Wednesday, 29 March 2017

LETTERS NEVER MEANT TO BE READ by Marc D Crepeaux

3.5 out of 5 stars

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


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

Isn't the cover gorgeous?  This is a collection (by a group of writers) of those letters you'd love to write, to get off your chest what you really want to say to people like the friend you've fallen out with, your ex-husband, ex-employer, the descendent you'll never meet, etc.  A clever and unusual idea, I thought.

As is always in compilations, the quality of these little pieces vary, though they are all well presented.  Generally, I liked the contributions by Meghan best; they were more acerbic, witty ~ and more concise, which I think works better for this.  Others reminded me more of blog posts, or essays, with far more background and explanation than might be found in a real letter to someoneMy absolute favourite, though, was 'Dear Mother Prostitute' by Marc, which was excellent.  I could tell which ones Brandon had written from the title and first line; I guessed each one, after reading his first two, and was never wrong.  They seemed brooding, introspective; the styles of the writers was much in evidence.  Interestingly, the last letter is from older Marc to his younger self; I liked that, and it made me want to write my own.

I don't know if they were written as catharsis for the writers, but I would guess so.  I am sure they worked very well for this (I bet most of us have written that email or letter in such a vein, that we've never sent!).  As such, they were perhaps less entertaining than they might have been, had they been written more with the reader in mind, and now and again I felt a bit of professional editing might have served the book well, but the honesty and emotion certainly shone through in each one.   A thought-provoking exercise, and there's a good bit at the back showing a photo and a small bio of each writer, which meant so much more after having looked inside their minds.  For the record, only Marc looked anything like I imagined him.

Incidentally, Marc also invites contributions....

 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A SHINY COIN FOR CAROL PRENTICE by Mark Barry @GreenWizard62

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I first got to know Mark Barry via Twitter, when he asked me to appear on his blog.  I read one of his books out of interest and it was so good I carried on reading them, the best (in my opinion) being Once Upon A Time In The City Of Criminals.  You can click that title to see my review; links to those for Carla, The Night Porter and Ultra Violence are to be found at the end.

I read 90% of this book in one session ~ I had to know what was going to happen, and I knew I wouldn't be able to settle to anything else until I'd finished it.  I can't describe too much about the plot without giving away the story, but... Carol Prentice is a young woman recently returned to her hometown after university.  In this hometown, businessman and politician Leonard Gifford is king, while the handsome, popular and privileged prince is his son, Toby.  Carol starts work part time in a book shop run by Steve, a man much older than her, and with whom she begins to form a deep connection.  War breaks out between Steve and the Giffords, with Carol in the middle.  What starts as a mild spat escalates into something much, much more serious....

This book has a slow start, and at first I just thought, yes, Mark Barry's always worth reading, but maybe this isn't as hard-hitting as my favouritesBut by only 10% it became much more interesting, and I was reminded why I like his stuff so much.  The observations, the character detail, the dialogue, the sharply viewed snippets of popular culture, the fearless sentences that might make lesser writers think 'hmm, I want to write that, but dare I?' ~ I loved it.  The basic you-got-it-or-you-don't talent, and he has, in spades.  Unanswered questions kept me agog all the way through the first half; what was Carol's connection to the Giffords?  And what were these mysterious 'work outs' with 'Gnasher' about?

Up until 52%, it was a jolly good book, I thought, but then ~ whoosh!  It became something else.  Questions were answered, and there were some passages of real brilliance (feedback for Mr Barry: Steve's speech about why he doesn't talk about feelings, and Carol's description of Steve's bender).  The plot stepped up about ten notches, and all of a sudden I was reading a different novel.  I couldn't read it fast enough, so eager was I to find out what happened.

At the beginning, we're told that it's connected to Barry's earlier book, Carla, and I never, ever guessed how ~ nice one, and it made me want to read Carla again!

I have only one criticism, and that's the constant repetition of Carol's dialogue 'tics' that I had to train myself to gloss over so that they wouldn't spoil it, but I am exceptionally picky about stuff like this, and this one minor irritation doesn't stop me from recommending this story of love, pain and revenge absolutely, totally and wholeheartedly.  

 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

THE PLANCK FACTOR by Debbi Mack #RBRT

3.5 out of 5 stars

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


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

This is a short book, a long novella.  It's an unusual plot ~ student Jessica starts to write a thriller, then discovers that life is imitating art as she is swept into a cat and mouse chase involving mysterious men in vans, research into the possibility of making a bomb more powerful than a nuclear attack, truth seeker groups and murder.

