Book Review

Book Review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Another guest review from my Dad today, this time a book that took him a little outside of his usual reading comfort zone.

BlackIrishIt was only the first lie…

As the snow drives down and the full force of a Buffalo winter makes itself felt, a man’s body is found. Barely recognisable, the only clues the police have are the ‘1’ carved into the victim’s face and the killer’s sinister calling card, a plastic toy monkey.

This is ‘The County’ – the 27th county of Ireland – a city cocooned in secrets, suspicion and blood feuds, where the residents will do anything to protect their own. And for Detective Absalom Kearney, this case is her one chance to prove to a community more fiercely secretive than ever, that even the most heinous of murderers can be stopped.

But as her investigation develops and the killer starts sending her cryptic messages, Absalom finds herself in a race not only to halt them but also to stop The County’s residents exacting their own form of justice.

Because at the heart of this community there is the darkness peculiar to those forgotten by society, and this darkness will affect Absalom’s life in ways she could never have imagined..

So, having previously said that I don’t care so much for non-UK based crime books, what am I doing reviewing this?

I agreed reluctantly to ‘give it a go’. This on the promise from my daughter that it would broaden my reading horizon. Well she was right, but it did not cure my prejudices completely.

The book is set in Buffalo, but within an Irish community, which presumably is factually accurate, although I did not check. It links back to Ireland so partly qualifies my UK only preference, and touches on some uncomfortable connections and topics around the troubles during the 1970/80s.

The book was enjoyably quick paced, which was curiously in line with the text in places, with a lot of fast car journeys over treacherous ice covered roads. This had me feeling fearful for the main character Absalom Kearney, a female detective returning to the ‘County’ after years away.

Absalom was strangely vulnerable at times, entering dangerous situations alone when any sane person would have taken back-up. She narrowly avoided serious injury or death. This however was all integral to the plot, so her maverick approach could be overlooked even though I was led to worry for her at times.

The sub characters were believable and sufficiently interesting and the relationship between Absalom and her father was a major factor in the whole story. There were some interesting plot points which helped to keep you guessing until revealed and the whole lot was wrapped up in some pretty gory deaths.These had to be described in great, and sometimes stomach churning detail, in order to support the overall significance of the links between the murders.

In summary, I read it and I found the psychological and crime aspects very enjoyable, but as I don’t do blood and guts in real life, was not entirely happy about that aspect of the story. That is more about me than the book, and if you like a deep thriller, and can deal with that, this is for you.

Black Irish is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book News

Book Review: The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne.

In a first today I’m handing the blog over to my dad. He’s a keen (though not speedy) reader of British set crime thrillers so I knew he was the perfect person to offer a couple of review copies of books to, in exchange for a review.

UnquietGraveThe Cold Case crime department of Derby Constabulary feels like a morgue to DI Damen Brook. As a maverick cop, his bosses think it’s the best place for him.

But Brook isn’t going to go down without a fight. Applying his instincts and razor sharp intelligence, he sees a pattern in a series of murders that seem to begin in 1963. How could a killer go undetected for so long? And why are his superiors so keen to drive him down blind alleys?

Brook delves deep into the past of both suspects and colleagues unsure where the hunt will lead him. What he does know for sure is that a significant date is approaching fast and the killer is certain to strike again…

This was my first Steven Dunne as far as I know, but as I get most of books either as gifts or from my daughter’s review pile it may not be. There was nothing familiar about the style or content so lets assume it was! (JJ – It was.)

I probably read crime and psychological thrillers more than anything else but have a distinct preference for UK based stuff. I like to be able to place locations and language in my mind. I am the same with TV. This book did just that being based around Derby, an area I know quite well.

It was a variation on the usual theme, in that the lead character D.I. Damen Brook is moved from active policing into a cold case review role. This, following a period of recovery from a previous case and more importantly a bit of a punishment for various run-ins with his bosses. It leads to some interesting sub-plots around police officers, both active and retired, who see him as some form of pariah because of his history and methods. Dunne writes these diversions well and you find yourself siding with Brook as intended, and hoping he will deck one or two of them.

The main plot revolves around a set of initially unlinked Murders and, as it is cold case, the time-span covers several decades. These are briefly but adequately explained in flashbacks to support the main plot, and overall the book moves smoothly on, so I rarely got lost or confused. Pleasantly for me I also didn’t solve the mysteries early on in the book, and the twists and turns kept me interested to the last chapter.

