Monday, September 17, 2018

I have to admit comedy books don’t overly do it for me. I’ve read Pratchett and enjoyed some of them, but I find I have to be in the mood. Other books where reviews have stated that the book is “hilarious” and “laugh out loud” funny, I have found mildly amusing. It is weird as I am a huge fan of comedy as a genre. When my brother-in-law pointed out that he reads all the books he recommends and I don’t reciprocate, I welcomed his endorsements and then groaned when he suggested a couple of Tom Sharpe books. As a man of my word though, I promised to give them ago.  

The Blurb:

With his only friend a computer, Walden Yapp has lived a singular life. Professor of Demotic History at the University of Kloone, Yapp spends his days highlighting the corrupt capitalistic nature of the upper-classes, and his nights feeding Doris his computer the information he has gathered
So when capitalist Lord Petrefact hires him to write a damaging family history, Yapp seizes the chance to chronicle the corrupt life of the Petrefact family. Spurred on by his expectations of dishonesty and depravity Yapp heads of the town of Buscott, where nobody is what they at first appear to be.
Now a pawn in Lord Petrefact’s vindictive family game, Yapp’s presence is as welcome as the plague. From provoking dwarfish marital problems to uncovering an erotic toy factory Yapp’s presence sparks a chain of events that ends in death, destruction and a murder trial.
Going through a car wash will never feel the same again

Opening Sentence: Lord Petrefact pressed the bell on the arm of his wheelchair and smiled

Days to read: 12

I’m just going to come out and say it, I have to put my words on a plate, smother them with humble sauce and devour them because I loved this book. Not only that, there were occasions when I was genuinely laughing out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I struggled with it at first. The language seemed a little too flowery and pompous for me without seemingly adding anything to the story. However, once the story gets going it, the laughs come thick and fast as the characters meander from one set piece to another. Some of these are brilliant conceived and the best thing about them is they are all weaved together expertly and never feel contrived.

The story is littered with excellent characters, all satirically observed and extreme in their views. Sharpe exploits these but at the same time manages to make them all endearing. My personal favourite was Emmelia who experiences a bit of a journey of self-discovery as she finally wakes up to her archaic and prejudiced ways.

It would be unfair to try and analyze the plot as there is only a very loose one. What I will say is that this is a story of characters finding themselves and loosing themselves in the most farcical way possible.

There are incidents that stand out above all others, the bathroom scene for instance or the visit to the Buscott factory, but I found every scene containing something that amused me.
This is my first Tom Sharpe novel and won’t be my last. It has changed my opinion on comedy books and for that I can’t recommend it enough.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John Connolly - The Woman in the Woods

Well I could hardly do a review of all my favourite authors and not include John Connolly could I? John Connolly writes almost the perfect type of novel for me: a gruesome, thriller with an element of the supernatural. The Woman in the woods marks his 16th book in the Charlie Parker series; a series that has not seen a drop off in quality at any point. 

The Woman in the Woods: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 16.  From the No. 1 Bestselling Author of A Game of Ghosts

The Blurb:
It is spring, and the semi-preserved body of a young Jewish woman is discovered buried in the Maine woods. It is clear that she gave birth shortly before her death.

But there is no sign of a baby.

Private detective Charlie Parker is engaged by the lawyer Moxie Castin to shadow the police investigation and find the infant, but Parker is not the only searcher. Someone else is following the trail left by the woman, someone with an interest in more than a missing child, someone prepared to leave bodies in his wake.

