Tuesday, 21 November 2017

RIDING SHOTGUN and other American Cruelties by Andy Rausch

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

Genre: crime, murder, dark humour

This is a collection of three novellas, and I enjoyed them all.  I really liked Andy Rausch's writing style, it's right up my street; very current, intelligently witty, sharp and observant.  

The first one is Easy-Peezy, set in 1920/30s America, about Emmet Dalton, a former bank robber of the late 19th century who has hung up his boots and holster, but longs to show young guns like John Dillinger how it's done.  He teams up with a couple of others from the same era and sets off for one last crime spree.  On its own, I'd have given this 4*.

The second, Riding Shotgun, is about a writer who find himself involved in a life of crime after his wife is killed.  I liked this one slightly less, as at times 'darkly humorous' crossed the border into 'just daft', although it was still well-written.  3*.  

The last story, $crilla, is easily the best, I loved it.  Almost totally dialogue, and hilarious, easily 5*.  Two unsuccessful gangsta rappers hatch a plot to extort money from their reluctant producer.  

The language, particularly in the last one, would not suit anyone who finds authentic street talk offensive; if you don't, and can appreciate how well-observed it is, you'll love it.  I felt the influence of certain TV shows and films, throughout, even in some specific lines, but I quite liked that about it.  It's a good collection, professionally presented, and worth getting for the last one alone.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHILD by Jenny Twist @JennyTwist1

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've read quite a few of Jenny Twist's short stories and novellas before, and liked them.

Genre: Short stories, miscellaneous drama.

These five stories are grouped together under the loose theme of mother love, and they are all very different.  Two are flash fiction, one page long each, and I liked both of those.  The others are long-short stories.  The middle one is an amusing fantasy about the possible existence of fairyland (note for author: I liked the last paragraph very much).  The last is the best one, I think, a piece of romantic suspense with the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War; I particularly liked the authenticity of the setting.  The first is about a 1960s mother and baby home, which I was slightly less keen on, as I kept expecting a dark twist that never came.  I am not, of course, criticising the author because she didn't write the story I wanted to read; this is just personal taste, and I am sure many would prefer the more promising outcome.

It's a nice collection for a couple of undemanding hours' reading.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

JONAH by Carl Rackman @CarlRackman

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book:  I read the author's debut novel, Irex, after chatting to him on Twitter, and thought it was very good indeed, hence the purchase of this one!

Genre: WW2 Naval Thriller 

This book is stunningly good.  I finished it in the early hours of this morning when my eyes were tired and I wanted to go to sleep, because I had to know what happened. 

The blurb (extract):

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.  Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Jonah ticks every single box.  It's exceptionally well written, interspersed with tales from members of the crew from before the war, relevant to the plot (love little flashbacks like this!).  It's meticulously researched, completely convincing, but Rackman hasn't fallen into the amateur's trap of explaining naval terms to the layman; it is assumed that the reader will gather what they mean, sooner or later, and I did.  There's a glossary at the back, if you need it.

The story is utterly gripping and unpredictable, the sense of menace builds up at just the right pace, and even by the last chapter I had no idea of the outcome (and, indeed, thought it would go another way).  The characterisation is well defined, the dialogue spot on, and it's edited, proofread and formatted to the best of traditional publishing standards.

It's really, really, really good.  You should download it.  Immediately.  Definitely one of the best five books I've read this year.  



Friday, 10 November 2017

ALL THE TOMORROWS by Nillu Nasser @nillunasser

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads




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

Genre: Romantic suspense, family drama.


Set in Bombay, the novel starts when Jaya, one year into an arranged marriage, discovers that her idealist, undemonstrative husband, Akash, has a lover.  Criticised by her parents and feeling uncared for, her torment results in a truly shocking action, so stomach-turning I wondered if I could actually carry on reading the book.  Brave of the writer to include it, and that I reacted so strongly shows that it was well-written; I did continue, anyway.

Akash is knocked sideways by Jaya's extreme reaction, and his life takes a swift, sharp turn downwards.  In short, this novel is about a falling apart and slow coming together... several of them.

