Thursday, 30 July 2015

Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Tracy Black

25915607

Synopsis (from the author): A Powerful and emotive story. Mandy McCabe is a single parent trying to cope with her three children. All she wants in life is to love, nurture and protect them. 
Without warning her world begins to crumble. 

For the sake of her family Mandy has to find the strength, knowledge and will-power to face her problems. With her world falling down around her, she is forced to take drastic measures, but will it be enough to save her family? 

Review: Things Fall Apart is a brutal and unflinching portrayal of life in Scotland in the 1980s. As I look back to my teenage years, it's easy to see that decade in anything other than a nostalgic haze. This is not helpful as we must look at things as they are.

Well. The first thing to say is that it is a family drama of the highest standard. The MC is Mandy McCabe, a mother who does her best to keep her family together, but as they descend into a vicious cocktail of drugs and alcohol (though the latter seems gentle in comparision as a method of abuse), things really do fall apart.

Part of the main issue I felt was the mother's often blanket denial that nothing was wrong, yet knowing it was. I am not a parent, but I can imagine protecting my kids from the outside world, yet might end up scolding them in private if they went off the rails.

It's hard not to think of one of the most famous portrayals of life - Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. The book and the film gave us a flavour of Scotland, and it is far from the national pride displayed in the recent referendum. Scots are a proud people - as they should be,but drugs is not about pride - in fact it will take your pride and leave you with nothing.

As I read the book, I wondered why the author had given us such a hard read. Well, life is certainly not all sunshine, rabbits and rainbows. It's hard, and for some readers, the realism on offer amongst its pages may be a little too much to take. Having said that, if you do read this book, it's not likely to leave your mind for a while.

This is one of those books that hits you so hard, I think it is best to read once, take your time over it and absorb it all. I mean, Schindler's List is a very hard film for me to watch, and to date I have only seen it twice. Once in the cinema, once at home. Its dark, uncompromising tone meant that I only had to view it a few times to take it in.

After reading this book, I promise that you will do whatever you can to protect your kids and those around you from drugs.

The first third of the book has a lot of police involvement, the middle third a descent into madness and depravity caused by drug abuse, and yet, by the third segment, I began to feel that maybe this dark story could have a good ending. That doesn't mean I wasn't put through the ringer, because I was.

Ultimately I think this story is about hope - that through a terrible set of tragedies there is a possible sunrise that one can aim for. But I was genuinely shocked that the falls were not the final humiliation for some of the characters. Some of them just kept on falling.

As I was reading I was thinking 'come on, get a grip.' But they can't. How can they? Drugs offer a different reality. No wonder the outer effects are so hideous.

So why should you read this? I suppose because not every story needs a zombie, vampire, mermaid, or billionaire boss. Sometimes a book needs to bring us back to Earth. This one does, and whilst you wil find it hard to read (not because of the writing style - which is excellent) but because it examines so clearly the brutal truth about drug abuse. When it is happening under your nose as a parent, I cannot think of anything worse.

Read this unflinching drama. It will make you think that your next day, your next moment is one to treasure. When you are drowning in drugs, or those around you are, you really can't see the rainbow - not the real one anyway. But the fight is worth it.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Book Review: Ten For The Devil by Deborah R Mitton

18428768

Synopsis (from the author): Ten For The Devil is a labyrinthine murder/revenge ride from an idyllic English Village to the industrious shipbuilding port of Saint John, NB (then St. John), in the newly formed country of Canada, over a span of fifty years.

Chief Inspector Michael McLaughlin has believed that his nemesis was dead, but discovers that Seth 
Shaw is alive and in the very city that Michael and his family are visiting. His loves ones at risk, Michael closes in on a collision course with a serial murderer while the city is in flames.
Book 1 - Michael was an eleven year old boy when he witnessed a murder and the lives of the families - friends, of both our murderer and witness are intertwined throughout generations from 1850 to modern day. 

A dark tale of obsession, revenge, murder, seduction, a love curse, reparation and survival. Our young boy grows up to join Scotland Yard and is obsessed with bringing Seth Shaw to justice. There is a sense of paranormal forces at work protecting our villain. 
The story’s climax will occur during the fire of June 20, 1877: a fire - second - only in size and damages to the famous Boston fire.

Review: Reading many books over the years, I cannot quite recall coming across a stronger representation of evil than the primary antagonist in Ten For The Devil. The story itself is a truly remarkable work in depth and in scope. This is the first book in the series and yet manages to cover a huge amount of time within this one volume.

Reading it back, and actually feeling sorry for Seth, I wondered why he had become so evil? We hear in modern media that the reason killers do what they do can be explained away through some medical imbalance in the brain. Others may state there was an emotional disconnect at home, where the father constantly beat the child for every minor infraction, or the mother never offered a simple hug.

In Ten For The Devil, I think the answer is far more simple. The main antagonist is evil, but not pure and certainly not simple.

I found it remarkable how the author drafted other characters into the story, some  who were an unknown witness to several brutal and unnerving kills, and as the reader I felt like I was over their shoulder too - that if the antagonist saw me reading this stuff, he would come after me too.

No-one is safe from his brutal ways, yet he displays many signs of  the psychopath - he is self assured, full of himself, has a total lack of respect for all kinds of life, and is vain in the extreme.

This is, however, just one facet of the story, and it would be inaccurate to list Ten For The Devil as a one man show. I will admit, however, that as rotten as he was, I missed him when he was not part of the narrative.

