Author: Ben Fergusson
Published: January 2015 by Abacus
Category: Historical, Fiction
The war is over, but Berlin is a desolate sea of rubble. There is a shortage of everything: food, clothing, tobacco. The local population is scrabbling to get by. Kasper Meier is one of these Germans, and his solution is to trade on the black market to feed himself and his elderly father. He can find anything that people need, for the right price. Even other people.
Many thanks to Emily Burns at LittleBrown and Co for sending me a copy for review.
Set in Berlin in post war 1946, with everything in extremely short supply, Kasper Meier trades information and deals in goods for the black market in order to keep himself and his elderly, sick father alive. He lives in one room in a half bombed out building where he secretes anything and everything that might be even remotely saleable. Kasper is despised for being homosexual, still illegal at the time, and tries to be as inconspicuous as possible. But when he is visited by one of the rubble women, Eva, a young girl who wants help finding information about a British pilot, he is drawn into a deadly web of intrigue.
'I need someone’s help and no one will help me. I’ve got ways of paying for it, but still no one wants to take it on and you’re my last hope. What I’m saying is that I’ll make you a deal. You help me and I’ll pay you – simple as that. It’s no big issue for you. And if the payment isn’t enough of an incentive I promise not to….Well, you know – report you and Herr Neustadt.’
Kasper clucked his tongue and scratched the side of his nose. ‘Blackmail is a very ugly business, Fräulein Hirsch.’
Berlin is a devastated, rubble strewn and dangerous city where the inhabitants struggle to survive, living by their wits. Some work clearing the rubble, others trade their bodies. Corruption is rife, lawlessness prevalent and soldiers thought guilt of rape are being found murdered.
Frau Beckmann, a shadowy and elusive figure, who seems to control many of the girls, including Eva Hirsch, knows Kasper’s secret and is blackmailing him into finding the information she seeks. Despite fearing for his own life, Kasper feels afraid and sorry for Eva, and determines to find out what he can about Frau Beckmann and what her hold over the girls is. The more Kasper digs, the more sinister things appear. Nothing is as it seems and Kasper is drawn ever deeper into Beckmann’s machinations and the ensuing menace.
Initially, Kasper Meier seems to be a cold, unlikable and austere character, the description of a tall, lanky and bony man with an ‘unsettling thickness of his straight, white hair, that despite brushing and trimming, stuck up in heavy tufts, yellowing slightly at the fringe, where the smoke from his cigarette curled up after staining the parts of his fingers that weren’t already blackened.’ Not to mention ‘his right eye, which was milky white and immobile. What had once been a shining black pupil, surrounded by a bright green iris, was now a faded blue stain beneath a smooth misty blue layer, like cooked egg white.’
As the story progresses however, the complexity and compassion of Kasper’s character begins to emerge, along with insights into the suffering and horror of his past life. There are ever deeper glimpses of the sad, hurting and kind-hearted man underneath the veneer. This is an intensely graphic and atmospheric account of life in a very bleak and war-torn Berlin, the desolation, the desperation and hopelessness of half-starved people who will do whatever it takes to survive, extremely apparent in Ben Fergusson’s very descriptive writing.
Being slightly critical, I did feel the story was perhaps a little too drawn out and quite hard to follow in the first part of the book, and overall could maybe have done with slightly fewer than it’s almost 400 pages. After that, though, the pace and storyline pick up and with it the tension and emotion. There’s no compromise in the harrowing depiction of life and atrocities of a city destroyed and its people broken by war. It’s a very moving story, quite compelling, encompassing what must have been a huge amount of extensive historical research.
About the author
Ben Fergusson is a writer, editor and translator. Born in Southampton in 1980, he studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University, and has worked for ten years as an editor and publisher in the art world.
His short fiction has appeared in publications in both the UK and the US and has won and been shortlisted for a range of prizes, including the 2010 Bridport Prize. From 2009-2010 he edited the literary journal Chroma and since 2013 has been the editor of the short story magazine Oval Short Fiction. Currently based in London, his first novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was written during a four-year period living and working in Berlin.
Ben can also be found on Twitter
Author: Shelley R Pickens
Published: August 2014 by Melange Books – Fire and Ice YA
Category: Young Adult/Fantasy
Sixteen-year-old Aimee doesn’t like to touch people. One touch and she sees their past. One graze over her skin and she can see all the good and bad deeds a person has ever done. It isn’t until a bomb explodes during lunch that she realizes exactly how many dirty secrets the students in her school harbors-or exactly how far one of them would go to keep his secrets safe.
For all that she is caring and warmhearted, Aimee is a loner and keeps people literally at arm’s length. It took her only friend, Dejana, a year to break through her reserve. Aimee is cursed with the ability to see, in detail, the memories of anyone she touches skin to skin. To others she appears to be weird and insular but the Goth attire of all black with long sleeves and gloves, whatever the weather, is her protection from personal contact.
So, I embrace a life of isolation. I shun human contact, afraid to let anyone close. The other kids tease me relentlessly and call me a freak behind my back, but I don’t care. If they only knew exactly what kind of freak I am, they would run the other way and never look back. Since I arrived at this school, I have encouraged their jeers, happy to do anything to keep them away from me……..For me, that kind of life is normal. It’s not a matter of fear; it’s all about survival.
