Friday, 17 June 2016

One Man's Opinion: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by JESSE ANDREWS


I spotted a recommendation (thanks Craig) for Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (US) a while ago and decided to buy a copy. It’s been on my shelf since and I took it down recently because I wanted something a little different to read. I guess I needed cheering up and this seemed to be the best choice available.

I’m not typical of the intended audience (in fact, I’m about as far from young adult as you can get), but I really enjoyed this tale.

There were a few hurdles to jump before I got into the swing of things, mainly in adjusting to style, time and place, but it wasn’t hard. I was soon laughing at the bumbling nightmares associated with teenage angst. Greg, the narrator and the Me of the title, is particularly fun to follow as he twists and contorts his way of being to try and fit in with everyone. He’s also terrible around women he finds attractive and his clumsiness and pratfalls around them are a treat to read about.

Greg’s forced into linking up with an old friend of his by his mum. The friend in question is Rachel and the reason she needs company is that she is dying of leukaemia. His job is to cheer her up and help her fight, but his qualifications for it are zero.

Enter Earl. Earl is Greg’s partner in the world of film-making. They put together curious pieces to entertain themselves and to pay homage to the off-the-wall films they like to watch. He joins in with the mission of helping Rachel and their efforts form the central theme of the story.

The dying girl is a crucial ingredient to the tale yet, as Greg points out, she’s not the centre piece. Greg is the main feature – he’s far too selfish to be able to remove himself from the spotlight. That’s fair enough given that he’s the narrator. It’s also important as it’s the journey towards the realisation that he’s been thinking about himself far too much in all this that provides the core of the story.

The writing is broken down into small chunks. Jesse Andrews takes frequent turn-offs from the freeway to delve into film scripts and screenplay-like dialogue. This is refreshing and engaging and provided that cheering up I was after.


I couldn’t buy into all the elements of this tale, but that’s probably because I’m on the wrong side of middle-age. With a few exceptions though, I’m glad I followed the recommendation I spotted. It’s funny, witty, sometimes moving and hit the spot I needed it to when I began.  Very pleasing.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Free Mysteries and Thrillers


Thirty free books from the mystery and thriller genres. 

Killing them softly...

Saturday, 4 June 2016

One Man's Opinion: NYPD RED by JAMES PATTERSON


I picked up a copy of NYPD Red (US) out of curiosity. James Patterson fills shelves in the library, bookstores and charity shops and he also appears all over my Facebook page offering places on his writing courses. The man clearly knows how to write and how to sell books and I thought it might be a good idea to find out if I could learn anything from taking a peek inside one of his novels.

NYPD Red is immediately gripping. A film script describes the action of a murder in a posh New York hotel. The victim is a Hollywood hotshot and the killing is carried out in exemplary fashion.  The scenes move on to further killings to film celebrities and has the LA set leaving the city in droves.

Enter our detectives. Zach and Kylie are thrown together to solve this one. Zach’s a hard man who likes his yoga and his women and Kylie is ambitious and tough and happens to be married to a film producer. The pair also happen to have previous – a relationship that sparkled and fizzed and burned out too quickly for Zach’s liking.

For the first third of the book, I forgot that I was trying to learn anything. It zips by and each hook sank under my skin.

After a while, though, I began to disengage. The jumping from one scene of tension to the next felt manipulative and the thrill lessened as the outcomes became more predictable. The early pleasure derived from getting to know the cats and the mice in the story slowly deflated as they became less substantial and confined by their roles. Hitchcock’s adage about showing the audience the bomb was taken literally and employed all the way along. The explanations about why something would work and wouldn’t either telegraphed what was coming or rounded things off in ways that felt unnecessary. I also found that everyone in the book, with the exception of a few bit players, spoke in pretty much the same way and the lack of variety became irksome. There was still the odd surprise to keep my attention, but in the end I just wanted to reach the resolution in a hurry.

My biggest issue with the book is that I didn’t really care enough about anyone. The skill all seemed to have been focussed upon the drive and energy of the action and the determination to keep the reader moving from one chapter to the next without pausing for comfort breaks. To a point this is successful. What I struggled with was that there didn’t seem to be anything else to it. It’s like the swan analogy in reverse. You can see the legs kicking like hell under the surface, but rarely get a sense of the grace and beauty of the creature above the water.

I think I did learn something about my own work from this read. On the one hand, I should probably ramp up that tension and create more of an appetite in a reader where that’s appropriate. On the other, I should continue to strive to create beating hearts for my characters otherwise the action is just movement and pace.


My conclusion on NYPD Red goes something like this. If you’re looking to escape or just relax and want something to distract the mind, this is likely to serve you well. It’s probably a good holiday read, but it’s also a big book. I don’t think it warrants all the space it would take in your suitcase, but if you pack it in on your Kindle you could be in for a few hours of entertaining fun.  

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Drawn In









Introducing my latest work, Drawn In, a gripping tale that follows what happens when a young woman on vacation in Florence meets a handsome street artist and interferes with his work – the collection of souls.



Available from Amazon UK US Canada Australia Germany France and around the world

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

One Man's Opinion: THREE LITTLE PIGS by APOSTOLOS DOXIADIS


Three Little Pigs (US) is a story that wraps itself around a wonderful premise. An Italian family in early twentieth century New York is cursed when the father kills the son of Tonio Lupo, The Scourge Of Brooklyn. Lupo sets in motion a maledizione which means that the sons of the killer will all die when they are forty-two years old (the same age as Lupo’s only child). To do this, he takes his most promising assassin and retires him from the mob, guaranteeing him a fortune when the murders have taken place. It’s a long-term plan, but the loyalties and codes of the Sicilian underworld ensure that it’s almost certain to take place.

The three Frank brothers set off to make their way into the world. The first is industrious and determined. After his heroics during World War One, he returns home and rises to the top of the business world. He is driven by the hope that becoming rich will be enough to save him from the curse. The second brother is discovered by Hollywood and sets of to make his way in the movies. It’s his hope that fame will protect him from Lupo’s maledizione. The third is a waster. He knows nothing of the truth of his own father’s story and sets about living life to the full while riding on brother number one’s coat tails.

Peppe Teranova is the man charged with carrying out the contract. He’s the owner of a pizza restaurant and sets about bringing up his own children into the world, all the while keeping his eyes open for news of the Frank boys and making sure he knows exactly where he will find them when the time comes.

There’s an awful lot to like about this book.  Through these four characters, we get to see the growth of a nation. Each tale is told independently other than at the points of necessary crossover. The insights and flavours of mafia life as offered by the narrator are romantically recreated and a joy to read. There’s an element of tension to the whole thing as we move towards the first of the forty-second birthdays and the book races away at times.

Thought I really enjoyed this one, I do have some minor gripes. It suffers from some heavy-handed use of punctuation, particularly early on when the style is emerging. This interrupts the flow and slows down the energy and pace when it should be at its quickest.  The good news is that the work is strong enough to carry this and it did eventually become almost invisible.

There’s also something of an issue with the final third of the piece. After being engrossed for much of what had gone before, I found the journey to the end to be more sluggish than I would have liked. There’s a lot of introspection and excessive attention to detail and explanation that I didn’t really need - I bought everything that was thrown my way. There’s also a new element to the whole piece regarding the reflections of the narrator. This is hinted at early on and is a welcome addition, I just wish it had been sharper so that my lasting impression of Three Little Pigs could have been as glowing as the rest of the story deserves.

Don’t let the previous couple of paragraphs put you off. I’d recommend you give it a go, especially if you like epic tales or mafia lore. I loved much of it. It’s a huge piece and has the weight and feel of a novel that might pull in a prize or two in the future. Apostolos Doxiadis is clearly a master story-teller and is likely to present the world with some choice tales for us to look forward to.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

One Man's Opinion: IS IT HER? by JONATHAN HILL and KATH MIDDLETON



I like the concept behind Is It Her? (US) Two fine writers interpreting the art work of the cover to produce a pair of novellas that complement each other in terms when read together.

There are similarities, as you might expect. Each has a wartime theme and each deals with a reunification of sorts after the world has been ripped apart by violence.

The opener, by Jonathan Hill is a taught, tense piece that explores the lives of four people whose lives are interlinked as they sit playing cards. Two of the men are going off to fight the next day. The situation brings out issues for everyone as they try to come to terms with what’s about to happen. The emotional weight of it bears down on them all and soon the cracks in their world begin to appear and then to widen.

This story has the feel of an edgy piece of theatre to it. The confines of the setting and the sharply drawn lines kept me in mind of a play where the claustrophobia is palpable and the tale is told as much through the actions of the characters as their words.  

Kath Middleton paints with broader brushes. Her story is told in two parts, each from the perspective of pre-war sweethearts as they struggle with the events that wartime brings. The arc of each story is huge and Middleton has done a good job of condensing the tale into a novella. There are tasters of what it was like to live through a war from the battlegrounds of the air and on the home-front and neither side had it easy.  


Each piece works perfectly well in its own right. The fact that they come together adds value to each and I reckon there’s more mileage in projects such as this for these authors in the future. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

One Man's Opinion: URBAN DECAY by AIDAN THORN


Urban Decay (US) is an entertaining collection of stories based around a community on its knees that’s unlikely to be getting up any time soon.

There’s a nice variety here, both in terms of length and material. They range from vignettes that hit the spot all the way up to a novelette that allows for more fleshing out of plot and character. The situations shift from boxing rings, council estates, bars, gyms, fly-tipping spots, abandoned shops and street corners. 
  
Thorn is rather skilled at introducing twists where they’re unexpected. A story moves in one direction and then dashes off at a right angle. This element means you can never be sure where you’ll be taken and that you’ll find satisfaction when you come to the end of the road.  

I like the way this collection is layered. There are cold and brutal truths played out on these pages, there’s humour and tension and there are genuine sentimental moments that will either warm the heart or are likely to make you feel grateful for what you’ve got.

Hard to pick a favourite, but I might go with the opener, Loathe Thy Neighbour. It sets things up perfectly. A hard man returns home to find his mum is upset with recent happenings in her neighbourhood. The old sense of community is being eradicated and someone needs to step in and restore some balance. In this case, the arms of justice go further than you might foresee. Great stuff.

Well worth checking out.