Sunday, 10 April 2016

Back to the Future - Kindles and the Spanish Armada

The Cross of Santiago by Evie Gaughan

Two couples separated by four centuries are bound by one golden cross….

The Cross of Santiago is a historical fiction / romance novel set mainly in Galway, Ireland. It follows the stories of several characters from 2010 as well as slipping back further in time to the 16th century.
In 2010 we follow the stories of Amanda, a young women who was orphaned as a child and longs to know more about her biological family and Xavier, a Spanish man who has by chance become involved in an around the world yacht race which will finish in Galway.
After having no contact with her biological family following her parents deaths at a young age Amanda out of the blue receives contact from a law firm informing her that her aunt has died and left her a medal in her will. After experiencing flashbacks during a hypnotherapy session it becomes clear that this medal may be even more important than simply being the only remaining connection to her biological family.  
Why does she keep having dreams of drowning? What exactly is the medal and how did her aunt come to have it in her possession? Are her visions representative of her inner emotions or are they memories of a previous life? And more importantly, what does the mysterious Spaniard Xavier have to do with it all?

This was the first book that I read after buying a kindle so it was a whole new experience for me. After being wary of making the switch from real books to an e-reader I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I will keep my thoughts on the actual kindle for another day however.

I really enjoyed The Cross of Santiago. I don't normally read romance novels but this had enough going on with the historical parts and the setting of Galway to entice me in. I found that this was an easy read which kept me turning the pages. I was very glad to get into a story after a run of bad novels (See, there is a reason I have been quiet for a couple of weeks! I've had nothing good to review!). The historical parts based around the Spanish Armada seem particularly well researched and it was interesting to hear the story of the Armada crashing around the coast of Ireland. The characters all feel fleshed out and interesting enough to want to read about and the story doesn't get bogged down by too much history, there is a nice balance. If I was to have one gripe it would be that there are quite a few coincidences which help the stars to align but as somebody who mainly reads thrillers I am more than used to suspending my disbelief so I did get past that and enjoyed the story.

I would rate this as a 4 out of 5 and will get round to reading Evie's other novel soon. I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. It is currently included as part of a kindle unlimited subscription or just 99p to buy for kindle. Don't worry if you only read physical books still, The Cross of Santiago is also available as a paperback for just £7.99.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

My Top 5 Books of 2016 (So Far!)

So here we are, almost April already! It's terrifying how quickly time seems to be flying by this year! My Nan always used to tell me that it only gets quicker the older you get….I'm not going to be able to keep up if it gets much quicker!

Seeing as we are now about a quarter of the way through 2016 I thought that I would take a moment to look back at my favourite books that I have read this quarter. So far this year I have read and reviewed 14 books. 13 fiction novels and one lonely non fiction effort. There have been more 5 out of 5 rated books than I imagined I would have read by this point. Not that I am complaining! I would much rather find myself reading books that make it look like I only ever give full marks than to struggle through reading a lot of books that I am not enjoying.

If I don't feel like I can at least offer a 3 out of 5 rating then I don't review the book hence no low rated books. Trust me there have been books which have not made it to the blog this year. In fact this year I have had books I have enjoyed so little that even getting to the end of the first chapter has seemed like a monumental effort. I am currently persevering with one which has taken me over a week just to read the first 4 or 5 chapters. Other reviews seem so positive that I feel I owe it to the book to stick with it. Whether or not it makes it to the blog is yet to be determined but it's not looking likely at this point. Luckily I am reading it alongside Stephen King's 'On Writing' which I am really enjoying. If it was the only book I was reading then I am sure I would have given up by this point. I won't name any of the books that I have really disliked this year though. I can't say anything nice so it's best to not review them at all. Just because I disliked them so much doesn't mean that somebody else won't pick them up and really enjoy them. One man's trash is another man's treasure after all!

Anyway, back on track. Picking my number one favourite so far this year is easy. Patrick Gale's 'A Place Called Winter' is simply wonderful and an example of everything that I look for in a good book. The characters and the settings are so vividly imagined and the story is totally enthralling despite it's heartbreaking nature. Less than a week after reading it I ended up listening to the audio book with my other half and enjoyed it all over again. It has instantly become one of my favourites! 
You can find my full review here.
For anybody wondering, the audio book is read by the author Patrick Gale and is every bit as enjoyable as the book. Patrick Gale's delivery is enjoyable to listen to and easy to understand.

The rest of the pack is harder to sort through but I think I have managed to sort out a top 5. I have struggled to order these and I am sure depending which day you asked me on, the remaining four would be changed in their order. They would all definitely make it into the top 5 though.

In second place (Today anyway!) we have Colm Toibin's 'Nora Webster'. Whilst 'Brooklyn' is the book which now has a film adaptation and is more conventionally exciting to read I preferred Nora Webster. It's a slow exploration of depression, grief and recovering from great personal tragedy. Sounds like a real feel good romp I hear you say. Well yes and no. This one was heavy going and I'm sure it isn't for everybody but I was left with a wondrous feeling of hope at the end. 
My full review can be read here.
Renee Knight's 'Disclaimer' has staked claim to the number 3 spot and as such is the highest rated thriller on the list. This is the debut thriller which is better than a lot of authors later efforts! I can only begin to imagine how brilliant future books by Renee Knight will be, I cannot wait to read them. This is an intelligent thriller with some great twists and turns. 
My full review can be read here.
Fourth spot could so easily have been third spot, I chopped and changed quite a bit before settling on this order. 'Little Black Lies' by Sharon Bolton is another great thriller which I have given a 5 out of 5 rating. A tale of revenge set in the Falklands that I highly recommend reading if you are a fan of thrillers which keep you guessing right until the last moment. 
My full review can be read here.
Finally in fifth place we have Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Originally a Japanese novel I read the English translation and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was my first experience of reading a Murakami novel and I am looking forward to reading more of his books soon. 
My full review can be read here.
As honourable mentions I would like to quickly draw attention to Who's Afraid of the Easter Rising? (The one non fiction book I have reviewed this quarter) and to The Axeman's Jazz. Both of these were excellent books which only narrowly missed out on making the top 5. Click on the titles to be taken to my reviews of both books.

