Friday, 30 September 2016

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming by Chloe Hammond

Darkly Dreaming  by Chloe Hammond

Fantasy Fiction

I  went through a bit of a fad with  Vampires in my early twenties and so  a quick dip into another series of books about those on a blood based diet from new author Chloe Hammond(Who was kind enough to allow me an ARC)  was a  rather welcome little holiday.

When it comes to vampires it is always  the mythology that keeps me coming back for more. It is the rules and parameters of their existence that always intrigues me the most and so I always pay particular attention to these elements of the stories. Where there is a firm foundation any number of twists and turns in the plot, are just seasonings to delight the palate. I approached  this book with much  joyous anticipation.

This is a quite an  unusual book that at the start was a little bit more in the established style of  Women’s  fiction than paranormal , but this in of  itself  made the book a little different. The story  settled into a style that it reads equally  as well for fans of vampire fare and also as a book about the loyalty of true friends in the face of personal tragedy.

The focal  point and hook here is that two best friends Layla and Rae  are inflicted with the “Vampire  problem” simultaneously and their reactions and adjustments to their predicament are juxtaposed with the inevitable shifting in their previous human  relationship as they struggle with  new abilities and needs . As they become part of a community hell bent on secrecy and the sacrosanct nature of keeping their place amongst normal humanity cloaked, their relationship must adapt and evolve.

Layla and Rae are Best friends who have dealt with and come out of, a  period of self imposed estrangement after both were embroiled in unsuitable marriages. Brought together again as vital  support systems after those marriages unravel, they  were in a kind of coexistent bubble at the story's opening and so the evolution of their friendship itself is a nice counterpoint.

Personally I would have preferred just a tad more transition in their reactions  between the infection and total acceptance of their new natures but that is purely subjective.

What of my precious Lore?  Well  there is much here to get my teeth into (So to speak!) The vampires in Chloe Hammond’s imaginings  are not other worldly, undead or another species, they are a result of a virus that retro activates genetic history to exaggerate traits already within the genetic make up. All are longer leaner and much stronger that your average human, but as with any subspecies there are variations. Some are blessed with the kind of ethereal beauty we have come to accept as the norm with vampirism  but others are twisted and gnarled from inner ugliness that was present in a person's character prior to turning.

These Vampires are stronger through their gifts and knowledge rather than it being age reliant which is a refreshing change. The two women attempt to refrain from the ingestion of Human blood and are able to survive on animal blood, something used to great effect by another rather popular series about vegetarian vampires, but more meaningfully applied and adapted here. There is a brutality to the action pieces on  occasion but it is fitting to the plot and the peril at hand.

The High Council who police the Vampire communities do have a whiff of the Volturi about them,  they are collectors of " gifts " and ancient overseers, but that is no bad thing as it is a very useful device to have  the "monsters" being afraid of retribution from both Humans and their betters and Elders and their Genesis from ancient times  to present day is just the kind of Lore I love.

The romantic entanglements are well realised and I particularly  enjoyed the interactions between  Rae and Guillaume  which is  a stuttering and reticent love affair that is not satisfying in the least and as such ALL the better for the fact at it is not tied up neatly in a pink heart bow and I am certain (or at least hopeful) that   it  will feature more heavily  into future volumes of the series.

The plot clips along at a fair old pace but always maintains it's accessibility for people who might not necessarily be genre fans. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and think it is a worthy addition to my list of vampire series to watch out for. There are some editing issues that I will be passing onto the author, but overall an incredibly promising start and a really good opener to get the vampire fan in me sharpening her canines for another tasty bite in the next book.

A Solid  Four Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Review: Casting Off by P.I. Paris

Casting Off

General/ Geriatric Fiction( Okay so I just made the last one up)

For some unfathomable reason 2016 has been the year of  books about old folks and this delightful book , Casting On, based on a play written by the same  author ( which incidentally  received much critical acclaim)  is another volume I am adding to my pile.

