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Monday, 26 December 2011

Death Bed

Leigh Russell's new book, 'Death Bed', is now available for download on Kindle and I'm very pleased to have Leigh as my Boxing Day guest over on Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact! Leigh has written about beating writer's block for all those writers out there who need to get back into it after the Christmas lull!

You can find my reviews of Leigh's previous books on Bookersatz. They are Cut Short, Road Closed and Dead End.

I haven't read Death Bed yet, but I can't wait and if it's anything like the others we're all in for a huge treat!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Thread

By Victoria Hislop

Dripping with delicious description, this novel takes us on a long journey in space and time. We follow Katerina as she is forced to flee from her home in Asia Minor and finds herself in Greece. Her path soon crosses that of the young Dimitri and so the seeds of a story that will run across generations are sown.

I loved the way that ‘The Thread’ worked on so many levels. As well as being a vivid picture of a tumultuous period of history in a beautifully described and very real geographical setting, it is also a tale of a young girl growing up and falling in love. In fact I was so caught up in the story of Katerina that I was genuinely taken by surprise by some of the historical events that in retrospect I knew were coming.

One of the links between Katerina and Dimitri is formed through the clothing trade. Dimitri’s father is a rich and powerful merchant who deals in the most beautiful and expensive cloths to be had in Thessaloniki. Katerina is a skilled seamstress and finds herself working for one of the top garment making workshops.

The descriptions of the sumptuous cloths, Katerina’s talent for embroidery and the beautiful clothes she is engaged to work on make the story very visual and fill it with delightful images. But there is of course a darker side with the book covering, as it does, the years of the war and the persecution of the Jewish population

I found the plot gripping and Victoria Hislop very cleverly makes it hard for the reader to see how there can ever be resolution to some of the strands. She also throws in an unexpected link between Katerina and Dimitri at the end which goes back to an event at the beginning which I’d almost forgotten about.

This is a beautiful read and the picture of Greece it presents is particularly poignant and interesting in the light of current circumstances there. That aspect of it will really make you think!

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Kiss Of Frost

By Jennifer Estep

Mythos Academy Series - Book 2

I received this book as an e-ARC a few months ago and read it immediately. I cannot wait to buy my paperback version for the cover to put in my library. I began re-reading it this week to refresh my memory of the details since I have read quite a few books since then, but, strangely enough for the first time I have vivid recall of the events and people. I am totally enamored of this series. It is exciting, fun, and well-written.

Of course it is the continuation of Jennifer Estep's Mythos Academy series in the mountains of North Carolina, just a bit away from where all the action takes place in the Elemental Assassin series. Gwen is still hard at work training and working on some relationship issues and has a good candidate for a possible love interest. There was actually a couple of curve balls thrown in there because the end of Touch of Frost had me thinking of a possible candidate and shockingly I was so very wrong. Another great thing about this series is the unexpected friendship between Gwen and one of the "mean girls", Daphne. I am actually enjoying their verbal sparring and watching Daphne grow as a person. There are more surprises on the mean girls’ front this time around too!

I won't give a synopsis because the book blurb does that well enough. But, I can say that reading these books always leaves me wanting more right away. I am truly excited to see at least two more books already in the works. This author is definitely one that I am glad gets to write full-time. I think I need to back track and read the Karma series too. Back to Kiss of Frost, that does not disappoint on the good fight scenes and intrigue either. This installment also has a big mystery in it along with Gwen learning more about her friends, family and the staff at the school and of course Vic the coolest sword ever is my favorite. I'm a huge academy school urban fantasy fan so this setting also adds to one of the reasons I love this book.

The majority of the scenes take place in another environment while the students are on a school trip, but the vivid descriptions of the mountain scenery helps paint a great picture in my mind. I am not a fan of sports in the snow because I hate the snow, but, I do enjoy watching those who like to ski and snowboard flying down the hills. I know this is ironic since I live in the Midwest. Snow and watching others ski and snowboard is quite breathtaking.

Now, on to the wait for Dark Frost, though I did donate to breast cancer research by purchasing Entangled which contains Halloween Frost!

Reviewed by Lady Techie


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Build A Man

By Talli Roland - Buy here - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Build-A-Man-ebook/dp/B00642BCX2/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322085805&sr=1-3

I settled down to read Talli Roland’s latest novel with a real sense of anticipation, having really enjoyed her last book ‘Watching Willow Watts’.

As I got to know the main character, Serenity Holland, I found myself chuckling at her situation. Stuck as the receptionist at a cosmetic surgery clinic, Serenity has to put up with a procession of self-absorbed clients with bodily parts that she doesn’t even want to look at, let alone touch!

Home life isn’t much better. Serenity’s boyfriend Peter, is pleasant enough but she’s just fallen into a relationship with him and as time goes on she isn’t sure that’s enough.

Everything changes when she meets new client Jeremy, who’s got a whole host of reasons to turn up at the clinic. When Jeremy gives Serenity an idea which she thinks might help her in her bid to break into tabloid journalism, her desires and his are about to collide in the most spectacular fashion.

I won’t give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say this plot leads Serenity into a very dark place and I went from wanting to giggle, to wanting to cry.

Talli’s writing is fresh, lively and different. Her words carry you along and her characters make you care what happens to them.

I can’t finish this review without a special mention for my favourite character – Smitty the cat. Serenity isn’t very keen on Smitty, with his regimen of organic food and feline prozac, particularly when she realises that Peter cares more about the cat than he does about her. But I have to confess to a soft spot!

If you want a book that will make you laugh and make you cry, then this one comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Women Aloud

By various authors – for short story week

A charity anthology audiobook for National Short Story Week 2011 NOW AVAILABLE ON CD!

'Women Aloud' is an audio anthology of short stories written by eleven of the UK's best loved women's fiction writers.

There's something for everyone in this unique audiobook - love, laughter, thrills and chills. It will make a great gift for a friend, mum, sister, grandmother, aunt, girlfriend, wife, partner or...yourself!

Listen to stories by Trisha Ashley, Judy Astley, Elizabeth Chadwick, Rowan Coleman, Katie Fforde, Milly Johnson, Catherine King, Sophie King, Carole Matthews, Sue Moorcroft and Allie Spencer.

I’m really excited to be able to review a short story collection for Bookersatz. This one is particularly unusual since it is an audiobook, and I think it’s the first time I’ve listened to a selection of short stories rather than reading them.

There is a great balance of stories in this anthology, plenty of emotion, but plenty of humour as well. ‘A Woman Of Good Taste’ by Milly Johnson and ‘At Your Convenience’ by Sophie King were both highly amusing – the humour delivered perfectly by the chosen narrators.

The collection is also full of compassion, and I found many of the stories very moving. Sue Moorcroft’s ‘Crossing To The Other Line’ is thoughtful and touching, and Rowan Coleman’s ‘In Real Life’ is full of yearning and indecision.

From the life-affirming ‘Fox Sleeping’ by Judy Astley to the romance of ‘The One’ by Katie Fforde there is something for everyone in this collection. And if you like your stories a bit spooky and sinister, then ‘The Garden’ by Catherine King fits that bill very nicely.