So there it is, my top 5 books that I have enjoyed reading so far in 2016. Hopefully you may have found a new book to add to your TBR pile and hopefully I will be lucky enough to read some more brilliant books as the year goes on.

How about you? What have been your favourite books that you have read so far this year?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Hen Weekend Survival Guide

In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Who can I trust if I can't even trust myself.

In a dark dark wood tells the story of a hen do gone wrong. Told from the perspective of Nora we follow her story as she travels to a house deep in the woods in Northumberland for Clare, her childhood best friend's hen party weekend. Nora is surprised when she gets an invitation to Clare's hen do as they have not spoken to each other in 10 years. However Clare's maid of honour, Flo, is adamant that Clare really wants her to attend and it would mean a lot if she was to be there. Along with another childhood friend Nina, Nora agrees to attend despite her reservations as to the motive behind her invite.
The hen party is a small weekend away with only 6 people attending. Staying in Flo's aunt's glass house in the middle of the woods, the plan is for everybody to reconnect and enjoy one last fun care free weekend before the wedding. However things soon begin to go wrong. We already know from the opening pages that Nora has ended up in hospital but how? And Why? What has happened in the woods? Who is responsible? These are the questions we are about to answer.

This reminded me of an old dinner party murder mystery. The hen party is isolated out in the woods, everyone is a suspect and everyone is also a potential victim. There are motives for so many different outcomes as we read through the hen party weekend. The twist on the old dinner party murder mystery is that in this one we don't begin with a murder victim. We don't even know what has happened or who it has happened to. All of this unravels as we read through the events that unfold throughout the weekend. There are reasons for people wanting to kill each and every one of the people on the hen. There are people throughout who you could imagine becoming unhinged and hurting people. There is talk of locals who are angry with the glass house being built in the woods. There are footprints in the snow which don't seem to belong to anyone on the hen weekend. Is Nora the only person to get hurt? Does everyone survive the weekend? Who is responsible for Nora being hospitalised? Why exactly was she invited to the hen do after not speaking to the bride to be for a decade? There is a lot of mystery surrounding the events of the weekend and this one will keep you turning the pages to find out exactly what has happened. It turns out to be one of the first thoughts I had yet there is enough misdirection and good red herrings thrown in that I wasn't at all confident in my guess and had to keep reading as quickly as possible to find out. Once I got into the story I couldn't wait to find out all the answers!

This one is a fairly quick read. I read it in one sitting, racing to the end to find out what was going on. If you enjoy the old style murder mysteries and are prepared to suspend your disbelief for a few hours then I would definitely recommend this modern take on the old 'Whodunit'. A terrific debut thriller and i will definitely be reading Ruth Ware's next effort as well. I would rate this as a 4 out of 5, a thrilling mystery and a great quick read.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Wolves, Bears & The Asylum - Dangers of Canadian Farm Life

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

He had absolutely no idea how Canadian mittens might differ from the English variety and was faintly alarmed at the prospect of a cholera belt, whatever that might be, but reading the list evoked the adventure pleasantly even before it was under way.

In the opening to Patrick Gale's 'A Place Called Winter' we are introduced to Harry Cane. We first meet him as he is being 'treated' in an asylum. This very first glimpse at the brutality of how mental illness was treated in years gone by quickly introduces us to the different attitudes of the Edwardian time period. However there are those who believe these 'treatments' are useless and that there is a more compassionate way to care for people who might be suffering. One such person comes to Harry's rescue as he removes him from the asylum and moves him to his therapeutic community in rural Canada.

We are soon taken back to Edwardian England and begin to explore Harry's early life. We follow his life from his days as a shy, stuttering bachelor living in London through to marriage and starting a family in the seaside town of Herne Bay. Life seems to be going well for Harry but soon an illicit affair forces him to leave the country and start all over again. After discovering that he can claim farm land in Canada in return for simply working the land a new adventure is beginning for Harry. But what has happened in between deciding to move to Canada and his ending up in an asylum? That is what we are to find out.

Be prepared, this one is an emotional roller-coaster! I was really taken in by the opening. I was particularly intrigued by the community which Harry had been moved to. I was actually disappointed when the story switched to Harry's earlier life in England. I will be honest, it took me a while to get into the story in England. I'm not quite sure why but it didn't seem to grab me in the way the opening had. However, the opening was so promising that I pushed through and I am so glad that I did. Eventually the story of Harry's life in England becomes enthralling and I couldn't put this one down. The story of Harry's move to Canada is wonderful. The setting is so vividly described, the characters are so real that you feel like you really know and care for them and the plot is intriguing especially as we already know where Harry will end up. There are some truly wonderful characters in this book who I could have read about for far longer, they really end up feeling like friends that you just want the best for. In stark contrast, this book also contains one of the most vile villains I have ever read about. I don't think I have ever been so bothered by a character before.

I can very easily give this a 5 out of 5 rating! I could quite happily just gush about this one so I am trying to restrain myself. From the idleness of Harry's existence in London through the hardships of farming in Canada and onto the asylum and therapeutic community, every part of the book feels authentic. It has obviously been well researched and all the different settings feel very real at all times. I really do feel like this book has something to offer everyone. It is one of the most beautiful love stories, a tale of great adventure and so much more. I would recommend this to everyone, it really is a fantastic book that I am sure the vast majority of people will find something in it that they will enjoy.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Small Town, Close Knit Community, Serious Crime Problem

Kisscut by Karin Slaughter

A sadist is preying on the vulnerable -
One by one….

This week I will be reviewing the second book of Karin Slaughter's Grant County series 'Kisscut'. Whilst I will be making sure to keep this review free of Kisscut spoilers, it will contain some spoilers about the first book in the series 'Blindsighted'. If you are yet to read 'Blindsighted' then I recommend you read that first before this review. My review of 'Blindsighted' can be found here.