When a bomb explodes in the school cafeteria, Aimee inadvertently touches someone in the ensuing confusion and chaos and is assaulted by horrific memories of torture and murder. Aimee doesn’t know who she touched, but realises it must be one of her fellow students who is the sadistic killer of her visions. She must find him before he kills again and enlists the help of Dejana and a new friend, Leah, who is a computer whizz. As Aimee recalls the killer’s memories and the friends’ gathering of information increases, it becomes apparent the killer is stalking Aimee and she is to be his next target.
Aimee is the main protagonist. She is very strong-willed and a definite survivor considering how her life has been up to this point. Most of the story is told from her perspective with occasional passages from the killer’s point of view as well as one or two others. Aimee, Dejana and Leah are the strongest characters and are at the forefront, and as the story progresses more is revealed through the memories Aimee has absorbed and the mystery and tension build quickly. I did have my suspicions as to the killer’s identity but the other twists were a complete surprise.
I enjoyed the book very much, although it was quite graphic and gory for the YA genre, but maybe that’s just my squeamishness surfacing. Even so, I would recommend this for older teens. Having said that, it’s a solid debut novel with good pacing and a distinct concept. I’ll be interested to see where the sequel takes Aimee.
Shelley Pickens has been in love with anything and everything on the dark side of paranormal since the time she learned to read. After 15 years of teaching Spanish to high schoolers, she decided to take her unique firsthand knowledge of young adults and apply it to her passion for creative writing and fantasy. When not teaching or writing, Shelley likes to spend time with her husband and two beautiful children in Atlanta, Ga. Her escape from reality is her love of complex thriller and science fiction TV series like Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow. In her spare time she is an avid reader of all types of genres. THE HAUNTING OF SECRETS is her debut novel.
Author: Mike Martin
Published: November 2012 by BookLocker.com, Inc
Category: Whodunit, Murder/Mystery
A man’s body is found in a small fishing community on the East Coast. First, everyone thinks it’s a heart attack or stroke but then it’s discovered that he was poisoned. Who would do this and why? Finding that out falls to Winston Windflower and his side-kick Eddie Tizzard. Along the way, they discover there are many more secrets hidden in this small community and powerful people who want to keep it that way.
The people of Grand Bank, on the coast of Newfoundland, could set their clocks by Elias Martin. Every morning, whatever the weather, he walked from his house over the hills to the Cape. Until one day his body was discovered on the path by two tourists. His death was attributed to natural causes until the suspicions of Sergeant Winston Windflower of the RCMP were aroused. He and Constable Eddie Tizzard began an investigation into Elias Martin’s death and as new evidence comes to light it’s apparent murder has been committed.
This solitary pilgrimage allowed him to mourn his wife Eileen without anyone intruding on his grief. More importantly, it allowed him to talk to her without anyone thinking he was crazier that he was. This walk was one that they had shared for almost forty years until she took sick and he still missed her and still needed to feel her comforting presence. He thought her long, painful, and ultimately fatal battle with cancer would be the worst part of his life. Now he knew that being without her was even worse.
There’s a lot I like about this story. Sergeant Windflower is a great character, a full-blooded Cree who has only been in his this post for a year. I enjoyed the glimpse into Windflower’s native culture and customs and I’d love for these to be explored in more depth as the series progresses, along with increased character development. There’s the beginnings of a sweet relationship between Windflower and the owner of the local cafe running in the background.
Windflower and Constable Tizzard work through the motives, opportunities and means of the suspects, and as the interrogations gain momentum they begin to fit all the pieces together. They have no help from their Inspector who seems to want the case closed as quickly as possible. Hmm, could Inspector MacIntosh be working to his own agenda?
There are plenty of suspects with motives for murder to choose from, including Harvey Brenton and his wife Marge, who has a history with the victim. Roger Buffet and Ginger Grandy’s parents who all had a grudge against Elias Martin. Georgette Sheridan and her son, James also have ties to Grand Bank and Elias. Windflower’s investigation uncovers more than he expected, the discovery that corruption can reach to the higher levels even in small communities. The investigative procedure is realistic, the plot is well thought out and keeps the story moving.
Unfortunately, there were grammatical errors which should really have been picked up during the editing process. I’ll follow on with the second book in the series because this is a good story with interesting characters and hopefully the editing will be a bit tighter in the next instalment.
I have always been a writer, even as I have earned a living doing many, many other things. For the last 15 years I have been a freelance writer, specializing in workplace and social policy issues. I have been published in newspapers and magazines acrossC anada, the United States and New Zealand. My first published book was Change the Things You Can: Dealing With Difficult People, published by Booklocker in 2011. TheWalkeron the Cape is my first published fiction book although I have published a number of short stories in periodicals and on-line.
For more information about me and my writing experience and samples of my work please visit www.mike54martin.com
Author: Randy Mixter
Published: September 2012
Category: Contemporary, Paranormal, Fantasy
The Rocking Chair Lady is a fictional short story based on a young boy’s fascination with an elderly lady’s stories of her adventurous, and sometimes magical life. Expect the unexpected.
