Tuesday 30 April 2013

Stuart Ayris

This is the third book in Stuart's much acclaimed FRUGALITY trilogy.  It's strange, it's personal; above all, it's wonderful.

I woke up this morning (FRUGALITY: Book 3)

Amazon .com I woke up this morning (FRUGALITY: Book 3)

My review - 

This third book in the Frugality series asks the question "What is real and what is not real?" It's a good question! Rod, the midget from Book 2, and his group of friends, decide to try to find Simon Anthony, the subject of Tollesbury Time Forever. Stuart Ayris, the author of the book, is also seeking him, accompanied by his long-suffering wife. A number of little facts from earlier books fall into place as the story unfolds. It's a strange and compelling journey we take, following a man whose life was changed so many years ago by another man's decision that he'd had enough.

There's a lot of humour in this book but a sad poignancy too. It is certainly multi-dimensional. You will no doubt have read the first two books in the Frugality Trilogy if you are considering embarking upon this one. You will know what to expect from Stu's writing and you won't be disappointed. What I love about his work is the playful use of language. Anyone can invent a word - it often happens in the fantasy genre - but Stuart uses and twists existing words to draw a little more meaning from them. This is creativity and I love it!

Monday 29 April 2013

A bit of a natter (2)

Here's another interview with me - this time from Marianne Wheelaghan - a talented author whose work has appeared on this blog!

You are an Amazon top 500 reviewer, for those who don't know what that means, can you explain?

Amazon encourages reviews of all their products, not just books.  When I bought my kindle I began to read lots of books by self-published authors – often called ‘indies’.  I noticed that people left reviews and I often consulted these, as well as the product description, when I was choosing a book to read.  After a while, I felt I might as well leave reviews of my own – my opinions were just as valid!  Reviewers are given a ranking which depends not on how many reviews they have left, but on how helpful those reviews have been.  When a potential reader clicks the button to say a review has been (or hasn’t been) helpful, it affects the review’s ranking.  So Top 500 means amongst the 500 most helpful reviewers.

When did you write your first book review?

I had to go and check!  July 2011.

What makes a good read for you?

I like a book to draw me in – both to the story and to the characters.  I like it to be believable – on its own level.  For example, I’m fond of the fantasy genre but I allow myself to believe in the magic, the creatures, the other world or whatever it is – as long as it’s true to itself and its own rules.  I really like to care about the people in the story.  I don’t have to like everyone and sometimes books that I’ve really loved have shown me a flawed character that I’ve grown to care about.  I love it when there are several sub-plots too and they interweave.  I’m in awe of authors who can do this, and have everything arrive at the right place at the end of the book!

What would put you off reviewing a book and/or giving it a negative review?

I generally choose books I think I’ll like so I don’t give too many negative reviews.  However, you don’t do the author any favours by being bland about it.  If there’s a problem with the story, the grammar, the characters or – I really don’t like wooden dialogue! – then I have to say so.  Nothing puts me off giving a less than favourable review but I don’t enjoy doing it.  However, I have had authors contact me afterwards to thank me for them, and say they’ve had a book edited, for example.  The result can be a better book – and we all win. 

How do you chose which books to review and do you have a favourite genre?

I choose books I like the sound of.  I love fantasy, thrillers, some crime novels, horror, some that are simply a bit quirky and appeal to me.  I rarely fancy chick-lit and I think humour is difficult – it’s so subjective.  When I know a writer has tickled my funny-bone in the past I’ll buy the next book but I often feel dismayed when the blurb says, ‘side splittingly funny’.  That’s for me to decide, not the author to tell me!  I choose my books from reader and author forums, taking the blurb and the reviews into account.  I also take notice of fellow readers’ recommendations, especially those who I know have enjoyed the same books I have in the past.
I see myself as a reader who reviews, though, rather than a reviewer.  There are forums which have sections where authors can offer free copies of books in exchange for a review.  I’ve never gone down that route.  I feel it makes me more impartial that I choose what I read. 

How long does it take you to read a book?

I’m retired so I have more time to read than I used to have.  I generally finish a book within 3 or 4 days but it can depend on other factors – like if we have visitors or there’s a lot to be done on the allotment!

What qualities does a good book reviewer need?