So you're sure that you are fine to read this review and not have it ruin your enjoyment of this series? Let's get going then!

'Kisscut' begins a few months after the events of 'Blindsighted'. All of the main characters from 'Blindsighted' return in 'Kisscut' and we continue to follow their stories. Sara Linton and ex husband Jeffrey Tolliver are beginning to date again as they continue in their attempts to reconcile their marriage. Lena Adams' uncle Hank has moved in with her as she recovers from the ordeal she suffered at the end of 'Blindsighted'. Everybody is still reeling from the events that rocked the small Georgia town just a few months before but there is no more time to dwell in the past as tragedy is about to strike again.

The opening chapter of this book involves a dead baby which has been cut into various pieces in an attempt to flush it down the toilet of a local skating rink and the death of a teenage girl who is shot dead in the skating rink's car park. This is all just chapter one. This should give you some indication of what to expect from this book. The content is even darker and more disturbing than the first book so if you are particularly squeamish then it may be a good idea to skip this book.

There is quite a bit of repetition to begin with in this one as the author attempts to bring everyone up to speed with the events of book one. To begin with I thought this was going to be quite tedious and it began to annoy me. However almost as soon as I got annoyed by it, the recaps of book ones events ended and the events of book two started to unfold uninterrupted. My annoyance is probably just because I read these books fairly close together so I didn't need the recap. I'm sure a lot of people will find it useful and it may mean that you could read these books independently of each other. I'm not sure I would recommend this though as you will get a lot more from them by reading them as they were intended.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. As I have already stated, the content is a lot darker and more disturbing than book one. However the story is compelling and the characters are as perfectly fleshed out as they were in book one. Karin Slaughter seems to perfectly balance the development of fascinating characters which you want to read about with a well placed plot which keeps you hooked till the very end. The story of the investigation is fast paced and action packed but we also take time to enjoy following the lives of the main characters who return in each book. Lena is particularly interesting to read about as she struggles with her feelings towards the man who raped her and how these feelings affect her during the course of the investigation. Again the minor characters are just as fleshed out as the main cast and we enjoy a vivid portrayal of small town life. This whole book feels agonisingly real and the ending really adds to this feeling. I would again rate this as 5 out of 5 and I look forward to reading the next instalment of the Grant County series. I can only imagine that house prices are going to fall dramatically with each instalment! Nobody is going to want to live in a small town with such a serious crime problem!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Burning Shame Of A Giant Mouse

Today is World Book Day (Well it was when I posted this!). Happy World Book day to all of you!

I thought that I would take the opportunity today to share an embarrassing tale from my childhood with you. It takes place on World Book Day many years ago, I'm not just telling you random embarrassing tales here!

This would have been one of the first World Book Days back in the mid to late nineties. I can't remember exactly what year it was but I was still at junior school. For those of you not from the UK that equates to being aged around 6-10 years old. We were told several weeks in advance that World Book Day was coming up and as part of the day we would not have to wear normal school uniform. I don't know about you but personally I was never a fan of my school uniform (I still can't bring myself to wear navy blue to this day!) and any excuse to wear something different was fine by me. We were going to spend the day doing all kinds of activities related to books. We were going to receive a book voucher. We were going to spend the day dressed as our favourite book characters.

Hang on! We are going to be in fancy dress?!

Suddenly school uniform didn't seem so bad. I'm not a fan of fancy dress (Yes I'm fully aware I'm a miserable bastard!) and I will always look for the option which allows me to dress fairly normally. I have had this attitude towards fancy dress from a very young age. It was this very attitude which lead to me hatching my master plan to end up wearing fairly normal clothes on World Book Day.

Growing up I was a fan of Brian Jacques' Redwall series. My plan involved spending the day dressed as my favourite character from the books, Martin the warrior mouse. Now I know most of you are probably wondering how I was planning to pull off a day dressed as Martin the Mouse whilst not having to endure fancy dress. I had a plan. It was a cunning plan. A plan which my young mind could not see going wrong in any way whatsoever.

The plan as I envisaged it involved me wearing an all black tracksuit. Fairly normal clothing for a young boy. Over the top of this I would wear the cheap plastic armour that accompanied the sale of plastic swords and shields. I would paint my face like a mouse and wear a plastic helmet to match the armour. Now I realise most of you are keen to point out at this stage that I would in fact be dressed in fancy dress and with my face painted as well I would have gone to some lengths to finish the look. I totally agree. For this plan to work it needed to seem like I was eager to dress up as my favourite character. The plastic armour that was sold very cheaply was totally impractical to sit down in so there was no chance of me wearing it all day. My teacher would have no choice other than to ask me to take it off. There was also no chance of teachers wanting to leave a young boy with a sword and shield all day long. This was at a point where schools were starting to introduce health and safety guidelines. Swords and Shields, even plastic ones didn't fit in with these plans. But you still have your face painted like a mouse I hear you cry. Not to worry my friends, my cunning plan had taken this into account. One irritating itch later I would be sent to the bathroom to wash the face paints off. I was obviously having some kind of reaction to the paints and to avoid further discomfort it was best to wash them off. It was a foolproof plan. A masterpiece to have been concocted at such a young age.

And guess what...despite where you think this is going, my plan worked. I was asked to remove all of my costume, leaving me free to enjoy World Book Day dressed just as I had planned, comfortable in my black tracksuit.

The only thing my young mind had not taken into account was that every other young boy at the time was looking for a way out of being dressed embarrassingly all day. Their plans would end up leaving my plan looking like the kind of cunning we have come to expect from Blackadder's Baldrick.

I traveled to school that day with my Mother cooing in my ear about how cute I looked and how impressed she was by how into the day I was getting. My plan was going perfectly, she suspected nothing. As I got out of the car I could barely contain the grin that spread across my face. Walking the short distance to the schools gates I had an unmistakeable bounce in my step. I felt like a criminal mastermind as my plans began to unfold. That was until I reached the gates. Looking past all of the girls dressed as their favourite fairy tale characters I saw my group of friends all playing football on the playground. Not an unusual occurrence. It was how we spent all our spare time. What had made me stop dead, open mouthed, was the fact that they were all dressed in football kits. I couldn't believe it. It was so simple. There were so many footballer autobiographies out at the time. There were so many kids books about football. Why hadn't I thought of it?!

