Sunday, 27 November 2016

All at 99p! Great books for under £1 each ~ genuine recommendations

I've got something for anyone currently spending their book budget on Christmas shopping ~ all the books listed below are permanently under £1!  They're genuine recommendations, books I've enjoyed and rated highly, not just a random selection of cheapies.  A click on the title will (in most cases) take you to my review, which includes buy links to Amazon.  A couple I have not reviewed on this blog, in which case the link will just go to Amazon.


I've also included links to the books of my own that are permanently on sale at 99p, and a couple that are permanently free, too :)


First, some outstanding historical fiction: The Bastard Princess by Gemma Lawrence.  The early years of Elizabeth I.


Wonderful short stories set in Suffolk: Sandlands by Rosy Thornton


Gangster thrills and spills in LA: Hollywood Shakedown by Mark Barry.


My novella about three writers struggling to make it, with a few moral dilemmas: Best Seller 


Doesn't get any funnier than this!  Barb Taub's memoir of her travels in India ~ Do Not Wash Hands In Plates


More short stories, this time set in zombie apocalypse ~ a terrific collection, and I've read all the other books in the series, too! Broken Stories by Kate L Mary. 


The first part of the highly acclaimed romantic suspense/mystery Grayson trilogy by Georgia Rose: A Single Step


And more excellent short stories: What Tim Knows by Wendy Janes


My novella Round and Round: one woman, four men, and a guardian angel.  It's one of those 'what would have happened if I'd taken the other path' stories! 


Epic fantasy ~ the first part of the Storm trilogy by Antony Lavisher ~ Whispers of a Storm

 
I loved this Brexit thriller novella by Joel Hames: Brexecution


My two novels about a rock band, and various love triangles: Dream On and Full Circle

 
Very good long short story about a life not lived: Doppelganger by Jenny Twist


...and another long short story, this one a psychological thriller, very good indeed. The Kindness of Neighbours by Matthew Iden.


Great memoir about life on the waterways ~ Watery Ways by Val Poore. 


Last of all, my own collection of short stories: Nine Lives.



These two are permanently FREE!

Wonderful classic The Call of the Wild by Jack London


Witch hunts in the 17th century ~ this is an awesome novelette length prelude to the main book: Blackwater by Alison Williams

 Hope you find something here that appeals :)




Saturday, 26 November 2016

LOST IN STATIC by Christina Phillipou

4 out of 5 stars

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


This is the debut novel by book blogger Christina Phillipou, a well plotted mystery about four kids in their first year of university.  She should be proud of herself.

The basics
The story is set in 2001, and told from the first person points of view of Juliette, Ruby, Callum and Yasmine, in frequently alternating short sections.  Juliette is a Christian, a sort of observer, I thought, with hang ups about her sexuality. Ruby is Miss Insecure, accident prone, a bit silly, the stereotypical hard partying eighteen year old.  Yasmine is a spoilt (apparently) rich girl, superficial and calculating, intelligent and cold.  Callum is a friendly guy, handsome, and, most interestingly, his sections are written in the form of emails to an unknown recipient - this is really good, as the 'who is he writing to?' questions builds throughout!  From the beginning we get the hint of dark events to come, and behind the scenes; there is some mystery behind each character, with some secrets nicely hinted at. 

The postive
At first I was only averagely interested in the story itself, but it crept up on me and by about 40% I was engrossed.  The build up is excellent, and, more than that, I applaud Ms Phillipou for her skill in making sure all the characters had such different 'voices'.  As far as this element goes, this novel is one of the best I've read in ages.  Callum is totally different from how he is seen by Yasmine and Ruby ~ not so sure of himself as they assume.  I liked reading Yasmine's sections because she is clever, insightful and articulate; she's the bitch of the show, and by far the most interesting.  I can't say I warmed to any of them, but I like this in a novel, and applaud a writer who has the confidence to make her characters less than appealing.  'Nice' is boring; I like to read about the self-obsessed, the delusional, the underhand!

I thought it was a good, no holds barred portrayal of young men and women of that age, and the writing just flows, so easy to read.

The negatives
Few, and not game-changingThe removal of about 95% of Ruby's constant use of the word 'mate' would have made her less irritating.  I thought it could have done with a bit of tightening up by the editor, generally, and there are some minor punctuation errors (and note to proofreader: the thing you pin on your clothes is a brooch, not a broach!)