Whilst I enjoyed the story for what it was I did find some of the content a little unbelievable, unless the police are endemically corrupt. Unfortunately this seems to be a common plot technique which for me crops up too often, both in books and TV. The extent of corruption in this book sustained over such a long period and involving a number of characters and plot lines just went a little too far to be real.

In summary this is a book I would recommend if you like a gritty and thought provoking police drama. It was a great introduction to the writer for me, and I would have no hesitation in reading the other books in this canon, which have up till now passed me by.

The Unquiet Grave is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book Review

Book Review: Sleepless Knights by Mark H Williams

SleeplessKnightsIt’s not easy being the man behind the myth.

Sir Lucas is butler to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – the person who managed every quest from behind the scenes. He’s a man whose average working day involved defeating witches and banishing werewolves, while ensuring the Royal pot of tea never crossed the thin line separating ‘brewed’ from ‘stewed.’ What’s more, 1,500 years after that golden age, he’s still doing it – here in the modern world, right under our noses.

When King Arthur and six of his knights are exposed as living among us, Merlin is unleashed and a grim apocalypse unfolds, uncovering secrets from the past that King Arthur would rather stay buried. When Lucas is forced to confront his own peculiar destiny, will he choose to sacrifice his true love and lay down his life in the service of his master?

Sleepless Knights is a tale of high adventure and warm humour, with a spring in its step, a twinkle in its eye and, at its heart, the ultimate butler.

I’ve known Mark for a couple of years now, and when I heard about his book I absolutely loved the sound of it. I was really pleased to be given the opportunity for an early look at it, and even more pleased to find that it really lived up to my expectations!

The knights of the book are indeed the knights of legend, King Arthur plus his faithful group still continuing the quest they’ve been on for hundreds of years… though it’s evolved a little with time. They’ve had to adapt as the world around them has evolved, naturally some have taken to this better than others. In addition they’ve had to deal with the pesky problem of everyone around them aging whilst the knights have not.

The two words that jump to mind when I think about this book are funny and clever. The book is laced throughout with humour, there are so many moments that made me laugh including a couple of set pieces that still set me off giggling when I think about them now, a few weeks after reading the book. The cleverness of the book is hard to describe without spoiling parts of it, what I will say is that I loved some of the reveals within the book – I think cheeky may also be a good word to use as other legends become woven into the story in a truly delightful way.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was the inclusion of flashbacks which give the reader a glimpse of how the knights have faired through the ages. If there is ever another book featuring these characters this is what I want more of – the more I learnt about the characters the more I time I wanted to spend with them.

The book blends the ancient with the modern really well, this is especially good in the battle scenes. The book feels like a great, traditional quest story, but has all these great extra layers on top. As debut novels go this is a really, really good one. Why not give it a go?

Sleepless Knights will be published by Atomic Fez in paperback and eBook. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Recent Reads: The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow and Temptation Island by Victoria Fox.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

imageThe Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow. Corvus.
Walking a lonely forested valley on a spring morning in upstate New York, having been hired by a developer to dowse the land, Cassandra Brooks comes upon the shocking vision of a young girl hanged from a tree. When she returns with authorities to the site, the body has vanished, leaving in question Cassandra’s credibility if not her sanity. The next day, on a return visit with the sheriff to have another look, a dazed, mute missing girl emerges from the woods, alive and the very picture of Cassandra’s hanged girl.

What follows is the narrative of ever-deepening and increasingly bizarre divinations that will lead this gifted young woman, the struggling single mother of twin boys, hurtling toward a past she’d long since thought was behind her. The Diviner’s Tale is at once a journey of self-discovery and an unorthodox murder mystery, a tale of the fantastic and a family chronicle told by an otherwise ordinary woman.

When Cassandra’s dark forebodings take on tangible form, she is forced to confront a life spiraling out of control. And soon she is locked in a mortal chess match with a real-life killer who has haunted her since before she can remember.

This book doesn’t fit neatly into any pigeon hole, and I think this is one of the reasons I loved reading it so much. It is a blend of thriller, mystery, and family orientated women’s fiction – sitting wonderfully in its own space carved out somewhere between them all, with Cassandra’s divination, and ability to see the future adding an air of the supernatural to the mix.

This book is quiet, and peaceful, despite its sometimes difficult subject matter it is a beautiful and most satisfying read. The characters are well developed and interesting, I particularly loved the dynamic between Cass and her sons, at times it made my heart ache in the best possible way.