Everything about this double CD, from the selection of the stories to the performances of the narrators, is fantastic. I’m now sold on the idea of audiobooks – listen while you drive, while you potter in the kitchen or just sit with your feet up! The short story form works really well in this format and I recommend this collection as a delightful listening experience.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find out more about National Short Story Week here, and you can read an interview with Rowan Coleman about the project on my main blog Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact.

Proceeds from the CD go to the Helena Kennedy Foundation

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Home For Christmas

By Cally Taylor

Beth Prince has always loved fairytales and now, aged twenty-four, she feels like she's finally on the verge of her own happily ever after. She lives by the seaside, works in the Picturebox - a charming but rundown independent cinema - and has a boyfriend who's so debonair and charming she can't believe her luck!

But Beth has a problem – in fact she has a couple of problems. None of her boyfriends has ever said they love her and it doesn't look like Aiden's going to say it either. So she takes things into her own hands, only to discover that Aiden has something very different in mind.

Things aren’t going that well at work either. Beth loves the Picturebox and has some fabulous ideas for increasing trade. But her elderly boss has never taken her up on any of them and now she wants to sell out to a chain.

Beth is a really empathetic character who specialises in getting herself into embarrassing situations, and things don’t get off to a great start when she shows herself up in front of Matt Jones, the regional director of the multiplex cinema group. The reader will really feel for her as it turns out that there’s more than one reason why she might want to impress him.

As well as a disintegrating love life and a fight to save the Picturebox, Beth also has a pushy mother and a mishap-prone best friend to contend with. The plot is well thought out and takes Beth into some situations that it’s very hard to see how she’ll get out of.

This is a delightful romantic excursion with a bit of ambition and heartbreak thrown in. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some cringe quietly moments and some try not to sniffle moments as well. In fact, a perfect mix for a romantic comedy.

Highly recommended as a Christmas present for your own loved one, or for yourself! I absolutely loved it, and once I’d started it I couldn’t put it down.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

'Home For Christmas' is published by Orion on 10 November but it can be pre-ordered now.

You can find out more about Cally Taylor on her website here.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Hanging Shed

by Gordon Ferris

What is it that makes us pick up a book? A good review we’ve seen perhaps? A beautiful cover that promises so much? A blurb that pulls us straight in? Perhaps it’s a combination of those things.

I read a lot but that doesn’t mean I’m not picky. I saw great reviews for The Hanging Shed but it didn’t appeal to me. The setting, post WWII Glasgow, didn’t grab me and I thought the story of a man summoned to his home town to get his friend off a murder charge would be somewhat clichéd and predictable. I continued to see rave reviews, however, and when I saw that the Kindle release was topping the rankings, outselling Steig Larson, I finally had to see what all the fuss was about. I’m so glad I bought this book.

The Hanging Shed opens with Douglas Brodie, ex-policeman, ex-soldier and now a reporter, reluctantly travelling home to Glasgow to visit his old childhood friend, a man who has been disfigured during the war and who waits to be sentenced to death for the murder and rape of his girlfriend’s son.

This book is anything but predictable. The compelling narrative, with its brooding undercurrents, keeps you turning the pages. The sense of place is so strong that it’s almost possible to smell the Glasgow pubs and the fish suppers.

There were several times when I thought I’d guessed what had happened or was about to happen, but then I’d turn the page and discover I was way off the mark. The story kept me intrigued right up to the very last page. It had me thinking about the characters for a long time after that.

As I said, I’m picky about the books I read. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this gem from Gordon Ferris.

Reviewed by Shirley Wells

You can find out more about Shirley on her blog here and her website here, and you can read my review of her book fabulous current book 'Dead Silent' here.

You can buy 'Dead Silent' here.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Spider's Revenge

by Jennifer Estep

I cannot rave enough about this series. I don't have a favorite anything, not favorite colors, numbers, authors, or even musicians. But, I can definitely step out and say that the 'Elemental Assassin' series is one of the best I have read and a favorite of mine. I thoroughly enjoy every book from cover-to-cover, even when something I may not particularly want to happen occurs. By the way, the covers are very well done.

'Spider's Revenge' seems like the culmination of the story, and it definitely is a crescendo that is very poetic and seriously climactic. I feel like I'm overdosing with the metaphors here, but, you get my drift. This is the story where the two most dangerous of the elementals come to blows and this installment in the Gin Blanco story does not disappoint. The action is excellent. Jennifer Estep knows how to write a fight scene. I love the phenomenal display of elemental powers that are displayed in all of the books. Of course, with the strongest known fire elemental going head-to-head with the strongest unknown stone/ice elemental in Ashland, NC, there are bound to be serious cataclysmic effects.

Owen, Finn, Bria, Sophia, and Jo-Jo are marvelous support characters. Owen is a stunning man. He makes a reader so happy that Donovan Caine is out of the picture. Everyone plays their part and though I wished there was time for an extra butt whooping in this book, 'Spider’s Revenge' does a very nice job of answering some questions and making the reader want more. I really cannot wait to read 'By A Thread' early next year.

Reviewed by Lady Techie


Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Opposite Of Amber

By Gillian Philip

“It’s a good idea, if you don’t want to leave traces, to put a girl in water. It’s the opposite of amber.”

‘The Opposite Of Amber’ is a moving story of sisterly love. Ruby and Jinn are about as different as it’s possible for sisters to be; Jinn being confident and vivacious and Ruby quiet and unable to articulate her feelings.

I loved the way in which a sense of peril and menace builds up right from the start; not just about the dead girls who are turning up in bodies of water locally, but also about Jinn’s relationship with no-good Nathan Baird. Ruby knows straight away that isn’t going to end well.

The story is told through the voice of Ruby, which for very good reasons is a voice that hesitates to speak up. In the past Ruby has said things that have led to serious trouble, so now she’s a bit more careful. This works really well as a narrative technique as it tells us more about Ruby than mere chatter would.

There are many twists and turns in the plot which leads eventually to a resolution which is wholly unexpected. It also takes us on a journey for Ruby which has a very satisfying conclusion.

Although ‘The Opposite Of Amber’ is aimed at young adults, it is sophisticated enough to appeal to an adult audience and I found it a perfect crossover read. It is also beautifully written, full of elegant description and perfectly realised imagery.

Very highly recommended indeed.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find an interview with Gillian Phillip on my writing blog Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact today.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Watching Willow Watts

By Talli Roland

This novel has everything you’d expect from a great romantic comedy. Strong characters, a romping plot and plenty of will they/won’t they suspense. But it’s also about something much deeper.

As we follow Willow Watts on her journey to turn her life and her family’s fortunes around with a stratospheric career as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, we’re posed with some very real and deep questions about the nature of identity.

Who are we? Who do we want to be and how much of that depends on what we look like externally rather than what we actually are?

Willow is supported by strong characters from her best friend Paula, to her Dad who gets a chance at transformation himself, and even Krusty the family pet gets a look in. Look out also for Betts who delivers one of the most heart-warming storylines.

I really enjoyed this book with its great characters, interesting premise and satisfying plot, but more than that, it made me think.

This book is highly recommended as a fun romantic comedy read, but with a difference!

