Category Archives: Review

The End of Temperance Dare

The End of Temperance Dareby Wendy Webb

Nestled on the shoreline of Lake Superior stands Cliffside Manor. Once a sanitorium for TB sufferers. it is now a retreat for artists. Arriving for her first day as its new Director, Eleanor Harper very quickly discovers that beneath the tranquillity lies a dark and terrifying secret.

And so begins a sinister tale of slow-burning revenge and possession.

Since it first opened its doors, Cliffside Manor has seen its fair share of tragedy. like all sanatoriums of the period, it had earned its label as a waiting room for death. But there was something much more sinister going on and Eleanor and her first group of artists were about to be exposed to the evil that lay beneath the surface.

They have all come to Cliffside to make the best use of its reputed quiet and solitude. But from the very beginning if was clear, at least t Eleanor, that there was more to the Manor than met he eye. Nothing, it seemed, was quite what – or who – they appeared. With plenty of twists and a sinister mystery to unravel, Eleanor and her guests work together to unravel the puzzle that has been left by the last f the Dare family, Penny. The big question is what links them all and why are they here now together?

Wendy Webb has proven herself to be a master of the modern gothic and The End Of Temperance Dare is every bit as compelling a read as her previous work.

From the intriguing prologue to its dramatic climax, The End of Temperance Dare is a shining example of the best of the genre. Webb no only comes up with great plots, she populates them with wonderful characters. The suspense is palpable and narrative unrelenting.

I admit to being a fan of Wendy Webb’s work since stumbling across “The Take of Halcyon Crane”. This, her fourth novel does not disappoint in any way. 

Meet Me In Cockleberry Bay (Cockleberry Bay #2)

by Nicola May

Here, we are, back in the Devon with the same cast of wonderful characters we were introduced to in The Corner Shop in Cocklebery Bay. It is now several months since we last saw them all and things have moved on. Now Mrs Smith – having married the love of her life and former landlord Josh – Rosa is happier than she has ever been. Her close friend Titch has just given birth (on the shop floor) to a baby boy, the shop itself is thriving and her relationship with her formerly estranged mother is going well. If only Josh didn’t have to travel to London every week for work her life would be perfect.

But life has never been easy for Rosa and even now, with everything looking rosy and bright, there is a green-eyed monster lurking in the wongs, ready to pounce. Rosa’s life-long insecurities and deeply rooted jealousy will inevitably break through all the happiness bringing all kinds of destruction with them. In a single moment of jealous rage, Rosa’s nicely constructed new life comes crashing down around her.

Meet Me In Cocklebery Bay is very much in the same vein as it’s predecessor. It is full of lovely and interesting characters, a good plot and plenty of humour. There are highs and lows for all the characters, none more so than Rosa Smith who is forced to face her demons if she has any chance of winning back her beloved Josh.

In the end, it is the friendships she has made and the love of those around her that will enable her to take her darker side head-on. With not a little help from her faithful dachshund Hot Dog.

Meet Me In Cockleberry Bay is a delightful, very funny and inspiring novel. I only hope that this is not the last we will hear from this wonderful set of characters.

 

The Humans

by Matt Haig

The Humans opens with Professor Andrew Martin walking naked through the wet streets of Cambridge. To say he is not feeling himself at that moment is something of an understatement. In more ways than one, he really isn’t himself.

The Andrew Martin that his family and friends know is no more. In his place is a very different Professor Martin for whom clothes are a mystery and food and drink sickening. Even his lovely wife and teenage son he finds repulsive.

For Andrew Martin is literally not of this world. He has been replaced by an alien sent to Earth with a simple mission – to prevent the dissemination of Professor Martin’s recent discovery by whatever means necessary. 

As a life-long reader of science fiction, I am quite at home with the concept of alien abductions, body snatchers and close encounters. They are de rigueur as far as sci-fi goes. What I am not used to is coming across these plots in a book that is very clearly not of that genre. “Humans” is not a science fiction story, just a thought-provoking and witty tale whose narrator just happens to come from another galaxy.

I have read plenty of books where we see alien life from the human perspective, but never before have I been asked to view humans from the alien point-of-view, at least not si directly.

Matt Haig’s unique approach is both funny and profound. As out unnamed alien discovers for itself, humans are much more complicated than a quick glance at our history or new headlines might imply. Certainly, there is more to humanity than conflict and greed. You just need to get up close to see it.

