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Rachel Sirotinina (United Kingdom)
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Blood Dimmed Tide, The (W. B. Yeats)
Blood Dimmed Tide, The (W. B. Yeats)
by Anthony Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 19 Nov. 2014
The cover put me in mind of a Tampax advert, and it was all downhill from there. TBDT is overwritten and pompous, with no thought for consistency - is it historical romance, supernatural crime drama, political thriller? These are all chucked in the pot, along with endless descriptions of Irish rain and a pointless cameo from Winston Churchill as a cack-handed selling point; after all, who doesn't love a bit of Winston? A more skilful author could have blended these elements into something special, but sadly that wasn't the case here.

The pace is slow, and the prose is crushingly dull . Take this snippet: "surviving on what they could extemporise from their depleted larders". Eh? I'm all for championing obscure words, but this is just showing off, and it adds nothing to the (potential) enjoyment of the novel. Furthermore, the tone is cheesy, all mysterious Irish beauties with flashing eyes, and that's before we even get to the naff occultism. Why is each chapter named after a tarot card and phase of the moon, especially when the events covered therein often fill less than an afternoon? It all seems a bit 'emperor's new clothes', as if he's hoping we're too embarrassed of our esoteric ignorance to quibble.

Plus he gets horses wrong, a repeated bugbear of mine with historical fiction. A gelding is not 'it', whatever's been done to his nethers, and even hot-blooded revolutionaries would avoid galloping across a deserted beach in the dark - would you drive your car down an unlit potholed road at 100mph?

This could well have been an interesting read, given all the colourful ingredients, but unfortunately it isn't. Another one for the charity shop pile.


Death of the Elver Man
Death of the Elver Man
by Jennie Finch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, great debut, 21 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Death of the Elver Man (Paperback)
Thought I reviewed this at time of reading but turns out not - oops! Just finished the third one so it's no longer fresh in my mind, so suffice it to say it's a great debut to a cracking series, highly recommended!


The Moth Man
The Moth Man
by Jennie Finch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great Alex Hastings novel!, 21 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Moth Man (Paperback)
This series just gets better and better - the same great characters from the previous two, with some intriguing new ones thrown in. The plot develops well and the pacing is excellent, really draws you into the story.

I like the way it does something different to typical crime novels in focussing on a serious crime other than murder, whilst still factoring in all the nastiness, mystery and plot twists readers hanker after. It's not all grim though; by turns funny, touching and romantic, the novel still finds time to beautifully evoke the landscape and time period without adversely affecting the pace.

Really looking forward to the next one, and as I said in my previous review, this series would make great telly!


Coal Creek
Coal Creek
by Alex Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended., 20 July 2014
This review is from: Coal Creek (Paperback)
* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*

Don't be put off by the cheesy 'Brokeback' cover - this is a sensitive and intelligent novel, well written, definitely 'literary' but no less accessible for that.

A deceptively simple yet beautiful story, Coal Creek draws you slowly into its alien world. Initially the narrator's voice is grating and the pace seems painfully slow, but give it a bit of time and you'll see that writing it any other way would have robbed it of its power; in Bobby's outback environment, things move slowly, and anyone who hurries is ignorant by definition.

The incidental detail of landscape and wildlife movements really add to the sense of place, as do the nuggets of macho outback etiquette - catching another man's horse is an insult, and anyone who can't hunt their own dinner and brew tea in a billy isn't worth knowing. The struggle to survive in such an inhospitable environment appears to breed a unique and fascinating mentality, where nobody needs to ask questions because they glean everything they need to know from observing the world around them.

The book is full of evocative but unsentimental depictions of nature, and how it influences and divides those who attempt to live alongside it. It's not all description though; the plot is both moving and absorbing once you adjust to the pace, and will stick with you long after you've finished reading. Highly recommended.


The Headmaster's Wife
The Headmaster's Wife
Price: £2.43

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't really go anywhere, 4 May 2014
Although it is well written and the prose flows nicely, the characters are weak and the story dull. The shifting viewpoints don't really work either: the first person chapters read too much like a stereotypical 'dirty old man' wish-fulfilment fantasy, whereas the third person sections from the point of view of the eponymous wife are flat and lifeless. Despite being the supposed main character she never really comes alive on the page, and her motivation seems inconsistent - why would someone so anti-establishment be so swayed by a whiff of old-money elegance? Of course people change their minds, but to believe in the character we need to be shown why.

The unreliable narrator technique, whilst interesting, could have been used to better effect, and the ending is cloyingly banal. It is nevertheless emotionally stirring in parts, and has an intriguing setting, it just doesn't really go anywhere, fizzling out and shifting perspective when things start to get interesting. Perhaps if it'd been fleshed out more it would have made a compelling novel, but as it stands I wouldn't bother.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2014 4:40 PM BST


Last Bus to Coffeeville
Last Bus to Coffeeville
by J. Paul Henderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Demented Ramblings, 27 April 2014
'A funny story about sad things'. I'm always suspicious of a book with a strapline like this, dictating how I should feel. Did it make me laugh? Yes, but only once. Was it sad? In parts, but the writing was more pitiful than any of the characters.

The thing that galled me most was the tone - way too flippant, especially when dealing with emotionally-charged subjects like the tragic loss of a character's wife and child. This is further worsened by the smug 'aren't I clever' humour gracing almost every page. Here's a sample: "A malaise as thick but nowhere near as tasty as porridge settled over the lodge." Hilarious, no?