The story ends satisfyingly, though there is a lot more to come from the author, the extremely talented Deborah R Mitton.

Ten For The Devil features bizarre and sometimes distasteful elements of romance,  but in no way does the author try to colour her main baddie with shades of grey. Yes, he is handsome, charming, disarming. But he is also a killer, and we must never forget that. 

He is not someone you can root for, but you cannot ignore him either.

The story does not lack humour though, and one of the lines I liked:-

Referring to Pastor Brown: 'His voice carried the whole breadth and width of the church and a parishioner had once speculated that the pigeons in the bell tower flew to safer perches when he preached.'

But it is full of beautiful lines like this, too:-

The candle on the side table gave the sleeping pair a halo of golden light before it flickered and died, enveloping the room in darkness.

The book is choc-full of lines like this. Eerily beautiful, I have to say.

Beautiful, eerie, strange, dark, deliciously compelling. Buy Ten For The Devil today!






Monday, 27 July 2015

The Ghost of Normandy Road - Soundtrack to the Story + Special Excerpt from the Book



Short post today: When I wrote the first book in the Haunted Minds series, The Ghost of Normandy Road, and indeed, many of my books are enhanced by musical compositions that I reference throughout the stories.

For 'Ghost', the song that stayed in my head was released some twenty years ago. As I write this blog post, I cannot quite believe so much time has passed. But life has a way of doing that. Anyway why not play the music whilst you read short excerpt from the story. Maybe you will want to give the full book a try.





Prologue

Every time I go to the house on Normandy Road, I think it will be the last. No matter how many times I do this, I find myself shaking uncontrollably. Perhaps it is understandable. I do this to myself, time and again. Because, I want to feel the excitement, the exhilaration, the fear. Okay, I admit it.

I want to see her.

I know she’s there. I’ve been told about her before. Only in ghost stories, they are just stories, they don’t mean anything, nor should they, to you or I. When I am not anywhere near that house on Normandy Road, that’s all it is. A house. Nothing more, nothing less.

I want to believe in her. I want to believe in the existence of ghosts.

Oh, I know you will think I’m being silly. Your questions? I’m sure you have many. I bet you have the answers to them all as well.

Do the floorboards creak? Of course they do. Does the door open slowly, making a sound only those on the other side of the grave could possibly make? You bet.

Do the windows rattle? Yeah, for real.

All houses do this, don’t they?

Sigh.

Yes they do. Pretty much all of them.

Come on. Rationalise this. Everyone knows why I shake uncontrollably when I go there. It’s because she is real. She exists, and she will not rest in her grave. Why? Because she belongs there, belongs in the house on Normandy Road. She’s never going to leave, because she can’t. But I can. I tease her every time I go, daring her to scare the living daylights out of me.

Sometimes, I can swear she responds to my dare. But no-one will believe me. No-one believes in ghosts, where I live.

Perhaps they don’t believe because I have not followed through on the dare, and lived to tell the tale. I hear them say ‘you should spend a night in the house then’, or they put it in the rules of threes, you know, like saying ‘you should go there, three nights in a row. Whatever is in that place, sure won’t like that.’

Of course, it’s my own fault. I say I will go and stay the three nights, but I never do. I can’t, really. I have to be home soon after school, otherwise Mum will be mad.

To understand, you’d really have to see the world through my eyes. That’s the problem with convincing people of the truth. They are only ever willing to accept their version of it.

Everything else, is a lie.

---

“Came in from a rainy Thursday
On the avenue
Thought I heard you talking softly

I turned on the lights, the TV
And the radio
Still I can't escape the ghost of you.”

Ordinary World – Duran Duran

---

Act One: The Witch of Hill-Top Green


The route from my school to home takes about fifteen minutes to walk, maybe ten if I run. On the days that I dare to pass the house on Normandy Road that stands so tall, foreboding, and yes, terrifying to me, I go quicker. Much quicker. On those days, I don’t think Jesus himself could catch me.

It’s something my mum would term as ‘he’s got the fear of God put into him.’ That would be a pretty accurate way to describe it. My heart would beat fast as I would approach it, and even faster as I passed it. As to what happened to my heart as I ran alongside it, maybe, just maybe it stopped beating for a few moments.

I know you won’t believe me, and think that it is the overactive imagination of a child. I’m only ten years old, and I will soon be eleven. I think I might just be growing up, but I know for a fact that the adults think differently when they look at me.

They think I am scared of my own shadow, and well – they’re probably right.

I do have a genuine reason for being scared, I really do. I’ve been nervous for as long as I can remember. Maybe it is a case of genetics, and my parents have passed their fears on to me.
Every time I pass that house on Normandy Road, I refuse to believe my fears are anything to do with genetics. The fear – the one psychiatrists would say is not real or rational, nor one that could hurt me, takes on a life and persona all of its own.

I believe an entity that is the embodiment of all I fear resides in that house.

Now I know I’m being irrational.

At school, we are always trying to scare each other. Sometimes, it’s a dare like going into the girls toilets, even though it’s five minutes after hometime and only the teachers remain in the school.

Oh, and the caretaker. He’s always there.

And the ghost.

Well. We don’t know for sure. There’s an old story that the girls failed to confirm or deny, but it is said that a girl died after being locked in the toilets one night.

