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Profile for A. Hawkins > Reviews

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A. Hawkins (Canterbury, England)

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Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery
Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars There isn't a great deal of well-written, 30 Jun. 2016
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I should say at the outset that I only award 5 stars to books that keep me up into the small hours - 4 stars is high praise from me.
There isn't a great deal of well-written, engaging historical crime out there so it's a joy to have come across Lucienne Boyce's Dan Foster in his first outing. The historical period is evoked with a light touch but Lucienne Boyce obviously has a deep understanding of the social history that forms the background to Bloodie Bones. Everything from soap to paper, the Riot Act to Broughton's rules rang true and gave the action a satisfying depth and authenticity. The murder mystery is well done with a well-stocked roster of potential suspects and a genuine surprise at the end (though the clues were there if you knew where to look).
Characters were vivid and well-drawn and I particularly liked the fact that, although Dan Foster is a man of his time, he also has a radical sensibility which makes him as concerned for justice as for the law; the divide between the high-and-mighty 'haves' and the downtrodden 'have nots' of the novel inevitably had a disturbing resonance with our own troubled times. Highly recommended.

The Red Hill (Thomas Berrington Historical Mystery Book 1)
The Red Hill (Thomas Berrington Historical Mystery Book 1)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I find really good historical novels to be thin on the ground, 1 Jun. 2016
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I find really good historical novels to be thin on the ground. Good historical crime novels even more so. So I was delighted with The Red Hill. As a straight historical novel it would earn its place on any top reads list but as a historical crime novel, it’s shot up there into the stratosphere with the annals of Matthew Shardlake and Brother Cadfael.
Thomas Berrington, surgeon and latterly detective to the Sultan of Moorish Spain in the dying days of the empire is a wonderful character, as is his exotic sidekick, eunuch and unexpected babe-magnet Jorge. Believable, human and humane, David Penny manages to make Thomas and Jorge convincing men of their time without sacrificing our sympathy for them on the altar of historical correctness and unacceptable attitudes – one of the skills of the true historical novelist.
Against a cast of vividly-drawn characters great and small, Thomas digs deeper and deeper into effectively conveyed political intrigue to solve the mystery of deaths in the sultan’s harem, even when it looks as if doing so might cost him his life.
Some historical novels groan under the weight of the author’s research but this one does not. David Penny clearly knows his stuff inside out but he conveys the time and place with telling, everyday details and – thankfully - zero exposition. The Red Hill is written with a lightness of historical touch that draws you in to the hot, spicy, tense world of what we would now call Granada.
If you like historical novels and especially historical crime, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m thoroughly looking forward to catching up with Thomas’s next case in Breaker of Bones.

Binary Witness (Amy Lane Mysteries Book 1)
Binary Witness (Amy Lane Mysteries Book 1)
Price: £2.47

5.0 out of 5 stars The start of an exciting series, 1 Jun. 2016
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I read a lot of crime. Some of it I barely remember the next day.
I’m not having that problem with Binary Witness. This, the first of the Amy Lane mysteries is a great, witty, engaging read that won’t let you put it down.
The setup might sound as if it would be full of stereotypes – cleaner fresh out of jail helps nerdy hacker solve crimes. Except that the hacker is not a nerdy guy in a metal-band t-shirt, she’s Amy Lane, spectacularly agoraphobic young woman. And the ex-con cleaner is buff Jason Carr, erstwhile bad-boy gang member from the seedier end of Cardiff.
And it goes on from there. I’m not going to to into plot, because I hate it when reviews do that – read the product description! All I’ll say is that the characters feel like people you’ve met in real life (I’m sure I know Jason’s mum, Gwen) and they live in a very real world. The plot moves along at a cracking pace and, with some of the book written from the viewpoint of the victims, Rosie Claverton makes you care about the killer being found far more than if she just made another body turn up.
I’ve not read another book like it. Obviously with the female hacker trope comparisons with the Stieg Larsson trilogy will spring to mind but this is done with a lighter touch, a leavening of humour and more sympathetic characters.
The other comparison I might draw is with Harry Bingham’s books. Both Fiona Griffiths and Amy Lane have interesting psychiatric issues. Both are young, small, pretty and phenomenally bright. Both live and work in Cardiff and have complicated, intriguing backstories.
So, if you like Harry Bingham’s novels, read Binary Witness.
If you like your crime novels set somewhere unfamiliar and well realised, read Binary Witness.
If you like your crime with a dash of humour, read Binary Witness.
Oh, go on. Just read it. You won’t be sorry.

Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901
Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901
by Kristine Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the cover, 9 Sept. 2014
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Really useful guide to the nineteenth century and one that also shows you what you might need to look for elsewhere. I'm already using the blank pages at the back to make notes of the questions the book has raised which I need to find the answers for.

Past Encounters: a novel of WWII
Past Encounters: a novel of WWII
Price: £1.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can include as many meticulously-researched period details in your novel as you like (and Davina Blake has clearly done her, 27 July 2014
So many men who came home from the Second World War didn't want to talk about their experiences and Past Encounters gives us an insight into why. Rhoda, Peter's wife, knows nothing about her husband's war beyond the bald fact that he was a prisoner of war, with all the Geneva-Convention-and-Red-Cross-parcels assumptions that generates. Ten years post-war, she and he are living in an increasingly silent and walled-in marriage until, one day, a letter arrives.
So begins a journey of discovery for Rhoda and for the reader, a journey that takes in the horrors of displacement and defeat on a god-forsaken continent and the need to endure and to keep the faith at home.

All the characters come off the page as real human beings and - essential in a convincing period piece - they are of their time with all the assumptions about class and gender that makes the era feel so different to our own. You can include as many meticulously-researched period details in your novel as you like (and Davina Blake has clearly done her research with great care) but, if your people aren't faithful to the time they live in, the narrative just doesn't convince. I found Davina Blake's characters utterly convincing in this respect and I felt she was particularly good at the very different responses of men to the exigencies of war, whether it was Rhoda's locomotive-driving father, the prisoners of war or the film crew who turn up at Carnforth station to film Brief Encounters.

I will be looking for more from Davina Blake.

A Divided Inheritance
A Divided Inheritance
Price: £4.74

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that deserves to be far better known, 27 July 2014
Why am I not seeing this book piled high in bookshops? It's easily the equal of historical novels that are flying off the shelves at the moment and garnering all sorts of praise. Maybe it's the cover - it's certainly unrepresentative of what's inside. Where do we get the impression of how swashbuckling this novel is, how it's going to sweep you to the heat and sun-bleached colours of seventeenth century Spain, how it's going to take you into the equally intriguing world of the elite swordsmen of Seville and its Morisco - its converted Muslim - population?

There is so much to like about this book, especially once Elspet manages to escape from the stultifying confines of a woman's life in seventeenth century London for the wonders of Spain. Expectations are subverted very neatly and, without breaking faith with the reader, Deborah Swift takes her narrative in directions we might not have predicted.

To really succeed a historical novel needs two things, for me: a narrative voice that manages to suggest the period without descending into pastiche and characters who are of their time. Deborah Swift excels in both these areas. Add to that historical details which don't overwhelm the reader but support the understanding of the world being created and this is a book to be relished.

The One I Was
The One I Was

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished and absorbing, 18 July 2014
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This review is from: The One I Was (Kindle Edition)
Historical - or perhaps I mean period - novels don't often come as tautly written and tightly plotted as this one. And if they come with a wealth of intriguing detail you never knew before about how civilians got through the second world war, they don't usually come with a cast of psychologically real characters whom you don't want to say goodbye to when the novel ends; but this one does.

The pace of The One I Was is perfect, it never flags and not once was I tempted to skip to the next interesting bit, a besetting sin of slow readers like me. Every word deserves its place and every episode builds the world bounded by the walls of Fairfleet and the desire to know what secrets bind these characters together.

And the title - so clever. It might refer to either of the book's main protagonists as neither is entirely what they appear to be.

Images have stayed with me in the days since I finished this book - a little boy on a platform in Germany waiting for the Kindertransport train with, inexplicably, nothing but his school satchel and a football with his initials on; a young woman in a pilot's jacket, her face alight with the thrill of flight; an old man typing feverishly on his laptop, willing himself to live until he has finished what he needs to set down.

I'm missing them all...

Laptop-set: laptopsupport and mini-keyboard
Laptop-set: laptopsupport and mini-keyboard

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful engineering, great to use, 1 Feb. 2009
I bought the laptop support and plug in keyboard as a bundle after my osteopath told me I was doing injury to my spine by crouching over my laptop. As I am a professional writer, I needed to do something. The support and keyboard, which I have now been using for a month, have revolutionised my writing posture and made working a far more comfortable process.
In terms of design, I am very impressed by the laptop support. It packs flat enough to go into a laptop bag so I can take it with me if I'm working away from home and is very stable and highly adjustable - just what the doctor ordered.
The keyboard is extremely simple to use - literally plug and play with no need for installation CDs etc. It also has the 'feel' of a laptop keyboard, which I like, rather than the more clunky feel of a desktop machine.
Algether, I'd highly reccommend getting these two items if you use a laptop for any length of time each day.

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