A sunken secret. A missing woman. A race against time. Former SAS major Ben Hope is relaxing at his home in Normandy when he hears the worst news of his life. His ex-girlfriend Dr Brooke Marcel has been kidnapped.
Racing against the clock, Ben’s frantic search for Brooke leads him from Ireland to the Spanish mountains and the rainforests of Peru. What is the mysterious link between the kidnapping, the salvage of a sunken 16th-century Spanish warship and the secret activities of its wealthy discoverer? As the trail of wreckage and mayhem intensifies, Ben soon uncovers a web of intrigue, corruption and brutal murder. But will he be too late to find Brooke alive?
Although the eighth adventure for our intrepid hero and incidentally my second, Ben Hope is back but this time it’s personal, very personal. The Armada Secret has a completely different feel to his previous title – The Sacred Sword – and is a much darker affair that had me gripped from beginning to end with a slick narrative, accomplished plot and colourful characters.
If you like a book that has an enigmatic leading man, a little rough around the edges, loyal to his friends and likes a drink or two, combined with an evil villain who appears to have a screw loose then this is your type of book.
There were a number of murders that left me feeling a little uncomfortable, uncomfortable in the act and in the imagination; this is a strength, not a weakness, it really does make you take a step back and think that the villain is capable of anything. This is what made the book feel so different to me, it’s an edgy read. The man behind the carnage has no scruples, he lacks emotion – unless it involves a woman – and he lacks feeling, stopping at nothing to ensure he gets what he wants. The problem is he just so happens to have gone a step too far this time and Ben Hope is on his trail.
I do enjoy my conspiracy thrillers and archaeological discoveries and even though The Armada Secret would be classed as such if I were to be hyper critical the mystery part of the book was over far too quickly for me. I wanted a little more intrigue and more history on the sunken treasure but before you know it the discovery is announced and we move on to the main storyline, that of rescuing Brooke.
The fight to save Brooke is well thought out however and Scott Mariani introduces a number of key bit characters that help Hope along the way. There was a point when the protagonist is up to his eyes in snow that the book really came to life for me. The author introduces us to another player and it was at this point my imagination ran away and I really hoped he would play a substantial role in the book alongside Ben Hope. Whether he did or not I’ll leave it up to you to find out but suffice to say it’s an interesting development in the plot.
The narrative is both strong and fluid and along with an intelligent plot and imaginative locations it makes The Armada Secret a must read. Although part of an established series the book can be read as a standalone but you do miss a little depth with character development and backstory if you don’t.
- Paperback: 406 pages
- Publisher: Avon (9 May 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0007398433
- ISBN-13: 978-0007398430
Sent to Manhattan as part of the British effort to build intelligence into the new United Nations Organisation ‘from the foundations up’, Agent Peter Cotton wakes up in the Ogden Clinic on East 76th Street, a private facility reserved for very special patients and veterans.
He is told he was found badly bruised, slumped in a doorway, and that he had been injected with at least three ‘truth-drugs’. He is lucky to be alive.
Plagued by vertigo, colour blindness and tunnel vision, and unable to be certain what is real and what hallucinatory, Cotton must piece together what has happened to him, find out who is responsible and why. What he discovers is even more unsettling. His biggest uncertainty? Why he has been allowed to live.
I’ve been looking forward to the latest Peter Cotton thriller ever since I reviewed the award winning Icelight last year. Cotton is one of those characters you’ll either warm to or won’t, there’s no middle ground but fortunately for me I’m in the camp that likes him for his quirks and his dry personality. He knows what he wants and for the most part he gets it, albeit in a roundabout and intelligent way.
Black Bear starts off slowly; our protagonist is recovering from a cocktail of life threatening drugs in a New York clinic and we discover his recovery is slow and laboured. Aly Monroe – and Peter Cotton – spend a good deal of time fighting the after affects – 120 pages in total – and I have to admit I did begin to wonder what direction the book was taking. Normally, as far as I’m concerned, reading about someone cooped up in a room hallucinating and trying to figure out why it happened and who was responsible would have been quite insular but this is where Aly Monroe excels. She kept me intrigued and held my interest throughout his stay at the Ogden Clinic thanks mainly to an engaging narrative and compelling dialogue.
Many of you, who have read any of the previous Peter Cotton books, will notice the difference in style within the first few chapters. Black Bear has a different feel to it, a slower pace to the others, more psychological and concentrating for the best part with recovery and the fascination of who attacked our intrepid spy. It’s this question that keeps Cotton focused throughout allowing Monroe to present an incredibly complex storyline, despite the fact that not much happens!
Cotton felt enormously tired, as if each word he had spoken had been bruising
his brain and he simply had no more space left for any more bruises. He could see a
kind of kaleidoscopic fracturing of colours under his eyelids. These broken bits began
to spin and melt into a single colour. It was a repulsive shade of urine and tangerine.
‘He’s screwed,’ said another American voice, one that Cotton had not heard.
‘He says he’s screwed.’
If he had been able to, Cotton would have nodded. The translation was just right enough. He passed out again on a feeling almost like relief.
Despite this sedentary start the book comes alive for me when Cotton leaves the clinic and moves to Narragansett Rhode Island and spends two months recuperating, much to the chagrin of his boss who doesn’t believe he needs this time off. I was immediately transported back in time to the late 1940’s, I absolutely adored the writing in this passage of the book and with every turn of the page I felt as if I was truly exploring every facet of life in small town America in the 1940’s. The Narragansett narrative is powerfully evocative with gossip, drama and dubious friendships and relationships – and a little spying – and Cotton soon finds out that his two months of recuperation isn’t going to go quite as planned.
There are a number of colourful characters in Narragansett each playing their part and allowing the story to evolve and move slowly forward. Cotton becomes involved with small town life in more ways than he cared to but this was one of the facets of the book that intrigued me.
Atmospheric, engrossing and intelligently written, Black Bear tantalises from the very first page until its conclusion.
- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: John Murray (9 May 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1848544863
- ISBN-13: 978-1848544864
LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Eight months ago, a shocking nighttime assault by unidentified men killed his partner Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty–until he meets his new partner. Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED, her PTSD is as bad as Scott’s. They are each other’s last chance.
Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie. What they begin to find is nothing like what Scott has been told, and the journey will take them both through the darkest moments of their own personal hells. Whether they will make it out again, no one can say.
I should begin this review by writing a quick disclaimer! I’ve never ever wanted a dog, a cat, a gerbil or a pet of any kind, I’ve never had a pet in my life – unless you count a goldfish that survived for one day when I was in primary school – and I blame my parents entirely for this horrific upbringing!! I’ve never expected to get to this point in my life and want one, that is until now and I blame Robert Crais entirely! Ok so it’s not really going to happen but you get my point I hope. If ever there was a book that made me want a dog then Suspect is that book.
When a book can take one of its protagonists – Maggie an Alsatian – and have such a magical effect on its readers then you know you are on to a sure fire winner. I loved Maggie’s voice – or should that be her bark – and although my knowledge of dogs is severely tested in this book I could well imagine that as we followed Maggie, a K9 Marine, on tour searching for IED’s in Afghanistan and later as a police dog, this is how dogs see our world. Sniffing to her hearts content, following scents, protecting her pack and noticing every strange smell, reacting to every nuance in her handler’s emotions. I was completely hooked. It wasn’t the elaborate things that got me, it was the small subtle descriptions that had me. I really didn’t want this book to end and I certainly hope there is a follow up even though Suspect is a standalone thriller.
That dog may be the best air dog I’ve seen. I do believe she could follow a fly fart in a hurricane.
With every turn of the page, with every mesmerising new chapter, I fell hook, line and sinker falling deeply in love with Maggie and that’s no mean feat. We see how she deals with her devastating loss in Afghanistan and how she rebuilds her life and trust in Scott James, a rookie K9 handler with his own unique and painful history. When you step back and look at the book reflectively you see that the partnership is a match made in heaven. Scott’s journey is as interesting as Maggie’s and I enjoyed watching – or reading – how his personality changed and how his attitude to dogs and their importance in his own life slowly began to change with every passing day.
When I first picked up the book I had hoped it was another Elvis Cole adventure but as soon as I’d finished the first chapter there was no going back. Possibly one of the best opening chapters I’ve read so far this year, it completely immerses you in a world so foreign to me it’s incredible. The narrative and emotions suck you in and the author does an amazing job of keeping the story moving from one chapter to the next. We follow a number of characters throughout, some likeable and some not but the balance is well delivered.
A great story, frenetic pace and a taut thriller, Suspect is a profound page turner. Sensational and heart-warming stuff this is one book not to be missed, I’m so glad I didn’t.
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Orion (11 April 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1409126587
AFTER THE RISE, COMES THE FALL. The forbidden Citadel at the heart of the ancient Turkish city of Ruin opens its gates for the first time in history. Why now, after centuries of secrecy? A deadly disease has erupted within, and threatens to spread beyond its walls. Infected charity worker Gabriel Mann may hold the cure – but can one dying man stop an epidemic? Without him, former journalist Liv Adamsen is vulnerable, surrounded by strangers in the desert oasis that is her new home. Liv, however, has far bigger concerns than just her own life…
In the USA, newly qualified FBI Agent Joe Shepherd investigates the disappearance of NASA’s most senior professor. Is it a vanishing act, an abduction, or something darker? Shepherd’s investigation approaches a powerful conspiracy with global reach, and profound consequences. For them all, this much is clear: something big is coming. Something that will change everything. But will it be a new beginning or the End of Days?
The End of Days has arrived in the form of the final instalment in the Sancti trilogy – The Tower. Only time will tell if this really does mean the end of life as we know it and only Simon Toyne, author of the three books, can tell us how it all unfolds and ultimately ends.
When I first read Sanctus back in April 2011 I was, like so many other readers, completely captivated by the city of Ruin in Turkey. Readers wanted to travel to the city, live there and explore every inch of The Citadel – the only problem is that only one man could ever be a tour guide, Toyne. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when reality set in and I discovered travel agents were unable to reserve any hotels in Ruin and I discovered I couldn’t physically explore The Citadel but life moves on and at least I had the second and third instalment to look forward to. The problem is, now that it has all ended, I still want more!
The Tower has a very different feel to the first two books and is for me a book of two halves. In the first half we spend little time in The Citadel and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. The book does take a little time to get going, certainly compared to the first two, and although you can see a very good storyline and plot forming it was missing a little something for me. The problem the author faced was an unenviable one. How do you follow two highly successful novels without repetition? It’s hard but repetition or not, I did miss my Citadel fix!
There was a point however that the book clicked for me, I can’t for the life of me remember what point it was but once I reached that veritable sweet spot I couldn’t put the book down. The story moves at a frenetic pace in the last 100 or so pages and the work Toyne puts in building a solid foundation is certainly rewarded at the end. There were a couple of points that confused me and I couldn’t quite workout why one thing happened but the way the author brings in the rookie Shepherd into the mix was very enjoyable, a point which leads me into characterisation nicely.
As with most books there is a change in personnel from one volume to the next and The Tower is no different. The author introduces us to two new FBI agents in Franklin and Shepherd and although there is a distinct lack of trust at the beginning – between both agents – I found it very interesting how the partnership developed as the story unfolded. I really liked Shepherd and although Franklin at times came across as an old cantankerous Feebie I did eventually warm to him too. Some of the old favourites are back of course, Gabriel Mann, Liv Adamsen, Inspector Arkadian and Athanasius, some playing a bigger role in the grand scheme of things than others but there were points in the novel that Toyne had me holding my breath as I became emotionally involved in their plight.
This is where Toyne excels. In the last third of the book I lost count on how many times the atmospheric descriptions got the better of me. I absolutely loved some of these final scenes as the author began to pull everything together, the culmination of many years of hard work and storytelling. Although we do not spend a great amount of time in The Citadel, there were a number of jaw dropping scenes that will stay with me for a long time. It’s hard for me to explain myself for fear of giving too much away but take it from me the final chapters are quite emotional and yet satisfying at the same time.