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

If you’d like to buy a copy of 'Watching Willow Watts' (Kindle Editions) , follow these links:

Amazon UK


Also see more of Talli's books here and read her blog here.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Dead Silent

by Shirley Wells

'Dead Silent' is a gripping mystery that plays with your expectations, keeps you guessing and delivers an unforeseen and satisfying ending.

One of the great draws of the book is the private investigator Dylan Scott himself. This is his second outing for Shirley Wells and I hope there are due to be many more.

Dylan is flawed and has had problems in his past, but the reader can't help liking him as we gain glimpses into his personal life as well as following his progress in investigating the crime.

The problem for Dylan in this novel is to solve a cold case: from a trail that seemingly went cold a long time ago, Dylan sets out to find a missing young woman.

I really enjoyed following his progress as he meets all the disparate characters in Samantha Hunt's life and tries to work out who's telling the truth and who's lying. And more importantly, who's holding on to the biggest secret.

This is my kind of book. Fast paced, full of mystery and suspense and with a genuinely interesting premise and a solution which brings more than a frisson of shock.

I loved reading 'Dead Silent' and highly recommend it to others. I'm now looking forward very much to the next Dylan Scott mystery.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find an interview with Shirley Wells on my main blog Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact.

DEAD SILENT, is available from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good e-book retailers.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Facing Codependence

By Pia Mellody

Has anyone yet written a self-help book about how to wean yourself off self-help books? If they have, I need to buy that book, because I’m kind of addicted to books with titles like, ‘Heal Your Inner Clown’ and ‘Constellation Therapy for the Shining Star Within’. I’m building up quite a collection of popular psychology books. I’m even toying with the idea of writing one myself. All right, so I don’t have any free time or formal psychology qualifications, but in my defence I would point out that I do a) write psychological thrillers, b) know lots of weird, screwed-up people, and c) have a title ready and waiting. My self-help book will be called, ‘How to Prioritize One’s Mental Health Without Looking Like An Idiot In Public’. Hm. Maybe the title needs a little work. It’s not exactly snappy. Still, it’ll do until I come up with something better.

I had the idea for my popular psychology book recently while I was reading a brilliant example of the genre: ‘Facing Codependence’ by Pia Mellody. (Irrelevantly, I really hope she has at least one child called Unchained. No, of course she doesn’t – this woman is in the business of promoting mental health, and her surname isn’t Beckham.) I didn’t know what codependence was until I read Mellody’s book, which was as full of fascinating connections, patterns and revelations as any great thriller. And now I know: codependence, indirectly, is the reason why almost every murderer in every crime novel I have ever read kills his or her victim or victims. Which makes ‘Facing Codependence’ a must-read for crime writers everywhere – and I’m sure I don’t need to point out that there’s a convenient opportunity for deception here. Your real reason for reading it can be a desperate desire to get to grips with your own curdling insanity, but if anyone asks, you can pass yourself off as a sane professional doing research – perfect!

‘Facing Codependence’ is, quite simply, the best popular psychology book I have ever read. There are five core symptoms of this (according to Mellody) potentially lethal disease: 1) difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, 2) difficulty setting functional boundaries, 3) difficulty owning and expressing your own reality, 4) difficulty taking care of your own wants and needs, and 5) difficulty experiencing and expressing your reality moderately.

So - lots of difficulty, basically. Lashings of difficulty. But lots of answers and solutions too. Pia Mellody knows how to sort out not only my problems but my fictional characters’ problems for several thrillers to come, which is pretty impressive. I won’t attempt to condense her wisdom or paraphrase it, because you really need to read the whole book – four times, ideally – but I will just mention the one problem I had with the ‘How to Recover from Codependence’ section of her book. It’s the same problem I have with most popular psychology books, when their authors start to describe what action we must take to free ourselves of whatever our psychological problem happens to be. The problem is this: not everyone reading the book is American. My title - ‘How to Prioritize One’s Mental Health Without Looking Like An Idiot In Public’ – will be aimed very much at the UK market. The embarrassed market, in other words.

Let’s take an example from Mellody’s book: boundary violation. This is something we all experience to a certain extent, I would guess. People trample all over our external and internal boundaries – they pat our pregnant bellies without permission; they tell us how we ought to feel, what to think in order to make ourselves acceptable to them. If we let them do this, that means we have damaged boundaries and are unable adequately to protect ourselves; we have at least one of the five core symptoms of codependence. Mellody gives an example of two women who meet by chance. One tries to kiss the other hello, and the other, not wanting to be kissed, takes a step back and extends her hand instead by way of greeting. Now, imagine you’re that woman, not wanting to be kissed by this acquaintance for whatever reason (obviously, you don’t work in publishing or any other arts or media profession that involves kissing everyone you meet on at least fourteen cheeks, even if you loathe them). You’ve taken a step back, but she ignores your attempt to set a clear external boundary; she invades your space and her lips are coming your way, fully intending to kiss you. According to Pia Mellody, what you should do at this point is demonstrate that you are willing to defend your boundary by saying, ‘Stop. I don’t want to be touched.’ In theory, of course, this is quite right. I have often wanted to say that very thing, but I haven’t, because I’m English. On every occasion that I have ever not wanted to be touched by someone determined to touch me, I more wanted not to sound like a freak who takes herself too seriously, and not to cause any trouble or offend anybody. Hence the title of my own self-help book, the one I will almost definitely never write. I suppose I could try to be less embarrassed about boundary-setting, but even if, by some miracle, I could persuade myself to say things like, ‘No, I’m sorry, you can’t try a bit of my meal – I want all of it’, or ‘No, I won’t give you a cover quote for your new book, because I hated it’, that wouldn’t be the end of the embarrassment, not by a long way. Next on Mellody’s recovery list, after asserting one’s boundaries, is finding a ‘codependence sponsor’. Er…a what? They don’t have those in the One Stop on Hills Road, or even in the big John Lewis in town.

None of this is intended as a criticism of the book. I have learned a huge amount from reading it, and feel mentally healthier for having imagined my American alter-ego totally sorted, with firm but flexible boundaries and a top-notch codependence sponsor, not to mention a thoroughly disentangled want-need balance. I know the difference between healthy feelings experienced moderately and an overwhelming, out-of-control carried shame core, which I didn’t a few weeks ago, and I know that if the traditional English martyrdom-and-resentment path ever loses its passive-aggressive appeal, there are alternatives. Pia Mellody has done the world a huge service by writing such a wise and informative book.

Reviewed by Sophie Hannah

Sophie's latest book 'Lasting Damage' is out in paperback now! You can read my review of it here, and you can find a review of one of her previous books, 'Hurting Distance' here.

You can find out more about Sophie and her work on her website.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Lasting Damage

By Sophie Hannah

While I was reading this book I was desperate to get to the end to find out what happened, but at the same time I didn’t want it to finish because I was enjoying it so much.

I loved the quirkiness of the story, which starts with the main character Connie looking at a property website in the middle of the night. What she sees on the website sets her on a very dangerous course of discovery.

Connie is a great study of a person falling to pieces. She’s surrounded by people who might be friends or enemies; she doesn’t know which, and nor does the reader.

One of the most impressive things about this novel is the way that absolutely every line of text counts. Every single thing that each of the characters says and does is consistent and reveals something about that person; even if the reader doesn’t discover what that is until much later.

