Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Over The Top And Back by Tom Jones

My thanks go to Blue Rider Press for forwarding an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The moment I started reading this book, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Tom's writing style is very dry, and he swears when necessary, and it is incredibly easy to picture the life he has led up to the present. Some of his anecdotes are simply hilarious, in particular one about Elvis in his hotel bathroom...never saw that coming!

I knew before I read it that the music industry was incredibly hard to break in to, but I wasn't even close in my estimation as to how difficult a life it could be. Especially when you are just trying to go with the flow. It was a real eye-opener to realise that just one single incident, one person not turning up for a gig, for example, can lead a man into a life where he is always on the edge of failing, and often succeeding by luck, chance, fate, or any of those things.

I didn't know a lot about Tom Jones. I knew some of his music, but i knew nothing of his life, most of his TV shows, the problems with record deals, the lure of Vegas and it's associated problems. I am glad, however, that he only briefly discussed once his well-publicised affairs and any stress it may have caused his marriage, and he didn't name drop either. A gentleman, but a naughty boy none the less.

The final chapter was very moving, especially at the end when he is talking about Linda, his wife. It was a sentimental, clearly straight from the heart moment that was the perfect way to end the book. It shows that he is not a self-centred as some celebrities.

I really did enjoy this book. It is warm, funny, tragic, and entertaining all in one. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sing it's not unusual...

Star rating: 5 from 5- well, really 6 from 5 as Tom is a star himself!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Murder at the Manor - edited by Martin Edwards

My thanks yet again to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me an advance readers' copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I think I am indebted to you in a way words cannot express!

Another fantastic anthology of mysterious murders! I have, in my previous few posts, reviewed some British Library Crime Classics, courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press. This, I think, has been the best so far!

The usual suspects have been gathered together in the Manor, or, at least in this single volume. I don't think I can find fault with any of them. Each, in it's own way, has been cleverly pieced together in these short stories. Some were quite frightening, some amusing, others so baffling in their conclusions that they ended up making perfect sense all along and they make us, the reader, feel kind of stupid for not realising all along who the murderer truly is.

Writers in this collection include G. K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anthony Berkeley, Nicho­las Blake and J. J. Bell. All are worth reading and I cannot recommend this volume enough. If you love golden age crime, this is a must for any collection!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - more police puzzling, detective deducing murder mysteries than you can shake a stick at!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Serpents in Eden - edited by Martin Edwards

Another huge thank you to Poisoned Pen Press who kindly agreed to let me read an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The important thing to know about this book is that it is a collection of crime stories by some of the big names in British crime over the past 150 years, including G. K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle. All of them are set in rural England, the "Eden" of this collection.

In general, I loved this volume of classic crime capers, although there were one or two which I didn't enjoy so much. The styles vary greatly and you can tell that you are reading stories from different writers, which is certainly not a bad thing. I might try to find some of these writers in the future to see what else they wrote in their lives.

The first story, The Black Doctor, stands out greatly. It was a Conan Doyle short, but not about Sherlock Holmes, his most famous detective. Instead, it tells of a murder investigation where a doctor is murdered. The main suspect is arrested and put on trial, yet the trial takes a decidedly more clever twist.

The worst story, for me, was Clue in the Mustard. The idea is fine, but the story doesn't develop at all and I believe that it needed to be much longer to get the full sense of what happened.

A nice treat was a short story by P. G. Wodehouse's step-daughter, Leonora called Inquest. This is a clever story and one I enjoyed reading very much. I will try to find some more of her work, but I know that they are quite hard to find.

Overall, then, a nicely put together compilation, and praise has to go to Martin Edwards for piecing it together so well. It is just a pity about the occasional story, but some people will, I'm sure, love them all!

Star rating: 4 from 5 - a collection of cracking classic crime conundrums

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Death on the Riviera by John Bude

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review. The book is due for release on March 1st 2016.

Considering the events in Paris last week, I decided to read a book set completely in France, even though my particular choice was written by an Englishman, John Bude. In this case, the setting is the French Riviera.

Meredith and Strang, to British policemen are sent to find and arrest the leader of a counterfeiting gang which has been discovered to be operating from the south of France. Working with the French police in a fantastic show of international cooperation (why can’t we ALL get along like this??), they try to catch the criminals in the act. In the process they uncover a wide variety of characters, all with almost improbable reasons to be involved, until the detectives start their investigation. Along the way, however, one of their suspects has the misfortune of committing suicide…or does he? Something else for Meredith to solve!

I really enjoyed this book. Although the writing wasn’t to the same standard as Agatha Christie, one of Bude’s more famous contemporaries, it is full of intrigue and action. I enjoyed the interaction of the two main characters, and even Strang’s uselessness when it comes to flirting, especially when he is told to be discreet about the case. I’ve never read Bude before, but I think I will look out for more books by him. Also, this book is part of the British Library Crime Classics series, which I will also be reviewing more of in the near future.

Star rating: 4 for 5 - near perfect Anglo-French cooperation, which is fitting at the moment!

Death on the Riviera: A British Library Crime Classic

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Random House Publishing Group kindly gave me permission to read an advance readers copy of this book. I send them my kindest thanks, once again.

Reviewing this book is definitely a challenge for me. I'd never read any of Yann Martel's books before, not even Life of Pi, so I came into this book with no personal expectations, no preconceived idea of what it would be like. I was really in for a surprise! Each of the book's three parts tells a different story, and yet they each have things in common, things which link them all and brings them together at the end. I feel like my emotions were taken on a roller-coaster ride through the region of Portugal as well as through the unfortunate lives of the characters in focus throughout the story.

The story starts with Tomás, a young man living at the turn of the 20th Century. His story describes his exhausting journey from Lisbon to the High Mountains of Portugal by car, a machine that so many people hadn't seen or heard of at that time in the rural areas. He is searching for something very specific, of religious importance perhaps, but mostly of human importance. His tale had me laughing very hard in places, and also very, very sad in others, especially at the end of his part of the story.

Part two is harder for me to review. The first half of it is very religious, with a Portuguese pathologist being told by his wife what she has discovered about the bible stories through reading Agatha Christie. Not being religious, I found this section both curious and also heavy going. However, after his wife leaves, the story becomes very disturbing as he performs an autopsy on an old man who was delivered to him in a suitcase. What he finds inside the man had me so stunned that I found it very hard to clear my mind before sleeping. It was incredibly creepy and dark!

In the final part, we follow an Canadian senator who is sent to Oklahoma by his Whip for a few days. When there he visits a primate research centre, where he meets a chimpanzee called Odo.He forms an immediate bond with thic human-like being, and decides to buy it. This simple act changes his whole life as he moves, with Odo, to his ancestral home in...you guessed it...the High Mountains of Portugal. His tale is wonderfully funny and full of great observations about behaviour and the interaction between one man and his chimp. This was my favourite part of the book by far for it's wonderful, flowing nature and sheer brilliance.

The whole book is about love both lost and found, abut how our actions can impact others, and about how well we react to changes in circumstance. It is well worth a read!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - esplendoroso!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

So, I've just finished the second book in the Peter Grant series, Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. Although I think I just preferred the first book, Rivers of London, it is still brilliant and I loved it!

Moon Over Soho starts a short time after the conclusion of Rivers of London, when Peter Grant, the hero of this series, is visiting his "friend" Lesley at her parents home. On his way back, he gets called into a case where a jazz musician has died, supposedly of a heart attack, but the pathologist who performed the autopsy called Peter in to have a look as it had all the hallmarks of a magical death. Peter has to rush all over Soho and even going to exotic locations, like Oxford and Norwich, while trying to solve this bizarre case. And, of course, while investigating, he falls for a young lady who was involved with the musician before his death.

It is funny, the conclusion is fantastic and leaves you desperate for more, and the action barely stops. Take a bow, Mr Aaronovitch, because you deserve it for this book!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - still magical!


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure by Mike MacDonald & Jilly Gagnon

Having received a review copy from the publisher, Diversion Books, I decided to Choose My Own Misery for the day.

My first reaction to this Choose Your Own…book was one of melancholy. It reminded me of my youth when I used to play the fantasy version of this. I used to really enjoy doing it so it was great to find one for adults, and it was incredibly funny in places. In total, I chose my own misery 5 times, with alarmingly different results, usually ending up with a bottle of alcohol at the end of the story, apart from the last time.

I would say that this book would make an ideal gift for an adult man, especially one who works in an office and enjoys a drink. It is just a pity that it is released after Christmas instead of before it, otherwise I think I know what I would have bought my father!

It would be interesting to try all possible combinations, and I will keep trying new combinations to see what could happen. But I want to keep reading other books, so it will be an occasional dip back into it.

Star rating: 3 from 5 - not a miserable choice, quite a good book to pass the time.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Bryant & May and the Secret Santa by Christopher Fowler

I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher Random House Publishing Group - Alibi in exchange for a honest review.

I had heard of Bryant & May before, I think, but when I saw this book and read the description of it, I had to read it. It is a short story of around 20-30 pages so it didn't take very long for me to get through it, but I am glad I read it.

After a tragic accident outside a department store in London, Bryant and May investigate the circumstances behind the death of a boy. Because of the short story format, it is difficult to give a full view of the events, but it is worth a read. The conclusion was not obvious at first, but later it became clear. The story is told with a wonderful sense of humour as well as with the right kind of atmosphere to it. It sort of reminded me of some of Agatha Christie's books, like the Tommy and Tuppence series, for that. And the characters are very good as well. Overall, this was an excellent short read. If only it could have been longer!

Star rating: 4 from 5 - it's a crime that it's so short!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

I was kindly given a review copy of this book by Random House Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

This book has been labelled as being similar in style to World War Z and The Martian. Does it fit with either of these books? Well, I have read The Martian and I can say that, although it is similar, it is not in the same league. That does not mean that this is a bad book, however. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery of it, all the way to the end, and it is very well written. It just doesn’t have quite the same cutting edge.

It tells the story of a team of US military scientists and personnel from the armed forces as they try to piece together (literally) a giant puzzle after a huge metal hand was found in the woods of America. They quickly realise that there must be other parts out there so they set out to find them all. What they find is both frightening in it’s immensity and full of hope for a world with little peace.

The characters are wonderfully complex. The only disappointment was not finding out who the guy interviewing everyone is. He is a key part of the story, and yet we never know his name, or even if he is human! Maybe we will find out in a sequel or two?

I really did enjoy this book, and I can’t wait for more!

Star rating: 4 from 5 – a giant success? Maybe!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Legend of the Magical Forest by Maria Barnes

This is a lovely short story about two children at Christmas time and an...unusual present! Knowing the imagination kids have, I can see them believing in this story, and it truly is a lovely read. As with all short stories, character development is limited by space, but James and Anne are brave and bold, and James is very much like me as a young child so I can relate very much with him.

The writing style is easy to read and the plot is well constructed given the length of  the story. I would love for this to be the first book in a series, and for it to be turned into a novel. Maybe Maria Barnes will consider this, but I know I will be looking out for her books in the future! For now, this book is only available on Kindle. If you want to find it, the links are below the cover image.

Star rating: 4 from 5 - good things come in small packages!


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

A Trio Of Whovian Reviews!

Penguin Random House UK - North America kindly sent review copies of three Doctor Who books featuring the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory in exchange for an honest review. As these are quite short stories, I ave grouped the reviews into one post.

Heart of Stone by Trevor Baxendale

The first book I decided to read was Heart of Stone, which sees the eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory land on a farm where, mysteriously, the rocks from a wall have been replaced with white rocks...from the moon! As they investigate, they discover that a strange Rock Man is also at the farm, turning everything it touches into stone!

This story, like many Doctor Who stories, melts the heart of any Whovian and alien alike. I found myself screaming silently "DON'T LET IT TOUCH YOU!" to every character, human or Timelord. As always, humour plays a large part in between the scarier moments. This is a must read for any Doctor Who fans, especially if they like Matt Smith's incarnation of the mischievous Doctor.

