Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Electric by Andrew David Barker

The Electric by Andrew David Barker

Genre: Ghost Story, Coming of Age.

I must admit I am partial to a well written Ghost Story but this one really was a cut above the rest.  It is ingenious and fresh with a premise that draws you in almost immediately. A teenage boy finds an abandoned cinema in the wasteland near his home, where long dead stars create films and an audience of the deceased congregate to experience films from the grave.

Like Sam I am a particular fan of old films and was more likely to be watching Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart than the brat-pack as a teenager. I too had a little gang who would hide in the undergrowth and play too close to the river.

The central dynamic between Emma, David and our narrator Sam through whose point of view we experience The Electric is reminiscent of those in Stephen King’s  Short Story The Body (which later became cult Classic Stand By Me) or the early storyline of IT or Dreamcatcher. Teens brought together and irrevocably changed by a shared experience and whilst this is a deeply atmospheric tale, a spine tingle festival, it is actually a much more nuanced and tender tale about the callowness of youth, about grief and loss and the acceptance of those emotions and of final goodbyes.

Where stars of a Bygone age cannot let go of their need to be in Movies, and buffs just want one more thrill in those velveteen seats, where love, betrayal romance and high adventure are reflected from the screen into the lives of the viewer. Here two young souls find each other as they seek to go on after the loss of a parent.

I was profoundly moved by the story (so if you were in Waltham Abbey today and you saw a woman crying as she trudged through the wind, sorry that was The Electric Effect) and yet deeply uplifted by Story’s End. The best story allows the reader to carry on the tale and here is one where we really can do it…

Where the stars we have loved and lost are collaborating together to star again in great Drama and other lost souls are sitting in the dark letting that story unfold before their very eyes.

A word about the Narration by Nigel Peever:  This is one of the most immersive tellings of a tale I have listened to in a long time. Nigel has a knack for creating true emotion in his characterisation , anger and sarcasm and deep loss are felt as well as heard and his general narration voice is so strongly enunciated with such warmth and timbre that you cannot help but be drawn further and further into the story. Definitely added to my favourite Narrators list!!

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Harriet's Big Fat Wedding Blunder by Lynda Renham

This book is an absolute HOOT !!

I am very choosy about the chick lit I read but I was given an offer I could not refuse just like our erstwhile heroine.

The opening chapters has Harriet, part time medical student and Launderette Manager arriving late at a friend’s posh wedding in a charity shop frock. whilst sat with her best friend, her stammering partner she finds herself sat with a couple of toffs. Whilst one is dreamy, the other is a bit too friendly for her liking particularly as her own Boyfriend who should have been on her arm has been spotted in her mini going in completely the wrong direction!

This is a rip roaring adventure of a book and the cast of characters including a trio of East End gangsters with a very unique tradition in family naming process. Their unwelcome and mercenary insertion into her affairs ( thanks to her foolhardy Boyfriend and his dubious attempts to raise finance for his restaurant) brings near ruin. When ever spiralling debts and the fear of the removal of her fella’s appendages forces Harriet into an ill-advised engagement of convenience she becomes embroiled in a family saga that brings Dreamy Doctor Brice Edmunds back into the ever swirling maelstrom of Harriet’s life.

Frothy and deeply funny Harriet’s Big Fat Wedding Blunder is my first foray into Lynda Renham’s novels. I know I will seek more, from the griminess of Battersea to the wide open spaces of a country seat in Scotland this is a fish out of water tale that tickles every funny bone. Often ludicrous but always great fun with a sweet central romance of equal parts antagonism and a mysterious allure worthy of Hepburn and Tracy, this is the perfect book to get you over that January hump after Christmas.

Fabulous narration by Rosie Akerman keeps the energy high throughout and had me guffawing on my commute and in my bed alike as I could not stop listening

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Christmas Hireling by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Now generally I would not read Christmas Stories at the start of a New Year, but this was a freebie at end of year from Audible and I wanted a light listen to ease me into my reading habits for 2019.

Jennifer Saunders has a marvellous plummy nature to her reading voice that adds an authenticity to the setting of the story. I am not familiar with the work of Braddon, but if this beautifully proportioned story is any indicator of her style, I suspect I will seek out more.

This is just the type of story I cleave to when I need something gentle. Crotchety adults being softened and moulded by a precocious little girl. This book about three little children “Hired” to spend a Christmas at the dull and tomb-like country seat of a workaholic MP by his more fun-loving friend and his niece is an absolute delight.

I must admit to clocking the gentle twist in the tale early on, but it in no way affected my enjoyment of how the piece unfolded. A beautifully evocative story with tapers on the Christmas tree and the excitement of Tom Smith Crackers in myriad colours was sweet. Although it also sent a frisson of fear through this modern mind. Open flame and gunpowder should never be in such proximity surely?