I cannot speak more highly of  “Casting Off. At first glance it is a humorous tale set in a Scottish care home, but before very long we are examining some very emotive issues. The true beauty of this book is that each and every character is treated as a human being first before they are lumped in as OLD people which is of course exactly as it should be.

These home inhabitants are the result of very  varied lives, some with some rather daring skeletons in their closets, so whilst there are the pre-requisite discussions in the communal lounge and “entertainments” proper for the setting, there are also the most subversive actions and bitter rivalries more akin to youngsters of a much more rebellious age. Soon though, fate brings real Young people into their spheres and experiences on both sides of the age spectrum are enriched!

The cost of remaining in the home becomes untenable for some of the residents, so  a core group under the guise of a Knitting Circle begin to plot and plan how to make sure that the most financially vulnerable residents can remain in the rooms that are their own stability and sanctuary. Some of their plans are pretty out there!

Gradually deep and long held secrets come to the surface and each of their lives are shaped and coloured by the actions and reactions of the others to these revelations. Some find bravery never before tapped, some regain strength and vitality and others forge new friendships or renew familial connections whilst other move gently into the next chapter, be that the everlasting or to pastures not necessarily greener, but meaner.

The tone is warm and even the darker themes of the inevitability of death and the ravages of Dementia, closeted sexuality and even sexual drives and appetites in elder practitioners are dealt with deftly and with style and panache. Despite some of the residents being not the pleasantest of folks, they are never caricatures, they are real people and their  daily machinations, rhythms and foibles elevate this story to a really joyful celebration of life, love  in all it’s guises and yes  even death too.

I found myself self consciously weeping in the final chapters and I can find no stronger recommendation than  that, my soggy tissue and gentle sigh as I reached the final sentence is my version of a five star review, which this book definitely  also deserves.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Book Review: No Idea by Si Page

No idea the new novel by Si Page.
General Fiction

Reading “No idea”  by Si Page seems a tiny bit  to me, like reading  a slightly veiled personal account wrapped up in a very engaging story. There appears to be much gleaned from Mr  Page’s  personal experience here. The torment of the(as yet)  unfulfilled literary endeavour rings very true and an obvious erring towards the examination of Christian Faith seem par for the course for a reasonably new author whose previous career trajectory was as a pastor.

Of course there is a lot more to offer here, but much (as is always a good thing in these sorts of gritty comedic books) seems to be fairly factual.

One would hope that Simon’s friends and living conditions were not quite so squalid and unsavoury in his formative years as  are those of our anti Hero- Rob, but the grotty flat mates and the almost fetid hopelessness of the poor man when we first meet him certainly lend themselves to much blackish humour.

 I could not  help but warm to the hapless young man, who could blame him for allowing himself to sink so low before dragging himself up by the Croc strap when his formative years were filled with loss and abandonment, so in a way he stomachs his two horrendous lodgers for far longer than he should because they at least are constants in his very small sphere and even filth ridden  stinking stability is better than no stability at all.

Rob is also emotionally unavailable resulting in him only having one friend outside his flat an old lady another exceptionally lonely soul seeking completion via a reconnection with family. She like Rob himself seeks solace in trying to engineer familial connection.

As events unfold, he finds a path to forgiving the sins of his parents that have left him emotionally scarred into his thirties, he finds a pretty and joyful soulmate to share his adventures both exciting and Domestic and ultimately he finds it in himself to brave the world to finally fight for his due.

No idea is a book about Russians and Cybercrime, but also about redemption, Love and justice,I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who has been thwarted in the literary, electronic or romance arenas, there is something here for everyone.

If this has wet your whistle...  vote for the book on Kindle scout within the next 12 days to see it come to fruition as a bone fide book deal.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

The Lost Girl by Carol Drinkwater

I am so glad that I decided to read this particular novel by a writer who has become so precious in my reading life this last twelve months as a accomplished biography writer.

