Saturday, 28 January 2017

Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

My Name  is Leon. By Kit De Waal

This was a lovely book. It also truly resonated with me personally  as my own baby sister was born in 1981 and although our parentage was infinitely more conventional and stable than that of Leon and baby Jake, I remember  when I first became aware of the need to protect and nurture her. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to endure what Leon did!

I was very impressed with the subtle and nuanced  approach to the  blatant racism of the period. Leaving two brothers separated, one heart broken and (arguably) six lives changed  irrevocably the damage is  mirrored  graphically by the unrest that seemed to explode in London in the early eighties.

Seen through the prism of  a child’s eyes, prejudice is played out before Leon whilst his own life is turned upside down and his grief and frustration at the adults he is meant to trust, is   juxtaposed against some of the biggest events of  the year. The petty squabbles and empty posturing in the group of outsiders he meets at the municipal allotments are  in contrast with the volatility of  The Brixton riots, erupting  between  dissatisfied Black men who felt marginalised and the police . These clashes  are spectres in the periphery of the main  plot and eventually these skirmishes become integral to the final explosive release of Leon’s pent up aggression and frustration born of the inertia of officialdom to give him peace and serenity.

Even that  infamous fairytale Royal wedding becomes part of  Leon ‘s tumultuous journey of adjustment through  abandonment, loss , resentment and eventually acceptance.

I felt a mixture  pity and pride for little Leon, who was forced to be a man too often  when what he truly needed was to be was a little boy. I wish he had been able to enjoy being a big brother, to get to know Jake and feel the unconditional love of a mother. He was a little scrapper, and even when he is being bad, there is a inherent goodness in him that brought a lump to my throat often.

Kit De Waal cleverly weaves in so many references that any child of the eighties will secretly thrill at, Star Wars, Action man and BMX  all give this heartfelt story a grounding in the decade that shaped me, but this is a book that anyone can enjoy. The characterisation is brilliant in my  humble opinion.

There  are no real villains in this piece, every single one  of the people who come into Leon’s sphere have difficulties, and troubles. All are trying their best to make the most of a bad situation. The social Services are depicted sympathetically and the Foster Care system gets a generous boost from the positive way that Leon’s awful situation is made  better by kind, down to earth people.

I did not want to stop reading the book and I was awfully sad to see it end. When you miss characters when you have read the last few pages of a book, you know it is a great book. This story made me angry, sad and nostalgic and I absolutely loved it.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review: Pearl Harbour and beyond -various authors

A diverse collection of WWII stories loosely connected by taking place in the same year as the Pearl Harbour attack. Some were more personally resonant, but all reflected the futility and far reaching consequences of the war and the diverse people it touched, bringing them good luck or bad but leaving none untouched. A number serve as introductions to series by the individual authors and several characters and settings will be revisited. I thought each was interesting in it’s own right and definitely encourages further reading of these authors.

“Deadly Liberty”  by R.V.Doon was a solid opener for this collection. It introduces the reader to  Navy nurse Connie “Coco” Collins onboard the USS SOLACE, a hospital ship in the Pacific fleet. The story centres around events on the evening before the attack on the harbour. It establishes Coco’s inquisitive mind, her moral code and as a result I found her  a deeply likeable character. The island and naval life prove a delicious backdrop  in what I am presuming is the prequel in this historical WWII mystery series.   Here a AWOL nurse, a missing baby and an assassination in the midst of the Pearl harbour attack, ,combine into a tantalising taster.

Looking forward to meeting “Coco” again in.  A Murderous Disguise.

The List by Vanessa Couchman

A wonderful story of a woman persecuted  for her relatively humble origins thrust into the nobility through marriage , aiding a Jewish fugitive who is hunted in reprisal for a resistance assassination. Tense and evocative it brought to mind the work my personal Historical  hero Nicholas Winton.  Wonderful.

Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams. By Alexa Kang

Chancer and  Rogue Jesse spends his last few hours in NYC prior to leaving after being drafted, drifting from person to person making arrangements and tying up loose ends, some cynical and jaded,  others touching and heartfelt. Not your usual hero, but intriguing none the less.

Allies after All  by Dianne Ascroft  is a tale of the classic jealousies roused by the American’s joining the war effort. A young man in Northern  Ireland spends the first portion getting his nose put out of joint by a US engineer there to build the airbases that will house all the Airmen who will “oversexed, over rated and over here” and the second half learning not to be so hasty in his judgement.