Although I was a little uncertain at first I very quickly realised that the odd nature of the book was one of it’s most compelling attractions. The inner conflict between the new Andrew Martin’s mission and his newly discovered humanity give the story its impetus. It is well written, very funny and ultimately revealing about human nature.

This book may not be for everyone – I know many people may find the concept of an alien amongst us difficult to deal with – but I found it very engaging and enjoyable. 

Straight Outta Crawley – Memoirs of a distinctly average human being

by Romesh Ranganathan

I have to say right from the start that Auto Biographies are not my usual preference. Not that I have anything against them, I just, on the whole, prefer to read fiction in my increasingly limited leisure time. That said, I have enjoyed quite a number of biographies, p[articularly when the writer is of interest to me. This particular book was a gift and I have to admit that I would not have chosen to read it otherwise. I think the idea was to prepare me for seeing Romesh on his tour in the spring so the question is, do I feel better prepared? Not really, but I do feel I understand the man behind the jokes much better.

Straight Outta Crawley is a warm and revealing peek behind the scenes of the UK comedy scene. This is not a chronological, birth to now kind of story, the narrative leaps back and forth and a chaotic but oddly logical way. In that way, it reads more like a conversation rather than a structured timeline. 

Over the past couple of years, Romesh has become something of a household name. His dry sense of humour, self-deprecating approach and distinctive appearance have made him popular on TV panel shows and the live circuit. In the book, he talks about the events that led to his turning professional, the problems he faced as a teacher and the unexpected and sudden nature of his success. 

Throughout he talks openly and honestly about his relationship with his family. It is a refreshing and honest account that I found easy and enjoyable. 

Murder on the Oxford Canal (DI Hillary Greene, #1)

Murder on the Oxford Canalby Faith Martin

Despite this being the first of Faith Martin’s books to feature DI Hillary Greene, the story opens in the middle of a personal crisis. No gentle introductions here I’m afraid. Faith throws her reader in the deep the end with everyone but the reader knowing what is going on. On the positive side the book does hit the ground running, a pace it maintains through to the end.

It is a fast-paced story populated by some interesting characters, not least of which is the aforementioned DI Greene who is struggling with some personal issues that threaten her career. He husband is dead and she is being investigated as part of the enquiry into his illegal activities. She has been forced to leave her home and is trying to cope with life on a cramped narrowboat. To top it all, she is handed a case, only to have it whipped away the moment it gets juicy.

Her investigations into the body mysteriously discarded in a remote canal lock lead Hillary and her team to uncover a drug-smuggling operation, But is the mysterious death really linked or is there something else going on?

Murder on the Oxford Canal is a little above the run-of-the-mill. It has a good plot, plenty of clues and some intriguing characters. Good, simple entertainment and worth seeking out the next instalment of DI Hillary Green’s adventures.

 

The Corner Shop In Cockleberry Bay (Cockleberry Bay #1)

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bayby Nicola May

For me, romantic comedies like this are pure escapism. You know what is coming but are there for the ride, not the destination. The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay is the story of Rosa Larkin, a mid-twenties loner who unexpectedly inherits the run-down shop. She has no idea who her benefactor is or why they chose to leave the property in her hands. One thing she is certain of is that she is going to make the most of this opportunity.

Before arriving in the quiet Devon town of Cockleberry Bay, Rosa’s only friends are her long-suffering landlord Josh and her dog, Hot. Working to establish herself in her new home, ROsa makes new friends, deals with complicated relationships and finds new inner strength.

The plot is simple, the outcome pretty much inevitable, but the journey worth the fare. I really enjoyed this adventure with the troubled but undeniably intriguing Rosa Larkin. The characters are all interesting and well envisaged, the story well-paced and the style easy. A really enjoyable read. 

 

 

 

 

24/12/19 – 01/01/20

The Day That Never Comes (The Dublin Trilogy #2)

The Day That Never Comesby Caimh McDonnell

There is unrest in the fair city of Dublin. The locals are revolting, fired up by a combination of blatant injustice and police incompetence. In the middle of it all once again, and blissfully unaware of his role in the impending mayhem is Paul Mulchrone.

Fresh from his equally unintentional head-on collision with Dublin’s seedier side (The Man With One Of Those Faces), Paul just wants to patch things up with his girlfriend Bridgit and get his fledgeling detective agency off the ground.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep a young man busy, Paul is left looking after the city’s crankiest German Shephard, takes on his first job, following a particularly dodgy local businessman and tries to find his missing business partner, the infamous Bunny McGarry. 

