Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Quarterly Round-Up: April-June 2016

I have reviewed 30 books on this blog during the last quarter; here is my Top Ten.  To see the full review of a book mentioned, with buy links, please click on the title of the book.  The list is in no particular order, though I would name the first as my favourite (without doubt the best book I've read so far this year).  Another great quarter, with some real gems and new discoveries - and some hard choices to make for this list!

1.  La Petite Boulain by Gemma Lawrence

Novel based on the early life of Anne Boleyn

2. This Rough Ocean by Ann Swinfen

Adventure during the English Civil War

3. Flood by Ann Swinfen

17th Century Fenlanders rise up against plans to drain their lands

4. Betrayal by Ann Swinfen

The sequel to 'Flood'

5. The Disobedient Wife  by Annika Milisic Stanley

Contemporary drama set in Tajikistan

 A choice from the Rosie Amber Review Team list

6. Forgotten World by Kate L Mary 

Zombie Apocalypse set in the US

7. Broken Stories by Kate L Mary

Short story outtakes from the Broken World series

8. Back Home by Tom Williams

Crime in Victorian London

 A choice from Rosie Amber's Review Team

9. The Dead City by Dylan J Morgan (beta read)

Dystopian/SciFi adventure in a post apocalyptic, imaginary world 

10.Lady of the Highway  by Deborah Swift

17th Century YA adventure 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Smashwords: HERE
On Barnes and Noble HERE
On Kobo HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

This is an interesting and unusual novella, set in 1920s Chicago, mostly within a speakeasy.  Susie (really Su Xie) is a Chinese girl who has been sent to America by her parents (all is explained) and ends up living with 'Simon', the owner of the speakeasy and a gangster (this is implied, rather than stated).  She dances for him and his customers each night; she belongs to him.  Then one night she dances with the mysterious Blood, and knows that he is the person she must be with. 

The atmosphere is well set, the emotions most convincing, and I liked the rather offbeat way in which it's written.  I noticed that the author is Italian; sometimes the English is not quite right, with strange word choices or slightly incorrect ways of expressing things, but, oddly, it works well with the style of the story and subject matter.  I think it actually adds to it, peculiar though that may sound.  The story has a strong supernatural element, as not everyone in it is one hundred per cent human. 

After about half way through I began to find it a tiny bit repetitive where the feelings of the characters were concerned, and I think I preferred the earlier parts where the supernatural side was hinted at, rather than made obvious.  But I enjoyed reading it, and there's an interesting addition in the back: a chapter from the first person point of view of Susie, about how she felt when she was forced to leave China.  There is also some information about speakeasies.  

I think lovers of the supernatural would like it very much.

Sunday, 26 June 2016


2 out of 5 stars

Chick lit short story

On Amazon UK HERE

I downloaded this to read while I had a twenty minute/half hour wait for something, and thought that, at 53 pages and as a bit of lighthearted fun, it should fit the bill nicely. Unfortunately, it lasted just shy of ten minutes; the story ended at 47%, after which were the first chapters of another book. I know the book is free, and obviously the point of free short stories is to try and make you pay out for another book, but I think the blurb should make clear what the content is.

Anyway, back to the story. Chick lit is not a favourite genre of mine but I have read the first Shopaholic book a couple of times and liked many aspects of it (the debt letters and the Finnish aspects were very funny, and Becky's money catastrophes were quite real, and something a lot of single girls about town could relate to), but this story, although well-written for what it is, and even quite entertaining in a odd sort of way, was just too daft. 

The 'plot' is basically Becky being on honeymoon with husband Luke, and wanting to turn it into a shopping spree. An appealing premise, the sensible husband and the shopaholic wife, but in this book she was just completely inane. For instance, she saw some attractively packaged art equipment and suddenly fancied the idea of being an artist, spending a fortune on paper, easels, brushes, charcoal, gouache, etc and setting up her easel in front of a cathedral, only to discover that she couldn't draw.   Lukes wants to visit various places of interest in Venice, but all Becky is interested in is buying expensive glass to impress her friends.

It was too silly to be funny, to the extent that you couldn't imagine why an intelligent, successful man like Luke would have married a woman who was uncultured, selfish, superficial, bored by anything apart from clothes and fantasy images of herself, and ridiculously, childishly impulsive. There was more to Becky's character in the first book, and some genuine wit; this is just like a parody.

