Monday, 29 February 2016


3.5 out of 5 stars

Contemporary drama/humour/thriller

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

Toby Grant has a new job.  He's started work at Handy Dandy Services, a firm that sorts out anything from cockroach killing to leaking taps.  On the first day as a 'newbie' he is teamed with the mysterious Ryan, and soon discovers that the job is anything but straightforward—particularly when he becomes involved in Ryan's shady past. 

This book is very amusing in places, and, certainly at first, every job on which Toby is sent is a source of amusement, disgust and disbelief.  I warn you - make sure you're not eating anything when you read the first twenty per cent!  The characterisation and dialogue is very good indeed, sharp and funny (I particularly loved Dottie May and the redneck boyfriend). 

My one recommendation for the author would be to get himself a new proofreader—there are punctuation errors on every page, mostly missing commas that, on occasion, actually make the sentences read wrongly ("You ready to load Lou?" means something entirely different from "You ready to load, Lou?"), but also superfluous commas stuck in at random, and backwards, missing and superfluous apostrophes. 

The book is unusual and entertaining; I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy it, but a bit more attention to detail would give it a greater chance at success.


Sunday, 28 February 2016


4 out of 5 stars

Short story: parallel lives

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This is a most entertaining long-short story with the element of dark humour and tongue-in-cheek that I recognise from Jenny Twist's non-fiction articles ~ it's a fab one to snuggle up in bed with for an hour before sleep :)

Favourite quote, about a love rival:
"Daphne had nothing about her ~ no personality, no intelligence.  Kevin said she was his muse.  You'd think a muse ought to at least be able to do joined up thinking"

I get that you have to be of an age where one was taught to do 'joined up' writing to get that!   Anyway, Christine's life is going to pot ~ but is that life the only one she might have had?  She has occasion to fall into a deep sleep, but where does she wake up?  

I've always enjoyed thinking about what might have been, had I chosen different paths in life (and indeed have written about it myself), so I loved the subject matter of this story anyway, and it's a jolly good yarn to get stuck into, as well!   Recommended to anyone who likes good, light-ish contemporary fiction.



Friday, 26 February 2016

INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer

5 GOLD stars


On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Now that I've discovered the books of Jon Krakauer I imagine I'll be giving them all 5 gold stars if they're as good as this one (and Into Thin Air).

Into The Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a brilliant, idealistic young man who chose to turn his back on the conventional world into which he'd been brought up, and the life his parents hoped he would follow, and live as a wanderer, rejecting society and 20th century civilisation.  In August 1992 his decomposed body was found by a group of moose hunters in the Alaskan wilderness.

In this book Jon Krakauer unfolds Chris's story gradually, starting at the end of his short life and taking the reader back through his travels of the previous couple of years via recollections from the people Chris met, all of whom found him charming, charismatic; many became very fond of him.  Krakauer compares his ideals and experiences to other ill-fated adventurers (such as Gene Rosellini, John Mallon Waterman and Everett Ruess; their tales are described, and fascinating reading they make, too), and explores the psychology of those who are drawn to such lifestyles ~ including himself.  There's a large section about the author's own youthful attempt to climb the Devil's Thumb in Alaska, detailing what drew him to cross the boundaries of safety and 'normality', by way of giving insight into the personality type.

Chris's family background is explored, along with the effect of his decisions upon them and those who grew close to him. Finally, Krakauer convincingly outlines his theories about what actually led to Chris's death.  He was criticised for his original article in Outside magazine, and I think this book must surely have silenced all those who responded negatively to both writer and subject.  He talks of the mixed feelings he had about how he'd dismissed his own father's desired path for him, and compares this to Chris's difficult relationship with Walt McCandless.

"He'd built a bridge of privelege for me, a hand-paved trestle to the good life, and I repaid him by chopping it down and crapping on the wreckage."

This is a terrific book, perfectly put together (I kept applauding the structure all the way through), and it's sympathetic towards Chris without making him out to be some kind of hero.  It's so sad, fascinating, and made me think about so many things ~ I just loved it.  Can't recommend it too highly.  Now, which one next?