You need to read analytically I feel.  Reviewing has made me pay more attention and if I find I’ve been drifting (not always a bad book, sometimes just a tired reader!) I’ll go back over a page or two.  You also have to be impartial.  Sometimes an author comes over as a lovely person but if the story, the writing the grammar and punctuation are poor, as can happen with self-published work, it can spoil the experience and you have to be fair to everyone.  I also try to go out into the big world of Amazon and try new authors.  It’s easy to get stuck in your cosy world of ‘authors I love’. 

How many books have you reviewed in total?

I think it’s coming up to 260 at the moment.

What is the best thing about being a reviewer?

Oh what a hard question!  I like to do it because it gives an aim and purpose to my reading other than simple enjoyment.  I like to feel that if I’ve enjoyed a book I can help to point other readers to it – to share the enjoyment.  Posting a review somewhere also help me to remember the details of a book which particularly drew me (or put me off) so that if I’m asked by friends to recommend something I can go back and look at my reviews and choose.

What is worst thing about being a reviewer?

Upsetting an author is horrid.  It must be nasty to read a bad review of your book.  However, I can’t see any point in not being honest.  Apart from anything else, it devalues the good reviews.
It’s also not pleasant to be attacked for having favourite authors.  It happens.  It’s weird.  I have favourite foods so why not favourite authors?  I would hope that my reviews would explain what I like about their work but there’s always someone who will have a downer on you for it.

There appears to be no money to be had from reviewing books, if this is the case, why do you do it?

I imagine someone, somewhere, is making money from it, but I do it because I enjoy it.  I actually feel if I got paid for reviews it would be harder to be impartial.  Anyway, I do a lot of other things without being paid!  I’m one of life’s natural amateurs!

What advice would you give to an aspiring book reviewer starting out?

Ask yourself a few questions before you write your first review.  Obviously, did I enjoy the book?  Why?  Did I like the story?  Did I like the characters, or at least, feel they were believable?  Do I feel the author’s passion for the subject?  (I can’t enjoy a lukewarm book!)  Did I like the writing style – this is rather subjective.  Personally I love creative phrases.  I like someone to tell me something in an unusual fashion, so it throws a new light on it or makes me see it in a different way.  Other readers may well feel this is superfluous prose and should be chopped out.  If I say I like this aspect of the book, then the potential readers can decide if it’s a pro or a con for them.  People often say that a review is just one person’s opinion.  It’s not much of an opinion to say ‘This book is brilliant,’ or ‘This book is rubbish’.  Always give reasons.  And of course – choose your books wisely!

Oops, nearly forgot … Can you see a time when Amazon Top Reviewers (and other reviewers like the top 500) will remove completely the need for the paid literary/newspaper book critic?

Not really.  I think they are used by different people.  I rarely choose a book based on a newspaper review.  Most of the books I read are by indie authors anyway, and the newspaper reviewers don’t bother with them.  They are missing some belters!

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Ray Kingfisher

I've read another of Ray's books and enjoyed it - this is another cracker.  Poignant and funny at the same time.

Matchbox Memories

Amazon.com  Matchbox Memories

My review - 

The narrator of this story, Ian Greefe, is called back from his home in London to the family home in Cumbria where he grew up.  His mum Ruth, who adopted him and his sister and brother, is suffering from Alzheimers and her husband Harry has been taken into hospital for an operation and can’t look after her.  Ian is called upon to take his turn as carer.  He has to deal with his sister’s acerbic nagging and his brother’s strange and uncharacteristic behaviour, as well as Ruth’s growing eccentricities.

This is a lovely book to read.  The author’s writing style is clear, easy to read and sharply funny.  There are secrets abounding in this family, some more serious than others.  Ian grows to feel he can call them Mum and Dad for the first time.  The growing relationship with Ruth, as she goes off at tangents or forgets where she’s going, where Harry is, what shoes she should have on, is told with warmth and real feeling.  Ian is able to share his own family’s secrets while his sister and brother also ‘come clean’ about their lives.  What more can I say?  I enjoyed this book enormously.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Katie W Stewart

This is the sequel to the wonderful Treespeaker.  It's thoughtful imaginative and gripping enough for any age.

Song of the Jikhoshi

Amazon.com Song of the Jikhoshi

My review - 

This book follows Treespeaker, but with a lapse of 12 years.  Jakan, erstwhile Treespeaker for his tribe (the one who is in contact with the spirit of the forest) is now the chief elder.  His adopted son, Zanarr, is displaying frightening talents.  He is a sorcerer and the members of the tribe are afraid of him.  His foster father trusts him and tries to teach him to use his powers wisely.  Zanarr feels inadequate to the tasks he is burdened with (as do we all!) and only wants to be liked by his peers and accepted by his people.  There’s great Evil abroad in the forest, following an earthquake, and Jakan, in his attempt to follow the good path, is in danger of losing both his sons.  This is the age old story of good and evil, played out largely in the home of a forest dwelling, peaceful tribe.

This story has great depths, dealing as it does with feelings of inadequacy, fear of letting down those we love, fear of harming others with our strengths or abilities.  Katie Stewart’s writing is always clear, uncluttered but remarkably evocative and descriptive.  Her forest is there before me, her characters feel like people I know.  She’s got a great talent – and she designs her own covers too!  Excellent!

Monday 22 April 2013

Steven Hobbs

Steven is a new author who has written a really intriguing story with both past and present elements in there.  I really got into this book.

Stone Ties

Amazon.com Stone Ties

My review - 

This is a story which links the 18th Century and the present day through the love of stone. Simeon is a consultant and researcher who is fascinated by the work of an historic sculptor he knows only as The Northern Master. Flora is a lively, talented and enigmatic sculptor whose work he buys. They meet and the monogram of MJ and the initials JD turn up in various places adding mystery and intrigue to the plot.

There are two deftly handled time frames here, both the present day narrative and the story of those working in the 18th Century at the Cathedral in Worcester. We meet those producing sculpture for monuments as well as those carving to renew the fabric of the building. Simeon is determined to find the name of the sculptor whose work he has so admired. The story is exciting as it reaches a climax both now and in the past. It’s a thrilling and unusual story, beautifully written and very engaging in its subject matter. There’s a short author note at the end so that we can see where some of the inspiration came from. However, I wouldn’t underestimate the role of the author’s imagination. This is a great bit of storytelling.

Lisa Hinsley

This is a true account of Lisa's experiences when diagnosed with bowel cancer.  It's frank and very down to earth. I've enjoyed some of her fiction and hope people will read this and appreciate her bravery and her hearty attitude to life.

Coping? (Part 1)

Amazon .com  Coping? (Part 1)

My review -

This is a true life account of Lisa Hinsley's recent diagnosis of bowel cancer. I've read and enjoyed a number of Lisa's fiction books and knew she had this diagnosis and was determined to keep a diary of her experiences. It's not a long book and is intended as a Part 1. She details her treatment to date and the prognosis. Her cancer has also affected her liver and there are plans for a further operation to address this. 

Lisa is a strong young woman of 40 with a very supportive family. Her chances, compared to the usual bowel cancer patient of older years, are bound to be better. We can follow her own feelings on the matter in this really down-to-earth account. I found it completely gripping and was with her all the way. I still am, and hope for her full recovery.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Nigel Bird

I've read a few of Nigel's short stories and novellas.  He's got a great style and a good imagination.

The Rocks Below

Amazon. com The Rocks Below

My review - 

This novella tells the story of the aftermath of a massive storm off the East coast of Scotland.  As people are clearing up the devastation, strange things happen.  People and animals go missing.  Amongst the debris strewn across the beaches, there are some huge boulders, which a local geology lecturer decides to analyse.

This story is a compelling read.  It’s told from a number of viewpoints as we accompany various local people in the days after the storm.  The characters have some life, which often doesn’t happen in a shorter work.  The hapless geologist, unsure of herself as a person, as well as professionally, dreams of a Nobel prize.  The retired policeman is a real salt of the earth chap – the kind you’d like as a neighbour.  There have been local protests about ‘fracking’ – a process used to fracture rocks to extract fuels – and there are concerns from members of that group.  There’s altogether a lot to think about in a short book.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Ali Cooper

Before my reviewing days I read and enjoyed Ali Cooper's books, The Girl on the Swing and The Cave.  When I saw she had a Young Adult story - first in a trilogy - newly available, I knew I had to read it.

The Cat and the Cathedral

Amazon.com  The Cat and the Cathedral

My review - 

This story, the first part of a trilogy for Young Adults, is nevertheless a great read for older adults too. I have always read YA fiction as the impatience of the young demands that the story-teller should get on with it! Here the action begins straight away. Four young friends follow a cat into some underground tunnels and find themselves witnesses to a strange, probably secret, ceremony in their local Cathedral. The story unfolds from here and the youngsters find it difficult to know who to trust.

Ali Cooper's writing is clear and elegant. She sets a scene well and we feel the intrigue, the fear, the suspicion in the youngsters' minds as adults react in ways they wouldn't have expected. I found the climax rather portentous. I feel more is coming and it looms! I shall look forward to following this story through the next episode.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Seb Kirby

This is Seb's second James Blake story.  If, like me, you're a sucker for a thriller with added conspiracy theory, you'll enjoy it a great deal.  It's a sequel to Take No More, his first novel.

Regret No More

Amazon.com   Regret No More

My review - 

As the title suggests, this continues the story of James and Julia Blake, first encountered in Take No More. Once again, it concerns dark deeds in the world of art and people supported by drug money. Julia is seven months pregnant when their safe hideaway under the Witness Protection programme is compromised. The author catches the fears a woman has for her unborn child - if Julia is killed, two lives are lost. The Blakes flee and go into hiding and James' brother Miles, who Julia blames for her situation in Italy, comes in to help. She doesn't know if she can trust him. The Lando family are out to eliminate anyone who knows of their latest money making scam and someone's let the cat out of the bag, incriminating several big names.

This is a tense and exciting thriller with settings in London and across the Atlantic. James and Julia are out of contact and each doesn't know if the other is safe or even alive. We meet ruthless hit-men, members of different law enforcement agencies; often we can't tell the good from the bad. There's a heart-stopping chase and a massive explosion and a body in a London hotel. If you enjoyed Take No More you really have to read this one!

Friday 5 April 2013

Alex Roddie

Another new author to me and I found some of his descriptive writing quite sparky.  He's good at characters too, even in a short story like this one.

Crowley's Rival

Amazon .com  Crowley's Rival

My review -

This is my first venture into the world of Alex Roddie; a world of historical mountaineering adventures. I feel precarious here. I wear flat shoes and I occasionally fall off kerb edges! However, I soon discovered when reading this short story, that there is much more to his writing than the mechanics and techniques of mountain climbing. This story - a precursor to a full length novel, gives us a meeting between two great mountain climbers who immediately struck up an antipathy. Each was egotistical and cocky about his prowess and each was sure he was the best.

The characters, within the limits of a short story, were well developed. I can see why they disliked one another. I wouldn't have taken to either! Their enmity was strong enough to put other lives in danger. Apart from the interpersonal relationships we see here, there's a great deal to be admired in the writing. It's never less than competent and in places, it glows. It's easy to be swept up in Alex Roddie's admiration for the solitude of high places, the grandeur and beauty of the long views and the sound of rushing water. A short read, but a great one.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Adam J Nicolai

This is a new author to me and I was bowled over by this story.


Amazon. com  Alex

My review - 

Ian is a father in crisis. His five year old son was murdered six months ago and since then, his marriage has hit rock bottom and his wife has left. He ‘hears’ and later ‘sees’ his son Alex in their home and is given messages in the form of things he recalls Alex saying in life. The reader watches Ian’s life unravel around him. He’s given warnings for lateness at work as he regularly sleeps badly but wakes late. We ask ourselves what’s going on in his life and I was as puzzled as he was.

This is a first novel by an American author and I found it utterly gripping. I wondered, as Ian himself did, if he was losing his sanity, if there was something supernatural going on, if he were becoming schizophrenic. There were many possibilities, all feasible from the writing. The little boy, Alex, whom we meet only in snatches, comes over as a lovely, loving, earnest little boy and his father decides he is trying to impart a message. The journey we take with the two of them and with Alina, Ian’s estranged wife, is a thrilling, intriguing and oddly compelling one. I can really recommend this as a book you’ll not want to put down.