Monday 30 January 2017

Titian's Boatman by Victoria Blake

Published by Black and White Publishing on January 26, 2017

Titian’s Boatman is very different than any book I’ve read before, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact it was a big part of the thing that drew me to Victoria Blake’s latest novel, as I often love diving into a novel I have no idea what to expect from. The other thing which drew me to Titian’s Boatman was how extremely intriguing it sounded from the blurb, and honestly this book did not disappoint me one bit.

There are many layers to this complex story. The book begins with the boatman, Sebastiano, who has brought into a city torn apart due to plague and crime a hooded man, who turns out to be someone he hates, Pomponio, the son of Titian. As if these three characters weren’t intriguing enough, there were many more parts and people to this story that I couldn’t wait to learn more about. One thing in particular I enjoyed about this book was the character development. The portrayal of each character was rich in colour and detail. Victoria Blake paints a picture as good with her words as Titian painted his masterpieces. I felt like I could really accurately see each character which was really absorbing and helped me connect really well with the book.

The story in Titian’s Boatman travels many years, from its early days in the 1540s to 2011. There is also changes in the location from Venice to London and to New York, although Venice is the most prominent place in the book. Although the book changes characters quite often throughout, I didn’t find this in the least bit confusing. The author’s style of writing is beautifully vivid and engaging. I love the way she details moments and scenes in the book which were truly brought to life through the atmospheric tone to the writing and the use of my own imagination. When reading a book outside of my comfort zone, I can sometimes find them a bit tricky to get to grips with but when reading Titian’s Boatman, I was completely engrossed in the story and every time I put the book down, I was compelled to pick it up again and continue reading what was a highly entertaining novel.

At the beginning of the book where we meet the main characters, the one thing that helped me keep up with the character changes was how they were all linked in some way to one person, Titian. Everything seemed to lead back to Titian and his art and he was really such a fascinating person. I had so many questions about him and was always dying to find out more about him. Early on there’s this painting, and later on there’s a second painting, another one of Titan’s masterpieces, and I don’t want to spoil any aspect of the story so I won’t, but I was hooked. I could picture the painting and the story that went with each one. The author’s storytelling possesses such a force that pulls the reader into the story she has created and leaves you eager for more. I absolutely loved reading this book and it’s a really memorable one which I’m sure will linger on my mind for a long time to come.

Sunday 29 January 2017

The One by John Marrs

Published by Ebury on January 26, 2017

The One is a book you’re going to be hearing a lot about in 2017 – and rightly so. If you’re a fan of suspenseful reads then this one is definitely a must-read. First of all this is one of the most original concepts for a book I’ve read. It’s a refreshing change to have a completely new idea in the era of the psychological thriller. Also with the use of dating sites now much more common and much more accessible, the author’s DNA based take on the world of dating was an incredibly mesmerising one.

The pace to this book is fast. The chapters are short and snappy and alternate in perspective from several characters who have found their Match. It took me a long time to keep up with the names of the characters and instantly remember which story belonged to each character, yet at the same time each of the stories surrounding a character finding their Match was a memorable one. I would suggest not letting the number of characters overawe you as their stories are definitely worthwhile ones. The chapters are roughly about three to five pages each, so very short, and very good at tempting the reader to read one more, and then another, and then another. With that, I found this book very quick to read.

There is a line in chapter two which shocked me, made me laugh out loud and genuinely made me excited to see what was to come in the rest of the book. It was from then on that I knew I was in for a late night of reading. Despite the character changes, this was an easy book to follow and a highly entertaining read with plenty going on. There are twists and turns in every chapter. I loved how so many of the chapters ended with a teaser of a sentence that left me wanting more. The surprise factor of this book was a treat to read. I was absolutely hooked on one of the perspectives in particular dying to know what was going to happen next.