A hauntingly beautiful and engaging short story of an old lady and a young boy exchanging reminiscences. The boy soon runs out of his own stories but the old lady still shares her magical life stories and thoughts with the boy each time he visits. The visits span a few summers, the boy is captivated by the stories and learns a lot about the old woman, her husband and how they met. She tells him of her life and adventures, story by story and year by year.
I was thirteen years old when I first met the rocking chair lady. It was early June and I was helping Andy, a friend of mine, deliver newspapers……
I didn’t wear a watch back then, but I figured it was close to lunch time when I arrived at my last house of the day. It was an old brick house with a long wooden front porch. I noticed several wind chimes hanging from the porch’s ceiling. I knocked on the door several times with no success and was about to put down the paper and leave, when I heard the faint voice of a woman say ‘come in’ from somewhere inside of the house. I was wary and the voice seemed to sense my fear.
And so begins an unusual friendship which grows with each subsequent visit and both the old lady and the boy look forward to their brief times together.
Randy Mixter always writes with such appeal and sensitivity and manages, in this story, to incorporate a lot into a few pages, giving the two characters distinct and extremely likeable personalities. I couldn’t help but be drawn to them and the old lady’s stories of a life which embraced all opportunities and was full of rich and deep experiences.
There are touches of sadness, which isn’t unusual for someone of advancing years, and a wonderfully magical, correlated ending which is a delight, leaving feelings of pleasure in a story skillfully told.
Randy Mixter lives in Pasadena, Maryland, with his wife Veronica and their five cats. He writes in a variety of genres including Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Mysteries, and Suspense Thrillers. He currently has several novels and short stories available, with more on the way.
Find out about new releases, special discounts, and free book promotions at https://sites.google.com/site/randymi…
Check out his Facebook author’s page at: https://www.facebook.com/RandyMixters…
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Northwooder1
Read his blog at: http://randy-mixter.blogspot.com/
Author: Georgia Rose
Published: February 2014 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Category: Romantic Drama, Contemporary
Emma Grayson was left devastated when her life was torn apart by tragedy and betrayal. Now someone believes it’s time for her to start again and puts an advert for a job through her door which leads her to the Melton Estate. Despite her desire for a solitary existence she finds herself discovering a life she could never have imagined, challenging her independence, her fears and her resistance to love.
Emma Grayson desperately needs a fresh start after a devastating personal trauma compounded by a betrayal she couldn’t comprehend. She secures a job with Lord Cavendish of Melton Manor Estate, managing the stables and looking after the horses, after the advert for the job had been posted to her anonymously. Hurt beyond measure and disillusioned, she is wary of getting close to anyone again and just wants to get on with her job and be left alone. The community on the Estate is a tight knit one though and Emma soon finds herself, almost against her will, being drawn in and actually enjoying making new friends.
I’d also mulled over who had put this through my letterbox in the first place, dismissing most of the names I came up with and leaving me with one suspect. My still viciously raw feelings towards her and the thought of her motivation for doing this was to get me to move away almost made me tear it up. In the end, however, so as not to spite myself, I’d written a curriculum vitae, attached it to an email as requested, and sent it together with a covering letter.
The story is told in the first person by Emma, which gives the tragedy she suffered even more poignancy and engenders a deep sympathy and understanding for her. Despite her initial contrary attitude with people, it’s easy to like her and very obvious she loves the horses and her dog, Susie.
The suspense builds slowly and, with little hints dropped about Emma’s self-defense abilities, you know something is looming, and Emma’s skills are displayed unexpectedly during a night out. And as the sparks begin between Emma and Trent, it becomes apparent he has secrets of his own which he’s unwilling to talk about.
Really good, strong portrayals of Trent, enigmatic and aloof, and Emma, stubborn and edgy, and their personalities develop as the story progresses. The other characters, although likeable, were slightly less well-rounded but hopefully will come into their own as the series moves forward. The setting and atmosphere of the estate is created in such detail it’s easy to have a mental picture running with the narrative. And, although I’m not a horsey person, I found the descriptions of work at the stables and the horses interesting to read.
There are a lot of surprises revealed along the way, character wise, and even the estate isn’t quite what it seems. Melton Manor has an air of mystery about it as Lord Cavendish and his right hand man, Trent, disappear on business trips several times in the Estate’s helicopter and the male staff all belong, in some capacity, to the military.
Well written and entertaining, I enjoyed the storyline and look forward to following on with the series.
Author: Jan Ruth
Published: November 2013 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Category: Contemporary Fiction
A dramatic story of forgiveness, family and friendship; set in the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia.
My thanks to Jan Ruth for sending me a copy
Daniel and Tina decide to cement their on-off relationship of twenty-five years with a marriage ceremony in the town they grew up in, near Snowdonia in North Wales. They start their married life living in the hotel Daniel is renovating but things between the newly weds begin to crumble after just a few months. Tina is keeping an overwhelming secret and doing her best to deal with it in the only way she feels she can. By pushing Daniel away, partly to prove she can cope on her own because she never has had to. Daniel has always been there for her.
Their old school friends, who haven’t seen each other for years, Victoria and Linda and their respective husbands, Max and Mike, are drawn into the resulting fall out which will affect not only those involved but their families as well.