HERE WE STAND 2: DIVIDED by Frank Tayell (Surviving the Evacuation Series)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Apocalypse series, US

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I was really looking forward to this as soon as I'd read book one, so leapt on this when it came out.  I read it in one day, it's really good!

The first half of the book tells of Tom and Helena's struggles through the newly zombie infected landscape of Pennsylvania and surrounding states, and they meet up with some other travellers, all of them heading to Maine, where Tom's hideaway cottage by the sea is situated.  But then the dastardly Powell catches up with him..... added to the zombies, Tom also has to battle against his deadly enemies, and then the after effects of a nuclear attack.  I won't say anymore because it'll give the plot away, but it's pretty gripping, and I couldn't put it down!  

I wasn't so interested in the conspiracy underlying Powell and co's plan to grab power, perhaps because it became irrelevant once America was on its knees, but there were hints that all is not over on that front, and I expect all to be explained later in the STE series set in England, of which I have only read four books.  This is more than just a fighting-the-zombies-blood-and-gore type of book, as Tom has other quests of his own.  At his most desperate and lonely, the atmosphere and his feelings about the end of the world and life itself are so well written.

This series is always unpredictable and never boring, well thought out, and I recommend it highly if you're into the post apocalypse genre.

The prequel to this book and links to all other reviews of Frank Tayell books, including Amazon buy links, can be found HERE


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

THE DEAD CITY by Dylan J Morgan

5 out of 5 stars


On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

The Dead City is the sequel to The Dead Lands, which I loved ~ and I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this, too!

The sly, greedy and sociopathic Colonel Paden from planet Erebus has commanded a fleet to go to the city of Magna on planet Hemera, to recover lost riches hidden there after a nuclear strike wiped it out a hundred years before.  The party of 400 soldiers is led by Lieutenant Marshal, and as soon as they set foot in the dead city of the title, they are besieged by the thousands of mutant beings who live there, descendents of those who survived.

The main characters are Paden, Marshal, soldier Ryan and his beloved sister Jayde, the evil Murdoch who has a bone or six to pick with Ryan and a hankering for his sister, and several other 'goodies' who are given varying fates: Boone, Darrell, Burke, Laila.

The mission is dangerous if not suicidal, and Marshal contemplates mutiny as more and more of his men lose their lives.  Dylan Morgan is the master of bleak dystopian description and atmosphere, and though this is a fairly long book consisting mostly of soldiers fighting mutants and dying horrible deaths, it never seemed either repetitive or tedious, because of the backstories, hopes, fears and relationships between all the people, and the 'oh my God what's going to happen when I turn the page' factor.  The characterisation is as good as in all his books, and I couldn't get enough of the despicable Colonel Paden!  I made a note that Chapter 10 is particularly good, but there are other highlights, including a chapter from a mutant's point of view, which is quite an eye-opener and a great idea (there's one in The Dead Lands, too).

I wasn't expecting a happy ever after ending and I certainly didn't get one, though a final, dark and terrifying twist is revealed at the end - nice one, and it left promise of another book to come, which I am seriously looking forward to!   Definitely recommended if you like books of this genre and don't wince at blood, gore and horrific injuries.  Oh, and if Mr Morgan can get me any of that Tetralaphel given to the injured soldiers, I'd be forever in his debt!!

October Rain by Dylan Morgan is reviewed HERE, with links to other books by him that I've reviewed, including The Dead Lands.  All have Amazon buy links. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

LADY OF THE HIGHWAY by Deborah Swift

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This is the third book in the Highway Trilogy, and is every bit as good as the last two.  As I have a terrible memory I am probably the ideal person to review series; I could remember next to no details about the last two books, but this episode is so well put together that it could be read as a stand alone.  I'd suggest reading the first two as well, though, simply because they're so good!

It's YA, but, as with the other two parts, I wasn't that aware of it being a book for teenagers (which would have put me off).  It tells the end story of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, which is based on truth but given much fictional detail by Deborah Swift; there is a author's note of a few pages at the end to explain much of the history, which you may or may not want to read first.