A little slow to get going The Tower does redeem itself in the second part of the book. Full of atmospheric scenes, an imaginative narrative and a well thought out and gripping plot with some of the best characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading, this is one trilogy I am so glad I didn’t miss. A fitting and realistic conclusion puts the Sancti to bed and brings about The End of Days.
- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins (11 April 2013)
- ISBN-10: 0007391633
- ISBN-13: 978-0007391639
It’s been a month since I took my first look at online butchers and I’ve managed to make enough room in the two freezers – or should I say I’ve eaten my way through copious amounts of steak, sausages, venison, pork, fish …. – to be able to place a couple more orders and look at two new companies.
This week I’m looking at Macbeths Butchers and Andrew Gordon Butchery, both incidentally from Scotland. One of the things that stood out this time around was the impressive customer service, more on that later as I look at each company individually, but once again I look at the food, the service, the delivery costs and my overall impression comparing the results with the first three companies I reviewed in March.
Whenever I mention the name to colleagues, friends or people on social media, it brings about a small grin. There’s something about the name that shouts Scotland – I wonder why! Macbeths is another butcher I stumbled upon while researching over a month ago. The website is friendly, inviting, easy to navigate and packed with great looking produce, produce that includes regular sausage, steaks, quail eggs, Wild Rabbit and a game bird or two!
Customer service was impressive to say the least and together with prompt and informative replies via email and social media – another butcher embracing twitter – the standard is to be envied – certainly from my experience. More than happy to answer any questions you may have about their produce Macbeths are eager to help in any way they can.
This order was by far the biggest order I’ve received to date and when the cool box duly arrived I couldn’t quite believe the amount of food the package included. One of the things I absolutely love about ordering online compared to buying from the supermarkets is that everything you receive – more often than not at least – is individually packed and vacuum sealed to keep the freshness in. Another plus is that the produce is well labelled which makes it so much easier when it comes to storing in the freezers. Best before dates are given for both cool and freezer storage so you are never in any doubt if the meat is within the correct dates.
Produce – Burgers (Lamb & Mint, Steak and Venison), Sausages (Pork, Beef and Farmhouse), Steak (Rump, Sirloin and Feather), Rolled brisket, Lamb Noisettes, Pork Steaks and Gammon Steaks.
I haven’t had the opportunity to eat my way through all the produce of course but what I have tasted – Sausages, Pork Steaks, Gammon Steaks. Sirloin and Lamb Noisettes have been remarkably good with absolutely no wastage. I cooked the sausage for guests one weekend and they all raved at the quality. It’s amazing how a good sausage helps make even the simplest of meals – sausage sandwiches in ciabatta bread and crusty rolls – a gourmet feast!
The pork steaks were succulent and moreish, easy to cut and consume and are quite easily on par with the steaks I ordered from Donald Russell last month. The thing I do like about Macbeth’s steaks are their irregular shape and sizes! Having said all that, the one thing that has been a monumental success in this household has been the Lamb Noisettes. I’ve never had the opportunity to cook Noisette’s before but the taste, accompanied by some homemade mint sauce, was full of flavour and once again incredibly succulent. I could have eaten these all night, I just wish I’d ordered more now!
Delivery and packaging – Once again another Macbeth’s is a company that knows how to package its goods. The box arrived in great condition and the food chilled, thanks to the accompanying ice sheets that were still frozen on delivery. The order arrived, as most do, before 12pm which allowed me to sort the produce and get on with my day. Delivery costs are reasonable although you do have to spend a fair amount to balance it out. Delivery is free on order £125 and above, £4.95 for orders in excess of £85. There is no minimum order with Macbeths however if your order, and your order is less than £20 then you will be charged £12.50 for delivery, for orders £20 – £85 a delivery charge of £9.95 is applicable.
Andrew Gordon Butchery
As with Macbeths, Andrew Gordon Butchery excelled in customer service and satisfaction, I couldn’t fault the level of pre and after care. Always happy to help Andrew Gordon is only a phone call or an email away from answering all your questions ensuring you know exactly what you are going to get at all times. Albert Einstein once said The only stupid question is the one left unasked and this just about sums up this butcher – in fact both butchers reviewed here today – and given that you can continue asking questions long after the order has been dispatched is crucial to a magnificent level of customer satisfaction.
Andrew Gordon also has a very healthy twitter presence which helps potential and regular customers to get in touch at the drop of a hat.
Produce – a wonderful variety of gourmet burgers (including venison and steak), black pudding, numerous sausages (including beef, chive and pork).
I’m sure I sound like a stuck record now but yet again the produce was of a high standard and the flavours rich and wholesome. Up until this point I had never considered eating venison but when I received the package from Andrew it included four venison burgers and I couldn’t wait to try them out! They are an acquired taste with a deeper gamier and more powerful taste compared to your regular steak burger but they were incredible. Melt in the mouth doesn’t do the produce justice!
As I have already mentioned above I had a number of guests over for the long weekend and treated them to produce from Macbeths and Andrew Gordon and I have to say the Venison burgers (cut up into taste size portions!) and the apple, chive and pork sausage went down a treat. I love it when a plan comes together!
One of the things you will notice with this website is that you cannot order individual items like most other online butchers. Andrew Gordon currently has six trusted food packs that all include delivery however you can email, phone or use the contact form to enquire about individual bespoke packages for produce you do not see listed among the six packs. Andrew will then email you the prices and delivery costs – delivery included for orders over £80 – and you can then place an order.
There are plans afoot to completely overhaul the current website and move forward making everything more accessible and given the huge range of produce Andrew has at his disposal this will only increase his online presence.
Andrew Gordon is linked to a number of nutrition, fitness & body transformation experts such as Scott Baptie of FoodForFitness where they refer their clients for bespoke nutrition lean packs and sometimes the Trusted Food 6 Packs I mentioned earlier. This is another level of service that goes above and beyond a regular butcher and if you ever need help in planning suitable produce then Andrew is your first point of contact. Once the new website is up and running I will update this review with my thoughts on ease of use etc.
