Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: The Memory of Water by J T Lawrence

Slade Harris is an author who likes to experience life's highs and lows to feed his writing. He still carries around the scars from a family tragedy - as a child his younger sister drowns, and the family are torn apart. He finds himself struck by writers block and with the pressure on to produce his next work he finds something new to motivate him. He plots the murder of his friend and would be lover Eve. When she is then killed in the same manner as he planned suspicion soon falls on him. Did he do it, was he framed and will he be able to save his home, car, life and freedom?

View The Memor...jpg in slide showI loved the style of this contemporary crime novel, quite literary with plenty of modern and classic cultural references. The story moves along at quite a pace, with a twisting and turning ending that caught me off guard. Set in South Africa there are hints of the locale in the language and the places depicted, enough to add some colour without too much focus on the country and the problems it has faced in recent years. 

Slade isn't the most sympathetic of characters, something of a hedonist who is too self-absorbed to be lovable. He sees himself as a Jay Gatsby character. His past seems a little shady, with previous brushes with the law and a vagueness about his sister's death that made me wonder what exactly happened and how that might have affected the Slade we meet.  By the end the truth emerges about both Eve's and sister Emily's deaths which made me re-assess Slade.

I loved it this literary approach to the crime novel, and thought the author spun a clever tale. Slade makes for a strangely enticing protagonist, quite impressive considering. I would happily recommend this book.

Format: Kindle, ARC, anticipated release 1st Dec 2011
My Rating: 5*

Why I'm Striking


Today members of a number of public sector unions in the UK will be on strike and I will be among them, on the picket line and attending a local rally. There has been a lot of misinformation circulated about why this strike is taking place so I thought I would share some facts and my take on what is happening.  

I have worked in the civil service for almost 9 years now and in that time I have seen my original terms and conditions altered time after time, have been faced with a pay freeze that, thanks to inflation, has effectively created a pay cut, & I have seen droves of colleagues leave on redundancy schemes but along with other colleagues have had to take on the workload they have left behind. I am far from militant, in the past I have voted No to strike action, and this will be the first time I have ever been on strike. Those in the private sector argue that they have had to tough this recession out and that it's fair the public sector feels some pain too, but believe me we have been feeling it. 

One myth bandied about is that public sector pensions are gold-plated. Whether they are referring to the amount received or how secure it is I've never been sure. However the average public sector pension is around £5,600 pa (hardly gold standard to me) Even Lord Hutton in his interrim report described public sector pensions as fairly modest. As far as being secure, the Government has already made changes to the scheme that makes the final pension worth less by changing from the Retail Price Index to uprate pensions to the Consumer Price Index, the scheme was not reformed all that long ago and now the current proposals will mean public sector workers have to pay more, for longer to get less. And they wonder why people are unhappy! I personally have no issue with the retirement age changing, it's no surprise in light of the fact people are living longer, but when the National Audit Office says public sector pensions have been reformed, significant sums have been saved (and Government projections show costs falling in the short, medium and long term) and that the scheme is sustainable it looks less reasonable.

Going back to comparisons with the private sector, while the pension provision is generally better in the public sector there are millions in the private sector with far superior pensions, and it is wrong to look at this issue in isolation. To compare the position of public and private sector workers you have to consider the whole package including pay and benefits. When I took a job in the public sector I also had the offer of a job in the private sector. I decided that although it would be lower paid the public sector job offered such benefits to make that worthwhile, and the pension was a part of my considerations. I have seen friends working in the private sector receive bonuses that would cover the deposit on a decent house, something the vast majority of workers in the public sector will never see, and something that could be put towards securing a reasonable pension. I don't begrudge that, forgoing the opportunity to earn bonuses like that was my choice, as how they elect to spend it is their. 

Unfortunately now my pension is declining in value at quite a rate, while what I am expected to contribute each month rises. As a working mum with a child in nursery the additional cost will make the difference between what I am earning and what I have to pay in nursery fees even smaller, hardly an incentive to get women back into the workforce. Surely as a nation we should be looking to improve things for those who are less well off and bringing the standard up for everyone, rather than creating equality by reducing the standard?