Psychology is very important in this novel and the psychological motivations of both Connie and her husband are examined by the police investigators Sam, Simon and Charlie as they try to get to the bottom of what is going on. There is also a lot of emphasis on playing games with people’s minds and what the consequences of this can be. I found this aspect of the novel absolutely fascinating.

The plot is complex and multi-faceted and the way all the strands are brought together at the end is skilful. ‘Lasting Damage’ is a gripping, satisfying and very clever read. When I got to the end I was seriously tempted to go back to the beginning and start again.

A brilliant book in every way. I loved it.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

‘Lasting Damage’ is available in paperback now.

Please pop back to Bookersatz on Sunday when Sophie Hannah will be my guest reviewer, and please see my main blog Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact for an interview with American crime writer Lisa Jackson.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Lessons In Laughing Out Loud

By Rowan Coleman

I found this book a very moving and emotional read. In Willow Briars, Rowan Coleman has created a very sympathetic main character. In ‘Lessons In Laughing Out Loud’ we meet Willow and her twin sister Holly, and slowly find out what it is that has caused the sisters to be so different and to have lives that have taken them down very different paths.

Willow is a great character, but I also loved Chloe the teenager from Willow’s past who turns up on her doorstep needing help and India, the starlet with a problem who also has to rely on Willow to bail her out. The unlikely friendship that develops between Chloe and India is one of the most touching things in the book.

As we follow Willow’s story we find out a lot about her past loves and her present emotional dilemmas, including an ex-husband and a best friend who she’d like to be a bit more, and we also eventually find out the secret from her past that has been holding her back from getting what she wants and preventing her from laughing out loud.

It makes for a very satisfying plot. Throw in a borderline psychotic boss, a fur coat and some magic shoes and you have a very beguiling mix indeed.

Finally, I have to say that the ending wasn’t the one I was rooting for, but it was the right one!

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Flesh And Grass

By Libby Cone

This is a beautiful little gem of a book; an intriguing nugget of a story, skilfully polished into a wonderful jewel. As I read I felt as though I’d been transported into a totally different world – partly because the historical setting was so unusual and partly because of the narrative technique.

Because the narrator, Cornelis, is blind the narrative relies heavily on the descriptive power of the sense of smell. As we get to know Cornelius better throughout the course of the book we get to know what certain scents mean to him and how they can trigger emotions in him more intensely than in other people.

The story is set during the time that the Dutch were setting up colonies in the New World and follows the unrest between Holland and England on the Delaware coast. This is a period of history that I don’t know much about, and haven’t read much about – so for me that added a lot to the interest of the story.

Like Libby Cone’s previous book ‘War On The Margins’ there is a firm base of historical fact to the fiction. She says in the epilogue, “I humbly present this work, ‘Flesh And Grass’, as a work of fiction loosely based on the story of the Plockhoy settlement.”

As such, I found it an informative, different and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find out more about ‘Flesh And Grass’ here. And you can read my review of ‘War On The Margins’ here.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Light Years

by James Salter

What makes you return to a particular book again and again? If I had to choose one novel for my desert island, ‘Light Years’ by James Salter would be it. It’s a luminous portrait of a marriage, (and as we know, nobody really knows what goes on inside other people’s marriages). Here Salter shows us how something seemingly perfect falls apart and unravels over the years.

I first read it hungrily, in one sitting. The prose – or perhaps prose-poetry is a better description is some of the finest I’ve ever read. When the novel was reissued recently as a Penguin Modern Classic, the introductory essay by Richard Ford began: “It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today.” I couldn’t agree more.

Salter himself said: “a page should seem effortless … as if the page wrote itself”. And this is how the book feels – full of light, lean and natural. Each time I go back to it, some new jewel of a phrase or sentence sparkles out. Take this section:
"Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers.

And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see."

Salter’s writing is so good, that as a writer it either makes you want to put the lid on your pen – or it makes you want to raise your game. I love his work – he can be tough (this is the man who wrote: "Women fall in love when they get to know you. Men are the opposite. When they finally know you they're ready to leave"), and he can be tender. Just as whether an artist can ‘do’ hands, I’ve always thought whether a writer can write about sex is a good test of their skill. And no one can do it like James Salter.

Reviewed by Kate Lord Brown

Kate Lord Brown’s debut, ‘The Beauty Chorus’ is available here.

You can read more about Kate on her website here, and you can read my review of the fabulous 'The Beauty Chorus' here.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Touch Of Frost

by Jennifer Estep

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid Jennifer Estep fan. I am not familiar with her first series: but I am totally enamored of the Elemental Assassin series. When she first announced in her newsletter that she sold a YA series and gave some hints on what it would be about I was extremely excited to get my hands on the first book, 'Touch of Frost'.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been very interested in mythology, especially Greek and Chinese mythology. I tried reading a mythology book that strictly talked about the different gods and goddesses, but, it was a bit boring for a younger teenager. I have been tearing through the Internet, Amazon, BN and Goodreads looking for Urban Fantasy and YA Urban Fantasy that covered Greek mythology. It was like a coup to have one of the most talented authors around write a series that covered this topic. I received an ARC of 'Touch of Frost', read it immediately, and loved it! I just re-read it so that I could post a review close to the release date. I plan to purchase it to keep it in my library so I can read it again just before the release of 'Kiss of Frost'.

I finished the 2nd reading of 'Touch of Frost' last night which only confirmed how much I love this new series. Gwen Frost is this quirky teenager who has a gift of receiving images about the history of an item or a person if she has contact with either on her bare skin. This works in her favor sometimes and when she least expects it the gift turns her world upside down. Gwen finds herself in an academy styled school to learn how to control her gift. This school is full of students that have their own special gifts and histories. One of the great things is that in the first book we get a great glimpse into the Greek mythology world and how this school is related.

Gwen becomes embroiled in a huge mystery that has her learning more about her own history, her family's history, and the real purpose of the new school she is attending. It takes a while, but Gwen starts making a new life that includes her new school and some of the people that she has managed to let into her life. Her relationship with her grandmother grows as secrets are revealed. There are Amazons, Valkyries, Spartans and a host of other descendants of serious kick butt heroes from throughout history and mythology.

One of the fun things was a nice tie-in to the Elemental Assassins world and of course the great food that is depicted has crossed over and morphed into things that Gwen and her grandmother love to eat. Another great thing in this book was Gwen’s new friendship with Daphne. She turned out to be more than we could ever have guessed judging by the first run-in that she and Gwen have at the beginning of the book. Daphne turns out to be a bright light in this series. The jury is still out on Logan, but, he has potential. A sneak peak at the first chapter of the next book in the series (which I usually stay far away from when they are posted because they just drive me nuts with the wait for the entire book) looks like the possibility Gwen might have some choices at Mythos Academy.

I look forward to the next in the series!

Reviewed by Lady Techie

Available in paperback at the end of August, and in Kindle edition now.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Month In The Country

by J L Carr

Somehow or other I managed to reach the age of 47 without ever reading J.L. Carr’s brilliant novella, ‘A Month in the Country’, or seeing the film-of -the-book. Half of that deficiency, at least, has now been rectified.