The story itself is gripping, quite dark, a real page-turner, and as beautifully written as all this author's books.  Kate Fanshawe is a heroine who will appeal to many; she's a fighter, but so many things go disastrously wrong for her in a world where young women of noble stock are seen by everyone as little more than something to be bartered and bought.  As events take a more desperate turn I felt angry with her for the way she treated her loyal maid, Abigail, and her lovely groom, Cutch; brave of Ms Swift to make her not always likeable, but my sympathy was with her for most of the time, her good intentions were misunderstood, and she made bad decisions only out of desperation - I can't say too much for fear of giving the plot away.

The characters and history are so real, and there is a hint of the supernatural throughout the book, which worked very well.  I thoroughly enjoyed this whole trilogy and recommend it for readers of all ages.  

I received an ARC of this book for an honest review. 

Links to reviews of other books by Deborah Swift, including the first two parts of the Highway Trilogy, HERE

Friday, 17 June 2016

HERE WE STAND 1: Infected by Frank Tayell (Surviving the Evacuation Series)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Apocalypse, US

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

When your immediate reaction on finishing part one in a series is to download part 2 and start reading straight away, you've got to give the book at least 4.5 stars, haven't you?  Shame it's not out yet!

I've read most of Frank Tayell's version of this story set in England, and in this sub-series we meet again the character of Sholto, alias Tom Clemens (alias various other names), with whom Bill Wright from England made contact in Book 1 of Surviving the Evacuation.

Tom's life is in tatters following the partial uncovering of a conspiracy against - well, the whole world, really, and he's a wanted man.  Then the virus is unleashed, and all around is mayhem.  He escapes New York with a woman called Helena, and together they flee north, avoiding zombies and various people who want to kill them as they go.  They're not as expert at dealing with their new situation as I would have expected; don't these people watch The Walking Dead??!  But they're learning....

I wasn't sure about the book at first, as it seemed a little rushed and in need of tidying up, but it gets better and better as it goes along, and by the last third I was completely engrossed and eagerly await more.  Highly recommended, if you like well-written zombie apocalypse series that have more behind them than just some unexplained virus, and are not too heavy on the goo and gore.

Reviews for other books in the Surviving the Evacuation series HERE 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

NEED TO FIND YOU by Joseph Souza

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

This was a strange one for me; I went from not being that keen to liking it, to not liking it and back to thinking it was perhaps rather terrific, all the way through.

It's a crime thriller, starring the tough and damaged Yasmine, two cops, and a sinister underworld figure.  The cops, Whip Billings and Philip Haskins, are so well done, and I enjoyed reading their sections, even if the characters did walk straight out of Standard Fictional Detectives Ltd: wouldn't you love to see one who isn't a struggling ex-alcoholic/hampered by emotional demons/possessed of a need to execute his duties in a maverick fashion?  But Souza has painted them beautifully, stereotypes or not; I really liked Whip, and his father was very real, too.  Yasmine, not so convincing.

The plot is great, though at the beginning I was bothered by the stilted fashion of the narrative.  Short sentences, delivering statements or pieces of information in a flat manner.  One that stuck out: '..he stared up at a water stain on the ceiling.  He thought it resembled a tattered catcher's mitt.'  Could have read more smoothly as something like: 'he stared up at the catcher's mitt of a water stain on the ceiling'.  Okay, that might seem a bit nit-picking, and it seems fine on its own, but when whole pages are written like this it feels a bit wooden.  I felt the narrative could have done with another re-write, with the author looking at each sentence and considering if it could be made to read better.

Once the dialogue started the whole novel loosened up and it went from being 'okay' to 'oh good, I'm enjoying this now'; the dialogue is spot on, all the way through, sharp, convincing, and just right for the genre, which is so important, but then I'd come across someone being 'sprawled in the foetal position', which is surely a contradiction in terms, or lines like 'he pulled up his chair in an avuncular manner'; the prose tended towards wordy without being descriptive, at times.  Then the day would be saved by lovely observations like this one, in which Whip imagines his romantic successor: 'He imagined Dana to be one of those soft-spoken guys with a gentle disposition and a weak handshake.  A ponytailed dude who liked to hike in his Birkenstocks, carrying a hand-carved walking stick that he'd made in his workshop.  Asshole!'. Loved that!