I like Ms Mack's writing style very much; it's sharp, current and witty, and she has clearly drawn on her own experience to write Jessica, which was entertaining and amusing.  The book alternates between Jessica's own story and that of the novel she is writing, which was only occasionally confusing; mostly, it works, and is nicely interspersed with short chapters from 'observers'.  I was interested in the subject matter, and it has a good end twist which I hadn't anticipated.

For me, the downside to this story was the lighthearted tone in which it's written, almost a comedy thriller.  Despite being the subject of a nationwide search and having witnessed murders, chasing across the country in an effort to hide, and wondering what the hell is going on, Jessica still makes quips and manages to work on her novel.  This does make more sense when you read the twist at the end, but the problem was the rest of the story; I think it would have seemed more feasible if her work had resulted in her getting drawn into the danger, rather than having her novel 'come to life'.  Also, if it had been a bit more serious, and possibly longer.  It's a great idea, I just thought it needed a bit more research and thinking out.  

One thing that made me choose this book was the 'New York Times best selling author' line on the cover.  This refers not to this book but to a 2011 mystery, Identity Crisis, which made numbers 27 and 35 on the NYT ebook best seller list for two weeks during that year, in case you're interested.  

Friday, 24 March 2017

HENRY by Tony Riches @tonyriches #RBRT

4.5 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book:  It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, but I'm a big fan of this author so I would have bought it anyway. I adored the second part of the Tudor Trilogy, Jasper, and was looking forward to this last part.

I love Plantagenet and Tudor history, but Henry VII is one of the characters I knew less about; I've always thought of him, I suppose, as a not very interesting link between the wars of York and Lancaster, and the great era of the eighth Henry and Good Queen Bess.  This book showed, though, that the uniting of the two houses to end the Wars of the Roses, after Henry defeated Richard III at Bosworth and married Elizabeth of York, was far from the end of the story.  He then had to deal with kingship itself, something that his mother, Margaret Beaufort, had always assured him was his right, though he was not one who sailed gallantly into such a role.  His reign was beset by troubles with the Yorkist rebels, imposters like Perkin Warbeck, the Cornish rebellion, financial difficulties, and tragedy within his own family, with the deaths of children Edmund and Katherine and, of course, Prince Arthur ~ which gave way to the reign of the most famous of all English kings, Henry VIII.


I liked how Tony Riches has shown us the man behind the sombre portrait, and I warmed to his Henry Tudor very much.  Even though some of his problems were of his own making, he seemed like an honest, self-aware, realistic person, rather humble, and very much like his mother ~ the 'Beaufort Steel' is much in evidence, though to my mind it skipped a generation, and didn't come out again until Henry's granddaughter, Elizabeth, was on the throne.  Riches writes so well, and I read this book in almost one sitting.  So interesting, of course, to read about the young Henry VIII, and I had forgotten the difficulties that came with his desire to marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow.  I couldn't help thinking that, given the events some twenty-odd years later, it might have not been meant to be.

Henry's story is not as thrilling as Jasper's, but this is a fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.  And don't forget to read the Author's Note!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

EXPOSURE by Rose Edmunds @RoseEdmunds #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

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


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

This is the standalone sequel to Concealment, which I read two years ago; I have the worst memory in the world, so Exposure read as a one-off to me.  Thus, I can confirm that you don't need to read Concealment first, though of course it's always helpful ~ and I think it might be equally as interesting to read it afterwards....

I'd describe this novel as half way between a financial and a psychological thriller.  Occasionally the financial terminology went over my head, but it's written in such a way that I got the gistOne thing I did like very much was the way the novel was structured; there are lots of point of view and situation changes at just the right time, it's extremely well-edited, with plenty of dangling, suspenseful threads at the ends of chapters to make you think, "I wonder what's going to happen there....?"  The whole novel is dialogue-driven; there is little narrative, and the pace never lets up.  Murder, deception, financial fraud, international skullduggery, toxic relationships ~ it has all the ingredients of a popular page-turner.