The official record of her death (say the girls) is that she died from a severe anxiety attack. The news had reported she was found with her eyes sewn up, and her tongue had been ripped out to stop her screaming.

The boys that heard this added something to it.

“She was killed by the Ghost of Normandy Road.”

Prior to them saying anything, I never believed there was a ghost on Normandy Road. Our school was in the next street, called Bayswater Road.

There was a church beyond it, and a football stadium on the other side of the road that stands to this day.

Normandy Road had tall houses back then, and it’s fair to say that adults were sure to be dwarfed by that big old house.

It stood alone, you see. Every other house was semidetached or part of a terraced block – all except that one. Why, I did not know, but I was intrigued to find out.

That’s what we kids do. We like to look around – if there’s a side entry, a dark alleyway, a broken window or an abandoned house, you can bet we want to check it out.

Not for its historical significance, if it had any, and not because we are without any sense of right and wrong. Don’t let anyone just say ‘oh, they’re kids.’

We know what we are doing – we just happen to rely on the foolishness of society to let us off the hook. I know for a fact that there are some children at the school who play the ‘I’m only a child, I didn’t know it was wrong’ card on purpose.

As for me, I probably had one of those faces that looked innocent in one way, only to be ratted out by my guilty as charged expression.

Sometimes, it was innocent enough. I would be unable to wait to open at least one Christmas or birthday present. I would sneak down the stairs, placing one foot, then another on the far side of the stairwell.

Life was very simple back then. We had a bit of blue carpet that covered the stairs, except for the edges where I now depended on keeping my balance, my safety and my secret. In fact, falling down the stairs and breaking my neck would have been preferable to my mum or anyone else in the family catching me.

I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed. Young children were supposed to go to bed early, quietly, and stay there until the right time to get up for school.

Ugh.

School.

School itself was fine. Looking back, it’s hard to know exactly what we learned in class. I think we had fun for the most part. There was Miss McManus, who would teach us almost every lesson.

Maths, English, Music, she’d do it all.

Sometimes, we’d get Miss Oakley, who was a Nazi in a twinset. Okay, I’m being a little unkind. That sort of title was better reserved for Mrs Pearson (or Mizz Pearson, we were never quite sure and she was unlikely to explain her married status, or otherwise, to a class of school children) whose contempt for us was barely concealed.
Mr Flanagan would teach us Maths too, along with Geography.

P.E class would involve having to change with the other schoolchildren, which I disliked intensely. Not for the bizarre communal situation, no, it was just that certain boys would take it upon themselves to talk when they weren’t supposed to, and our class would be harder as a result.

“Today, we’ll be doing cross-country running.”

The teacher was probably going to let us play football, but decided on a change of lesson content just because one boy was sniggering or had been playing another boy up.

Now we would all pay for it.

“Hey,” they’d say to me, as we would go for the hated run in the mud, the rain, and the cold, “you had better keep up with the pack. The Witch of Hill Top Green is just behind one of the trees, waiting for you to pass.”

I’d fight back with words. “Witches wouldn’t hide in trees. They wouldn’t have to. And it’s you who needs to keep up with the pack, not me. You watch out for the bleedin’ witch!”

Ah yes, the Witch of Hill Top Green.

We’d all seen her, though no-one admits to it, at least, not openly.

We would run, and it would be pleasant enough. The September sun grazed our shoulders gently, unlike the harsh glare of early July. Honestly – two weeks before breaking up for the summer holidays, and they are making us run in blistering heat.

In contrast, I almost found myself enjoying the September run. Then, they’d start their annoying tales again.

“Roy’s gone missing,” said one of them. “I’ve lapped you lot twice now, and there’s no sign of Roy. She must have got him, her bony fingers must be gutting him out right about now.”

I would get a poke in the back when I’d attempt to ignore them, and continue on my run.

“Are you listening? She’s out there! Out here.”

No. I am not listening. I’m running, and will keep running until we get back to the school.

Usually, we would see the teacher over the course of the run. Where was he?

The Witch of Hill Top Green has got him, and Roy. Best be happy she hasn’t got you.

Yet.

---

END OF EXCERPT

Let me know what you think!


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Book Review: Walking Over Eggshells by Lucinda E Clarke

25322557

Synopsis (from the author): Walking Over Eggshells is an autobiography that tells the story of a mentally abused child, who married a "Walter Mitty" clone who took her to live in many different countries. They moved from England to Kenya, from Libya to Botswana and on again to South Africa. It took all her courage to survive in situations that were at times dangerous, sometimes humorous, but always nerve wracking. She had a variety of jobs, different types of homes, and was both a millionairess and totally broke. 

At one end of the scale she met royalty, hosted ambassadors, and won numerous awards for her writing and for her television programmes. At the other end, she climbed over garbage dumps, fended off the bailiffs, and coped with being abandoned in the African bush with a seven week old baby, no money and no resources. She admits to being the biggest coward in the world, but her survival instincts kicked in and she lived to tell her story. 

This book will make you laugh and cry, but also it also explains the damage being brought up by a mother with a personality disorder can inflict on a child. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and hopefully it will inspire others who did not have the best start in life either. All names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent - and that includes the author as well!

Review: ** spoiler alert ** I'm definitely not one for reading stories about abuse, though I accept many stories would have much less impact as a result.

The book I am about to review was harrowing, with a parent who seemed to have no redeeming qualities at all.