Being an expansive sort of writer myself (for which, read rambling and verbose), I am always amazed by what other authors can manage to convey in a small space – and Carr crams a whole world of feeling and ideas into just 85 short pages. I read the book in a few hours and re-surfaced from the experience disorientated, to find nothing around me looking quite the same as it had.

The essential story is simple enough. It is 1920 and Tom Birkin, a twenty-something signaller who survived the trenches physically but still bears the psychological scars, arrives in the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby, where he has been commissioned to uncover a medieval wall painting in the church. Birkin beds down for the summer on an army camp-bed in the church tower while, in a field adjoining the churchyard, a fellow war veteran and archaeologist by the name of Moon is also camping out, having been hired to locate the grave of a villager’s fourteenth century crusader forebear, who was excommunicated and buried on unconsecrated ground; she wants him found and brought back within the pale.

The book is hard to encapsulate because it is so many things at the same time. In part, it is a medieval mystery, as we seek the reason for the excommunication of Moon’s old crusader and what his connection might be with Birkin’s re-emerging mural in the church. It is also a love story, tracing the quiet course of Birkin’s undeclared passion for the vicar’s wife. And it is a lyrical, nostalgic portrait of the life of an English village one glorious summer, before the combustion engine drove out plodding hooves, before autumn’s chilly bite and the disappointments of the years, ‘when life is brimming with promise and the future stretches confidently ahead like that road to the hills’.

It is also a book about healing. The wall painting which Birkin brings painstakingly to life is a Judgment – a ‘Doom’. And if the tortured representations of the damned on their descent to hell are an echo of the horrors of Flanders, the English countryside surely represents the Elysian fields, full of the promise of redemption. We watch as Birkin is gradually unlocked from his shell-shocked inner prison, by the sun on his skin, and through tentative steps towards friendship, not only with the lovely Mrs Revd Keach, but with the archaeologist Moon and a small cast of other village characters, all depicted with affection and wit in Carr’s delicate brushwork, as fine as the medieval masterpiece on the chancel arch.

And now for the film. I gather it features a young Colin Firth. (((Do not disturb)))

Reviewed by Rosy Thornton

Rosy Thornton is the author of 'The Tapestry Of Love', 'Crossed Wires', 'More Than Love Letters' and 'Hearts And Minds'.

You can find out more about her at her website here and you can buy her books here.

I'm a big fan of Rosy's books and you can find my reviews of 'The Tapestry Of Love' here and 'Crossed Wires' here.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

What is it about Canada that produces such sensitive, far-reaching fiction? Perhaps it’s the landscape, at once vast and enclosed within its highlands and valleys, studded as it is with fertile lakes and rivers. There’s something of isolation in this writing, something which produces these huge stories of ordinary people contained within small places. Already a great fan of female Canadian writers such as Alice Munro, Joan Barfoot and Margaret Atwood, I was immediately interested when my agent suggested I’d enjoy reading 'Crow Lake' by Mary Lawson.

In 'Crow Lake', Kate Morrison is the first person narrator and youngest child of a young family growing up against the beautiful but harsh landscape of rural Northern Ontario. From the outset we are drawn in, as the first chapter closes dramatically, with a significant, heart-wrenching tragedy, which will ultimately propel the Morrison children into unknown and troubling new directions.

Kate’s two older brothers are entirely believable characters, attempting to step up and become the men of the household, betrayed only by their adolescent flaws and naive views of the world. The daily sacrifices are many, and the sister’s retrospective view of their shared history shows us the pain of family members who have, with no obvious awareness of it, outgrown each other with the passing of time. From Kate’s vantage point Lawson unveils the real story with subtlety and closely controlled emotional insight, to reveal a complex, unpredictable and deeply affecting story of a family falling apart at the seams.

From the beautiful descriptions of harsh, magnificent rural Ontario to the evocative storytelling across the generations, Mary Lawson’s 'Crow Lake' is a story which lingers – compelling, lyrical and wise. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover Mary Lawson, but now that I have I’ll be looking out for her future work. And so, without further ado, I’m off to order her second novel 'The Other Side of the Bridge' – yet another book to add to my ever-increasing Summer reading pile!

Reviewed by Isabel Ashdown

Isabel Ashdown is the author of ‘Glasshopper’ and ‘Hurry Up And Wait'. Bookersatz reviews can be found here and here.

She is published by Myriad Editions.

You can see Isabel’s website (complete with Eighties Hall Of Fame/Shame) here.

Monday, 11 July 2011

An Interview With Tana French

There is an interview with the author of 'Faithful Place' Tana French on my main blog, Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact, today.

You can read my review of 'Faithful Place' here.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Private Life

by Jane Smiley

I have been a huge fan of Jane Smiley since "A Thousand Acres," her novel based on King Lear published in 1991. That novel stayed in my mind as one of my favourites for a long time, although I didn't read much of her other work, until I stumbled upon "Moo", in the late 90's. Then I lost track of her until she came out with the marvelously useful, honest, funny and erudite "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel", which grew out of her sudden inability to write novels after years and years of work. In that book she uses her block to read 100 of the best novels ever written, review them and try to discover why, for her, some of them work and some don't. Jane Smiley is a stubborn and creative problem-solver after my own heart, so when I read that she had published a new novel, I bought it and placed it on the very top of my tbr pile.

"Private Life" is wonderful. As a story, it is quiet, truthful, straight-forward, moving. As a piece of fiction, it is inspirational. A small, ordinary life is set against the epic sweeps of early 20th Century history. But in Smiley's hands, the small becomes crucial and the epic secondary. On the cover, under the title, the publishers (I assume) have written "Marriage can sometimes be the loneliest place". Yes, "Private Life" is about a woman lost in a passionless marriage to a self-absorbed, misguided though well-meaning man. But it is about much more than just that. It is about choosing to adapt -- or not -- when the world goes crazy. It is about the role of friendship. It is about choosing to know yourself or not. Choosing to be true to yourself, or not. Choosing and the consequences of those choices.

From the viewpoint of technique, it is a masterclass. How to have your character speak a dialogue about one thing while thinking something completely different at the same time....how to find the appropriate narrative voice.....using third person narrative and still getting into all the characters' heads....how to portray the passage of time without leaving your reader to wonder where it all went. Plus, there's more than a smattering of cosmology and the evolution of scientific thought.

"Private Life" is an extraordinarily generous book. Smiley is an extraordinarily generous writer. If you don't know her work, it's high time you did. Buy this book.

Reviewed by Sue Guiney

Sue is the author of 'A Clash Of Innocents', 'Tangled Roots', 'Her Life Collected' and 'Dreams of May'.

She is published by Ward Wood, and you can find out more about her here and on her website.

You can read Sue's blog here.

My review of 'A Clash Of Innocents', which is one of the best books I've read in recent years, is here. And you can read a review of 'Tangled Roots' here.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Grave Dance

by Kalayna Price

(Part of the Alex Craft series)

'Grave Dance' was a good read. When I first started it I did not remember anything from 'Grave Witch' (its predecessor). I re-read my review which did not have enough details in it to remind me of anything, so I decided to get it out of my library and re-read it.

