Posts Tagged With: review

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Title: Birthdays for the Dead
Author: Stuart MacBride
ISBN: 978-0007344178
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Published: January 2012
No .of pages: 496

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret…

Five years ago his daughter, Rebecca, went missing on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. A year later the first card arrived: homemade, with a Polaroid picture stuck to the front – Rebecca, strapped to a chair, gagged and terrified. Every year another card: each one worse than the last.

The tabloids call him The Birthday Boy. He’s been snatching girls for twelve years, always in the run-up to their thirteenth birthday, sending the families his homemade cards showing their daughters being slowly tortured to death.

But Ash hasn’t told anyone about Rebecca’s birthday cards – they all think she’s just run away from home – because if anyone finds out, he’ll be taken off the investigation. And he’s sacrificed too much to give up before his daughter’s killer gets what he deserves…

Review:
Ash Henderson isn’t a bad cop; he’s one of the good guys, but if there’s a bad way to do something for the right reasons, he’ll find it. He’d never take a bribe, but it’s not unusual for him to put the squeeze on the bad guys to get something out of a situation for him, and he tends to mix with a crowd that means he’s permanently in a sticky situation. In short, he’s a complete screw-up. Despite all this, there’s something very likeable about this train wreck of a man. He’s fiercely loyal and protective of his family and friends, and will put himself on the line every time to help them. Unfortunately, putting yourself on the line so often means you often cross it…

MacBride is astute when it comes to complex and flawed characters, and they add to his equally complex plotting, making the implausible very plausible and seemingly inevitable. He also has a wonderfully gritty way with gore – it’s visceral and real to the very end, without tipping over into the territory of schlock horror.

This one, however, felt a little rougher around the edges than the Logan McRae novels, a little harder-edged and unpolished in comparison. That’s not to say it was bad – it’s very good, just not as good as the McRae books, but then, they’re pretty hard to beat.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction (in particular Scottish crime fiction), this is a must for your collection.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Golden Acorn by Catherine Cooper

Title: The Golden Acorn
Author: Catherine Cooper
ASIN: B004EHZDBQ
Publisher: Infinitie Ideas
First Published: August 2010
File Size: 2825 KB (Kindle edition)

Rating: 3/5

At the time of this review, The Golden Acorn is available as a FREE Kindle e-book download. You can also purchase it in paperback format.

Synopsis (from Amazon):
When Jack Brenin finds a golden acorn lying in the grass, little does he know that it is the beginning of a thrilling and magical adventure. Just an ordinary boy, Jack has been chosen for a hugely important task, and enters a world he believed only existed in legend. Full of twists and turns, talking ravens and mischievous Spriggans, ‘The Golden Acorn’ is a hugely entertaining and exciting tale from a very talented new author. Your kids will love it, and so will you! This brilliant story deservedly won the Brit Writers’ Awards 2010 for unpublished writers. Jack’s adventures continue in ‘Glasruhen Gate’ and ‘Silver Hill’.

Review:
This is more than a little “Harry Potter-ish” in that the main character is a young lad who discovers he is “The One” and suddenly has to get to grips with a whole magical world he never knew existed, but the twist here is that it’s not just the fantasy-style magic these kinds of novels usually feature; instead it’s based on Celtic and Druidic lore. Yes, there are still magic wands and transfigurations, but it’s nice to have a different background for it all. I would have liked it more if the history had been explored a little more, but perhaps that’s a little much to ask from the first book in the series.

There are beautiful little ink line drawings at the start of each chapter to illustrate the main plot points without giving the game away, and a charming little map of the area in the same style which serve the story well and give a little taste of things to come.

The problems that occurred in the story seemed to be overcome quite easily and whatever peril they encountered was swiftly resolved with very little in the way of real and present danger – it was almost all just a step removed. There’s nothing hugely original here – it borrows heavily from other young adult fantasy novels of the same ilk – but neither is it a carbon copy. It’s a breeze to read and the characters are refreshing and fun, especially Camelin (the raven), as he is so brash and bold, yet improves himself over the course of the story, even if it is for his own secretive agenda.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth

Title: Cold Light
Author: Jenn Ashworth
ISBN: 978-1444721447
Publisher: Sceptre
First Published: April 2011
No. of pages: 352

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
This is the tale of three fourteen-year-old girls and a volatile combination of lies, jealousy and perversion that ends in tragedy. Except the tragedy is even darker and more tangled than their tight-knit community has been persuaded to believe.

Blackly funny and with a surreal edge to its portrait of a northern English town, Jenn Ashworth’s gripping novel captures the intensity of girls’ friendships and the dangers they face in a predatory adult world they think they can handle. And it shows just how far that world is willing to let sentiment get in the way of the truth.