The main character, Lucy, goes from life crash to life crash, sometimes on her own, sometimes with the man in her life.

Although just over two hundred pages, readers should take care to read the book properly. If you skip pages, it would be easy to miss things. In this review, it may be virtually impossible not to give out spoilers, so that's how this review will be presented.

From its opening pages, Lucy is treated as nothing by her mother. Well, perhaps not exactly nothing. It would be a wonder to know what her mother would do with her time if she did not have Lucy to direct her attacks towards.

The book shows Lucy from a young age to a middle aged woman, and not once does she appear to have gotten any love from her mother. As I read the book, I thought I would have gotten desensitised to the mother's actions, but no...my thoughts were along the lines of, Come on! This is your daughter! Try and be nice for once!

If this was a work of fiction, one might say that the mother was a one-dimensional baddie. But there comes a reveal near to the end that shows Lucy's mother might - just might have had a reason for all this behaviour.

It seems that if Lucy was thin, her mother would call her a stick insect. If she was fat, and in one scene she is, and her mother calls her out on it:-

"Lucinda, you are a fat girl and you will always be a fat girl."

This shocked me, but did not surprise me. However, I know all too well how sensitive women can be about their weight. I just couldn't imagine saying something like that to a family member, or indeed, to anyone I care about.

The story moves through different places - some I know, others I just have an awareness of.

From Dublin, the place of my mother's birth, through to Cheltenham - not a million miles away from me...then onto several countries within Africa including Libya and Botswana.

What's the reason for all this country hopping? There are valid reasons, but I advise you read this book so as not to give it away!

One of the things I absolutely loved was the naming of Lucy's car - Domino. There's a scene where Domino is in desperate need of a new battery (God, I've been there) and yet the hills in Bath (love that place) provide a solution. I believe you could have a 200 year old car with no battery and yet you would still be able to ignite the fuel to get and keep it going, such are the hills in Bath.

This story would risk falling on its face if not for the delicate humour placed throughout the book. Another memorable scene was where Lucy's husband karate chops a doorknob from its housing, and Lucy has to carry it in her bag at all times in order to open the door!

It's very difficult for me to review this book and give it any sense of justice. After all, this is a person's LIFE - who am I to review it or critique it effectively?

Hopefully, what I have done is give you a flavour of what is contained amongst its pages.

It's a wonderfully written book that sweeps you along with this girl, who in my view is a hell of a fighter, and there isn't a dry chapter in the whole book. Now that takes some doing.

I applaud the author for creating such an engaging book, but also heart wrenching at times. Still, I found I could not pull myself away from it.

It's definitely a five star book as far as I'm concerned. I'm sometimes told I am a little too enthusiastic with praise for authors. Not true. I will call it as I see it.

Don't Walk Over Eggshells to get this book. Make a stampede. It's excellent.


Book Review: Violet Chain (Violet Chain, #1) by J Kahele

25932069

Synopsis (from the author): After catching her fiancĂ© with another woman at their engagement party, Violet Townsend's world is turned upside down. 

Desperate to numb the pain, she falls into the arms of charming, young entrepreneur Chain Alexander. 

Chain, a notorious womanizer of Philadelphia, not looking for anything more than a night of pleasure with a woman, is drawn to Violet instantly. There is something about her that he needs and wants so desperately and it’s not just sex. 


But Violet is resistant. Can she open her heart again after having it broken so brutally? And more importantly, should she? 

Review: Easily one of my favourite authors, J Kahele once again gives us a strongly narrated adult romance, but with a heart. 

The opening scenes in the book show Violet being viciously and brutally dumped for a fleeting moment of sexual gratification by her ex-fiance Harrison.

He's an idiot, pure and simple. At this point in the story we don't know that much about Violet, but as the tale progresses it is clear that H made a mistake. Unfortunately for him, there is to be no second chance, as Violet becomes the focus of Chain, our main male of the piece.

There's also a wonderful scene featuring Violet's brothers, Vince and Victor - despite having the same initial which one might think leads to some confusion, it doesn't. I loved it, and it gave the book some light comedic relief.

It's fair to say that apart from Archie in Miss Kahele's Crazy on You, her male characters tend to be super rich, super good looking....something I can't relate to all that well! But Chain, for all his apparent good fortune, seems to be her best characterised male to date, and I for one am pleased to see this progression from the author.

The story it told from Violet's perspective, but also Chain's. This is something I am noticing in a lot of stories of late. If they are all as well written as this one, I won't be complaining.

Violet Chain works because the story - a broken heart, finds one to mend it. But this is the tale at its most basic level. It is much more than that, and ends strongly that will have you screaming for more.

Whilst fans of Miss Kahele await a possible third installment of the Mine series, this will do very nicely indeed!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #6 - You've Written Your Book, Now Become An Editor

The cold hard reality of reading your draft back after a given period.
"Your book is ready? Nuh-ah-nuuh. No. I don't think so."

Anyone who has ever written a first draft of a book will know that it is just that - a draft. The hard work starts afterwards, where you have to look at your work in a different way altogether. This is a discipline so hard for independent writers - not all of us of course, but in my case, making the jump from mere writer to hard-line-critique-spewing-red-pen-at-the-ready editor is difficult.

No wonder we hand this task over to someone who does this for a living.

In my own experience, the choice of an editor was the right one, however we have to accept that even they have limitations to their powers. An editor will view your book one way, you, as the author will view it another way.