INTO THIN AIR by Jon Krakauer reviewed HERE

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer reviewed HERE

MISSOULA by Jon Krakauer reviewed HERE

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

INTO THIN AIR by Jon Krakauer

5 GOLD Stars

Memoir, Everest expedition

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I had to read this after watching the 2015 film Everest, to find out more about it, as I imagine many people have done.  After studying the reviews of various tomes available on Amazon, I thought this looked like the most sincere and well written account of what happened.

Since watching the film I've been thinking a lot (a bit obsessively, to be honest) about the whole mountaineering culture, and reading various opinions on the commercialisation of 'Sargamatha' (its Nepalese name) and how the locals view the Westerners who want to 'conquer' it ~ and thinking about why mountaineers do what they do.  In this book, Jon Krakauer answered lots of my questions and explained so much about the various conflicts ~ I now want to read the rest of his books, too, because I love the way he writes.  I've been glued to the page since I got this.

Krakauer was a climbing crazed young man whose mountaineering career was slowing down, to a certain extent, when he was invited to go on this expedition as a journalist, to write an account for Outside magazine.  On May 10/11 1996, six of the people with whom he started the trek did not make it back to base camp.  Much has been discussed about the reason for the disaster, but it seems that, ultimately, the fault lies with human error, rather than one person, one party or one set of circumstances.  

Krakauer writes this account as a journalist should ~ he gives facts, not opinions.  If at any point he portrays any member of any party in a slightly negative way, he balances with positive in the next breath (with a couple of exceptions: certain members of a South African team, and some Japanese climbers.  Even then, he expresses no opinion, just gives the facts and leaves the reader to make up his own mind).   A Russian guide, Anatoli Boukreev, felt impugned by his portrayal and had his own account written to counteract it, which I read about before starting this book, but I don't think Boukreev was painted negatively at all.  Rather the opposite, if anything, and he is but human, after all.

Jon Krakauer gives such a clear picture of all the personalities on the mountain with him over those weeks, and made all the technical stuff easy to understand even for know-nothings like me.  His account of the climbers' acclimatisation was fascinating; once the actual ascent begins the eerie atmosphere gathers momentum as the summit gets closer, only to be followed by the much more dangerous descent ~ getting up there is plain sailing in comparison with getting back down, when climbers are already suffering the effects of freezing cold at potentially fatal altitudes.  This book does not sensationalise, but it's riveting, terribly moving, terrifying and just so absorbing, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to read anything else for a couple of days after it.  Yeah, I think it's going to have to be one of his other books.  Highly, highly recommended.

INTO THE WILD by John Krakauer reviewed HERE

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer reviewed HERE

MISSOULA by Jon Krakauer reviewed HERE


Sunday, 21 February 2016

SEAN FREEMAN (The DCI Jones Casebook) by Kerry J Donovan

4 out of 5 stars

British detective thriller

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

I read another of Kerry Donovan's books, 'On Lucky Shores' for Rosie's review blog, which I liked a lot, so chose to review this one as soon as it was submitted.  Whereas 'On Lucky Shores' is an all-American mystery thriller set in Colorado, this is a traditional British detective type story.  I think Donovan's American mode has the slight edge, but this one also stands up well next to the best in its genre. 

The first part of the novel consists of two storylines: DCI Jones and his merry throng in the present day, and locksmith turned jewel thief Sean Freeman's journey into the dangerous criminal underworld of Digby Parrish.  Eventually, the two threads come together.... 

This book's plot is quite a masterpiece, so well thought out, with plenty of nice little twists that I didn't see coming at all.  I was most impressed by the research that had obviously taken place to make the details authentic, but this is woven artfully into the storyline and is never obtrusive.  The characterisation is terrific, in particular Digby Parrish (wonderfully scary!) and Detective Charlie Pelham, the latter of whom is a stereotypical 1970s throwback type of crime fighter - very funny!  I liked DCI Jones, who is a little eccentric in a mild sort of way, and Sean Freeman is one of those criminals who you find yourself rooting for - I always admire a writer who can make you root for the 'baddie'!  I must applaud the dialogue all the way through the book, too. 

I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a good, current, British crime thriller.  Kerry Donovan is a most talented wordsmith and I hope to read more from him soon.

ON LUCKY SHORES by Kerry J Donovan reviewed HERE 



Friday, 19 February 2016

CROSSING BEDLAM by Charles E Yallowitz

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads  HERE

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

This is a post apocalyptic dark comedy.  The USA has become the Shattered States and Cassidy's mission is to drive across America to scatter her mother's ashes over the Golden Gate bridge, as per her dying wish.  To help her on her way in these dangerous times, she enlists the help of serial killer Lloyd. 