Review:
There’s something quite addictively compelling about this coming-of-age story focusing on the friendship (and sometime enmity) of three girls on the cusp of adulthood in the mid-to-late 90s. While reading it, I felt like there were constant warning signals flashing on and off as my adult mind could see the danger in the situations these girls got themselves into, but they couldn’t seem to see it themselves.

The jumping back and forth between the teenage years and ten years later sometimes jolted a little, but things quickly got back on track each time, however it was occasionally a little disruptive to the narrative.

The plot itself featured a mystery that seemed quite evident to me. There were pointers along the way that made the conclusion a bit of a let-down as elements of it were quite obvious, but there were other, more subtle moments along the way that meant it wasn’t completely disappointing.

It’s not a fast-paced novel, but it doesn’t drag; I was quickly drawn into the proceedings and felt I recognized the people, places and situations. It’s not the best novel I’ve read of this type, but it’s certainly not the worst, and it makes a refreshing change for the main characters to be quite dull, not particularly attractive or popular girls – it makes the whole thing seem more plausible than if they had been bubbly, bright young things from the posh end of town.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles
ISBN: 978-1444708875
Publisher: Sceptre
First Published: January 2012
No. of pages: 352

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Set during the hazy, enchanting, and martini-filled world of New York City circa 1938, Rules of Civility follows three friends–Katey, Eve, and Tinker–from their chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year’s Eve through a year of enlightening and occasionally tragic adventures. Tinker orbits in the world of the wealthy; Katey and Eve stretch their few dollars out each evening on the town. While all three are complex characters, Katey is the story’s shining star. She is a fully realized heroine, unique in her strong sense of self amidst her life’s continual fluctuations. Towles’ writing also paints an inviting picture of New York City, without forgetting its sharp edges. Reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Rules of Civility is full of delicious sentences you can sit back and savor (most appropriately with a martini or two).

Review:
This is what chick-lit would be like if it were written exclusively by men. No, I don’t mean lad-lit; that’s a completely different animal – this is more like chick-lit with all the fluff removed. There is absolutely nothing frothy about Rules of Civility but there is still the lightness and ease of reading without any of the brashness you might expect from a man writing from a female point of view.

In fact, there is a sense of honesty about the character of Katie Kontent (Kontent like the state of being, not Kontent like something in a box) that is quite refreshing and delightful. The story from Katie’s point of view has a gentle flow that carries the reader forward at a steady pace, which is why it’s such a jolt when you come to a section told from Tinker’s point of view – you suddenly feel like you’ve run aground on a sand bank for a while till Katie takes the rudder and you’re able to push off again.

There are no wildly exciting escapades here, just a subtle meandering as the characters meet and mingle, crossing the boundaries of their respective social circles and having their lives affected by those interactions. There is no sense of urgency, and no hurry to get from one moment to the next – you just drift.

And that, I think is the main problem. The characters feel like they are in want of just a little more plot. There is growth – the characters develop and learn about themselves and each other, but there is little real action. That said, there is something quite pleasant about just sitting back and enjoying the ride as you glide from the first page to the last.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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A Turnkey Or Not? by Tony Levy

Title: A Turnkey Or Not?
Author: Tony Levy
ISBN: 978-1908582607
Publisher: Apex Publishing Ltd
No. of pages: 250

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
A chance meeting on holiday in Majorca changed Tony Levy s life forever and launched him into a 25-year career in a job that he never would ve considered previously: working in Her Majesty s Prison Service. This book catalogues Tony s personal experiences of working as a prison officer, from his early days at high-security HMP Pentonville to his final years in therapy-based HMP Grendon. Filled with interesting observations and incidences, hilarious wind-ups and memorable characters, this autobiography is the story of a journey, from the happiest days in what will always be a potentially volatile environment to a complete state of disillusionment as an old dinosaur that no longer fitted into the modern prison service world. Tony gives an honest account of his feelings, as someone who would never be a yes man and toe the party line, in the face of a constantly changing environment that had become increasingly controlled by political correctness gone mad and by budgetary needs rather than human needs. He was a man who cared, and even though his heart was sucked out of his job, he never lost his dignity or respect. Most importantly, he would never allow himself to be reduced to just a turnkey.

Review:
A Turnkey Or Not?
is a humorous and frank autobiography by an ex-prison officer. As my Dad has been a prison officer in the Scottish Prison Service for 25 years, I thought I might find it interesting… and I was right! It’s an insightful, often surprising look at life on the outside of the bars, but inside the prison system and I loved it!

Levy’s professional life has been filled with quirky characters (and I actually feel he is one of them!) and his anecdotes are, more often than not, touched with a fondness for those featuring in this story of his work, and where friendly feelings have not been evident, he has been respectful and mindful of how others might take his revelations, giving nicknames and pseudonyms at every point.