And then, there is an army of readers ready to read it in their own unique way.

So the need for the author to get his or her book right from the off has never been more important. Authors need help too - it's a far bigger team all of a sudden, with editors, proofreaders, beta readers et al getting in on the act.

However, not all authors can afford all these professional services. One proofreading service I contacted said they charged £450 for the first 50,000 words. This may be reasonable enough, but if you are a first time author hoping that your book is going to make enough (quietly) so that by month two or three, that vital service or services are suddenly more affordable.

Getting your book professionally proofread and edited is a must for authors. As a first time author, you should take a step back, because although your book has been written, you might just find yourself seeking out all these services, which you could save a lot of time and money by doing some more of the ground work yourself.

My books have a three month gestation period. Whilst that sounds hideous, it is pretty necessary. I may want to make swathing changes to the book - not the story itself (because hopefully you've created an outline first and knew how the story was going to end), but grammatical changes, sentence and paragraph structure, and of course, the (eventually ending ) hunt for typos.

It's all too easy to send your book out to an agent, publisher or editor without the proper cooling down time being applied to the work. After all, you worked hard on it, and the narcissist in us will want it read (and praised!) as soon as possible.

But you should wait. Really, you should wait. The draft is not the final one. There's much work to be done.

We have to toughen up and take the hits. Not everyone will think what we have done is awesome.
"What? Don't you understand? My book is finished. You don't like it. What do you mean you don't like it? My mum likes my book. Why don't you? Ugh - you're mean!"

You've only just thrown off the shackles of being an author.

So how do you become your own editor?

The simple truth is, you can't do the job of an editor. Not perfectly. But if you can get into an editor's mindset, your book will be all the better for it.

An editor:-

  • Will tell you what is wrong with the plot
  • Point out character flaws that simply do not work in tandem with the story
  • Highlight timeline issues
  • Highlight glaring plotholes
  • Simply advise you (you don't have to accept what they say, but you probably should)
Delusions that we have written a truly great story need shaking up. It may well be great, but be realistic. You can be truthful to yourself and win more readers as a result.
"I finished my book. And yet it seems amongst the praise, you dare to criticise it? Allow me to find something that will convince you that I am right."

As the author of the work:-
  • You may think your draft needs work, but that the story is brilliant
  • You may think your story is rubbish, even though it has potential 
  • You will speed read it, missing loads of errors, instead of going through it line by line
  • You will not see the story as it needs to be seen
  • Look at the point directly above, again
That is not to say that editors are the first, last and final word on everything. I have a paperback book from the Writer's Workshop - a very highly regarded entity, that contains a glaring mistake in a chapter about not making spelling errors. Something tells me that there is some irony at play here. 

Still, the book is excellent, so I would look over something like that.

The one month to three month holiday that your eyes gets from your draft allows you to come back, fresh, energised and most important - with some level of ability to effectively edit your work.

Don't try and write one book in the morning, and edit another in the afternoon. It really can mess you up - i know it did for me. So as appealing as writing new stories maybe be, hold off until you have finished your book properly. 

There's an argument that authors who suffer writer's block should go and work on other projects. Maybe - but I am inclined to disagree. If you are writing a book about vampires, and another about mermaids, if you don't split yourself properly from the respective works, you will end up merging the ideas.

This in itself is not always a bad thing. Darren Aronofsky, one of my favourite film directors, had the idea for a story where a ballerina fell in love with a wrestler - the highest art meeting the lowest one (that's not my quote or my belief - all arts are valuable to the one who practises them) - but the story would not gel, so DA split the ideas.

The result was the excellent The Wrestler with a powerhouse performance from Mickey O'Rourke and an Oscar winning turn from Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

So step back, take a breather, and become the Odile to the more comfortable Odette. If you really can't critque your work, do - really do give it to someone else. Editing isn't evil - it just needs to be done, done again, and done to death. You'll come to the point that you actually hate your book.

Now you're ready.

Previous WWW tips are here



Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book Review: Going Under by Silas Payton

24623355

Synopsis: (from the author) While investigating three unexplained deaths, Inspector Bill Roberts finds himself in the middle of a retaliation, after a biker gang moves in on mafia territory. With few leads and increased scrutiny by the Chief of Police and the Mayor of Toronto, he tries to track down whoever is responsible, making himself a target in the process. 

Bill Roberts, an Inspector with the Toronto police, has decided today was the day to drag himself back to the gym, for the first time since a recent arrest attempt left him with a broken leg. A mishap on his first day back sets the tone for the next twenty hours. When he gets called to the scene of a murder, he finds a wife has shot her loving husband, for no apparent reason. He and his team of detectives investigate, finding bizarre connections to a local biker gang, the mafia, and the Mayor's office, throwing themselves in the middle of a much larger scandal. 

With few leads, Inspector Bill Roberts must connect three strange deaths and find the person responsible. When he suspects the connection is a psychiatrist, Dr. Barry Nelson, the Inspector's priority becomes finding him before he leaves the city, onto his next job. What he doesn't realize is the doctor has one more job to finish... to eliminate Bill Roberts. 

This is a thriller laced with humour. It will keep you intrigued and on the edge of your seat to the last sentence, while giving you a few laughs along the way. If you like the books of J.A. Konrath, Blake Crouch, Jude Hardin, or Tracy Sharp, this book is for you.

