Friday, 13 January 2017

A masterpiece in storytelling

My first and only previous encounter with John Boyne was the excellent young adult story "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". So when the opportunity arose and I was gifted early review status on "The Heart's Invisible Furies" I was happy to accept, read and review....and I am so glad I did!.

This is a work of great literary intent with bawdy undertones, an easy assimilated tale about the life of Cyril Avery, born out of wedlock and immediately given up for adoption. The story spans a period from the mid 1940's and  moves at a ferocious pace up until the present and relayed to the reader in bite size 7 year chunks. Even though the novel stretches to some 600 pages once Boyne grabs your attention from the opening paragraph his colourful and descriptive prose holds you in awe until the final and very fitting conclusion.

Adoptive wealthy parents Charles and Maud guide the young Cyril in his early infant years. A childhood friend Julian Woodbead allows Cyril to discover and question his own sexuality. This soon leads to a realization that will form part of his decision making throughout his life. From Dublin to the waterways of Amsterdam, the streets of New York and finally returning to Dublin we travel with Cyril experiencing the good times the bad, the sad, the funny and the indifferent. Boyne explores successfully and with great humour and gusto attitudes of bigotry and tolerance against the background of a god fearing catholic population, an aids frightened society, and a world in panic immediately following the events of 9/11. At times you will want to laugh out loud or perhaps shed a tear.

I can honestly say that I have rarely been so moved by a story, the eloquent use of language, and the unveiling and interpretation of the issues raised and debated. Let's enjoy a few moments of the John Boyne magic...... "Cork City itself, a place she had never visited but that her father had always said was filled with gamblers, Protestants and drunkards"........"one man had been accused of exposing himself on the Milltown Road but the charges had been dismissed as the girl had been a Protestant"........"It was 1959, after all. I knew almost nothing of homosexuality, except for the fact that to act on such urges was a criminal act in Ireland that could result in a jail sentence, unless of course you were a priest, in which case it was a perk of the job.".........."Christ alive, said the sergeant, shaking his head in disbelief. I never heard of such a thing. What type of a woman would do something like that?.......The very best type , said Charles."

This book to me celebrates the sheer joy of the printed word. Life, love and loss it is all here in a 600 page extraordinary extravaganza! If you love to read and you love books then "The Heart's Invisible Furies" is sheer magic...so buy, cherish and appreciate as you are unlikely to read anything better this year, or possibly any year. A great big thanks to the good people at netgalley for this early opportunity to read and review this masterpiece in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Simply Sublime

This story is part fantasy, part ghost story, part crime, part legal procedure, part relationships, part love....in essence an amazing mixture that cuts across various genres to create a work of spell bounding beauty. At its heart is the struggle of one young lady, Jess Moulson heroin addict, and her attempt to find answers following a terrible incident that has led to her being incarcerated in the woman's correctional facility known as Fellside deep in the Yorkshire countryside.

Jess and her partner in drug taking, John Street, live the life of addicts, injecting when they can and stealing to feed that addiction....."turning household objects into cash, and then into smack. Junkie alchemy." A fire occurs which results in the death of a child Alex Beech suspicion immediately falls on Jess Moulson who now seems destined for a life without hope and a future with no love. In Fellside Jess is visited by the ghost of the dead child (or is she?) who appears to have a message to deliver and a story to tell. M R Carey's style of prose is sublime and his descriptions of life within a prison environment really bring the horror to life..."The prison's main buildings were tall and graceful, each painted in a different colour of the rainbow.  Knowing what these blocks of concrete and glass really represented, Jess felt a weird sense of dislocation."...."She saw what they saw on the inside of their closed eyelids, except that each of them only saw their own dreams"......Jess has the ability to leave her body and travel into the netherworld with Alex, a place of dreams and darkness, a place to discover and resolve..."She felt an immediate and dizzying sense of relief. Nobody could pursue her here and bring her back. Nobody would even realize she was gone. It was like the scene you saw in old movies sometimes where someone left a pillow or a wadded coat stuffed down under their blankets so it looked like they were in bed asleep while they slipped away unsuspected for some crazy adventure."

