Saturday 28 October 2017


5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. 

Genre: Literary, psychological, contemporary drama. 

What a find.  This book is seriously good.  I mean, seriously.  I'd recommend it to anyone, whatever your usual genres of choice. 

Willem J Gyle is a bit slow.  But he gets by.  He lives with his mother, who takes care of all his needs, including finding him a job on a construction site which suits his size and strength, and where he makes friends.  He loves his mam, his dog, and the football on the telly.  Then, in just a few days, his world comes crashing down, and Willem finds himself homeless.  Having neither verbal skill nor knowledge of how 'the system' works, he is unable to find anyone to help him, and drifts into a life on the streets and, inevitably, crime.  Much to my surprise, his darker side comes to the fore, but is this innate psychopathy, anger at the world, an expression of pain for all he has lost, or just a primal instinct for survival?  I thought it was a combination of all those elements.

Winding up in a community of other homeless people, which he considers, at first, to be 'no more perfect place ... outside the law, above the law', he soon finds out that it's a reflection of the 'real' world, corrupt, with the weaker members suffering.  And on he walks....

Although the blurb appealed to me, I was dubious at first; the book starts off well-written but whimsical, which, coupled with the too-long and pretentious title, made me wonder if it would be slow-going.  But four pages in I was completely hooked, and stayed that way until the end.  J D Dixon has a real gift, the innate sort that cannot be learned from classes, 'how to write' books, blog posts, or anything else.  To me, writing talent is all about being able to create characters and worlds that absorb the reader completely, needing no wordy description, and JDD has this in spades.  He writes in a spare fashion, which I like.  He doesn't explain, or over-emphasise.  

The book is raw, rough in places, and sometimes shocking.  It's also immensely sad.  It's just - great.  One of the best debut novels I've ever read.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

THE DARK ROADS by Wayne Lemmons @wayne_lemmons

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse ('also boughts').

Genre: Post Apocalyptic.

I loved the premise of this book.  It's an alternative reality set in the immediate future, in which climate change began to have a devastating effect on the world as early as 2015/6.  By 2021, it is no longer safe to be above ground during daylight hours, and anyone caught thus is instantly burnt to a crisp.  Most people are dead, water and food are scarce, and the heat has rendered vehicles unusable; the world is dying.  Three young men (Buddy, Richie and Elvis) are travelling on foot from Florida to Alaska, in the hope of finding some relief from the heat.  The story is their journey (I adore post apocalyptic cross-country stories, can't get enough of them!), as on the way they meet a few other survivors, struggle with near death as they almost get caught with no safe place to be before sunrise, cope with their own losses and, of course, are pursued by the evil 'feeders' ~ cannibals.

The book could do with a professional editor, or at least a more experienced pair of eyes; there are instances when a clunky omniscient narrator pops up out of nowhere, and a little head-hopping now and again, most noticeably in the epilogue, which changes from narrator to a first person point of view, out of the blue.  Also, there are times when the story skips over the boundary between fiction and unfeasible; the group find shelter in department stores and service stations, but there never seem to be any houses.  The author has a good handle on the effect of heat on some items, but now and again chooses to ignore his findings for the sake of the plot.  The group has a never ending supply of ammunition whenever needed, but I can't see a) where it comes from or b) how they could possibly have carried it all along with the food and the other utensils, medical supplies, etc.  

However (and it's a big 'however'!), Wayne Lemmons is a good storyteller and I was able to suspend my disbelief, most of the time.  I looked forward to getting back to it with each session.  The basics are all there.

I would have given it 3.5* rounded up to 4 on Amazon (because 4* means 'I like it', and I did!), if it wasn't for the epilogue, which was a big disappointment.  The whole book is about them getting to Alaska, where they hope to find a temperature in which they can sustain life, but there is no evidence to show that life is going to be much easier there, and the epilogue itself is less than two pages long.  I felt as though someone had told the author that he had to finish the book by lunch time, or something, so he just scribbled down anything without giving it much consideration, let alone the painstaking redrafting that all novels need.  It doesn't do the rest of the book justice.  BUT (and it's a big but!), I liked it enough to want to take a look the next book, which I will.   It's good, it's not bad at all - it just could have been terrific, that's all. 

Saturday 21 October 2017

BREAKING BONES by Robert White @robwhite247

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team , of which I am a member.

Genre: Crime Thriller/Gangster.