Linda and Victoria are experiencing their own marital problems and all three couples find themselves in difficult circumstances and with friendships at breaking point. Their lives can never again be the same and each of them will face a future they couldn’t have imagined. The terrible culmination of Victoria and Max’s relationship breakdown is horrifying and dramatic, resulting in destruction and death which devastates everyone in the community.
Outwardly, everything in Victoria’s life was pretty good, but her comfortable life was flawed, so flawed. She stole a quick sideways look at Linda and felt nostalgic for something she’d lost along the way, something honest and ordinary. And it made no sense that Linda actually only lived a couple of miles away, and yet only a wave across the supermarket car park had passed between them for years, separated by their social strata. Did that make her a snob like her mother? Is that how people saw her?
The dynamics between the couples and their interwoven stories are written so well it’s impossible not to have a vivid picture of them, and be drawn in as they are ever more deeply involved in the developing story. Jan Ruth just seems to be able to get right inside the characters and make them totally real and believable, with well-developed and credible personalities. Their problems and emotions are handled sensitively and with honesty during the major life changes that affect them all. Serious issues, including spousal abuse and debilitating illness, are dealt with tactfully.
A really good mix of characters, Daniel stood out for me and Victoria, who was the most damaged by her awful experiences. Great writing and precise attention to details – such an enjoyable read. The scenic descriptions are beautiful and bring the area to life adding an extra element to the story. Mainly, though, this is about how the strength of love and forgiveness, having friends and family win out in the end.
Author: Marsha Cornelius
Published: February 2013 by Hickory Flat Books
Category: Romantic Drama
Frank Barnes is content living on the streets of Atlanta. A soup kitchen and a makeshift shanty sure beat his days as a POW in Vietnam. But Chloe Roberts can’t handle the eviction that sends her into the hell of homelessness.
Many thanks to Marsha Cornelius for sending me a copy
Frank and Chloe, for completely different reasons find themselves homeless. Frank is happy enough on the streets, collecting cans each day to make a little money. After the horrors of fighting and battling to survive in the Vietnam war, he returns to the US disabled and ignored and turns to alcohol and drugs to dull the physical and mental pain. Another homeless man, Randall, helps Frank work through his issues, get dried out and cleaned up. They forge a close friendship.
This morning, he woke to a cold, sluggish fog that has his foot throbbing before he even stood. His only relief was to shift his weight to his toes and keep pressure off the heel. Of course, the gimp walk didn’t do much for his appearance. People already shied away from his long hair and shaggy beard. The shuffling limp and tortured expression convinced onlookers he was a derelict.
Frank makes the most of the little he has, with his good friends and the little community they have built. When all Frank knows is destroyed horrifically and violently one night, and he almost loses his life, he doesn’t know whether he will be able to claw his way back again. Until a chance meeting changes his life forever.
Chloe, after being abandoned by her husband, and with no-one to turn to for help, is left with two children and debts she can’t pay off. After losing her home and all her possessions, she doesn’t know how her life could get any worse. But it can…a whole lot worse.
She could not speak. Reaching out, she took the check from the sheriff’s hand and stared at it as though she might find a number out of place, or something on the small piece of paper that might explain where the money had gone.
Sinking further and further into a pit of despair and hopelessness, Chloe can’t se a way forward. She is at the mercy of a very defective system of shelters, incompetent childcare and predatory men, leaving her emotionally battered and completely drained. Until a helping hand reaches out to pull her back from the brink.
The story is told from both Frank’s and Chloe’s points of view. It brings home the stark reminder that the homeless of this world are actually out there, struggling to survive from day-to-day against sometimes unimaginable odds. Losing it all. How far can one person fall before all hope is gone. This is a fascinating book with wonderfully developing characters and a sometimes harrowing storyline, dealing with the complex issues and situations the homeless can, and more than likely do, face.
I was drawn to Frank immediately, there’s depth and authenticity in his character. He’s had a really rough deal but despite everything he cares about others and does whatever he can to help. Chloe hasn’t had a happy life and, I think partly because of that, chose poorly when it came to a husband and father for her children. The two characters’ lives are interlinked and brought together in a compelling and profound storyline. Their portrayal is genuine, believable and endearing. The writing is accomplished and descriptive with a reality that encompasses so many emotions, hope, love, anguish, misery, all of which shine through the narrative.
A really excellent read which enforces the old adage, never judge a book…You never really know the true story behind a person’s appearance and what events forced them into a certain situation. Or how a single act of kindness can be the start of changing someone’s life for the better.
Author: Alexandra Sokoloff
Performed by RC Bray
Published by Alexandra Sokoloff and released on Audible May 2014
Category: Crime/Mystery/Suspense, Psychological
A Thriller Award nominee for Best eBook Original Novel… Book 1 in award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff’s riveting new Huntress FBI series about a driven FBI agent on the hunt for that most rare of all killers: a female serial.
Matthew Roarke, a special agent with the FBI, is in the midst of an investigation and while on his way to meet one of his undercover agents he notices a mysterious young woman on the opposite side of the road immediately before his agent is hit by an oncoming large semi truck. Roarke doesn’t believe in coincidences, especially since the woman has disappeared. He strongly suspects there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Since he was a boy, watching the news reports of a horrific massacre, Matt Roarke had his heart set on a career as an FBI agent. He and his right hand man, Damien Epps, begin to delve into the sequence of events that lead to the agent’s death, beginning with witness statements, one of which saw the mysterious woman speak to the agent seconds before he was hit by the truck.
