As the Crow Flies

If you like short, sharp police procedurals, and don’t mind too much about flat characters and awkward dialogue, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for an evening, but only just.

As the Crow Flies (The DI Nick Dixon Crime Series Book 1) I fancied a police procedural without any weird magical stuff, so I gave this a shot (Kindle version, as part of a free 7 day Kindle Unlimited trial).  DI Nick Dixon has recently moved back to his home town, leaving the fast pace of the Metropolitan police force behind.  It’s early days, and while he hasn’t made any obvious enemies in his new role, he’s not making friends fast either.  With hardly any furniture in his house, few friends other than his dog, but plenty of memories of the area, his day is about to be ruined as he becomes involved in investigating the death of his one time climbing partner and friend, Jake.

As the Crow Flies is Damien Boyd’s first novel and it’s pretty short; at 173 pages it took me about 3 hours to finish.  The pace is flat, the dialogue is stilted and the prose is extremely workmanlike.  Half way through (and I was surprised to find myself half way through) I wondered if the author was in the police force, because most of the novel is written in the style of a police statement.  DI Nick goes here, has this conversation, records these facts, then goes and buys some chips.  There’s very little character development, and the prose is very light on emotional content.  Perhaps the dialogue is accurate in the sense that it is how people talk in police briefing rooms, but it doesn’t work very well in a novel format if that’s the case.

The plot is reasonably simple, but engaging, with one suspicious death leading to various interesting events.  It’s just that the delivery is so straight and flat that it’s hard to care about anyone involved.  Boyd’s clearly spent some time rock-climbing, and there are plenty of climbing references (many unintelligible to me) throughout, with descriptions of some nice climbing locations which I assume are real.  If you like climbing, you’ll get more from the book than a non-climber.

To give Boyd his due, I did finish the book, I was interested enough in the crime to keep going, especially when I realised how short it was going to be, but honestly it has the feeling of a first novel in need of much more depth.

Boyd, it turns out, is a former solicitor and I can’t help but wonder if that is where the style comes from – having had to spend so much time writing out factual accounts of events.  There are plenty more books in this series, so people are buying them, and I hope that Boyd manages to loosen up his style as the books progress.  I’m just not sure I’m going to immediately turn to them as my next read.  I’m giving this a pretty low score generally, but the book has plenty of five star reviews on Amazon.  If you like short, sharp police procedurals, and don’t mind too much about flat characters and awkward dialogue, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for an evening, but only just.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Damien Boyd
  • Series: The DI Nick Dixon Crime Series (1)
  • Format: Kindle
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • Genre: Crime
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is like a gentle, rolling hillside. It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London 6) I’ve read a number of different urban fantasy series.  Jim Butcher’s Dresden stuff, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books and Simon Green’s Nightside stories among them.  Along with Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London, they all have some stuff in common; a male protagonist with some supernatural ability who is investigating crimes or tracking down people or spirits.  In the case of Dresden and John Taylor (Nightside), they’re private investigators, Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and in Ben’s books, we have Peter Grant, a police officer and practitioner (wizard).  In all four series, there’s some crime or incident to resolve against the backdrop of a deeper and darker mystery which deepens further as more books are released.  It’s a common format and it risks getting a little bit tiring.

However, despite the similarities the books all have very different flavours.  Jim Butcher writes loud roller-coasters with explosive conclusions and long lasting impacts.  Mike Carey’s books are a bleak look at human nature and how we live, or don’t live, with our actions.  Simon Green writes weird fantastical stories in weird places with weird outcomes and big characters.

Ben Aaronovitch it would seem, writes very British urban fantasy.  It’s all very polite and erudite and intensely focussed on not making a fuss.

The Hanging Tree is the sixth instalment in the Rivers of London series (not counting the graphic novels), and it’s a very fine read indeed.  Don’t take my comment about it being polite as a negative, it’s just a very different feel to the rest of the urban fantasy market.  The police element of the story is as strong as ever here and I love it.  One of my major objections to a lot of police serial stuff is the lack of banal activity, actual policing and the proper consequences of actions.  In The Hanging Tree, we get a clear view of how the police handle real crimes and situations, and although they’re clearly exaggerated in order to handle Falcon Incidents (i.e. weird magical shit) it feels real, grounded and truly interesting.  Peter and his colleagues fill in reports and do interviews, they follow suspects and only actually arrest them if they have some decent evidence.  There’s very little shoot first and deal with the fallout, and a lot of risk reviews and tactical planning.  It’s not mired in detail, and so it’s not boring, but it is present and it makes the world feel so much more real.