Blurb extract: 
Inseparable since childhood and feared by their community, Tony, Eddie and Frankie are beyond the reach of justice.  The brutal gang, The Three Dogs, are a law unto themselves. 
Detective Jim Hacker has watched The Dogs grow from thuggish youths to psychotic criminals. He seems to be the only one who wants to see their empire fall.  
Meanwhile Jamie Strange, a young Royal Marine, finds himself embroiled in the lives of The Three Dogs when his girlfriend, Laurie Holland, cuts off their engagement… to be with the most dangerous of The Dogs: Frankie Verdi. 
Jamie vows to save Laurie, before Frankie damns them both.

Robert White is a talented writer, and what I liked most about this book is its authenticity.  It is always clear when a writer truly knows the world and characters he has created; this is no chronicle of inner city crime attempted by a middle class scribe from the suburbs relying on research to produce a lucrative piece of gangster-lit.  The plot is interesting and the novel well structured; White understands the building of suspense and how to keep the reader turning the pages; the pace is perfect, the dialogue realistic, and the characters are all three-dimensional.  I was impressed that he can write convincing women, too.

So why only three stars?  Sadly, Mr White has been let down by his publisher.  The book does not appear to have been either edited or proofread with any kind of professionalism, experience, knowledge or care.  There are numerous punctuation errors on every single page (missing vocative commas is the most common error) as well as typos, spelling mistakes ('hand-full' instead of 'handful', for instance), and missed words.  Sometimes, the lack of punctuation actually changes the meaning of a sentence: 

"He was just asking Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

...which reads as though a third person was just asking Eddie something; in fact, Tony is telling Eddie that the person was 'just asking'.  Thus, the correct version:

"He was just asking, Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

As far as the editing is concerned, there are many instances of exposition, newspaper style reporting in the middle of a third person point of view, and unnecessary or perhaps slightly amateur sentences.  For instance: 'Frankie was the epitome of the Italian gangster caricature.  He hunched his narrow shoulders, tucked in his elbows, palms up.  "Like, y'know...Blondie...Boomtown.".  

Many editors may have removed the first sentence; it smacks of 'telling not showing' and is superfluous, as Robert White has depicted Frankie's gesture perfectly, without it.  Never mind the lack of spaces before and after the ellipses; they probably should have been commas or full stops, anyway.

In short, the lack of work on this novel turned the reading of it into something of a chore, rather than the enjoyable experience it should (and would) have been, otherwise.  A shame, indeed.

CHIMERA CATALYST by Susan Kuchinskas @susankuchinskas

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  I chose it after reading a review of it by another member of the team.

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, SciFi, Dystopian

'The planet is getting drier and drier.  In fifty years, it won't be able to support human life - not as you know it' ...

Chimera Catalyst takes place in an unspecified time in the future ~ from the information given, I am guessing around 150 years on.  The world as we know it now is gone, following the Big Change (some apocalyptic climate disaster, I gathered); water is a luxury, seas are brown and murky, weather is punishingly hot.  The gap between the '1 per cent' (the rich) and the poor is vast.  Children are for the rich only; meanwhile, the manipulation of genes and DNA and advanced cosmetic surgery enables the creation of fantasy creatures and beings.  Religion is a mish-mash of science and hippie spiritualism ~ 'mystical neuroscience crap'.

Most of life is lived virtually; following pandemics, people are scared of human interaction.  Food is scarce, the air inhospitable, and life is maintained via cocktails of chemical supplements.

The novel is written from the point of view of The Finder, who searches through data to fulfil his commitments to those willing to pay him the coin.  He has a pet he has made himself; the Parrot, who is actually part parrot, part dog.  The story centres around his search for the mysterious Miraluna Rose, but I found that the plot took second place to the fascinating and convincing picture of life in this future world.  It's very readable and intelligently written, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad.  The Finder, for instance, knows little about human contact, and is baffled by how comforting he finds the ruffling of the Parrot's feathers, or his warmth lying beside him. 

Although the world functions 'normally', I found this more terrifying than any epic about a pandemic or zombie apocalypse, simply because it's what could happen if the world carries on down its path to destruction; it is far more of a living hell than any return to medieval times with no power, etc.  It's a jolly good book and I enjoyed it ~ I hovered between 4 and 5 stars throughout and my only complaint is that I wanted to know what the Big Change was, how it came about, and what happened immediately afterwards.  This is a series; I very much hope it will include a prequel!

Thursday 12 October 2017

FOR THE THRILL OF IT: Leopold, Loeb and the murder that shocked jazz age Chicago, by Simon Baatz

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've always been interested in and had just watched a documentary about this case, so sought it out.

