Saturday, 27 August 2016

MURDER & MAYHEM by Carol Hedges

5 out of 5 stars

Victorian Murder Mystery

On Amazon UK 
On Amazon.com   Available on all sites in September
On Goodreads


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

I've read the other three of Carol Hedges' colourful, amusing and really rather brilliant Victorian murder mystery series, and this was every bit as good.  They're complete stand alones, by the way, no need to read them in order.

Murder & Mayhem follows the stories of several wonderful characters: lovely, outwardly superficial, privileged Daisy Lawton, a girl looking forward to her first 'season'; Ms Hedges very cleverly avoided the trap of making her merely empty-headed, but gave her a heart of gold, too, especially when it came to her friend, poor Letitia, who is bound to a life of drudgery by her horrible father.  Then we have the would-be anarchists, Persiflage and Waxwing, Scottish detective Lachlan Greig, and various other upper middle class ne'er-do-wells, street rogues and those eager to make money by foul means, mostly the evil 'baby minders' around whom the story centres.

Inspector Lachlan Greig: '... a certain glint in his eye possessed by those who have found they are generally more intelligent than most people around them but haven't yet learned that the most intelligent thing they can do is not to let said people find this out.'

Mr Sprowle, landlord: '... educated in the School of Hard Knocks, leading to a degree in Resentment.'

Just two lines I picked out, there are so many more little gems. 

This book is not just a clever story with hilarious characterisation and descriptions so good you want to read them twice.  It's an insight into how difficult life really was for women in those days, only 150 years ago, and a view into Victorian London as clear as any film or TV drama series.  When I got to 84% I thought 'oh, no, I've only got a little bit left', and tried to make it last as long as possible.

I believe this might be the last in the series but I do hope not; as long as Carol Hedges keeps writing these books I'll keep reading them as soon as they're available, and you should, too!

Death & Dominion is reviewed HERE, with links to reviews of Honour & Obey and Diamonds & Dust.  All include Amazon buy links.



Friday, 26 August 2016

ATOMIC NUMBER SIXTY by Dave Johnston

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

This is an unusual book, split into sixty chapters that take one minute to read, each.  It's based around a girl called Holly, her parents, friends, love life and thoughts on life.

It's pleasant enough to read, certainly 'high speed reading' for today's busy lives, and quite funny in places but generally I felt the humour missed the mark and the 'kookiness' of the characters was overdone; the quality wasn't as consistent as it needs to be for a book this short.  The main character is female but her 'voice' seemed male to me; it's often quite challenging to write as the opposite sex.  Also, there are quite a few punctuation errors and an excess of exclamation marks that I found irritating.

It's a great concept, clever, but I think more thought should have gone into the actual writing.  Sorry I can't be more positive, but a review is only one opinion; I'm sure a lot of others will like it very much.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

BEDSIT THREE by Sally Jenkins

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

A dark, fairly gritty drama with a side plot of insanity and murder - I enjoyed it!  It centres around Vesey Villas, an old house made up into seedy bedsits.  One occupant is Sandra, a single mother with her daughter, and a new arrival is Ian, an unemployed father who is hoping to get back together with his wife.  Sleeping in his car outside is the former resident of Bedsit Three, Ignatius Smith, who is eager to get back inside the building....

The novel is well written and nicely observed, the characterisation extremely good - I loved the parts about the increasingly disturbed Ignatius, and Sandra and Ian are both real and likeable, the sort of characters you root for.  The plot is perfectly paced, alternating between the three main characters, with no boring bits; I was not tempted to skip read at all, and read 80% of it in one sitting.

On occasion I felt the dialogue was a little unlikely, and I thought Ian's story was too speedily and rather drearily wound up in the epilogue (I hoped for so much better for him!), but these are my only complaints, and they are but minor.  I enjoyed the unfolding of Ignatius's story the most.

I think it would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a mild sort of contemporary thriller; it's very good.

Monday, 22 August 2016

POISON BAY by Belinda Pollard

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team


Poison Bay is a mystery/thriller in a New Zealand wilderness setting.  Eight old friends meet up ten years later to go on a ten day hike masterminded by one of the group, Bryan.  Bryan has hidden motives in getting them all together, though, and the story gains in sinister overtones as the hike turns into a survival situation.

I love reading and watching anything about survival in adverse circumstances, and when I started this book I found the writing very clear and easy-readable.  I could tell that the author has done her practical research very well.  Alas, for me, the novel was lacking in depth and atmosphere.  The eight hikers remained one dimensional throughout, their conversation being unrealistic and information heavy, with no difference in language used, speech patterns or style of communication, all those aspects that make a character work.  I didn't connect with any of them; the girls seemed to just cry and hug each other, mostly.  I thought it seemed like a teen read, very clean, with women thinking badly of the one who sleeps with a man in the group, and the worst word anyone says is 'hell'.  It was all a bit 'jolly hockey sticks'.

The narrative was exposition heavy, with lots of 'telling not showing', and there was not much sense of place.

It's a fairly good plot, I did find myself wanting to know the outcome, I can't fault the English or the presentation, and I appreciated the knowledge that had been used to make it feasible, but with little characterisation, or portrayal of how dark the situation really would have been, it didn't really work for me, I'm afraid.