Paul Levine, a young solicitor, is certain there has been a miscarriage of justice and is determined to return to the courts, with what he hopes is new evidence, and fight for the freedom of his client......he is also just a little bit in love with her. I thought the relationship between Levine and a physically and emotionally scarred Jess sprung to life in the hands of the author. When her past lover John Street is forced to give evidence the scene is set for some amazing revelations and charged emotions, that will bring a tear to all but the most hardened of readers!.

All her life had been a struggle; mother Paula and her useless partner Barry, a world addicted to heroin and finally the harsh and brutal regime of Fellside. Not often does a story affect or move me in such a way with a conclusion difficult to read but so right in the overall context of this tour de force! I will certainly be reading Carey's bestseller "The Girl with all the Gifts" as it is such a pleasure to be in the company of a writer so in control of his craft and his ability to create and weave a magical story. Highly Recommended!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Harry's back still fresh and still out there!

If my favourite English crime author is Ian Rankin then Michael Connelly is surely no 1 for the mantle of America's greatest living crime writer. Even the hardback cover of his latest book "The wrong side of Goodbye" has a certain dark underbelly feeling mixed in with a dash of noir. The crime writing genre is bursting at the seams with talent and wannabe Connelly imitators but nothing really comes close to the man himself and The Wrong Side of Goodbye is yet another brilliant piece of crime fiction. It is quite amazing how Harry Bosch is still as fresh and keen from, when we first met him, in The Black Echo to this his 23rd outing. The fact that Harry was a "tunnel rat" during the Vietnam war means he is now aged mid 60's and yet we as readers truly believe in him and that fact alone must be attributed to his creator, Michael Connelly

Harry has been asked to find a missing heiress by aviation billionaire Whitney Vance. This job will involve him revisiting his past war history as he searches out Vibiana Duarte who became pregnant after a short relationship with Vance and subsequently deserted by him. Before he dies he wants to put things right. Is she still alive? If not where is the child? In addition he is working with the San Fernando police department trying to find the sexual rapist known as the Screen Cutter. Amidst all this drama he still has almost daily contact with his daughter Maddie, now a student, but very close to her ever worried and fearful dad. During the two investigations a mistake by Harry results in a dramatic and almost tragic situation with an unusual outcome.

As always the writing is tight, the characters believable and well-drawn, with an excellent story, never over complicated, always enjoyable. There is certainly much life left in a maturing Harry Bosch and I look forward to his return in what will be his 24th outing.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Didn't work for me

The story of Issac, a night auditor, at the Goddam Hotel somewhere in Texas, the people he meets, the troubles he endures, and the somewhat full on life he leads. The way of the author, the somewhat in your face prose, and the rather bizarre storyline is either something you will love or hate. In the beginning I enjoyed but by the midway point I felt the whole thing somewhat bizarre and wished for the party to be over. Not an author I would choose to read in the future......

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Stunning and compelling

As a student at Queens University Belfast in the mid 70's I was privileged to be selected to act as a "counsellor" on the Camp America scheme. I spent a very happy 10 weeks working with underprivileged kids at Camp Sebago just south of Portland  in the Pine Tree State of Maine. This was a very closed environment and it offered city kids the opportunity to mature and grow and hopefully develop into exemplary adults. In such an idyllic setting it was very obvious to me who the trouble makers were, who sought attention, who craved companionship, and who simply wanted to be left alone.

It all came flooding back to me in this excellent short story "Odd Man Out". That is certainly not to say that I encountered extremes of behaviour but I can appreciate how James Newman skilfully used the summer camp setting to show the ugly side of human nature. Dennis Munce "D-Man" is spending the summer at Black Mountain Camp for Boys with his best childhood friend Wesley Westmore. It is indicated that Wesley has a secret, and something that he wishes to remain hidden in this boys will be boys setting...."We knew Wesley was not like us, even though we couldn't explain what we meant when we were nine or ten" In any group there are those egotistical individuals who seek to strengthen their peer standing by searching out those they see as weak or "different" and quite simply destroying them. What follows is a shocking example of the lowest form of human behaviour, why sometimes it is best not to remain silent in the face of evil, to act and put right and not just to follow!

James Newman is certainly one of the best authors I have been introduced to in my long association with "goodreads" a social networking site for booklovers. His writing is thoughtful, articulate and a joy to read quite simply he is an excellent story teller. Odd Man Out is one of best novellas I have had the pleasure to read this year, a story that paints a bleak picture of humanity but one that needs to be read if we are to fully understand and alter the way we view those who do not adhere to what we perceive as the norm.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Enjoyable Gothic horror story

Maddie inherits a gothic mansion from her aunt Charlotte. She is puzzled and surprised by this gift but determined to make full use of the unexpected inheritance. She has decided for the present to reside there.

A series of unusual occurrences and events is somewhat concerning; what is the significance of the willow tree in the basement? what are the shady figures and apparitions that live within the confines of the house, in particular an elderly gentleman in a cloak. We learn that Maddie had a lonely childhood and to compensate for this she has created an imaginary circle of friends who appear to her throughout the story.

The reader is introduced to Shona and her amateur theatrical associates who make good use of the abundant house resources for rehearsal, and young Charlie Evans the friendly plumber who appears to be a resource of inspiration and help to an increasingly frightened and confused Maddie. Is there something unexplained and frightening within the characters of Shona and Charlie that the reader should be cautious and concerned about? As the story proceeds the issues are dealt with in a very effective manner.

For a haunted house story to be successful the most important element is the pace of the story telling. At the centre of this novel is the imposing and gothic presence of Hargest House. Maddie is frightened by ghostly figures and the willow in the basement, and her state of mind is deteriorating the longer she remains in residence.

The slow unveiling of the house and characters almost leads the reader into a false sense of security and is subtly done by the author creating a beautiful foundation to showcase the evil when it occurs in the latter part of the story.

So an enjoyable gothic horror tale expertly paced with enough hidden surprises to entertain and engage the reader's interest until the end. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

A big and I mean big disappointment

For all those positive reviews on Mister White and for all those reviewers who thought this pathetic imitation of a horror story was "Brilliant"..."This is an amazing Thril Ride!!" (is that an intentional spelling error?)...."I can't stop saying his name" I only have one appropriate comment to make....."BOLL**KS!

This is possible the worst story I have ever read, yes even worse than "Night of the Nazi Zombies" (my review amazon uk Jan 4th 2012) Once the words "Who is Mister White" are uttered then hell and confusion abound in a story that has no direction no meaning, no plot, no memorable or likeable characters, no nothing!! When I tell you that those words are the opening lines in Chapter 1 then you will probably wonder how I ever managed to not only read but finish! It was tough dear readers of my review but I wanted to share my thoughts with you before you commit yourself to the buy button on Amazon! To think I actually spent £4.14 of my hard earned spondolies (cash to you and me) on this pitiful excuse of storytelling brought to you by Grey Matter Press.

This is a chase story and anyone who utters those immortal words "Who is Mister White" is hounded to death by some supernatural entity who will end your life in the most brutal manner. Lewis Edgar makes the unfortunate mistake of asking the White question and this starts a chain of events which sees him journeying from deepest Russia to his wife Cat and daughter Hedde in America. A coded message is received by Cat containing the word "Headband" and immediately she knows that she must flee following Lewis's careful instructions..."Go to Gerard's. Listen to Gerard. Do not leave Gerard's".....and that's about as good as it gets!!

I was totally bored, confused and perplexed, the writing was poor, the characters and characterization were introduced and forgotten in equal measures. Endless paragraphs of frightened people running aimlessly around akin to headless chickens in the farmyard of a demented farmer! There was the usual gratuitous violence, truncating body parts and a nice splattering of blood, but this is NOT enough to keep me entertained I want intelligence and horror that makes me think and question not this mindless drivel

Just before I pressed the buy button for Mister White I debated would it not be wiser to purchase 11/23/63 by the master of penmanship Stephen King. No I thought as I read the "buzz words" on the publishers website..."a potent mix of horror espionage and mystery"..."a finely tuned cat and mouse thriller"...."the most thrilling thing about Mister White is the way it is written"......(yeah right get a life!!) So I bought Mister White, much to my regret, but I will never make that mistake again and will think seriously about the merits of reading from small or self publishers in the future.