As if that weren't bad enough, we're also treated to naff puns, overlaboured metaphors and indulgent fifty page diversions into farfetched back stories which add virtually nothing to the plot and impede the main story. Then there's the plot holes - a doctor who doesn't realise he could have got a girl pregnant? A wanted fugitive planning a kidnap over the phone? Please.

The overall effect is that of a lame sitcom, playing every moment for laughs but with little genuine feeling. Although it is poignant in parts, this is outweighed by the all-pervading flippancy and gratuitous incidents of animal cruelty - one of which made it impossible for me to engage on any level with a particular main character.

I feel I ought to say it's fine if you want something undemanding...but really, there are better books out there. And if you specifically crave a funny book about kooky characters with a death wish on a bus, start a campaign to get Arto Paasilinna's 'Petits suicides entre amis' translated - it blows this one out the water.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 27, 2014 6:18 PM BST


The Silent Wife
The Silent Wife
by A. S. A. Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Generic Love Triangle, 9 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Silent Wife (Paperback)
* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*

It's hard to find anything nice to say about this book. Billed as a thriller, it is instead dull and utterly lacking in suspense, given the murder is foreshadowed from the first page. None of the characters are remotely likeable, which would be fine, were they not also extremely boring. Each of them embodies a shallow stereotype: shameless womaniser, grasping bimbo and seething put-upon wife. And what's with a therapist who refuses to treat patients with actual mental illnesses? Perhaps she's a metaphor for the overwhelming pointlessness of the whole thing.

The pacing is slow, and is further hampered by rambling, irrelevant descriptions of characters' dress, meals and humdrum daily routines. The plot development is implausible; is it really reasonable to assume a strip club worker has killers on speed dial? Plus the final 'twist' is ridiculously lame: a convenient coincidence to get the protagonist out of trouble is way too lazy and does not make for a satisfying ending - although by this point I was just glad to have finally finished this longwinded lump, so perhaps I shouldn't carp too much.

There are some interesting asides about psychological theories and the mechanics of therapy, but these are nowhere near enough to save this soulless novel.


Brother Kemal (Pi Kemal Kayankaya 5)
Brother Kemal (Pi Kemal Kayankaya 5)
by Jakob Arjouni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Frankfurt Noir, 5 Feb. 2014
* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*

Although the translation is clunky in parts, this was an overall enjoyable and easy read. No knowledge of the preceding books is necessary to get into the story fortunately, as this is the first KK book I have read. It has all the hallmarks of typical noir fiction: jaded maverick protagonist, defiantly unglamorous setting, lively language, good pacing and irreverent humour. I enjoyed the way the writer seemed to enjoy puncturing society's pretensions, frequently exposing supposed liberals' prejudices and hypocrisies, but never at the expense of the story. The characters are well-drawn and the plot comes together pleasingly; my only other criticism is that it's a little on the short side, but it was more than enough to make me want to read Arjouni's other novels.


Barracuda
Barracuda
by Christos Tsiolkas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Bit of a wrist-breaker but worth the effort, 2 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Barracuda (Paperback)
* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*

Tsiolkas' latest is a dense, character-driven novel. Although not a page turner in the conventional sense, this books grabs hold of you, plunging you headfirst into the gritty details of someone else's reality. The writer's skill is in his characterisation; the richness of detail means we truly get inside the head of Danny over the turbulent stages of his life.

All the big issues are here; class, race, sexuality, family struggles, failure and finding one's place in the world. Much as we often dislike the main character and are horrified by his actions, the writing is so absorbing that we find it impossible to disengage.

Tsiolkas further toys with us by shifting the action around in time and space, seemingly at random, as well as switching from first to third person. The latter technique seemed somewhat pointless to me, not to mention irritating, but perhaps I'm missing something. The time slips add to the crushing sense of inevitability of the story, forewarning us of approaching failures then forcing us to view them up close in excruciating detail.

No doubt you want to know if it's as good as The Slap? Despite having finished it, I'm still not sure. The writing is more skilful, but I didn't find the characters quite as intriguing. It's an enriching read more than an enjoyable one, but I'd certainly be up for reading more of his work.


On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does
On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does
by Simon Garfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok to dip into, 19 Nov. 2013
* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*

Simon Garfield's idiosyncratic round up of maps through the ages is probably best enjoyed piecemeal unless you're a full-blown map nut (in which case, ignore my review and grab one, you'll love it). The earlier chapters are somewhat bland, lacking any hook to keep the general reader engaged, with the welcome exception of the fake (or is it?) Viking map of Vinland.

Thankfully later chapters pick up the pace; as the action draws nearer the present day the drier facts are interspersed with profiles of colourful characters from the modern map world, bringing us up to date with hi-tech developments, including a real time tweet map (as I write, shoes and Dimbleby are big news) and the use of maps in art and satire.

An otherwise fascinating chapter on the origins of the London A-Z is let down by a snarky gibe at our Gallic neighbours: "Even digitised, even French, the map is still a beautiful thing". Is this schoolboy sniping really necessary in a book about the geographic wonders of a planet we all share? Perhaps Garfield's humour doesn't transfer well to the page, and undoubtedly it's a minor point, but still, it niggles.

Better dipped into according to interest than read cover to cover, it is an entertaining read once you hit upon something that sparks your imagination, and would make a great gift for map fans and lovers of quirky non-fiction.


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