I had no other choice. I had to walk across the playground dressed as a warrior mouse. There was no hiding my painted face. The sword and shield were almost as big as me so they too were impossible to hide. Luckily for me my costume had taken so long to prepare in the morning that the bell rang almost immediately. Nobody had long enough to laugh at my predicament. All I had to do now was quickly let my teacher see my costume and get it off as quickly as possible.
Only it turned out that there was to be a special assembly that morning. An assembly where we would show the rest of the school our costumes as we walked to the front of the hall to collect our book vouchers. So there I was, surrounded by all of my friends dressed in the kits of their favourite teams. I didn't blend in. Not even slightly. The minute long presentation felt far longer. I could feel the eyes of the rest of the school on me even without turning around to see. The sweat was pouring off of me as my costume turned out to be a lot hotter than I had ever imagined it would be. The face paints weren't holding up to the tidal wave of sweat. I can only imagine how I must have looked clutching a plastic shield and sword with my cheap face paints running all over the place. At least the face paints may have gone some way to hiding my burning cheeks; Or so I hope!

So how about you? Any embarrassing book related tales to share? Or am I the only one to have spent a morning dressed as a giant mouse in the company of princesses and an eclectic mix of former premier league legends?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Depression, Train Stations & The Occasional Wet Dream

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I really should have died then, Tsukuru often told himself.
Then this world, the one in the here and now, wouldn't exist.
It was a captivating, bewitching thought.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a Japanese novel written by Haruki Murakami. Being unable to read Japanese I read the English translation by Philip Gabriel, it is this translation that my review will be based on.

The novel tells the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a single man in his mid thirties who lives and works in Tokyo. During his time at high school, Tsukuru was part of a close knit group of five friends consisting of 3 boys and 2 girls. The members of this friendship group all had names which included colours, all except colourless Tsukuru Tazaki. The five friends became inseparable and always made sure to spend as much time together as a group as possible. Even when Tsukuru left to further his education at an engineering school in Tokyo the group still remained in contact via letters and made sure to get back together whenever Tsukuru returned home. That is until one day when the other four friends told Tsukuru that they no longer wanted to be friends and he was to not contact them again. No further explanation was given and understandably Tsukuru fell into an extreme depression verging on suicidal feelings.
Tsukuru drifts through life without being able to form intimate relationships with others from this point onwards. Always feeling like anyone who gets close to him will end up abandoning him like his childhood friends. However, a promising new relationship forces him to address the events he has tried so hard to forget. His new girlfriend suggests that his old emotional baggage is preventing them from having a truly intimate relationship and tells him that if their relationship is to continue he needs to get back in contact with his former friends and find out why exactly they pushed him out of the group. 16 years later, Tsukuru is about to find out why his former friends no longer wanted him around.

This was my first time reading anything by Murakami and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. To begin with I found the writing style slightly clunky in places but I am guessing this has more to do with the fact I was reading a translation rather than being a fault of the original author. This feeling didn't last long however and I was soon absorbed in the story. This is a particularly melancholy tale, with a lot of time spent with a depressed main character. I found the portrayal of Tsukuru's depression and anxiety particularly poetic and yet frightfully realistic at the same time. I often found myself agreeing with certain descriptions of how Tsukuru was feeling, having dealt with those thoughts and emotions myself.

Whilst the reason for the group of friends ending their relationship with Tsukuru is shocking you shouldn't expect anything else too exciting from this book. This is an exploration of depression, anxiety and the effect we have on other peoples lives no matter how colorless we believe ourselves to be. Murakami keeps you turning the pages as you read on trying to discover why such a seemingly close group of friends ended in such a sudden fashion. You want to find out what has become of the other members of the group. You want to see if Tsukuru can come to terms with what has happened to him and move on. Along the way there are some strange dream sequences and tales of weird occurrences that will keep you entertained as you move towards finding out the answers to all of your questions. Whether you will get those answers is open to debate. The ending is rather abrupt and leaves things open to interpretation but I really liked the way things were left. Without spoiling the ending for anyone I don't think it would have worked any other way than how Murakami has left things.

I would rate this as a 4.5 out of 5. I was really impressed and will definitely be trying more books that Murakami has written in future. There is a quote from a Guardian review printed on the back cover which labels this book as being “Hauntingly mournful” and I'm not sure I could really express it any better than that.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Those books you don't want to read...

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

A small town.
A brutal murder.
A violent killer…

This week we are going back to look at an older crime/thriller novel. I will admit, I am about 15 years late with this one!

For years my partner has tried to get me to read Karin Slaughter's Grant County series. For some unbeknownst reason I have been reluctant to try reading any of the books. I'm not sure if it is because of some of the comparisons to other authors I have mixed opinions about, a belief that they were going to be just another forensics knowledge exhibition or perhaps just simply bad timing every other time my partner had suggested I try them but for whatever reason I had not read any of this series. Having thoroughly enjoyed 'Blindsighted', the first book of the Grant County series, I now regret not trying them a lot sooner.

Blindsighted introduces us to Sara Linton, a paediatrician and medical examiner who lives in the small town of Heartsdale, Georgia. The story hits the ground running when Sara finds Sibyl Adams brutally raped and murdered in the toilets of the local diner. Sara's ex husband, the local police chief, Jeffrey Tolliver, is called and an investigation begins. It soon becomes apparent that this is unlikely to be a one off attack and the race is on to find whoever is responsible before they attack again.