My article about debut novelist danger areas can be found HERE







Sunday, 21 August 2016

THE MEMORY BOX by Eva Lesko Natiello

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

This is one of the most unusual books I've read in a long time.  I'd class it as a psychological family drama/thriller/mystery ...  it's hard to classify and hard to review, too, as it's imperative that I don't give away the terrific twist.  And it really IS terrific, not like some books hyped as having an unguessable twist that half the reviews say you can suss out in the first chapter.

Right, so we start off with suburban housewife and mother, Caroline Thompson, who doesn't fit in with the image and doesn't really want to; she detests her gossipy, nosy, trivia obsessed neighbours.  Slowly, we begin to see exactly how much she doesn't fit in; this is one disturbed woman.  But is everything as it seems?  Caroline's whole psyche is affected by the mysteries and half-memories of her past.  Why did her sister die?  Is she really dead at all?  

I grew more unsure as I read on, and had questions: why did none of her friends or family make Caroline seek help?  How come her husband just accepted all her excuses for forgetting stuff, acting strangely, etc?  She was clearly undergoing a severe emotional breakdown.  But then, in part two, the last ten per cent of the novel, the whole story turns on its head; such an unexpected turn of events.  Before, I was going to give this 4*, because I found some of Caroline's muzzy-headed thoughts a little repetitive and I thought the premise wasn't completely feasible, although I was certainly enjoying it.    Once I'd read the last ten per cent, I realised it deserved 5, without a doubt.  Quite brilliant!

I LOVE the way this lady writes, it's sharp, acutely observed, slightly manic in a way that really works, with some clever, amusing metaphors.  Highly recommended to anyone who likes something a bit different.  Great ending, too; that's another little about-turn, after the terrific twist, by the way!


Friday, 19 August 2016

THE BOOKSELLER'S TALE (Oxford Medieval Mysteries Book 1) by Ann Swinfen

5 out of 5 stars

Medieval Mystery

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE



I'm such a fan of Ann Swinfen, and this book lived up to my expectations ~ don't ignore all those book promotion tweets flying past on Twitter, it's how I discovered her!

This is a cosy sort of murder mystery set in Oxford, in which bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of a student from the university floating in the river.  Sure he was murdered, Nicholas takes it upon himself to solve the crime.  I felt the plot came second place to the historical interest of the story, which suited me fine.  The book is intricately researched, and serves as an education about the time, in the most enjoyable way possible.  Beautifully written, I could imagine every scene, whether in the busy streets of the town, in the cottages, the university grounds, the dark alleys on the dangerous side of town, the roads out to Banbury, or the lanes out to the water mills.


The time of the book was of added interest to me because it takes place just a short while after the Great Plague has died out; I learned much about the long-term effects of this pestilence.  Interesting to read a post apocalyptic story from over 600 years ago; I suspect the people of the time dealt with it better than we would now, mostly because they were already equipped with the skills they would need.


The characters are real people, and, as with Ms Swinfen's other books, I felt sad when I'd finished it and eager to read more.  Highly recommended to all readers of well researched, literary historical fiction, and especially to anyone with a particular interest in the history of story writing, bookbinding and selling, and, of course, the history of Oxford.

This Rough Ocean by Ann Swinfen is reviewed HERE, with links to Flood and Betrayal (all set in the 17th Century).





Sunday, 14 August 2016

THE SEVEN YEAR DRESS by Paulette Mahurin

3 out of 5 stars

WW2 drama/Auschwitz

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team


I always head straight for books set in World War 2, and this book has so many good reviews that I couldn't wait to start it.  I'm afraid I was a little disappointed by it, though there is much to commend, too.

In the present day, student Myra rents a room from Helen Stein; after a while, Helen reveals all that she suffered as a Jewish girl living in Berlin during the war and, later, in Auschwitz.  I thought the parts in the concentration camp seemed the best researched, treated with sensitivity, not sensationalised, and would certainly serve as an education for anyone who doesn't know about the atrocities commited by the SS.   The build up of anti-semitic feeling in Germany is portrayed well, as is the bond Helen formed with a friend in Auschwitz.  Earlier on, though, there are parts that seem unlikely, at best.

Helen's friend Max is homosexual.  As a thirteen year old, he talks about this to Helen.  I doubt very much whether a boy of that age from a traditional family background in early 1930s Europe would have even acknowledged such sexual preferences to himself, let alone talked freely about them.  There were other attitudes and phrases that I felt came from a more modern era.  I also doubted that Max would have had access, later, to the high level German campaign secrets that he revealed to Ben and Helen.  Then there is the bear rooting about in the 'trash cans' outside the farm buildings in Brandenburg.  There have not been wild bears in Germany for nearly 200 years (I looked it up). 

The other thing I wasn't keen on was the sexually orientated passages, which I thought were tacky; it's possible to write about a girl becoming a woman, and longing for love, etc, without it reading as though it's aimed to titillate.

There is a fair bit of historical fact woven into the novel, some convincingly, other parts clumsily.  I liked the epilogue, I thought it was a nicely written, suitably poignant ending.  I can see from the Amazon sites that this novel has been received very well by many, and I wouldn't not recommend it, but for me it was just okay.