Review: This book just screams COOL, doesn't it? From the stylistic artwork, top title, and super cool author name I was intrigued by this intelligent looking thriller. Chapter One opens with a fantastic Law & Order: Criminal Intent type scene that utterly grips the reader.

The writing is superb, as is the characterisation. Bill Roberts is an interesting protagonist, as his detective is a smart cookie, and far from the worn out representations I have seen in some other books, even by authors I absolutely adore.

Going Under follows a murder trail that seems an open and shut case, but as the story unfolds, and is unveiled through different characters (there are many in this story apart from Bill), and I liked the author's engaging and irreverent style. 

This is only a minor gripe, but I felt the main character Bill was the one I wanted throughout the story - when other characters fronted the chapter, I felt less engaged. Perhaps that is because Bill towers over everyone else in my view as the most interesting character.

Going Under is well paced, brilliantly plotted and virtually unputdownable. For a debut novel, it packs a hell of a punch, with wit and style that will make you grin. 

How does it all end? Through the many jumps, hoops, swings and roundabouts this tale puts you through, you will want to know.

Some detective thrillers take themselves way too seriously, or are high on the ick factor. Fortunately this is a story that is taut, smartly told, and should be high on your read list.

Go for it, you won't be disappointed.




Monday, 20 July 2015

Book Review: The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas (Heart of Blade Duology, #1)

22751852

Synopsis:

In the waning days of the last dynasty, in a quiet, beautiful corner of imperial Peking, a young girl's blissful ignorance is shattered when she learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of an English adventurer and a Chinese courtesan. What future is there for such a girl? But a mysterious figure steps forward and offers to instruct her in the highest forms of martial arts--a path to a life of strength and independence.

Half a world away in England, a young boy's idyllic summer on the Sussex downs implodes with the firing of a single bullet. Torn from his family, he becomes the hostage of a urbanely sadistic uncle. He dreams of escaping to find his beloved friend--but the friend is in China, ten thousand miles away.

The girl trains to be deadly. The boy flees across continents. They do not know it yet, but their lives are already inextricably bound together, and will collide one fateful night when they least expect it.

'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' meets 'Downton Abbey,' this remarkable tale of friendship, danger, and coming of age will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.

A prequel to MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY.

Review:

I was recommended this book having read the author's Luckiest Lady in London (review to come at some point!) but also because the one recommending it to me knew I had a background in martial arts, to put it mildly.

Sherry Thomas has a writing style that I can only believe creates a sense of sheer wonder for readers, but partial envy for other authors who read her works. Truly, this is an author who can craft a story with such style and panache, that sometimes you have to take a step back from what one has read,

Although not a long book, I read and consumed The Hidden Blade over several days, and I'll admit the martial arts aspect of the tale was a huge draw for me. As part one of a duology, The Hidden Blade works wonderfully as a historical piece that is lighter on romance than one might expect from Miss Thomas. I do expect part two - My Beautiful Enemy to fulfil the wishes of any reader who wanted more romance in this book.

That is not to say the book lacks romance, far from it. Telling the story of young Chinese girl Ying-Ying who is taken under the considerable wing of her teacher Amah, there is a dual story running with a pace-perfect and a seamless narrative, as the story of upper class English gent Leighton goes through many jumps and hoops (not all of them pleasant).

For me, whilst the story of Ying-Ying and Leighton is engaging (but in the best tradition of tales like Brief Encounter, where there is an attraction but barely exploited....and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon..with Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai definitely attracted to each other but restrained by age old customs and beliefs) - the romance is hinted at here, but I expect it will be more craftily developed in the follow-up.

What makes The Hidden Blade an exceptional book....well, where to start. Ying-Ying is cool, and whilst I can understand the nod to wuxia films like CTHD, it is but one of many that were made in China, it just so happens that particular film was made with a Western audience in mind. The martial arts scenes are brilliantly depicted - I especially loved a scene between Ying-Ying and her master where her Chi (Qi) was being developed. 

Contrary to popular Western belief, it's really hard - nigh on impossible in fact, to find a martial arts master of repute in China. It took me seven years to find my current one. But for reasons that the story must move forward, Ying-Ying is introduced to her teacher early on in the story.

As Leighton makes his improbable but necessary journey to the East - no doubt to reckon with his destiny, I am wanting to know how the worlds of a Chinese girl and Western man will collide.

He seems bit down on his luck, unable to catch a break for large parts of the tale. You'll root for him, as I did. But you will also want Ying-Ying to outgrow her master one day, and in this regard, Amah teaches her student (brutally) well. It seems a mis-match to me, which makes it all the more intriguing.

I rarely have such high praise for a book, but it is so well done, if I could give it six stars, I would. Let''s see how the series wraps up with the intriguing title of My Beautiful Enemy.

Rating: Five Jade-coloured stars.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Book Review: Newborn Nazi by Rhoda D'Ettore

23165506

There's a number of reviews here and as I scan through them, I am not sure what I can add.

What I can say for my own part is that Newborn Nazi starts with and continues for many of its pages at a blistering pace. This is a remarkable feat given the rather dry and unsettling nature of the SS.

It is a very dark tale, but told with great style and panache. The author, Rhoda D'Ettore, is an exceptional story teller.

The book has a little 'middle of the story' lag but maybe this is welcome.

After a particularly delicious build up between Hedwig and Johann, I still could not predict what was coming. After the event, I was unsure where the story would go.