I really enjoyed this one. I'm often wary of books with medical examiners or police officers as the main characters. So often authors get bogged down with wanting to show off their knowledge of forensics or police procedures that it gets in the way of the story. Whilst I believe the author should be knowledgeable about such things, I don't feel like it should be used as a substitute for a great cast of characters and an intriguing plot. For me the technical side of solving crime should not take centre stage and leave you wanting more in terms of an actual story. Karin Slaughter has perfected this in my opinion. I never doubt for a minute that she is up to speed on forensics and police procedure. There are enough tit bits thrown in that it is obvious the author knows what they are talking about. However the story doesn't constantly grind to a halt every time a body is examined or a scene takes place in the police station. The pace is kept high throughout with only the necessities of technical information thrown into the mix.

The story is told from the third person perspective of three different characters. Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver and Lena Adams, another police officer who has a lot invested in finding the killer due to her sister Sybil being their first victim. All three characters are very interesting to read about, particularly the relationships between them all and their different motivations for finding the killer as soon as possible. There is also a supporting cast of characters who are not such major players but are still fleshed out with interesting stories to tell nonetheless. The small town community where everybody knows and seemingly trusts everybody else provides a fantastic setting for this story as people's trust begins to diminish.

A lot of criticism seems to be levelled at this book due to the graphic violence involved. This didn't really bother me that much if I am honest. Life is full of disgustingly brutal violence every single day. Turn on the news and you will see real life examples of rape and murder which is every bit as vicious as the violence involved in this book if not worse and it is really happening. With that level of violence in real life I think it would be stupid of authors to try and sugar coat things in fiction. However, if you are somebody who is really put off by violence then maybe give this one a miss.

I'm going to rate this one as a 5 out of 5 and apologise to my partner for not giving it a chance the first time she tried to get me to read it! I will definitely be reading the other books in this series soon. Karin Slaughter has created a cast of characters that you really want to read about, even those who are only briefly mentioned add something to this depiction of small town Georgia. Despite the subject matter this read very easily. A very enjoyable read which you will struggle to put down once you get into it. If like me you have managed to not read this at any point in the last 15 years, I highly recommend you give it a go now.

So how about you, which books have you irrationally been reluctant to read only to really enjoy them when you finally gave them a chance?

Monday, 22 February 2016

A Sneak Peek Of Some Future Book Reviews

It's getting towards the end of another month which can only mean one thing...Amazon book haul! You know how it goes, despite beginning your search with the best of intentions you soon have a basket filled with books you hadn't planned on buying.

This month I had convinced myself that I was going to buy some non fiction books to help research for the novel I keep trying to write. I would possibly also treat myself to one or two fiction books which I could review alongside some books I already own.
As you can see, I didn't quite keep my promise to myself. I still don't think I have done too badly, 6 books isn't the end of the world and I did still order the non fiction books in addition.

To be fair, I am pretty sure that 'On Writing' can be moved into the research pile. After all it is partly a book about writing from one of the masters, so I can forgive myself that one. Plus you can't really buy a non fiction Steven King book and not buy a fiction effort as well. It just wouldn't be right so I guess 'Mr Mercedes' was a necessary purchase as well.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a Japanese Translation. They always say that you should constantly broaden your horizons and experience other cultures. I'm fairly confident that this fits the bill so I am also confident that I can forgive myself this purchase as well.

I guess that leaves just the three books which I have splurged on. They were on offer though. 3 books for £10 is a great deal, you can't pass that up! So really I had to buy them. I simply had no choice I'm afraid.

All in all that means I have bought 6 totally necessary books. I'm really proud of myself for managing to buy only books that I really needed this month.
How about you? Have you behaved yourself and shown such restraint when book shopping this month?

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising? 1916 – 2016 by James Heartfield & Kevin Rooney

From what we know there is little doubt that the leaders knew that they would lose, and most likely die – Connolly said so, and Pearse said that there would have to be a blood sacrifice for Ireland. This is a way of thinking that is pretty alien to today's postmodern bourgeois liberal for whom there is no cause worth dying for.

This week I will be reviewing a non fiction book...please don't run away! It's a fantastic read, I promise! 

A quick disclaimer – Kevin Rooney was my Politics teacher when I was taking my A levels almost 10 years ago and was probably the best teacher I ever had. At a time when I no longer wanted to be at school and was only taking A levels because it was expected of me due to my perceived academic ability he managed to motivate me and keep me working hard. Something which no other teacher managed during that time period. That said, this has had limited influence on my review. I did not get a free copy and I am not reviewing this as a favour. In fact I haven't seen or spoken with my old politics teacher in the decade since I left school, he probably wouldn't even remember me now. Whilst I guess it is impossible to be entirely objective when reading a book by somebody you have known, I have tried my hardest to keep this review fair and unbiased.

'Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?' looks to discuss the 100 years which have passed since Irish revolutionaries proclaimed a republic from the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. The authors take aim at the Irish governments reluctant efforts to mark the centenary and their decision to not acknowledge it with it's own celebrations, instead banding it in with several other notable centenary celebrations. The book looks back at the events surrounding the 1916 uprising and the shock waves that were felt around the world in it's aftermath. Discussing the influence that this act of rebellion had at various pivotal moments in recent history, the authors explore the changing attitudes towards the Easter rising over the last century. From an inspiring event which helped to begin further rebellions across the world to a potential source of embarrassment and shame for the current regime. The significance of the rebellion is explored, with a lot of time spent discussing how it helped to end the first world war and to spark revolutions in countries such as Russia and India. It also looks at what influence it may have had in the troubles which have plagued Ireland for many years and explores the different ways revisionists have chosen to rewrite the history surrounding the events of 1916.

The authors never attempt to hide their own political leanings at any point during this book and yet they still attempt to provide a balanced and reasoned argument throughout. This is by no means a propaganda piece or an attempt to persuade you to a particular way of thinking. This is a meticulously researched piece which looks at how various parties have twisted the events of 1916 to further their own agendas. Whilst the authors opinions are scattered throughout, they are always backed up with evidence to support whatever point is being made. This is not just an opinion piece, ignoring facts or misappropriating them to fit with the authors on viewpoints.