Delivery and packaging
The produce arrived on time, chilled and very well packaged as expected. The individual packaging made the option to freeze or chill in the fridge and effortless one. The portions weren’t too big and because of it there was no need to separate any of the produce to make it more manageable in the future. The labels were clear, informative and gave no doubt on the best use by date.
Macbeths and Andrew Gordon Butchery offer an amazing range of high quality produce – online and on the high street – both bespoke and tailor made, with the highest level of customer service and satisfaction one could wish for. The fact that both are easily contactable, ready to answer any question with an efficient and friendly manner certainly adds that little something extra to the service. I unreservedly recommend both butchers.
A serial killer is being closely watched by one young boy.
Barney knows the killer will strike again soon. The victim will be another boy, just like him. He will drain the body of blood, and leave it on a Thames beach.
There will be no clues for detectives Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury to find.
There will be no warning about who will be next.
There will be no good reason for young policewoman Lacey Flint to become involved . . . And no chance that she can stay away.
SJ Bolton has done it again; I’m beginning to wonder if this woman can do no wrong! Like This, For Ever is another crime thriller that will keep you guessing until you turn the final page. Play along as you read and I guarantee you won’t get it right first time! Join in the fun – if you can call it that – and if you think you can do better than Lacey Flint? Prove it!
How do you describe Lacey in one word? Why restrict yourself to one word when a hundred could quite easily sum her up. Lacey is without doubt one of my favourite leading ladies in literature in a very long time. Talk about breaking the mold when they made her. Lacey is a young woman who has most definitely endured pain, hardship, love, loss, conflict, success and without question failure. She is stoic – perhaps my favourite word that describes our protagonist – resolute, dependable – yeah right – and colourful. One thing she certainly isn’t is predictable.
The great thing about Lacey is that she is completely unhinged, and although you have a fair idea what to expect you still keep reading and hoping something good comes of her. She really took the lead in this story for me, everyone else played their part of course but Lacey takes antagonising to a completely new level. She upsets and alienates most characters along the way – even those trying to help – but there’s only one person she trusts implicitly and for those of you who have read previous SJ Bolton novels it’s not who you think it is. A wonderful bit of writing.
There are so many wonderful voices in this book, it’s a complex and multi layered read that grips you from the very beginning with a haunting visit to the shrink. Who’s voice are we listening to? You’ll have to read to find out! The book is so much more than one main character however, Like This, For Ever is a wonderfully woven thriller that entertains throughout and you never know quite what’s going to happen around the corner. The way SJ Bolton has crafted this story is nothing short of sensational and is without question one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
Not only that but if you read the book late at night be prepared to be afraid, very afraid. Twice my mobile went off indicating a message had arrived and twice I nearly had a heart attack! Not only that I poured myself a glass of wine when I began reading and for an hour I totally forgot that I had an alcoholic beverage to my right – now that’s what I call a good read!!
Brilliant, captivating and bloody – Like This, For Ever is another rip roaring thriller that satisfies on so many levels. The only problem I have is that I have so long to wait for the next instalment. Bravo Sharon, bravo.
- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Bantam Press (11 April 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0593069161
- ISBN-13: 978-0593069165
KATE SHUGAK is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat and owns half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine – and she needs to be to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her.
BAD BLOOD: One hundred years of bad blood between two Alaskan villages come to a boil when the body of a young Kushtaka man is found wedged in a fish wheel. Sergeant Jim Chopin’s prime suspect is a Kuskulana man who is already in trouble in both villages for falling in love across the river. But when he disappears, both tribes refuse to speak to Jim – so when there’s a second murder which looks suspiciously like payback, Jim calls on Kate Shugak for help.
Now Kate must untangle the village tales of tragedy and revenge if she is to find the truth before it’s too late…
I could quite easily leave my review and thoughts at that. Those two little words, a simple phrase, sum it up succinctly. But I guess I should expand just a little on what made me fall in love with Alaska or this post wouldn’t be worth reading at all!
Bad Blood is the first book by Dana Stabenow I’ve had the pleasure of reading (always wanted to read one) but I can categorically say with complete certainty it will not be the last. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska, whether I do or not is another thing altogether, but thanks to a gripping and atmospheric narrative I truly felt as if I was exploring the wilds, visiting remote and far flung villages like Kushtaka and Kuskulana, sampling the food and gorging on the harsh conditions.
They called their village Kuskulana. It was not as conveniently placed as Kushtaka, being a hard slog uphill from the salmon-rich waters of river and creek, and a longer, harder slog uphill when burdened with the hindquarter of a moose. But the spring that bubbled up provided much better drinking water than the Kushtaka wells, which were brown and brackish, and its sharp point hid a good-sized plateau that widened to the east, a good site for an airstrip. Walter, inspired by the sight of the fighters and bombers who had filled the air over the skies of the Aleutians during the war, was determined to learn to fly and promptly hacked an airstrip out of the alders, tied a red flannel shirt on a pole at one end for a windsock, and bought one of the first Piper Super Cubs.
The book is so much more than a crime book for me, and although pivotal are Jim and Kate’s investigations in a number of murders together with colourful and illegal behaviour courtesy of the natives, the narrative focuses on the lives of those living in remote Alaskan villages where salmon is not only a staple diet for the native Alaskans but the wild bears that surround the snowscape. We explore nature, the climate and how the locals attempt to make a living.
I turned each page with a growing anticipation and a deepening fervour as I followed the exploits of trooper Jim and the colourful Kate Shugak. Although a team they go their separate ways and the story branches off into two separate paths but before you know it, and the book ends, those paths come together tying the book up rather nicely.
There were a number of colourful characters throughout the novel, some more entertaining than others but the one who caught my eye was Kate’s friend Bobby Clark. Bobby a part time DJ with a penchant for the alcoholic beverage from Tennessee, your very own silver tongued Bard of the Big Bump and all we survey, and although his contribution was minimal the passage had me in stitches!
