Good to be back

On January 29, 2012, in Books, fitness, Twitter, by Milo

I have to admit, it’s great to be back in the world of make believe, fiction, crime, history, intrigue and of course twitter following a two week break and self-imposed exile! I’ve missed the camaraderie the book world and twitter affords and I have most definitely come to the conclusion that my daily life would be the poorer without the connection, there’s only so much training six days a week after work you can take without any mental stimulation and friendly banter.

Over the last 16 months I have loved every minute of reading, reviewing and getting to know authors, publicists and reviewers alike but I knew towards the end of last year there was no way I could continue to read and review on the scale I had been. I decided, before burn out occurred and I began to detest picking up a book, the best course of action would be to take a break. This is after all a hobby for me and something I try to fit in with my training and daily work life. Training and fitness is possibly the most important thing in my life right now, those who know me well will know what a struggle the last few years have been – that I will not give up!

Before I began reading in earnest towards the end of 2010 I can’t remember the last time I’d picked up a book to read. I knew nothing of the crime genre, in fact I knew very little about fiction full stop and was totally unprepared for what was about to hit me. 16 months later I’m still learning and discovering new authors every day, whether established veterans or relative newcomers, most are new to me and it will take years before my knowledge is half what it is to some reviewers in the field. The word journey tends to be overused these days but to be honest I can’t think of a better word to use.

One thing I promised myself when I began reviewing regularly was to remain true to myself and be honest in my reviews. I’ve never had any formal training in writing, as my reviews clearly show (!), and it is important to me and for people I know and who trust me that what I write I mean 100%. There are many who will read the same book and totally disagree with me, what’s the point of everyone agreeing with everyone else? There isn’t, it’s what makes the world go round. I do try to remain positive about a book and do look for the positives and if I find something negative to say I try my best to balance that out with something positive. If I’ve enjoyed a book and it has allowed me to escape for a few hours a day, I’ll say so.

Shutting down the blog for a few weeks was a lifesaver and although for a number of reasons, some of which will remain private, I hope I can now move forward and renew my passion for reading and commenting on the books I read. There are so many wonderful reviewers out there across a number of genres and I can hand on heart say that it is a privilege to be part of the community. I have a lot to learn and I am only on the first rung of the ladder but it’s a wonderful place to be.

Over the past few weeks I have been incredibly touched by the numerous messages, emails, texts and phone calls I’ve received from people checking in to make sure everything was ok and my silence from twitter and the blog was temporary and not permanent. I cannot tell you how much this has meant and it is thanks to your support that I came back a lot sooner than I had anticipated. My initial intentions were to take a few months off, maybe more! These actions confirmed my suspicions that the publishing world is – on the whole – a wonderful and caring community and one I definitely want to be part of, no matter how small my contribution.

Unfortunately there are far too many people to thank but you know who you are and I do appreciate the kind thoughts. So I guess this is onwards and upwards, a little more sedately than before, who knows where 2012 will lead!

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Tideline

Tideline

One winter’s afternoon, voice coach Sonia opens the door of her beautiful riverside home to fifteen-year-old Jez, the nephew of a family friend. He’s come to borrow some music. Sonia invites him in and soon decides that she isn’t going to let him leave. As Sonia’s desire to keep Jez hidden and protected from the outside world becomes all the more overpowering, she is haunted by memories of an intense teenage relationship, which gradually reveal a terrifying truth. The River House, Sonia’s home since childhood, holds secrets within its walls. And outside, on the shores of the Thames, new ones are coming in on the tide…

I came across Tideline by Penny Hancock completely by accident, in all honesty I hadn’t planned to read it, and had it not been for twitter I wouldn’t have. I remember I was in the middle of reading Finders Keepers [Review] by Belinda Bauer when I noticed @keithbwalters and @alice_murphy from Simon & Schuster raving about the book. I wasn’t on the lookout for another January title – I have more than enough – but when Alice and Dawn offered me the chance to read it I simply couldn’t refuse!

Tideline is a dark and enveloping psychological thriller that will hook you from the very first page and keep you captive until the final early morning tide of an old and well-documented river is but a distant memory. I don’t think I can remember reading a book where the main protagonist had such an effect on me literally moments after beginning a book. I distinctly remember having to put the book down after ten pages to take stock of who Sonia was, this really is powerful stuff. Sonia frightened me, psychologically. It was clearly evident this was a woman who had seen better days – mentally – and had arrived in a place where her life was anything but ordinary. Scarred and carrying an inordinate amount of baggage Tideline is a tale of one woman’s fight to keep hold of the past but live in the present, very rarely do they mix without consequences and this book is no different.

Sonia drives this book. Tideline is written – for the most part – in the first person, through her eyes. We follow her highs and lows, her decision making, her doubts, her anxiety and lies – for there are many – all said and done in the name of love and infatuation. This is undoubtedly Sonia’s story.

When Jez Mahfoud arrives at the River House to borrow a rare album from Sonia’s husband, I’m convinced – as a reader – Sonia initially had no intention of keeping the teenager captive. However, within minutes of his arrival she hatches a plan to keep him locked away. It’s clear she is capable of making decisions, what is questionable is her unhinged thought process. She is infatuated with the youngster, or is she? We aren’t quite sure why she wants to keep him hidden away in a Greenwich river front property but as the book develops it becomes clear why.

Penny Hancock

Penny Hancock

Tideline is a great example of how one decision – no matter how big or small – can change the course of one’s life and how it affects others. Sonia spends most of her time reacting to the smallest of events and when things don’t quite go to plan she has to think on her feet and change her plans, ensuring his abduction remains a mystery. I remember sitting back – more than once – wondering where on earth Hancock was going to take this storyline but with every turn of the page she somehow manages –effortlessly I may add – to take the book forward.

This is a complex and multi layered tale and is as unpredictable and sweeping as the dangerous currents found in the River Thames. An immersive thriller, Tideline entertains and works on so many levels and it’s hard to believe that this is Hancock’s authorial debut. Frankly it’s astonishing and it reminds me of last year’s smash hit from SJ Watson called Before I Go to Sleep [Review]. With a number of twists and turns along the way, Tideline is one book not to be missed and although far too early to begin talking about the book of the year, January is shaping up to be a monumental and competitive month, a terrific way to kick start a new year. If you’re a fan of the psychological thriller then I urge you to pick up this title, Tideline is going to be big in 2012 and could possibly sweep all other pretenders aside; you can take that to the river bank.

Published by Simon & Schuster, Tideline is available in Hardback & Kindle.

352 Pages — ISBN-10: 1849837686 — ISBN-13: 978-1849837682

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Death and the Olive Grove

Death and the Olive Grove

April 1964, but spring hasn’t quite sprung. The bad weather seems suited to nothing but bad news. And bad news is coming to the police station.

First, Bordelli’s friend Casimiro, who insists he’s discovered the body of a man in a field above Fiesole. Bordelli races to the scene, but doesn’t find any sign of a corpse.

Only a couple of days later, a little girl is found at Villa Ventaglio. She has been strangled, and there is a horrible bite mark on her belly. Then another little girl is found murdered, with the same macabre signature.

And meanwhile Casimiro has disappeared without a trace.

The investigation marks the start of one of the darkest periods of Bordelli’s life: a nightmare without end, as black as the sky above Florence.

It’s great to be back in Florence, even if it is only for a short while. When I first reviewed Death in August by Marco Vichi back in June 2011 I knew before I’d finished reading the book that Hodder had a hit on their hands. The publishers, securing the rights for the first four books in the Inspector Bordelli series, have once again delivered an outstanding package combining an envious narrative, a colourful and multi-faceted detective and a cornucopia of Italian food to die for. Seriously, the food on offer in this book is enough to tempt anyone off a diet!

Although there were a few moments when I found myself laughing out aloud – much to my embarrassment when I realised co-workers were watching me – Death and the Olive Grove (Inspector Bordelli 2) is a much darker novel than I had anticipated and has a very different feel to Death in August. It would be fair to say Bordelli drives much of this dark atmospheric tension and save for a few romantic dalliances which appear to momentarily brighten his spirit; he struggles on a daily basis to make sense of his current predicament.

The narrative is as sumptuous as ever, once again brilliantly translated by award winning Stephen Sartarelli, effortlessly transporting the reader to Florence at a time when smoking in public places was allowed and not frowned upon. Talking of smoking, Bordelli, although no stranger to the nicotine stick in the first book, appears to be severely addicted on a whole new level in Death and the Olive Grove. Health and safety would clearly have something to say in our modern world but in the mid-sixties nicotine driven detectives could and would light up where they damn well pleased, Bordelli is no exception.

They rode for a few moments in silence. The beetle descended slowly towards the city. At San Domenico, Bordelli turned to pass by way of the Badia Fiesolana for no reason in particular, perhaps only because he wanted to see one more the steep descent he used to take in his toy wagon, always risking a broken neck.

How would I best describe Inspector Bordelli? Our beloved detective, sorry Inspector, is a quarrelsome, prickly, petulant and obstinate fellow – on the surface not a great start I admit – who likes to greet each day on his own terms, yet despite all this is enticingly loveable! He goes to bed smoking a cigarette and drinking cognac and wakes up the following morning with a headache and does more or less the same for breakfast before chain smoking his way to his office at the police station, immediately sending Mugnai to fetch food and drink on arrival from the nearest bar.

Bordelli is his own man and cannot be controlled, however hard they try, by his superiors. He begrudgingly organises raids and when face to face with the criminals and ladies of the night he finds an excuse to send them on their way. Whether he does this to avoid the paperwork or to annoy his boss is anyone’s guess but the criminal fraternity appear to love him – I wonder why! Caught up in a spate of child murders and a crime that takes him back to the 1940’s – thanks to numerous and well positioned flashbacks – our protagonist struggles to make sense of the events and becomes increasingly downhearted while the body count increases.

The cover art is wonderful and still evokes memories of Agatha Christie for me, it simply oozes class, I just hope Hodder continue the theme in book three! A very quick read, Death and the Olive Grove is an ideal companion as we endeavour to shake our back to work blues following the festive holidays. Magical and moreish, just like the Italian food Marco Vichi shares with us in this volume. I’m now going away to cook Botta’s Pork Chops – lean pork chops cooked in tomatoes, fennel seeds and milk – yes milk!

Published by Hodder, Death and the Olive Grove is available in Hardback & Kindle.

248 Pages — ISBN-10: 1444712233 — ISBN-13: 978-1444712230

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Total Immunity by Robert Ward

Total Immunity by Robert Ward

Smart, tough Los Angeles FBI agents Jack Harper and Oscar Hidalgo breathe sighs of relief after violent diamond smuggler Karl Steinbach is finally arrested in a complex sting. Vowing vengeance on the agents who brought him down, Steinbach is imprisoned – only to be offered a release with total immunity in a dodgy deal with Homeland Security. As Jack and Oscar’s team of agents start to die, it becomes clear that Steinbach’s is no idle threat. But when the pair investigate their slain comrade’s lives, they discover that what looked like retribution is actually tied to a web of deceit that stretches to the highest echelons of the FBI.

Navigating car chases, shootouts, and even venomous reptiles, Jack and Oscar furiously pursue clues scattered throughout the underbelly of Los Angeles, in a desperate attempt to find the killer – before he finds them. With a storyline crackling with action, a dazzling cast of thugs, traitors, killers and creeps, and a cinematic portrait of a seamy Los Angeles clogged with corruption and greed, Robert Ward’s turbulent new thriller is clever, contemporary and cool as ice.

I’ve always enjoyed FBI, Homeland Security, based thrillers and although they don’t turn up as often as I would like – the last one being Cold Vengeance by Preston & Child in September – I was rather excited to start Total Immunity by Robert Ward. Ward, perhaps best known for his work as a producer and writer for Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice, has written a number of books but Total Immunity marks the first in a series concentrating on main protagonists Agents Jack Harper and Oscar Hidalgo.

A fast paced narrative I found Total Immunity a very quick and entertaining read, nothing too taxing and not overly complex, the storyline is well delivered and thoroughly enjoyable. It slowly builds into a veritable page turner and once you reach the half-way point in the book you’ll find it difficult to put the book down, I certainly did. Often humorous at times the narrative is clichéd in parts but it never becomes tiresome and the dialogue is inventive holding your interest throughout. The exchanges between Oscar and Jack are worth the admission fee alone!

Total Immunity is available in hardback & Kindle (best price) formats

Characterisation is well developed although I would have liked to have seen more depth to both Oscar and Jack. Don’t get me wrong, there is a back story to both protagonists but I wanted just that little bit more to complete my reading experience and discover what made them truly tick. Jack is struggling to keep his occasional rebellious teenage son under control and a new relationship with Julie on the right track since his alcoholic wife left them both in the lurch. Jack has, as you would expect, more than enough baggage in his daily life but the Agent is so focused on solving this latest conundrum that he lets his personal life slide. Finding solace in a beer or a Jack Daniels, Harper is as hard working as they come often to the detriment of his relationships.

Now and then, when reading a book, I get the urge to meet a character, share a drink or shoot the breeze with and Total Immunity is no exception. Oscar Hidalgo, a Mexican by birth, isn’t what you would expect from a Federal Agent but it’s not only his short stature and ethnicity that intrigued me – it was his Grandmother and Grandfather! While conversing with Jack on a stakeout or during the course of a regular working day he would come up with some magnificent sayings and it made me want to meet not only Oscar but his Grandparents. Who knew his Grandmother would have such a foul mouth!

Like my old grandmother said The future is a cloud that no one can see. So the wise mutherfucker takes his shot today. And doesn’t whine like a pussy when he does it, either.

Ward rounds the story off well and although I had an inkling as to who was responsible towards the end I didn’t quite get everything right! I enjoyed the reasoning behind the murders; perhaps more importantly they were believable. A thoroughly enjoyable and light read Total Immunity is one book that will entertain from beginning to end. Its complexity is delivered through its main characters and you never quite get to the bottom of their stories, but there is certainly plenty of scope in future publications.

Published by Corvus Books, Total Immunity is available in hardback & Kindle (best price) formats.

  • 358 Pages — ISBN-10: 1848875673 — ISBN-13: 978-1848875678
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Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer

Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer

The eight-year-old boy had vanished from the car and – as if by slick, sick magic – had been replaced by a note on the steering wheel . . . ‘You don’t love him’…

At the height of summer a dark shadow falls across Exmoor. Children are being stolen from cars. Each disappearance is marked only by a terse note – a brutal accusation. There are no explanations, no ransom demands… and no hope.

Policeman Jonas Holly faces a precarious journey into the warped mind of the kidnapper if he’s to stand any chance of catching him. But – still reeling from a personal tragedy – is Jonas really up to the task?

Because there’s at least one person on Exmoor who thinks that, when it comes to being the first line of defence, Jonas Holly may be the last man to trust…

There’s nothing like starting a New Year with a positive outlook on life but I thought I’d begin with a warning – If you’re ever offered a job or holiday let in Shipcott my advice would be not to take it! Although it may sound like an idyllic location in Exmoor I’m positive Miss Marple would have her work cut out for her, Poirot too, in fact she’d probably have to call in reinforcements to make sense of the kidnappings and murders found in abundance in the small village. No one is safe, believe you me!

Finders Keepers represents the third title from Belinda Bauer and although a standalone title – as they all are – you’ll certainly take a lot more from the book if you read them in order, I’m glad I did. Blacklands – the first in the Shipcott series – introduces us to the moor, the Lamb family, and of course the gruesome murders. Bauer swiftly moves on to Darkside and although – for me at least – not as powerful as her debut CWA winning Dagger title it’s a tremendously dark read and well worth picking up a copy, it also affords continuity. A year or so later and we return to Exmoor with Finders Keepers and for me it marks a significant change of gear. The book is more grown up, like her characters, Bauer has clearly found her feet with this one and there’s an underlying confidence that I’m delighted to say is back – and then some!

All three books are well-structured and intelligently crafted, Finders Keepers is without question the best of the three with a prose that’s not only fluid but definitely keeps you turning the page at a rapid pace until you reach a shocking and unexpected dénouement. There are a number of surprises in store of course and the ending isn’t the only shock you’ll encounter. One event had a profound effect on me, so much so I put the book down and my only thought was ‘wow’. The narrative is fairly gritty and edgy throughout but this first surprise – which incidentally stayed with me long after I finished the book – was handled with an unexpected sensitivity that it took my breath away, unfortunately I can’t say much more than that for fear of spoilers.

Finders Keepers is available in Hardback & Kindle Format.

Character development is impressive to say the least and I really felt as if Steven Lamb came alive in this book. He has clearly aged since we last saw him and in Finders Keepers he embarks on his first teenage romance, his first kiss, his first grope, his first love. The relationship between him and horse loving Em is a bright spot for me and having read the two previous titles I feel as if he’s grown up before my very eyes into a young man with a purpose and direction in life. The fledgling relationship allows the reader to see a different side to Steven adding depth to an already endearing character.

Although Jonas Holly returns as the local bobby he’s still recovering from the psychological scarring he suffered in Darkside. Even though he is cleared to return to work Jonas is struggling to make it from one day to the next and when he gets caught up in the child kidnapping case it pushes him further than he’s ever been pushed, both mentally and physically. Another wonderful character, Bauer continues to add more depth and complexity to the policeman as he strives to make sense of his past and future.

Finders Keepers is a magnificent addition to the Shipcott family and I for one can’t wait to see where she goes from here. Belinda Bauer – as an author – has come of age with this title, very much like Steven Lamb. We hear you Belinda; your voice is coming through loud and clear. Intense and wonderfully taut, Finders Keepers is a must read for 2012 and although far too early to mention best of the year this early in January this is one title that will be incredibly hard to beat. I eagerly await the fourth title, but this is without hesitation a gripping way to begin the New Year.

Published by Bantam Press, Finders Keepers is available in Hardback & Kindle Format.

400 Pages — ISBN-10: 0593066901 — ISBN-13: 978-0593066904

Previous Belinda Bauer reviews

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Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Belgravia (Series 2, Episode 1 of 3)

So let me get this straight – oh where are my manners, happy new year everyone – according to Dr Watson, yes he of Sherlock Holmes fame (BBC One HD) all one has to do is begin a blog, write about crime, speckled blondes and such like, offer my services as a private detective and the hits will come? Simples! So here I am then, I’m now standing back as I watch a wave of adoring fans enter the blog, virtually of course – as I don my deerstalker hat for anonymity! Welcome one and all, you can of course contact me in the usual ways or if you prefer a one on one – I do charge of course – then I can be found along with my non deerstalking companion – Dr Watson – at 221B Baker Street. Series 2 is now available to pre order.

Sherlock Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman has once again returned to our screens in the UK, once again showing what the BBC does best – drama. Following the plaudits from series one it was always going to be hard following up such a successful debut but Paul McGuigan (Director) and his team have triumphed, makes no bones about it this is a classy performance.

A case of blackmail threatens to topple the monarchy itself, but soon Sherlock and John discover there is even more to it than that. They find themselves battling international terrorism, rogue CIA agents, and a secret conspiracy involving the British government.

But this case will cast a longer shadow on their lives than they could ever imagine, as the great detective begins a long duel of wits with an antagonist as cold and ruthless and brilliant as himself: Irene Adler.

Production values are slick, if possible slicker than last year, the acting is sublime and Cumberbatch and Freeman light up the screen with witty banter, one liners and arguments. The on screen graphics are back and appear when Watson is typing away on his blog or Sherlock is sizing up all and sundry – that is until he comes across Irene Adler – played by the gorgeous Lara Pulver [Spooks, True Blood, Robin Hood) – where our magnificent hero fails to read her. He just can’t work her out, she’s an enigma and roles are reversed. Sherlock is on the back foot and Adler is very much the dominant character, given her profession as a dominatrix confidence is never going to be a problem, even when dealing with the illustrious Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock – If I want to look at naked women I’d borrow John’s laptop

If you happened to miss the first series then I urge you all to go out and grab the first series on DVD and Bluray. What a magnificent way to begin a new year – splendid job Holmes, elementary.

One wonders if Sherlock is simply infatuated with Irene Adler for her beauty or the fact that she has outsmarted the great detective, a curious thing indeed. Adler’s beauty lights up the screen with a natural and understated elegance – when she’s not naked that is – and is nearly as thrilling as John Watson’s Christmas Jumper. Ok who am I kidding, Watson’s jumper pales into insignificance as time and time again we are treated to Adler applying her blood red lipstick, and rather seductively I hasten to add.

Credits

Sherlock Holmes Benedict Cumberbatch
Dr John Watson Martin Freeman
Mrs Hudson Una Stubbs
DI Lestrade Rupert Graves
Mycroft Holmes Mark Gatiss
Jim Moriarty Andrew Scott
Molly Hooper Louise Brealey
Irene Adler Lara Pulver
Director Paul McGuigan
Producer Sue Vertue
Executive Producer Steven Moffat
Executive Producer Mark Gatiss
Writer Steven Moffat
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