But herein lies the author's talent. Through a myriad of excellent main and support characters, the author weaves a multi-layered and intelligent story.

At times, the dialogue is a little too much, but given the length of the story, blocks of heavy narration may have been off putting, so I congratulate the author for making a motley crew so engaging to read.

The ending is interesting, not what I expected, and very well done.

If you want a story that takes you away from a YA story filled with werewolves and mermaids, go for this very unique tale.

I loved it and think you will too!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Book Review: Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught

1404766

There is probably no more crowded genre than the romance genre, and yet it is a genre containing many fine stories. There's a general convention that men shouldn't read this genre, or that women who want a 'hot' romance won't find anything amongst these pages to suit them.

This isn't always the case, and I have always been open to read any kind of genre so long as the story is good. After all, a classic is a classic, regardless of how old it is.

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is a classic of the genre, but having been lent the actual paperback copy by a friend and fellow blogger, I can honestly say the book was hugely enjoyable over the course of its 700 pages.

Whitney is the kind of heroine I like. She's feisty, headstrong and knows what she wants at a time when women's thoughts were often shunted by the men around them. With Whitney in love with Paul, she is determined to marry him one day. What father wouldn't want his daughter to be happy? And yet, Whitney's want for Paul is met with incredulity at first by her father, and soon after, extreme anger.

A story that started so light and enjoyable suddenly took a turn for the extremely dark, and now the question was why her father was so insistent Whitney marry someone else?

Money. Ah, the age old crippler of those who do not have it. Marrying Whitney into money seems to be the only way to resolve the financial situation her father is in.

Poor Whitney! The father who wants his daughter to marry into money isn't a new theme, but bear in mind I have read this book after reading many others in the genre - often newer tales. I'm not saying Judith McNaught was the originator of this style of storytelling, but the facts are that she is so highly regarded in the genre, she may have come up with special story arcs and plot devices in the way that JRR Tolkien did for everyone who wrote high fantasy after he released Lord of the Rings.

At this point in the story, I wasn't sure if I had warmed enough to Whitney to care. But this book is so well written, so well plotted, that I just kept going back for more. 

The drama of the story picks up apace a third of the way in, and never lets up. 

Clayton is introduced to Whitney by her father. Aside from Paul, the bad guys are all men in this story, and she has no care for Clayton. In fact, I found myself wishing he would meet with a horse riding accident, or even better, have the piano fall on him. No such luck.

Is he that bad? Well, no, but once Whitney's rather overbearing father introduces the two together, he goes misses from the story, and we are unsure what Whitney thinks of that. After all, her father is supposed to be a template to show her what kind of man she might wed one day. If Clayton was not in his exhalted position, would they be even having this conversation? It's likely Whitney would have been fine with marrying Paul, hopefully with her father's blessing.

There's a particular scene that I can't give away here, but it certainly puts this book on a different level - no longer a light romance with a heart, it was a brutal and shocking scene that I had to read twice and check the cover - really? Could something like this happen - yes. Should it be in a romance? Not sure.

But it is the author's right to create the story as she deems fit.

I've had some time to distance myself from the book, and make sense of certain scenes. I think that particular scene fits the story, but I may be in the minority I expect!

Of course the story can be read on its own but I suspect it is better read as part of the series (Westmoreland) of which it is an integral part. I don't think it is fair to criticise it having not read the whole series.

On GoodReads and Amazon, I'm leaning towards five stars, but a fairer rating would be about 4.5. I'm typically harder on established authors, and friends have been saying to me for ages that 'You need to read Judith McNaught'. Having done so, I can say that this particular work is a standout in the genre, but not in the way you might think.

Not everyone will like the ending. Not everyone will like Whitney's sometimes bratty behaviour. I'll admit that the Duke came across as one dimensional sometimes. He seemed to view Whitney and women in general as property, which may fit with the  period, but that doesn't mean it is right.

Overall, I loved this book and when I have caught up with other books in this genre and other genres, I'll be back into Judith's world. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Special Author Promotion - Rhoda' D'Ettore - Check out her amazing books

ZODIAC BANNER

No One Is Safe While...

ZODIAC LIVES

A Novel by Rhoda D'Ettore

After surviving a car accident that killed her father, three-year-old Jennifer begins having nightmares. It's soon obvious she suffers from something more dreadful than the accident when she provides clues to a murder committed 3,000 miles away—and two decades before she was born.
Jennifer's nightmares set off a chain reaction that prompts the infamous Zodiac Killer to emerge from dormancy and terrorize San Francisco for a second time.

Buy Rhoda D'Ettore books on Amazon

Visit Rhoda D'Ettore's Website

BOOKSQUAD

Goin’ Postal & The Creek

POSTAL BANNER
Rhoda D'Ettore began her writing career by publishing humorous tales about working at the United States Postal Service. Fifteen years of dealing with bombs, anthrax, and human body parts in the mail made for an interesting read. Her co-workers laughed so hard at the nostalgia, they encouraged her to publish the writings. Since then, D'Ettore has fascinated readers with plot twists mixed with sarcastic humor.
D’Ettore knew postal workers would buy her story, yet she also wanted to show them she could write interesting, serious work with shocking twists. In Goin’ Postal & The Creek, the reader gets two very different stories in one book. The first containing the hysterical tales of postal worker life. The second story is a historical fiction that spans 200 years with a slightly supernatural twist. Topics include war, love, romance, death, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and how families survive such events.