Genre: True Life Crime Story

Most people know about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two college boys from affluent Chicago families who murdered young Bobby Franks just 'for the thrill of it', to see if they could plan the perfect murder and get away with it.  The fascinating element, I think, is the 'why', and this book gives a detailed background, in which we discover that Leopold was a bright, hardworking but socially inept boy who became infatuated with the feckless, hard drinking, handsome and popular Loeb.  Their relationship appears to have been one of those 'perfect storms', in which the intense, lonely Leopold allowed Loeb to turn his fantasies into reality.  Loeb had been obsessed with detective stories from a young age, and started off his secret criminal career by committing petty vandalism, then discovered that, in Leopold, he'd found the ideal partner with whom to carry out the ultimate crime.

Bobby Franks, the victim.

The background about Leopold and Loeb's personalities was detailed and insightful.  Baatz has provided similar intricate detail about the prosecutor and defender, too; I understand that they are important to the story, as Robert Crowe was determined they should hang, whereas Clarence Darrow was equally determined to save their lives and was fiercely against the death penalty, but I felt that these chapters could have been chopped down a little; I got the impression that Baatz had done months and months of research for this book and was hell bent on including every single bit of it. 

More interesting is William White's analysis of the boys' personalities and fantasies, and how each allowed the other's to take shape.  I felt I learned more key points about them from this shorter section than from the earlier individual histories; it made more sense.

What this book lacked was the atmosphere of the era.  'Jazz age' Chicago is mentioned only in the title; I would have liked to know more about the college life of Loeb and his friends, for instance, to arrive at more of a sense of place and time.  Other reviews have said that it is too much like a newspaper report; I felt that, too.

Near the end of the book is much discussion about Crowe, Darrow and the death penalty, and also an account of how prison life treated Leopold and Loeb.  Loeb was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1935, but Leopold was eventually granted parole in the 1950s.  I found this last chapter most interesting.  The story ends at 72%, and the rest of the book is taken up with an author's note, sources, etc.

Nathan Leopold shortly before his death in 1971

Saturday 7 October 2017

DONKEY BOY and other stories by Mary Smith @marysmithwriter

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  Two years ago I read No More Mulberries by this author, which I liked a lot.

This is an interesting and diverse collection of stories, set in several locations, from Scotland to Pakistan, where the author lived for a while.  Some of them were written as monologues, which have been performed.

I liked those set in Pakistan best, my very favourite being Accidents Happen, about a girl whose mother marries a man she hates.  I liked it so much I read it again, straight away.  I also liked Donkey Boy itself, about a little boy who has to work for his father instead of going to school, and Trouble with Socks, about the sort of ghastly, patronising auxiliary in a care home who thinks that physically disabled means mentally deficient.  The last one, a longer story called The Thing In Your Eye, was interesting.  A woman believes she sees evil in people in their eyes; this left me a little unsure, as I didn't know if we were meant to think it was all in her mind (as everyone else does), or if she really could 'read' people.  

They're all unusual, with a theme of private sadness.  I liked a very short one called My Name is Anya, too, about an Afghani girl adopted by Scottish parents.  They're ideal for a nice bit of lying on the sofa, afternoon reading when you're not in the mood for complicated plots.

Thursday 5 October 2017

WHISPERS OF A STORM by Anthony Lavisher @alavisher

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've got to know the author a little via Twitter and thought I'd like to try one of his books, after reading some good reviews.  This is the first episode of the now complete Storm Trilogy.

The novel is set in the medieval-esque fantasy world of the Four Vales, and follows the story of two main characters: Cassana, a noblewoman, and stonemason Khadazin.  The story contains all the ingredients necessary for an epic fantasy series ~ political intrigue, wrongful imprisonment, conspiracies, dark secrets.  I thought the land of the author's imagination was constructed well; it's all believable, with some original ideas that make this very much his own story.  One element I liked was that his women are certainly not second class citizens; nobleman's daughter Cassana is sent to represent her father in political dealings, and others are military captains and solidiers.  From adolescence, the girls are taught military skills alongside the boys.

I liked reading Khadazin's story best, as I found him the most three dimensional character; I was interested in his backstory and everything that happened to him.  In Cassana's chapters in particular, I found the book a bit on the description-heavy side, with mundane detail that slowed the pace down.  Having said that, this is a novel let down only by the elements that hinder most debuts, and that authors usually 'grow out' of: overly explanatory dialogue, too many adjectives and adverbs, using ten words where five will put the point across with better effect. However, fantasy epics often tend towards flowery prose; one could not accuse GRR Martin, for instance, of writing in a spare fashion.

The characterisation, atmosphere and world-building is very good; some professional TLC would make it as good as it could be and give the punctuation a bit of spit and polish (nb: do bear in mind that I am one of those weirdos who erupts in hives at a misplaced semicolon!).  It's only 99p, and I'm sure that it will tick all the boxes for addicts of this genre.