Read in isolation this would have been a wonderfully dynamic and emotionally arresting novel set in  Post War Paris and the Cote D’Azure  and in Paris in the modern day, intertwining the lives of two women who at first glance could not seem more different. who meet on one traumatic and historically resonant night in Paris in 2015.

Kurtis is in a state of emotional flux, the sudden loss of her teenage daughter as a runaway has impacted every day since, fracturing a marriage which was already showing cracks and fissures and for better or worse allowing an alluring American to capture her passions and emotions, further muddying her marital tension.

 After a reconciliation of sorts in search of a common goal, she sits in a bar in Paris awaiting word from her fading Actor  Husband Oliver on whether he was able to find and bring her daughter to her for a reunion she has been dreaming of since her daughter’s disappearance.

Here she meets Marguerite and elderly film star of regal bearing who becomes her saviour and eventually confidante after it becomes apparent Lizzie and Oliver have been caught up in the Bataclan Terrorist incident of November 2015.

Here Carol Drinkwater crafts a complex  story with a constantly moving narrative where the gentle romance of two post war young people is interwoven with the modern day travails of Kurtis and Oliver.

Charlie and Marguerite are outsiders whose chance meeting and shared adventure bring them to love.She is seeking solace in the glamour of the movie making haven of Cannes and it’s environs and, He seeking anonymity in a long dreamed for  rural idyll. By seeking to be come part of the agricultural fabric of the Riviera ,growing glorious scented blooms for a local perfumery,Charlie makes an attempt to escape from the bitter memories and traumas of the War.

It is brave and difficult to set a large portion of a book in the real events of a very recent terrorist atrocity, readers will have their memories of that awful night, but Carol’s descriptions of those first traumatic, confusing and manic hours is tightly described and sensitively handled.

What elevates the book to something quite extraordinary is the authenticity of the description of the French and Middle Eastern settings in flashback, the fragrances, the flavours and colourful snapshots of the flora and fauna of the area. The Rose harvest in the book echoes strongly of the issues the Carole and her beloved husband  Michel had with their olive harvests and her love for the people and the area is evident and boosts this part of the story immensely.

Carol’s personal experience as an olive farmer, beekeeper and adventurer on the ancient routes of the Olive informs and enriches the story, giving it a depth that is rare in stories of a similar type. 

I loved the story, was swept away by Marguerite and Charlie , felt the pain of Kurtis in the uncertainly of that night and the the confusion and frustrations at the  gradual unraveling of her marriage after their own whirlwind romance and the palpable , if not final loss of a child. The uncertainty is a bar to all but a cursory existence rather than a rich and fulfilling life, something Marguerite has managed despite personal tragedy.

 I liked the juxtaposition of the two central women, seeking personal fulfilment outside the domestic confines.

I left this story with a warm glow. The final chapters are a wonderful reward, and more than that I cannot divulge.

Book Review: Mythfits by Heide Goode and Iain Grant.

Mythfits - A short story collection by Heidi Goody and Iain Grant

This is my first experience with this talented twosome, but I think perhaps,not my last!

Fun Fun Fun!

The stories herein are a delight! They are wickedly funny, slyly subversive and very very clever! I am loathe to give away their secrets, because I want readers to discover them for themselves, but suffice to say I am very pleased to have made the acquaintance of Jeremy Clovenhoof and his motley band of flat mates.

This is an exceptionally witty and Well crafted collection. I chuckled often and smiled wryly at the clever inversion of some of our most enduring mythical creatures  and religious icons;in the deft hands of Heide and Iain, a veritable powerhouse of a team it would seem!

One of my favourites is that of  the squabbling Archangels all meeting for a crafty pre -Christmas reunion , all learning a thing or two about the reality of Human hearts. The angel of death praying that folk might pass away via the colourful  means of cracker "choke hazards" is indicative of the darkly comic minds at  work here.

The Non-Specific Prayer Assessment Unit is a thing of genius. There are some wonderfully knowing swipes at a number of religions here both ancient and established Christian figures. The placing of them in modern settings, within the mundane roles and popular culture of today just adds to their comic appeal.

With such arresting cover and an obvious joyful glee  apparent in the creation of  each of these exuberant  tales, I have no compunction in suggesting them to anyone looking for an amusing
diversion this autumn!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Book Review: Holding by Graham Norton

Holding by Graham Norton

Category: General Fiction/ Mystery

Thanks to publishers Hodder & Stoughton and the folk at Netgalley for a chance to read this Advance Reader Copy of the first foray into fiction by Radio star and TV favourite Graham Norton.

I am not quite sure what I had expected when I embarked on this journey, I think perhaps I expected something a lot more frothy than this,  and I am really quite pleased it isn't .This is a book of much more substance.

At it's core this is a gently paced mystery set in small town Eire.  Bones discovered on a building site suddenly catapults a local guarda officer away from the mind numbing tasks of road blocks and the inane job of policing "chucking out time" at the pub and into a proper murder investigation. 

This is not however a "cosy mystery" this familiar premise is adorned by some very deft and insightful storytelling , showcasing how one isolated incident  and some misunderstandings can be a catalyst for total entropy. Many of the townsfolk are held in place by their inability to move past the perceived slights of the past. On the discovery of the bones however, some are suddenly galvanised by guilt, grief or just a sudden realisation that they had reached the capacity of their ability to live in the status quo.

P.J. Is not your normal copper, rather a heavy man who I was desperately worried might succumb to a cardiac arrest before he got to the bottom of things and his potential suspects are not exactly hardened criminals and this  in fact makes "Holding" a much more interesting book. There is a kind of sadness evident throughout that permeates the basic plot, all the characters are fully realised with all their faults and foibles gently revealed. This makes for a much more relatable set of motivations or in some cases obstacles.

I had cottoned on to some of the central plot twists relatively early on, but a good book like a nice walk is about the route to the destination rather than the destination itself and this story is engaging and refreshing throughout. 

I am very glad I read it as I enjoyed it immensely. It was not the laughathon I was expecting but this serious and considered story was actually much better in the end , a strong beginning to what I hope will be a long writing career for Mr Norton.

As the man himself might say "I Liked it a lot"

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Book Review: The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

This was an unexpected read, slightly outside my usual reading preferences. I think this is very much a case of a book of style over substance. The writing is quite deliberately stylised and did not have a smooth flow to it, in fact it seemed almost staccato on occasions.

The premise is strong, two lost souls trying to corale the unruly boy in their care, the problem for me is I could not seem to truly find empathy for any of the characters therein, when the three old ladies who serve as comedic relief and financial sponsor for the erstwhile lad,are the people I find most compelling it does not really bode well.

There are threads which if even slightly differently woven would have made a more cohesive tale.Asad story of unrequited love between two parents, a magical story of Dance as a revelatory experience, or a tale of unbridled passion gone awry ending in violence. None of them are developed so the story seems to flit from vignette to vignette with little narrative flow.

I am sadly underwhelmed by this despite it being Longlisted for a Booker Prize

Friday, 9 September 2016

Book Review: The Colors of my Darkness: My Battle with Bipolar Disorder Through Poetry. By Aleisha Williams

In this book of deeply personal poetry about her struggles with Bipolar Disorder, Ms Williams is bravely tackling a subject that is often Taboo and her poems are visceral and raw and yet infinitely relatable.

They are perhaps a little more free form than the poetry I am used to, but there is no denying their emotional impact. Just reading them will gives the tiniest viewpoint into a illness that often  leaves a sufferer stigmatised  both socially and within their own minds as they juggle the expectations of society for people to "pull themselves together"  or to rely on faith  to get better without actually any understanding of what it feels from the inside. The poems resonate long after the page has turned.

This poetry is not easy and perhaps not laden with symbolism, it is much more direct but it is honest and strong in it's full  uncompromising expose of the illness.

I strongly reccomend anyone interested in Bi-polar and it's far reaching impact to read this book for the clarity of Ms William's own personal journey.

Hidden In My Eyes

Can you see anything when you look at my face?
Anything besides the emotions I want you to see
Deeper lies the truth, but can you see it?
See the turmoil within the brick walls
Sledge hammers and pick axes are needed to tear down these barriers
How can I move forward with such anguish inside?
Such intense conflict to keep away feelings of loneliness and being a burden
Hidden in my eyes lie the truth, but can you see it?
Tortured days & nights I hide within a smiling face
Never wanting the facade to end
Never wanting to become vulnerable to reality's evilness
Confusion and unwillingness makes me question the motives others have
Am I being helped because they truly care or do they have other agendas?
My own insecurities make these questions
Can you see it in my eyes? I'm not sure
Crying tears of longing for someone to notice or question my falsities
I'm sure you can't see it because I'm good at hiding these things
Friends can't see it
Some therapists can't see it
I can't be sure of my surroundings all the time so the facade never fades
Hidden in my eyes is deep hatred for this vessel given unto me
Hidden in my eyes are deep puncture wounds
Suffering seems to never end and it's hidden in my eyes
Can you see it?
Questions of death are pending, ideations float freely, but can you see it?
It's hidden in my eyes
Prayer is such a difficult task when words of doom, demise and weakness are prolonged through medicated gazes
Can you see it in my eyes? It's hidden there.

I am sure you can agree this is uncompromising stuff.

Available on CreateSpace and via Amazon Kindle and paperback.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Book Review: Deadly Harvest ,a Detective Kubu novel by Michael Stanley

 I was gifted this book by Publishers Orenda and so I offer an honest review.

Deadly Harvest is the  first book in this seemingly long running series that I have read but I can emphatically say it will not be my last!
What a find! The plot is not so much a gory thrillier, more so a good old fashion mystery in the style of the legends like Chesterton and Christie. The exotic Botswana setting provides some international spice to a very satisfying and savoury dish. Lots to get one's teeth into here, A woman officer in a Man's world. Corruption in the highest echelons of the social strata, the ongoing issue of the spread of AIDS and the fear and stigma for  the young children left orphaned it it's destructive wake.
All this nestles around the central murders  which focus on The activities of  Witch Doctors and the wholly unsavoury idea of Muti. Animal sacrifice  is quite nasty enough, but the idea of  human parts being harvested from living victims is at once horrifying and yet also makes sense logically if not morally. Let us not forget that many cultures look on the idea of the living body embodying a force for strength and  potential rejuvenation, why else would Elizabeth Bathory and her ilk have sought blood as a bathing additive and this is the central idea from which vampirism also springs, so whilst we in the west balk at "Third World Mysticism and traditions"  we should not be too judgemental.
The book beautifully juxtaposes the reality in a modern Botswana of a christian Faith that holdis life sacred with those more traditional views that allow for the weak to become powerful by transferrence of power from those that are seen to embody powerful traits,  talismans such as albinoism or virgin purity for fecundity and endurance This is interesting as Catholicism (a powerful Christian denomination in Africa) places such a hard emphasis on the power of Christ's blood through transubstantiation and yet stands in shocked abhorrence.
The book is at once warm  and engaging with several larger than life characters who invite you into the world that the twin authors  Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip (who pen under the name of Michael Stanley) creates , not least David "Kubu" Bengu himself whose obvious enjoyment food is comically pervasive throughout the plot. His wife and child are welcome additions to lighten the mood and family scenes are a nice if sometimes bittersweet foil to the darker elements of the chase.

Samantha Khama is brilliant choice as the first female Detective in the CID, she may have an agenda in her pursuit of child abductors but that makes her a tremendous advocate of all children in Botswana and a aggressive see,er of the truth and her pairing with the measured and wise "Kubu" gives her great advantage and promise for personal development. I like the pairing very much.

The themes are obviously very well researched, the amount of empirical information is vast but the fact nestles beautifully into the fiction and makes for a very satisfying whole. I strongly recommend this book and intend to seek those that came before and the next in the series "A Death in the Family".