The story centres around the hidden journals of a famous writer, Robert Cornish, and here was something else that bothered me.  Cornish is supposed to be a writer of such acclaim that his works are studied by literature students, yet the quotes from him at the start of each chapter were banal quips.

Once I'd read the book I had a look at the reviews to see what others thought of it, as I always do, and most of them are positive.  Although I disliked some aspects, the best is very, very good, and I'd read something else by this author.  Despite the moderate star rating, I'd still recommend it for those who like this sort of novel.

Saturday, 11 June 2016


4 out of 5 stars

Romance/mystery set in Greece

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

One of the reasons I don't usually read romance books is that you can guess, within the first chapter or two, how it's going to end up: happy ever after, featuring the guy with whom the girl got off on the wrong foot during their first meeting/the guy she thought she could never get.  Fate Captured offers more than this.  The heroine, Trish (strong, beautiful, independent, etc) has done something that's had a seriously bad impact on the life of the hero, Markos (strong, hunky, alpha male, etc).  Only he doesn't know she was the perpetrator.  And she doesn't know he was the one who suffered because of her actions.  Right from the start, this made me think, 'ooh, I wonder what's going to happen when they both find out'.... 

This is more than just a romance, and it's certainly not chick lit, though much of the inner dialogue of Trish, in particular, is amusing and sharp.  There's lots going on behind the scenes, a bit of mystery, and enough to keep me interested past the will-they-won't-they-oh-of-course-they-will.  

I am not much of a one for lots of description of scenery, etc, in books, but in this it was well done, and I found myself being able to 'see' all the settings, an indication that it works.  I liked Trish, I fancied Markos - they worked, too!  The writing is very American in its choice of language and phraseology, which works most of the time.  On occasion both the dialogue and the events were a little unlikely, but I think that an element of this genre of book is that it requires the suspension of disbelief; we're not talking gritty real life drama here.

This isn't a very long book, but it's just right for the story, with no boring bits!  I liked it, it's a good plot with much more in it than I had thought there might be.  MM Jaye has provided a 'clean' version, which is the one I read, as well as one with more graphic sex scenes.  The sexy bits were still very believable, though.  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a beach read with a bit more to it than the usual light romance.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

ANGEL MEADOW by Dean Kirby

4 out of 5 stars

Non-fiction: history of a 19th Century Mancunian slum

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I have the paperback of this book, which is worth getting if you're into nicely produced hard copies.  Beautifully presented, with a section of old photographs and drawings from the time, in the middle.

Angel Meadow was a slum that evolved in Manchester, near the river Irk, at the time of the Industrial Revolution; once green fields and pastures and hedgerows, the cotton mills and factories brought forth the necessity to house its workers, which soon became 'Victorian Britain's most savage slum'.  Eventually, the area was occupied by drunks, tramps, hustlers, prostitutes, pickpockets, and just about every other type of criminal, as well as the people who worked in the mill.  Violence, hunger, early pregnancy, infant death and illness were the norm for the people ekeing out an existence, often living in such filthy conditions that it actually turned my stomach to read some parts.  Warning: don't read this while eating.  I did, alas...

Picture from the Friends of Angel Meadow website

The amount of intricate research that has gone into this book is apparent; there is scarcely a stone of the area unwalked, and there are many case histories taken from archives held by various institutions in the area.  A couple of reviews have said it relies on sensationalism, but many want to know about and wish to view this sort of historical horror with appalled fascination.  I'd like to say that it's unbelievable that thousands of people could be left to live as they did in this so-called civilised country, but it's not surprising, given the social structure of the Victorian age.  One thing that I couldn't understand, though, is why anyone stayed in such a living hell; however penniless a person is, surely a better life could have been had roaming the countryside.  Maybe some did think that, and left.  One teacher said:

"The parents are a disgrace to the city so far as their bodies are concerned.  Years of heredity have gifted these animals - for they are as unclean as monkeys, and their gestures and their learning unconscious of shame remind me irresistibly as apes - with peculiar characteristics which it will take a century of proper treatment to remove."