Newborn Nazi

Newborn Nazi tackles the issues of right and wrong as well as self sacrifice when fourteen-year-old Edmund is forced into the Hitler Youth in 1935. His older siblings vow to destroy Nazi Germany, and the family gets swept up in espionage and the Underground Movement. When Edmund becomes an adult and joins the feared SS, his sister's secret endeavors to save Jews in her home endangers lives---including her own. This suspense thriller is sure to keep you guessing.
Newborn Nazi is based on Rhoda D’Ettore true family history. There was an Edmund who was forced into the Hitler Youth, and his sister did help Jews escape. D’Ettore found the story so riveting, she took the plot of the story and added murder and espionage to create this intense thriller.

Tower of Tears: The McClusky Series 1

In Tower of Tears: The McClusky Series, we find Jane traveling to America from Ireland with her three-year-old son. Expecting to find a better way of life, Jane finds nothing but intimidation, betrayal, violence, and heartache. This family saga includes blackmail, murder, mystery, and a touch of romance.
While writing Tower of Tears, D’Ettore gave her mother one chapter at a time for feedback. D’Ettore was undecided who the murderer in the book would eventually be, so she wrote the story with five characters hating and threatening the murder victim. Halfway through the book, D’Ettore’s mother shouted, “I know who killed him…. it was ####”. D’Ettore then finished the book with a different character as the murderer. When her mother read the final draft of the book, she replied, “That’s not who the murder is. I told you who is was.” D’Ettore then said, “I wrote the book, so I know who the murderer should be. Thanks.”

10 Shades of Blush: The Softer Side of Kink

10 Shades of Blush: The Softer Side of Kink is a collection of naughty fantasies of ordinary women. Teachers, mothers, and professionals submitted their wants and desires for kinky fun. All the tales are told as if the women are speaking directly to their partners. The audiobook of this has been called "Two hours of phone sex for $7".

Rhoda D'Ettore works are available as ebook, paperback, and audiobooks

Follow Rhoda D'Ettore on Facebook

Follow Rhoda D'Ettore on Twitter

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Win a MacX Video Converter: Courtesy of Book Wormie Spot

If you ever wanted to win a MacX Video Converter, the blurb is here on my blogger friend Joss's Book Wormie Spot:-

Book Wormie Spot

http://www.bookwormiespot.com/2015/07/macx-video-converter-pro.html

Here's the giveaway link for the converter:-
http://www.bookwormiespot.com/2015/06/macx-video-converter-pro-giveaway.html

And a You Tube video too!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_1ZlZaFbTw

Get to it, and I hope you win!

Book Review: An Arranged Valentine by Kadee McDonald

25597469

An Arranged Valentine is a thoroughly entertaining regency romance. The principle characters are well drawn and engaging, with Penelope an intriguing heroine. Like most women of the age, she has to find her betrothed before she passes what would be the dreaded marrying age. Her father thus engineers an arrangement which may be (but possibly won't be) altogether to her liking.

 Fortunately, as the story develops, the reader can discern a real warmth developing between the H/h and it's the little details...the notes, the valentines, the references to Robert Burns that truly made this light romance punch well above its weight.

 Lines I liked, and this was typical of the well placed humour throughout the book:- "Penelope....you do understand we have just been found in a compromising situation?"

 Of course, the over riding situation is one where it suits both parties to be arranged. The key to this story, and how it grabs the reader, is in the sense of how it brings the two together. My concerns were 'does he really love her' and 'could she really see out a lifetime with him.' To find out, you should really give this excellent Jane Austen inspired story a chance!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Book Review: The Legend of Zyrah (The Legend of Zyrah Series Book One) by Joseph Machney


25240026

There's a been a recent trend for fantasy epics to become as over-the-top with its depictions of violence, profanity and sex. But what's a good fantasy writer to do? Where can the genre go, only darker? If they didn't, we would be stuck with the old good versus evil story with various plot devices that don't raise the story above the mediocre. Having read a number of fantasies of late that were average to extremely good, I wondered what author Joseph Machney could do with his epic. After all, The Legend of Zyrah is the first in his epic series.

I had to read books of other genres so that I could look at this one with fair eyes. And I have to say - I enjoyed it.

The MacGuffin in the story centres around a wizard who has become dictator in all but name. He has control of two magical devices that help him keep a grip on power, often ruling with an iron fist while he does so.

Fortunately, not everyone accepts his take on things, and our hero soon pops up to secure the remaining artefacts, thus stopping the despot from becoming even more of a tyrant than he is already.

Around this central theme are an array of characters that develop beautifully as the story progresses. In fantasy, the genre has been done to death so to bring something new, you're going to have to do a 'Tolkien' or make your characters engaging. It's here where I think the author has done a stellar job.

Kion is obviously set up to be the best character, but as I read others, I really warmed to Akin, Teagan and Jade. The whole quest, therefore, is to see exactly how balance can be restored to the realm of Zyrah, not essentially to remove the evil ruler from power. Is there a commentary on the current world's status being formed by the author? That's one of the things I pondered as I reached this first book's conclusion. Ultimately, you will have to read the book to understand why the quest / mission / task has to happen, but I promise you that you will enjoy the ride.

The Legend of Zyrah is a strong first book in the series. The second book is out now. So if you want to immerse yourself in a well drawn fantasy world but with especially well drawn characters, give this book a try!