Author Archives: David Proffitt

The Lie

The Lieby C L Taylor

Captivating and engaging with a plot that moves at just the right pace: slow enough to give the reader a chance to reflect and the events, but quick enough to keep the reader’s interest. Like a number of books I have read recently, The Lie relies on a dual narrative, weaving the story’s twin timelines with precision. Nothing from the present gives you too much insight into the events of five years previous. If anything, they are a teaser.

Jane Hughes has, on the face of it, a very settled and happy life. She loves her job and her new boyfriend, but there is a secret behind the mask she wears. Then an anonymous letter threatens to shatter her happiness and the life she has built for herself in rural Wales. Five years earlier she had set out on what was to be the trip of a lifetime with three of her closest friends, but it very soon turned into a nightmare that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Jane’ past and present are all based on lies some bigger and more dangerous than others. There are certainly times when hiding the truth is a necessary evil, but some lies can only lead to disaster. For the four friends, the web of lies and deceptions that have held them together begin to bubble to the surface and threaten their very lives.

As the story weaves seamlessly between the parallel timelines, Jane proves to herself and those around her just how strong and resilient she can be. The character is well defined and provides a very believable vehicle for the plot.

I really enjoyed the story, the style and the characters. A great modern thriller. 

 

Last Night in Montreal

by Emily St John Mandel

last night in montrealIn One Night In Montreal, Mandel takes the reader on a rather disturbing but also very intriguing journey. It’s a road trip like no other, as for Lilia, the book’s central character, life on the road, drifting from motel to motel, is simply a way of life. But Lilia is not the only one whose life is changed by the events of that cold winters night. 

Although this is very much Lilia’s story, she is not the only focus of the narrative. In fact, the book follows two different timelines, only one of which features Lilia.

In the present, Lilia has done what she always does – she has moved on. But this time she has left behind someone who is determined to find her if only get an answer to his questions. In this thread of the story, Lilia is something of an intangible being, always just beyond reach, as we follow Eli and Michaela. Both have been profoundly affected by the strange friend and both are seeking answers they believe on Lilia can provide.

Alongside this, we have Lilia’s story, from her abduction by her father to her own wanderings across America. She also needs answers to the mysterious part of her past she cannot remember, but is she ready to hear it?

All the characters in the book are searching for answers to questions that continue to haunt them. Last Night In Montreal is a gripping and compelling tale, well written and with a narrative that never fails to deliver. I think we can all relate to one or another of the elements if this excellent book. Whether its the need to find resolution or simply answers to unresolved questions. 

An excellent read by a really good author. 

 

Before We Say Goodbye

by Gabriella Ambrosio

Before We Say GoodbyeOne day, two cultures, many lives.

Before We Say Goodbye is the story of a single day in Jerusalem in 2002. Although it primarily follows two different 18-year-old girls, one Palestinian the other Israeli, there is a very large cast of characters. If anything, there are so many characters making the interweaving plots difficult to follow. 

The direction of the plot becomes obvious quite early on. The two girls, Dima and Myriam each find themselves facing a day of change. Myrian is trying to come to terms with the loss of her closest friend to a Palestinian bomb. For her, this particular morning brings her some hope for the future. On the other hand, Dima’s mind is set on revenge for the treatment her friends and family have received at the hands of the Israelis. 

The two girls lives are separated by more than culture. Their life experiences give them very different prospects and outlooks. And although Dima and Myriam are the central characters in the short but poignant story, the others involved each plays their part in the story’s tragic journey.

It is not an easy read. Keeping track of the multitude of characters and events presents a challenge in itself, but add to that the intensity of the story itself and I would struggle to call it entertaining. But it is well worth the read.

Gabriela takes about as neutral a stance as possible, looking at both sides of the conflict. And in that, I thank she has achieved what she set out to do. Conflicts such as that between Israelis and Palestinians are never quite as straightforward as they seem. 

Sense and Sensibility (The Austen Project #1)

by Joanna Trollope

Sense and SensibilityThis was the first book of the Austen Project which sees contemporary writers revisit Jane Austen’s timeless stories. And the one thing that the project proves, to me at least, is just how timeless Austen’s work really is. Obviously there have to be some changes to the plot and, in some cases, characterisations, but on the whole, the stories stand up well to being dragged into the twenty-first century.

Elinore and Marianne Dashwood’s story is one of Austen’s most endearing tales. thrown out of their childhood home the family find themselves dependent on the charity of relatives in Devon. Far from their friends and relatives, the Dashwoods are going to have to make some serious changes if they are to survive. But while Marianne wears her all-too-fragile heart on her sleeve, falling in love with the dashing Joh  Willoughby on first sight, her sister Elinor’s heart is much harder to find and even harder to win. 

Bringing the wonderful cast of characters up to date was particularly tricky in this book, so dependent on 19th-century manners and rules of inheritance, but Joanne Trollope pulls it off with real panache. The characters are still very true to Austen’s originals, and the tweaks and twists necessary to make the plot work in the modern age work well.