Reading this book, I almost felt like I was meeting all his colleagues in person and I found I could picture them, hear their voices and join in their camaraderie as each chapter unfolded, and I progressed with them all, moving from one prison and position in the hierarchy to the next. Really, I almost felt like I was sitting having a coffee with an old friend who was recounting the more interesting episodes he had experienced and seeing the twinkle in Levy’s eye as he jests, then the more serious expressions as the tide turns.

Whether or not you know anyone who has ever been a prison officer, I think this has a broad appeal that should leave most readers feeling satisfied and entertained. It’s definitely well worth picking up.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Title: Sisters Red (Fairytale Retellings 1)
Author: Jackson Pearce
ISBN: 978-1444900606
Publisher: Hodder
No. of pages: 368

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The story of Scarlett and Rosie March, two highly-skilled sisters who have been hunting Fenris (werewolves) – who prey on teen girls – since Scarlett lost her eye years ago while defending Rosie in an attack. Scarlett lives to destroy the Fenris, and she and Rosie lure them in with red cloaks (a colour the wolves can’t resist), though Rosie hunts more out of debt to her sister than drive. But things seem to be changing. The wolves are getting stronger and harder to fight, and there has been a rash of news reports about countless teenage girls being brutally murdered in the city. Scarlett and Rosie soon discover the truth: wolves are banding together in search of a Potential Fenris – a man tainted by the pack but not yet fully changed. Desperate to find the Potential to use him as bait for a massive werewolf extermination, the sisters move to the city with Silas, a young woodsman and long time family friend who is deadly with an axe. Meanwhile, Rosie finds herself drawn to Silas and the bond they share not only drives the sisters apart, but could destroy all they’ve worked for.

Review:
Not so much a modern retelling of a fairytale, but a modern paranormal urban adventure with fairytale overtones, Sisters Red gathers together elements of the Red Riding Hood story with Snow White and Rose Red, and sets in firmly in modern-day Atlanta, GA with the wolves being supernatural creatures, and the sisters themselves being anything but victims.

Jackson Pearce has twisted the tale and skewed it in such a way that the feisty heroines are a force to be reckoned with – woe betide the wolf that tries to prey on them! The scarred and battle-weary Scarlet is such a wonderful character that it would be easy to overlook her quieter younger sister, Rosie, were she not so brilliantly realised herself. As for Silas, well a good friend is always an asset and although these girls can stand firmly on their own two feet, an extra pair of hands always comes in handy in the fight against evil.

I’ll not say I didn’t see the big twist coming, because I did spot it quite early on, but I didn’t care because I still wanted to read on and find out where the story would go and what ,exactly, would become of our intrepid trio.

If you like your fairytale heroines practical, with no need to wait for rescue from a handsome prince, then the Sisters Red are the girls for you. Long may the new breed of folk legends and twisted tales continue!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite


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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Title: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles 1)
Author: Marissa Meyer
ISBN: 978-0141340135
Publisher: Puffin
No. of pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague.
Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.

Review:
A cyborg Cinderella? Count me in! This is one of the most innovative twists on the Cinderella story I’ve encountered so far. I was intrigued by the cover when I saw it on a blog and reading the reviews confirmed it as something that would most likely appeal to me – it certainly lived up to its promise!

I absolutely loved the character of Cinder – her mix of cool machine and emotional person made for a great combination and she was both believable and sympathetic.

The setting could have been anywhere, if I’m brutally honest, as there was very little in the way of actual description or mention of traditions in New Beijing that might link it to old Beijing, but I get the feeling it’s a set up for the rest of the series, so I’m more than willing to let that slide ni the hopes that it’s developed further in the subsequent novels. I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book when it’s published.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Title: Howards End is on the Landing
Author:
Susan Hill
ISBN:
978-1846682667
Publisher:
Profile Books
First Published:
July 2010
No. of pages: 240

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

Review:
I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book that I think I fell victim to the hype and wanted to like it so much more than I did. That’s not to say it’s not good – it IS good, just not as good as I’d hoped.

Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home is less a love letter to the books Susan Hill loves, and more a recounting of the many anecdotes she has of meeting and working with other writers, and their books which have subsequently helped shape her life, both personally and professionally.

It’s a little dry in places and, I confess, it did not actually inspire me to search for any of the books mentioned that I had not already read, but I did enjoy some of the little stories that were triggered by Hill wandering round her book-filled home and choosing to read only books she already owns for a year.

If we were all to follow her example, I’m sure everyone’s “Final Forty” would look very different. Certainly, there are not many books on which she settles that I would include in my own list, and there are many others I would insist upon that are omitted, but, as I’ve already intimated, everyone’s tastes are different.