I read the first few chapters again and the characters and story started coming back to me. I read the last fifteen pages again and remembered. I really liked 'Grave Witch' and was now looking forward again to seeing what happened to Alex, Falin, Caleb, Holly, Rianna, and even Death. I was not too fond of Alex's father and sister by the end of 'Grave Witch', but, I had high hopes for her father.

In this latest portion of the story, Alex is called out to use her grave witch gifts to help the police when body parts are found in a remote area of "Nekros". I am not sure where the name of this city comes from but, it reminds me of New Orleans when it is described throughout the book. Alex is brought into the investigation and the story goes sideways. I was not in love with part of the way the end unfolded. But, it was not enough to keep me from the story or to stop me from enjoying 'Grave Dance'.

'Grave Dance' was intricately woven with detail and what appears to be several story lines. I cannot imagine the map or flowchart Kalayna Price had to use to keep up with things. This story started out as a mystery that appeared to be tied to the Fae and then it appeared to be tied to the witches, then the collectors. To borrow from Winston Churchill, "it was a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma." For a while I thought I would get confused by the way the mystery was unfolding especially when Fae politics came calling. I love Fae politics. I detest the machinations of some of the Fae, but, it makes for great entertainment.

One of the things that I found myself liking about Alex is that she was strong but, she had a couple of major weaknesses, some of which revolved around the use of her powers. The other revolved around her relationships with her friends and men. The unfolding of one of the relationships was a zinger and I loved it. Alex showed some serious backbone and I loved how she stayed true to herself, especially as she learned more about her own past and met people that were more a part of her life then she realized.

In addition to Fae machinations we get to see more about Death and his cohorts. We also get a better glimpse at how his and Alex's relationship evolved. Another great thing about 'Grave Dance' is Roy the ghost. I'm happy to see he is part of the story. He is great! Not only is he funny, but, he makes an excellent sidekick. Although his story is told in 'Grave Witch', we get reminders of what happened in that story, which makes it a bit easier for people who read 'Grave Dance' without knowing it has a predecessor. You can read it without it but, you miss out on a great story if you do not start out with 'Grave Witch'. I look forward to the next installment in the Alex Craft series.

Reviewed by Lady Techie

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Blackhouse

by Peter May

A MURDER: A brutal killing has taken place on Scotland's most remote island. Detective Fin MacLeod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born MacLeod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past. A SECRET: Something lurks beneath the close-knit, God-fearing façade of the Lewis community. Something primal. As Fin investigates, old secrets are unearthed, and soon he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.

This novel is richly textured with mono and polychrome narratives in an innovative style that places it in a genre all of its own. The writing is exceptional, almost hypnotic in places and will run you the full gamut of your emotions. Be prepared for 'The Blackhouse' to play on your mind long after you put it down each day.

There is an inspiring video about the author's journey with this book here.

Reviewed by D J Kirkby

D J Kirkby is a registered midwife, mother, wife, and writer.

She is the author of 'Without Alice'.

You can find D J's website here. Follow her on Twitter here, and view a video preview of 'Without Alice' here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Bronte

I first read ‘Jane Eyre’ as a fourteen year old looking for a rollicking gothic adventure story. I can remember the excitement of turning the pages, desperate to find out the ghastly secret of Thornfield Hall. Each evening, for a week or so, I took myself into our chilly front room, drew the curtains, stuck the gas fire on and lay on the sofa, immersed in the narrative. What hideousness lurked in the attic, threatening Jane and the very fabric of the house itself? Oh my God, a secret wife? Really? Wow. When the revelation came it did not disappoint. But alas, Jane herself did. I couldn’t believe she would be so Victorian in her reaction. I wanted her to stick around, not run away; boot Bertha off the premises and then live in glorious sin, stuff convention. I just didn’t get the heroine at all.

The next time I read the novel I was a loved-up eighteen, and all I cared about this time through was the romance element. The way Jane and Edward’s affair was played out at top pitch made it, I decided, so real . This was proper love: pain and frustration and telepathy and characters starving in hedgerows and buildings burning down. Still I couldn’t fathom why Jane allowed cold piety to get in the way of a passion that surely transcended everything else. Love made its own laws. A life of bliss was hers for the taking, and yet she turned away and chose instead the stony path of righteousness. Fool.

It wasn’t till I got to university I began to see 'Jane Eyre' as a feminist text. Suddenly the penny dropped: Jane wasn’t simply being perverse and playing the martyr. Edward asking her to live as his mistress was actually deeply insulting. Just because Jane was lowly and poor didn’t mean she should jump at a chance to play the kept woman. Would he have dared make the same offer to the rich and well-connected Blanche Ingram? Of course not. He treats Jane as he does because he knows he can get away with it. Flashing his cash only makes the proposition shabbier. So on this read, when Jane says “I care for myself,” I was cheering. It’s a turning point. She steps out alone and practically penniless into the world, but soon manages to find herself friends, family, accommodation and a decent career, and later on even has the confidence to turn down the attentions of a second emotional blackmailer in the form of St John Rivers.

Then there’s the spiritual journey Jane makes. Right from the beginning of the story, Jane is surrounded by hypocrites and bullies. She has to work hard to sift true belief out of the confused moral messages crossing and re-crossing around her. All through her childhood she struggles to deal both with personal bad fortune and her own anger management issues. So by the time I was an adult, the central thread of the novel for me had really become an exploration of the ways we can balance our need for humility against the need to stand up for ourselves: how to convert natural human resentment at the trials of life into something more positive, fruitful and stoical. Christianity is the frame in which the narrative is set. The novel ends not with “Reader, I married him”, but with St John Rivers’ cheerful acceptance of his approaching death, and the anticipation of heaven.

At other times, 'Jane Eyre' has been for me a story about power struggles within relationships; about ways we cope with loneliness and poor body-image; about the unfairness of the class system. My latest read reminded me it’s a novel which includes disability issues. Because my own husband was seriously injured in a road accident last year, I really felt Rochester’s vulnerability in those final few pages, and sympathised with the difficult line Jane was left to tread as his parner.

And I know I’ll come back again to the story and read it through a different filter, at which point I’ve no doubt it will have another new message for me. In the meantime, Bear up! and Respect yourself! will do me just fine.

Reviewed by Kate Long

Kate Long is the bestselling author of 'The Bad Mother's Handbook', 'Swallowing Grandma', 'Queen Mum', 'The Daughter Game' and 'Mothers And Daughters'. Her new novel 'All About My Mothers' is due to be released by Simon and Schuster in Spring 2012. You can find out more about Kate on her website and you can read my interview with Kate about her writing in this month's Writers' Forum magazine.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Hurry Up And Wait

By Isabel Ashdown

In ‘Hurry Up And Wait’ Isabel Ashdown has produced a perfectly pitched trip back to the mid-eighties.

The story of Sarah Ribbons, and her coming of age in 1985 and 1986, is illustrated beautifully with the sights, sounds and feelings of the time. For those of us who shared the experience of growing up in these times the atmosphere is absolutely spot-on.

Isabel Ashdown has captured every heartbeat of the uncertainty and excitement of growing up. Duplicitous friendships, awakening sexuality and the trials of school and exams are all depicted as Sarah’s story unfolds.