And in a house by the woods, a toy telephone begins to ring.
For a young boy is about to receive a call from a dead woman…
Opening Sentence:  The bar was one of the more recent additions to Portland's waterfront, although the term 'recent' was relative given the rapid pace of development in the city.
Days to Read: 27 (😞)
What I like most about this series is Charlie Parker is a feared man but not because of how excellent he is as a detective or how strong, brave and impervious to pain he is (because he is certainly not all of those things). He gains that reputation purely for surviving numerous attempts on his life. It gives him a legendary respect from his enemies, one that he's not even aware of half the time.
In the Woman in the woods Parker is a damaged man he is recovering from his injuries and he is also trying to repair the relationship he has with the police force who no longer trust him and see him as a hindrance rather than a help.
The book introduces Quayle and his mysterious and quite frankly weird female sidekick. Both are in search of the dead woman and missing child as they believe before she died, she had I'm her possession a book of great importance. In terms of plot details it really is that simply, apart from when Louis picks a fight with a local racist Bobby Ocean. Of course with a Connolly novel there are several twists and turns along the way, one of which is Parker trying to tread carefully with the police and thus hindering his usual bullish approach to investigating.
Quayle and his female sidekick are terrific characters they are strange yet at the same time menacingly dangerous; both have the hint of the supernatural about them although it is never explicitly demonstrated. With Quayle you get the sense that he is not just another throw away villain and so it proves. It is inevitable that their paths will cross with Charlie Parker although this does not happen for a long time in the novel and so the tension towards them finally meeting is a terrific undertone running throughout. Quayle is also the only villain I can recall to actually step up and try and make Parker’s life hell. It makes for great reading I can tell you!
Of course it would not be a Charlie Parker novel without his two best friends Angel and Louis. Angel features only fleetingly in this story as he too is seriously ill in hospital. This leads a more fragile and quite frankly lost Louis. He is missed as are the Fulci’s but it does allow Louis to fill more of the stage. We’ve seen glimpses into Louis’ psyche before, but never has he been laid so bare and vulnerable before us. His scenes with Parker are touching and it is refreshing to see this side of the cold blooded killer.
With each novel in the series you get the sense that more and more of the supernatural mystery is being unveiled – most notably who and what is the damn Buried God.
Overall this is a fantastic addition to the series. The ending is a little abrupt and it is clear that this novel more than any other is part of a largely story arc, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that as a standalone this is up there with Connolly’s best.
My rating: 9.3

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Another Introduction from Me. (Jackie Slaney)

Rob, very kindly asked me to contribute again to his blog, which I am more than happy to do.

But in between thinking about what books I have read recently and what one to write about first, I suddenly found myself in a discussion in the office about books people read and explaining why I enjoy fantasy books so much.

It was a very bizarre conversation, as at the start one of the people was quite dismissive, personally its never bothered me what people read, and I would certainly never dream of saying that one genre is better than another.

Nowadays I read nearly anything, from Sci-Fi/fantasy to ancient Rome, from zombie books to murder mysteries, but I will admit that I became quite defensive over the whole “fantasy books are just fancy comics comments.”
I will not go in to detail, but the person concerned quickly regretted his words!

The conversation though, (especially after the doubter was silenced) became quite in depth and when I was asked, ‘well why did you start reading sci-fi/fantasy then?’ has made me think.

Why did I start reading that genre when most of my friends at the time were not reading much or reading very girly books?

I suppose I can say I was lucky in a way being the youngest in a household, which meant there were always books lying around that family members had read and just then left, the majority of which were casts off from my brother.

This meant that I came across Star Trek, Arthur C Clarke and Robert Heinlein at quite a young age, these books along with Tolkien caught my imagination and led me to our local library, where I was extremely lucky as the lady librarian in charge didn’t dismiss a small girls strange book requests, and even used to find books for me and put them to one side.

To this day, Antonia Barber, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner are just a few of the authors whose books I read that I still remember now.

I was also lucky as I grew older with various English teachers at school encouraging my reading and also starting my interest in writing as well.

So why did I start reading these? The honest answer is that they were so well written, and so imaginative how could anyone not like them? They were escapes from the humdrum and boring, and now with various hospital visits, I still find it the same.

Though I read loads more different types of books now, I still find myself looking at the fantasy sections first in any bookshop.

So apologies to all, as this was supposed to be a review about a book that I had read, but turned in to something else all together, but I suppose in a way its a review of the fantasy books I have enjoyed over the years.