The first twenty per cent is about Jaya and Akash's younger years and the immediate fall-out of 'the event', after which we are moved swiftly on by being told that 'the years sped by', and suddenly it's twenty years later, when we find out how the characters' lives have fared in the interim, and what happens when they collide once more.

Nillu Nasser is a talented writer, without a doubt.  One of the reasons I chose this is because I like to read about other cultures, and this book taught me stuff I didn't know, so that's a tick from me.  Her storytelling ability held my interest, which is good for another big shiny red tick.  On occasion the dialogue felt a little stilted, or a teensy bit Hollywood, and she fell into the debut novelist trap of using dialogue to impart information to the reader rather than keeping it realistic, but I'll cut her some slack with this; it was not constant, and, as I said, it's a debut novel, and a good one (nb, this is not her first published work, but her first published novel).  Her characterisation was good; Jaya, her sister Ruhi, and their mother, were real, as were Akash, his friend, Tariq, and his lover, Soraya; Ms Nasser writes them all in clear definition, and even the secondary characters were completely convincing ~ another big tick!

I was, however, less sure about the pacing and structure.  With the younger lives of Akash and Jaya taking up only around the first fifth of the book, I was given little time to care that much about what happened to them before suddenly they were older, and little had gone on in the intervening twenty years except more of the same.  How much more effective it would have been to have cut the line about speeding years, and have a couple of interim chapters showing their lives after five, ten or fifteen years, too.  Akash tells Soraya all he has suffered in those years, but I wanted to see it, not just read it in a spoken report.  I loathe clich├ęs, not least of all book reviewing ones, and you can't play out every scene or the book would be a thousand pages long, but in this case I needed to be shown, not told.  For me (and a review is only ever a personal opinion), a slow build up could have turned this 4* book into a 5* one. 

As the rest of the story unravels, Ms Nasser continues to write with authenticity, care and sensitivity, and I'd say that if you like emotional family dramas, you'll love this.

 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A TINCTURE OF SECRETS AND LIES by William Savage @penandpension

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. However, I would have bought the book anyway as I have read and reviewed all of Mr Savage's books, which speaks for itself; reviews for the others can be found by clicking his name in the 'labels' at the end of the review.

Genre: 18th century history, murder mystery.  The 4th in the series, it stands alone, but I'd suggested reading the earlier books first to become acquainted with the players.

The first 35% or so of this novel takes place in the bedroom of our hero, Norfolk doctor and crime solver Adam Bascom; he is suffering from dire injuries following an accident, and, whilst recovering, is brought news of foul deeds and heinous crimes that deserve his attention.  Anyone who can hold my attention with the first third of a novel set in one room (and I read every word) is worthy of applause ~ indeed, in many ways, this is the best so far of Mr Savage's novels.  As well as the nicely plotted murder mystery, he has included more scene-setting, more detail about the day-to-day living of the time, and the history of the area; North Norfolk is particularly close to my heart, and the setting of his books is part of their appeal for me. 

The story brings to life so well the class hierarchy of the time, and tells how for the inhabitants of coastal villagers, involvement in smuggling was a way of life; I'd love to read another Bascom book based around this.  It also shows how those in power in England were concerned that the rebellion of the French peasantry would influence those in this country to rise up in the same manner.

With Adam housebound, the novel needed to step outside his Aylsham house eventually, to add drama, and I was pleased to see some chapters from other characters' points of view: Ruth Scudamore, who is absolutely my sort of girl (she has no time for fripperies and society trivia), her brother Charles, who finds himself far outside his life of genteel leisure when he joins in a military attack to stop a scuffle with a group of rebels, and Adam's groom, William, sent to uncover a mysterious 'quack' who sells his elixirs to the gullible public.  I was also very impressed by a chapter written from the point of view of rebel Peter Gort, who sees himself as a swashbuckling hero of the underclasses.

I was slightly underwhelmed by the wrapping up, and would have liked to see the baddies get their comeuppance(s) rather than just hearing about it in reports and letters, and just a bit more drama and impact, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the book ~ and the delightful way in which it ended: will Adam's romantic life unfold as he wishes, after all his doubt and frustration?  I look forward to the next episode, to find out!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

THE UNRIVALLED TRANSCENDENCE OF WILLEM J GYLE by J D Dixon @James_D_Dixon


5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

Genre: Literary, psychological, contemporary drama. 

