Thursday, 19 March 2015

Book review - Fat Chance, by Tony Spencer

The revenge of a betrayed spouse is a terrible thing, and in Fat Chance it is more terrible than most. What made this book really special to me is that, while most 'revenge' books deal with evil revenge, fantasies such as hiding prawns in the curtain pelmets and sugar in the petrol tank, Spencer's hero brings about his revenge by using the qualities that made him a first class husband - his skill in the kitchen, his skill at home repairs, his kindness, generosity and friendliness. They are the skills of a good man rather than the fantasies of an evil one, and the punishment of his erring wife is effective, complete and dreadful, even including remediation of the other marriages she has damaged with her infidelity, although a twist at the end leaves the reader wondering if he is not about to be taken down with the sinking ship.

The narrative style is rather flat, but this works well with the first-person voice of the betrayed man - he's a plain-spoken man, not over-educated but thoughtful, and his voice comes through clearly and authentically, making the book work in a way that otherwise it might not have.

Fat Chance is available from SMASHWORDS.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Book review - All In Letters Bound In String, by Samantha Memi

What a discovery this book was! Like finding a huge box of liqueur chocolates when you thought all you had in the pantry was dog biscuits and spare lavatory paper.

Memi's unique vision of the world startles, enchants and delights in these tiny, sparkling gems of stories. There are forty-one of them, unless I miscounted, and every one a tiny treasure. I hoarded them jealously at first, reading only one or two at a time, but at last I couldn't help myself and devoured the second half of the book in one massive binge.

I couldn't really place these stories in a genre. They are all different anyway, and that pleased me greatly, because I always love it when I can't neatly place something I've read in a genre. It usually means that the book was really original, and that is certainly the case with these stories. The one common thread that appeared to me to link them all was the presence of some kind of 'what if' factor; an unwillingness to be bound by How Things Normally Are that is the hallmark of true creativity.

Memi's writing style is charming; her combination of staid, correct, almost old-school language with sometimes quite startlingly outre topics, and her matter-of-fact tone with the quite unbelievable, is charming and refreshing and an absolute delight to the reader. I laughed out loud many times. Sometimes because it was funny; sometimes with sheer pleasure.

I understand the book will be available for sale only as a paperback, and I thoroughly recommend its purchase. It is perfect for keeping on one's bedside table and dipping into when one cannot sleep, and I certainly intend to buy a copy for this purpose.

All In Letters Bound In String will release on 15 April, and will be available from the author's website -

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Book review - Fat Assassins, by Marita Fowler

Fat Assassins grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and didn't let go. As Shasta and Ulyssa, trailer trash divas, stumble their way from one disaster to the next, always dealing with something that just  happened by accident, compounding their unwise choices with every fresh bad decision, I laughed more times than I could count. It's a tremendously funny book and the pace is maintained throughout. A really fine piece of work from a natural comic, and I look forward to seeing more.

I will say a word about the language. Peppered through the book are many errors of grammar and spelling, particularly spelling, which in a less funny book would have put me off severely. The fact I have still awarded four stars is a tribute to Fowler's comic gift, but I would hope to see in future work that she had employed an editor, or at the very least, spellcheck. Had this been the case with Fat Assassins, I could have given the full five stars, and it made me rather sad not to be able to.

Fat Assassins is available from AMAZON.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Book Review - Adventures In Time and Place, by Ray Anselmo

This collection is quite exceptional. Aside from the smoothly eloquent writing and off-the-wall creativity, what chiefly blew me away was Anselmo's enormous range. The stories are hugely diverse, the characters all very, very different from each other, but whether it's a washed-up astronaut, a teenage kid, a mediaeval priest - each one speaks in an authentic and compeltely believable voice. There are no cardboard cutouts, no trite situations here - every single story is a little jewel of originality. I was truly sorry when I came to the end of the last one.

Particular favourites among the stories were The Man From Calla Faurnia, American Girl and It's All Right, but really every single story - I just can't praise them enough.

Each story is introduced by the author, with charm, urbanity and insightful observations, and this gave the collection overall a beautifully personal quality that made it even more special. Certainly Adventures In Time and Place is going on my list of best reads in 2015.

Adventures in Time and Place is available from AMAZON.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Video review - Jewvangelist

Rabbi Leah Levy, the Jewvangelist

Jewvangelist is an ultra-short mini-series published on Youtube. It follows a young rabbi whose congregation is leaving in droves. Rabbi Leah Levy is in despair when her synagogue, Beth Shalom privately owned by her mother (no, I'm not sure how realistic this is) faces closure unless she can increase her numbers. In a desperate bid to rejuvenate her congregation, she decides to become a 'Jewvangelist' and convert people.