One thing I should also point out is the ending. I hadn’t expected it, it’s quite shocking but talk about leaving the reader in suspense is a complete understatement. The final three pages are explosive, taut and as I’ve mentioned leave you hanging. Having not read her previous novels I have no idea if this is how Dana ends all her novels but man was it unexpected!
Part of me wanted the book to continue for another few pages – so we all find out what happens – but when I turned the final page and came face to face with a blank page I put the book down and steadied myself. The author got it right. Any more would have been waffle, filler material and unnecessary. The way it ends is the correct and intelligent conclusion.
Charles Dickens sums it up rather nicely when Oliver approaches the fat master:
Please sir, I want some more.
Enough said! (I said that not Charles Dickens).
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Head of Zeus (1 Mar 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1781851204
- ISBN-13: 978-1781851203
Coordinator’s Office, Beechway High Secure Unit, Bristol
IT’S ABOUT ELEVEN o’clock when AJ LeGrande, the senior nursing coordinator at Beechway psychiatric unit, wakes from a nightmare with a jolt. His heart is thudding, and it takes a long time for him to reorientate himself and realize he is fully dressed and sitting in his office chair, feet on his desk. The reports he was reading are scattered on the floor.
He rubs his chest uneasily. Blinks and sits up. The room is dark, just a small amount of light coming from under the door. Dancing on his retina is the blurred after-image of a little figure crouched over him. Straddling his chest, its smooth face close to his. Its foreshortened arms resting delicately on his collarbone. He runs his tongue around his mouth, glancing around the office. He imagines the thing escaping through the closed door. Sliding under and out into the corridor, where it will run further and further into the hospital.
His throat is tight. He’s not used to wearing a collar – he’s only been coordinator for a month and he can’t get used to the suit. And the clip-on ties he has to wear for his own safety? He can’t seem to get the knack of them. They never hang right or feel right. He drops his feet to the floor and unclips the tie. The tightness in his lungs eases slightly. He gets up and goes to the door. Fingers on the handle, he hesitates. If he opens the door he’s going to see a little gowned figure pitter-pattering away down the empty corridor.
Three deep breaths. He opens the door. Looks one way up the corridor, and the other. There is nothing. Just the usual things he’s got used to over the years: the green tiled floor, the fire muster point with its diagram of the unit, the padded handrails. No wispy fleeing hem of a gown rounding the corner and disappearing out of sight.
He leans against the doorpost for a moment, trying to clear his head. Dwarfs on his chest? Little figures in nightgowns? The whisper of small feet? And two words he doesn’t want to think: The. Maude.
Extract taken from the 3rd chapter of Mo Hayder’s new publication – Poppet – Buy it now!
Mo Hayder has written some of the most terrifying crime thrillers you will ever read. Her first novel, Birdman, was hailed as a ‘first-class shocker’ by the Guardian and her followup, The Treatment was voted by The Times as one of ‘the top ten most scary thrillers ever written’. In 2012 Gone won the prestigious Edgars Best Novel award. You may also like to read my reviews for Hanging Hill & Gone.
A young man’s drinking binge sets in motion a sequence of violent and lethal crimes, leading Swansea detective, DI Harry Lambert – suspecting foul play in a suicide verdict – to continue his own investigations. Lambert is warned off the case by a Serious Organized Crime Agency officer, but when he and his team become involved in a murder case, it soon becomes apparent that there are connections between the suicide and his current murder investigation. Events take a bizarre turn when three petty criminals become involved in a deadly game of vengeance, and Lambert’s prime suspect disappears, along with a respectable young man – who claims to have gone to France on business but who could now be involved in another act of revenge. When Lambert eventually discovers the whereabouts of the missing persons, he knows the game will become even more violent, but, trusting his own instincts, he uncovers the worst case of treachery he has ever known.
One of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was due to its location and following a dramatic and entertaining victory for Wales against England in the rugby yesterday I couldn’t think of a better book to read. Set in its entirety in South Wales Missing Persons by Meurig Jones tells the story of Detective Inspector Harry Lambert, a likeable character who, like most in his position, is always at loggerheads with his superiors.
For the most part I really enjoyed the book, the story was good and it flowed well from beginning to end, it’s certainly a quick read. I did have issue with a couple of things and found myself stuttering half way through when the book just seemed to be going nowhere and over complicating things unnecessarily. I persevered through a couple of the middle chapters and came out, still a little confused with a couple of the characters – and their role within the book – pleased that I had. I was rewarded with a good and slightly unexpected finish to the book, who doesn’t like an unexpected ending?!
I would have liked a little more Welshness to the book but that’s always a tricky balance to achieve no matter where the primary location is set – it will always be local to someone – but I really am nit-picking here. I did enjoy it when the detectives travelled through Llandaff, Cathedral Road and other local landmarks and haunts, especially a well-timed visit to the Millennium Stadium where Harry witnessed a Welsh victory against Ireland in the 6 Nations competition. I don’t think the author could have timed that better if he tried!
Along with a strong protagonist in Harry Lambert – you just want him to get one up on his boss – and a well chosen location it was the dialogue, comedic undertones and police procedural that impressed me. I enjoyed the scenes set within the incident room and the official pub gatherings, they made the book all the more stronger for it.
A good and entertaining read, I will certainly look out for the next instalment and see where the author takes Harry Lambert next. Who knows, we may even get a crime set after yesterday’s match where…..well that’s for another day!
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (29 Mar 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0719808219
- ISBN-13: 978-0719808210
Online Butchers – Reviews
A few weeks ago, when the horsemeat scandal was beginning to gain momentum, I decided I’d take a look at local and online butchers, moving away from buying meat from supermarkets local to me. I’ve never bought produce or perishables online before, preferring to step in and out of a big supermarket and, like many people, get everything in one stop. That’s all well and good but when you begin to question what you are really buying and the quality of the produce you have to make a concerted effort to take a step back, re-evaluate, and make the decision to change your way of thinking.