This is an interesting read for anyone who loves books and, who knows, may lead to others discovering the joys of those tomes Hill pulled down from her own shelves.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin and illustrated by Rosana Faria

Title: The Black Book of Colours
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faria
ISBN: 978-1406322187
Publisher: Walker
First Published: March 2012
No. of pages: 24

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
Our eyes tell us about colour. But what if you are blind? Can you still know colours? Using simple language and beautiful textured art, this book shows you how to “see” without your eyes. The pages are black, but using your imagination and your senses you can hear, smell, touch and taste colours! Red is sour like unripe strawberries and sweet as watermelon. Yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers. Blue is the colour of the sky when kites are flying. From out of the blackness, a beautiful rainbow of colours emerges!

Review:
I picked up this book in our local library for my three-year-old son because I was enchanted with both the cover (the picture is black on black, but is raised and glossy) and the concept (a book about colour with no colours!).

The text inside is bold white on black pages and is accompanied by braille, and on the opposite pages are beautiful raised illustrations (black on black) so that the colours being described by “Thomas” can be experienced by touch, rather than sight. The words are beautifully descriptive – yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers; brown crunches under his feet like autumn leaves – and I found myself closing my eyes to better absorb them with the pictures.

Reading this book with my son prompted a discussion about how some people can’t see and that they experience the world in different ways. It also resulted in us playing a game of “What colour does this taste / smell / feel / sound like?” which was fun and revealing – apparently the rustle of plastic bags sounds orange to Xander, but I suspect that’s because he’s seen the ones from Sainsbury’s, and grapes tasted purple, even though we only had green ones!

The only slight issue with this book is that the braille isn’t really raised enough to distinguish the words, and I have read elsewhere that sight-impaired children find it next to impossible to read as a result, which is a shame, because this really is a wonderful book.

The Black Book of Colours is a magical experience for both young readers and the adults who read with them and is highly recommended by both me and Xander!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Wasted Resource by Steven Preece

Title: Wasted Resource
Author:
Steven Preece
ISBN:
978-1849140959
Publisher: CompletelyNovel.com
First Published:
April 2011
No. of Pages:
301

Rating: 2/5

Synopsis (back of book):
Four former soldiers, who are brought together by fate, realise their military skills have become a wasted resource. They form as a team, utilising their specialist skills to steal a vast sum of money, previously recovered by the police and guarded by the RAF Regiment. The task is initially deemed impossible, but a stroke of luck changes this.
Two illegal immigrants on the run from their own country, enter the UK via the Channel Tunnel. They plan the same heist without knowledge of the other team, carrying out a raid on one of two heavily guarded security vans.

The money is stolen, leaving one group empty handed and pursuing the other; resulting in kidnapping, torture and death. Eventually, the captors are led to a hidden weapons cache in Northern Ireland, where the money is stashed.

Newly promoted, Detective Sergeant Dave Watson is assigned by the police as lead investigator and highlights the likelihood that the robbers have military skills and backgrounds. CCTV film footage is acquired from the channel tunnel and motorway cameras and is scrutinized, identifying the team and also two Kurds as known hardened criminals.

Meanwhile, M.I.6 express an interest in recruiting the former soldiers, wanting to setup a covert operations group and cover up their part in the robbery. However, changed plans alter this course and the team are double-crossed, leaving them to attempt to getaway!

Review:
When reading a self-published novel, I often try to overlook the spelling and grammatical errors that crop up, but in my heart of hearts I just wish all writers would employ a professional proofreader to get rid of the worst of them – perhaps then self-published authors wouldn’t get so much of a bad rep. There are errors of this kind in Wasted Resource but not as many as I’ve seen in others.

However, there are other problems here that might have been solved with a good editor.

I continually felt that the air was rather condescending. An author should always assume their readers have a modicum of intelligence and so do not need constant reminders of the meanings of certain words and expressions, especially if their meaning is already made clear by the context, and if explanation is required, then the author should include a glossary or footnote, rather than continually disturbing the flow of the plot. It should also be assumed that once the reader has been told something once, they will remember it themselves and do not need to be reminded every time that word or phrase crops up. The most constant example of this was that every time “Physical Training Instructor” cropped up, it was followed by “PTI” in brackets – and vice versa! There was also continual use of marine terms followed by “a marine term for…” in brackets. I found this incredibly annoying as it not only insulted my intelligence, but interrupted the flow considerably.

The story is sound enough, if a little implausible at times, with useful items suddenly appearing with no prior mention. However, if you read the blurb on the back of the book, you don’t really need to read the actual novel as almost the entire plot is given away, meaning there is little in the way of surprise as you read.

I wanted to enjoy this a lot more than I did, as I love both military and crime drama and I expected a little more from this given that it is written by an ex-marine. The basics are there, they just need a little polishing. This being a debut, perhaps Preece’s next offering will improve on this.

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