Evil Rabbi Asher Levy steals Leah's congregants - mwahahahahahahahaha
The bumbling Rabbi goes first to the Mormons and then to an evangelical Christian church for lessons in how to proselytise. Nothing goes according to plan, especially when interfered with by the Rabbi's evil rabbi brother, Asher, who is poaching her congregants to his rival synagogue, Beth Emmanuel. Asher may or may not be the Devil. He certainly has the mwahahahahaha laugh down pat.

The handsome Christian minister who wins Leah's heart

Along the way, Rabbi Levy makes friends, saves marriages, persuades a redneck preacher to give up his homophobia and be reunited with his gay son, finds love with a Christian pastor, and almost incidentally, acquires a number of new adherents for Beth Shalom.

Fiction should never preach, and the show adheres well to this standard. But although no one ever lectures anyone, over the course of the series we are given subtle lessons against homophobia, racism and religious bigotry, and the whole show generally, without ever making an overt statement, celebrates inclusivity.

The production is very nicely done; well acted, smoothly produced and altogether a professional piece of work. Most importantly, it's funny as hell, utterly hilarious. I particularly liked the format; the tiny episodes, averaging 12 minutes, are ideal for the full-on comic content. There's no flagging of the momentum and no stuffing in 'filler' for cheap laughs as one all too often finds in half-hour comedy shows. Altogether a great piece of work, and I certainly hope there will be more from this very talented team.

The series can be viewed HERE.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Book review - Scorched Earth, by Lynne Cantwell

This book concludes the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy and the series of which it formed the second part. I must confess to a little sadness that the adventure is over, but once you've got the devil in chains I don't suppose there's a lot of scope for a better antagonist.

Once again the recap is well handled with all necessary information provided to the reader new to the series in an extensive prologue. As I've read all of the books I couldn't really be sure, but it seemed to me that the book stood well on its own, as a novel ought to do.

The various gods are handled with deftness and humour, and a lightness of touch that I found delightful, but without disrespect; there is nothing in Scorched Earth to offend devotees of any religion, unless they were absolutely determined to be offended.

Once again, Cantwell's dedication to polish has produced a book that is a delight, with nothing to spoil the reader's enjoyment. A very satisfying conclusion to a wonderful series.

Scorched Earth is available from AMAZON and SMASHWORDS.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Book review - At Journey's End, by Patricia Halloff

I have loved all of Halloff's work, but this book is arguably her masterpiece. A dysfunctional family is laid bare, layer by layer, as if dissected by a surgeon. Starting and ending with an old woman contemplating her, to her, wasted life, we are shown each troubled character from the outside and then from the inside, with the deftness and facility of a master.

The characters, so believable, batter at the closed windows of each other's indifference. We are shown in stark relief the impenetrable barrier of misunderstanding that blocks two people from ever really communicating in any authentic way. As the book progresses, we realise, with mounting horror, that each generation's mistakes are doomed to be repeated by their children as a result of this fundamental failure, and the more terrible the mistake, the more sure it is of being repeated. Each misunderstanding, each terrible hurt inflicted on a person who should have been cherished, is drawn with painstaking detail and accuracy.

It's not the book to pick up for a quick, cheerful mood fix. It will leave you questioning your life, your relationships, everything. But what a powerful piece of work! At Journey's End deserves to become a classic.

At Journey's End is available from AMAZON.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Book review - Blossom, by Cathy Jackson

A realistic and moving account of a woman's recovery from devastating abuse, Blossom follows protagonist Phoenix Westerling through the first days of her marriage. The central question is whether, after surviving the kind of abuse that makes tabloid headlines, she will be able to make a success of marriage to a normal, decent man, and at times we fear she will not.

Jackson has a firm command of where her book is going, and one doesn't lose sympathy for poor, scarred Phoenix through her devastating flashbacks, her visions and finally her crystallisation as a Christian and a fulfilled wife and mother. The action progresses calmly and steadily towards its end, and the calm flow of the narrative reflects the calm, patient John, as he nurses his damaged wife through her adjustment to a normal marriage and the dangers to her sanity posed by her former experiences.

A happy book, with a message of hope to abuse survivors.

Blossom is available from AMAZON.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Book Review - Right Click, Love, by M. B. Feeney

It's not easy to write comic fiction, or to do it well. It requires a certain lightness of touch, a willingness to embrace vulgarity without becoming a slave to it, and a degree of control that goes way beyond that required for, say, an everyday romance or generic fantasy novel.

In Right Click, Love, Feeney has amply demonstrated her possession of these qualities. The book is funny without being stupid, believable without being humdrum, and there is not a dull moment in it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unlike so many independently published novels, the work has been properly edited and finished, and is altogether a delightful read.

Right Click, Love is available from AMAZON.