Crossing Bedlam is an amusingly written book with lots of good one liners and observations that I appreciated very much, and some nifty characterisation, but for me the combination of a post apocalyptic world and comedy didn't mix well enough to be a real page turner.  I could have done with a little more background in the first instance; I felt with this one that I'd walked into the middle of a film.  The only other negative for me: the way the narrator kept referring to Cassidy as 'the blonde'.   Why not just 'she' or 'her'?  Archaic at best, sexist at worst ~ I didn't notice any of the men being referred to as 'the brunette' or 'the redhead'...! 

If a slightly off-the-wall comedy dystopian novel is your thing, you'll probably love this, as it's clever in many ways; I imagine if I was thirty years younger, male and American I might have enjoyed it a lot more!  It's a book I can imagine going down well with guys who like playing Xbox games about these type of scenarios.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

BLACKWATER by Alison Williams

5 out of 5 stars

Novelette, 17th century, witches

Please note: it's FREE on Amazon UK and .com, but a couple of people in European countries have said it's not free for them.  But it's still only 99p or equivalent, and easily worth it!

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

WHY haven't I read this before?  It's the novelette (I think) length prequel to the novel The Black Hours, which I enjoyed very much; both can be read as stand alones.  Anyway, it's great!  I loved it, and couldn't resist going on to read the start of The Black Hours again, afterwards.

Lizzie and her mother, Maggie, eke out a meagre existence in their village, not far away from London, in the 17th century.  Maggie is a healer; some say she is a witch ~ especially the Pendles, who are the most important family in the community.  Unfortunately, young Sam Pendle and Lizzie are in love...

This story is absolutely gripping.  It starts off quite slowly but really builds up, and the atmosphere and tension is so well illustrated.  So dark, I'm sure I felt every beat of Lizzie's heart.  Alison Williams has such an understanding of the time.  At one point the story travels to London, and that part was so well described I might have been watching it rather than reading it.  As for the end....

Best of all, it's FREE ~ what are you waiting for?!  (Please see above as might not be free in all countries)



Sunday, 14 February 2016

ANOTHER REBECCA by Tracey Scott-Townsend

4.5 out of 5 stars

Complex family drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE 

This was a surprise hidden gem!  It's been on my to-read list for a long time and I decided it was time to open it up ~ and I'm glad I did.

Another Rebecca is a very unusual story, told from the points of view of Rebecca, a young woman with understandable psychological problems, her alcoholic mother, Bex, and her care-worn father, Jack.  The first chapter is an insight into the mind of Rebecca when she is at her most confused, and I wondered if it was going to be the sort of book I liked (I am not one for weird dream sequences and is-it-fantasy-or-isn't-it stuff, generally), but it was sufficiently well written for me to carry on. The second chapter was a different kettle of fish altogether, from the point of view of drink ravaged Bex, raw, gritty, and much more my cup of tea, and I realised I was going to enjoy the book alot when I got to chapter 3, and Jack.  Then, it all started to make sense, I got stuck in and read most of it in one day ~ I couldn't leave it alone.

The novel goes back and forth from the present to various times in the past, and it's well structured, never confusing, with the years clearly shown, so it was easy to build up the complex history of the family.  The author has a real talent for the written word, with the characters coming to life.  Although the story is all about emotion, this aspect isn't laboured and there is plenty going on.  I liked the way the nooks and crannies of the family's history unfolded, with just enough mystery to keep me doing that 'just one more chapter' thing.  I would have liked to have seen more about what happened when the actual split between Rebecca's parents took place, and a bit more about the relationship between Jack and his new wife, but that's the only area I felt was slightly lacking.

Looking at this book on Amazon I can see that it's hidden away in a dark side shelf, and with its unassuming cover it might be easy to overlook, but I can assure you it's worth picking up.  A couple of the reviews say that it's hard to understand what's going on, but I think that says more about the reviewer - it's not confusing, it's complex and clever.  Oh, and there's a lovely little episode of Tudor ghostliness, too!  Nice work, Ms S-T :).