Be warned that The One makes for highly addictive reading with John Marrs evidently a master of breath-taking, thrilling storytelling. I’ve never known an author include so many cliffhangers over the course of one book but they worked brilliantly. But there was plenty more to this book than “just” cliffhangers. Each character added something truly interesting to this book, some more than others for sure but I feel the book would have been lacking without any one of them. I was gripped. My favourite perspective to read at first was Christopher’s – I looked forward to his chapters the most – but by about halfway into the book I found that I was enthralled by every character and every chapter.

The One is exhilarating and thought-provoking. I could do little but indulge my imagination and picture this world that the author has created – a somewhat scary place to be. This novel is packed with originality and bursting with tension and suspense. The dating theme is a crazy one and yet the author has you believing it is real thanks to the vivid picture he paints and the trials and tribulations the characters face. This is truly an unforgettable novel.

Saturday 28 January 2017

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

Published by Orenda Books on January 5, 2017

Deep Down Dead, Steph Broadribb’s action-packed debut, is a breath-taking and exciting crime novel which I could not get enough of. Adrenaline-charged almost from page one, the author’s storytelling grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. The protagonist is as ass-kicking as they come. From the moment we meet Lori Anderson I just loved her as a character. She is something so different in this genre. She’s strong, fearless and feisty and I really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. Steph has created such a cool character in Lori. She’s a bounty hunter for starters, and how many of them have you read about? Everything about Lori I loved, and I really cannot wait to read future books in this series.

Lori is both a single mum to nine year old Dakota and a bounty hunter. In Deep Down Dead, we see those two roles cross paths as Lori’s job puts her daughter’s life at risk. Lori’s choice to take Dakota with her on a mission is one of those moments early on when I doubted her, but when we learn her motives and see the relationship she has with her daughter, I felt for Lori and could see how this mission was the one she thought could protect her poorly daughter rather than put her in harm’s way. Dakota is a lovely character and I really enjoyed reading her parts in this book. I liked her relationship with her mum, which brings out a softer side to Lori that is often hidden behind her tough exterior.

Lori’s latest job brings her back to her old mentor JT. He was an intriguing character who knew more about Lori than she liked to let on and I was fascinated by their past and her secrets. There is a level of romantic suspense in Deep Down Dead through the relationship between Lori and JT. Things are always complicated between the two of them with plenty of tension and chemistry that made the high-stakes to this book reach even higher.

There was real authenticity in the interactions and the dialogue in this book, in particular between Lori and JT. I think the book would be perfectly suited to the movie screens. It has fast-paced, relentless action with twists and turns, heart-stopping moments, a level of suspense, some romance and a killer ending. I think it would make a brilliant film, although I am of course more drawn to a book where the author keeps you hanging off her every word and reading late into the night, which of course Steph Broadribb managed with ease here. She managed to keep me absolutely gripped to the pages of her book for hours and then, when it was finished, left wanting – needing – to read more.

Steph Broadribb has brought a really fresh voice to this novel and the crime fiction genre in general. From page one she delivers confident writing with fast, pulsating action and a great set of characters who light up the pages. It’s an edgy and breathless story with explosive twists and turns throughout. The action never stops, the pace never slows down, and Deep Down Dead simply got better with every page.

Friday 27 January 2017

Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie

Published by Sphere on June 2, 2016

Burned and Broken is an intriguing book right from the start with a prologue that captured my attention and imagination. As D.I. Sean Carragher burns in his car, I had plenty of questions on my mind such as who did it and why. When the author does deliver the answers to those questions, I found them satisfying. One thing that stood out in this book for me was the gritty themes it covers which appeared something different than many other crime novels out there. Not only is there a policeman in flames to lure the reader in, Burned and Broken touches on mental health, sexuality and the care system, all aspects that made the book refreshingly different in comparison to many others in the same genre.

The book is split into three parts. Despite the gripping prologue, I found the story a bit of a slow-burner. Whilst the pacing itself generally came across as quite fast, for me this was more down to the short chapters which kept on luring me in and willing me to read “just one more…”. Whilst I complied, I found it took me a while to settle into the book. There was something about the author’s writing that left me a little confused. It appeared simple enough, with a good level of detail, but there were a few moments, especially early on, where I didn’t really understand what was going on. For the first half of the book, I was probably more drawn in by the quick chapters rather than the plot itself, although it became a far more engrossing read later on. I really enjoyed the short chapters as they make you want to read on and I found Burned and Broken a very difficult book to put down.