“Time To Go “ by Margaret Tanner

Is the kind of love story that fans of the stories of soulmates and star crossed lovers love will adore. It was a tad too short for my personal taste but very sweet and tender The connection to the Pearl Harbour attack is enough to bind it to the other stories in the collection but it would exist equally well in relation to any tragic loss of life and still have the same impact

Turning point by Marian Kummerow

This resonated more strongly with me as the Granddaughter of a man persecuted by the Nazis and who like Margarete managed to escape through a combination of luck and cunning. The tension is kept taut until almost the end of the story, but that slackening of the grip of the story in no way detracts from the reminder that people were cattle to the Nazis rather than human beings with lives and worth before cleansing began. I liked this one very much.

“I am an  American” by Robyn Hobusch Echols

My only real reference to Japanese Americans is that of Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid films, but this is even more piquant as I view it through the lenses of what seems to be happening in the USA this very week as Trump takes office on an anti Muslim platform. These immigrants like many others moved to the USA for freedoms not afforded in Japanandvyet were treated abominably because they happened to be of a certain appearance..

A Rude Awakening by Robert Kingsley

 A Real  Boy’s Own adventure this one, planes, trucks, exotic shores  and the scream of the planes as the Japanese planes draw in, a brilliant book end to the collection as it begins and ends with invasion.

Friday, 20 January 2017

CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Today marks  the first in a  series of reviews of Classical Novels and other texts that were on the school curriculum when I was growing up.

 I will not be approaching them in quite so much depth as a school imposed essay might but I am interested in themes particularly in regards to the depiction of women at the time as the Bronte's were forced to pose as male Novelists and poets before they were taken up by a publisher. Their own lives were adversely affected by the spectre of their brother’s weaknesses and ego so I am deeply interested to look for correlations in their stories.

This first  few book  choices are inspired by the recent BBC film about The Bronte Family.

I had read Wuthering Heights by Emily during my GCSES  and Jane Eyre by Charlotte  as  an A level student The latter  holds a precious place in my heart, the former, well let’s just say Heathcliff and Cathy are not my favourite couple! My plan is to read the more obscure books by this incredible family across this year along with other Nineteenth Century novels suggested by friends.

I wanted to start the with Anne Bronte’snovel, “ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” as it was one that I had started, but  never finished when I started reading the additional reading list  prior to my A levels.

Twenty Four years later...

I enjoyed the book very much and it falls very easily  into the Eyre area on the spectrum. Written in the form of a prolonged letter to his Brother in Law with a large portion of journal  reproduced in it’s centre, Gilbert describes the development of his acquaintance and later love for the mysterious Tenant  Mrs Graham  whose installation along with her young son at the rather forlorn and dilapidated Hall  of the title causes much  gossip in the drawing rooms and on the paths of the locality. Over time we learn the truth of her isolation and aloofness.

It is a complex story, filled with many imperfect personalities.  Gilbert is revealed to be a dedicated and loyal man at heart, but he is not immune to the faults and excesses of emotion  and he is not always admirable, but always likeable. The most interesting male character is in fact a true gothic villain.

I believe that Anne Bronte’s  own experience with her Brother Branwell and his excesses and addictions, may well have inspired the central antagonist Arthur Huntingdon whose alcoholism and mental torture of Helen inspired equal measures of pity and anger that she is held in his thrall beyond their physical proximity.  His dissolute ways and that of his circle of friends and acquaintances are depicted with stark honesty and you can just hear the sarcasm and vitriol pouring off the page.

There are other cads and heroic saviours in play, but it is  in fact the women of the novel that left me with the most resonant impressions, some are cruel and catty, exalting in their ability to bring misery on others particular others of their own sex, others meek and utterly ruled by by their husbands, whose behaviour is utterly reprehensible.

Helen Graham is a character apart, not truly cowed by her circumstances, but still a victim of Male pride and disrespect.She is a multi layered personality, her own exacting standards for herself and each of the men who pass into her sphere is as much an impediment to her happiness as a protective bubble to prevent her falling into total desolation.

This is a story about more than Love  and romance and despite it’s Happy resolution is much more hard edged and socially revealing about the disparity between the lives of men and that of women in the time, where breeding and morality stand for little in the face of socially accepted misogyny.

A thought provoking and interesting read.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Judas by Roy Bright

Judas by Roy Bright.

My interest has always been piqued by the story  of Judas Iscariot. His fall from place at Jesus’s side to the ultimate betrayer always made me wonder why Jesus would have picked him as one of the twelve and here in Roy Bright’s story we get a pretty great theory!