Saturday, 13 February 2016


5 GOLD stars

Action thriller/conspiracy set in London and Africa

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Bravo, Joel Hames!  Riveting book, I loved it.  So well written, I was gripped all the way through and read it over a period of 24 hours.

Sam Williams is a failing human rights lawyer who had made as much of a mess out of his career as it's possible to do, despite his one huge advantage that's landed him in more hot water than good fortune ~ a photographic memory.  This dubious gift brings involvement in the sinister affairs of a little known, war torn province in West Africa; before long, Sam finds himself on the run from the press, his gangster-esque landlord, the British police and some faceless, nameless foes who promise to be the most dangerous adversaries of them all.

I read Joel Hames' previous book, Bankers Town (reviewed HERE) and was less keen because of the subject matter, but the standard of writing made me sure I'd like to read something else by him.  I don't read many action thrillers but this stands up amongst the best I've read.  The suspense is perfectly timed and believable, the atmosphere and characterisation spot on, including incidental scenes and characters, which is something I always value greatly.  Very funny and acutely observed, too.

Sam's increasing awareness that his life is spiralling out of his control and there is no-one he can trust is particularly well done, and I also loved the parts in the impoverished African land.  Hames has managed to avoid many of the cliches of this genre and has created in Sam a guy you'd like to know, even though he's made a dodgy decision or several ~ he's real, not a super-hero, but not too self-effacing, either; the balance is just right.

Highly, highly recommended, and I hope Mr Hames is hard at work on the next book, because I'm already in a hurry to read it!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

NO TIME LIKE NOW by Jennifer Young

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

Megan McLeod works at a university field centre on Puerto Pollensa, Marjorca—quite happily, until the arrival of geology researcher Tim Stone, with Holly, his PHD student.  Straight away we know that Megan and Tim have a history, but what does this history entail?  Is Holly and Tim's relationship just professional?  Tim's appearance also stirs up Megan's problems with her father, which she tries to resolve in her own head and by writing to him. 

Walking on the beach one day, Megan comes across a dead body, who appears to have fallen from the cliffs; the question is, did she fall or was she pushed?  Enter impossibly handsome undercover detective Álvaro... 

Throughout the mystery that the story centres around is the backdrop of the past relationship between Megan and Tim.  Sadly, I couldn't see the chemistry; Megan was rather dour and humourless, and Tim was all cold cynicism, although more is revealed about him later to explain this, and I didn't feel any passion between them.  The secondary characters had more appeal and realism—the upbeat and sociable Holly, and Domenica, who runs the centre. 

As far as the technical side of the writing is concerned, I couldn't fault this book; it's grammatically sound, no proofreading or copy-editing errors, it flows well and I didn't find any plot inconsistencies; it's very well put together.   My only problem with it was that I found it rather flat, with not enough spark to make it memorable.  I don't mean this to be a bad review, as the book is extremely competent, contains much to be commended and I am sure others will enjoy it more than I did but, for me, it was a little bland.



4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE 

I can't believe this is only 99p!  It's a bumper blockbuster of a book, a slightly tongue-in-cheek crime/gangster thriller that races from Los Angeles to Chicago, to London and back again.  It reminded me in some ways of a Jackie Collins, and certainly of the weighty and multi-faceted popular fiction heavyweights of the 1980s.

Buddy Chinn is a lazy, alcoholic, not very successful writer, passionately in love with the wayward Monique.  His trial starts when he meets dastardly rare manuscript collector Mortimer Saxon, who sets him a task ~ to uncover a lost series of correspondence between Buddy's father Henry (a much more successful writer) and a famous chess champion.  The prize will be $100,000.  Failure to complete the task will mean almost certain death. 

This is the fifth Mark Barry I've read, and it follows some of the traits of his other books: the sensitive loser with a hundred negative personality traits who you somehow can't help loving, who's hopelessly addicted to a woman who, the reader suspects, is less keen.  The difference with this book is that we get to see Monique's point of view too - and very surprising it is!  All the characters in this page turner are sharply drawn with humour and intricate detail, as always, and the plot is unpredictable and so well thought out.  One of the main triumphs, for me, is that an English writer living in England has successfully written about Americans living in the US; only now and again did I feel the dialogue/narrative was a little self-conscious, and that's only because I'm a bit picky!