Ben’s descriptions of London, architecture and history fascinate me throughout the books, and make the location a character in its own right.  The source of the name of the series (pun intended), the rivers of London, are enticing and interesting and provide a real foil for the rest of the characters and stories.  The other characters are well developed where necessary, as well as interesting and engaging.  They’re also, it seems to me, representative of the feminist, multi-cultural, multi-sexual nature of London.  I’m not the right person to say how well that’s handled, but it’s the first time I’ve read an urban fantasy book where the male protagonist isn’t white and where (in this case) the strong female sidekick is a modern Muslim.

Dialog is witty and sharp, with some laugh out loud moments and some great character interactions.  The plot is pretty light again, however, and really plays second fiddle to the characters and the broader story arc.  As a result, the plot in The Hanging Tree very quickly turns towards the deeper mystery in the series, and doesn’t really carry any interest on its own.  Personally, I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the progression of the main story, but some people might find it a little light, and it’s very much not stand-alone.  You’re going to have to read the previous books to understand this one.

You could argue that The Hanging Tree is too genteel for urban fantasy.  There’s certainly a gruesome death or two, there’s a magical battle, and a flying car, but it’s so very calm.  I think that’s a result of Peter Grant’s narration, and it’s clearly an intentional choice by Ben.  However, if you’re looking for giant explosions and epic magical battles, you’ll need to look elsewhere, because The Hanging Tree is more personal, smaller, and written for TV rather than Hollywood.  I don’t think it suffers for it, but if you’re not expecting it, you’re going to be left feeling slightly flat.

A stand out element for me personally, is that Peter Grant isn’t the most powerful good guy in the story.  He’s not even the best cop.  He’s just a guy, trying his best, surrounded by other good coppers and some very powerful players.  Sure he can hold his own in the fights, but he’s not Harry Dresden, growing increasingly powerful and increasingly hard to beat.  Ben keeps him grounded, surrounded by reality, with enough magical power to deliver surprises, but not so much that the enemies have to become world threatening.

I’ve often described the pace and mood of a book with a simple line graph.  Time along the bottom, excitement or pace on the y-axis.  Many books have lines which look like roller-coaster rides, or castle crenellations, or steep hills rising to a crescendo.  The Hanging Tree line is like a gentle, rolling hillside starting and ending in pretty much the same place.  It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

Ben ensures you care about the characters, you’re interested in the story progression and you want to keep turning the pages.  It’s fascinating, engaging and interesting, but it’s not the kind of book that’ll blow your socks off.

You should buy it and read it though, because it’s the best version of magic in the real world I’ve ever read.  Also, Muslim Ninja.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (6)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Site updates

As part of reinvigorating the website and getting back to adding content, I’m taking steps to make the site easier to maintain.  This means changing the theme and various plugins, and so over the next few days the site appearance will be in flux.  Some features may not work correctly for a short time until things settle down, but hopefully it won’t last long.

Thanks for your patience.

The Obsession

As with all books set in a small town there is a great cast of characters and the writing made every single one of them seem believable.

The Obsession Naomi Carson is a survivor. As a child her family was torn apart by a shocking crime. It could have destroyed her, but Naomi has grown up strong, with a passion for photography that has taken her all round the world.

Now she has decided to put down roots…but as Naomi plans for the future, her past is catching up with her. Someone in town knows her terrifying secret – and won’t let her forget it…

This is another great book by Nora Roberts, I was hooked from page one, as 11 year old Naomi follows her father through the woods. The description in those early pages was gripping. The first third of the book focuses on Naomi during adolescence, dealing with the aftermath, while the rest focuses on her putting down roots and trying to come to terms with her past.

As with all books set in a small town there is a great cast of characters and the writing made every single one of them seem believable. This book focuses on the difficulties Naomi faced growing up and her inability to trust others, the actual murder element comes in much later than you would normally expect. I worked out who the killer was pretty much immediately but I think this book is as much about Naomi’s journey and her courage as it is about the suspense.

No Nora Roberts book would be complete without a gorgeous hero and Xander fits the bill no question! I liked the way he didn’t allow Naomi to push him away and called her out when he felt she was doing so. Strong, sexy and supportive. I must give a mention to the dog – Tag. I loved him and he was a hero in his own right.

My only criticism is that the ending felt a bit rushed, but it is still a great book and highly recommended. I have to confess I read it in one sitting – deep into the night.

Nora Roberts is one of my go to authors whatever genre she writes in and under whatever pseudonym. If you haven’t tried her yet you should give her a go!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Nora Roberts
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Piatkus
  • Genre: Romantic Suspense
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Why do I keep books I have read?

I was talking about my books the other day with a friend who asked what the point was of keeping a book I have already read. I said to re-read of course to which they asked me why?

Well this made me think a bit, why do I re-read books when I have so many other books still yet to read? For me the answer is twofold, firstly, when a new book in a series comes out it may have been a year since the last one so I will re-read the previous book. If it is a series I love I will read all the books before starting the new one – I am a very quick reader so this does not take as long as it sounds! The second reason is that sometimes I want to read something I know I will love, I might not be in the mood to read something new or be in an odd mood reading wise. For me then sometimes books are like comfort blankets, old friends into which I can escape.

Over the past few months I have re-read a number of series including the JD Robb In Death series, The Wallflowers by Lisa Kleypas, the entire Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens and Gaelen Foleys Knight Miscellany series. Clearly I have been primarily in a historical romance mood!

Ultimately you never know when you will want to re-read a book – with a kindle it is easy as they are always there but there is something wonderful about walking into a room and seeing shelves of books floor to ceiling. I can escape to anywhere I want to in the past, present, future and even to worlds that don’t exist – or do they!

Would love to know what other people do, do you keep books or once read do they go forever?

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening: Meet the Heroes of Star Wars The Force Awakens I was really looking forward to the new Star Wars movie, although there was without a doubt some element of fear.  Would it live up to the hype, would it erase the bad taste left by parts of the prequels, would it really deliver everything the nerd in me wanted?  Why you might ask is this relevant to the book and a book review?  Well, like the origin Star Wars movie, the new one assumes you know a bunch of things you have no way of knowing.  It trusts the viewers to fill in the blanks.  For completely new viewers, this is really easy, there’s a resistance, and the New Order, and some other stuff.  However, for people who saw the original, it raises a few questions.  What happens after Return of the Jedi to give rise to these new groups, is a good example of one question you might find yourself asking.  There are others, but they may spoil the film or the book so I won’t mention them.

If you look on the ‘net you’ll find people asking a lot of these questions, and for some people it has reduced the enjoyment of the film.  There is a solution, and this book is it.

Before the Awakening is a triptych really, if books ever can be, with three sections, covering three major characters from the new film.  Each section is essentially a short story in its own right.  We have Fin, Rey and Poe (in that order).  It’s fair to say, without spoiling too much, that their paths do not cross in the book, but the action all takes place presumably in parallel, and all of it in close proximity to the start of the movie.  The prose is plain, workmanlike, unadorned.  The delivery feels like narration, you get the sense that someone is telling you what has happened, describing it to you, I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.  Normally novels try and embed you in the story, but this feels remote.  Not without some element of emotion, but just as if you’re truly watching it rather than being in it.

The three sections focus totally on their respective characters, they are in every scene.  There is a little bit of character development for each of the three, and just enough extra background to really bring their story in focus in the film.

This is a pretty short book, 216 pages in the paperback, with about half a dozen of those being artwork.  Given the limited scope, the style and the length, it felt very short as well.  Not necessarily a bad thing given the intent, but I did feel like I could have done with it being twice as long perhaps.

There were a small number of emotional moments, some laughs and some interesting reveals (although given how much you learn about the characters in the movie, not that many).  The most interesting bits outside of the characters are present during Poe’s section, where we learn more about the Resistance and the First Order and I found those very interesting.  The most emotional bits also come within the last character’s section (Poe), and his story definitely got the best deal.  There’s one moment where Poe is flying with other X-Wing pilots, and they all report in using the phrase, “Rapier Two, standing by.” (or Rapier One, etc.)

That moment dropped me right into the first film and sent shivers up my spine, but there were sadly too few of those moments throughout the whole book.

All in all, Before the Awakening is very easy to read, light on emotion or depth, but a good introduction to three of the main characters in the film.  It answers questions you might have if you’ve already seen the movie, and it sets some stuff up ready for you if you haven’t.  My enjoyment of the film has increased after having read the book, even without watching the film again.  Well worth it for Star Wars fans, but not a good introduction to the franchise for someone who’s never experienced it before.

May the Force be with you.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Greg Rucka
  • Illustrator: Phil Noto
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Egmont
  • Genre: Sci-fi
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Christmas Ever After

What can I say about Alec? He is so hot, I’m amazed the snow didn’t melt around him. He is a guy so emotionally damaged by a previous relationship, he swore off women like Skylar (or who she projects anyway!) As he softens towards Skylar, he just becomes even more gorgeous. Much as I love my husband I wouldn’t say no if he came calling!

Christmas Ever After (Puffin Island trilogy, Book 3) Skylar Tempest has never understood Alec Hunter’s appeal. So what if he’s a world renowned historian? He’s also cynical, aloof and determined to think the worst of her. So when a twist of fate finds her spending the lead up to Christmas with Alec and his family, she’s not expecting the season to be merry or bright.

This is the third and final book in the Puffin Island trilogy and it does not disappoint. I absolutely loved it! Sky and Alec had made appearances in previous books and I was definitely looking forward to their story as the tension when they were together could be cut with a knife.

Sky always comes across as very resilient and confident but during this book we get to see below the surface she presents to the outside world. She is smart and sassy but not always as confident as she makes out. The author writes her emotions so well, I was dragged in laughing and crying with her.

What can I say about Alec? He is so hot, I’m amazed the snow didn’t melt around him. He is a guy so emotionally damaged by a previous relationship, he swore off women like Skylar (or who she projects anyway!) As he softens towards Skylar, he just becomes even more gorgeous. Much as I love my husband I wouldn’t say no if he came calling!

As we return to Puffin island we get to catch up with old friends which I always enjoy, having said that this can easily be read as a standalone book.

This is sexy, romantic and set at Christmas time, what could be better for a romantic like me? I was left with a warm glow and happy heart at the end.  Sarah Morgan always delivers the perfect romantic read and this is no exception. I am sad to say goodbye to Puffin Island but am excited to see what series comes next.

Win a signed copy of Some Kind of Wonderful!

I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful Sarah Morgan at an event in the Summer and she kindly signed a copy of “Some Kind of Wonderful” which is book 2 in the series but can be read standalone.

To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous book, leave the answer to the following question in the comments below.

What is the name of the island this series is about?

Due to postage costs, UK residents only please.

The giveaway will end midnight GMT on 15th November 2015.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Sarah Morgan
  • Series: Puffin Island (3)
  • Format: Kindle
  • Publisher: Mills & Boon
  • Genre: Romance
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

 

Irreverent Questions With… Saskia Sarginson

Saskia Sarginson answers a few irreverent questions, just in time for the release of her latest book, The Other Me.

saskia_328-fin-224x300Saskia was born in Manchester in 1961, but grew up in Suffolk. She has a B.A hons in Fashion Design and Communication from St. Martin’s School of Art and read English Literature at Cambridge University. She was awarded a distinction in her Creative Writing M.A from Royal Holloway University. Saskia worked as Health and Beauty Editor on Company magazine and has written for various publications such as Cosmopolitan, You magazine, The Telegraph, Sainsbury’s Magazine, The Clothes Show, Zest, She and M & S Magazine. She has also been a script reader, copy writer and ghost writer. Her debut novel, The Twins, was published by Piatkus in September 2013. Her second novel, Without You, was published in July 2014, also by Piatkus. She lives in London with her four children, (including twin girls) her partner, Alex, a TV series producer/director – and two cats and two dogs. 

How did you celebrate when your first book was published?
When my debut novel was published I collapsed in relief, then stayed awake all night in a state of complete terror – would anyone read it? Would they hate it? What if they hated it? Which was worse – nobody reading it, or people hating it? (You get the picture.) When my partner managed to talk me down from the dizzying heights of my paranoia, we went out for a quiet meal at our favourite local restaurant and raised a glass of champagne to The Twins.

What are your preferred conditions for writing, i.e. silence, background noise, TV?
Shhhhhh. Silence! I can’t even cope with someone breathing in the same room. The only creatures allowed inside my writing space are my animals.

Whose opinion matters most to you?
There are four main people who always read a book first and whose opinions matter the most – my editor and my agent, my partner and my best friend, who also happens to be an editor, luckily for me.

Who would play you in the film adaptation of your life?
Someone blonde, a bit on the curvy side – maybe Kate Winslet?

Do you have a party trick?
Not really. Not unless I could dance a tango. I could push my youngest son forward, he’s always got a trick up his sleeve, or some impossible riddle to solve.

Do you have pets, and if so, describe them?
I love animals. I have two cats and three dogs. My cats are sisters, with the same birthday as me. They have different personalities; Lola is shy and nervous; Tilly is brave, friendly, funny and best mates with the dogs: Maisy, a tough little border terrier, and Sacha, a big soppy lurcher. My latest dog is a rescue from Spain. When we got Evie she was skin and bone and terrified of men. Somebody (a man presumably) had chopped her tail off, just for fun. Now she’s put on loads of weight, and has become a happy, confident girl. I’d get more rescue animals if I could. But I need to move to the country first!

Many thanks to Saskia Sarginson for taking the time to answer our questions, and if you want to know more about the author, visit her Website, Twitter, Goodreads or on Facebook!


Irreverent Questions is BookThing‘s fun, irregular feature where we ask a series of random questions that popped into our curious heads. If you are an author and would like to take part, please get in touch!

The Other Me

The Other Me Eliza Bennett has the life she always dreamed of. She’s who she wants to be, and she’s with the man she wants to be with. But Eliza is living a lie. Her real name is Klaudia Myer. And Klaudia is on the run. She’s escaping her old life and a terrible secret buried at the heart of her family. This is the story of Eliza and Klaudia: one woman, two lives and a lie they cannot hide from.

This book blew me away. It was brilliant. Compelling, emotional and heartbreaking; bringing alive the feelings and thoughts of the individuals so well they jump off the page.

Once I had started it I just could not put it down, turning every page to see what was going to be revealed next. The story is told from 3 points of view – Klaudia, Eliza and Ernst, in 1986, 1996 and the 1930’s respectively. Ernst’s recollections in particular were thought provoking and heartbreaking and each narrative managed to evoke the era very well.

This book shows how quickly a lie can spiral out of control, how what we believe isn’t always the truth and the heartache of families torn apart by miscommunication.

The blurb indicates it is a thriller but I wouldn’t call it that at all, it is a powerful story about a young woman’s journey in dealing with the shadows of her past, accepting there are things she cannot change but do not define who she is now; there is also a love story entwined but is a very small part of the overall story.

Definitely not a book I would normally pick up to read but having been sent it by the publisher for an honest review I am so glad I did.

I would definitely recommend reading this, but put time aside to read as once you start you won’t want to stop!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Saskia Sarginson
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Piatkus
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer (PC Peter Grant 5) I don’t read that much these days, because it’s difficult to find stuff that really grabs my attention.  There are, however, a few exceptions, and the DC Peter Grant books (The Rivers of London series to some) are in that group.  I’ve been looking forward to the paperback release of the 5th book (Foxglove Summer) since it was announced (on account of me being too cheap to buy the hardback), and have been reading it in my lunch break at work since it arrived.

Ben’s style is very easy going, and that makes reading the books very easy as well.  The tone is informal and inviting and I often think, regardless of the content, I could spend hours just reading his prose and enjoy it in the same way you might enjoy a warm bath.

As is common in the kind of urban fantasy I read, Foxglove Summer has a crime to solve, and in the background there’s a long running arc, some impending doom or event that is being foreshadowed.  Painted over those two features are the lives of the characters that inhabit the story.  Unusually, Ben pretty much pushes all of the key characters into the sidelines in this outing, with DC Peter Grant being sent off out of London.  Other than Beverly Brook, the other regulars (Nightingale, Molly, Leslie, et. al) are all pretty much handled at arms length.  Peter is on his own, and while that presents some challenges, it also left me feeling a little bit bereft.

Two girls have gone missing, and what starts out being a routine check on practitioners for Peter, turns into a full-on Falcon event (the Police terminology in the book for ‘weird shit’).

The pace was okay, although as with some of the previous books, I felt again that the ending was quite damp.  This may be because I had to stop only a chapter from the end and then pick it up again, but it all feels quite gentle.  Maybe this is intentional, police work doesn’t finish with the final chase, but rather with all the paperwork afterwards, but it still leaves me feeling deflated.  In combination with the lack of supporting characters, this means I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the fourth in the series which I feel was much stronger.

However, it’s not all bad.  The police procedural elements are as fascinating as ever, the new characters were great, the setting was interesting and the magical elements were worth the effort.  Foxglove Summer is another quite low key story in the magic department after Broken Homes’ must stronger magical element, but as usual it’s blended with the other elements perfectly.

The humour is great, most of it being delivered through DC Grant’s PoV, which is as engaging and witty as ever.  I really could spend hours just reading about DC Grant going about regular police work.

The plot has twists, and the long running story arc is interesting (but you need to have read the others to get it).

Foxglove Summer is an interesting, entertaining read, albeit diminished by the reduced cast.  What the book lacks in tension, it makes up for with humour, wit and intelligence.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (5)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)