Unfortunately the one local butcher to me closed down a month or so ago – he held on to get the most out of Christmas traffic – and has now been replaced by a dog grooming business and ironically two doors down stands a saddlery shop! With this in mind comparing local produce with complete traceability to supermarket produce is impossible so I immediately thought of the internet.
Before I go on I have to say I don’t have a problem that burgers, sausages, meatballs, mince etc contain traces of horsemeat, it’s more the point that if they do contain the horsemeat and don’t declare it on the list of ingredients, what else are they omitting? We’ve already heard about harmful drugs being present in certain foods and it was at this point I sat up and began to take more notice.
Ever since losing all the weight a couple of years ago I’ve cut out processed foods and my gym regime and healthy eating is incredibly important to me these days so the fact that they find traces in processed foods such as ready-made meals doesn’t exactly worry me as I do not buy them. I’ve changed my eating habits and prefer to cook when I can.
Sadly, I can’t begin to tell you the fun I’ve had comparing online butchers, the produce, customer service, answering emails and the like. In a geeky, nerdy way, I’ve been rather anal about the whole process. I’ve created a spreadsheet, made notes, spoken to people about the idea of shopping online and spoken to butchers online – it has truly been an education!
For this first report I’m concentrating on three butchers Donald Russell, Westin Gourmet and Stilton Butchers. In future posts I will be looking at a number of other butchers but for now let’s take a look at each one in turn.
The first company I ordered from and arguably the best known, a simple order – 96 Pork sausage and 6 pork medallions. The order process was very straightforward and the website easy to navigate from beginning to end. The design makes it fun to peruse the products and easy to add your chosen products to the shopping basket.Delivery is chargeable at £5 for orders under £80 and free above. The charge is a little more than I would have liked but you do occasionally find the odd free delivery voucher around the web so certainly worth keeping an eye out.
The order arrived as promised, in fact first thing in the morning which helped. As far as I’m aware you cannot book a particular slot for free or for a surcharge fee. The frozen produce – shock frozen – arrived in pristine condition and it didn’t take too long to transfer to the freezer.
The presentation was terrific with the sausages found in two sizeable boxes, bubble wrap and chill packs and finished off with a paper cover held together with a Donald Russell sticker – see image below! It reminded me of the good old days of when butchers wrapped up their produce rather than put them into a plastic bag. The image speaks volumes!
The quality of the meat was outstanding, the sausages a cut above what you normally find in the supermarkets and to my surprise the per kilo price was highly competitive. I would go as far to say that these are among the best sausages I’ve ever tasted.
Along with great produce Donald Russell also supplied a couple of magazines – one a catalogue of produce and the other a how to cook your meat – and a welcome letter offering a very good discount on your next order. A very nice touch.
Email – Very Good – responded to my email in a timely fashion
Twitter – no contact
Delivery/Packaging – Excellent (well packaged and the presentation was impressive to say the least)
Overall – 9/10
I didn’t get a lot of produce from Westin Gourmet (Bacon, Pork Sausage and 1.5Kg of Quality British Steak Mince) so my current report will be limited. I do hope to take another look at this company over the next couple of months but first impressions were good.
I made a number of meals with the mince steak – spaghetti Bolognese (4 portions from 500g) and a number of seasoned beef burgers. The mince was full of flavour and certainly helped improve the taste and quality of the Bolognese, the Bolognese sauce was made over 6 hours in a slow cooker and the combination of quality mince and the slow cooking helped with the final product. The burgers retained their shape and size with very little shrinkcage following cooking – they didn’t last long which is always a good sign!
Of all three butchers tested here the sausages came in last place but even so they were preferential to store bought sausages. Donald Russell sausages were streets ahead in terms of flavour, consistency and meat content but the Westin Gourmet ones – meaty pork sausage – were enjoyable nonetheless.
My biggest disappointment came with the Bacon. The unsmoked bacon arrived in a 2.27kg pack in columns of three and as it would be impossible to eat that amount in a short period I decided to separate and freeze the majority. I noticed that a third of the bacon was very fatty and in fact there was more fat than meat in the middle column of bacon, very disappointing. I did cook a number of rashers and was very pleased with the taste, only a trace of salt, negligible change in shape and a very good thickness with each rasher weighing in at a sizeable 50g each. I would order again on taste and size alone but would hesitate due my experiences above.
Delivery charges – currently the best of the three on offer here as they offer half price delivery at £3.75 for any order, great value if you only want to order a few items.
Email response – Poor (no response in 2 weeks to my email regarding a produce question)
Twitter – Good (responded within 24 hours)
Delivery/Packaging – Very Good (no frills but food arrived safely and chilled)
Overall – 7/10 (marked down due to bacon and no email response)
By far the biggest delivery of the three, a delivery that contained Steaks, Lamb & Mint Sausage, fish, 5kg of Chicken breasts and gammon steaks, I was particularly impressed at the comprehensive packaging from Stilton. Although not as glamorous as Donald Russell the delivery was by far the best packaged. The produce was individually wrapped (apart from the 20 or so chicken breasts – as expected) and well chilled with numerous chilled blankets keeping everything as it should . I decided to try something a little different with this delivery and waited all day to open the box as I was keen to see how it would arrive had the delivery came towards the end of a delivery schedule rather than first thing in the morning. Everything was as it should have been; in fact it surpassed my expectations.
The produce itself looked incredibly fresh – the fish loins and fillets were frozen – and appetising. I have only had chance to cook some chicken and the sausage but was very impressed with the flavours. The chicken is certainly a standard above what you normally come to expect from a supermarket and during the cooking process the breast maintained its size and shape. I did notice a little water but nothing to write home about. Succulent, tender and moreish I’m looking forward to experimenting with the chicken breasts!
I’ve been on the hunt for a decent lamb and mint sausage (and burgers) for ages and this one didn’t disappoint. I will certainly be adding this to my list in the future.
