Book Review: The Jasper Dent Series by Barry Lyga

i-hunt-killersAn unusual book review from me today, as it’s a review of a trilogy, rather than each individual book. This is mainly because I don’t feel that this particular trilogy can be read as individual books – it’s much better for you to read them in order.

The trilogy begins with I Hunt Killers and introduces Jasper ‘Jazz’ Dent, a teenager living with his Grandmother in a backwater town. The difference with Jazz is that his father is Billy Dent – the most notorious serial killer America has ever known.

So far, intriguing idea. Jazz deals with the traditional problems a teenage boy deals with, while having the shadow of his father hanging over him, and the suspicions of the community wondering whether he will turn out just like dear old Dad. This is made worse when it appears that someone is killing women in the area – any they are not unfamiliar with Billy Dent’s methods.

As you know already that this is a trilogy, it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that, obviously, Jazz is not the killer, but the way he deals with suspicious neighbours and uses his unique knowledge of Billy Dent is the crux of the book.

9780552170772Book two, Game, sees Jazz – travel to New York, where a series of murders has taken place, which he thinks his insight into the mind of a killer will help to solve. This is also a solid entry into the series, with a hugely open ending, which is why I feel you need to read all of the books, and not just dip into them.

imagesThe final installment of the series is Blood Of My Blood, and Jazz gets some answers to questions he has had about his early life, and he finds out exactly what Billy did to his mother.

The trilogy was excellent for me, marrying YA and crime in an original way, and this first installment was an interesting read. I felt at times that it lost focus a little bit, but as I knew it was part of a trilogy already, I could see why that might be, and any queries I had were resolved by the end of book three.

One major problem I had with book three in particular, was that the trilogy is aimed at a YA audience and I felt some of the content went a bit close to the bone even for adults, let alone young ones. I get that Jazz is 17 and that that is probably the age Barry Lyga was going for but I did have to pause there for a moment!

Despite those few bits, the trilogy was excellent. Jazz was a likeable anti-hero – much in the same way as Dexter – and his supporting characters (girlfriend Connie and best friend Howie) were well-imagined and Howie in particular was some much needed comic relief!

All three books are available now, alongside some Kindle shorts that support some of the back story, but so far I’ve only got to one of those.

You can find out more about Barry Lyga on his website.

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Book Review: Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

18090117Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

What I Thought:
I actually read this book quite a while ago, but it’s still timely as we’re right in the middle of the centenary commemorations for the First World War.

I like an historical novel anyway, but Somewhere in France was particularly good. The characters – though obviously rich and not really representative of your average family of the time – are relatable, and Lily is a likeable, feisty heroine. Jennifer Robson manages to build in what is obviously a lot of research about the period, but it is done in a natural way, and not just clumsy passages of irrelevant detail. We are able to follow Lily from her High Society life, through to the horrors of a war zone, and her journey seems a natural progression of her character.

There are some really memorable sections of the book which don’t skimp on description or atmosphere and, similar to BBC drama ‘The Crimson Field’, take you right into the action. There is also great respect shown towards the fighting men, doctors volunteers and Women’s Auxiliary Corps who are believable and worth caring about.

Ultimately, this is a very rewarding and believable novel of the First World War, and I can recommend it highly.

To find out more about the author, visit www.jennifer-robson.com, or you can connect with her via Twitter.

NB: I was sent a copy of Somewhere in France by the publisher, in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: God Help The Child by Toni Morrison

toni_morrison_3269792aSweetness wants to love her child, Bride, but she struggles to love her as a mother should. Bride, now glamorous, grown up, ebony-black and panther-like, wants to love her man, Booker, but she finds herself betrayed by a moment in her past, a moment borne of a desperate burn for the love of her mother. Booker cannot fathom Bride’s depths, with his own love-lorn past bending him out of shape. Can they find a way through the damage wrought on their blameless childhood souls, to light and happiness, free from pain?

What I Thought:

This book is my first experience of reading Toni Morrison, outside of some passages in an African-American Literature course and, in general I can see why she is among the greats of American literature – up to a point.

