Tag Archives: Review

The trouble with labels

Pile of Books

You’ve heard the old cliché ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? We all have. And sometimes we judge books based on preconceived notions of what we’ll find when we open the covers.

I suppose everybody agrees that books need to be categorised so that people can find fiction that’s of interest to them. I like SF and crime, so they are the labels I look for in the bookstore, and on line. But many books fit more than one category. For instance, Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey series is always found in science fiction. But Elijah Bailey is a working detective solving crimes. The setting is SF, and because of that solving the crime is a little bit different. But I think most crime readers would enjoy the three Elijah Bailey books – if they could get past the SF preconceptions.

That’s the issue with the book I’m going to talk about – Roman.

The main character is a teenage girl, so the immediate assumption is that the book is aimed at YA (Young Adult, ie older teens). It’s not. Older teens would probably enjoy it, but it’s an adult book with supernatural elements. There is no conceivable reason why adults would not enjoy this book. I certainly did, and I was in my late teens half a century ago. (Wow) Indeed, I can cite a few examples where YA supernatural crosses over to adult readers. Have you read Harry Potter? Yep, so have I, several times. And the first couple of stories were children’s books. What about the Twilight series? Not my cup of tea but lots of women loved it. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s Pern stories, Dragondrums,  Dragonsong, Dragon Singer. All YA with dragons. Or the incomparable Terry Pratchett, with his Tiffany Aching series, the Bromeliad trilogy, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb etc. I’ve read them all. (Except Twilight. I have standards.)

So please consider this book, if not for yourself, for somebody who has an interest. There are no vampires or dragons.

Here’s the blurb

With the death of her cold-hearted mother, TJ faces life in a decaying town with a father she barely knows. From a future bright with promise to one stripped of everything she’s worked so hard to achieve, TJ needs more than luck in her corner.

Roman is trouble, pure and simple—at least that’s what everyone keeps telling her. He’s a juvenile delinquent with sealed records and a suspicious link to the town’s tragic past, but despite all warnings, TJ can’t ignore his dark pull.

In a coal mining town where lives were once shattered beyond repair, a new evil surfaces, forging strange alliances as both believers and skeptics alike face the inexplicable to save their livelihood, their families and even their faith.

Some secrets are worth keeping, some secrets must find the light of day, but in the end…
some secrets you take to the grave, no matter what the cost.

Here’s my review.

This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

The book’s available at Amazon Kobo iBooks B&N (coming soon) – and in print.

As Molly would say, “Do yourself a favour…”

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Not so long ago I was browsing through Facebook (as you do) and came across a post about famous crime author, Patricia Cornwell’s, new book about Jack the Ripper. I’ve long had an interest in the case, probably like most people who read crime fiction. It’s intriguing how this serial killer who committed his crimes starting in 1888, still holds the public imagination. I hasten to add I’ve not researched it, and I didn’t know the details of the murders – just that they occurred in London’s East End, the victims were all prostitutes, their bodies were mutilated, and the killer was never caught. I also knew that many people had raised theories about Jack’s identity. I remember a two-part mini-series in the eighties (I think) dramatising the events, and nominating Sir William Gull, the Queen’s physician, as the murderer. Then there was the story the police were covering up for the Queen’s grandson, the Duke of Clarence.

And so it goes. I was certainly interested in Patricia Cornwell’s take on events. She’s well known for her series of books starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. She apparently isn’t the first to point the finger at Walter Sickert, who is a famous Victorian painter (who knew?). She released a book in 2002 entitled Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She might have thought the case was closed, but, as she says in the article, her hypothesis was ripped to pieces. She learned from at least some of the critics, realised she’d left holes in her argument, and had another go. Her reasoning is explained in Chasing the Ripper, which I downloaded from Amazon for free. It’s short, and well worth your time. Her new book Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert is available in print, but not yet as an ebook. I’ll read it when it is.

Discussing the Cornwell article, one of my FB friends asked if I’d read They all Love Jack: Busting the Ripper. I hadn’t, but I have now. Bruce Robinson has gone to extraordinary lengths to re-examine primary evidence – what’s left of it – and built a compelling case. He has a very poor opinion of Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, most especially of the ‘ruling’ class clustered around the widowed queen and her son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. He makes particular reference to the influence of Freemasonry across all important roles in Government. The Prince of Wales was the Grand Master of the order. Reading the book, I enjoyed the insights into Victorian society, especially because of Robinson’s delivery. This is no dry history book, although it brims with facts and black and white photos. Robinson builds a case that the Metropolitan police, under the guidance of Sir Charles Warren ( who broke up protesters in Trafalgar square with cavalry), didn’t catch Jack because he was a fellow Freemason, a gentleman whose arrest would have rocked the core of London’s elite. He maintains that all the Ripper’s murders were based on Freemason rituals.

Reading about the Freemasons was fascinating, not least because, as I read about their hierarchies and rituals, my mind was drawn to the secret society in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful book, Guards, Guards! It was clearly written as a send-up of the Freemasons. Ahem. I digress.