The second point is something that many will not agree with, and an observation rather than a criticism.  As most scenarios are seen through the eyes of all the main characters, the reader keeps being taken back to the beginning of a scene to re-live it.  It's fascinating to see how differently each one sees a set of circumstances (I particularly liked the way in which one girl thinks she is getting somewhere with Callum, but in his sections she is mentioned only in passing and, later, as if he thinks she's a bit of a stalker), but on occasion I found it made the flow of the book stilted.  There are ways of showing that Yasmine might view things differently from Ruby without playing out the stream of events in its entirety; a couple of neat paragraphs with the key points, for instance, might have added variation, paced the book better and actually had more impact.

Lastly, I wasn't convinced by this constant demonising of smokers and a big deal being made out of it generally.  Before the public smoking ban of 2007, people either smoked or they didn't, to whatever extent, and that was that, particularly in young, hard drinking, hard partying circles; it wasn't the issue that it is now.

On the whole, I was most impressed with this debut.  It's so good to see such an original book by an author who has genuine talent for dialogue, character portrayal and the build up of suspense; the mystery unravels with perfect timing.  I would also like to thank Christina Phillipou for adding another word to my 'words I can't type' list.  The book's called Lost In Statci, right?  Every time...!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

BLUE LAKE CHRISTMAS MYSTERY by Cynthia Harrison

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE

Life's a beach in Blue Lake
...except when bodies blow in with the snow.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  What I like about the way Cynthia Harrison writes is that it's so very readable.  The words just flow along, and suddenly you're at 20% when you think you've only just opened the book.  She has a great knack of representing small town American life which makes me feel I know it well, even though I have never even been to the US.  You expect there to be a character called Harlan, and there he is, along with the policemen that everyone knows, the complicated relationships, etc, etc.  In this book, some of the characters are written in a rather tongue in cheek way; loved it, some great observation going on 

So...I've read three other books by her, liked them and thought they were jolly good examples of the genre.  This one, though, I REALLY liked.  It's nothing like I thought a 'cosy mystery' would be - which I always thought meant middle aged knitting women trapping murderers by tripping them over with their hedge trimmers, or something.  Blue Lake Christmas Mystery is nothing like that.  The main character is Holly, a young rookie journalist who wants to be a true crime writer, and has a contract with a top New York agent if only she will spill the beans about people who don't want the beans spilling.  She goes to live in Blue Lake which is so upmarket cutesy that there are no chain stores or restaurants, but doesn't give off of the claustrophia inducing frustration of many small towns.  I read it in bed and it actually made me feel cosy... I wanted to live there, too.

Holly's journo investigation revolves round a suspicious death at the local Fun Divorce Club Thanksgiving dinner.  There's a romantic aspect to the story, with Holly's two love interests:  Bob, a nice guy but a bit of a sanctimonious drip, and Sam, sexy but a bit of an ass.  I doubted Holly's passion for Bob when she stopped to put her dress on a hanger while in mid-snog-leading-to-sex-whilst-tearing-off-clothes.  He probably approved.  Mind you, with the amount of enormous meals everyone keeps eating (jacket spuds with sour cream and bacon, steaks, soup and sourdough bread, peach pie, hot chocolate made with real chocolate and whipped cream, pears and blue cheese - I got heartburn just reading it) I'm surprised they can work up the enthusiasm for anything more energetic than slumping on the sofa.  I just wish I'd read it when I was hungry, then it'd have had me reaching for the peach pie and whipped cream rather than the peppermint tea (I really fancied that brussel sprout casserole, incidentally).

Cynthia Harrison, you've got me hooked on Blue Lake.  I want to move there.  Oh, and I didn't guess the murderer, so well done there, too!  Readers, I'm the girl who likes the odd psychopath with her zombies; 'feel good' books are not usually my bag at all, but I really liked this.  I imagine that if you DO favour romance, cosy mystery and Christmas books you will adore it.  Definitely recommended ~ and read it in bed, with hot chocolate! 

Love and Death In Blue Lake reviewed HERE, with a link to Luke's #1 Rule.

 

 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

THE SPEECH by Andrew Smith

4 out of 5 stars

Fiction based on Enoch Powell's 1960s

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

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

The Speech is a novel of separate yet associated stories, cleverly put together: the first is the period in Enoch Powell's life leading up to and shortly after his infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech, and the second is story of Frank, an art student, and his friend Nelson, a Jamaican immigrant, who is wrongly accused of a serious crime

I found the portrayal of Enoch Powell compelling indeed; the author shows neither an overly negative nor postive view of him, but (it seemed to me) a realistic one, and one that showed the extent of his research.  I liked the way this book showed Powell's insecurities and obsession with the Empire, with England and old traditions; there's a lovely passage (in inner dialogue) about his innate and unconditional respect for authority, in which he relates a memory from his childhood.  The seven year old Powell has taken off his school cap in a room in Caernarfon Castle.  When his father asks why, he replies that it is because this is where the first Prince of Wales was born.


Whatever you think about Powell's views on the immigration problem, as relevant now as it ever was (incidentally, three cheers for the Sikh protestor's placard: 'We're here because you were there'), this book certainly shows all sides, though of course Powell's ideas were sometimes taken out of context, his name revered by the thugs who later became known as skinheads and neo-Nazis, and passed down by many who have probably never read his speeches and think that all he ever said was 'send 'em packing'I thought he was as idealistic as any of the liberals he berated; reading this, I wondered if the man himself had any idea of the trouble his words might unleash.

As for Frank's story, it's clear Andrew Smith has first hand knowledge of the era; I enjoyed considering how societal attitudes have changed so much in just fifty years, while in other ways the problems then are still with us; the book is interesting for this aspect aloneMr Smith's 1960s art students are so realistic, affected and impressed with themselves (I loved Denise the Militant, whose favourite insult appeared to be 'bourgeois').  Frank is not altogether likeable (this isn't a criticism; I don't think he's meant to be), being feckless and immature, but the character is well drawn.  Nelson and his aunt were a delight, I so warmed to them, and could have wept for all Nelson went through.  

From a technical point of view I wasn't sure about this book at first, as the opening few chapters seemed wordy for the sake of being wordy, and I thought it was going to take a bit of ploughing through, but it soon settled down and by about 10% I was enjoying it.  Other minor irritations were a few slip-ups that should have been picked up by the editor (American English such as 'horseback riding' and 'different than', and incorrect punctuation), and a feature I've seen in many self- and independently published books set in the 50s and 60s: the over-inclusion of song titles, artistes, TV programmes and brand names of the time ('she tasted of Gibbs peppermint toothpaste') that seem to be included just to push the nostalgia buttons of the reader.  Mr Smith's writing is good enough to present the atmosphere of the era without over-egging the pudding, if you like!   If a book set in the late 60s is written well, you can almost hear Otis and Hendrix playing in the background, you don't need to mention the chart titles of the day every time the radio is switched on.  It reminds me of the 'Member Berries' on South Park ("Remember Sandie Shaw?  Remember mini skirts?  Oh yes, I remember...").

The 1966 ending, with the amendment to the Race Relations bill, makes a fine summing up of the whole situation, especially the observations of Hogg and Macleod.  The final chapter shows how far the country has come, and makes the attitudes of the 1960s seem as unbelievable as the atrocities that occurred in the southern US in the first half of the last century.  It's a good book.  I enjoyed it.  If you have an interest in the subject matter, I am sure you will, too ~ and isn't the cover excellent?




 

Friday, 11 November 2016

A SHORTCUT TO MURDER by William Savage

4.5 out of 5 stars

18th Century Murder Mystery

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

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


The third murder mystery set in 18th century rural Norfolk, in which the now wealthy and ever inquisitive doctor, Adam Bascom, sets out to discover the truth behind evil doings.

As with the other books in this series, A Shortcut to Murder is filled with delightfully portrayed characters of the time: the chattering ladies seeking marriage for their offspring, girls either fashion conscious and empty-headed, or frustrated by how the society into which they are born places limits on their lives.  There are the village folk, the innkeepers and farmers, all aware of their station in life and suspicious of folk from elsewhere ~ not unlike the Norfolk of some 250 years later.

I do like reading about the history of a county I know well, within these books; only a few years ago I ate at The Three Pigs at Edgefield, mentioned in the book, though I think it is now just called The Pigs, and I daresay the decor has changed!  More interesting still, an innkeeper's wife in Cley supplies Adam with information about the area in Tudor times.  Adam may have been eager to change the subject, but I wanted to know more!

Usually with Mr Savage's books I feel that the plot is secondary to the characterisation and dialogue, but with this one I gave a silent round of applause to the clever plot, too ~ I am not much of a one for unravelling mysteries, but this one had me most intrigued and I thought it was artfully put together.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy the characters as much as usual, particularly the wealthy and idle Scudamore twins.  The only downside I ever find with books by this author is the occasional over-egging of the plot detail, with every intricate detail discussed once too often, and in the middle there was a patch when I felt the dialogue was too information loaded and I wanted to say, 'oh, get on with it', but then it very swiftly did, and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book.

I think that this would be enjoyed by all lovers of the historical period, by anyone who respects a well thought out mystery, and, of course, by those like myself who love Norfolk.   

A review of Dark Threads of Vengeance and links to my reviews of other William Savage books can be found HERE