Sarah is a deeply empathetic character from the start. No reader could fail to be moved by the situations she finds herself in as she exposes her heart to the possibilities of love and the dangers of betrayal for the first time.

The characters around her are also real and boldly drawn. I particularly liked Sarah’s father; charming but utterly self-absorbed.

The storyline starts at a school reunion taking place twenty years later. Through this section the secrets of the past are finally revealed and Sarah’s story finds its resolution. Anyone who has ever attended a reunion with ambivalent feelings in their heart will identify strongly with this section.

I really enjoyed Isabel Ashdown’s first novel, ‘Glasshopper’ but, if anything, would have to say ‘Hurry Up And Wait' is even better. I loved everything about it.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

‘Hurry Up And Wait’ is published by Myriad Editions and I am grateful to them for the review copy.

You can read my review of ‘Glasshopper’ here, and you can see Isabel’s website (complete with Eighties Hall Of Fame/Shame) here.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Sign Of Four

By Arthur Conan Doyle

This, the second of the Sherlock Holmes adventures (and the second of the four full-length novels), has always been one of my favourite books and remains my favourite Holmes story. Holmes's first appearance in A Study in Scarlet had not been a commercial success and Conan Doyle had no immediate plans for any more Holmes cases.

This all changed when he was invited to dinner at London's Langham Hotel in 1889 by Joseph Marshall Stoddart - the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. The U.S. magazine was looking to launch itself in Britain and was seeking British based writers to contribute to its pages. At the Langham dinner Conan Doyle was brought into contact, for the first time, with Oscar Wilde and both men accepted commissions to write London based stories featuring murders.

Wilde went away and penned The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel, and Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of Four.

The book gives you everything. Two heroes, a lady in distress, romance, a missing treasure, a one-legged villain, a clumsy policeman, a murder and a back-story set in colonial India. It is for all these reasons that this story is the most filmed Holmes adventure after The Hound of the Baskervilles.

It is also notable for its work in fleshing out the character of Holmes. It gives him a little more humanity and explicitly introduces his drug use which was only suspected by Watson in the first story.

Conan Doyle also writes a commendable female character in the form of Mary Morstan - Holmes's client and the object of Watson's affections. From the first she is presented as a strong woman who knows her own mind rather than the hysterical stereotype so often portrayed by male writers of the period. This reflected Conan Doyle's real opinion of women in general. He was ahead of his time in his attitude towards them and later fought for reform of divorce laws although he did, bizarrely, disapprove of the idea of women's suffrage.

This aside, the book is well worth the read. It is fun, never drags and shows Sherlock Holmes at his flawed best.

Reviewed by Alistair Duncan

Alistair Duncan is an expert on Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle. You can read his blog here.

He has written a number of books on the subject and you can find out more, and order a copy here.

Thanks very much to Alistair for sharing his thoughts on such a classic book with us.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Ghost Of Lily Painter

By Caitlin Davies

'The Ghost Of Lily Painter' is a richly plotted story that covers many generations and has action set over more than a century. It follows the tale of Annie Sweet, who moves into a new house and becomes intrigued by the story of a previous inhabitant – Lily Painter – and determined to find out more about her.

The narrative moves between the voices of Annie Sweet, Lily Painter and Inspector William George who lived in the house at the same time as Lily. Later in the book, a fourth voice joins them and delivers some beautifully set-up surprises. The four voices all tell their stories in a different way, and a way that is distinctively theirs.

Caitlin Davies uses threads of historical fact to enhance the story. She explores the activities of baby farmers in Edwardian London to great effect, and blends fact and fiction into a satisfactory whole.

Both the present day story of Annie and the historical story of Lily are emotional and touched with pain. When we first meet Annie she’s dealing with marital breakdown, the fallout of this for her daughter, and a dog that seems set on destroying everything in her path. Lily’s story ultimately takes her into even more painful situations.

Everything about this novel is just right. The characters are believable and sympathetic, the descriptive writing is beautiful and the evocation of the different historical periods is spot on.

I think this is a book I’m going to be reflecting on long after finishing it.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

‘The Ghost Of Lily Painter’ is published by Hutchinson/Random House and I am grateful to them for the review copy.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Phoenix Rising

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

I really loved this book! When I first heard about this book about two months before it was released I watched the release date hoping it would release earlier than the date scheduled. But, alas, I had to wait until the scheduled release date and it was well worth the wait. It opened with a bang, pretty much literally! It was full of excitement and exciting characters. Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are an exciting team and it was not only fun to watch them relate but a good time watching their exploits.

'Phoenix Rising' is a great addition to the Steampunk genre. It was good to see the chemistry between the characters with their diverse backgrounds. I hope to learn more about where they all come from and how they came to be the way they are now. Wellington Books is the best kept secret the Ministry does not even know it has to offer! Sophia is seriously a great nemesis for Eliza, especially given the information that Wellington provides during the apex of the story. These are just a few examples of how the players were well developed. For example, describing the expressions and mannerisms of Wellington when he had Eliza pushed into his world - priceless!

I'm happy to see that we will have more coming from the dynamic duo and mysteries left in play with Dr. Sound, Campbell and Sussex. Oh, and do not let me forget the awesome cover!

Reviewed by Lady Techie

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Beauty Chorus

By Kate Lord Brown

‘The Beauty Chorus’ is a moving, and ultimately uplifting, story of three young women who did their bit during the Second World War by ferrying fighter planes up and down the country.

Evie, Stella and Megan are three very different young women who are thrown together on their first day working for the ATA. We follow them through the story finding out how they get on with their flying duties, but also sharing the ups and downs of their emotional lives.

Interweaved with the fictional story are flashes of history involving real historical figures including the legendary aviator Amy Johnson and none other than Winston Churchill. I felt that this aspect worked really well and gave the book an added dimension.

The story is rich with period detail, and clearly well researched although it doesn’t feel at any point as though the research is intruding on the story. Although I’ve read quite a bit about WW2 both in fiction and non-fiction, I wasn’t aware of the work of the ATA, so for me this was a further element of the story that held my interest.

I found the story gripping and I finished it in a couple of sessions as I didn’t want to put it down until I’d found out what was going to happen next. The mix of romance, adventure and intrigue was perfectly blended into a satisfying whole.

‘The Beauty Chorus’ is the sort of novel where the characters are so likeable and real that you can imagine the story going on after the book has finished.

For a very enjoyable romance with the added interest of a fascinating historical backdrop, I highly recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Kate Lord Brown talks about ‘The Beauty Chorus’ now over on my writing blog ‘Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact’.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Lovers Of Pound Hill

By Mavis Cheek

‘The Lovers Of Pound Hill’ is a very clever, very entertaining story with several sub-plots and an amazing array of characters.

It centres around how the village of Lufferton Boney is shaken up and turned on its head by the visit of young archaeologist Molly Bonner who has returned to follow up on work begun by her grandfather many years before.

The story bursts with quirky characters, hidden motives and mysteries. It is fast moving, intriguing and with many plot lines and issues that aren’t resolved right until the very end.

The story is a colourful patch work formed of episodes told through the eyes of a number of different characters. Many of the characters are loveable, some less so, but all are very human: apart from Montmorency who’s a cat.

