Monday 31 July 2017

Debbie McGowan

I've just read this as the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act was celebrated. Huge coincidence? Or not. Debbie offered it free so I partook!

When Skies Have Fallen link

My review -

Although this book was published two years ago, I found myself reading it at the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which began the process of decriminalising and equalising gay relationships in Britain. Arty is a member of the RAF ground crew and he embarks on a relationship with Jim, an American airman. Because of the fear of arrest, they manage to convince everyone that Jim is in a relationship with Arty’s dance partner, Jean. We’re taken through their lives after the war, right up till the Act of Parliament, at which point Arty writes to inform his parents of who their son really is.

It’s difficult to imagine the fear hanging over people early in my lifetime, who simply wanted to spend their life with the person they loved. Not merely society celebrities, like Oscar Wilde, but ordinary men and women like us, were imprisoned unless they admitted to an illness and accepted some quite barbaric treatment. I find you can know this on an intellectual level but until you read even a fictionalised account, you can’t imagine the terror of the knock on the door at night. As always, Debbie McGowan’s characters are written with a sure hand and become totally believable. This is a real food-for-thought book, as well as a darned good tale of enduring love. Highly recommended.

Tara Lyons

I admit I'm often guilty of buying the latest book in a series when I haven't read the earlier books. A good series can stand this treatment, and this one certainly does.

Deadly Friendship link

My review -

DI Hamilton is on a holiday weekend in the Lake District but he can’t escape work. He’s there when a body is discovered. This leads to the reopening of a case from the Met, his own area, and he investigates a group of friends, who all seem to be covering something up.

As one of the characters says, some friendships can be toxic. We have two narrators here, one of whom is the killer. Felicity is one of the first of this group that we meet and she’s not a sympathetic character. Some of the others aren’t nice people either, so we’re spoilt for choice as to who we finger for the murderer! The pace is nicely judged and the ending a surprise, but not an incredible stretch of a surprise. It’s the third in a series but I’ve not read the others and it stands alone very well. I also really enjoyed having a DI who wasn’t a maverick, breaking the rules to get to the results – a likable and believable character. Altogether, a great read.

Saturday 29 July 2017

Alex McGilvery

A feeling of evil can attach itself to a place and Alex McGilvery has caught it brilliantly here. Myth and modern life meet in this book. I love the cover, too.

Wendigo Whispers link

My review -

Leigh and her husband move to a new town, Spruce Bay, after she has suffered a psychotic illness which her medication now controls. The town is on its uppers, with a defunct mining industry, a demoralised Cree population and out of work whites. Leigh, a primary school teacher, and her husband Jim, a police officer, arrive to find there’s a dark fear in the town.

I leapt at the chance to review this book because I already knew a little about the wendigo from Algonquin folk tales. Alex McGilvery explores the theme as it applies to an individual and to a town with a terrifying and believable tale. The story also explores a decaying community and the ways in which their self-belief can be bolstered. Without being preachy, it sounds a note of hope. A really gripping and exciting story.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Laura Marshall

When Netgalley offered this book I was intrigued. It's a compelling study of young people trying to fit in to a peer group, with a knock-on effect into adulthood. 

Friend Request

At the time of writing, this is not yet realeased in the US

My review - 

Louise receives a Facebook Friend request. It’s from Maria, a girl she was at school with. The surprise, though, the thing that makes her shrink back in horror, is that Maria died twenty–five years ago at their leavers’ party. Louise is horrified because she believes her and her friends’ bullying cause the death. Only her husband knows her part in it as he was at the same school. The plot becomes more entangled when there is a school reunion for their class.

This is an interesting study in what young people are prepared to do to fit in with their peers. When your contemporaries’ opinions define you, you can persuade yourself to go against your own better nature and good sense. Louise is still, in adult life, bending her own nature and desires in order to fit in with those of others. If Maria is dead, someone else sent that friend request. Someone who blames Louise. Right at the very end, the story went a little out of my credibility zone but nonetheless, I enjoyed it a great deal.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Mark L Fowler

I love writers who aren't stuck in a rut, and Mark Fowler is demonstrably one such author. This is his first crime story and I'm chuffed to see it's the start of a series. I love the cover too, incidentally.

My review -

On a redevelopment site in Stoke, a boy and his dog find the bones of a teenager. He went missing on his way home from school thirty years ago. DI Tyler and DS Mills interview his old school mates, teachers and his sister. They begin to pick apart who could have been involved but the problem is evidence. It’s who you know that can keep your nose out of trouble, it seems.

I really enjoyed this crime story, including the plot, which takes us back to a different era in school discipline, and the characters, particularly the two lead detectives on the case. Tyler is new to the area and Mills a native. As you read, you can feel their growing respect for one another. It’s a team that I hope we’ll see again. As in life, not every thread is tied up. There’s someone bad still at large. I wonder if Tyler and Mills will come up against him again. This could be the start of a great new detective series. I really hope so, and heartily recommend this book to all crime readers.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Dean C Moore

This is the second of Dean's books that I've read. I know they won't be for everyone but they're pretty high-tech and they always give me a laugh. 

Setup: Android Assassins link

My review -

What can I say? The Futurists of the FBI have a strange way of recruiting. Max Chase has been set up and is now a wanted man. Problem is, his wife and son are being pursued too. They are accompanied in their journey to foil an evil genius by another ‘family’ of three androids. These three are made to resemble Chinese domestic workers but have massively useful powers. It looks bad – but it could be worse.

Dean C Moore has a vivid imagination – I’d hate to be in one of his dreams! The story here is long but the action never lets up. It’s set in the near future and there’s the horrible suspicion in the reader’s mind that some of these things could really happen. Not too many, I hope! This is an exciting, action-packed romp with a huge body-count but seasoned with a great deal of humour. I’d love to see a film of this. It’s vivid and thrilling – and probably hugely expensive in special effects!

I received an advance review copy of this book.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Claire Douglas

Claire Douglas seems to home in on the theme of identity. Those of her books that I've read, I've loved.

Last Seen Alive

My review -

Libby and her husband Jamie are offered a house-swap for a week, exchanging their compact flat in Bath for a large, beautifully renovated mansion of a place in Cornwall. Libby deals with the owner only by telephone but an amicable agreement ensues and Libby and James seem to have fallen on their feet. Things don’t add up, though, and the place begins to get creepy. Jamie suffers from food poisoning and when he has to spend the night in hospital the dream holiday falls flat. The mysterious owner then tells them he’s going to stay in London so they can return to their own poky flat.

This is a superb story about identity. It seems to be a pet theme of the author’s and she handles it very deftly. The story develops, taking us away from the picture we had built up and replacing it with another. I found myself not knowing who to like or trust. Another great story from Claire Douglas.

Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy of this book.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Sarah Waters

This wartime story is told in a kind of reverse order. It's not as complicated as it sounds!

The Night Watch link

My review -

Duncan is in a dead-end job, having been in prison. His sister is seeing a married man. Kay lives a solitary aimless life. Julie and Helen’s relationship is rocky due to Helen’s jealousy. Little bits of their 1947 lives are dropped as hints that something in their past is relevant to their situations now. And then we go back, and a little further back, to see what happened.

This story looks at an existing situation and shows us how the characters got to where they now are. The war is an ever-present horror in the later sections and a haunting wraith in the first. Sarah Waters’ writing is always beautiful and the characters’ dialogue is spot on, bringing them to life. I really love this idea of going back in a story, rather than forward. We are often given hints of a back-story but here we live through those events as they happen – just in reverse order. This fills in a lot of things we didn’t know, but explains the situation in the earlier, 1947 section. It’s an unusual device but it worked very well for me.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Frank Westworth

This author has written novels I've never quite had time to read - but this series of short stories is a great way in to getting to grips with the characters.

First Contract link

My review -

Meet JJ Stoner. He’s a killer. He’s in the Army. That’s what they do. But Stoner goes beyond… He’s removed from his role and offered another, if he’ll take it. It’s that of a contract killer. Initially things aren’t as straight forward as he might have hoped.

This is a short story but it’s not short on ideas or action. Stoner is a callous killer yet a curiously attractive character. The story is beautifully told and packed with characters and incident. This is the start of a new career for JJ and I enjoyed reading it.


My review -

Stretch is a navy man and he falls for the wife of an army man. Not a good mix. He appears to be a womaniser but this particular woman has really got to him. Then she is seriously injured. He meets Stoner, investigator and ruthless eliminator if need be, who gives him an opportunity to – to do what he feels he has to do.

This is the sort of story where you have to face that two wrongs don’t make a right and that you would hate to be in this situation. Really, what would you do? Stoner is an antihero and certainly isn’t a man to emulate – but in the context of the stories, he has his own code and follows it. It makes for very good reading, but not for characters you’d particularly like to meet!

Thursday 6 July 2017

Heather Burnside

A second Manchester-based series by Heather Burnside and it's off to a great start.

Born Bad link

My review - 

Adele and her brother Peter are like chalk and cheese. Peter turns to petty crime, which then becomes not so petty, while Adele works for her A levels. She’s hard pressed to do so. Her mother lives on tranquilisers and her alcoholic dad is physically abusive to his wife. The children learn to tread carefully. She can’t understand why her mother puts up with the abusive treatment and humiliation her father hands out.

This is the first of another series set in Manchester, my native city, and it has such a sense of place. It’s a long time since I heard one or two of the words or expressions used here and they nailed the story geographically for me. Heather Burnside is so good at getting into characters’ heads and leaving you understanding their predicament, but I confess, I didn’t expect the turn the story took. I found it very good indeed.

I received a review copy of this from the publisher.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Jean Gill

I asked to review this book because I have a left-handed granddaughter. It's easy to forget how the world is right-hand-centric.

Left Out link

My review -

Jamie is picked on at school for her clumsiness, which she attributes to being left-handed as nothing she uses is suitable. The only real friend she has is Ryan. He encourages her to research left-handedness and she finds out how many famous people, present and past, have been southpaws. She writes for the school newspaper, as does Ryan, though using a pseudonym. To both their horror, Ryan’s mum takes him away from their school in Wales to her native America but Ryan has hopes of wangling his way back.

This is a great little book which takes issues of bullying and being different, and manages to celebrate some of those differences. It opens the eyes of left and right handers to just how difficult it can be to use ordinary items – a potato peeler, for example – but how many left handers turn out to be extraordinary people. It’s not just a preachy book, though. It’s got some dark themes running under it, and a real page-turning feel to the plot. A very good read.

Too much back-matter for me but that's a personal preference.