That reminds me, I must really find that Antonia Barber book I had, I have a sudden need to reread it again. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Robert Galbraith – Career of Evil

I have to confess I hadn’t heard about Robert Galbraith until the revelation many years ago that it was a pseudonym for JK Rowling. Having loved the Harry Potter series (yes, I queued up to get the last two books at midnight and yes I was in my mid to late twenties).

Having heard mixed reviews about the Casual Vacancy (still haven’t got round to reading that), I approached the new series with a degree of trepidation. It turns out I had no cause for concern. I loved the Cuckoo’s Calling and enjoyed the Silkworm even more.  I was very much looking forward to this third entry to the series then.

The Blurb:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

Opening Sentence: He had not managed to scrub off all her blood.

Days to read: 16 (Audible)

One of the main things Galbraith excels at is creating excellent characters. In Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott he has created one of the best partnerships in fiction today. They get on so well, that I actually can’t stand it when they do argue. I recall in the Harry Potter series anytime Harry and Ron bickered, I couldn’t wait until they reconciled. However, with those two characters, although I could see the reason for their polarised views, I knew it would only be a matter of time before they were on speaking terms again. With Strike and Robin however, when they argue I am genuinely fearful it will be the end of their friendship.

Galbraith has created such a strong and stubborn character in Strike that you know how he is going to react and you also anticipate how difficult it will be for him to change his opinion. With Robin, you have a character desperate to prove herself at all costs, failing to see the wood through the trees.
Both of these character traits come to the fore in Career of Evil as both characters are developed. In both Strike and Robin we learn more about their past which provides plausible explanations for their current situations and decision making.

It makes for tense, fascinating reading and in all honesty, I love both these characters so much I could read a whole book about these two characters making a cup of tea and then staring at a blank wall. We also get more insight into Strike’s love-life and are reminded that he is not the nicest and caring of people. 
The secondary characters are also fleshed out more in this novel. Matthew – Robin’s fiancé appears more than just the caricature of the pompous ass he has seemed previously, whilst Robin’s mum also gets some screen time. The best character is Cormoran’s shady associate Shanker. He displays a dozen shades of grey tinged with a large dose of loyalty which is extremely endearing.

The plot is intriguing; when Robin receives a body part in the mail, Strike identifies a number of potential culprits who could be out to get him. Not only do these suspects add more layers to Strike’s character they are also interesting in their own right. What I liked most about this story, is that it also reveals Strike’s struggle to maintain his business. Despite a couple of high profile cases, the job offers have not exactly come flooding in and his relationship with the police force is tenuous. It all makes for a grounded, realistic story.

The ending is extremely satisfying both in the revelation of the criminal and the conclusion to the personal dramas going on in Strike’s and Robin’s lives. The next book in the series is released in September 2018 and I don’t think I can wait to read it.

My rating: 9.2

Friday, August 10, 2018

James Patterson – Cross the Line

As many of you know I find something inherently comforting about reading James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. Alex Cross was the first series I really invested in many moons ago.
Over the years the series has gone from excellent, to having a major dip as the character of Alex Cross seemed to become too unwieldly for Patterson to handle. As an author Patterson made the smart move of stripping the series down to the basics and letting his protagonist concentrate on more intimate threats. As a result, there has been a considerable increase in quality.

The blurb:

Shots ring out in the early morning hours in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. When the smoke clears, a high-ranking cop lies dead.

Under pressure from the mayor, Alex Cross steps into the leadership vacuum to investigate the audacious killing. But before Cross can make any headway, a wave of murders erupts across the city. The victims have one thing in common – they are all criminals.

And the only thing more dangerous than a murderer without a conscience is a killer who thinks he has justice on his side.

Opening Sentence: He change identity like many warriors do before battle.