Whilst the book is a quiet read, this doesn’t mean the mystery element is any less gripping – there is a genuine sense of puzzlement as you read the book, Cass is very unsure about what is going on at times and the reader is in the same position. A couple of times I thought I’d worked out the mystery element and then very quickly realised I’d got it completely wrong.

imageTemptation Island by Victoria Fox. Mira.
Welcome to Paradise. Only the rich are invited…only the strongest survive. But is it heaven on earth or a devil’s playground? Fame. Money. Success. Lori wants them Aurora is being destroyed by them, and Stevie’s got them at her best friend’s expense. These three women are all drawn unwittingly to the shores of Temptation Island, all looking for their own truth. But they discover a secret so shocking there’s no turning back. It’s wicked, it’s sensational. Are you ready to be told? The island promises the one thing money can’t buy – but the glittering waters drown dark secrets… The price is devastating.

I loved Victoria Fox’s debut novel, Hollywood Sinners, so had pretty high expectations when I sat down to read this, her second book. It has a quick, pacy opening that has you wondering what happened to cause this incident – the book then jumps back in time a few years and steadily works forward to the opening incident. Needless to say, as you read the book you draw your own conclusions about the opening – I wonder how many readers got it as wrong as I did.

There are three women at the heart of this book, they are all clearly defined characters whose lives appear completely unconnected but naturally over time you start to see their plot threads twisting around each other’s. There’s a really sinister side to this story, I found that the more I read the less sure I became the I actually wanted to know what was going on (though of course I only read faster to discover it).

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot, it ticks all the key boxes and does so in style. I did have one major quibble with how one of the main character’s storyline was resolved, for me it was really unsatisfactory. This didn’t detract from the overall experience of the book, but did leave me wishing that things had gone the way I’d wanted them too – but then that’s not real life is it.

Book Review

Book Review : Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan.

BlameMyBrainA comprehensive guide to the biological mysteries that lie behind teenage behaviour.

Contrary to popular (parental) opinion, teenagers are not the lazy, unpleasant louts they occasionally appear to be. During the teenage years the brain is undergoing its most radical and fundamental change since the age of two. Nicola Morgan’s carefully researched, accessible and humorous examination of the ups and downs of the teenage brain has chapters dealing with powerful emotions, the need for more sleep, the urge to take risks, the difference between genders and the reasons behind addiction or depression. The revised edition of this classic book contains important new research, including information on mirror neurons and their effect on the teenage brain.

I was really keen to read this book as soon as I read the blurb. My long term plan post finishing my degree is to work in a library where I get to work with teenagers, I thought this would be a really useful addition to my personal library.

The first thing I must say about this book is how very accessible it is. It is aimed at teenagers and the adults around them, the book is written in a way that both groups will find interesting and helpful but never feel talked down to or overloaded with information. Relevant scientific research is included wherever it is relevant, this again is discussed in a great manner, there’s no need to have a scientific background to be able to understand it.

The book covers six key areas; Emotions, Sleep, Risk-taking, Gender differences, Mental health issues and Brain development in older teens. Each section includes a case study, a description of what’s going on in the teenage brain, some theories of why the teenage brain might work the way it does, some useful facts and hints to help teenagers and parents survive this stage, and a quiz or activity to do. I really liked this structure, I’m sure different readers will particularly like different sections but by presenting the information in a range of ways there will definitely be something for everybody.

I’m obviously no longer a teenager myself, nor a parent of a teenager, but I found it fascinating to be able to think back to my own teenage years and my experiences (and those of some classmates) and finally understand why some people acted the way that they did.

I think this is a really valuable book, since reading it I’ve recommended it to a number of friends who work with teenagers. I know I’ll be referring back to it for years to come.

I hosted Nicola Morgan earlier this week as part of her blog tour to celebrate the reissue of Blame My Brain. She kindly answered my questions about sleep, you can read that here

Blame my Brain is published by Walker Books. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book to review all opinions are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Beneath Outback Skies by Alissa Callen.

BeneathOutbackSkiesA captivating rural romance featuring an indomitable young woman determined to save her family farm, and the city-boy who is not all he seems…

Paige Quinn will let nothing and no one distract her from caring for her crippled father, Connor, and fighting for her remote, drought-stricken property, Banora Downs. Least of all a surprise farm-stay guest named Tait Cavanaugh, whose smooth words are as lethal as his movie-star smile.