I loved this book. It is full of fun and humour but has an underlying message that is ultimately emotional and very moving. It follows the themes of love and how it endures, and how the past can impact on the future. It also encompasses religion, superstition, history and even poetry in a fabulously rich narrative.

If you want a book that will grip you, hook you into a complex mystery and ultimately leave you smiling, I strongly recommend this one.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

'The Lovers Of Pound Hill' was published by Hutchinson on 5 May, and I would like to thank them for sending me a review copy.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Bite Club

By Rachel Caine

Tor.com did a poll on Facebook recently asking what authors do you always look forward to and read? Well, Rachel Caine is one of mine. 'The Morganville Vampires' series is one of my guilty pleasures. It is one of the exceptions to my, "I don't read romance" rule. The romance is always front and center and though I love Michael and Eve, they take a bit of a backseat to Claire and Shane. Claire is the heroine of this series because despite her lack of physical power she is strong. She uses the weapons she has to stand up for people and vampires even when she cannot explain why to herself or others. It’s just who she is and that one part of her always makes even the vampires pause.

'Bite Club' was so good that when I was about 60 pages from the end I became very concerned that this was the end of the series. I had to go to Rachel Caine's website to see if there was a hint of how many books there were in the series. There were some serious roadblocks that popped up that worried me. This one was a take on fight club. The gang gets seriously in over their heads and, of course, has to worry about staying one step ahead of Amelie and Oliver. There are some shocks, return of some old enemies along with the unearthing of some new ones. I have to admit that Myrnin is one of my favorites and he did not disappoint.

One note is that the book is written so that you cannot just jump into it and understand who people are or what is going on. You definitely know that you have missed something if you have not read its predecessors. This far into the series it does get pretty difficult to try and write each book so that it can stand on its own. But, the fortunate thing is that it is a great incentive to reading the entire series. 'The Morganville Vampire' series is just one of those series where at some point you have to start all over and start from book one, 'Glass Houses'.

Unfortunately, I loaned mine out and will have to buy it again, but, it’s worth it.

Reviewed by Lady Techie

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Dead End

by Leigh Russell

Regular followers of Bookersatz will know that I really enjoyed Leigh Russell’s previous books, ‘Cut Short’ and ‘Road Closed’, so I was thrilled to be sent a review copy of this one as well.

For this story we stay with DI Geraldine Steel who appeared in the first two books and we find out more about her personal life as well as following her on a new case that has her tracking down a very sinister murderer indeed.

Like Leigh Russell’s other books, ‘Dead End’ gives us characters we can care about. In particular, the family of the first murder victim, Abigail Kirby, are sensitively portrayed and the fate of her daughter Lucy forms a sub-plot as gripping as the main plot.

As ever, the plot is cleverly thought out, gripping and convincing. Geraldine’s colleague DS Ian Peterson come into his own in this story and we also have another authentic cameo of the complicated DCI Kathryn Gordon.

This novel strays into some very grim territory. A sadistic murderer with dark motivations and a plot that leads a number of characters into serious peril will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I couldn’t put this book down. I had to keep reading to know how the case would be solved, but also how Geraldine would fare because like other readers of this series, I now care about her as an ongoing character.

You can read my review of ‘Cut Short’ here, and my review of ‘Road Closed’ here. I, for one, can’t wait for the next Geraldine Steel story to come out. Watch this space.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Tangled Threads

by Jennifer Estep
(#4 in the Elemental Assassin Series)

I was lucky enough to receive an electronic ARC of Tangled Threads earlier but will be buying the physical copy for that great cover. You can never go wrong with the Elemental Assassin series and Tangled Threads is no exception to that rule. I have been totally enamored of this series since Spider's Bite. Despite the heartache, hardships, and even, stolen good moments that occur in Gin's life she finds a way to persevere.

One thing that never changes, and is very prevalent in Tangled Threads is the descriptions of the environment. Despite Ashland, NC being a real city, Gin's Ashland is a world unto its own with its dividing line where stepping across one street means you are at serious risk from not only mere thugs, but, vampires, evil dwarves or some other badness you might run into that might not be fully human. Something that always strikes me about this series, and Jennifer Estep’s writing in general, are the vivid descriptions. For example, "green, glossy Kudzu vines curled around a trellis that partially obscured the porch. So did a thick cluster of rose bushes, although their branches were bare for the winter, except for the long, curved, black thorns that glittered like polished jet". This depiction immediately made me think of my great-grandmother's back porch that ran the length of the back of the house.

Another great thing about the books is the main character, Gin. Despite Gin's myriad edges there are parts of her that you can’t help but like and those parts even make you want to be like her, even if for just a few minutes. Maybe you would not go right out the door and whip out a silverstone knife and make someone pay for what they've done to make your day harder, or you might not bring a building down on someone's head, but, you sure can imagine it on a really bad day and it might bring a sly smile to your face.

The supernaturals in the Elemental Assassin books have been given an original perspective in the urban fantasy genre and the description of their powers and how they interact with other powers gives the books more depth. Jennifer Estep has taken the four elements and breathed a different life into them with her stories. Tangled Threads takes up the mantle and gives Urban Fantasy fans something in which to immerse themselves. The characters we have grown to love like Gin, Finnegan, Jo-Jo, Sophia, Xavier and Roslyn are there. But, now we have more of the new additions like Bria and Owen. We get to learn more about Gin's past and the build-up towards the inevitable crescendo between Gin and Mab is hanging in the air and making it hard to wait for the showdown.

Mab may not know who she is dealing with yet, but, she has brought in the big guns to take out The Spider. Elektra LaFleur's background is as dangerous and scary as Gin's. But, does she have what it takes to bring down Gin Blanco, retired assassin, The Spider? It is well worth the time to find out. This is an amazing addition to the Elemental Assassin series and I sure hope that Pocket and Jennifer Estep are interested in seeing where they can take Gin and the gang after the big showdown. I know that even with the impending showdown forthcoming Jennifer Estep has the skills to keep Gin's story moving forward.

Reviewed by LadyTechie

Friday, 22 April 2011

Wink Murder

By Ali Knight

Wink Murder is a well-plotted and fast moving murder mystery, and I found that it kept me guessing all the way through and the revelation of ‘whodunnit’ was a genuine surprise.

But, it is also more than that. At the centre of the story is the examination of a marriage in deep crisis. The story looks at the issue of trust. Who can you trust? How do you know you can trust them? And ultimately, what is the nature of trust?

The story is written in first person, present tense which can be hard to pull off. But for this story it works well, especially in the later chapters where it lends a sense of immediacy to the plot.

Whilst the story is very plot-centred, I also found the characters very real and well realised. We spend the entire novel inside the head of the main character, Kate, and see the other characters through her eyes. Her relationships with other characters, and the extent to which she feels she can trust them is central to the story. The issues of trust between husband and wife are well-explored but Kate’s feelings about her husband’s ex wife and her husband’s brother also impact heavily on the outcome of the story.

The fact that ‘Wink Murder’ is set in the world of television adds an extra dimension as it raises questions about the power of the media and the nature of reality TV.

I recommend this book to all who like crime and mystery writing which is intelligent and well-rounded.

The book is published by Hodder and I’m grateful to them for providing a review copy.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt