Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review - Thin Ice by Alex Keena

Five students end up marooned in the middle of a frozen lake in the depths of winter after a car crash. With no phone signal and the weather worsening there seems no hope of rescue and less chance of getting off the lake alive.

Following a potentially interesting premise, I have to say I was hugely disappointed by this book. It proved to be by turns frustrating, bizarre and disjointed. The five characters who are trapped on the lake – Matt, Sam, Mya, Lisa and Essie –are fairly insubstantial beings. I couldn’t relate to or like any of them. All were irritating in their own way and not even worth describing.

One by one the students, unable to get off the lake because as soon as they move any distance from the car the ice cracks, thankfully die off in a variety of ways until about half way through when a mystery man appears. He manages to walk across the same ice no-one else could to rescue two survivors. In a couple of pages, the author wipes out the whole basis of the novel. But it’s not over yet because Thin Ice gets really odd once the pair are in hospital they’re attacked by one of the apparent dead.

The story then really goes off the bizarre scale when the one last survivor is suddenly at the man’s house who rescued them. No explanation why. Then she’s back in the hospital, then at a funeral, then in a mine being chased down by the rescuer, all with no understandable and believable transition between the locations. It’s as cheesy as ripe brie.

But there’s more. You may or may not remember the original Dallas series, when Bobby ‘dies’and a series later comes back from the dead? If not, look it up. Well, that’s what Thin Ice is all about…I suspect the author hoped this would be a major twist, unfortunately it was very obvious.

There were a couple of high points, such as the crash and when the car sinks into the lake with someone trapped inside, but they were pretty much it.

As to the mechanics of the tale. The author made many repeats of the same word(s) within the same sentence(s). This is something I find particularly annoying because basic editing will sort this issue out. For example:

“…in a few minutes, that will be frozen solid and you’ll be frozen along with it!” Matt looked down at the freezing liquid that now covered the ice.

Then there was the SHOUTING. Yes, lots of words and even whole sentences in capitals for emphasis. Ouch. Also a lot of dialogue was punctuated by … which is easy to over-use and the author slipped into this other bad habit quite readily.

Finally the overall writing style was clunky, it just didn’t flow well. For example:

Like he, himself, had been, Lisa was also suspended upside-down but, unlike him, she didn’t suddenly wake up.

Thin Ice just about crept over the two star line saved by the reasonable premise in the first half and a couple of heartbeat moments. But only JUST.


Rating? Two Stars
Would I add this to my bookshelf? No
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Review - Magenta Opium by Sharon Baillie

Veronica Dempsey divides her time between disposing of a body and inventing a new form of opium in her loft.
Where to start with Magenta Opium? First, I absolutely hated it. The opening chapter was horribly confusing. My initial view was the author was attempting a Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time approach with Veronica – police come knocking at the door and this is explored in an intricate and bizarre fashion. In particular the words ‘door’ and ‘letterbox’ are used incredibly repetitively 24 times in a couple of pages.
Likewise with the door, although able to be a door at standard temperatures and pressures, its door-like qualities are not altogether independent of temperature. At 800 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit, choose your poison) the door would be a doorway plus mess. At -200 it would be a wall; immovable. This is precisely why the Inuits didn’t invent alloyed metals.
I really struggle with repetition. It can work, like in Catch-22, but the writing has to be skilful. Guess what? It’s not, this is way off the scale.
This repetitive approach is used continuously throughout the book. Routine is used 30 in 144 words as well – there are others. The author also tries a Vernon God Little approach using Veronica’s initials in a (very large) variety of words. There’s also a person called Smyth who often reminds us it’s spelt with a Y (yes the capital is deliberate) – even though I can read that for myself. This habit of repeating points already made is also often, erm repeated. I don’t know why.
The ‘story’centres on Veronica for some reason deciding to make a variant of
opium. Apparently, she’s a genius, but mad (hence the crazy prose, more of that shortly). After the door incident we learn that Veronica’s mother has been living in the loft, unknown to husband and daughter for over 8 years (yeah, right). Now for another example:
The motherfound woman, once a motherlost girl, and wifefound man, happy and pungent wifelost man the day before, were taken in for questioning.
This is because the presumed dead woman living in the loft has been selling counterfeit DVD’s and partaking in online porn. And the family didn’t know for over 8 years (yeah, right). Veronica’s mother ended up in the loft because she was going to run off with a man, but after a tryst she decides against it:
Fortunately for Jessica all he wanted was a go of her. Unfortunately for Jessica all he wanted was a go of her. Unfortunately for Jessica he wasn’t very good. But fortunately for Jessica he wasn’t very good.
The opium development leads to a death and then disposal of the body. The problem is if the focus was on this thread only the book would (mercifully) be only a few thousand words long. When the opium works Veronica says:
It worked. Did it work? What worked? It did. But did it? It did. What did it do? How did it work? Chemistry. Why did it work? Magic. It did work though, eh? It worked. Did it work? How? Chemistry. Why? Magic. Because. And then. Ha! It worked! Stone me! They might. It worked. It did. It did. It did.
There is even a chapter late in the book where the author describes activities such as‘ties were tied’, developments were developed’, ‘traffic light changed from green to amber to red…(and back again several times)’ – this goes on for page after page with the summation at the end: ‘In short, life in the world progressed for several weeks, unaware of the life of Veronica (where do we go from here?) Dempsey et al.’ I don’t know why.
There are also little footnotes explaining comments, films, and odd little made up words like interpium (internet opium, which was explained several times too). Here are a couple more of the writing examples I found so frustrating. Just a few of the many, many that I could have used:
The void that wasn’t really there that he paid a big-strapping-woman to fill was not filled with sex. Not in the classical word sex.
13 people liked this, 8 people commented but none of the comments commented that the status would have benefitted from a comma.
Sofia pulled Proctor down on top of her and kissed him. His rare cooked steak complimented her Pinot Grigio and their superstring section crescendoed together.
And perhaps my ‘favourite’:
”Let’s get a penguin as a wedding present. We’ll call him Frederick on Sundays and Freddie the rest of the week. I don’t mind if he can’t dance, we’ll still love him. Or her. She can be Freddie as well as and Fredericka on a Sunday. Every new couple should have a penguin. We’ll eat shrimp vol-au-vents and drink Chardonnay together and watch a flatscreen television and Freddie will hug me while you’re out at work.” They sealed the deal with some funky sex followed by dinner at Luigi and Maria’s house where they broke the good news.

It wasn’t just me, I kept reading excerpts out to my wife until she told me to go away. So I stayed up late to finish Magenta Opium otherwise I wouldn’t have slept thinking about the story. Although I’m sure the author saw the point of all this the last comment belongs to the prose:
The rambling woman was still confusing [her] though.
 
Rating? One Star
Would add this to my bookshelf? Erm, no...
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Review - Other Stories... by Gerard Brennan

A collection of five short stories, some previously published in magazines, anthologies and websites.

Like the previously reviewed Possession… these are very well written story nuggets, all quite different, but all based in Belfast.

In Bouncer a hard man ‘door manager’ tries to relate to his gay son. It’s an unusual mix of angst, violence (as the bouncer struggles to reconcile his feelings whilst on the job) and touching humility. It’s well done.

Hard Rock is entirely different. It’s a grimy story of excess, manslaughter and attempted necrophilia. The protagonist, a rock star called Joey, has a girl in his hotel room after a gig but it all goes horribly wrong. The following quote is an example of the writing:

I stood up and looked around the room. Cocaine on the table. Dead girl cuffed to the bed. Dead fat man laid out on the floor. Blood-covered rockstar, stinking of puke and clutching the murder weapon, swaying on his feet.
Nothing But Time is a very brief story about a tout in prison and realizing it’s going to be a long stretch. The writing made me very glad I’ve never been put inside.

Day-Tripping is perhaps the oddest of the collection. James goes round to his
estranged friend Mattie’s place. James has a decent job, Mattie is a dope head. James ends up in hospital after an accident. However the incident brings the pair back together and they become friends again – in the strangest of circumstances.

Swing is again about friends, although Conor and Stevie are both at school. Conor used to be the cool kid, until his parents swinging activities becomes public knowledge and his stock plummets. Stevie is there to defend him until Conor goes one shocking step too far.

These stories are very well written, tight and neat that leaves the reader with sometimes shock, often surprise and sometimes questions. The characters are excellently drawn in a very small number of words. The dialogue is neat too. It doesn’t take long to plough through this collection, however I suspect it’s something I’ll go back to a couple of times…
 
Rating? Five Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Oh yes!
 
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Review - Chief Inspector Jewel Friedman by Jan Jacob Mekes

Chief Inspector Jewel Friedman solves five unsolvable cases…

This is the single worst crime / detective ‘book’ I have ever read. By a country mile or three. If the author was deliberately aiming at producing clueless characters, dreadful dialogue and meaningless short stories then Chief Inspector Jewel Friedman would get six out of five stars. In a note at the beginning, the author describes the book as light-hearted detective stories which sometimes feature pretty heavy subject matter – more on this later.

Where to start? There are so many issues to evaluate. Let’s begin with the ‘characters’.There’s Jewel herself. She’s a Chief Inspector but thought Detective Inspector‘sounded cooler’. She cannot relate to people (despite being a detective who needs to have this skill) and makes sense of the world by investigating juicy murders. Jewel drives a broken-down police car – i.e. one that would more than likely fail safety inspections and therefore be illegal. It’s okay though because she later gets a new car as a reward for solving her 50th case – apparently as a result of her colleagues monitoring Jewel’s twitter feed.

Her boss the Superintendent is wet and weak. He simpers over Jewel and allows her to do whatever she wishes. In fact every single character is a cardboard cutout caricature that I cannot believe would exist in the real world, never mind the police force.

The five stories themselves are utterly ridiculous. In the first Lord Ryebread (sigh) is found shot to death in a locked room. It turns out the killer was flying a balloon past at the time and took her revenge. She also happens to be the butler’s daughter (the butler almost did it). Jewel figures all this out by analyzing a voicemail message left by the killer.

Her brilliance doesn’t end there - Jewel uses a nanoparticle tracking device embedded in lipstick to track a suspect she panics into running after having kissed him. Each sends out a GPS signal to make it easier to do so…I am honestly not making this up.

In another, a body is found impaled on The Shard, a very tall building in London. This is how the perpetrators acted:

They killed him earlier, cut out a beam shaped hole and disposed of the body at the top of the tallest building in London, making it seem like a burglary gone wrong.

The dead man is a thief who uses a helicopter to access buildings… Jewel guesses, by seeing a poster, that the killers are a Russian rock band. She confronts the artists when they’re on stage by asking them to play a song titled Body on the Roof by Jimmy and the Jetsets. They act suspiciously, confess all, and are arrested. Just like that.

Another kills and eats people. He just happens to be a friend she meets at the beginning of the piece in Hawaii where she is luckily on holiday. He has a Japanese father too – think that has no relevance? Largely you’re right, other than it seems to give them the desire to eat uncooked flesh.

The dialogue is awful. For example:

Oh, I am so glad you are here! So glad! It’s all so terrible! So terrible!

The major flaw in the stories is there’s no opportunity for the reader to work out the solution for themselves. Each time Jewel goes from murder to answer in a single previously unseen leap. Jewel also makes several serious mistakes. In one case a parcel delivery guy is present at the scene (he actually reports the crime) who she lets go without questioning because he claims he’ll be late on his rounds. This guy tries to create a belief that the suspect is actually a contortionist who he delivered in a crate. I cannot imagine a key witness being released without being questioned. Or anyone falling for or trying on the contortionist angle.

The writing is awful. For example:

The scene Jewel struggled to describe was particularly bloody. On the floor lay the body of a man in a large pool of blood.

To the‘pretty heavy subject matter’. At the end of the first story it’s alluded to that Jewel had a bad upbringing because she has a cat she confides in:

…her father had shown her the care she herself had never got from her own father who had been an abusive alcoholic, how today’s society was way too focused on sex and way too little on love…

The other is child abuse in the final case ‘Sockpuppetry’. A doctor and his mistress, Juliana, are abusing children. Uncle Wellington is found dead and he’s accused of being a child molester. In fact it is the doctor himself and he thinks he’s found a foolproof way of avoiding detection:

The idea of giving Juliana pancreatic cancer was Dr Pryce’s. It would ensure the police got off their tails by spinning the old “what’s the use of persecuting when the criminal is as good as dead” yarn.

Utterly tasteless. I actually sat through this (thankfully short) tale with my mouth open. I suspect ‘persecuting’ should read ‘prosecuting’ too.

Onto Uncle Wellington:

“…any idea why he was called Uncle Wellington?

…he bore a striking resemblance to the Duke of Wellington…and he always wore wellies…sometimes he would re-enact the battle of Waterloo.”

Ludicrous from beginning to end.

Awful writing, dialogue, characters, everything.
 
Rating? One Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Not A Hope!
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review - Things Go Wrong For Me, Rodney Lacroix

Things Go Wrong For Me… details Rodney’s unfortunate mishaps in life. From his childhood, through marriage, divorce, dating and a vasectomy. Described in pictures and words this is a humour book with a difference.

Things Go Wrong For Me… is an amalgamation of Rodney’s blog posts put into book form and I expect his long-term readers will be familiar with most or all of them. This book is pretty funny, very clearly Rodney does not take himself seriously. At all. He has an engaging voice and describes his embarrassing situations with verve. And very bluntly with down-to-earth language.
It is short, approaching 30,000 words, but is padded out (not in a negative way) by a plethora of drawings, diagrams, photo’s and text boxes to illustrate Rodney’s off the wall thinking, like his ‘Cyndi Loppers’, Lacroix’s idea for an improved tree trimming experience . It’s broadly broken into four sections – fat childhood, parenting crap, dating disasters, and the vasectomy diaries.
I particularly enjoyed the toboggan episode, the dating section, and a series of‘draw somethings.’
Very funny in parts, but not for me drop down hilarious. However, humour is a relative thing. I’m sure many people would spend most of the book laughing out loud. Well worth a look.
 
Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review - Possession, Obsession & A Diesel Compression Engine, Gerard Brennan

Possession… is a collection of six lightly interlinked short (mild) horror stories.
 
I’ve been lucky enough to be reading quite a lot of Gerard Brennan recently (for example the previously reviewed Fireproof). I’ve realized that Gerard likes to launch his stories with an eye-opening bang and none of these little gems disappoint. Each story is short (the entire book is under 11,000 words in length) so the author hits hard and hits fast.
For example there’s the opening short called Blood Bath which it literally is. The Devil likes to bathe in, yes, blood. He says:
The best bathing blood had to be extracted from frightened accountants. The easy part had always been scaring them; you just told them there was a problem with the bottom line or gave them a debit-heavy Balance Sheet. The tough part was catching them…

The other stories are about an obsession with rock ‘n’ roll, a possessed car (with a hilarious Thelma & Louise take), a ‘trip’ down memory lane, a deal with the devil and my personal favourite, An Irish Possession. The latter regards a boy possessed by an imp and his exorcism. This example describes the Irish priest carrying out the extraction process:
Aye, I know he had a mouth on him like a sailor. Well, compared to other priests, I mean. I never heard him say the F word, but he always said bastard and shite and all the not-so-bad curses. Plus I saw him hit wee Fra’ McGuinness from Dunville Street when he caught him smoking in the Chapel car park. It wasn’t a wee tap to embarrass him either. It was a right hook, and the wee fellah fell on his backside.
All the stories are based in Ireland with varying degrees of local dialect. This creates a strong sense of place. The dialogue is tight. The challenge in a good short is to use every word to its fullest effect. Gerard does this brilliantly.
 
Rating? Five Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Review - Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven't Killed Yet, Ryan Bracha

Bodies are being found in Sheffield, England. The victims seem entirely unconnected except for the cause of death and their lack of clothes. The media are frantic, the population worried. But it’s really a deadly game of cat and mouse with terminal consequences for the losers.

Strangers… is not your typical thriller by any stretch of the imagination. It’s unlike any other book of its type I’ve read. The general premise of a group of desperate people selected by a calculating, underhand process to play a game whilst the dubious wealthy place bets is in itself unusual. However, what really sets Strangers…apart is the method by which the author portrays the action - via a multitude of characters. A highly unusual approach to storytelling that works very well.

The cast in the novel is large, from the game players to the manipulators, gamblers, by-standers and reporters to name a few. All of the players are damaged in their own way, all make decisions for personal gain.

As well as the perspective switch. there’s also a use of time to unfold the story elements in an intelligent fashion, adding tension and intrigue. However what really underlies Strangers… is a story of relationships. Two of the more main characters, Tom and Ada, find each other in the most difficult of circumstances. Just when I thought the story had been satisfactorily wrapped up Bracha opens an entirely new, but related episode to ensure everyone gets their just desserts.

The characters are well drawn, despite there being so many, and the multiple switches handled smoothly. The dialogue is sharp and gritty with the local accents and behaviours coming through strongly for colour. The location, Sheffield, is tack sharp in its definition. The writing style is in your face and uncompromising. An example of the ‘milder’ writing:
The mumbled hush of the room continued. Little Miss Impatient was pacing, her nicotine addiction grabbing her by the throat and not letting go, until a crackle then a hiss broke the suspense.
Overall a great read and entirely different.
 
Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes
 
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Review - JusThis, Curt Rude

Charles ‘Badge’ Pullet is a policeman in the small town of Normal. All his life he’s wanted to be on the force and to wear the badge. But Badge has a problem, the Urge, which affects his judgement, drawing him into deeper predicaments even as he rises through the ranks.

The Urge impacts others around him, his wife, his Deputy, and the women he targets, among others. For a small town Normal has some large personalities from which nothing good can come.
This was a seriously disappointing novel, a strange mix of bland ‘thriller’, police procedure ,and trashy erotic novel, although I suspect the latter was unintended.

The Urge is Badge’s sexual proclivity, he cannot help himself when it comes to satisfying his needs. Unfortunately, the author seems to delight in various descriptions of Badge’s penis and what he does with it. JusThis goes through the motions of attempting to bring the issues resulting from Badge’s activities to a justifiable conclusion. Ultimately, it was a depressing end.

A comparatively minor example of Badge’s ‘conquest’ description:

If a woman’s husband didn’t understand her, Badge found out what she needed, then gave it to her–and she did the same for him. She’d get wide-eyed as his pants hit the floor and would spend a wonderful night wrestling with his trouser python, but once it was over, Badge lost interest. Once he had defiled her, the thrill was gone. He’d move on to another man’s bride.

Periodically there would be some description of actual police work, although it tended to be a particularly gruesome car smash or a brush with a troubled personality, some of which had succumbed to ‘Mr. Intoxication’ or ‘Mr. Mental Illness’.

The characters were distinctly unpleasant, I didn’t warm to a single one of them. They all had huge flaws that ultimately made them weak-chinned individuals that I just wanted to shout at, kick in the pants, or both.

There was virtually no dialogue, vast swathes of text was dominated by internalized thought or long descriptions meaning there was little real action until the culmination of the story in the final chapters. What dialogue there was tended to be bland. The following example is supposed to be a light-hearted joke directed at Badge (I imagine it spoken in a high-pitched, Marilyn Monroe like tone):

You’re really the first policeman I’ve ever spent time with. You must be brave to do what you do. I’ve been a good girl all my life, so it’s not like I’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket or been handcuffed.

Enough said, I think.
 
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.
 
Rating? One Star
Would I add this to my bookshelf? No
 

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Review - Queen Bitch


McKenzie (Mac) Moss is at the end of her parole having served a five-year stretch. She wants to put her past behind her, but before she can, she has to claim what’s rightfully hers - $1m and revenge against those that put her inside.

Manfred Fuller and Bucky, two New York detectives, investigate the suicide of a paedophile. However, it’s not quite the cut and dried case it first seems, so Manfred and Bucky dig deeper and what they subsequently find has serious implications for them and Mac.

Queen Bitch opens with Mac throwing a man off a roof before seeing her parole officer for the last time. Yes, it’s that sort of book. The writing is sparse. By that I mean there’s not a wasted word. Some chapters are very short, only a few paragraphs, however, it works. There are only a handful of characters, but all are well drawn and the relatively short length and tight style means there’s little room to successfully explore many more anyway so this was a good choice. Mac herself is quite startling, a girl with some serious issues. The dialogue is also sharp and snappy.

Throughout Queen Bitch two parallel plots run – Mac taking revenge and the detectives investigating first the apparent suicide and then Mac herself – which ultimately come together at the end.

I like the mix of 1st person and 3rd person perspectives in alternate chapters (it’s a technique I use) as it generates pace and multiple perspectives to make the story richer. There’s also a clever use of time where in the last quarter of the book one chapter deliberately lags another to create tension.
Underneath Queen Bitch is a difficult subject, but Harwood handles it well, using it to justify Mac and the story without sensationalising.
Unfortunately, there were some format and spelling errors but these are easily corrected.

This is a good book, I’d like to see more of Justin Harwood’s work.

Originally published on Books & Pals blog.


Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes


Friday, 29 March 2013

Review - Know Your Place, Andy Knaggs

Nick Newman used to be a City trader but now he shines shoes in a busy London train station for a living. He was happy with his lot until Kay Talbot and her husband, Lee enter his life. When Kay employs Nick to carry out an unusual task his world steadily becomes more complicated and when he stumbles upon a nasty conspiracy things get deadly.
This is a good, solid debut from Knaggs. It’s pretty well written with a decent small set of characters that play out their anguished lives during Know Your Place. Talking of place, London, its busy concourse and the relatively hectic pace of life is well drawn, a major strength. Nick’s shoeshine oasis is an interesting contrast. The dialogue is pretty good too.

I hesitate to be critical of it simply because it’s not my type of book. Fundamentally, it’s about relationships – Kay is in an unhappy marriage, whilst Nick is happy with his girlfriend, Justine. But Kay cannot help herself and embarks upon several destructive relationships. There are periods of introspection whilst Kay and Nick examine their respective situations. Again, I’m not saying this is wrong.

The conspiracy is only alluded to and doesn’t seriously come into play until the final chapters. This is particularly well written and creates good tension. The hanging ending is pleasing and leaves plenty of questions for a sequel.
I’d certainly recommend it and, on the evidence of Know Your Place, Knaggs is likely to deliver in the future too.
Originally published on Books & Pals blog.
Rating? Three Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Review - Long Way Down, Tony Black

Gus Dury is a down at heel ex-reporter with a dark past. He’s kicking his heels in life when Danny Murray, a runner for local gang boss Boaby ‘Shaky’ Stevens, asks Gus to do a job for him – find an old friend, Barry Fulton. Gus is reluctant, but £3,000 helps sweeten the deal. Gus quickly learns Barry has got involved with Irish gangsters encroaching onto Shaky’s patch and, unless he finds him soon, someone’s going to end up dead.

This standalone novella is part of Black’s Gus Dury series, the other four (Paying For It, Gutted, Loss, and Long Time Dead) are full length novels.

Appraisal:

Long Way Down is a gem of a story. It’s theoretically a quick read, however I found myself spending a lot longer than normal with it simply because I wanted to stay immersed in the prose. This was a challenge because the action starts on the first page, when Danny steps into Gus’s sphere, and doesn’t let up.

The characters are very strong, Gus himself clearly has a deep background with references made to a difficult upbringing. He drinks, swears, fights – not someone you’d want your daughter to bring home. But he’s resolute, loyal, tough – someone you’d want at your back. The supporting cast of (few) friends and (many) enemies are equally entertaining – Gus mixes with some dubious company. A particular favourite is Mac the Knife, a man not to be messed with.

The dialogue is sharp and at times witty, despite the gritty and grimly sharp Edinburgh location which, is excellently described with a minimum of carefully chosen words and some local vernacular. For example:

The bar was dark, dingy. In days gone past there’d have been a pall of grey smoke you’d struggle to shine headlamps through. Now the nicotine-stained walls and ceiling looked painfully over-exposed – the woodchip papering would turn to writhing maggots after a few scoops.

And another:

I picked out the smell of p*ss and sickly-sweet Buckfast mingling on the grimy stairwell. Some of the young crew had been in to tag the walls since my last visit, and despite being a respecter of the creative urge I couldn’t help but think their efforts sucked balls. Right into a hernia.

The only ‘disappointment’ with Long Way Down? I finished it too quickly! Top drawer noir.
 
Originally published on Books & Pals blog.
 
Rating? Five Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes



Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Review - The Bastard's Handbook

The Bastard’s Handbook is a manual for men, basically how to be a better bastard towards your friends and women in general. It contains information on how to steal your best friend’s girl, favourite sexual positions, how to recognize different types of bastards, how to borrow money and never pay it back, and must have bastard accessories.

There’s really not much to say about The Bastard’s Handbook, either you’ll like the humour or you won’t. For example there is a section about dumping your girlfriend for someone better:

Wait for her to make the first move and then kiss her with false passion, holding back tears due to the fake raw emotion will only add to the effect. Then if the situation presents itself have your wicked way, remember there is nothing better than to prey on the emotionally needy.

This is a very mild quote in comparison to some of the suggestions.

There are chapters on quotes by famous bastards (e.g. Napoleon), bastard categories (like lucky, dirty etc.), how to get more sex, how to cheat on your partner, suitable music and books and careers as a bastard among others. It can get a bit repetitive. For example, there are 37 types of bastard plus another section called ‘Other Bastard terms’ where a further 12 are listed.

The dropped capital T in the above heading is as it is in the book. This was quite typical. The version I reviewed looked thrown together. There were large gaps between lines and paragraphs and there were many and repeated punctuation and spacing errors.

Unfortunately, I didn’t laugh once. I once read How to be a Complete Bastard by Adrian Edmondson, a spin off from a UK comedy series, The Young Ones. At the time I loved it, however, I was 16. Perhaps that’s the problem…
 
Rating? Two Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? No
 


Monday, 18 March 2013

Review - Skin Games

When Maria needs help to save her business from mobsters, she turns to Skin, a shadow of a man who lives in the dark. But Maria wants to know if Skin is the right man for the job so he tells the story of Sean O’Donnell.

O’Donnell is New York Irish who grew up in the Bronx. When still young his father disappears, so his mother is forced to perform sexual favours in order to survive. Before long Sean is drawn into the mob world, stealing cars for Vinny Macho, a low level gang member. However he falls for Nicole, a troubled wild child – unfortunately her father is the mob boss Don Mario. The Don tries to dissuade O’Donnell from seeing his daughter, applying ever-increasing pressure to ensure the message gets through.

There was a lot to like about Skin Games. The sense of place in gritty New York was well drawn, the characters were generally strong (O’Donnell himself was a good protagonist) and the dialogue interesting. The story moved along at a decent pace as we watched O’Donnell back himself further and further into a corner because of his strong will and deep-seated need to never break a promise, despite the heap of trouble it ultimately gets him into.

First and foremost O’Donnell is loyal, initially to the mob (the police put him under pressure, but he won’t give) and then to Nicole (who applies her own demands on O’Donnell with her behaviour). Skin Games is also about friendships but most surprising was the gradual realization that underlying the mob life and violence this is ultimately a love story.

This was a good book, well written and enjoyable.

Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes

Friday, 15 March 2013

Review - FIREPROOF

Mike Rocks is, literally, in Hell. He’s given a choice by Lucifer himself – stay in the nether region for the rest of eternity or return to earth and set up a Satanic religion in Belfast. Mike takes the latter path, in part because he has his own unfinished business, getting revenge on the people that sent him to Hell in the first place. Before long, Mike’s mission is well underway, but then Cathy Maguire, wannabe contract killer, crosses his path and things start to get complicated.

This is a unique story, I don’t think I’ve read anything like it previously. At first I was asking myself, what’s this all about? The opening scenes of Fireproof are of Mike in Hell being tortured by a strange creature before receiving his mission and getting on with his own. Then Cathy appears, she seems quite a normal girl besides her desire to murder people, starting with her boss.

However, once I was in a few chapters I found it to be a good read, very well written, entertaining (if you can put aside the ‘religious’ elements) and in places funny. There is a good sense of place and the dialogue is sharp. The characters can be distinctly peculiar, for example, there is Cadbury, a tramp who appears and squats in Mike’s flat whilst he’s on a brief respite in Hell. He has a number of very unusual qualities including the ability to read minds. Sounds odd? Yes, but it does fit well in the story.

Towards the latter part of the book, the tone changed somewhat as Mike builds the religion and follows his own plan, but primarily because he grows much closer to Cathy. Fireproof becomes more a story of redemption and relationships.

Overall, I enjoyed Fireproof. It’s a very good read if you enjoy something a bit different.

Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Fix - FREE

The Fix is FREE for two days on Amazon. Only two days - 13 & 14 March.

22 reviews to date (including a 1* for excessive swearing!) 

These are some of the comments to date:

‘The Fix moves like a bullet. Can't wait for more from Keith Nixon.’
- Tony Black, authoor of Murder Mile

‘Razor sharp and original.’
- Ryan Bracha, author of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet

‘Keith Nixon plots a wonderful corporate caper with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek.
THE FIX smacks of insanity brought on by too much time spent in the rat race, something many of us can relate to. Cool, creative and downright crude, THE FIX will get your heart pumping.’
- Gerard Brennan, author of FIREPROOF

'If words were drugs, and Keith Nixon my local dealer, you'd find my sweating presence waiting for my man on a street corner.'
- Mark Wilson, author of Naebody's Hero

'Five Stars'
- Books & Pals Blog

Pick up a copy now & see what all the fuss is.

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009ZITONW

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009ZITONW

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Fix - FREE!

The Fix is FREE for two days on Amazon. Only two days - 13 & 14 March.

22 reviews to date (including a 1* for excessive swearing!) 

These are some of the comments to date:

‘The Fix moves like a bullet. Can't wait for more from Keith Nixon.’
- Tony Black, authoor of Murder Mile

‘Razor sharp and original.’
- Ryan Bracha, author of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet

‘Keith Nixon plots a wonderful corporate caper with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek.
THE FIX smacks of insanity brought on by too much time spent in the rat race, something many of us can relate to. Cool, creative and downright crude, THE FIX will get your heart pumping.’
- Gerard Brennan, author of FIREPROOF

'If words were drugs, and Keith Nixon my local dealer, you'd find my sweating presence waiting for my man on a street corner.'
- Mark Wilson, author of Naebody's Hero

'Five Stars'
- Books & Pals Blog

Pick up a copy now & see what all the fuss is.

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009ZITONW

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009ZITONW

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Review - The 19th Element

An Al Qaeda terrorist cell plots to attack a nuclear power plant in the US heartland. Only one man, James Becker, can stop disaster happening.

What’s the point of a thriller? Well, I guess the clue is in the word itself. Unfortunately there were many issues with The 19th Element from a contrived plot (an Al Qaeda attack on a nuclear power plant?!) that never got out of second gear, to weak characters, and odd dialogue.

First is Becker himself who failed to convince me of his credentials. He’s ex-secret service, but then describes himself as wealthy because he invented a new bullet that can kill people at 1.5 miles (great!). He also has an unused degree – this and the money mean he’s been able to change profession and still act undercover (although independently of the government) but seems able to call in favours at will, like bringing in two Apache helicopters to take out the bad guys at just the right moment.

The writing isn’t bad, it’s just overly descriptive and ponderous. It’s ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’, observation instead of participation. For example, Becker gets into a fight at one point, it felt like I was watching the process from afar. When Jack Reacher fights, he fights, you feel every punch, every injury, adrenalin pumps. Unfortunately not with Becker. I wanted to put on my pyjamas and go to bed with a hot water bottle.

There were quite a few examples of this over use of tell. Remember the unused degree and new job. From the following, can you guess what Becker does?

‘Today was Wednesday and I was at my office. Becker Law Office. James L. Becker, Attorney-at-Law.’

Um, I think he’s an attorney? But I could be wrong.

On occasion, there were long, bulleted and descriptive lists. Once Becker described everything he was carrying on a mission. So what? Then there was the whole set of instructions to take off in a B-24. Why?

Then there were continuity errors. Most, but not all, chapters started with some or all of the time, date, and location. In the early chapters, the date jumped around. It was May 8th, then the 6th, back to the 8th, then the 7th, then to 1979 (this chapter didn’t have a date description though!). It was difficult to keep an eye on. Sometimes you’d be informed that it was 3 am, then be immediately told this again the first line of the chapter. Or you’d be told you were on the plane, it’s obvious. We know where Becker is because he hasn’t moved. Tell, not show.

Also, a couple of sub-plots seemed thrown in. A Mongolian, part of a gang Becker took down in his past, follows his daughter on campus. He races to save her. There’s also some Al Qaeda observer early on that’s explained away at the end, tied into the Mongolian.

Finally, the style changed in some chapters. When in the nuclear plant scenes all of the dialogue is written as if it’s a screenplay. Why? For interest perhaps. If so, it didn’t work. It made the dialogue clunky.

So overall a disappointing read. The 19th Element promised much but failed to deliver. I needed much more ‘thrill!’ and a lot less ‘er?’

Rating? Two Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? No

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review - The Vanity Game

Beaumont Alexander, superstar mega-rich footballer, has the life some people will kill for. He seems to have everything – fast cars, a mansion, beautiful pop star girlfriend, Krystal McQueen, the adulation of his football team’s fans and parties with a multitude of famous friends. He can have what he wants, when he wants.

But Beaumont is a man on the edge and, after a sordid encounter with a hostess at a celebrity party, his life spins out of control and he turns to his manager, Serge, to help him. Enter a shady crime mob, The Substitutors, and Beaumont is going to have to fight to keep the life he so easily achieved.

This is an impressive debut novel. It is fast-paced, topical and darkly witty. Beaumont lives in a money-no-object world many would aspire to but probably wouldn’t want once they had it. The Vanity Game cleverly shows both sides of the fame game where egos are large and life is ultimately the cheapest thing on offer.

Beaumont himself was initially vain, selfish, and seedy, very much like many of the football (or soccer depending which side of the pond you live on) stars of today. He has a couple of unhealthy quirks, a fear of germs and an obsession with George Michael. However, during the story Beaumont’s character develops into someone much more palatable – although I still wouldn’t like him as a friend, he never quite shakes the football mud off his boots.

In fact very few of the characters are likeable (which was the point). Celebrity, either gained or wished for, seems to have skewed them all. The wannabes are just as bad, they’ll do anything to be with Beaumont and his friends. The character’s names read like something out of the celebrity magazines that Beaumont regularly appears in.

The action is constant, except for a brief pause in the middle when Beaumont thinks he’s got away with his crime. There are many unexpected twists and turns that keep you guessing right through to the end.

H.J. Hampson poses some interesting questions about the society of today’s obsession with celebrity via The Substitutors mob. Without spoiling the read, Hampson brings about a physical change in Krystal which at first I questioned. Then, however it made me think – how much do we truly know about celebrities? Only what we read in the papers or see on the TV and how much of that is real?

Well worth a read and highly recommended.


Rating? Four Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Yes

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review - Insane & Out

Jason Carver is a newly promoted, newly divorced tax inspector, but he’s fed up and wants to make a change in his life. Jason has recently inherited a house in Orbaton and he wants to move away from London. However, he needs cash to pay for the refurbishment and afford to have a part-time job (so avoiding paying his ex-wife maintenance). Therefore, Jason bribes a tax evader, Albert Carlotti, to bank roll him.

But Jason has a new neighbor, Dennis Brodan, and they immediately get off on the wrong foot. Brodan is renting Jason’s garage and will not give it up. As Jason’s mind spins out of control, he fixates on Brodan as the source of his ill will and decides to do something about it.

I really don’t understand the purpose of this story. The premise, that Jason is going steadily mad and the underlying reason, aren’t clear at all. I sort of figured out what had ultimately sent him around the bend on the last page, but by then I just didn’t care because most of the outline leading up to it was unclear for a number of reasons.

First, Insane and Out completely failed to engage me. It’s not badly written, but some sentences are odd, i.e. they didn’t seem to fit with the prose, and others were just downright difficult to understand. To give an example of the former:

‘There was no-one else on the train, which hummed with a vile, sonorous drone, just like it was being pulled by a million meat flies.’

Okay Jason was having a dream, but it would probably fit better in the horror genre. And of the latter:

‘His hair was jet black and below his pallid, almost waxy complexion glowed an unhealthy tinge of hectic red.’

I’ve read that sentence perhaps 10 times and I still don’t get it. Maybe it’s me, but why make it difficult for the reader?

The characters are lifeless and add nothing to the narrative. They appear, make a few comments and then sidle off again. Sometimes a potential conflict is created by the character, but almost always isn’t followed through. For example Jason meets someone he calls Wolfman in the opening chapter. Wolfman wakes Jason up, helpfully meaning he doesn’t miss his train stop (the reasons why are explored for a few pages). Then he and the Wolfman walk to the same location. Wolfman invites Jason to join him in the park for a couple of beers…yes it is that dull.

This issue continues throughout the story. At one point Jason thinks Carlotti is going to kill him, potentially interesting, but then this possibility evaporates – instead Carlotti gives Jason a brand new car. The situation Jason gets himself into with Brodan is pointless, who cares that Brodan is renting the garage and he can get to his car faster than Jason? Not me. Yet the author spends many chapters investigating this. Yes, Jason might be going mad but the reason for the conflict? Far, far too weak and unbelievable to create tension in this context.

The dialogue is bland and laborious. It’s like sitting on a bus and being forced to listen in on a particularly boring conversation between two strangers who you hope to never meet again. Unfortunately, you’re treated to every word uttered.

Finally, there was absolutely no sense of place for me. Jason eventually lives in Orbaton, where’s that? In the ‘grim’ north of England where everyone’s ugly (where I happen to come from).

Overall, a very disappointing read that almost sent me mad in the process.
 
Rating? One Star
Would add this to my bookshelf? Categorically No
 
**Originally reviewed on Books & Pals blog.**