The book is split into chapters such as Family Life, The Cholera Riot, Living Conditions, etc.  The result is that it becomes a little repetitive; once you have read about the state of the lavatorial facilities in one group of houses, for instance, you don't really need to read it again, about the next street.  However, Dean Kirby has made a spectacularly good job of this book that he began to research after discovering that one of his forefathers had lived there.  An achievement, indeed.

Monday, 6 June 2016

DARKROOM by Mary Maddox

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

Darkroom is a slick murder mystery/thriller set in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado in the winter - the setting itself was a plus point for me. 

Kelly Durrell's friend, scatty, bohemian photographer Day Randall, is missing.  So is Marcus, the lover of Day's married friend, Odette.  Kelly knows nothing of the murky world inhabited by those surrounding Day and Odette, and isn't aware what she's getting into when she starts to make investigations. 

The story is told from the third person points of view of Kelly, and Animal, a bouncer from Cascade, a club owned by Day's former lover, Tyson.  Animal was a most appealing character, I liked him very much.  I thought the story was tidily put together, with the strengths being the characterisation of the minor characters (such as the awful Dustin) and the dialogue, which is excellent; I felt the author really understood her characters and what made each one tick.  The only one that didn't really come alive to me was Kelly, who seemed like a slightly bland vehicle for the plot, some of the time, but this didn't make me like the book less.  Tyson is sexy and sinister, Day lovely but infuriating, Welch revolting... the rest all came across so well. 

The plot itself did not throw up many surprises for me, but it's so well written that it kept me wanting to turn the pages.  Recommended for anyone who likes a sharp thriller ~ oh, and I smiled to see the mention of 70s band It's A Beautiful Day.  I didn't think anyone but me had heard of them, but perhaps that's a UK thing!


Sunday, 5 June 2016

THE SECRET by Deric Henderson

4 out of 5 stars

True life double murder

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

I bought this book after watching the TV series The Secret, starring James Nesbitt, as I imagine many have done.  For those who know nothing about it, it's the true story of Colin Howell, dentist and supposedly devout Baptist, who, together with his lover, Hazel Buchanan, hatched a plan to murder their two spouses, Lesley and Trevor.  Though suspected by many, their crimes went undetected for twenty years.

Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan

Did this have anything to add to the TV series?  Yes, in that one can get a clearer picture of motive from a book. I must admit that I nearly stopped reading it by around ten per cent; the beginning is a bit stilted, with lots of irrelevant detail about Lesley's past, as if Henderson just sat down and typed up his research notes without deciding which had value to the reader; then again, perhaps he was was just honouring a woman who did not get to live her life.  I also felt that he was painting her as almost saintly, but as I turned the pages she seemed less so.  When the story turned to Trevor, there was, again, too much irrelevant detail, but the picture was built up of a simple, goodhearted sort of chap, devoted to his wife who he put on a pedestal.

Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan

I found the detail about Hazel Buchanan's life after the murders fascinating; it was clear that she experienced few moments of real happiness for the next twenty years.  Much of this detail was provided by a man she treated badly during a seven year relationship, but there is much to be read between the lines.  As for Howell himself, he is well portrayed as as a narcissist, possibly a psychopath, a manipulative egomaniac whose life was a complicated mess of smoke and mirrors ~ pretty much how James Nesbitt played him!  I was struck by how none of them, despite their supposed religious faith, seemed particularly Christian, aside from Trevor, perhaps...

The Howells in 1991

There is much in the way of quotes from people who knew or were related to the four of them, which was interesting, and it underlines the peculiar world of a small religious community such as theirs. I wanted to know more about the ludicrous Phillipines gold scam in which Howell became involved; that he squandered the family's fortune in this way made me wonder if his sanity was failing, then, or if he wanted to punish himself... many questions are raised throughout.
Hazel, appearing at Court

The book is repetitive at times, but this is perhaps inevitable when recounting a story and then the court case that follows.  I'd say that if you found the series as absorbing as I did, you'll be interested to read this; I liked the way that Henderson does not seem to judge too much throughout, just delivering the facts, though at times this made it more like a newspaper article than a biographical story.  It reads better as it goes on, though, and gives insight into the lives of Howell and Hazel and their families post conviction.  Worth getting, if not quite as compelling as I'd hoped.

Howell with second wife, Kyle