If you’re at all interested in true crime and corruption, or even simply Victorian history, this is a great read. It’s a fat book, and not cheap as ebooks go, but I’m happy to have foregone the cost of a cheapish bottle of wine. I have no doubt I’ll read it again. Robinson builds a meticulous case which is hard to refute. In proper academic style, he provides footnotes and references for all quotes, and in cases such as the Ripper’s mocking letters, the documents are reproduced as images.

I’ll admit in the early chapters as the author delves into the history of Warren and of Kitchener, I wondered what all this had to do with Jack the Ripper. A lot, as it happens. It’s backstory, detailing the setting in which Jack played his monstrous game. We’re not talking about gaslight and shadows, more the society, the people, the expectations. A tiny fraction of wealthy aristocrats governed, and owned, just about everything, and nobody else mattered. Especially not middle-aged whores in the East End of London.

And by the way, the author doesn’t stop at the usual five whores murdered in London. Robinson believes Jack continued murdering. After I’d read about the killing of a child in Bradford, for which an innocent man was  very nearly hanged, I needed a break. The author’s contempt and loathing of a corrupt system which orchestrated this train of events is understandable. Jack should have been caught before he left London. And the system contrived a case against an innocent milkman because they would not admit that Jack was back, Fortunately, the accused had a decent lawyer to help him, and the case petered out, as had the London investigations into the Ripper murders, into official bafflement.

Be warned, the writer’s style is acerbic. He doesn’t miss anybody, least of all the many, many people he thinks have deliberately obfuscated what happened at the time of the murders, and the many people over the years who have clearly not examined the known facts to reveal obvious deceit. He also frequently uses big words like feasance and egregious, as well as the occasional, well-placed ‘fuck’.

Here’s a random quote

“As an addendum to the above, in reference to MacDonald’s law-breaking haste, we read in The News From Whitechapel that ‘Later writers have tended to view his actions with suspicion, but this shows a misunderstanding of Victorian inquests, which typically ran for only one or two sessions.’ [reference provided]

A critic of less generosity than myself might dismiss this as bollocks. Wynne Baxter [the coroner] held a total of fourteen sessions for his three victims – four for Nichols, five for Chapman and five for Stride. On that form MacDonald might have pushed his enquiries somewhat beyond the recollections of a drowsy woman with a kitten on her tit. A nobbled coroner and a mute press are hardly the handmaidens of justice. The Ripper made a mockery of a court, silenced Fleet Street, and brought about the dismissal of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police.

Not bad going for a serial murderer.”

For me, this book is a resounding five stars. Of course, after 130 years, there is no certainty, and there never will be. Of course there are questions I would ask the author. And while I think he has constructed a case which seems to me has elements for which I can see no other reasonable explanation, I’ll still read Cornwell’s book. She, too, believes Jack didn’t stop murdering after Mary Kelly was slaughtered.  I’d like to do a comparison. And after I’ve done that, I’ll share my opinion.

It’s the least I can do.

 

Introducing Nya Rawlyns’s latest, “Timber Lake”

Timber LakeProlific genre-bending author Nya Rawlyns has a new release out in the ebook stores.

Timber Lake

Michael Brooks is a loner, and with good reason. A short fuse and a tendency to shoot from the hip, sometimes quite literally, mean he’s all the company he’s got most of the time, and he likes it that way just fine. It suits his job as Warden for Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department.

Being alone sounds good to the researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Seamus Rydell, especially since it means time away from the pressures to follow his family’s political traditions. He’ll need a guide to Timber Lake to set up his testing equipment, and who better than a Warden whose boss needs him out of sight for a while?

They’re just doing their jobs, until both men get derailed by a lust threatening to light up the night sky and by egos big enough to fill the wilderness.

When a psychopathic poacher intrudes, Michael’s past rises up and the present twists out of shape around a sick mind. As the future for both men fills with darkness, it is all too clear no one will come back from Timber Lake unscathed.

Timber Lake is a standalone suspense/thriller taking place against the magnificent backdrop of the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming. 

This second book in Rawlyns’s Snowy Range series (I wrote about the first one here) introduces a few new characters and an absolutely murderous villain. At its heart, Timber Lake is a romance as two men with very different pasts engage in games of one upmanship, interspersed with scenes of affection they don’t seem to be able to avoid. Over time, respect and understanding builds between Michael and Seamus as they battle with the elements in the unpredictable mountains. I liked both men, both strong in their own way, both confronting themselves as well as each other. The sex scenes are sensual, rather than blow-by-blow – which suited me perfectly.

I loved the scenes in the mountains with the tortuous trails, the trees, the water, the weather. And the animals. I especially liked Seamus’s mule. When the psychopathic poacher appears the story builds into a climax which had my flesh crawling. A suspense/thriller it is indeed.

As usual, the writing is expressive, filled with details about horses, mules, and mountains as well as men. The secondary characters, the two ladies in particular, are sharply drawn, three dimensional people with their own story. All in all it’s a satisfying story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tch. I don’t think Rawlyns is able to write just a SIMPLE romance. She keeps have to mix it all up with nail-biting plots.

Buy the book at Amazon: ARe/OmniLit : B&N: Kobo: Apple: