Others Ed. Charles Fernyhough. Another “Kind of” Book Review.

davThis is a fine book. I’d say it should be on the Civic Studies curriculum in what old people like me used to call the VIth form, except in those days we studied things like British Constitution. If I’d known how important that would be nowadays, I’d have done that at A Level, instead of English, French and Latin.

The writers all bring insight and passion to the matter of being “other”. I got something from every piece, regardless of whether I’d heard of the writer or not.  The only problem with this wonderful book is that it is very unlikely to be read by the very people who need to read it most; politicians of every bent, non-centrist people over the age of 50, everyone who’s ever said “I’m not racist but…” or “I don’t mean you, mate/darling…”, or just some of your friends and mine.

It’s not the sparks that fly upward, it’s the rogues, the liars, the exploiters and the opportunists, that’s the real reason the centre cannot hold.

A really important book, just a pity it will most likely be ignored by those who need it most.

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One more “another kind of book review”: Obsidian by Suzie Wilde

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The Book of Bera part II with Part I on the screen in the background…

It’s sometimes difficult to get a sequel right. I’m pleased to say Ms Wilde pulls off this trick with some style. Once again she (re-)creates the Viking world with vivid description without laying on too much artifice in the dialogue. Judicious use of archaic words like “skep” (it means a basket or container for carrying/storing plants, and may well be related to the modern “skip” – must look that up) help rather than hinder understanding whilst still giving us the feeling that we are most definitely in another time and place.

Bera’s quest, mission or expedition is tense and exciting and causes her to encounter once again the splendidly villainous and extravagantly body-morphed Serpent. I certainly kept turning the pages quickly.

A taut, well written sequel to part I and a splendid addition to the The Book of Bera Series. I look forward to part III

PS Isn’t that cover fabulous?

A Hard Read – Another “Kind of” Book Review : Distortion by Gautam Malkami

IMG_20190731_100355.jpgI supported this book at Unbound. It arrived in September last year. I read it straight away. Distortion is a fantastic write, Gautam Malkami’s narrator Dillon/Dhilan/Dylan has a compelling and convincing voice, easily as good as that of the protagonist of the writer’s previous novel Londonstani. Gautam’s latest book may have been a hard read – at least for me – but it is indeed a great write.

There are big themes in this book; the effects of the digital world on all of us, the plight of young, full-time carers in “Benefits Britain” and biggest of all, how we cope with cancer in a loved one.  I coped as well as anyone does, September was the month a cancer was diagnosed. Hard read though it was, it helped. Almost a year later, things are looking good, but as we all know there are no guarantees. I did tell my own loved one not to read Gautam’s book.

You should, though, read this book. It’s good and it’s important, I can’t think of two better reasons for reading any book.

 

Where We Might Be: Another “Kind of” Book Review: The Disappeared, Amy Lord

disappearedImagine a country where they ban and burn books. Because books aren’t banned in ours, we don’t have to: we know of at least two regimes of the last century which did. The terrifying thing is, they were at the extreme right and left of political ideology. How – and why – do people revile centrists with such venom?

Amy Lord’s assured debut novel is a dystopian vision of the (very) near future. It shows us where we could be, with very little “encouragement” from a few people in the right places, at the wrong time for the rest of us. You might think that this novel explores much of the same ground as Russell T. Davies’ Years and Years recently did, and, I suppose it does, but in a very different way.

Clara Winter’s father was “disappeared”, her mother remarries soon after. Winter grows up to become an academic like her father. However, the regime has tight control over what is taught in Universities, and who is permitted to teach it.  Influence and connections (Влияние in Soviet Russia) are everything. Inevitably, Ms Winter (I pronounced this as the germanic Vinter, throughout. I know, weird) is drawn into teaching literature classes  using banned texts. Of course, 1984 figures in Amy’s novel and that’s as it should be. I must admit the academics in The Disappeared reminded me of the publishing people in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, slaves to a system that doesn’t make sense.

The family dynamic in the novel is well realised (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, honest) and the plot and writing are so gripping that I read this novel in one day. I wonder if the author was asked by an editor whether this novel wouldn’t be better written in the present tense? I’m so glad she resisted the pressure, if so. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book in a day.

The novel has an interesting structure and centres on two characters’ points of view, Clara’s and her step-father’s.

Amy Lord has written a thoughtful and entertaining book, give it a try, you won’t regret it.

From the Disturbingly Sublime… (Another “Kind of” Book Review): The Diabolical Club

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Just because it’s good to put an image of a book with a review…

Just before I picked up Stevyn Colgan’s 2nd instalment of South Herefordshire “whodunit-ery”, I finished reading Barbara Vine’s A Dark Adapted Eye. It was like going from the sublimely disturbing to – you’ve guessed it – the ridiculously funny. I had read “A Murder to Die For” and enjoyed it very much. So I looked forward to “The Diabolical Club” with some enthusiasm. Reader, I was very far from disappointed. Those familiar with the author’s work will remember Colgan’s diligent research, and the watchmaker’s precision of his plotting.

It is a couple of years since the outrage at the Agnes Crabbe Murder Mystery Festival, but Frank Shunter is still chafing at retirement. A local politico is suspected of murder and seeks out Shunter’s help to prove him innocent. The herrings are red and some of the jokes are blue but as usual the author manages to write good-natured humour that is actually FUNNY. (You try it, it’s not easy). Keep an eye out for references to delight golden age whodunit fans as they are another pleasure of this episode of South Herewardshire fun.

Thoroughly good fun, and as such I commend it to you.

I came by my copy of “The Diabolical Club” through backing the book at Unbound.com, and I shan’t hesitate to do the same for the third volume in the series, “Cockerings“, just as soon as finances allow.

Another “Kind of” Book Review: The Book of Bera – Sea Paths by Suzie Wilde

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The second “kind of” review from the new office

Start of a Viking Saga with a Difference 

This is a book that’s been on my to-read pile for some time. I can say it has been worth the wait. Suzie Wilde evokes a harsh and bitter Viking world as visceral and believable as that of the popular TV series The Vikings. The mythology and beliefs are woven through the book using authentic vocabulary without rendering the book impenetrable. Indeed, it is in the choice of keeping the dialogue modern in the main that keeps the story rattling along like a ship with a strong following wind.  Some might argue that the use of some words like “bint”* is an anachronism too far, however my own opinion is that if we don’t allow some leeway, the author may as well write in Old Norse. Who can read that apart from a few scholars? Not me.

“Sea Paths” wears its research lightly and any turgid exposition is evaded by believable dialogue between characters showing the reader this very different world and time. Some of the description of the sea voyages is deliciously pellucid. The drama and peril escape the page and into the imagination in vivid style.

Bera herself is a teenager becoming a woman and though you may wish to give her a good shaking from time-to-time (I’m told teenagers can provoke this reaction) her journey to acceptance of herself and her Valla† powers is an entirely believable one.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms Wilde’s book and am looking forward to reading the sequel “Obsidian” .

Highly recommended.

bint      Arabic loan word made popular from 19th Century onwards by returning soldiers who had served in the Middle East
Valla     Viking seer

Saturday Morning Serial Stuff – Another “Kind-of” Book Review… The Atlantis Deception by Mark H. Jackson

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Only 3 more Unbound books to turn up and that will be a shelf-ful , HOG, EofE and Time’s Fool are at the right hand end out of shot…

Thrilling: in the manner of a Saturday morning serial, that is. John Hunter, *The Atlantis Deception’s hero, is in the grand tradition of those in the Saturday serials in the cinema – or if you’re a little younger – Saturday morning television before Tiswas. Mark Jackson manages the action set-pieces and cliff-hangers in a deft and compelling fashion. The love-interest is spiky-sparky and the light relief provided by George Goodheart is funny too.

The alternative-theory historical and archaeological exposition is pretty much seamless, in as much as I didn’t feel like I was in a lecture at some University I’d never have got into. A massive bonus this, because it’s one of the reasons The Atlantis Deception was so long on my to-be-read pile, (sorry Mark!) As it is, I really do wish I’d picked it up sooner, I found this book to be much better than anything by Clive Cussler, for example.

A good twist at the end which I didn’t see coming. Thoroughly recommended if you want a more modern H. Rider Haggard. I’ll read a sequel, for sure.

*published by Unbound Available in ethical online bookshops and the great big one…

 

 

Another Kind Of Barchester Chronicle: Time’s Fool by Alys Earl

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This enjoyable piece of Gothic Horror is set in a fictional town named Barchester, but it is by no means a load of old Trollope. Alys Earl’s novel is a masterful piece of fiction. Stoker’s Dracula informs the story throughout although the focus of this writer’s novel is centred on The Creature, Julian. The extent of sympathy we readers feel towards The Creature is a mark of how deftly the writer has written their book.

The relationships between the young group of friends are finely drawn and entirely credible and I enjoyed the nods toward Stoker’s novel in the names Lucy and John. Steven’s prickly sarcasm was beautifully rendered and his and Sophia’s growing attraction to Julian was compelling. There were two triangles in this novel, I felt sympathy for John as I hope I was supposed to.

There is nothing in this book to dismay fans of Le Fanu or Stoker. There was not a single false note and the meticulous research is lightly worn. Gruesome and graphic, Time’s Fool remains a love story at heart and is none the worse for it.

Buy it, it’s very good indeed.

No Good Deed: Excerpt and Special Material

Those of you who have read Gibbous House will know that Moffat bumps into contemporary figures from time to time. This continues to occur in No Good Deed. The first piece of writing here “On the St Louis Stage” is the excerpt from the book and the second is the same scene written from one of the other passengers’ point of view. If you realise who that is, put a comment below.

On the St. Louis Stage

My two fellow travellers proved notable for their peculiarities. They were fellows of similar age, neither seeming more than thirty. Both were possessed of prodigious moustaches and dressed in what I had come to view as the colonial style. This seemed chiefly to consist of wearing any mismatched colours and cloths cut in unflattering imitations of earlier fashions from London, except for the matter of what one wore on one’s feet and head. They each wore the ubiquitous boots and a most peculiar hat. It came as some surprise when one of these fellows thrust out a hand and bellowed over the rattle of the wheels,

‘Clemens! Both of us, that is. Pleased to meetcha!’

I took the proffered hand. It was not calloused, but the grip was firm and recognisably on the square. He held my eye as I switched my handshake to what was clearly his brother’s hand and gave the name that had served me best.

‘Moffat, at your service.’

It transpired that this Clemens and his brother were bound for the Nevada Territory.

‘Orion has become part of the grand orchestra of the State,’ Clemens said.

I enquired as to what instrument he played.

Clemens’ laughter took some time to subside, before he enlightened me further,

‘Hell, no! Orion’s on his way to a job as Secretary to the Utah State Governor. Imagine that! My own brother a durned parasite.’
His brother gave him a look of affection rather than distaste, which I found surprising.
Out of manners and nothing more, I enquired,

‘And you?’

His eyes gleamed: there was something puckish about the fellow; as though he found me, his brother, the world at large – and even himself – a rich and satisfying source of amusement.

‘Silver!’ he said. He swept off his peculiar high-crowned, broad-brimmed hat.
‘See! I’ve even got my Boss of the Plains hat! Got to help a Missouri boy get ahead, after all.’

He pointed at a crudely fashioned maker’s label inside the lining. I could not read it in the poor light inside the coach.

‘JB Stetson’ll be as famous as Mr Samuel Colt, or I’m a Dutchman.’

I doubted that, the hat was ugly and hardly suitable for a gentleman. It would not have surprised me to learn that the Clemens brothers had been the only purchasers of this innovatory item. Evidently, Mr Clemens was possessed of an unseemly curiosity, for he chose to enquire of me,

‘What brings you here, Mr Moffat? You ain’t a prospecting type, I reckon.’

‘Prospects interest me, not prospecting.’ I said.

It was a foolish answer to give such a curious fellow.

‘I can tell you’re a swell feller, ain’t he though, Orion? I reckon we’ll rub along fine with him.’

I was unsure whether the fellow could be quite such a pudding-head as he appeared.
Over the next few hours, Mr Clemens junior kept a running commentary of the things he expected to do, and the enormous fortune he expected to make, in the booming frontier towns of Nevada. This fascinating subject exhausted, he began to regale me with the qualities of the wondrous seven-shot pistol he had brought along to defend himself on the wild frontier. He avowed it to be a marvel of engineering so sophisticated that it had taken two fellows to design it. A Mr Smith  and  a Mr Wesson. He was so enamoured of it that he declared himself prepared to overlook its only fault: that one was unable to hit anything with it. Almost every anecdote provided him with an opportunity to blow such gales of laughter as ought to have despatched his sibling’s own ridiculous hat out of the stage-coach window.  I began to look forward to our arrival in St. Louis. Mr Clemens informed me that the next stage of their journey would be by steamboat from thence to St Jo, where they would once more try the overland stage.

Black_and_White_Stagecoach_Drawing

Strangers on a Stage

I have been known to exaggerate a little, there ain’t no denying that. The defence posits that if you travel the Missouri river without meeting a liar, you’re either a fish or as credulous as the crowd at an Appalachian tent revival. No matter, get us both a drink whilst I tell you a story that is almost all true.

 

My brother and I were travelling by stage-coach to St Louis, as we had not time enough to travel by the river. Orion was heading up to Utah to work for the Governor, and I had it in mind to accompany him. Thenceforth I would go on to Nevada and set myself up as a silver prospector. There was but one fellow traveller aboard the stage; a tall and brooding guy* who looked to be in the prime of life, though there was something about his manner which put a man in mind of an old geezer. One who’d seen enough of life to decide it wasn’t fair and there was no point – come hell, high-water or a hallelujah chorus at the end – in being so yourself.

He said his name was Moffat, ‘though it took a mite of encouragement to get him to speak at all. Hell, I even showed him my Boss of the Plains hat, but he seemed not a whit impressed. Fact was, his own hat looked like something a rich fool might wear to an opera. This Moffat had a danged peculiar way of speaking: his every conversationalism marked him out as a Britisher. Hell, I never heard him utter a curse-word, not even a goldarned dang. On occasion I thought he had a bit of Scotch about him, but I couldn’t smell any drink on him though it was after noon. Nevertheless, Orion didn’t take to him much and that alone made the mystery man worth speaking to, in any fool’s estimation.

That dour fellow had a sense of humour though. When I told him about my plans to find silver up in Nevada, he said he was ‘more interested in prospects than prospecting’. I laughed to be polite but Orion, well, he was going to work in government, so he didn’t.

Anyways, after a while I could tell he wasn’t so interested in my plans and with the aim of keeping the man’s interest I told him about the seven-shot Smith and Wesson pistol I was carrying in case of any encounter with Nevada ‘varmints’ at some future time. He didn’t even laugh when I told him the weapon was so sophisticated that it had taken two men to design it. Nor were his ribs tickled by my assertion that the weapon only had one drawback, that being the inability to hit anything with a round fired from it.

Orion and I got off the stage in St. Lou. I said to Orion I had the feeling I might see the man again. My brother’s reply was succinct,

‘If’n’ you’re hellbound yerself, brother Sam.”

*for those of a pedantic bent, like me, guy is first noted as in American use in 1847, 13 years before the above takes place (or didn’t, as it’s fiction 😉 ),

Anyway, REALLY well done for getting this far.  Pre-order a copy of No Good Deed for yourself here . You can get your name in the back (or front – for a slightly higher fee) of the book as someone who made the book happen, how about that?

East Anglian Noir by Eamonn Griffin: Another “Kind of” Review

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“Only another month or so of doing reviews from Manchester”

I backed this book at Unbound because my last 13 years in the Air Force were spent in Lincolnshire, in one of the snooty cliff villages that – in spite of taking barely an hour to travel from one to the other – are a million miles away from the flatlands between the coast and the Lincolnshire Wolds, . Having played rugby in Lincoln prison (they don’t play away matches), my interest was piqued by the fact that the novel’s protagonist leaves it on page one.

This blog-post’s title says it all really. It’s a tag-line used by the author himself, as I recall, and he’s on the nail.

Gripping, gritty and gangland-savvy, Griffin’s East of England guides us on the usual loner’s quest through the mean-streets of a thinly disguised Mablethorpe, Skegness (the real Skeg Vegas) and the market town of Louth. Matlock leaves prison after two years in Lincoln nick at a time in the not too distant past, where the world is wired by cable and copper wire and people use handsets in telephone booths. The author does not hit us over the head with historical detail but evokes this different time with subtlety and finesse. I would put it in Mid-Thatcher period, but honestly, it was only after finishing the book that I started wondering about that at all. Yes, it was that good.

One cover quote refers to an English Jack Reacher, but I think it’s much better than that.
No, far more telling is the source of another cover quote, Nick Triplow, the author of Getting Carter: Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir.  Matlock owes far more to Carter than Reacher, and that is a very good thing.

Violent, with a truly chilling villain at its core, East of England is the first in a series of novels featuring Matlock. I for one will be on board for the fairground ride of the next instalment.

East of England is available from all good bookshops off- and on-line.
If you already have it why not pre-order the sequel here?