I found it to be an absorbing read. The idea that the Easter Rising was the first step towards the ending of WW1 and the catalyst for revolutions in Russia and India made for a very interesting read. I was unaware of how much the people of India looked to Ireland for inspiration during their own fight for independence from the British empire. The discussion of the British empire and it's treatment of it's colonies as well as its own people makes this a must read for me personally. Despite being written about the Easter Rising of 1916 the authors have managed to make this book relevant to so much more. There are a lot of parallels between the ideas being discussed from a historical perspective and the world we live in today. Some of these are pointed out, such as the way in which Britain deceived Germany in the lead up to the great war and the way in which America copied this with how they dealt with Saddam Hussein. Other parallels are obvious to the reader but not addressed specifically in terms of recent examples by the authors, such as the use of patriotism and xenophobia as a means to distract people from their own social inequalities. These parallels make the book so relevant in the current political climate and it is alarming at how readily we are heading towards repeating historical mistakes which we should have already learnt from. Perhaps if we all read a little bit more than it would not be so easy for these issues to keep arising. As they say, knowledge is power.

So that being said, I am going to rate this as a 5 out of 5 and highly recommend that you read it!

Mr Rooney, If you have ended up reading this review somehow, thank you for being such an inspiring teacher and I apologise for not being the best student I could have been at the time. Hopefully you get round to writing some more books soon!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Voodoo, Murder & Louis Armstrong

The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

New Orleans, 1919.
As Music Fills The City,
A Serial Killer Strikes…

The Axeman's Jazz is based on the real life mystery of the New Orleans based serial killer known as the axeman. Between 1918 and 1919 the axeman of New Orleans killed 6 people. To this day, the person responsible for the killings remains unknown. There are numerous suspects and historians have theorised several possible explanations for the unsolved case and yet it remains just that, an unsolved case.

The story is told from multiple different third person perspectives. The three main perspectives which are told throughout are those of Michael Talbot, Luca d'Andrea and Ida Davis & Louis Armstrong.
Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot is in charge of the official investigation regarding the axeman killings. He is a hard working police officer who is disliked by the majority of his fellow officers due to his involvement in putting his corrupt mentor behind bars.
Luca d'Andrea is a former detective who has recently been released after serving 6 years in Angola. He had been an officer for many years but was imprisoned after his protégée Michael exposed his links to the New Orleans Mafia. He has been asked by the head of the New Orleans Mafia to investigate the axeman killings and to kill the person responsible before the police find them.
Ida Davis is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency with a penchant for Sherlock Holmes mysteries. With a hunch about the axeman killings Ida talks her friend Louis Armstrong into helping her with a real life investigation as they attempt to find out the truth behind the killings. And yes, it is that Louis Armstrong.

This is a brilliant book from start to finish. Every perspective is equally intriguing and the pacing keeps tension high throughout. I like the idea of all the perspectives being from different cultures, allowing them to find clues and explore areas that other characters can't enter due to the racial tensions of the time. It also adds to the tension and feeling of real danger when some characters do choose to cross over to the wrong side of town.
Things don't move quite as quickly as some other thrillers; there is plenty of time spent exploring post WW1 Louisiana, from the seedy brothels of Storyville to the remoteness of the shacks built in the bayou. The impact of the war and prohibition of both alcohol and prostitution are explored as are the racial tensions which arose from so many different cultures living in such close proximity and yet the story never feels like it is spinning it's wheels. Every description helps to set the scene and exploration of the history surrounding this time period helps to further the story, there is no filler for the sake of bulking things out.

This is a historical fiction. I want to highlight the fact that it is a work of fiction as it would appear from some reviews that this seems to have passed some people by. It is obvious that the author has done his research but the cold hard facts are not strictly stuck to. I have no issue with this, I read fiction primarily to be entertained. The facts which are contained in this novel are an interesting bonus but if I wanted to know simple truths I would be reading non fiction efforts about the time period instead. I have seen one review label this as a one star rating because the historical references are not 100% accurate. I found it baffling that somebody would take such issue with a work of fiction not being totally factual. Their main issue seemed to lie with the fact that the hurricane in 1919 hit New Orleans in September and not at the same time as the axeman killings were happening. Have we recalled all creative licenses from authors who base their works of fiction on real events? Talking of facts, the fact that famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong is playing detective in this one should have given it away that not everything contained in the pages of this book would be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Obviously as well as stretching the truth to create more excitement, this book also provides the authors take on who could have been responsible for the killings. Nobody was ever caught in real life so again the revelations in this book are a work of fiction based largely on fictional characters. I found the story compelling and I am extremely happy to hear that the author is working on a follow up novel which will contain some of the characters which have been introduced during this book. These are characters you will fall in love with and want to keep reading about. The dialogue is not authentic to the time or region yet I feel this is to the books benefit. An entire book filled with southern dialect of the time period would make for tougher reading and a lot of time would be spent by readers not from the region attempting to figure out what characters were trying to say. An accent is alluded to in the way some characters speak but dialogue is still kept accessible for all readers.

It feels like I have spent this whole review trying to address the issues that keep popping up in negative reviews and that i'm possibly trying to talk up a poor book. This is far from the case. In fact I would give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Despite peoples issues with authentic dialogue and historical accuracy this book did everything I expected of it; It entertained me from beginning to end. I loved the descriptions of the setting, I enjoyed the factual tit bits that it offered (despite some inaccuracies there are also a lot of true aspects), I loved the characters and I was gripped by the story right through to the final sentences! After my disappointment with 'I Let You Go' I was extremely happy to find this one lived up to my high expectations.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Death, Grief, Guilt & The Beautiful Welsh Coast

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

A tragic accident.
It all happened so quickly.
She couldn't have prevented it.
Could she?

'I let you go' begins in the aftermath of a hit and run which leaves 5 year old Jacob dead in the road outside of his single mother's house. To begin with the story is told from two different perspectives; a third person perspective of detective inspector Ray Stevens who is in charge of the hit and run investigation and a first person perspective of Jenna Gray who in the aftermath of the accident has moved to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, eager for a fresh start.