Roarke needs to find the woman and as his investigation gains momentum more gruesome murders are uncovered. Now Roarke and his team need to make the connection between the victims and as the pieces begin to fall into places the horrifying details of the Huntress’ background start to emerge.
She’d seen the road signs in the middle of the night and impulsively made the turn. She like hotels, motels too, the anonymity and uncomplicatedness of them.
The plan is clear. She will drive. It’s a huge state, a huge country. Plenty of open areas to get lost in and reduce the chances she will be found. She always keeps moving; there is less chance of tracking her. But for the next six days she must be as invisible as possible.
If she can just get through the next days….Just six more days.
The story alternates between Roarke’s perspective and the Huntress’ compelling point of view. Even though the murders are fairly grisly, once her heartbreaking story is fully revealed it would be hard not to feel some sympathy for her and, at the same time, horror at her actions. The storyline is devised wonderfully and the tension builds steadily with a thread of the psychological. And as events unfold good and evil are uncovered, connections are made and Roarke is totally conflicted.
Alexandra Sokoloff has crafted, not only an outstanding story, but also a cast of skilfully multi layered and believable characters. The locations in the story are vividly described to give a real sense of place. Combined with an excellent performance from RC Bray this is a fantastic listening experience. Definitely a series to follow.
Author: Rob Sinclair
Published: May 2014 by Clink Street Publishing
Carl Logan was the perfect agent. A loner, with no real friends or family, he was trained to deal with any situation with cold efficiency, devoid of emotion. But Logan isn’t the man he used to be, or the asset he once was.
My thanks to Rob Sinclair for sending me a copy of his book for review purposes.
Dance With The Enemy introduces Carl Logan, a covert operative for a British/USA Joint Intelligence Agency, who is on medical leave and in recovery after a life changing ordeal. Before his recuperation is complete he’s called in by his boss, Charles McCabe, when US Attorney General Frank Modena is abducted. When Logan learns Youseff Selim, the brutal terrorist who left him for dead five months ago could be involved with the kidnapping, he recognises a chance for revenge as his brief is to rescue Modena. The question is, is Logan ready for this new assignment? Most of the agency members don’t think so, only Mackie, Logan’s boss, is in his corner. Logan himself isn’t totally sure he’s up to this job. His previous assignment has had a profound effect on him, he’s lost the ability to contain and ignore the emotions he was trained to hold in check for the most part of his adult life.
Until five months ago. When everything had changed.
Now he could feel emotions once again. But he was filled with so much angst, anger, regret, shame – so many feelings coming to the fore that he didn’t know how to control. And sometimes he wished he was still the zombie he had been for the last eighteen years – almost half of his life.
As Logan follows the trail which he hopes will lead to Modena and more importantly to Selim, he reluctantly teams up with FBI Agent Angela Grainger. Each is wary of the other and although they are working together, Logan is pursuing his own agenda. It seems he’s not the only one. The deeper Logan and Grainger delve and the more the case evolves and the less straightforward it becomes. The layers of deceit and lies need to be peeled back one by one to find the motives and the real mastermind behind the conspiracy.
The writing is extremely well done and very descriptive with easy, genuine dialogue and realistic scenarios. Carl Logan is an intriguing character, complex and although he is recovering from the physical and mental damage he sustained he has the odd lapse, which makes him more human and realistic. He prefers to work alone and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. He’s circumspect when it comes to his job but has an emotional sensitivity giving his personality a balanced quality. His back story is revealed little by little throughout the story. I like that, although he’s determined and strong-willed, he can be unsure of himself and sensitive at times.
The action scenes are exciting, tense and cleverly devised. A great cast of characters, Mackie especially and there’s good interaction between him and Logan. The pace is maintained from the beginning with a fast-moving story and the twist at the end is totally unexpected. A strong, dramatic and enjoyable debut novel.
Author: John Lansing
A Short Story
A coming-of-age story set in 1950s, small-town Long Island, at a time when suburban America is about to undergo seismic societal changes.
Jack Morgan returns, for what he knows will be the last time, to Baldwin, Long Island in order to settle his parents’ affairs. He felt indifferent about the sale of his boyhood home until he found himself parked outside. Looking at the house unleashed the floodgates of memories and emotions, taking him back to 1963 when he was a boy of fourteen in a completely different social and racial climate.
Jack and his two best friends, Gene and Greg, are sprucing up and getting a little buzzed on beer before heading to the dance hall. The evocative atmosphere is captured perfectly and is so relatable. Having the pre dance drinks for dutch courage, only in our case it was cider – yuck! Even after all this time I still can’t so much as think of drinking the stuff. The groups of boys and girls separated by the width of the room, the music and the coloured lights. After a couple of false starts Jack gets to dance with the girl of his dreams. Only it’s anything but straightforward.
“Jack, you’ve got to leave…now. No shit. I heard some crazy talk. Go! Now!”
I read the fear in Vida’s eyes; she nodded her head yes. I took her lead and we were on the move across the dance floor, hearts thumping. We grabbed our coats and were out the door and walking briskly down Grand Avenue before the song ended.
A touching teenage love, described with feeling and emotion, which could never be realised without probable tragic consequences. But, above all else, this is a poignant and disturbing reminder of the social conflict of the time. Racial prejudice was prevalent in most communities and was a major factor for a large number of people. When the first black family arrives in Baldwin the event is viewed with mounting dismay and anxiety by the towns’ residents. As Jack finds out to his cost.
Author: Alan Hamilton
Published: July 2014 by Silverwood Books
Category: Crime/Mystery/Suspense, Historical
Summer 1930 and Walter Bruce is told he has a terminal disease. With nursing care and an easier job he could have five more years. With neither he may not see out the year. But he’s got a wife to keep – one too selfish and idle to be his nurse.
This novel is woven intricately around facts based on an actual, seemingly senseless and violent unsolved murder case from the 1930’s. Walter Bruce is an insurance salesman in a loveless marriage. He is diagnosed with a terminal illness and at the same time acquires evidence his wife has not only deceived him about her past all the years he’s known her, but has also been unfaithful. He formulates a plan to allow him to live out his remaining years in comfort, with the nursing and care he knows will not be forthcoming from his wife. There is no turning back. Bruce’s chess player’s mind devises the details of a plan and as that plan slowly unravels he must accept the terrible consequences of his actions.
The main protagonist is very difficult to like, yet at the same time, given his lifestyle and home life, there is a small amount of pity mixed in with the aversion. There are many restrictions in the between-the-wars world of lower to middle class Liverpool, but to dispassionately plot his wife’s murder and involve two other, equally distasteful characters, shows quite a calculating and cold nature.
The ability to plan and deliberately kill someone was not an accomplishment you could learn, like chess or the violin. When the intended victim was close to you, someone you lived with, it called for a hardness of heart, insensitivity to pity, indifference to suffering and denial of the sanctity of human life. You might have the idea but if you didn’t have these qualities you’d never progress beyond that. The point was though, he knew he did have them; had always had them.
The courtroom scenes are described in detail and, although at times I was overwhelmed with the specifics and technicalities, I appreciate the painstaking research and work that has gone into, not only this aspect, but the whole. Bruce’s feelings throughout are defined so vividly I almost felt I was the one in court. How very frightening to be in that position, especially knowing the evidence was being manipulated. Bruce thought he had orchestrated the ‘perfect murder’ and was totally unprepared for the final verdict, actually believing himself innocent of the specific charge of murder.
This fictional reconstruction of a classic, unsolved mystery is revised to reflect the possible scenario of Bruce plotting his wife’s murder and written with much of the original events and evidence, as the author states in his note at the end of the book…..’Much in the preceding pages follows the details of that case very closely, to the point that some of the dialogue is lifted directly from what was reported as having been said during the events, and, in particular from the then Liverpool City Police Force, and transcripts of the committal, trial and appeal court proceedings in the real Wallace case.’
As in the original case, there seems to all outside intents and purposes, no motive for the crime and only circumstantial evidence against the accused. As for the real-life murder, only William Herbert Wallace would be able to tell the truth of what happened in Anfield, Liverpool in 1931.
Author: Jan Ruth
Format: Kindle Edition
Published: October 2014 by Celtic Connections
An emotive trio of stories with festive themes from the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia.
A collection of three ‘long short stories’ from Jan Ruth are the perfect seasonal read.
Rudolph the Brown Nosed Reindeer
Rick’s Christmas gets off to a dismal start. His live in girlfriend leaves for a job in Florida and Rick has to make the trip to a remote cottage in Wales for a corporate Christmas event. Rick meets his personal assistant in the flesh for the first time. Will Pauline be the answer to his lonely festive season?
How would he survive this? Two nights trapped with work colleagues he mostly despised or did his utmost to avoid……a depressing blend of training and team building; they’d even managed to slip in the yearly personal development interview on the afternoon they arrived.
Jim’s Christmas Carol
Jim wants to call a halt to his extra marital affair but the lady in question is having none of it. The story is told from multiple perspectives and the Christmas gathering at Jim’s house is not at all what he expected or wanted which undoubtedly gives him a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons. An original and humorous tale told with satire and a dash of the paranormal.
“What’s happening then, on Christmas Day,” she said. “Will I get to see you?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. The High Priestess will knock herself out making a Christmas to remember. I’ll be sucked in, hanging sparkly balls and laying the fire, decanting the port.”
Home For Christmas
Pip is home for the holidays after another failed romance and what could be worse than being home alone. Her parents are in Spain for the winter but the villagers are curiosity personified. Lies fall from her lips almost of their own accord and take on a life of their own. A fun and entertaining romance.
“Hello, Daffyd. Er, yes, house sitting.”
“Boyfriend on his way?”
“He’s had to attend a very important business meeting conference. Overseas. Urgently, at the last minute,” she added, hoping Father Christmas wasn’t listening.
Three delightfully entertaining and completely different takes on Christmas, with an underlying flavour of romance, and definitely not your average festive stories. For all they’re effectively short stories, there is a really good storyline in each one and the writing is so concisely descriptive it’s easy to visualise the scenarios. I love how the stories play out and the fact they’re set against the wonderful backdrop of Snowdonia.
There have been so many great books this year, it was a very hard choice but, in no particular order, here are my top 12 reads/listens.
And my top 5 series.
Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. This is a supernatural urban fantasy series which really caught my imagination with a very unlikely hero – or anti-hero would probably best describe James Stark, half angel, half human. Stark’s return from 11 years in hell, bent on revenge is a sharp, hilarious and sardonic tale. MacLeod Andrews portrays Stark and a multitude of diverse characters perfectly. Audiobooks 1-3.5. Audiobooks 4-6
The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. An Urban Fantasy series featuring Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, who lives in Arizona and runs an occult bookstore. Atticus draws his power from the earth through the Druidic tattoos on his arms. He is able to shape shift and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. A fun series full of myths, legends, gods, goddess, witches and demons. Superb performance by Luke Daniels, with distinct voices for each character. My reviews 1-3, 4-6, 7
The Project Eden Series by Brett Battles. This is a really compelling storyline. As Daniel Ash’s world crashes down around him he’s catapulted into a nightmare scenario. He can’t comprehend the fact that what happened is no accident. And there is worse, much worse to come as a deadly organisation plots the end of humanity as we know it. MacLeod Andrews delivers a flawless narration. My reviews.
The Georgie Connolly Series by E.L. Lindley. Georgie Connolly is a transplanted English woman living and working in Los Angeles. Feisty and very often landing herself in hot water, Georgie acts on the spur of the moment, without thinking things through. A change from the norm, Georgie is not connected to law enforcement but makes documentaries, no matter how serious the subject. A fun and easy series but with dangerous undertones. My reviews #1 #2
The Black Series by Russell Blake. Artemus Black is a Hollywood P.I. Down on his luck, with money problems, anger issues and an assistant who ridicules him endlessly and a fat cat that hates him. Life couldn’t get much worse. A great characterisation of an easy to like protagonist with a cast of memorable, humorous characters and excellent and witty story lines. My reviews #1, #2, #3, #4
Author: E.L. Lindley
After a harrowing couple of months, Georgie and James Finn prepare to take their relationship to the next level, only to find their plans scuppered by the arrival of Georgie’s estranged mother, Marilyn, who is accused of murdering her husband. Suddenly Georgie has to deal with issues that resonate back to her troubled childhood.
Georgie Connolly is back. And although she may have been under the impression she and James Finn could spend quality time together after the traumas of recent weeks and their entanglement in the seedy world of a Russian gangster, a phone call from Los Angeles Defence Attorney, Leonard Spalding puts their plans on hold. Georgie’s mother, who abandoned her when she was six, has been charged with the murder of her husband. Bail has been set and Marilyn is now, much to Georgie’s discomfiture, released into her custody. Georgie hasn’t seen her mother for ten years and initially Marilyn’s self centred attitude clearly shows why mother and daughter are not close and explains Georgie’s reluctance to let go of her deep-rooted feelings of hurt and abandonment.
As James listened intently the attorney explained the situation and it wasn’t good. Georgie’s mother had married a man called Charles Beck, seven months ago and had actually been residing in Beverley Hills. He was left reeling by the idea that all this time Georgie had no idea that her mother was living here, in LA. He could have quite happily strangle the woman on Georgie’s behalf.
James and Julie Sellars have become partners in a private investigation and security business and have decided to take on Marilyn’s case. James has serious doubts about the validity of the accusation levelled against Marilyn after speaking to Detective Sean Collins, his and Georgie’s very good friend and newly promoted Lieutenant in the Hollywood division. As James and Julie’s investigation deepens the case becomes ever more involved.
Callie Delaney, Georgie’s best friend, has offered to have Marilyn to stay at her house, much to her husband Eric’s chagrin. Georgie, on the other hand, is grateful and guilty in equal measure. She decides to put her time and effort into research for the job at hand. Little does she know this, along with her mother’s situation, will lead her into peril from the world of gang culture with its appalling and sordid crimes.
I’m really enjoying this series and the way the books are written, with serious and sometimes deadly implications as well as a light-hearted and humorous slant. Thank goodness Georgie and James’ unpredictable relationship gains ground eventually, with both ready to admit their feelings although even then, nothing goes smoothly. They’re each too good at disrupting the balance and it doesn’t help that James is struggling with life after the Marines and Georgie is focusing more on making her documentary about the public schools system.
E.L. Lindley has created a great cast of likeable and realistic characters. Georgie is fortunate in her supportive network of friends and I love that she has her own personal friendly cab driver. Georgie is still as impulsive and liable to put herself in dangerous situations however, and this instance is no exception.
Author: Dennis Cardiff
Published: June 2014 by Gotta Find A Home
Category: Non Fiction
Many thanks to Dennis Cardiff for supplying me with a copy as part of Rosie Amber’s book review team.
Writing about the homeless and helping the homeless, has given my life a purpose that it didn’t have before. Documenting their stories will, I hope, introduce them to the public in a non-threatening way. Some panhandlers look intimidating, but that disappears when one sees them laugh.
When I met Joy I was going through an emotional crisis. Meeting her and her friends – worrying about them and whether or not they would be able to eat and find a place to sleep – took my mind off my problems, that then, seemed insignificant.