Whilst I don’t think any adaptation is ever going to match the wit and insight of the original, I have enjoyed each of the books in the series so far. I suppose that by getting such well-established authors as Joanne Trollope involved guarantees a high standard. 

A really good read.

 

Gateway

By Frederik Pohl 

GatewayFrederik Pohl has an enviable reputation in the Sci-Fi community. His seven decades as a writer and editor brought him many awards and plaudits from critics and fans alike. Gateway has become one of his best-remembered novels, and for a very good reason. The premise behind the story is simple and ingenious. It is the story of one of a new breed of prospectors, men and women venturing into the unknown in search of wealth, much like the prospectors of the old west during the Gold Rush. 

Like the intrepid prospectors if America’s Wild West, the adventurers of Pohl’s vividly imagined future are out for wealth and, if they can get it, a little glory. The parallels between the two run quite deep, at least at the human level. Those that chose to risk their lives at Gateway do so for many different reasons, but ultimately, they are either running away from something or aiming towards their fortunes. Either way, Pohl’s masterpiece paints a very vivid picture of life on a wild frontier. 

Gateway is an alien construct, it’s the base for hundreds of alien spacecraft. Each has its own pre-programmed destination, the only trouble is, the human flying them can’t read the maps. Nor can they change the destination. It’s like a cosmic lucky dip, some you win, some you lose. Consequently, if you don’t know where you are going or how long it will take, you don’t know how many supplies you need.  

And of course, unlike Earthbound explorers, you can’t take a small detour to replenish your food and water supplies. Trusting yourself to the unknown could mean being sent into a Super Nova, a Black Hole or simply starving to death. 

But there is another side to this story. The book alternates between the narrator, Robinette Broadhead’s past and his present. And for me, that is the really clever part of the book. On the one hand, Pohl gives us a good old-fashioned adventure story complete with heroes, villains, romance and tragedy. On the other, he examines, through a computer psychiatrist, the mixed emotions that inevitably come from daring to stare the universe in the eye and shout “bring it on”. 

As the book approaches its climax, the parallel threads begin to resolve themselves and the reader is made aware of the reasons behind our narrator’s present position.  

Gateway is an imaginative yet simple book that proves beyond doubt how well deserved Frederik Pohl’s reputation is. 

Lost In A Good Book

Lost In A Good Bookby Jasper Fforde

I sometimes find myself wondering what is going through an author’s mind when they plat and write a novel. In Jasper Fforde’s case, it is probably best we don’t know.

For the second in his Thursday Next series, Fforde takes us even further into the strange and wonderful world where characters can move between stories and a police force exists to keep the stories in good order. This is also a world where Mammoths roam the English countryside, Dodos are popular household pets and the very idea of supersonic flight is, well, just plain daft.

Thursday Next is our guide for this journey through a world almost as batty as our own. Thursday is a Literary Detective working for SpecOps-27. Her previous success in saving Jane Eyre (see The Eyre Affaire) has made her something of a celebrity, thrusting her into a seemingly endless round of interviews and meet-and-greets. But if she thought that killing the evil Hades was an end to her adventures inside books.

But what is bad news for Thursday is good news for us. If things had ended there then Lost IN A Good book would have just become me of those forgotten stories languishing in the Well of Lost Plots (this will make sense if you read the book).

The story follows on immediately after the equally madcap “The Eyre Affaire”. Thursday herself is trying to balance her newfound celebrity status with her day job solving crimes against literature. And she seems to be managing OK. That is until she and her partner are sent to investigate a claim that a previously unknown Shakespeare play has been discovered in a private collection. IN her role as a Literary Detective such claims are bread and butter cases, but when it turns out to be true, events begin to take some rather unexpected turns. Add to this the fact that she seems to have become the target of agents from Goliath, the country’s largest and most sinister conglomerate, and also fro, the Hades family, Thursday’s life has just got very complicated indeed. 

Lost In A Good Book is a comic adventure that manages to combine the best elements of traditional crime fiction with one of the most twisted and hilarious plots I have read for a long time. To fully appreciate Jasper Fforde’s humour you need to be prepared to suspend belief and be prepared to follow whichever twisted path the plot decides to take. And I can assure you it is well worth the effort.

Admittedly, this kind of surreal nonsense is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if, like me, you enjoy the rather crazy worlds created by Tom Holt and Terry Pratchett, then Jasper Fforde is right up your street.

 

 

City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments #6)

City of Heavenly Fireby Cassandra Clare

City of Heavenly Fire brings Cassandra Clare’s epic Mortal Instruments to a dramatic conclusion. Each instalment has brought its own twists to the tale and this last book is no different. Despite everything that has gone before, the dangers that our intrepid band of Shadowhunters and assorted Downworlders face as the story comes to its dramatic end are the most gripping.

