Monday, 25 May 2015

Book review - Broken, by Cathy Jackson

Broken is a strange book, full of surprises. From the blurb I had expected a romance with inspirational elements, but this feature was relatively minor - certainly the book does close with the main character being, or claiming to be, 'in love', but there's no development, no inner growth - just a sudden switch from hatred to love that, one could not but feel, had more to do with MC's perception of what each man had to offer her lifestyle than with any deeper feeling.

The biggest surprise the book had in store was the almost comical nastiness of the main character, Evelyn. I think it's the first time I have ever encountered a romance heroine who didn't even attempt to be sympathetic. One often sees ones one can't like - because they are whiny, pathetic, or whatever- but these minor faults don't afflict Evelyn. She is simply bad to the bone; despite regular church attendance, constant praying and a lot of talk about her Christianity, she never lets religious belief get in the way of her convenience. A more thoroughly self-centred, cruel, even vicious character I don't think I have seen since Mrs Norris. She leaves Becky Sharp for dead.

Because of this, the book's real strength is in its exposition of the anatomy of what the Bible calls a 'whited sepulchre' - that is, a person claiming to profess Christianity without for one second letting it get in the way of what he feels like doing. Evelyn is a classic example of this as she prays her way through her days, kicking waitresses and generally damaging everyone with whom she comes in contact. Even poor, sweet Phoenix comes in for plenty of grief as Evelyn constantly ignores her phobia of physical contact and cops a feel at every opportunity.

All through the book, I kept expecting the watershed for Evelyn - the metanoia, the change of heart, but it didn't happen. She did seem to tone down her nastiness a bit at the end of the book, once she had two brothers dangling after her, and right at the end she makes her choice in favour of honesty, but one is left wondering for how long, and what further pain this woman will inflict on the Westerling family.

Broken will release on 30 May, and will be available from AMAZON and SMASHWORDS.

Friday, 22 May 2015

book review - Missing Pieces, by Ray Anselmo

This first venture of the author's into the field of romance has, in my view, been a great success. The characters are well drawn and realistic, and each battles a self-image problem which in both cases is resolved with pleasing symmetry. The romantic tale is enlivened by a crime theme.

If I have one criticism of the book it is that the flow of events is a little too smooth - there's little dramatic tension until halfway through the book, and I'd have liked to see the tension ramp up a lot earlier in the work. A few chapters to introduce characters and set the scene is all very well, but I'd prefer to see the main antagonist make its appearance within at least the first quarter of the book.

Over against this, Anselmo's writing is, as always, smoothly competent and despite the move into the romance genre is characterised by his customary restraint. There is no porn in this book, nothing to offend or disgust the most prudish of readers, and I found this a very welcome change from the majority of writers in this genre.

This said, however, I don't believe this genre is where Mr Anselmo's strength truly lies; the book doesn't compare, for example, to the wonderful Slave Auction. In my opinion, the romance genre offers insufficient scope for the exercise of this writer's very considerable talent.

Missing Pieces is available from AMAZON.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Book review - The Last Witness, by Denzil Meyrick

Afficionados of detective fiction are sure to be delighted with this new offering by Denzil Meyrick. In an eerily horrifying sequence of events, a dead criminal seems to have come to life to embark upon a systematic annihiliation of his enemies. Corpse after corpse litters the stage as the mystery unfolds, in a horrifying bloodbath that's bound to chill your bones.

Meanwhile, the engagingly normal fat detective continues to battle his waistline, and in a nicely symmetrical answer to the first book, where he discovers that his unfaithful wife is actually faithful, he discovers, or appears to do so, that the reverse is true. This was a bit of a cliffhanger, though, rather obviously pointing towards a resolution in the next book of the series (sssssssssssss Mr Meyrick, this detracted from the book's ability to stand alone).

Once again the characters are well drawn and the writing smooth and fast-paced. I'd have liked to see a little less explicit spelling out of the Scottish dialect, and some of the proofreading seemed a little rough, but all in all an exciting, enjoyable read.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Book review - Kiss a Girl in the Rain, by Nancy Warren

A fine piece of work indeed, Kiss a Girl in the Rain is so much more than yet another love story. It's about taking chances, about leaving the comfort zone, about reaching out to life.

The characters are well drawn and believable, something that is always a deal breaker for me, and the story moves along at a good pace. I could have done without the insertion of scenes of graphic sex, which I felt added little if anything to the story, but there were only a couple of these and I am aware that the majority of Warren's readers are unlikely to share my views.

As noted above, the story is a good one, addressing real issues in a way that engages the reader from the first page to the beautifully satisfying conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have added Ms Warren to the small category of romance novelists I actually like to read, alongside Nora Roberts.  

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Book review - Little Red Riding Hoodie, by John Phythyon

Little Red Riding Hoodie is undoubtedly Phythyon's best work yet. The story of a young girl completely parentified and struggling to act as defacto head of her household due to her drunken father's incompetence is beautifully interwoven with the more arcane and sinister events.

Phythyon wisely avoids too much explanation, so that the sinister figures appearing in Sally's dreams are never fully identified; this lack of complete information gives the story an exquisitely frightening quality. A small but valuable didactic element relating to racism and homophobia is also beautifully handled, given to us as an engaging and very realistic conversation between two children.

Phythyon's characters are beautifully drawn, consistent and utterly believable, from the ruined alcoholic father, through the nice teacher and the mean teacher, to the developing boyfriend, sincere but unsure of himself, and the wise-cracking Alison with her fondness for insulting remarks in execrable schoolgirl French. Alison's French alone is a small wonder - Phythyon has caught just the right level of a beginner at the language trying to extrapolate from a very limited grammar and vocabulary.

Bound to be a delight to children and adults alike, Little Red Riding Hoodie is available from AMAZON.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Book review - The Haunted Circus, by Susan Day

Another hilarious episode in the lives of Astro, Indy and the gang. I adore this series, and The Haunted Circus keeps up the pace with the hero dogs kidnapped by evil clowns.

The writing is smooth and the pace fast, and there is not a dull moment in this lovely book. I particularly like the division of the book into very short chapters, which makes it convenient for reading aloud to younger children, but really these books are wonderful at any age.

The Haunted Circus, and Day's other books, are available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Book review - Escape To The Highlands, by Rowena Williamson

The story of a pair of young people fighting to survive after Culloden, Escape To The Highlands, utterly charmed me. Unlike that more common type of historical fiction, where all the action centres around the big ones - the crowned heads and generals, the prime movers of the period, the book follows the journey of a pair of young people orphaned in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden.

It would be a grave mistake to assume that historical fiction set around the humbler members of a society, when done well, as this book certainly has been, is any less instructive of the period than one in which the central characters are cabbages and kings. In Escape To The Highlands we see the disarray of the clans after Culloden, and the demoralisation of the Scottish people in its wake, and this is all the more strongly shown when the characters are relatively ordinary people. The coda, where we hear of the prince running off to France with apparently total disregard of his own people, paints a stark picture of the contrast between the great-hearted Scottish people and the selfish cowardice of their unhappy leader.

Historical value aside, the story of young people fighting to preserve life and some future for themselves among the ruins of everything they have known is both exciting and ultimately satisfying. The characters are well drawn and the portrait of the noble Deerhound, Duncan, is as believable as it is beautiful. As any person who has been privileged to associate with one of these most noble dogs knows, there is indeed a touch of magic in a Deerhound, and Ms Williamson has shown this to us with delicate skill.

All in all a wonderful read, on any level, for any age.