This is a non fictional story of a group of homeless people in a Canadian city from the perspective of the man who befriended them. Documented in diary format Dennis Cardiff catalogues the conversations he has with the various panhandlers, which brings home the reality of people who are forced, for one reason or another, into a life on the streets. These accounts show just how people’s lives and personalities can be and are formed by past traumas in the form of abuse, addiction and mental and physical disorders.
The conversations throughout the book demonstrate the sense of community among the group and the very noticeably differing personalities, each having their own stories and set of circumstances, and all the while helping the reader to see them as people in their own right, with real feelings and needs, struggling to survive against the odds.
Ian – “I didn’t know what to do. I was homeless and didn’t have any way to get to the hospital, so I phoned Alcoholics Anonymous. They said they would send someone to pick me up and stay with me in the hospital. I was unconscious for three days.”
Shark – “I’ve been sick. I’ve had a lot of pain in my legs, my right hip and my shoulders from my HIV. Morphine makes me sick. I take the pills and sometimes they stay down, most time they come right back up. Marijuana and booze work better than the morphine.”
Hippo – “I slept outside last night, under the bridge. There is an exhaust fan overhead, I’ve got a good sleeping bag, the weather was mild so it wasn’t too bad.I’ve had it with the shelters. It’s really bad there now, mostly crack heads. Things get stolen, it’s noisy, fights start, there are bedbugs. I’d like to get a clean place that’s quiet, no bugs and a lock on the door.”
This book tells it like it is, with no frills, and it is a challenging read. Not only because of the plight of the street people but also the way they are viewed and judged by the general public and more often than not, ignored. It’s something I imagine most of us, including myself, are guilty of. Dennis Cardiff tackles the issue in a completely constructive way by offering food, a bus ticket or coffee on daily basis and gradually getting to know the street people. It all started one morning as he was walking to work and saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk. He didn’t know quite what he should do, if anything. A friend advised him to offer her food and coffee and so began a morning ritual which evolved into a life changing experience for the author.
Joy fell on hard times. She slept behind a dumpster in back of the coffee shop. I saw her with blackened eyes, bruised legs, cracked ribs, cut and swollen lips.
Joy – “My boyfriend punched me in the face. I’m covered in bruises, my ribs are in bad shape and I’ve been coughing blood….He’s ok when he’s sober, but when he drinks he gets crazy.”
This is a unique insight into homelessness and the views of some of the people who live on the streets. Dennis Cardiff doesn’t try to explain why they are homeless or suggest solutions, he just offers his time, friendship and a willingness to listen.
Author: Francis Guenette
Published: February 2014 by Huckleberry Haven Publishing
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Life is never dull for those who live on the secluded shores of Crater Lake. Set against the backdrop of Northern Vancouver Island, The Light Never Lies is a story of heartbreaking need and desperate measures. People grapple with the loss of cherished ideals to discover that love comes through the unique family ties they create as they go.
The Light Never Lies begins a few months after the end of Disappearing in Plain Sight, with flashback chapters to fill in the intervening time. The multi layered story and characters are complex yet realistic, identifiable and as totally engaging as the first time around. And revisiting Vancouver Island and the beautiful Crater Lake setting was a treat in itself, still just as appealingly evocative and visual.
Lisa-Marie returns to the Crater Lake complex with Justin Roberts, scared and with shock news that will impact on everyone’s lives. Liam especially has a hard time coping with the repercussions, afraid it’s affecting his newly formed relationship with Izzy Montgomery, the trauma councillor at Micah Camp, a refuge for troubled teenagers. There are new residents at the camp, one in particular whose presence facilitates a deadly confrontation which shatters the already fragile peace and tranquility of Crater Lake.
Liam checked Caleb’s gold watch on his wrist; despite the removal of two links by Izzy’s jeweller, the band was still loose. Any minute now the bus would be arriving in Dearborn and Beulah would be on her way back to Crater Lake with Justin and Lisa-Marie. Liam didn’t know when he moment of confrontation might come, but come it would and there wasn’t a thing he could do to avoid it. He was like a deer standing on the highway, blinded by the headlights of an oncoming transport truck. All he could do was wait to be flattened by the impact.
Bethany, Lisa’s aunt, struggling with issues after her near death experience, and Beulah, her partner, experiencing her own problems while trying to keep everything on track, are drifting further apart.
Alexander Collins, a native elder, and Robbie, his son, smarter than his years and with a fascinating gift (which relates to the book title), travel to Crater Lake looking for family. Edward, Izzy’s father, wants to spend his final days with his daughter. Cynthia St. Pierre, a mystery writer, and baby Sophie, all add to the dynamics and aspect of Izzy’s fast growing and extended family. Each personality is defined and as the intricacy of the relationships unfold sympathetically I was absorbed into the story and could picture it as if watching from the sidelines.
All the characters, old and new, are a great mix and Francis Guenette weaves a compelling and very well crafted story which tugs at the heartstrings and pulls out respect, appreciation and compassion. Each of them dealing with difficult situations which are explored with sensitivity, whether it’s the teenage resident at the camp who is angry and afraid because he believes he’s gay. Or the relationship between Bethany and Beulah. The convoluted connection between Izzy, Liam, Lisa and baby Sophie. And the terminal illness of a family member. They are all interwoven into the story allowing the exploration of individual weaknesses or failings. A wonderfully captivating and touching story with a very moving ending.