Star rating: 4 from 5 

Death Riders by Justin Richards

This was a fabulous little read! It read like an episode of the TV series. A sinister first chapter, followed by some lightness with the arrival of the Doctor, before turning into a high-octane thrill ride as they battle against the danger lurking in the Off-Limits tunnels of a mining asteroid. 

This is an absolutely essential read for any Whovian. Once it gets starting, there is no stopping it. Justin Richards truly knows how to write great Doctor Who stories and I will read him again, I'm sure.

Star rating: 5 from 5

System Wipe by Oli Smith

I must admit, I was quite disappointed by this book. The idea of the plot is clever, but I wasn't engaged as much as I expected to be, especially after the other Doctor Who books I have read. The ending, also, was not brilliant in my opinion, but it did have it's moments.

The idea of a virtual world of gaming is not new, which made this idea behind this book really quite interesting, and I like the idea of finding out what happens to the characters in games after we have all left. Imagine something like World of Warcraft where the characters have self control and you will have some idea of what is left. The problem is that the book is largely predictable, and not massively exciting.

Star rating: 3 from 5

Monday, 2 November 2015

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

What a fantastic trilogy this is! It literally has everything, from a little bit of romance and sex, to torture, death, and war. Running alongside that, there is also the political element, with a little magic thrown into the mix as well.

The story follows several key characters, in much the same way as A Song of Ice and Fire does. However, unlike George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie doesn’t seem to have such a brutal disregard for the people he has invented…at least, I really hope he hasn’t based them on real people!

First up is Logen Ninefingers, AKA The Bloody-Nine. He has a habit of getting into fights, so much so that he has a personal feud with Bethod, the king of the North men. He is deadly with a blade, and just about anything he lays his hands on can be used to kill people. However, he has a softer, more thoughtful side which comes as a complete contrast.

His fellow North men in this book are The Dogman, Threetrees, Black Dow, Tul Thunderhead, and Harding Grim.Together, they are the hardest bunch of men you can ever meet. Happy to kill, yet wanting, for the most part, to stick to common decency. The sight of some people being killed for no reason is enough to anger them into action.

Moving South, we get to Adua, where we meet Jezel dan Lothar. A promising military career awaits him as he first enters into a tournament which he hopes to win. He is very much full of the glory of war without ever having been in a battle, and actually looks forward to the opportunity to show his talents.

Collum West is a common man who has managed to rise within the ranks of the army and now sits in a position of a little power. He still likes to drink and play card games with the likes of Jezel, but is constantly aware that he is not of the same class as some of the other officers. He is also plagued, in his opinion, by his sister, Ardee. She is a bit carefree, especially when it comes to flirting with brave young men. Her relationship with her brother is fractious at best.

In the far south, we come across one more character of importance. Ferro is a wild woman, a former slave who has escaped and is seeking vengenge, even if it means her life, against the Gurkish, a brutal race of men ruled over by an emperor of great wealth and power.

The Magi come into this trilogy in quite a big way, lead by Bayaz . I never completely trusted him throughout this series, but he is an interesting character. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but watch out for him!

My favourite character by far was Sand dan Glokta, the crippled former soldier who became an Inquisitor. His job is torturing people for information and confessions so he can help in his little way to keep the kingdom safe. He himself is tortured by the pain left him from his unfortunate past. His sense of humour is incredible and I found myself looking forward to the parts of the books where we were riding in his mind.

The plot I will admit is not seamless. I made the mistake of leaving a gap of a few months between reading the first and second books, and this did give me a few problems when it came to remembering who was who and why they were where they were. However, this is not a major problem and I quickly found myself up-to-date with everything. The plot of the second and third books rolled together brilliantly and I found myself desperate to know what would happen next, so much so that I kept reading long into the night, especially on book 3.

If you like Game of Thrones and Farseer, you will love this sensational trilogy. I loved every little thing about it, and I hope you will too!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - simply perfection!

The Blade Itself: 5 from 5
Before They Are Hanged: 5 from 5
Last Argument of Kings: 5 from 5