This is going to be one of the most frustrating reviews I have written, and is about one of the most frustrating books that I have ever read. It is going to be extremely difficult to talk about this one without giving away any spoilers due to the story being told in two parts with various big reveals throughout. Even the first few chapters are filled with potential spoilers for those guessing the twists which lay ahead so I will refrain from discussing any specific plot details. I apologise in advance for the vagueness that may lie ahead in this review, I just really don't wish to spoil anything if you decide to give this one a go.

I will be honest, I REALLY didn't like the first half of this book. If it wasn't for the fact that I was planning to write this review I probably would have given up at the predictable reveal which ends part one. Within the first couple of chapters I turned to my better half and described to her exactly where I thought the story was going. I was totally right, in fact I managed to guess the majority of the story from fairly early on and only one detail was missing from my description. Now as I have said previously, I don't really mind guessing the outcome of a story early on if it still manages to entertain me; Unfortunately, part one of this book did anything but entertain me.

I found the characters fairly clichéd. I especially disliked reading the perspective of the police who all seemed very boring two dimensional characters. Every twist could be seen coming from a mile away and I just found it a real slog to get through. I was massively disappointed. This book had been highly recommended and I was really looking forward to it. Perhaps if I hadn't been looking for a potential twist I might not have worked things out so quickly and this may have seemed more exciting and less predictable for me. I guess that is the danger of printing rave reviews over a book cover proclaiming that I was about to read a story with 'an astonishing twist'. When part one came to an end in exactly the way I was expecting I just rolled my eyes, put the book down for the night and contemplated whether or not to even bother reading the second part. I'm glad that I did.

Part two is far closer to the book I was hoping to read. The predictably clichéd characters from part one suddenly got that bit more interesting. The plot started to pick up and began to hold my interest. A new character is introduced and their perspective is a big part of why the second half of this book becomes so compelling. If this review was based off of just part two of this book it would be getting a wonderful write up. I'm aware that stories need to be set up in the beginnings of books, characters need to be introduced and things will usually be less frantic so that the home straight seems that bit more exciting. That said, if I had given up half way through as I was considering then I would never have got to the good stuff. 
In the interest of being fair I will state that my lack of enjoyment from the first half of this book could just be because I saw things coming from so early on. Perhaps my mind works in a similar way to the author and despite their best efforts to shield the truth from the reader I just saw through the red herrings easily and that is why I found it predictable and unenjoyable. There is every chance that you could pick this one up tomorrow and not spot what is coming and be blown away when the reveals happen. My recommendation would be to not think too much, don't try to figure things out, just keep reading and enjoy the reveals when they happen.

I think it would be fairer for me to rate both halves of this book separately. I would give the first part a 2 out of 5, possibly a 3 at a stretch. Having guessed the outcome (and being so sure that I was right) I couldn't buy into the red herrings and the reveals came as no big surprise. With so much being shielded in this first part the characters come across as very simple and fairly clichéd. However as I said there is a real possibility that without guessing the twist, they may seem more interesting to you. The plot may still take you by surprise. Unfortunately, I cannot go back in time and read part one again without trying to work out the twists to see if it makes a difference to the overall enjoyment of this part of the book. I hope if you decide to give this one a go you can put your amateur sleuth skills to bed early and read without trying to guess what is coming.

As for part two, I would rate it as a solid 4 out of 5. The pace picks up considerably, the characters, new and old, are far more interesting and the plot does hold some good twists towards the end. Overall this one was not as good as I had hoped, but even more frustratingly part two showed all the signs of being brilliant, it's a real shame that part one detracted so much from my overall enjoyment. Part two was good enough that I will be keeping a look out for any future novels from Clare Mackintosh as I really think there will be some great books to come. As début novels go this is still a very good starting point and I hope the next book will be as good throughout as the second half of this was. I think we all have those books that are hyped up for a long time and fail to meet our unrealistically lofty expectations, unfortunately this was one of mine.

Monday, 1 February 2016

My Serial Killer Co-Worker & Other Imagined Tales

So you have a dream of becoming a writer?

You've treated yourself to a shiny new laptop, a new coffee machine and set up new social media accounts to promote your work via. You are feeling great as you turn on the laptop that is soon to be used to write your masterpiece. You have the perfect playlist of music lined up to help motivate you, the view offered by the window in your newly created writing space is inspiring and you are eager to get started.

You open up your computer’s word processor and are presented with a wonderful blank canvas upon which you will paint YOUR story. That story that has been bursting to get out of you for what seems like an eternity.
Except now you can't quite remember what your story was going to be about. The blank page before you now seems to taunt you as you desperately try to come up with something interesting to write about. It soon dawns on you that your life isn't actually that exciting and you can't seem to draw inspiration from anywhere to help start writing something that might just turn into a best seller.

The longer you stare at the screen, thinking back through every aspect of your life for something interesting to write about, the worse your mental block seems to become. Exasperated by your efforts you slam your laptop shut with a satisfying thud and retreat to the kitchen to make yourself a coffee, only to find that you have no sugar!

Throwing on a baseball cap to cover your bad hair day and pulling on a coat to help you brave the cold weather, you make your way to the shop a few minutes walk away from your house. Catching sight of your reflection in a store window you realise that you are far from looking your best and begin to feel self conscious, believing that everybody is staring at you, perhaps you should have taken the time to make yourself more presentable. 

Upon entering the shop you realise that the shelves are very poorly stocked, with next to nothing available and seemingly no staff working to improve things. After waiting by the counter for a minute or two the shops owner comes out from the back and asks if they can help you. After a few minutes of sorting through the delivery which has just come in the owner triumphantly returns with a bag of sugar for you, you pay and are back on your merry way after exchanging the usual pleasantries on your way out. 

The sky above you has taken a turn for the worse and the dark clouds swirling above you seem to be moving worryingly quickly. The first droplets of rain fall on your face as you are watching the clouds. Cursing your luck you begin to hurry home. 

