Friday, 26 October 2012

Frankenstein's Confessional by J. Stephen Howard

It feels like ages since I read a short story anthology and with Halloween coming up this looked like the ideal book. This is a collection of stories about people whose lives have taken a wrong turn for various reasons. Whether it stems from human emotions like jealousy or revenge, or something in the realm of the supernatural, but all of the characters have chilling stories to tell.  These tales are their confessions, the confessions of a parade of "monsters"

Frankenstein's ConfessionalThe writing is fluid and the stories varied. Many of them leave elements open to the reader's interpretation which, in this case, I appreciated. Often the unknown is far more unnerving than things that are explained. There were definitely some I enjoyed more than others. I make no bones about not being a great fan of vampires and werewolves, and while the vampire story didn't do much for me I like the story about the werewolf with regrets. Some stories shone out above the rest, like the tale of the guitar pick with strange powers about it.

This isn't an out and out gorefest, although there are some blood and guts to be found. Generally the stories provided more psychological thrills which I appreciated. None of them were quite in the league that I found myself getting tense or scared reading them though. There is a real mix, some of the individual stories would probably only get 2* from me while others were a definite 4*. Overall this is a good collection and got me more in the mood for Halloween. Just one hint, if you get this book, would be skip the intro - I found it gave away too many of the stories.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Stealing the Marbles by E J Knapp

Stealing the MarblesDanny Samsel is at the top of his chosen profession, but his success has a price. His most recent job was so high profile he has had to get out of the limelight for a while, and has spent a year in exile on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia. Danny is a master thief and his last job involved liberating a painting from the White House. As a result he is a person of interest to various law enforcement agencies. Now he is getting itchy feet and has his eyes on a new prize. He is determined to find a way to return the Elgin Marbles, or the Parthenon Marbles, to the Greeks and is planning on calling on a gang of his international contacts, including estranged girlfriend Kaz, to make it happen.

The book is essentially divided into two parts, the planning and the execution. The first part really put me in mind of Oceans Eleven, which is no bad thing. Danny is a thief with his own moral code. He grew up stealing only what he needed to survive but is now driven to get unseen art back into the public eye and return works to their rightful owners. He intends to make no money from stealing the Marbles, merely doing so to right what he sees as a wrong and for the pure challenge of it. Whether you agree with his views or not he's a bit of a charmer and I was quick to warm to him. Danny has amassed a useful list of contacts after years stealing, and many of his colleagues have their own little eccentricities. I enjoyed meeting the characters and finding out about Danny, and appreciated the degree of tension stemming from Danny's unidentified but determined pursuers. The pace stepped up in the second part as the team started to mobilise and put the plan into action. I'm not going to even think about revealing whether the team are successful or not so will leave the plot there!

I pretty much devoured this book, enjoying the mix of quirky characters, political overtones and global travel to beautifully described locations. While there is plenty of tension and action there is also humour and romance to balance it out. This is a gratifying romp of a heist with a bit more depth than I had expected, which was all to the good. A definite 5* book!

Format: Paperback, review copy
Publishers: Rebel ePublishers
My Rating: 5*

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey by Alison Wearing

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian JourneyI picked this book up in a charity shop some time ago and it has been waiting on the shelf for my attention. This is the story of a Canadian woman travelling Iran with her "husband" It details the places and the people, and gives a little thought to the attitudes of the West towards Iran and some of the customs that draw the most attention, such as the wearing of the hijab.  
This book in now 11 years old and much has happened to that country in the meantime but it was still shed an interesting light on the attitudes of the people that the author encountered. An overwhelming feeling of a largely generous and hospitable populace comes across, and also one that was concerned about the image of Iran in the eyes of outsiders. The largely warm reception is tempered by patience trying bureaucracy and brushes with more militant sections of the community.

I would have liked to have read a little more about the places the author visited and been given a bit more detail about their travels, but found her portraits of the people she met endearing and was very interested in her changing opinion of the benefits and disadvantages of having to wear the hijab and chador.

This was a really easy read that took me no time at all to get through. I'd be interested to read a recent equivalent to compare and contrast!

Format: Paperback, from a charity shop
Publisher: Picador
My Rating: 4*

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis

The Scottish MovieThis book is a study of life imitating art. Writer Harry Greenville pens a novel considering why Macbeth gained its reputation as an unlucky play. The story suggests that Shakespeare stole the idea from another writer, passing it off as his own, and that the creator of the tale inserts himself into the production getting his revenge on Shakespeare by wreaking havoc. Harry posts the first draft online hoping it will be discovered and will get him work. Instead a second rate Hollywood has-been hears Harry's concept and purloins it. When Harry discovers his story is being turned into a blockbuster film he decides he has to follow the path of the lead man in his own novel.

This book starts out with an excerpt of Harry's novel, based in London in 1606. This sets up the plot really well and suited the side of me that loves historical fiction. It then moves on to current day LA and sees Harry fall victim to the same scam. I shared Harry's girlfriend's concerns about how far he would take his revenge and was hoping to see him discover a legal redress rather than relying on slightly dubious means of disrupting filming. What unfolds is a clever cocktail of juvenile pranks and well-orchestrated sabotage.

Harry and his friends and allies represent the little people with big hopes, likeable and determined to right and wrong, while those complicit in using his idea for personal gain were suitably sleazy and disreputable. The way Harry pursues his campaign against the wrongdoers made for a really good, at times amusing read. It was a good easy read, largely driven by the clever plot with some interesting insights into the film business, and the ending certainly wasn't what I was expecting. Another good showing by Paul Collis!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A World Apart (The Elencheran Chronicles) by David M. Brown

This is my second encounter with the Elencheran Chronicles, having read Fezariu's Epiphany last year. The series is set in the same world and features the same places and races but as far as I could see there was no interraction between the characters in the two books. I found this a bit unusual but it actually works well.
A World Apart (The Elencheran Chronicles)
In A World Apart we meet Demetrius and his family and friends, from Doves Meadow. While his father is a gentle shepherd Demetrius has a famed soldier for a grandfather, and under Granicus' tutelage his future is shaped. The decisions Demetrius makes as a young man will have profound effects on more than just his immediate acquaintances. 

This is part of an epic saga, with tales of magic, piracy and military life, and the book covers Demetrius' lifetime and beyond. As a result of the amount of detail I felt I really got to know Demetrius and those around him, and each time I picked the book up again was like returning to see what old friends were up to. I felt for Demetrius when faced with each of the major trials in his life, yet had moments of hope. I also found myself slightly torn as to whether I should be rooting for Demetrius, staunch defender of the ruling Order, or whether the pirates, seeking to liberate the world from Colonists, were in the right. 

Brown has created an interesting world and characters to fill it. However, while I know it's perfectly acceptable for a book of this type to be considerably longer than say a crime thriller (more my normal fare) I felt that this long tale could have been edited more tightly and the length reduced a little. There were places where I felt the author should have given his abilities in drawing the reader to a conclusion, and the reader's ability to draw the right one, more credit. In a number of places rather than leaving the reader to make the jump to the conclusion they should be drawing it was then spelt out plain as day. There were also some recaps of the tale to date that I found unnecessary and diverted the flow of the story somewhat.

Overall I enjoyed my visit to Elenchera and definitely wouldn't be adverse to visiting again in the future.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 3*