It's really a book to settle in and snuggle down with, as I've enjoyed doing over the last few days.  Mark Barry is a terrifically talented writer, and I'd recommend anything written by him.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE CITY OF CRIMINALS by Mark Barry is reviewed HERE, with links to reviews for THE NIGHT PORTER, CARLA, and ULTRA VIOLENCE.

Monday, 8 February 2016


4.5 out of 5 stars

Travel memoir, barge life, Belgium

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

There's something about Val Poore's books that's always a bit magical, and this is no exception.  For three years in the last decade, she and her chap, Koos (and le chien terrible, Sindy), spent their weekends in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, on their barge Volharding, and this book tells me more about that country than anything else I've read; yes, it's more than 'just a place you stop and buy refreshments on the way to France'!

I loved the descriptions of some of the places in Brussels, in particular; the run-down Bohemian atmosphere of The Marolles and the beauty of Parc Duden (yes, I'd like to live in either of those places, too!).  Just her accounts of normal days during those many wonderful weekends made me go 'ahhh' with longing, and nostalgia for her, too, now that circumstances has made them a thing of the past.

Many of Val's experiences can't have been fun (waking up to a canal with no water in it, Koos out on his own in a scooter in a blizzard, winter in a freezing on-board bedroom), but she relates them with the canal life, Belgian 'c'est la vie' attitude, if not humour, in this delightful tribute to a country she loves. If you have any interest in barge life, or indeed Belgium itself, I'd whole-heartedly recommend this book - but as with all of Val Poore's books, I'd recommend them to anyone, anywhere, anyway!

All other books by Valerie Poore reviewed by me HERE

Sunday, 7 February 2016

THE WIDOWS' GUILD by Anna Castle

4 out of 5 stars

Elizabethan murder mystery

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I enjoyed reading this late Elizabethan whodunnit, in which a band of young men of Gray's Inn and the wayward Lady Alice Trumpington aim to uncover the murderer of a few well-to-do Catholics...  

This is the third in the series subtitled The Francis Bacon mysteries, but I have to say I found Francis Bacon himself to be the least appealing of all the characters, a humourless chap indeed.  I very much liked Lady Alice and her would-be lover, sea captain's son Tom Clarady, who were colourful, amusing, and more in the spirit of the novel, which is one of an entertaining historical romp rather than serious historical fiction - occasionally almost slapstick in its humour.

The descriptions made the backdrop of 16th century London come alive, the dialogue was sparky and convincing, and the plot interesting - I did learn a fair bit about the period from it.  As an added bonus, I hadn't got a clue about the culprit, and was most surprised when the truth was unveiled.

I will probably read another in this series at some point, and would recommend it to anyone who likes their historical fiction in the form of a good yarn :)

Thursday, 4 February 2016


4 out of 5 stars

Complex emotional drama

On Amazon UK HERE

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

This mysterious domestic drama had a most interesting and unusual plot; I couldn't work out where it was going at all, which kept me turning the pages. 

The story is told from multiple first person points of view, the main one (to my mind) being Jessica, who is aged between eleven and thirteen for most of the story.  She's an overweight, shy girl who doesn't get on that well with her parents, but has an unusually close bond with her best friend, Jack Banford.

Jack is a troubled young boy with divorced parents, and his mother is dying.

I thought the way Jess was written was a clever piece of character illustration; I believed in her completely.  All her fears and insecurities leapt from the page.  Jack was so well drawn, too, that I could completely understand her obsessive feelings for him.  I loved their relationship, the secret world they'd forged together. 

The story is divided into three parts, the first and longest of which is a building up of the background.  Here, I felt that some of the points of view were superfluous, that the story would have been structured better as longer sections from less viewpoints; it kept diving off at tangents.  The characters themselves were clearly defined, I just thought there were too many voices, too much chopping and changing. 

Part two starts with a HUGE surprise - well done, Ms Spicer, that one certainly made me go 'whaaat?!'.  There follows a court case, which was well done, and kept me completely absorbed.  I couldn't guess the outcome of this, which pleased me.  As for the ending, I felt a little confused; things were implied, suggested, rather than facts being given, and I am still not absolutely sure I quite 'got' it.  I am willing to accept that this might just be me, though! 

To sum up - I'd recommend this if you like complex dramas with undercurrents, secrets and hidden depths, and the author deserves a round of applause for the relationship between Jack and Jess.