What a find.  This book is seriously good.  I mean, seriously.  I'd recommend it to anyone, whatever your usual genres of choice. 

Willem J Gyle is a bit slow.  But he gets by.  He lives with his mother, who takes care of all his needs, including finding him a job on a construction site which suits his size and strength, and where he makes friends.  He loves his mam, his dog, and the football on the telly.  Then, in just a few days, his world comes crashing down, and Willem finds himself homeless.  Having neither verbal skill nor knowledge of how 'the system' works, he is unable to find anyone to help him, and drifts into a life on the streets and, inevitably, crime.  Much to my surprise, his darker side comes to the fore, but is this innate psychopathy, anger at the world, an expression of pain for all he has lost, or just a primal instinct for survival?  I thought it was a combination of all those elements.

Winding up in a community of other homeless people, which he considers, at first, to be 'no more perfect place ... outside the law, above the law', he soon finds out that it's a reflection of the 'real' world, corrupt, with the weaker members suffering.  And on he walks....

Although the blurb appealed to me, I was dubious at first; the book starts off well-written but whimsical, which, coupled with the too-long and pretentious title, made me wonder if it would be slow-going.  But four pages in I was completely hooked, and stayed that way until the end.  J D Dixon has a real gift, the innate sort that cannot be learned from classes, 'how to write' books, blog posts, or anything else.  To me, writing talent is all about being able to create characters and worlds that absorb the reader completely, needing no wordy description, and JDD has this in spades.  He writes in a spare fashion, which I like.  He doesn't explain, or over-emphasise.  

The book is raw, rough in places, and sometimes shocking.  It's also immensely sad.  It's just - great.  One of the best debut novels I've ever read.



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

THE DARK ROADS by Wayne Lemmons @wayne_lemmons

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: Amazon browse ('also boughts').

Genre: Post Apocalyptic.

I loved the premise of this book.  It's an alternative reality set in the immediate future, in which climate change began to have a devastating effect on the world as early as 2015/6.  By 2021, it is no longer safe to be above ground during daylight hours, and anyone caught thus is instantly burnt to a crisp.  Most people are dead, water and food are scarce, and the heat has rendered vehicles unusable; the world is dying.  Three young men (Buddy, Richie and Elvis) are travelling on foot from Florida to Alaska, in the hope of finding some relief from the heat.  The story is their journey (I adore post apocalyptic cross-country stories, can't get enough of them!), as on the way they meet a few other survivors, struggle with near death as they almost get caught with no safe place to be before sunrise, cope with their own losses and, of course, are pursued by the evil 'feeders' ~ cannibals.

The book could do with a professional editor, or at least a more experienced pair of eyes; there are instances when a clunky omniscient narrator pops up out of nowhere, and a little head-hopping now and again, most noticeably in the epilogue, which changes from narrator to a first person point of view, out of the blue.  Also, there are times when the story skips over the boundary between fiction and unfeasible; the group find shelter in department stores and service stations, but there never seem to be any houses.  The author has a good handle on the effect of heat on some items, but now and again chooses to ignore his findings for the sake of the plot.  The group has a never ending supply of ammunition whenever needed, but I can't see a) where it comes from or b) how they could possibly have carried it all along with the food and the other utensils, medical supplies, etc.  

However (and it's a big 'however'!), Wayne Lemmons is a good storyteller and I was able to suspend my disbelief, most of the time.  I looked forward to getting back to it with each session.  The basics are all there.


I would have given it 3.5* rounded up to 4 on Amazon (because 4* means 'I like it', and I did!), if it wasn't for the epilogue, which was a big disappointment.  The whole book is about them getting to Alaska, where they hope to find a temperature in which they can sustain life, but there is no evidence to show that life is going to be much easier there, and the epilogue itself is less than two pages long.  I felt as though someone had told the author that he had to finish the book by lunch time, or something, so he just scribbled down anything without giving it much consideration, let alone the painstaking redrafting that all novels need.  It doesn't do the rest of the book justice.  BUT (and it's a big but!), I liked it enough to want to take a look the next book, which I will.   It's good, it's not bad at all - it just could have been terrific, that's all.