Except Paige can’t help noticing that, for a city-boy, Tait seems unexpectedly at home on the land. And he does ask a lot of questions…

It doesn’t matter how much he helps out or how much laughter he brings into her life, she soon suspects he is harbouring a big secret – the real reason he has come to Banora Downs…

The first romance books I ever read were written by Australian author Lucy Walker so when I was contacted by Random House Australia to ask if I’d be interested in reading any of the inaugural titles from their new digital-first list Random Romance I jumped at the chance. I chose to read Beneath Outback Skies because of its outback setting, the blurb reminded me a lot of the Lucy Walker stories I’d read as a teen which were often set in the outback.

There was something very nice about reading a book set in hot sunny Australia whilst the snow was falling over the UK, though the drought conditions did make me think about how the grass is always greener! The book is set on a remote property, Banora Downs, part of a small, very rural community. I liked the sense of community within the book, whilst Banora Downs is a way out of the town its happenings are known by everyone in the town – something I can identify with a little.

The main thing you want from a romance novel is for the romantic leads to be great characters, and for you to really believe in the relationship. Beneath Outback Skies really doesn’t disappoint, whilst this book doesn’t fall into the insta-love trope that many romances use there is a definite sizzle from the first time Paige and Tait meet. I really liked the way their relationship evolved over the course of the book, it felt natural and very believable.

I was a little concerned when it became clear that part of the plot hinged on a secret that Tait was keeping from Paige, I’ve read books where this isn’t handled well – I normally end up a bit of a nervous wreck by the end of the book. I didn’t need to have worried though, it’s handled really well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it’s one of the better romances I’ve read in the last couple of years. I shall definitely be keeping an eye on the other books brought out on the Random Romance list.

Beneath Outback Skies is published by Random Romance from 1st February 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

MadScientistThe Mad Scientist’s Daughter is the heartbreaking story of the journey from childhood to adulthood, with an intriguing science fictional twist.

There’s never been anyone – or anything – quite like Finn. He looks, and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is to tutor Cat. When the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

I had no real preconceived ideas about this book when I sat down to read it. The blurb was intriguing, but I couldn’t quite imagine how the story was going to work. I always like it when this happens, mainly because when the book is good – and this one really is – then it’s a real treat to see the story unfold.

The book tells Cat’s story, it begins when she is a little girl and follows her through into adulthood. It also tells the story of Finn, a one-of-a-kind android who is brought into the family home to act as tutor to Cat. Over the years they grow and learn, and their stories become increasingly difficult to separate.

This book is one of those that is going to be impossible to categorise, it is most definitely a science fiction story, but whilst this thread runs through the book its importance ebbs and wanes – at times I found myself suddenly remembering the sci fi element because the love story of the book had almost entirely taken over my brain. The story is one of love and friendship, but it’s also one of philosophical wonderings and moral questions.

I got incredibly invested in the characters in the book, I cared a huge amount about what was going to happen to Cat and to Finn, even when I started to question what was right and wrong I was rooting for them most of all. At one point when the story seemed to be moving away from what I wanted I could hardly bear to turn the page in case something happened that I didn’t want to see, but at the same time I had to read on to make sure everything was okay.

This is the sort of book that I know I will be returning to in years to come, and I’m sure that as my life experiences shape me so my reaction to this book could change, but however this may happen I know that I will still love it and still love Cat and Finn.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is published by Angry Robot in the UK from 7th February 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman.

TinyWifeA thief charges into a bank with a loaded gun, but he does not ask for money; what he asks for, instead, is the object of greatest significance currently in the possession of each patron. The thief then leaves, and the patrons all survive, but strange things soon begin to happen to them: One survivor’s tattoo jumps off her ankle and chases her around; another wakes up to find that she’s made of candy; and Stacey Hinterland discovers that she’s shrinking, incrementally, a little every day, and nothing that her husband or son do can reverse the process.

The Tiny Wife is a fable about losing yourself in circumstances and finding yourself in the the love of another.

I think this novella is one of the most quirky things I’ve read in a long time. It’s naturally a quick read, it’s 80 pages long, but the author fits so much story into them that I found myself thinking about it long after I’d finished reading. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve absorbed it all, I think this is going to be one of those books that is a real pleasure to return to and read again and find a whole new layer each time.

The book is narrated by Stacey’s husband, he begins by telling the story of the robbery that sets off the story. He wasn’t there, he’s very clear on this, he’s simply repeating the story as he’s heard it. The robbery in itself is pretty strange – the idea of stealing items that have sentimental rather than material value makes for an interesting robbery indeed.

The ways the characters were affected after the robbery are all very imaginative, after the first couple are described I found myself wondering what would come next. Some of the end results made me feel really sad.#

I think this book is probably going to be one that polarises opinions. I can see how some people will absolutely love it and how it’ll leave other people cold. I can’t say that at the moment I fall entire either camp, I liked it but didn’t love it, but I think over time and with more thinking I’ll end up in the love camp.