Days to read: 13

I really enjoyed this latest entry in the series. I prefer the Alex Cross novels when the antagonists are less cartoonish and the threats are more personal. In Cross the Line however, the villains are neither. They are criminals with a conscience believing they are ridding the world of a nasty presence and thus making the world a better place. For once they don’t have a personal vendetta against Alex Cross and could not care less who he is. As a result, it reminded me of the earlier novels where Alex had to solve the crime like a normal detective without worrying about his family.

 Why is this so refreshing I hear you ask? For the simple reason that it allowed the other members of his family to breathe and have their own story arcs: Janine continues to pursue her running career and faces more hurdles (excuse the pun), Little Alex has a bit more substance to him whilst Bree struggles in her new promotion. It serves to provide a more rounded picture of the Cross family and makes you more invested in the characters.

 The pace of the novel is as fast paced as usual. Cross and Sampson work well together but they appear more vulnerable in this novel. Their age is catching up with them a little and they survive encounters more by luck than ability. Again, this is nice to see.

 The end is extremely satisfying as we get a good old fashion chase and slugfest. I always say with James Patterson you know what you are getting. A nice, comfort read that ticks enough of the boxes for you to enjoy yourself a lot and come back for more.

My rating: 8.6

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cover reveal

A few weeks ago I promised a cover reveal. Well today is the day I make good on that promise. Normally this is the point I would do a bit of a blurb, talk about the writing process and then post a picture of the cover. I always find that interesting when other authors do it, however, having discovered I can design pretty good maps with a little bit of effort (more on that in future – see I am such a tease), I decided to experiment with making a video reveal.

It is by no means a professional video, but it was quite fun making it. Apart from scaring myself witless filming in the woods at night, it was also interesting editing the video and learning about commercial licensing for the music etc. When I said interesting, you know I meant “frustrating” right?

So here it is, the cover of my final book in the Ballard of Frindoth series: Only Stones Remain.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

This title popped up on my audible app and I was immediately intrigued. It just goes to show what a good title and cover can do. It also helped that the book was endorsed by Stephen King apparently.

The blurb:

In 1986, Eddie and his friend are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out his other friends got the same messages, they think it could be a prank...until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest listener.

Opening Sentence: The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves.

Days to read: 11 (Audible)

After being intrigued by the cover and title, the blurb well and truly sucked me in. This is a debut novel but you would not know it. Having said that the blurb highlights how Tudor expertly alternates between flashbacks and the present day – I would not necessarily agree with this. 

For the first third of the novel at least, the strength of the story in the flashbacks is far superior to the lack of action in the present day. Tudor captures the language, the feel and the wonderment of a child hood which, being a similar age, I could really enjoy and be nostalgic with. The banter between the gang of five children is great as are their fears and excitement. They might start off as caricatures as Tudor rushes a little to get their traits across rather than showing us their personalities naturally, but overall, despite the impending sense of doom which hangs over the gang, I couldn’t help but enjoy their escapades with a smile on my lips.

Eddie the POV character, is the most level headed of the five and through him we experience his anxieties and insecurities of being a teenager and his little secret of stealing objects. I especially liked the group dynamic. Not everyone gets on with each other but there is an acceptance that their group is their group and they would stick up for each other regardless. Their reactions to events are consistent with their characters and the supporting characters are both mysterious and likeable.  

The present day narrative is slow to begin with and the characters we see are more cynical, jaded and generally not as fun. There is nothing wrong with this realistic approach, it is just that Eddie has disappointedly drifted through his life and not amounted to much. However, when a certain event occurs, the tension is really ratchetted up a notch. From then the pace of the narrative increases and there are twists and turns galore. Every time you think you have the plot figured out, Tudor pulls the rug out from under your feet. In the final third, when the prose switched between the two time periods I generally groaned as I wanted the plot to continue, so I guess I don’t entirely disagree with the blurb.

Overall then, the Chalk man is an accomplished and impressive debut. The ending was more than satisfactory with a great twist I never saw coming. I will not hesitate to purchase the next book from Tudor.

My rating: 8.7

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