Had the Christmas Elements been removed this would still have been a very solid story about the importance of maintaining a childlike wonder, of forgiveness and of redemption. If you must save it for Christmas, do so, but I truly think it has resonance whatever the season.

Four and a half stars from me.

* Please Note that this book is now available with Richard Armitage as narrator.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The All Saints Trilogy by Deborah Harkness- an overview

The Book Of Life by Deborah Harkness

The third in the All Souls Trilogy is more of what we fans have come to expect of this series. A romance at its heart, but surrounding it is a brilliantly imagined history of the interplay between Vampires, Witches and Demons.

In my humble opinion, it is the best of its kind. I am inclined to think that this world surmounts all of those that came before. All my previous reading in this genre was like a taster menu and this series the real feast.

The characterisation here is sublime, everyone has so many facets to their personalities, even the vile villain Benjamin and lesser manipulators in this far reaching tale are relatable if not sympathetic Their hearts may be black, but their reasoning is often deeply in that grey area that makes them far more interesting. Our hero a vicious self -confessed executioner, double dealing spy. The villain mentally ill through his own father’s carelessness, a dark mirror image of the man that makes readers swoon, making us hate ourselves more for seeing Matthew in him more than once,

 I have favourites within the bunch, Ysabeau the fierce matriarch and my loyal Marte and kind and canny Gallowglass stay in my heart even as the final pages are read

This is a complicated family drama, a story of honour and of loyalty. I enjoyed the richness of the manoeuvring with Sires , brotherhoods and of pacts between races, but most of all it was the lesser stories of love both unrequited and cut short in their prime that added the richest condiments to the ever percolating brew, A book where the normal teenage angst storylines or youthful bravado making young lovers surge towards their fates blindly in more stark good versus bad tales are eschewed for a deeper more meaningful love stories where the strength of that love lays more in thought and patience and often in sacrifice that cannot be stopped before tragedy strikes. Hearts remain broken, relationships severed forever through tragedy and horror.

Which brings me to what I think is the secret of the series beyond meticulous research and the brilliance of introducing a different perspective to the classic Cold -blooded hero falls for warm blooded heroine. This is not Wuthering heights with blood. This is a History with a romantic catalyst but so much more. Cleverer somehow because it is paced so sedately and seamlessly introducing some quite complex scientific ideas to an audience that I think would not generally seek it out unprompted. 

This is a series that appeals to the armchair academic in me, I find the historical elements, the art, the dusty books and architecture  joyful. I wallowed in the allusion to historical events and the interaction with great thinkers of Elizabethan London throughout the second book It is the weight of History itself  which is a canopy for the main thrust of the plot, making it  so much more satisfying and fitting in a book that deals with a cast of  characters who have seen the scope of History first hand.  Knowledge and experience are woven just as expertly together as any of the threads that Diana wields. A perennial favourite methinks.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Book Review: In Foreign Fileds - How not to Move to France by Susie Kelly

In Foreign Fields- How Not To Move To France
Travel / Memoir 
Score 4/5
 I have to admit to a penchant for this kind of book, so Susie had a captured audience from the start. The best of the type are those that marry both the romance that giving it all up for warmer, quieter or cheaper climes; with reality of said moves in terms of cost or unforeseen bureaucracy throw in some belly laughs and some colourful locals and you are onto a winner.

Susie Kelly has managed to write a book that satisfies on all counts.

Like Peter Mayle and Carol Drinkwater before her, Susie has now a firm place in the part of my heart devoted to France as a dream destination; were I ever to come into some hitherto unknown legacy of course.

She and Husband make brave (or maybe foolhardy) decision to buy a completely dilapidated property in a sleepy hamlet in the South of France to escape the bite of the British recession in the hope to get more effort from their Euro. Whilst Lee continues to earn a crust to fund the project, Susie picks up sticks and to all intents and purposes, camps in her own property for the first few months as everything from flood and infestation conspire against her idyllic French Dream.

The house itself is definitely a character in this tale and the amount that Susie shoulders is amazing as the risk of death by Hypothermia or drowning in a shallow stream pouring where streams really should not be forging a path; rear their ugly heads. That coupled with an awful health crisis bring the endeavour to within a hair’s breadth of disaster often.

It is a tossup as to what will finally push her over the edge into insanity, Her Ex Pat neighbour and his laissez faire attitude to property upkeep, that makes Steptoe and Son’s Yard look like a place or the ever-growing number of birds and animals that she acquires against her will and better judgement. The tales (or should that be tails?) of Geese, fowl and hens had me in fits of laughter.

The zanier elements of the book make for a fun read, but it is the stories and anecdotes of the older inhabitants of the locality that really lifted the book for me. The strength and tenacity of her neighbours and their resilience in surviving in times before proper sanitation and mechanisation of agriculture came to the area is inspiring and utterly compelling reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will definitely seek out more of Susie’s work as her style of description and obvious affection for the people and place shine through throughout making it the perfect read for Francophiles still in dreary old Blighty.

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Devil, Volcanoes and Victorian Detectives in this month's Bumper Crop of reviews

My suggestion for your weekend Reading this week is HELLCORP by Jonathan Whitelaw

The devil wants to go Legit and make Hell a going concern. God is somewhat unimpressed with the idea so does a deal  and thrusts him into a Human body to solve a crime in return for permission in the endeavour... beyond that I leave you, dear reader to dip in and find out more!

What a fabulous thing it is to read something utterly different. The devil has featured in many a story over the centuries, but I believe never before has He been so brilliantly evoked in such a fun and clever story that was inventive, gripping throughout and truly hilariously funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and desperately want to see what else Mr Whitelaw can give the world because I will be there with my pennies!!

In Other News:

This Month I made a discovery that has made my reading life much more rewarding, quite literally!

Thanks to the rather wonderful reading App Readercoin, I have been given access to a treasure trove of forgotten or near forgotten classics to read or listen to as the mood takes me. the premise is simple you download the App and you pick a book. For every ten minutes you listen or Read, you are rewarded with a coin. Collect coins and get Paypal or Amazon vouchers or and this is actually my favourite part you can give to the good cause of your choice.

Last month, the combined reading power of app users saved 17 acres of rainforest and removed 16000 pounds of CO2. Your reading provided 2000 gallons of drinking water, 16 lbs of pet food, 250 hours of HIV treatment... how cool is it that, Sherlock Holmes and Jane Eyre did that!!?

The platform offers book that are in the public domain and on occasion the Narration can be a bit dicey but these are all volunteers  so do not hold their style against them!!

Amongst several I listened to I have picked a few of my favourites:

 The Red House Mystery by  A.A, Milne

A surprisingly engaging Murder mystery from the creator of Pooh which was twisty enough to keep this reader of this kind of Aged Whodunnits guessing and introducing a lovable crime investigating duo in Messrs Gillingham and Bellamy and the inscription at the start was charming!

"To John Vine Milne:

My Dear Father,
Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So after all that you have done for me, the least that I can do for you is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and affection than I can well put down here.


The Dead Letter by Seeley Regester

Regester  is the Nom De Plume of Metta Victoria Fuller-Victor  and the book is thought to be the very first American authored Murder mystery and it is surprising engaging and readable mixing some rather different detecting styles that Holmes might of sneered at, but works a treat here!

Veronica and the Volcano by Geoffrey Cook

A very different kind of Children’s book .it starts out quite light but as it progresses it was exceptionally grim in places and would scare under 12s. Clever and inventive -you definitely have never read anything like it, I would wager. Environmental issues rub shoulders with cannibalism and mob mentality!! 

tempted by Readercoin ?   here is the link

Not so much a reader ? (How very dare you ! and why are you here ?? Never darken my door again !!)

 If you are a writer the platform also offers the budding author the chance to unleash their latest works on a willing readership (people are for more likely to give your book a punt if they or others will actually benefit, so it is a safe place to give your story a try!! It is great fun watching the stats for your baby rise after going live on the App , yes dear visitor I was tempted  to create my own

Find Chroma there today... just look for this thumbnail

or just create your own!!

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Hercule Poirot returns in THE MYSTERY Of THREE QUARTERS by Sophie Hannah

I have come to this series comparatively late and so I only have this book to compare to Agatha's source material. To my mind however, this had all the best elements of the original Christie hero sleuth, Sophie Hannah has captured the essence of the man -the fastidiousness of the neat little Belgian whose name is perennially butchered by the English folk he comes to meet whilst investigating a crime.

She has maintained the feel of Poirot's speech patterns and interactions with all the characters seem authentic. Like Agatha before her, Ms Hannah is adept at displaying the differences in social strata of all the suspects and showcases the very disparate voices of those involved and those invested in a solution. All seemingly with something to hide. 
The story is complex enough to keep even the more sophisticated mystery reader guessing as each little clue is excavated. 
Here Poirot is false accused of sending letters that seem to point a finger of accusation at four apparent strangers of the murder of a man believed to have accidentally drowned.
His incredulity at the sheer audacity of such an action is the hook that brings him onto the case and like much of the book provides ,many moments of gentle mirth.  
Three hours very well spent in my reading chair!

The only thing remaining is to see if we can persuade Mr  David Suchet to reprise the role!