The Tiny Wife is published by The Friday Project in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss.

ThornAndBlossomOne enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.

This is a quirky, unique book that wins a lot of points from the first moment you pick it up thanks to its structure. Held within a slip case the book is printed on a long continuous concertina, there are hard covers at both ends, one with an E and one with a B. If you start with the E as the front cover you read Evelyn’s story and if you start with the B you read Brendan’s story. The idea is that you get both sides of the same story, it’s up to you which you start with. The only thing I would say is that I decided to read this with the book on a table – the concertina does have a slight tendency to simply fall open if you’re not holding it carefully. This is very easily got around however and is very worth it for the loveliness of the book.

I read Evelyn’s story first, I found part of her story intriguing – she has a history of seeing other worldly beings and I was interested by the way this was treated as some sort of mental health problem. Brendan’s story is a little more straightforward though sadder, the section of the story where the two stories are not intertwined fill in the gaps for Brendan very well.

I loved the way Celtic mythology was at the very heart of this book, for me it added a whole extra layer of satisfaction. Very quickly you understand how the story is likely to unfold, I found that this pulled me deeper into the book. I liked the ending of both sides of the story and felt that it fitted well with the mythology.

The idea of telling the story from both perspectives adds some really nice touches to the reading experience. It allows you to get to know the characters really well, you get the combination of their thoughts in their side of the story and how they’re seen in the opposite side of the story. The only downside I found to the structure was that at times when I was reading Brendan’s story I found myself scanning quickly through the bits that were virtually carbon copies of the same events in Evelyn’s story.

Overall I really enjoyed the experience of reading this book, it’s a very quick read – both sides of the story are just over 40 pages long – and the novel structure is used really well to enhance the book.

The Thorn and the Blossom is published by Quirk Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [5]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by Justin Richards. BBC Books.
I was really excited when BBC Books announced this eBook tie in to the final episode of the first half of the current series of Doctor Who. TV tie in books are a real love of mine and having seen Melody Malone’s book play such a prominent part in the episode I couldn’t wait to read it. Initially I was really disappointed, this book is not the book featured in the episode but another Melody Malone Mystery. Once I’d got over that and got stuck into reading I was soon won over.

The book is a really enjoyable read, I thought Melody’s voice was captured really well which really added to the reading experience. It was good to read a story about the Weeping Angels – they’re a little less scary in prose than they are on the tv screen! I thought it was interesting that they had facets that hadn’t been explored in the tv series, I wonder whether this will be brought into the tv canon at any point. I’d love it if the BBC produced more Melody Malone books though I imagine there’s a limited number of stories they could do featuring the Weeping Angels.

Playground by 50 Cent. Quercus.
The book opens with a title page crediting both 5o Cent and Laura Moser, which pleased me to see the ghost writer clearly credited, and a foreword from 50 Cent where he talks about how the book is a semi-autobiographical account of his youth and his time as a bully. I must admit I was a bit unsure about the book when I picked it up but these things made me more interested in what was held within it.

50 Cent says that he hopes to show the various sides of a bully and I think this is achieved well by the book, from the very beginning the lead character, Butterball, comes across as an angry teenager with a challenging attitude. Over the course of the book as you get to know Butterball better you discover the other layers that he has and get to see the whole boy. Whilst this is a book with a definite moral message it avoids feeling preachy – I think this book could be a useful read for a lot of teens. I was surprised by how much I liked this book, if there are to be more YA titles from 50 Cent I will most definitely be adding them to my collection.

Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick. Faber and Faber.
I saw this book discussed on a discussion group and was intrigued by it so requested it from the local library. Whilst I’d read books that included mentions of self harm before I think this book covered the subject in more detail than any of them. It is a book that’s clearly been well researched and it’s thoughtfully written, it never glamorises or demonises self harm but instead carefully explores the subject matter and the different ways people react to it.

I found the book hard going at times because I could identify a lot with some of the pressures the lead character is facing, it definitely reminded me of some of my own year 11 experiences (though I dealt with them in a different way to the lead character). I think if this book had been around back then I’d have found it reassuring just to read that someone else was feeling similarly. This is a book I am sure I will be recommending, though with caution as the author herself advises that it may be triggering for some readers.

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A double post this week after I was away last weekend. I feel a bit bad that in two weeks I only managed to read 3 books, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time catching up on the issues of Rolling Stone I’m behind on instead.