As you round the corner onto your street you notice a car stopped next to your house. It isn't parked and you can't see through the tinted windows to see who is driving. Being alone you feel uneasy and wonder who is inside and what they are doing sitting in such a car outside of your house. As you get closer the passenger door opens and out jumps a child dressed in the uniform for the school just down the road. You breathe a sigh of relief and feel slightly foolish for having worried. After all, who else would it have been?

At this point you may have resigned yourself to the idea of putting writing on hold until something exciting happens that you can use as inspiration for your novel. But wait! What if you had just encountered some great starting points on your walk to the shops? Nothing exciting happened, you say, I just bought some sugar from the local shop. Wrong!

What if at the point when you believed that everybody was staring at you they really were? What if it wasn't just your anxiety born of being out looking less than your best? Perhaps you are somebody of note and people recognise you. Perhaps you don't even realise you are this person. If that is the case why don't you realise who you are? Why is it that people seem to know who you are? Think Sterling Archer believing that he is actually Bob from Bob's Burgers rather than one of the worlds most infamous secret agents. Yes, Archer & Bob's Burger references...somebody call Kenny Loggins!

What if the shop wasn't poorly stocked and understaffed because it was time for that weeks delivery? What if you had stumbled into a post apocalyptic nightmare and supplies were beginning to run out? What has happened to lead to this point? How have you managed to survive this long? How are you going to help get the world back to the place it was before whatever disaster has taken place happened?

The dark clouds were swirling quickly because of strong winds and a storm was about to begin, right? Wrong! The god's in your alternate reality are pissed off and coming down to earth. Or perhaps an alien spacecraft is creating the strange phenomenon. It really could be anything!

What about that car with tinted windows that was sitting ominously outside of your house? That was just a child being dropped off to school late wasn't it? Perhaps in the real world it was but imagine if it was actually an unmarked police car waiting to arrest you for something that you have done. Perhaps it is your former friends from a life of crime you used to be a part of who have finally caught up with you. What if it was somebody waiting to snatch you off the streets and hold you prisoner in an abandoned warehouse?

I'm sure you get the idea now. We all believe that nothing exciting really happens to us, and in reality that is true for most of us but that doesn't stop our imaginations from going wild. Look around you every time that you are out and about, you never know what story might be unfolding. 
That person tailgating you may really be trying to run you off the road. That person who you locked eyes with for the briefest of moments before your trains went their separate ways really could have been the love of your life, your one true chance of happiness. The co worker you always feel uneasy around may really be living a double life, perhaps they are in fact a serial killer yet to be caught. Your neighbour who you haven't seen for a week or two; are they on holiday or has something more sinister happened? Who knows? Let your imagination run wild. Don't wait for something exciting to happen to you. Use every mundane detail of your real life as inspiration for something far more exciting.

Go out and make the ordinary...extraordinary!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Sealions, Penguins & Whales! Oh My!

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

I’ve been wondering if I have what it takes to kill. Whether I can look a living creature in the eye and take the one irreversible action that ends a life. Asked and answered, I suppose. I have no difficulty in killing. I’m actually rather good at it. 

We were inseparable until the day she killed my sons. Little Black Lies is Sharon Bolton’s first standalone novel since ‘Blood Harvest’. Set in the Falkland Islands 12 years after the end of the war, this suspense filled tale is told by three different characters over the course of just 6 days. Part one is told by Catrin, a mother whose two young sons died in a tragic accident three years earlier whilst being cared for by her best friend Rachel. Part two tells the story from the perspective of Callum, a former British soldier who now lives on the Island and finally part three is told by Rachel.

In the early chapters of this book Catrin lets us in on her plans for revenge. Three years after the tragic deaths of her sons she is still haunted by them, believing she sees them in her home, hears their voices and feels them still wanting to play games with her. Since their deaths she has lost everything. Her husband has divorced her and started a new family after she lost the baby she was carrying at the time of her sons deaths. She has lost her best friend, holding her personally responsible for her sons deaths and to make things worse she has had to watch as Rachel is able to carry on her life, continuing to raise her own three sons.
Catrin wants revenge. She wants Rachel to pay and is hatching a plan to coincide with the impending eclipse that will make sure she gets exactly what Catrin believes she deserves.

I honestly cannot say enough good things about this one. Right from the beginning I was totally hooked. The setting of the Falkland Islands was a very welcome change to the norm. The Falklands are not somewhere I have ever travelled or particularly know very much about. However having read this I would definitely be interested to visit. Sharon Bolton has painted a beautifully realistic image of the Islands and I had no problem in imaging the places described. I’ve seen a couple of people complaining that there is too much description of the setting. I can’t agree with these criticisms as I really believe that the setting adds to a lot of the tension in the story. The isolation, the dangerous terrain, the close knit community where everybody seems to know everyone, along with the visitors to the islands so unused to the ways of the locals all add to the story in one way or another and definitely add to the atmosphere the author is trying to create.

 I loved the characters despite their obvious shortcomings. There are a wide range of things explored with the various characters; revenge, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, forgiveness and human nature in extreme situations. I enjoyed the pacing, despite taking time to explore the landscape and a few mentions of the history surrounding the islands and the war fought there, I never felt like the story dragged. Even with the story being told from different perspectives the narrative never slows down to unnecessarily repeat events from various points of view. The different characters fill in the gaps throughout the beginning of the story, all telling their own tales before they all come together for a riveting ending. This book has so many twists and turns and they are all plausible outcomes throughout, none of them are thrown in without being a real possibility. This one really keeps you guessing what’s going to happen right through until the very end. In fact come the end of the book not every question has been fully answered and honestly I really like that. There are enough hints to lead you to some conclusions but not any concrete answers for some questions.

After Renee Knight’s ‘Disclaimer’ I truly believed it would be a long time before I could rate a thriller as a 5 out of 5 again. It was such a fantastic book that I didn’t imagine finding anything quite as good anytime soon. Fortunately I was wrong. This is 100% a 5 out of 5 book and I might even go as far as to say that I preferred it. I really can’t say enough good things about this one and would highly recommend you read it as your next thriller!