Delivery – as far as I am concerned – is a little pricey and unless you spend £50 or more (£4.99 delivery at this threshold) then you are faced with a £9.99 delivery charge. It’s at this point they would lose me as a customer unless I knew my order would hit £50 – and not down to just making up the numbers to reach this price threshold. Free delivery on orders in excess of £100.
Email response – Impressive (responded to a few emails in timely fashion)
Twitter – Very Good (good interaction and replies)
Delivery/Packaging – Excellent (no frills but food arrived safely and chilled, frozen items remained frozen all day)
Overall – 9/10
So there we have it. Three well established butchers with a good online presence and impressive websites that all afford easy navigation from product to product. I will be looking at more butchers over the coming months and if you have any recommendations or companies you’d like me to explore then please drop me a line and I’ll do my best to oblige. I will also be updating this report in the next fortnight.
Jimmy thinks he knows about loss, about fear, about paranoia.
He should think again.
Every time Jimmy Thane has been faced with a crossroad, he’s taken the wrong path. But after years of drinking and womanising, he has been given one last chance to save both his career and his marriage – he has seven weeks to transform a failing company.
From the moment he enters the building there’s something wrong – the place is too quiet, too empty. When the police come calling about the disappearance of the former CEO, Jimmy starts to wonder what he’s got himself into. Then he discovers surveillance equipment in his neighbour’s house, looking straight into his front room. And his wife isn’t just tired, she’s terrified and trying to hide it.
Nothing is at it seems. Jimmy’s not living his dream – he’s been plunged into the worst kind of nightmare. And when the truth comes out, it’s more terrifying than he could ever imagine…
No Way Back by Matthew Klein is one of those books you’ll either love or hate! Jimmy Thane is one of those characters you’ll love getting to know or feel exasperation at every turn.
A curious book, No Way Back was a frustrating and uncomfortable read in so much as it had me on edge from beginning to end. Jimmy is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex addict and with every turn of the page I was just waiting for him to explode, to make a wrong decision and continue down the wrong path despite his strive for redemption and the help of his best friend. I could feel the pressure building with ever turn of the page and as the book matured my likeness for Jimmy diminished. He’s not a likeable character – at all. He has nothing going for him. In fact I’d go so far as saying that if he could watch you reading the book, Jimmy couldn’t care less!
But taking all this into account – and this is where Matthew Klein has been clever – this book is a real page turner. I hadn’t expected it to be. Despite thinking the protagonist was just asking for trouble I still wanted to read on, watch the car crash as I drove past, feast in its despair and helplessness. The narrative certainly helps. It’s fast, fluent and intelligently crafted and the pace is solid throughout.
The structure is also solid; a good foundation sucks you in and despite what I’ve said above you can’t help but continue reading! It’s like watching a scary horror film in the cinema, you know with the music changing to an eerie tune that someone’s going to get it, you watch with your hands poised over your eyes ready to jump. You know it’s coming but you still read on!
One of the most entertaining features about this book for me is that you could take no one at face value. You never really know who’s who and if they are who they appear to be and who they present themselves to be. A complex web is weaved and with a solid ending the book ends with a satisfying conclusion – an ending that made we want to read more!
I’m not going to spoil the ending, I’ll let you discover that for yourself but with a book that has no endearing characters, it allows for an interesting reading experience. I really enjoyed it, despite it being an uncomfortable read, I won’t forget this book in a hurry that’s for sure! I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. Twists and turns galore and a few surprises thrown in for good measure, what side are you on?! Love or Hate?!
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Corvus (1 Mar 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0857898582
- ISBN-13: 978-0857898586
The conclusion of Hit and Run found Keller living in a big old house in post-Katrina New Orleans, with a new name, a new wife, a new career rehabbing houses, and a baby on the way. It certainly looked as though he was done killing people for money.
But old habits die hard, and when the economic downturn knocked out the construction business, a phone call from Dot draws him back into the old game. His work takes him to Dallas, to settle a domestic dispute; to Florida, where he joins a government witness on a West Indies cruise; to Wyoming, where a house has burned down; and to New York, where he lived for so many years, and where people might remember him.
2013 is starting to shape up as a “pick up a book and be surprised” year. There have been a couple of duds, one book I couldn’t even finish, but overall the year has certainly begun at a furious and intensely satisfying pace. Hit Me by New York based Lawrence Block is no exception.
The fifth in the Keller series – and incidentally my first experience of reading anything by the author – Hit Me is one of those books you’ll find yourself intrigued on many levels. For the stamp aficionado or philatelist, to adopt the correct terminology, there’s ample information throughout the book about stamp collecting and the origins and history of numerous stamps and countries – dead or alive. I hadn’t expected the history lesson – it’s done incredibly well – but Lawrence Block delivers the lessons in an informative and not overbearing way that I was transfixed by certain passages and even when talking about Martinique or Guadalupe I found it riveting stuff.
Add to this the handful of jobs Keller is offered by his handler – Dot – test his resolve and ingenuity in problem solving. I really enjoyed the mixture and the variety these afforded, no more so than the conundrum he’s faced with on the cruise ship.
Characterisation was impressive and I enjoyed the interactions between Dot and Keller, their dry sense of humour – well Dot’s to be fair – was without doubt a highlight of the book for me. You could be forgiven thinking that she was a few sandwiches short of a picnic on a few occasions but she always managed to bring it back together when it mattered. She had me laughing aloud more often than she didn’t – what a mesmerising character and someone you wouldn’t want to cross!
Another character who intrigued me was Keller’s wife who appeared to change her persona as the book developed and I’m still not quite sure what to make of her; the jury is out on that one!
I’m not going to comment on the hits or the victims, I’ll let you enjoy the discovery but as I’ve already mentioned I thought they were well thought out and complex enough to make you question how on earth a satisfactory conclusion would be achieved. It certainly had me scratching my head a few times – in a good way – but the plot building and storyline was one of the book’s strengths.
Although as I’ve said this is the fifth book to feature Keller I didn’t find it necessary to have read the previous adventures. However, as with any established series you would benefit from Keller’s history and relationships should you decide to read the books in order.