Then we have heard politicians saying that the unions have a weak mandate to strike, considering the number of members who voted. Those same politicians might want to reflect on the fact that, for my union at least, the proportion of members voting for strike action was higher than the proportion of the electorate voting for both parties in the coalition Government at the last general election. Weak mandate hey?

This recession was not caused by the public sector, so raiding the pensions that form part of our contracts shouldn't be the answer. While senior civil servants and the top layer of management may be on comfortable, headline grabbing, salaries the truth is many public sector employees are on so-called Poverty Pay. And to those who have painted us as pencil pushers and bean counters who add no value, why then is it forecast that this strike will potentially cost the country half a billion pounds? Just saying...

So there you have it, some of the reasons I won't be at work on Wednesday. I hope it provides some food for thought, and if you want to read more take a look at

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Putting up the Christmas Lites

Christmas Lites
Looking for some festive reading as the holiday season approaches? Like the warm and fuzzy feeling you get making a donation to charity as well as getting something for yourself? Then I might have something for you. I've been chatting to Jenn from group Creative Reviews about Christmas Lites, released this week in paperback and e-book. The book has been put together by members of the group and is a collection of short stories.

TCI recently received an email from an author friend bringing  "Christmas Lites" to my attention. Having been absent from the Goodreads Creative Reviews group for a while I had to confess it had slipped under my radar, so she forwarded me the information about this brilliant charity project. First off, could you tell tell us a bit about what's in the book?

JennI think the better question is, " What isn't in this book?" Lol. Christmas Lites really showcases all the various personalities and likes of all that were involved in this book. 
Santa has a ninja elf, a little boy has been trying to capture him for years, a Gingerbread man on a mission and let's not forget the zombies, werewolves and vampires! But there's also touching stories like Whimper the family dog, A Christmas story and How I found my soulmate. 
In all there are 27 stories. The one thing they all have in common is that they are PG -13. ;)

TCSo how on earth did you manage to get 27 writers together to pull this off and how did the whole idea come about? It sounds like quite a mission!

JennIt was quite the Christmas Miracle in October. :) To bring all the writers together, we put up a thread asking anyone and everyone if they wanted to participate to let us know. That got a huge turn out! I also did a blog post and contacted some of my friends whose writing I love and they really came through for us! 

How it all came about, as near as I can recall, Amy Eye had wanted to do something special for the holidays with Creative Reviews. C.S. Splitter chimed in and stated he could write some short stories for a book and show his "softer side". Before we even knew what was happening, we pounced on that idea and ran with it. Many people have helped and donated a lot of time to this wonderful cause but that is how it was born.

TCIt sounds like you must have had plenty of stories to put in then. Have you been able to put the whole book together, edit and publish it using members of the Creative Reviews group? 

JennYes, thank GOD! Several people were involved in making this book a reality and put a lot of hard work into. Without trying to sound like I'm plugging people, I'd like to acknowledge the hard work of those behind the scenes:

Amy Eye and Vered Eshani were the main editors of the book. 
Tricia Kristufek, Cassie McCown and Alan Zendell were the AWESOME proof readers 
The amazing Dafeenah at did the gorgeous cover. 
Regina Wamba at designed the Christmas tree glyph. 
C.S. Splitter was gracious enough to do the ebook formatting for Smashwords and finally Eric Shoemaker designed the killer poster. 

Cambria Hebert was very instrumental in helping get this book published and was also responsible for setting it up for Operation Ebook. That is so those that fight for our country can get this book for free. 

Whew! That actually made me a little tired typing all that. 

TC: So all profits are going to charity, can you tell me a bit about the charity that the group has chosen to support?

JennEvery single penny that is made on the purchases of this book is going towards the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (aka NCADV.orgWe decided as a group to do it that way as a way of giving something to those in need at what can be the hardest time of the year. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is an AMAZING organization for those that have found themselves in dire situations with nowhere to turn. 

I could go on forever about all the many things that they do but I'll just highlight the major ones to give you an idea and not to bore anyone. They help with education, finding jobs and placing families in homes that have been victims of domestic violence. They also have a program where they provide free plastic surgery to those that have survived extremely dangerous situations. NCADV is also trying to bring awareness to the rising numbers of those affected by domestic violence and are constantly trying to change laws to protect the victims. 
They are truly a wonderful organization and we are very proud to be able to help them out however we can. 