Although his appearance in this book is minimal, Bunny McGary’s presence is felt throughout. In McGarry, author Caimh McDonnell has created one of the most unpredictable heroes in modern fiction. He may be one fo the god guys but there is almost no crime he won’t commit for the good of his friends. This time around though it is Bunny himself who needs saving from the bad guys.

Just an average day in the office for our reluctant hero. 

Like the first instalment, The Day That Never Comes is a wonderful mix of intriguing crime drama and slapstick comedy. It has a good pace, great characters and shed loads of natural Irish wit. 

Worst Case Scenario

Worst Case Scenarioby Helen Fitzgerald

Having to deal with Glasgow’s darker characters every day has made probation officer Mary Shields a little cranky. Her inclination to drink, her lack of respect for authority and her naturally suspicious nature should probably have made her unsuitable for the role, but ironically she is good at her job. But now with her job on the line, she prepares to walk away, but not before she can clear one final case on her books.

Enter Liam Macdowall, imprisoned for murdering his wife but now out on licence and put under Mary’s watchful eye. There is an instant distrust between the two, but on the surface, it is a simple enough case, not more difficult than any of the thousands she has handled before. But things soon get messy and the result is devastating for Mary and everyone around her.

Worst Case Scenario is one of those rare books that manage to combine gritty thriller with lashings of humour. Mary is a wonderfully imagined character whose flaws are plain to see but make her all the more charming. 

Helen Fitzgerald has a reputation for writing psychological thrillers and this is certainly a prime example of the best of the genre. I was gripped from the very first page, following Mary and Liam’s relationship with growing alarm and dread. At heart, it is a very tense and dark story, but the humour that runs through it like a seam of gold elevates it beyond the run-of-the-mill. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was left wanting more.

A great read.

 

 

Saturn Run

Saturn Runby John Sandford and Ctein

It is interesting to speculate on how mankind would react to our finding evidence of advanced alien life, particularly if we found it in our own back yard. Would it bring nations together, or would it exacerbate the existing divides between us? There have been many articles and books written on the subject and first contact novels have become a favourite of mine.

Like many things, science fiction is continually evolving. Keeping one step ahead of real science is becoming a challenge for SciFi writers. For me, much of what passes as Science Fiction these days is more of a mix of fantasy and horror. Whilst there is nothing wrong in that, I still prefer the kind of stories that mix speculative science with a touch of adventure.

Saturn Run is one of those stories. The science is believable, as is the insight into the frailties of human nature. When faced with first contact and the possibility of access to new and exciting technologies, the race is on between the two spacefaring power blocks. There are the inevitable failures as existing technology is pushed to the limit in the attempt to be the first to get their hands on the alien pot of gold. But it is not just the technology that is being tested and the politicians back home attempt to manipulate events to their own advantage.

It is a good old fashioned adventure story with plenty of action and some interesting insights into the frailties of human nature. Failures and tragedy beset the two competing crews as they wend their separate ways from Earth to the rings of Saturn. Arriving at their destination is not all they expected, and neither is the events that follow.

Great plot, wonderful characters and a story with real pace and some interesting twists make this one of the best science fiction books I have rea for quite some time. Then lack of blood-sucking aliens is a plus.

 

 

 

Luck Bunny

Luck Bunnyby Jill Dawson

Lucky Bunny is on the second Jill Dawson novel I have read and I am already seeing a pattern. Not that that is a bad thing. It is a story of a strong woman looking back on her tough childhood.

Queenie Dove’s story is one of frustrated opportunities, abuse and determination. She grows up in the grim surroundings of London’s East End during the 1930’s Life is tough for everyone. Queenie is a genius but any ambitions that she or anyone es might have had for her are stifled by her would-be criminal father and her depressive mother. Her only anchor is her Nan who does all she can to protect Queenie and her brother Bobby from the worst excesses of their unsuitable parents.

With her father’s connections, it is almost inevitable that the two children find themselves on the wrong end of the law. But this in itself brings Queenie new friendships that will last a lifetime.

There is nothing fanciful in Jill Dawson’s writing. Her characters and the situations they face are believable because they are disturbingly real. Children like Queenie really did exist and to some degree still do. The events portrayed in this book can and did happen.

Queenie Dove is a strong woman molded by the opportunities and terror of the war years. Her story will resonate with many women I am sure.

Luck Bunny is full of atmosphere. The story has a gritty reality that makes Queenie’s tale believable and compelling.