Entertaining, enjoyable, immersive and recommended.
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Orion (14 Feb 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1409124843
- ISBN-13: 978-1409124849
Leo Maxwell grew up in the shadow of his older brother, Teddy, a successful yet reviled criminal defense attorney who racked up enemies as quickly as he racked up acquittals. As children, their father was jailed for the murder of their mother, and Teddy was left to care for Leo who tried to emulate his older brother, even following him into the legal profession.
The two are at lunch one day when Teddy, supposed to give the closing argument of his current trial that afternoon, is shot: in public, in cold blood, the shooter escaping without Leo being able to identify him. As Teddy lies in a coma, Leo comes to the conclusion that the search for his brother’s shooter falls upon him and him alone, as his brother’s enemies were not merely the scum on the street but embedded within the police department as well. As he begins to examine the life of a brother he realizes he barely knew, Leo quickly realizes that the list of possible suspects is much larger than he could have imagined.
The deeper Leo digs into Teddy’s life, the more questions arise: questions about Teddy and his ex-wife, questions about the history of the Maxwell family, even questions about the murder that tore their family apart all those years ago. And somewhere, the person who shot his brother is still on the loose, and there are many who would happily kill Leo in order to keep it that way.
Bear is Broken is one of those books that completely surprised me. Although the first half of the book is slow, predominately due to the complexity of the storyline, certainly not the narrative, the second half flew by and I managed to read it in one lengthy but thoroughly entertaining sitting -another example of a book that sucked me in and allowed me to have a vested interest in the characters.
With that in mind the book is heavy on both characterisation and foundation building, the author works hard to bring them all to life and leaves very little to the imagination. Quite often you read a book and wish you could learn more about a character and are sometimes left wanting but there’s certainly no fear of that happening here. This can slow down the book in the early stages but the intricate plot building and storytelling keeps the book ticking along nicely. As with many books there comes a point when the story takes over, like a runaway train, and you simply want to reach the end and find out who’s guilty or indeed who’s innocent.
The book will keep you guessing right to the very end and a poignant final few pages just about summed up the entire book for me. It left me satisfied and kept the door open for Leo’s next case but it was the way in which the author wrapped things up that impressed me.
The other key enjoyment for me was the legal shenanigans throughout, mainly thanks to Leo’s character. Having just passed the bar exam you’d think he would come across as a bumbling fool in court but the author somehow gives Leo a terrific legal voice that is both believable and acutely intelligent. His closing arguments – made on behalf of his brother’s client – are amazing and it was this section that really drew me in to Leo. Even though he’s relatively new to the game the author doesn’t embellish Leo’s arguments keeping it real, yet excitingly gratifying at the same time.
As the book developed so did our protagonist’s personality and I have to be honest there were a few things I wasn’t keen on. That said, I can’t wait to see if I’m right about what happens to Leo when we next see him.
As I’ve already said this is a complex book, only in so much as the author has introduced so many possibilities, any number of characters could end up guilty, dead, stoned or drunk. You never quite now what he’ll come up with next and I liked that. It certainly keeps you guessing.
An intelligent book along with a well-crafted plot make this a must read. Hang in there at the beginning; you will be rewarded with a great narrative and entertaining story packed full of eclectic characters.
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Headline (28 Feb 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1472201167
- ISBN-13: 978-1472201164
“The most intimate, understated – and for both these reasons – enjoyable literary festival in the UK”
The Huffington Post
“Carving a niche for itself as a halfway house between literature and music, Laugharne’s success is built on two key factors. First, its remarkable natural location in a remote corner of Carmarthenshire, southwest Wales and the village’s associations with Dylan Thomas, whose Boathouse, writing shed and the string of local pubs with legendary stories of the poet’s drunken antics make up Laugharne’s year-round tourist trail. Second, the energy and vision of the organisers, whose line-ups bring a laid-back, post-punk attitude to proceedings of which the town’s most (in)famous resident would have been proud.” The Arts Desk
The Laugharne Weekend festival started in 2007 and festival acts have included Patti Smith, Ray Davies, Roger McGough, Alexei Sayle, Lionel Shriver, Roddy Doyle, Michael Sheen, Carol Ann Duffy, Robert Wyatt, Mark Billingham, Rhys Ifans, Geoff Dyer, Jon Ronson, DBC Pierre, Jah Wobble, Cerys Matthews and Bruce Reynolds.
2013 Line Up includes
Sir Peter Blake – Caitlin Moran – Tracey Thorn – John Cooper Clarke
Mark Thomas – Charlie Higson – Jeremy Vine – Mark Watson – Grace Dent
Robin Ince – Beth Orton – Jackie Kay – Stuart Maconie – Robyn Hitchcock
Mark Billingham – John Harvey – Belinda Bauer – John Niven – John Hegley
John Osborne – Owen Sheers – Porky The Poet (Phill Jupitus) – M.R. Hall
Kate Tempest – Rachel Trezise – Niall Griffiths – Jemima Dury – Alasdair
Roberts – Owen Martell – Bookshop Band – Charlotte Williams – Martin Rowson
Desmond Barry – Anthony Reynolds – Simon Thirsk – Pete Brown – Charlie Connelly
Caught By The River – Luke Wright
Plus Laugharne’s Got Talent
& Welsh bands including Pen Pastwn, Sen Segur, Trwbador, The Gentle Good
” Compared to the corporate sponsored hyper-events-the Hays and the Oxfords-with their green rooms and vip areas and media parties, Laugharne feels open, easy and happily small” – The New Statesman
“Almost spiritually uplifting” – The Arts Desk
“The small seaside township is full of “Laugharne moments” which capture the delightful nature of the festival” – The Word
“One of Europe’s most eclectic festivals” – Sunday Telegraph
“One of Wales’ most important cultural events” – The Western Mail
“A multitude of fantastic cult writers and musicians” - Uncut
The Laugharne Weekend is supported by Arts Council Wales, Carmarthenshire Council, Literature Wales and South West Wales Tourism.