Judas is the plaything of the Angelic Host, sent out on missions to atone for his actions in that garden two millennia ago. His existence is limited and curtailed despite being gifted (Cursed) with eternal life and a resurrection power rivalled only  by Lazarus and our Lord Jesus Christ himself!

A grotty tramp when we meet him, he is drafted in on a mission that will have ramifications for the whole of humanity, Judas is tasked with looking after  a six year old child who is the vessel of Good in the age old battle between The creator  and Lucifer.

The premise is simple and often used. Vulnerable child is the key who must be protected by the powerfully endowed anti Hero who is changed and softened in the process, but I can happily report that it is written in such a way as to keep the reading alongside them.

The book cleverly weaves the current peril of a city under siege by Demonic forces tasked to do anything to stop a little girl come into her birthright, with back story about Judas, his choice, his reasoning and the outcome  on that day when he became The Betrayer and we come away thinking Judas is perhaps too much maligned (at least in Mr Bright’s telling).

There is a core group of heroes who join Judas in his quest to protect the frightened little girl Charlotte, who is beautifully betrayed as an innocent destined for massive things, balancing youthful faith against the growing God Given Power within her that makes her more influential than any of her self appointed protectors .

Rounding out the group are Gary, An intuitive police detective whose acceptance of the evidence of his eyes whilst his mind rails is admirable  and a prostitute. Both happen across Judas and a demon foe battling it out and become integral the plan and the eventual confrontation with Lucifer the Morningstar himself.

The quest  had just the merest whiff of the quartet in Stephen King’s Dark Tower stories. Let me be clear this is an entirely different plot, but the immediacy of my bonding with them as a team was akin to when I first read King’s epic series.

The demon foes here are wonderfully oily and wicked and I found the whole  idea of them preferring form as Japanese Business men in a City  High rise such a fun idea. Lucifer himself (like all GREAT villains) prefers to speak like a smarmy arrogant  Englishman so the interjections are peppered with one liners.

This is a fast paced book, the flashbacks into the past are not jarring  to that narrative flow and are necessary to remind us that this gruff slogger is in fact thousands of years old and his jadedness is not borne of bad humour, but of millennia of inertia with brief spasms of useful action and so his gradual resurrection of spirit is just as important as his bodily repairs or his relic infused Japanese Blades.

With Wily Priests and Arch Angels rounding out the character list, this was an exciting and fun romp with biblical undertones that are satisfying to the faithful but not cloying or off-putting to those who do not believe.

I cannot wait to see what happens in the next book!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Book Review: My Girl by Jack Jordan

When you look at the slightly moody Black and white shot in the back of “My Girl”, your mind does not immediately assimilate that fresh faced young man with the subjects that  make up this rather dark and twisty tale.

That baby face hides a fiendishly warped imagination used with rapier sharp skill and deftness to craft a finely honed thrill ride.

Jack Jordan  seems to particularly excel in depicting the seedier things in life. The squalor of  the home of Paige, our heroine; living the dissolute life of a woman whose life has been laid waste by the loss of a child in the most violent and horrific manner . His description is fragrant with staleness and rancid vomit. One can see the disarray and chaos both in evidence in her house but also as a symbol of her own internal turmoil.

 Never getting the closure she needs to heal and begin life again, Paige’s misery is compounded by the  recent suicide of her husband who was seemingly unable  to adapt to their shared himself. Now addicted to  drink and prescription drugs, Paige is barely existing. It is in the depiction of her inertia that Mr Jordan skilfully evokes the depths to which she has sunk without overpowering the reader with flowery descriptors, the prose is spare and all the more powerful for it.

Seemingly at rock bottom and almost completely lost to herself, let alone those few people left behind who desperately want her recovery, we are like Paige herself left , questioning her sanity as
the strange things that she has put down to lapses in memory during drunken fugues begin to pile up  and challenge even her willingness to wilfully ignore all things but the wine bottle and the  blister pack of benzodiazepines.

The story is fast paced and filled with enough twists to satisfy any thriller fan.  To comment more would be a disservice to a clever plot that just keeps on giving.  Thrillers are not normally my genre of choice, but this kept me darkly rapt, my mind at once recoiling and yet clamouring to see where it might all lead.

If I were to complain at all it would be that  after such a masterful set up of false crescendos that the final act seemed just the tiniest bit rushed, but I suspect  this was just my greed for more of  this story,  being so absorbing and in no way a real criticism as the brevity at it’s end in no way detracts from what was a truly enjoyable, (if  at times cringeworthy ) experience!!

Five bright shining stars!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Book Review: Tiger In A Cage by Allie Cresswell

Tiger in a Cage

This was a really cleverly plotted book, that is much denser than it first appears.Present Day and historical social gatherings become the framework upon which the story hangs.
The main character is Molly,  through whose point of view, we filter all the comings and goings of the suburban close, where she against all odds  tries to create an idyll for herself, her husband and her daughter.

This is an ingenious combination of  soap opera and  melodrama combined, with  a dash of mystery for good measure.The Neighbourhood Shenanigans gradually begin to taint  her idea of a perfect neighbourhood enclave, as secrets and lies are gradually revealed to the reader.

What makes the story much more nuanced is that Molly herself is a  moral contradiction and the gradual revelation of the Caged Tiger of the title, which is her own dark deed(in heart if not in deed) illustrates the fact that even those with the most pure hearted and innocent intentions can be led  in darker, more languid directions by the emotions and passions that such close  social proximity can breed.

The characters whilst being deeply flawed and selfish at times are interesting and at no time become stereotypes (which would have been quite easy in a book based on a suburban street).  You like them,  you pity them and I am ashamed to say you judge them, but you never once want to stop unfurling the onion that is their complicity in each other’s secrets, the moral sidestepping and acceptance to maintain the brittle veneer of friendship and neighbourliness.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Book Review: In Extremis - A Hellbound Novella

This was a quick story to read, but provides plenty to salivate  over for fans of the Ripper Mystery. It is a clever twist on what seems to be the new accepted theory on whom the Whitechapel murder might be and is cleverly evocative of the period, graphic in it's descriptors about the murders themselves and chilling in it's setting of the scene for Mr MCaffrey's Hellbound Story.

Jack the Ripper's appetites are laid bare in this clever amalgam of prose and diary entry to evoke one of the most ardently researched and talked about periods in London's Criminal history.

I enjoyed it very much. I was unaware that both Strychnine and aresenic were used so extensive so as to cause addiction It is the attention to detail here that is so impressive, with secret societies and alliances formed and broken on the spin of fate, this was a very  interesting book and a great precursor to the fuller story.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Book Review: Waiting for the Bee Stings by Calvin Wade.

Waiting for the Bee Stings by Calvin Wade.

Some of the very best stories are the simplest. In Waiting for the Bees Stings, we have a prime example. This is a story about missed opportunities, bad timing and renewal. Four friends bound by shared secrets and the damage those secrets can wreak.

The character list is few, six souls all linked by unrequited passions and lies. For Jason, Mia will always be the one that got away.To Mia, Gary is the man she trusted despite her better judgement. To Chrissie, Jason is the man of her dreams. Gary is a law to himself, secretly playing them all off of each other. A fine mess  they make in their callow youth, but now they have all met Forty, only misfortune, revelation and recrimination can follow.

Reunited by Chrissie’s untimely passing, these four friends and the secrets of their student days are laid bare, leaving them all changed affected in ways none of them can expect.

This is a simply structured story with Mia and Jason both chronicling the  hectic rather than halcyon days of their student life and also bringing their story into the modern day with  their meeting at a funeral and the gentle unravelling of the secrets of the past and their gravitational pull toward each other, bonds forged in the past seem to have remained despite self imposed estrangement.

Their two points of view are woven with deft skill and the story of their burgeoning relationship is sweet, but always grounded in realism

Mia’s discovery and reaction to her husband’s  Marital infidelity are dealt with in a subtle way (despite her naked confrontation !) There is no disputing  Gary is a bounder and a cad, but his part in the story rings true and reveals his vulnerability despite my utter dislike for him.

Had this been a more hackneyed depiction of love unrequited, I  would have questioned quite frankly how Mia ever landed up with Gary in the first place! Even  with a painfully shy and tentative  Jason pulling back vital points, Gary is quite obviously  not a great fit, but this book is honest and authentic and all the better for it. Bad matches are indeed forged when true love is thwarted.

Mia’s children are also beautifully described, their reactions to the evolution of their parent’s break up and Jason’s gradual absorption into their presumed idyl is done with humour, sympathy and an obvious attention to how children react and adapt to change. (Esme might just be my spirit animal!)

This is a great book, both absorbing and truthful. For me though, what added the most delicious frisson of joy,was the fact it was based in the lovely  Ormskirk.  The home of my own crazy student days, I have to admit to many a  night spent in the hostelries there and as familiar haunts and places were mentioned, my mind flew back to my own drunken declarations of undying love, misunderstandings and the lasting friendships born of that time.

This being my first foray  with Calvin Wade, I feel pretty sure, we will be journeying again.

 A Marvellous start to my reading year!