The novel takes us from the force investigating the death of Carragher to Donna and Malc. They were both interesting characters. I was particularly interested in Donna’s story as she struggles to let go of her friend Alicia who died without anyone really getting to the bottom of it. I didn’t really connect with Donna but I found her story fascinating and I suppose I did sympathise with her at times as she struggles to cope. Malc was a character I expected nothing from but I was surprised by how interesting I found his character to be. His viewpoints at times made me uncomfortable but as a character, that’s what I liked about him.

There are so many crime series out there that it is always nice to start one from the beginning, where we can meet the force for the first time and follow them knowing there could be many more books to come. DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell look like they have a lot more to give in future books. I thought this was a decent introduction for them. We get quite a good feel for them both through Cat’s links to Carragher and a build-up of Pearson’s character later on. I really liked Cat’s character and personally so far I prefer her. Even though I wasn’t fully enamoured by the duo, I will be looking forward to reading the next book in the series as they have great potential.

Overall Burned and Broken drew me in and the further into the book I was, the more compelling and the more satisfying I found it. When I considered all the elements of the book once I’d finished, I thought how it would make a great movie. There are some very filmic aspects to the story which I think would work really well on the big screen.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Devour by L.A. Larkin

Published by Constable on January 26, 2017

Read the first chapter of Devour, the new book by L.A. Larkin


Lake Ellsworth, Antarctica, 78°58’34”S, 90°31’04”W

On the flat, featureless ice sheet, katabatic winds swoop down the mountain slopes, whipping up ice particles and hurling them at a solitary British camp. The huddle of red tents, blue shipping con-tainers, grey drilling rig, and yellow water tanks are so tiny on the vast expanse of white, they resemble pieces on a Monopoly board. Three kilometres beneath the camp, subglacial Lake Ellsworth, and whatever secret it may hold, is sealed inside a frozen tomb.

In the largest tent, used as the mess and briefing room, Kevin Knox stands before Professor Michael Heatherton, the director of Project Persephone.

‘So how the hell did this happen?’ says Heatherton, dragging his fingers through greying hair.

Knox brushes away a drip running down his cold cheek, as ice, frozen to his ginger beard and eyelashes, melts in the tent’s comparative warmth. Outside it is minus twenty-six degrees Celsius but the wind chill makes it feel more like minus forty.

‘Mike, we don’t know exactly. The boiler circuit’s broken. It’ll need a new part.’

‘Don’t know?’ Heatherton scoffs.

Knox clenches his pudgy fists. What a thankless little twat! For the last hour he and Vitaly Yushkov, the two hot water drillers, have been struggling to fix the damn thing.

A strong hand squeezes his right arm and Knox glances at Yushkov standing beside him, whose penetrating blue eyes warn him not to lose his temper. Knox gives the Russian an almost imperceptible nod and Yushkov releases his grip.

Their leader gets out of his plastic chair and paces up and down behind one of three white trestle tables. A marathon run¬ner of average height, he is lean, wiry and exceptionally fit for his age. But, next to Knox and Yushkov, he appears fragile. Knox isn’t tall but he is chunky, and likes to describe his wide girth as ‘love handles’ even if the Rothera Station lads pinned a photo on the noticeboard with his head photoshopped on to the body of an elephant seal. Not that it bothers him.

Yushkov is six foot one. His neck, almost as wide as his head, meets powerful shoulders, and his hands are so large they remind Knox of a bunch of calloused Lady Finger bananas. Knox knows little about Yushkov’s past – conscription, ship’s engi¬neer, mechanical engineer – and the taciturn Russian doesn’t care to share. He is now a British citizen and the most talented mechanical engineer Knox has ever worked with, and that’s all that matters.

‘The eyes of the world are upon us,’ Heatherton says, his Yorkshire accent softened after years working with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. ‘Everybody wants to know if there’s life down there.’ He momentarily looks at the rubber flooring beneath his boots. ‘And we’re only a kilometre away from the answer. We have to get the drill working again before the hole freezes over.’ His voice is high-pitched with agitation. ‘So what I need to know is, can you fix it?’

Yushkov speaks, his accent as strong as the day he last set foot in Mother Russia, sixteen years ago.

‘Boss, we built the hot water drill. We did not build the boiler. So, we need time to understand the problem. We will talk with manufacturer, get advice. We have spare parts at Rothera. If we are lucky, we get new circuit in a day or two and all is hunky-dory.’

Yushkov grins, revealing surprisingly perfect white teeth given his heavy smoking. Heatherton opens his mouth but Knox jumps in.

‘It’s going to be okay, Mike. We’ll get it running on a backup element and keep the tanks warm. Stop worrying.’

The taut skin around Heatherton’s eyes is getting darker each day. He plonks down into a chair and rubs his hands up and down his face, as if trying to wake up. He looks exhausted.

‘Look, Kev,’ he says through his splayed fingers, then drops his hands to his sides. ‘I’m a geoscientist, not an engineer. But to do my bit, I’m relying on you to do yours. I’m frustrated, that’s all.’

That is as close as Knox has heard their leader get to an apology.

Heatherton cranes his neck towards them, frowning, and speaks quietly so nobody can hear through the canvas walls. Not that anyone could anyway, given the blustering winds.

‘Could it be sabotage?’

Yushkov shifts from one battered boot to the other.

‘Pardon?’ Knox says. He can’t have heard right.

‘Has the boiler been sabotaged?’

‘Jesus, Mike!’ says Knox, flinging his hands in the air. ‘What’s got into you? We’re in the middle of bloody nowhere trying to do something that’s never been done before. Things go wrong. It’s inevitable.’

‘Yes, quite right.’ He sighs. ‘But a lot of things are going wrong. Too many. And we all know the Russians are trying to beat us.’ Heatherton flicks a look at Yushkov. ‘No offence.’

‘None taken,’ Yushkov replies, but the low rumble in his voice says he is not being entirely honest.

At that moment, BBC science correspondent, Charles Harvey, steps through the door, his black parka covered in snow, like dandruff. He’s as blind as a bat without his glasses, which means he’s constantly wiping ice off the lenses or cleaning them when they steam up.

‘Hear you’ve had a spot of bother. Mind if I join you?’

Heatherton hesitates. Harvey continues.

‘I see a great story here. Engineers struggle in howling storm to save project. That sort of thing.’

‘An heroic angle?’ Heatherton’s hazel eyes light up. He runs his fingers over his smooth chin, the only team member who bothers to shave. Knox knows why: Heatherton wants to look dashing in Harvey’s documentary. ‘I see. Okay.’ He looks at Knox. ‘Well, let’s get on with it.’

‘Fine,’ says Knox. ‘But if that blizzard gets much worse we’ll have to stop work and wait for it to pass.’

‘Yes, yes, health and safety and all that,’ Heatherton says, ‘Quite right. But if you don’t get the boiler working soon, this whole project is done for. Ten years down the toilet.’

Knox raises his eyes in exasperation. ‘No pressure then.’

As he zips up his black parka sporting the Lake Ellsworth project logo, tugs inner and outer gloves on to his hands, pulls on his beanie and hood and places snow goggles over his eyes, he thinks for the thousandth time what a stupid colour black is for Antarctic clothing. Should have been red, yellow or orange so they can be spotted easier. Through the flimsy door he hears the wind has picked up speed. It will be near impossible to hear each other above the roar.

‘Okay, mate,’ Knox says to Yushkov. ‘Let’s get this done as quick as we can. Stay close. Use hand signals.’

Yushkov nods.

‘Vitaly, a word,’ says Heatherton, gesturing him to stay.

‘Right. I’ll get started then. But I can’t do much without him, so make it quick, will you?’

Annoyed, Knox leaves, letting the fifty-mile-an-hour wind slam the door for him. The field site is a swirling mass of snow. He grips a thick rope, frozen so solid it feels like steel cable, secured at waist height between poles sticking out of the ice at regular intervals. Only thirty feet to the boiler. He carefully plants one boot after another. He staggers a few times. Head down, body bent, he throws his weight into the storm like a battering ram. Where the hell is Vitaly? That bloody Heatherton is probably wanking on about loyalty and reminding Yushkov, in his unsubtle way, that he now works for the Brits. The man is bloody paranoid.

Someone takes him in a bear hug from behind. He thinks Yushkov is mucking about, but when a cloth is held hard over his nose and mouth, he begins to panic. It has a chemical smell he can’t place. Confused and disoriented, he tries to turn. He feels light-headed and his eyelids droop.

Knox wakes. He hears a high-pitched buzzing, then realises it’s the retreating sound of a Bombardier Ski-Doo. Soon, all he can hear is the buffeting wind. He wants to sleep, but his violent shivering makes it impossible. He opens his heavy eyelids and sees nothing. Just white. Where is he? The hardness beneath his cheek tells him he’s lying on one side. Knox tries to sit up, but his head pounds like the worst hangover, so he lies back down. He blinks eyelashes laden with ice crystals, trying to take it all in. Of course. The boiler. He must have fallen. Maybe knocked his head?

This time, Knox manages to sit up and waits for the dizziness to pass. He can’t see the horizon or the surface he’s sitting on, or even his legs. Like being buried in an avalanche; there is no up or down. He’s in a white-out – the most dangerous blizzard. He sucks in the ice-laden air, fear gripping him. Ice particles get caught in his throat and he coughs. His heart speeds up and, instead of ener-gising him, it drains him. He racks his brain, trying to remember his emergency training. But his mind is as blank as the landscape.

Think, you fucking idiot. Think!

It’s pointless shouting. He doesn’t have a two-way radio. Nobody can see or hear him. Christ! What happened? His jaw is chattering, his body wobbling, and now he can’t feel his hands or feet. He lifts his right arm so his hand is in front of his eyes, but it doesn’t feel as if it belongs to him. His fingers won’t flex and the skin is grey, the same colour as his dear mum when he found her dead in her flat. Frostbite and hypothermia have taken hold of him. What he can’t understand is why he isn’t wearing a glove. He checks the left hand. No glove and no watch, either. Nothing makes sense.

Knox attempts to bend his knees. His legs are stiff and move¬ment is painful. He manages to bring them near enough to discover he wears socks, but no boots. The socks are caked in ice and look like snowballs. His shivering is so violent that when he tries to touch them, he topples over.

Stunned by his helplessness, Knox stays where he fell. He places a numb hand on his stomach but he can’t tell if he’s still wearing a coat. He can’t feel anything. He blinks away the ice in his sore eyes and peers down the length of his body. He sees the navy blue of his fleece. No coat. The realisation that he will die if he doesn’t find shelter very soon is like an electric shock and his whole body spasms. Terrified, he scrambles to a sitting position, battling the blizzard and his own weakness.

‘Help!’ he shouts, over and over, oblivious to the pointlessness of doing so.

For the first time since he was a boy, he cries. The tears are blasted by the gale and shoot across his skin and on to the wool¬len edges of his beanie, where they freeze, as hard and round as ball bearings.

Knox struggles on to his hands and knees like an arthritic dog, sobbing, a long string of snot hanging from his nose. Shelter. Must find shelter. Despite his numb extremities he crawls on all fours, around in a tight circle, hoping to see something, anything that will tell him where there’s a tent or a shipping container. Any kind of shelter. But there are no shapes of any kind. Nothing but whiteness. The desperate man decides to go in one direction for ten steps, then turn to his right for ten, then again and again until he returns to his current position. The gusts are so powerful, it’s pointless trying to stand. So he stays on all fours.

He tells himself that Robert Falcon Scott walked thousands of miles to the South Pole with frozen feet. Then he remembers Scott never made it back. Knox’s head is tucked into his chest and the patches of hair sticking out of his beanie are stiff and white. He peers into the distance every now and again but the view doesn’t change. Where is the rope, for Christ’s sake? When Knox thinks he’s done a full circuit, he stops, but there’s no way of telling if he has returned to his starting point. He pants, exhausted. Perhaps he should build a snow cave, as all deep-fielders are trained to do, but he doesn’t have a shovel or ice axe, and his hands are useless. Suddenly, he feels on fire all over and claws at his fleece, trying to remove it. But he can’t even grip the hem.

Like a match, his strength flares ever so briefly and then vanishes.

He wakes with a start. How long has he been lying here? Minutes? Hours? The snow build-up is now a blanket over him. He pulls his knees to his chest, curling himself painfully into a foetal position.

He chuckles. What a tit! He’s going to get such a ribbing when they find him, lost only a few feet from the camp. He’ll never live it down. Oh well. Story of his life: always the butt of jokes. He isn’t shivering any more and feels warm and cosy. Yushkov will know he’s missing. They’ll be looking for him. He’s so tired. Tired and numb. He can’t hear the wind any more.

When he closes his eyes, everything is peaceful. Knox hears his mother tell him it’ll be all right. She’s reported his bullying to the headmaster. His school blazer is ripped, but she’s not cross. His head in her lap, she brushes his long fringe from his eyes. As long as she keeps holding him, he isn’t afraid.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

White Lies & Wishes by Cathy Bramley

Published by Corgi on January 26, 2017

A new Cathy Bramley book is always something to look forward to. White Lies & Wishes is not a four-part novel like many of Cathy’s other books and it was a nice change to not have to wait for the next part because once I’ve finished one book from Cathy, I’m always eager to read another. This book focuses on three different women, Carrie, Sarah and Jo, who very quickly become friends and make plans to each change an aspect of their lives.

By the end of the first chapter, I was already excited to see how the friendship of Carrie, Sarah and Jo would develop and where the story would take them. They weren’t best of friends from the moment they met though there was a connection there between the three of them. As the story develops, they are still getting to know each other, just like the reader is getting to know them. I struggled to pick a favourite and it took me a while to really warm to any of them. I did like all three of them but I was more interested to learn about their “white lies” and the secrets they were keeping.

The idea to the book is a heart-warming and life affirming one. Three women meet at the funeral of their friend’s young husband. There’s a heat-of-the-moment idea from one of them, caught up in the emotion of the day, to create a list of wishes for them to achieve by September. The January publication day for this book is a timely one, as watching Carrie, Sarah and Jo and their struggles is a bit like how most people approach their New Year’s resolutions, except they tend to last a bit longer than the average New Year’s resolution. Carrie loves her food, but hates her figure, and she wishes to be the kind of person to wear a bikini in public. Sarah’s resolution is career related and Jo’s is phobia related, and whilst they can all be easy resolutions to relate to, as things transpire in the book we learn that there is a lot more than meets the eye with all three women.

There’s a real feel-good factor to White Lies & Wishes. The characters tell little lies, they make mistakes and they face realistic struggles. They’re normal women with normal wishes leading normal lives and trying to achieve the typical kind of things we all wish for at times. It is reassuring to read a book with characters like this who are very human and easy to relate to. Cathy’s writing style is warm and inviting and from the moment I began this book, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else with my day except read it. As their friendship builds with plenty of mishaps and laughter along the way, I was engrossed in the story and the surprises it brought with it.

White Lies & Wishes delivers the best form of comfort-reading. It’s ideal escapism to whisk yourself away with three new fictional friends and their relationships, self-esteem and hopes for the future. You can either forget about your own problems for a few hours or take inspiration from Carrie, Sarah and Jo and try and find your own goals to achieve. As with all of Cathy’s books, White Lies & Wishes is full of humour and warmth and romance and a story that will leave you smiling come the end.

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