TCCongratulations to everyone involved on pulling it off! For anyone who hasn't heard of Operation Ebook please tell us a little bit about it. 

JennOperation Ebook is something authors can do to give back to those who fight for this country. More often than not, our troops are overlooked all the time. The pay isn't that great and they are risking their lives on a daily basis so that we can have our freedom. It's a great cause. What Cambria did was get a list of all those deployed and interested in getting free reads. Cambria then sends out a bulk email to everyone on the list, providing them with a free book via coupon. 

TC: Jenn, this is a great collaboration that I hope will make a lot of money for NCADV & bring some festive cheer to members of the armed forces serving abroad. Thank you for your time.

At present you can buy your copy as follows:  the print version direct from Createspace with a higher sum going to charity than through other purchases the print version from Amazon, the only place to buy it in Ebook format is via smashwords which will let you select the file that is compatible for your ereader. 

It should be even more widely available (eg via soon

Monday, 28 November 2011

Book Review: Antigone's Fall by R.K MacPherson

Antigone's FallNicholas Cross has settled into a laid back civilian life, living off his savings and taking his time finding a new role in life, but is still haunted by nightmares of his time in Iraq. Thinking he's escaped a life of danger having survived an ambush that left many of his team dead, he isn't prepared for the way things unravel when he agrees to help best friend Thomas Abelard investigate the apparent suicide of a young actress on the verge of hitting the big time. As the pair uncover details of her life that even her boyfriend knew nothing about the death toll starts to mount, making it clear there is more to her death than it first appeared. Her killers are scrambling to cover something up, but can Nicholas stay ahead of them and the authorities while the pair try and expose the murderers and protect a witness?
This is a pacey action thriller where the author not only gradually reveals the secret that is worth murder and torture but also keeps the reader in suspense about Nicholas' past and his previous identity, teasingly providing the odd hint here and there. However by the end the reader has been taken on quite a ride and discovered plenty, although some of Nicholas' unanswered questions about events in Iraq remain. The end leaves the door wide open for a sequel, but completes the first book in a satisfying manner. I put my kindle down feeling there was a definite sense of completion to this book and that it could be read as a standalone story, although I'm sufficiently hooked to want to read the next one.
Nicholas and Thomas make for a likeable duo, and I particularly felt for the former both for his slight envy of the latter's relationship and for the decisions he has to make in the course of events. Both come over a savvy ex-military men who are applying their skills on civvy street. Nicholas' ex flits in and out, providing the men with kit that wouldn't be available to just anyone like something from a Bond film. I liked that she was one of several strong female characters, although their roles were minor in comparison.

The writing pulled me in, with the flashbacks and dreams providing great background without taking away from the current events too much, and the book is polished (I only spotted a couple of minor typos.) The balance between providing description and moving the plot along worked well for me, although as events came to a head I find myself a little overwhelmed by military call signs and acronyms. I think that would probably be my only real criticism, as I felt I was distracted from what was happening as the explosive climax was reached while I tried to remember who was doing what where and how. However I'm sure in due course readers of the blog will be seeing a review of sequel The Praetorian Agenda.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 25 November 2011

TGIF, and thanks to GReads

IAs it's all gone a bit quiet on the Book Blogger Hop front I've been looking for a new meme to have fun with on a Friday, and while I have come across it before this is the first time I've joined in Greads TGIF.  So, this week's question is: 
When You're Not Reading: What occupies your time when your nose isn't stuck in a book?
For the most part I spend my time looking after my 2 year old daughter, so that keeps me pretty busy. I do also work a couple of days a week to get some intelligent conversation (and pocket money) and when I can make it I'm on the quiz team at my local pub. We play in a league, got promoted last season, so I guess we must be reasonably good.
When we have time to get out and about I love to be outside. Over the summer we managed to take a few camping trips which are always fun (if chilly in the great British climate) We live right by the sea so walks on the beach are a must. There are also some great outdoor places to take kids near us, and when the weather isn't so good we have a great aquarium not far away. In related activities my husband and I learnt to dive together so on rare days when we're both off work, madam is at nursery and the conditions are right we try and dust off the scuba gear.
I love where we live because there is so much to do if you can bothered to get out there (and if you can manage to get your nose out of a book for long enough)
Looking forward to meeting some new people this week, thanks to GReads for running this!

Now on a Friday I usually do a recap of what I've been reading and reviewing, so here goes.

The Marinara Murders by Erik Hanberg, a crime fiction, the second featuring Arthur Beautyman. Erik also provided a Thanksgiving themed guest post to educate my fellow Brits (and other non-Americans)
The Millstone Prophecy by Jack Harney, a crime thriller 

Later I should have a guest interview to share about a festive short story anthology called Christmas Lites that has been put together by Goodreads group Creative Reviews. They have put together this book, released today, to raise money for charity. You can find the book on Goodreads here

Suppose I should go now, since Black Friday has made its way into my vocab (or more to the point my conciousness) I've started to feel like I need to be cracking on with getting prepared for Xmas. My little monkey fortunately loves books, so thus far she has 10 books by the author of The Gruffalo, plus another little activity book. I feel like I need to re-dress the balance and buy her some toys, so online shopping I go.

Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Book Review: The Millstone Prophecy by Jack Harney

A couple of weeks ago the High Court ruled that dioceses are responsible for the actions of their Priests, applying the concept of vicarious liability. This is a ruling which could make it much easier for victims of abuse to claim compensation from the Catholic Church, so unsurprisingly the ruling is to be appealed. With this in mind The Millstone Prophecy was a timely read.

The Millstone Prophecy
When NYPD Detective Dax McGowan's beloved daughter Grace kills herself the subsequent  investigation soon reveals she and a friend were being abused by a Priest at their local church. Before Dax and colleague Janet have a chance to catch up with him the culprit is spirited away by a hierarchy keen to protect their own. Janet introduces Dax to Rebecca Bain, an abuse victim who now capably heads up a group, Clergy Abuse Survivors, who are secretly tracking priests and investigating cases of abuse. Dax is out for revenge, heading on an international manhunt that will put him in grave danger. 
This book, the author's debut novel, is clearly based around a lot of research and I found the piece on Jack's blog about the inspiration for the book very interesting. This is a serious subject that is treated sensitively, and while there is no doubt left about how awful the abuse is there are no graphic descriptions of it. In light of news coverage of the topic  over recent years the depiction of a cover-up starting with the Vatican seemed altogether too plausible. Some elements like the group of hitmen tasked with eliminating threats to the Church seemed more rooted in the realm of fiction (although who knows) and combining the two made for a good balance.

I warmed to Dax and found his methods of deduction partly amusing and partly very clever. I'd like to have seen more of no-nonsense Janet, but the romantic interest Rebecca represented also provided some relief from the serious matters covered in this book. I also found the ideas floated about a breakaway American Catholic Church made for food for thought.

For all the elements I liked I found the prose rather verbose and for me this didn't mesh well with the crime thriller unfolding. Some of the language used and the turns of phrase adopted didn't feel natural and I also felt the dialogue from some of the characters, Dax and Rebecca in particular, felt a bit stilted. 

On balance I liked this book which addresses a topical matter with a fictional flare and I'd be interested in seeing more from this author.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Guest Post by Erik Hanberg - An American Explains Thanksgiving

An American Explains Thanksgiving 

My most recent novel, The Marinara Murders, is set at the beginning of a cold winter in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The climax of the book takes place on Thanksgiving Day. 
The Marinara Murders 
I recognize that many readers of Booked Up live in the UK and likely don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. My hunch is that you’re aware of it, but have never been to a Thanksgiving dinner. Just like I’m aware of Boxing Day, but have never been to a Boxing Day … ah, high tea? candle ceremony? ritual unboxing? (Truly, I don’t get Boxing Day.) 

Anyway, here’s a quick primer on an American Thanksgiving. 

  • Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday of November. This creates an awkward question about whether to take the day after as a holiday as well. Bankers don’t get the day off, but a lot of other people do (unless you work in retail, then the day after Thanksgiving is a terrible terrible day). 

  • In New York, Macy’s throws a big parade with floats and giant balloons. Most people not in New York are too busy sleeping, cooking, or cleaning to watch it. 