The pace and tone of the book are firmly established in the prologue, with Sebastian playing his hand and working to bring down those who oppose him. As always, the adults of the Clave are seemingly unwilling or unable to confront the truth and it is left to Clarey, Jace, Alec, Isabel and Simon to save the day. Well, it is aimed at a teenage audience so you wouldn;t expect anything else.

I have really enjoyed this series. The quality of the writing and the plot are excellent and Cassandra has created a magical world in which nothing is ever exactly as it seems. There are the usual teen romances, although by this point they are pretty much over the will-they-won’t-they stage in their respective relationships and now busy getting on with whatever it is that teenagers do! But much like the Harry Potter series, the final instalment is the darkest. All the pain and grief of the previous five books culminates in a fast-paced and exciting climax. There are several unexpected twists, but in the end, our teenage heroes once again save the day, but at what cost?

The Hole Opportunity

The Hole OpportunityBy James Minter

OK, this might be just me but can anyone else the link between the title, the author and a distinctly shaped mint? No? Just me then.

This is the first part of a self-published “Hole” trilogy by James Minter, in which we are introduced to the eclectic, and at times eccentric characters who inhabit the rural village of Henslow. Very much at the centre of the hole business (no, that’s not an error, you’ll get the joke in a moment) is Colin Griggs and his wife Izzy. Frustrated with the red tape that threatens to permanently tie up small modern farmers, Colin decides to leave behind several generations of traditional farming and establish his new business: Hole Farming.

No, don’t even try to work it out. It makes absolutely no sense, which is very much at the heart of why the book works so well. The idea of farming holes feeds very well into Colin’s ineptitude. He means well and has all very good intentions, but a mixture of circumstances, misunderstandings and an overzealous local reporter result in a series of unexpected and inexplicable events that would have made Tom Sharpe proud.

The chaos begins when Colin gets the contract to supply the local Golf Club with 18 holes for their newly refurbished course. Why they have found themselves with no holes on the greens just a week from the official opening is one of those questions you shouldn’t ask. Being new to the whole hole farming business Colin decides to employ a warren of rabbits to dig the holes for him. There is just one small problem: rabbits are very good at digging holes, but no one has told them when to stop. What follows is as inevitable as it is hilarious.

And that is just the beginning.

The Hole Opportunity is a farcical look at rural life in an old English county. It is clever and very funny. The characters are perfectly matched to the situations they find themselves in, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole mixed up adventure.

My only criticism, and it is only a minor point really, is that it would benefit from a once-over by a good editor. There are some sudden leaps in narrative and a few points where the story loses some of its natural flow. But these are minor points and don’t distract from the humour and fun of the story.

It is a great book and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Colin and Izzy Griggs.

Day Four (The Three #2)

Day Fourby Sarah Lotz

Day Four is the second part of Sarah Lotz’s “The Three” trilogy. 

The story is set aboard a ship cruising the Gulf of Mexico. For three days, everything goes according to plan. Passengers enjoy the facilities and the sun; the crew deal with their usual mix of awkward, obnoxious and drunken holidaymakers. Just another cruise. Until day four.

That is when things start to go very wrong, and when events onboard the Beautiful Dreamer take a mysterious and sinister turn.

Although part of a series, you do not need to have read the first book (The Three) to enjoy it. There are obvious links and references to the first story, but on the whole, it stands alone very well.  

Each “chapter” tells the ongoing story from the perspective of the book’s main characters. Each has their own reasons for being aboard the ship. Each has a secret they want to keep hidden, but for all of them, events aboard the stricken ship force them to face fears and their own past. 

With no power, food and supplies dwindling and a virus beginning to take hold, tempers aboard the Beautiful Dreamer become increasingly short. And when people begin to see “ghosts”, things just from bad to worse. 

The only person not adversely affected by the changing circumstances is Celine del Ray, celebrity psychic, who seems to thrive on the mysterious events. Is she in some way responsible for what is happening? How does she know so much about her fellow travellers and their pasts?

Day Four is a gripping and intense thriller which questions our view of reality and ourselves. It is every bit as good as The Three with a great mix of wonderful characters, intense plot and skilled storytelling. 

I can’t wait t read the next. 

Nutshell

Nutshellby Ian McEwan

Trudy is separated from her husband, John, and is living in the matrimonial home with his brother Claude, carrying John’s baby, as they plot to murder said husband, John.

It would be a love triangle, but with the narrator of this particular tale being the unborn baby, it gets a little complicated – more of a love rectangle!

Nutshell is an original concept, although the plot itself is extremely simple. In fact, the story is little more than an outline. It is the narration by the un-named unborn child that pushes the book within a whisker of 200 pages.

There is plenty of humour and just a touch of suspense. Will they or won’t they go through with the planned homicide of Trudy’s estranged husband? Can a pair of drunks really manage the perfect murder? Will the unborn narrator be born at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? Will he ever know his father? 

I found the whole thing a little strange and I’m still undecided about whether I enjoyed it or not. It is at times very funny and is an easy read. The plot does not challenge in any way and there are very few characters to keep a track of. But for me there was far too much waffle and not enough substance.