Monday, September 24, 2018

Around 75% of the books I read are down to reviews or recommendations, 20% are because of exciting covers enticing me and the remaining 5% is down to the title and blurb. The last thing she told me is an example of the latter. The title is intriguing enough for me to check out the blurb, it was that line in the blurb though that blew me away and made me download the book.
Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.
I mean, come on! Who doesn't want to read the book after reading that?
The Blurb:
Even the deepest buried secrets can find their way to the surface....

Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.

Nicola's mother claims she was talking nonsense. However, when Nicola's daughter finds a bone while playing in Betty's garden, it's clear that something sinister has taken place.

But will unearthing painful family secrets end up tearing Nicola's family apart?
Opening Sentence: The house appeared to know that its owner was about to die, shrouded, as it was, in early-morning mist, the downstairs curtains closed in respect, the gate squeaking mournfully as I opened it.
Days to read: 25

The question you're all wondering now is: Did the book live up to the blurb? The answer is: yes, no, maybe so, but on the whole yes.
Why the confusing answer I hear you ask? Well it's a mixture of a very good story, good characters, a lot of implausibility and some slow places within the novel. For example, given the blurb we know full well there are going to be babies at the bottom of the garden otherwise what would be the point of the novel? However, it takes a little while for this point to be reached. The protagonist is told almost immediately the disturbing confession of her dying Grandmother but it takes quite a long time before she begins to believe her. This is a little frustrating although I can see why the authors done it.
The book focuses on the main protagonist Nicola, who is a reasonable enough character. She's realistic in her actions and behaviour but there is nothing that really makes her stand out. Her husband James is a bit of a non-entity to be honest. He is incredibly supportive and goes along with anything Nicola says and doesn't add any real conflict to the plot.
The best characters are supporting cast. Nicola's eldest daughter Ruby, definitely steals the scenes she is part of. She has had enough angst over her past and wondering who her real father to make her interesting. This conflict carries the novel and propels it into a much more dramatic story, elevating it above your normal mystery. The struggle between mother and daughter and daughter and step-dad is well handled and quite moving in at times.
Linda Green keeps the tension high as she expertly reveals piece by agonizing piece of the puzzle. This is done through clever devices such as a great aunt with amnesia in a mental home and then a mysterious relative who comes in but seems reluctant to reveal the truth of the past. Couple this with a mother who also clams up tighter than a safe when the past is mentioned means the reader is only treated the odd snippet of information every now and then. Whilst a little frustrating, it never gets transforms in to annoyance.
The news of the babies soon becomes widespread, and this adds another dimension in how the community reacts to the shocking news. This results in various unpleasant actions against Nicola and her family, which whilst gruesome never ringed true to me – mainly because there was no reason for the community to behave that way to Nicola who was completely innocent of the events in the past. Her only fault was pursing the truth which suggests she was being warned away from enquiring any further. Nicola however, never makes a big song and dance about her investigation to ruffle any feathers and so this part of the novel didn’t work.
What did and didn't work for me was inclusion to the mystery as a novel unfolds. There are actually three mysteries that run throughout the book: the main one is fantastic and really get me thinking about the past and the way people behaved. It is a satisfying conclusion to a great premise. The other two mysteries, whilst also good is where the aforementioned implausibility comes in to effect. The fact that the three incidents/mysteries happen to the same family I found a little bit hard to believe - and I'm a man that writes fantasy novels!
Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Linda Green is an author that is very accomplished and I will definitely look out for more of her work in the future.

My rating: 8.8

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.