Rose Edmunds' Amy shows clever characterisation; she is bound to cause definite reactions amongst those who read her.  The daughter of a hoarder, she grew up with all sorts of psychological problems that led her to being exceptionally ambitious and obsessed with the material, and the outward show of success.  In the last book, circumstances came together to make all this come crashing down, and Exposure deals with the new, more self-aware Amy who is still trying to deal with the remnants of the old.  She's not particularly likeable; she knows it's nasty and superficial of her to judge a female colleage on being (horrors!) 20 lbs overweight and wearing the 'wrong' clothes, but she can't help it.  She's unsympathetic to the woman whose husband was in love with her - she tries to overcome the self-destructive within her, but always struggles.  Her complex character makes for some interesting relationship dynamics, indeed, and we learn more about her backstory in this book, too. 

My favourite character was financial blogger Toby Marchpole ~ I was most interested in his wife, an old schoolfriend of Amy's, and their marriage.  I also enjoyed Amy's observations about the dreadful Pedley, her boss for part of the book (when she goes undercover.... I'll leave you to find out about that!).

It's a well thought out plot, and I'm sure readers of smart, fast-paced contemporary thrillers will enjoy it very much ~ there's certainly no opportunity to get bored!
 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

THE UTOPIA EXPERIMENT by Dylan Evans

3 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book: A friend lent me the paperback because she thought it might be relevant to the book I'm currently writing, as research.

Dylan Evans is a highly qualified and specialised scientist who becomes obsessed with how the technological progress of the modern world will affect human life on the planet.  He considers how life on earth might continue after the collapse of civilisation caused by the alleged climate crises and the future scarcity of fuelDeciding on an experiment to see if people born of the mechanical age could survive after the apocalypse, he sets up a website to advertise for others to take part.  The plan is to live in a Scottish island community within a fictional scenario, which takes place a few years after civilisation has crashed.

Before going to live in 'Utopia', Evans sells his house and gives up his job.  The book starts in the hospital, after the experiment is over, when he is being treated for a psychological collapse.   The account of the life of Utopia is interspersed with his experiences in the hospital, and the various philosophies of others from which he created the idea of the new community.  

For all his intelligence, Evans seems to have little common sense, and ignores the advice of many.  The two people with whom he chooses to start off the project are an eccentric 'doomer' (someone who is convinced that civilisation is about to crash, and looks forward to it), and an ageing hippie freeloader/nutcase.  Those who join the project seem to have thought it through as little as he has, which is perhaps why it attracted similar idealists, though some gained more from the experience than he did.


The whole scenario is riddled with inconsistencies ~ if the collapse of civilisation is only a few years old, wouldn't a group such as this a choose to live in all those empty houses, where there would be beds, sofas, and many items that would make their life a lot easier?  He worries about what they will wear when their clothes wear out, and sets up a trap to catch a deer so they can skin it ~ but will there not be houses, shops and warehouses still filled with clothes?  On the other hand, if fabric is so scarce that they need to trap animals for their skins just to clothe themselves, where will the canvas for their yurts come from?  They didn't manage self-sufficiency (because, again, the groundwork had not been done properly), but bought food from Tesco.  I could go on...

Evans's research consists of visiting hippie communes who have chosen to live without the conveniences of the modern world, rather than being forced toThe failure of the project appears to be lack of planning, all the way through; he does not consider how dangerous the fictional world might be, until someone brings up the subject; he has not thought about how he might defend his settlement.  Most disappointing of all, he never commits fully to Utopia, spending several nights a week in his girlfriend's cottage in a nearby village, and nipping off to spend a few days here, a few days there, with friends, whenever the going gets a bit too rough ~ this, to me, negates the authenticity of whole thing.


I felt that, in this book, he was trying to give the project significance by drawing parallels with the Stanford prison experiment (ps, watch the film based on it, it's fascinating), and others, but Utopia did not seem to have any real purpose, other than bringing together a group of idealists who wanted to escape from the 21st century for a while (which is fair enough!).  As for his nervous breakdown, I felt that even that was glamorised (perhaps even to himself); reading between the lines, I thought that the real reasons for his growing sense of isolation were his girlfriend exiting stage left, never to return, the fact that he'd given up his job and sold his house to finance this ill-thought out project that was going nowhere, and that he felt a bit of a twit for making such a cock-up of it all.   Which would be enough to make anyone feel depressed and not like talking to anyone.


The book was interesting, though frustrating, and I would have liked to know more about the project itself, on a day to day basis, and less about Evans's mental state.  I don't think it was the 'experiment' that sent him spiralling into a black hole, I think it was the awareness of his own foolhardiness.  A shame, indeed.  I applaud the amount of honesty that was present in the book, though.

If you're interested, I found an article about it in the Daily Mail, from ten years ago, which does rather reiterate my thoughts ~ it's HERE