jo about Monique and some other characters, then Birgitta would appear and talk about a lot of new people, and hang on, who are we with now?  Oh, I see, it's Claudia, in the third person, and some more names to remember.... if my eyes missed the tiny asterisks, as they did on occasion, I'd be left thinking, eh?  What's going on here? 

Ms Fedele is clearly a very talented artist and writer; the plot's clever, the writing is atmospheric, intelligent and sometimes quite beautiful—for this itself the book is worthy of 4.5 or 5*.  The problem was that it was difficult to read, with such a confusing and jerky structure that I couldn't enjoy it properly.  If you can get past this, it's great, and the chopping and changing does lessen after the first third; I think it just needs planning out better and a really good edit to streamline and perhaps trim out some of the unnecessary information.  Then, I think it would be the really terrific book it deserves to be.