The novel was excellent and Bride as a character was engaging and her imagined transformation back into the body of a child was written really well. The only thing that I didn’t like was that the book was too short! I don’t say this as a fangirl omg this book was way too short etc etc, but in that some of the flashback scenes for both Bride and Booker felt rushed, and there was much more material there to explore which would’ve fully cemented their reasons for acting as they do.

Although we know why Bride broke away from her fashionable and managed life to follow Booker, it doesn’t feel FULLY explained. It is a breakdown of sorts, but is it reason enough to abandon her life? It doesn;t seem that way in the book.

That said, I’m fully prepared to give the book five stars, as I enjoyed Bride as a character and Rain and her family, when we learn their story, have a unique and powerful family relationship.

NB I obtained this copy of God Help the Child from Gullivers Bookshop, Wimborne.

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Event Preview: Wimborne Literary Festival, Brian Blessed #WiLF

Mucho Excitement! I posted last week about the Lisa Jewell/Lucy Clarke event that I am attending as part of the Wimborne Literary Festival, but I am equally excited to say I am going to hear Brian Blessed speak on the final day of the festival.

Brian_BlessedAs I’m sure you know, Brian Blessed played Prince Vultan in that most epic movie, Flash Gordon, but having recently read his autobiography, Absolute Pandemonium, his life and career have been wide, varied and really interesting.

I struggle with autobiographies, especially when they’re written in a ‘and then I did this, then we did that’ chronological style, but Brian Blessed writes as I can imagine he speaks, starting on one story, then going off on a tangent into another, before circling back half an hour later, and it makes for a very involving book.

As I said, this event takes place on the final day of WiLF, Saturday 21st May, and I think it’s now sold out, but I am hugely excited about listening to this extraordinarily interesting man.

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Book Review: Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers – and Giveaway!

51i4-a5MGoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When widowed sisters, Hester and Harriet, move together into a comfortable cottage in a pretty English village, the only blights on their cosy landscape are their crushingly boring cousins, George and Isabelle, who are determined that the sisters will never want for company. Including Christmas Day.

On their reluctant drive over to Christmas dinner, the sisters come across a waif-like young girl, hiding with her baby in a disused bus shelter. Seizing upon the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, Hester and Harriet insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them.

But with the knock at their front door the next day by a sinister stranger looking for a girl with a baby, followed quickly by their cousins’ churlish fifteen-year-old son, Ben, who also appears to be seeking sanctuary, Hester and Harriet’s carefully crafted peace and quiet quickly begins to fall apart.

With dark goings-on in the village, unlooked-for talents in Ben, and the deeper mysteries in Daria’s story, Hester and Harriet find their lives turned upside down. And, perhaps, it’s exactly what they need.

What I Thought:
I recently took part in the blog tour for Hester & Harriet and to tell you how much I enjoyed the book, I probably only need to tell you how excited I was to hear that a sequel is already in the works!

I love a good mystery, and there is lots of mystery here, but it is presented in such a charming, British village way, that the book is really easy to read and incredibly funny. As part of the blog tour, I shared an extract from the book, which was one of two I had narrowed it down to share – the other was a passage where Hester and Harriet are playing Bridge with friends of theirs – and their friend is taking things a wee bit seriously. It’s hard to describe, but it really is a moment of comic relief.

As characters, Hester and Harriet have more than a touch of Miss Marple about them, but they are grounded and very real at the same time. They are tenacious and nosy and will winkle information out of anybody. I’m really pleased that we’ll be hearing more from them!

As has been my habit recently, I am running a giveaway for the copy of the book I was sent by the publisher – to enter, all you have to do Retweet the tweet I am just going to tweet (if you see what I mean…). I will pin it to my profile on Twitter and you can RT anytime up until Midday on Thursday 19th May. That’s all there is to it!

NB: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in return for an honest review and participation in the blog tour.

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Event Preview: Wimborne Literary Festival, Lisa Jewell & Lucy Clarke #WiLF

Just a quite preview of an event I am attending next week as part of the Wimborne Literary Festival (WiLF). I first attended an excellent Sci-Fi/Fantasy event two years ago with Ben Aaronovich (Rivers of London), Mitch Benn (Terra) and Suzanne McLeod (Spellcrackers.com), and there was no festival last year, but this year I have chosen two events to attend – more on the other one later!

Lisa JewellThe first event is Lisa Jewell & Lucy Clarke in Conversation, on 18th May at Wimborne Library (tickets available from Gullivers, Wimborne or The Westbourne Bookshop).

I was primarily interested in hearing Lucy Clarke speak as I had not yet read any of Lisa Jewell’s work, but I have just finished The Making of Us in prep for the event, and I was really impressed – it’s a fairly unique story and there are lots of twists to keep you interested.

Lucy-Clarke-by-James-BowdenLucy Clarke is a local author, and I have, so far read two of her three novels, one of which (The Sea Sisters) was a title featured on the Richard and Judy book club. All of Lucy’s books have a very strong connection to the sea, and I’ll be very interested to hear her touch on that during the talk.

Lucy’s latest book, The Blue, is the main focus of her part of the event, and I have just finished reading it this week – although the book is set in a way that might make you think it fits into a contemporary women’s fiction mould, there is a very strong mystery thread throughout, and there is plenty of suspense alongside the backpackers’ paradise that is described.

The Wimborne Literary Festival itself begins on 12th May, and you can find out more and download the full programme here. There are many and varied events, running up until 21st May, so lots there to take a look at.

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Book Review: What A Way to Go by Julia Forster and a Giveaway!!

81rTexedqgL1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson’s parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents’ club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents’ broken hearts…

Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.

What I Thought:

Initially, I read What a Way to Go as part of the blog tour on release – Julia Forster wrote a fantastic piece about which things from the 1980s she would like to see make a comeback. I asked her this question based on my own warm memories of all things 80s that this book triggered – the book itself can be perfectly described as warm and rammed full of references that will make children of the 1980s smile.

Harper was a wise-beyond-her-years heroine, with a touch of naivety and a Famous Five spirit. I liked her immensely, and felt quite sad that she was dealing with some dark and very grown up things, but she seemed to take on the problems of her world with broad shoulders, and she’s a character that I’d be happy to read about further.

The sections about the Lone Rangers single parents’ club were cringingly well written, and you could imagine any child – or nearly teen – being dragged to those kind of events.

As I said, the nostalgia side was vivid for me, but there is also some real commentary on the social issues of the 1980s, the fact that there was still something faintly scandalous about a divorcce being one, which are dealt with really well.

This Julia Forster’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from her.

If you would like to win a copy of What A Way To Go, I have my review copy to give away! Just leave a comment below, telling me what things from the 1980s you would like to bring back – if anything – by Thursday 12th May and I will randomly select a winner.

Good luck!

NB: I was given a copy of What A Way To Go by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold

french-lesson-covermeeting-final1789: Henrietta Lightfoot, a young Englishwoman, trips on her silk gown as she runs for her life along the bloodstained streets of revolutionary Paris. She finds refuge in the opulent home of Grace Dalyrmple Elliott, the city’s most celebrated courtesan. But heads are rolling, neighbours fear neighbours, and masters whisper before servants. As the sound of the guillotine echoes outside, within the gilded salons of high society Henrietta becomes a pawn in a vicious game of female power. How will she survive in a world where no one can be trusted?

What I Thought:
Historical fiction is right up my alley – I enjoy a plot where fictional characters are interwoven with real-life people and events, and this has been very skillfully done in The French Lesson. When I was sent the book, I didn’t realise that it is actually the second book in a series featuring Henrietta Lightfoot and, although I will go back and read the first book (Mistress of My Fate), The French Lesson stands very well on its own.

Henrietta Lightfoot is an excellent leading lady, equal parts naivete and independence, she is able to negotiate high society Paris, and yet survive the French Revolution. She is a very accessible character too – there are many occasions on which it is easy to empathise with her situation.

The factual elements of the plot and the real life figures are excellently written, given that much of what they say and do can only be supposition, and Hallie Rubenhold has a delicate hand with the history – there’s no effort to ram what must be hours and hours of research down your throat leading to a false note in the narrative. It’s paced very well and leaves the door open for more of Herietta’s adventures in future novels.

The French Lesson is published today (21st April) and is well worth getting hold of. To find out more about Hallie Rubenhold, you can visit her website, or find her on Twitter.

Don’t forget to check out my Twitter this week, as I’ll be giving away a copy of The French Lesson…

Note: I received a copy of The French Lesson from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour: Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker – The Making of Manny

Welcome back – after Monday’s review of Tall Oaks, I’m pleased to be hosting today’s stop on the Tall Oaks blog tour. Chris Whitaker has written some thoughts on the making of Manny, one of the stand out characters in the book.

The Making of Manny

Quite a few people have read Tall Oaks now, which in itself is exciting, but I’ve also been lucky enough to get some really great feedback too (not all of it from my mum). And whenever I talk to anyone about the book, the first thing they bring up is Manny. Manny Romero. The fearless, teenage, foul-mouthed wannabe gangster, with grand plans to shake up (and down) the small town of Tall Oaks.

When I first conceived of the idea for Tall Oaks I began to make a few notes about where I wanted to the story to go, and roughly how it would begin and end. I knew that I wanted to create a large cast of diverse, interesting characters, each with a story that could hold its own against the backdrop of a missing child investigation. I knew it would keep Tall Oaks from being a straight crime/thriller, and also from feeling too dark.

So before Harry (missing) and Jess (Harry’s mother), before Jim (policeman) and the investigation, I sat down and wrote Manny’s opening chapter.

We first meet him walking toward school in the searing summer heat, uncomfortable in his three-piece suit. I didn’t really know what was going to happen to him, or how he’d relate to the rest of the story, but the more I wrote the more central he became, by the end interacting with nearly every character in the book in some way.

I spent a long time working on his dialogue, drafting and re-drafting his interactions with the other characters. I walked the fine line between making him appear quite hostile and aggressive, though never with any genuine malice. His appearance helped with this. It’s hard to deliver a truly cutting barb whilst wearing a too-tight fedora on top of a bandage-wrapped head. And though Manny definitely brings most of the comic relief to the novel, it was also important that there was a reason why he acts the way he does. When he finally does reveal his feelings to Furat (love interest), it brings the two closer together and hopefully allows the reader to see a different side to him.

Central to Manny’s character is his relationship with his mother Elena. Though there’s plenty of back and forth between the two, he’s fiercely protective of both her and his little sister Thalia. When writing from Elena’s perspective I tried to imagine what is was like for her raising a son that reinvents himself every few months, taking up boxing after watching the Rocky movies, and deciding to become a gangster for the most tenuous of reasons; “My father’s great-uncle married an Italian. Rosa. That means my cousins are Italian, which makes part of my family Italian, which makes me part Italian.”

Though it’s difficult to argue with that kind of logic, and though Thalia has started to mimic his colourful use of language, I wanted to show that Elena knows that for all of his bravado, and his posturing, and his apparent disregard for other people’s feelings, he’s still just a kid struggling to find his way following his parents’ divorce.

Don’t forget that there are still some fab blogs hosting stops on the tour, so please do check them out, and those that have hosted since 4th April.

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Book Review: Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

Tall OaksEveryone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

What I Thought:
Initially, I thought Tall Oaks would be a reasonably standard mystery, with a missing boy and the effect it has on his community, but while Harry’s disappearance is what kicks off the book, it’s not really the focus at all. Instead, Tall Oaks is more of a character study, showing a group of people who happen to share the same town, but are all very different and with completely diverse concerns in their lives.

What’s clever about the book is that as you start reading, the groups of characters could easily descend into cliche – the fat one, the outsider kid, the bully etc etc, but as you learn more about each one, layer upon layer is peeled away and they are revealed as multi-faceted individuals that you can really connect with.

Although the mystery element is one of many focus points, it does come to a dramatic and totally unexpected conclusion – it is well worth reading the book for that plotline alone and Manny and his family were really loveable characters, but I think Jared’s back story touched me the most.

Tall Oaks is out now in ebook, and will be followed by a paperback edition in September. I am also participating in the blog tour for Tall Oaks, which will be back here on Wednesday for an exclusive piece written by Chris Whitaker, about the making of Manny. There are also some other fab blogs hosting stops on the tour (as below) so please do check them out.

I was given an eCopy of Tall Oaks in exchange for an honest review.

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