  • For some reason, the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys always play football on Thanksgiving Day (by which I mean American football, of course, and not football football). 

  • There are no gifts given at Thanksgiving. Independence Day (the fourth of July) and Thanksgiving are about the only two holidays or occasions where gifts or cards aren’t expected. You can bet retailers are figuring out a way to change this. 

  • Thanksgiving dinner is a massive dinner, traditionally consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, and rolls. The dinner is eaten fairly early in the day, as if to give everyone time to recover from the food coma before they have to go to bed. 

  • Thanksgiving is basically the first day of Christmas. Everyone complains about Christmas music and decorations before Thanksgiving, but after that, it’s wall-to-wall Christmas. 

I hope this has been enlightening. Now I’m off to start my next book. It’s about St. Boxing, who rode through the land the day after Christmas helping people break down their empty boxes to make them easier to store (or something like that).

* Thanks to Erik for taking the time to educate me, it explains a lot! I just wish I could give  a definitive answer on what the heck Boxing Day is all about but it's a bit of a mystery. I'd love to make up some mad British tradition, but if I could manage that I'd probably be a writer not a reviewer. You can read my review of The Marinara Murders here. You can read more from Erik at

Monday, 21 November 2011

Book Review: The Marinara Murders by Erik Hanberg

Over the summer I reviewed the first book in the Arthur Beautyman series, The Saints Go Dying and enjoyed it. I was keen to read the second, The Marinara Murders. The blurb for the latest book, released on 15th November, goes like this - "A grown man living in his mother's basement, disgraced detective Arthur Beautyman knows his life has fallen off a cliff.

But that doesn't mean he has to be happy about his mother's solution to his woes: volunteering him to solve a case for her favorite bridge partner. Oh, and to make matters worse, she wants to be his partner on the case as well ..."

The Marinara Murders
Having left LA in disgrace Arthur has moved to Minnesota to live with his mum. Determined to get him working again she as good as forces him to investigate the recent death of her friend's grandson, the same grandson who was believed to have committed suicide 3 years earlier. Where has Jake been and who was hiding him? 

Arthur meets and questions the dysfunctional Diamond family, and finds his hacking skills come in handy again. Not as handy as his mother's instincts though! Their differences in approach make it hard for them to work together, so while the reader sees Arthur's progress we don't see what mum Ruth is achieving without him. The story climaxes in a Thanksgiving dinner that will make the average family get together seem far more tolerable.

Again Erik Hanberg has produced the sort of book it is easy to get into and fly through. I read it in about half a day. The tone is a bit lighter than the first book and I found myself laughing at points. The relationship with his mum shows a different side to the man in the first book and I sympathised with him and the difficulties he faced having to move back in with an over-anxious parent. The unlikely hero even manages to find a potential love interest again.

The outcome of the investigation reveals a slightly complex series of events, and I appreciated the recap Arthur provided to new friend (and client) the dazed and confused Matt, although I had to re-read it a couple of times to try and get my head round exactly what had happened and why. I was pleased that the formatting and typos I noted in the first book were absent this time & I liked the note at the end explaining the inspiration for the story.  

Another really good outing for Mr Beautyman!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Saturday, 19 November 2011

That was the week..

Lately life seems to have gotten in the way of reading so I'm pleased that this week I've been able to sneak a bit more time to get into books. Since last week I have read and reviewed:

Tracks: A Novel in Stories by Eric D Goodman, a 5* anthology of connected stories
Black Ops: Libya by Matt Lynn, a topical military action novella and 
Instruments of Evil by Lori Lowthert, a crime tale.

I also read Erik Hanberg's The Marinara Murders, review coming very soon. This is the sequel to The Saints Go Dying, which I reviewed over the summer. 

No blog hop again this week, which I'm sorely missing but Jen over at Crazy for Books sounds like she's having a busy time of it right now.

On the micro-volunteering front I've done a bit of Christmas shopping from a charity's gift range, and handed over a lot of postage stamps that they sell on to raise funds. Now I need to figure out where to send the tokens I've been collecting from boxes of cereal as part of Nestle's Box Tops for Books scheme!

A bit early but in case I forget Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US, enjoy the holidays!