Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Review: ‘The Antiquities Dealer: a David Greenberg Mystery, Book 1’ by Ed Protzel

April 19, 2019

Genre: History and Mystery

Description: the Amazon blurb says: “When Miriam Solomon, the love of David Greenberg’s life, phones him at his antiquities gallery in St. Louis, the black hole at the center of his heart shudders. Twenty years earlier, Miriam had inexplicably run off to Israel with his best friend, Solly, a brilliant but nerdy young scientist. Now she tells David that Solly has committed suicide and she needs his aid on a secret research project Solly left unfinished: to acquire the one remaining nail from the crucifixion of Jesus. Is she telling the truth? And why does that nail have such significance?” (One wonders that anyone would need to ask why a nail from the Crucifixion would have significance. But blurbs – even my own – are not strangers to hyperbole …)

Author: The author has lived much of his life in St Louis, which figures largely in this book. He lived for a while in the Gaslight Square area of that city, among its wackier citizens, some of which colourful characters have probably found their way into this book. He writes with authority of students working their way through college by gambling (including playing chess). As well as this novel, he has published the first two parts of his DarkHorse trilogy of novels and the third is due out this year. He spent several years producing screenplays in LA, looking for the big break which never quite came. He has a Master’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Missouri, St Louis.

Appraisal: This book hits the ground running. David Greenberg, the narrator, is a cultural, urban Jew of the darkly witty and ironical sort. It quickly becomes apparent that he has no self-control where Miriam is concerned, so of course he agrees to help her acquire The Significant Nail. I cannot tell you why she needs it, as that would be a massive spoiler. But trust me when I say the reason is a doozie. As is the McGuffin constructed out of the chess Game of the Century played between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne in 1956. There is also (of course) a secret society in Israel which runs its own university, possibly a Second Coming, and a red-neck Christian preacher who is quite happy to use strong arm tactics to meet the potential New Jesus. There is, as you can see, plenty of plot.

There are a few infelicities in said plot. I found these irksome: the twin assassins with identical birthmarks; that people kept attempting to flee to safety in cars which they knew carried tracking devices placed there by their enemies; the ease with which Swiss bank account details were acquired and bandied about. There is an increasing flabbiness as the story approaches its endgame, leading to some implausibilities (a bit of a surprise as this is Protzel’s fourth novel: it makes one wonder what sort of editing is provided by Touchpoint Press). But by that time I was sufficiently intrigued by what was playing out to skip over the less well-focussed bits.

This is the second history and mystery using the Crucifixion story which I have read this year (see also my review of 30 Pieces of Silver by Carolyn McCray). It is fruitful ground for fiction writers. Both novels are thought-provoking and relevant in the twenty-first century. In addition there are inevitable nods to Dan Brown in both books – in the arcana and in the sudden flashes of imaginative and unpleasant violence, although this protagonist is both wittier and more passive than Robert Langdon (and the violence is less extreme).

The McGuffin is well used and well explained in the story. It is explained again, unnecessarily, in an addendum to the story. The standard (presumably) chess notation used in both renditions did not format readably on a Kindle using the file I was working from.

** Review originally prepared for ‘Big Al & Pals’.
Received a complimentary review file **

 

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Review of ‘Traitor’s Ring’ by Susan Stuckey

March 21, 2019

Traitor's Ring: Tales of Aldura by [Stuckey, Susan]Genre: Sword and Sorcery

Description: Lady Kari Farley has been widowed in the war with the Halurdow and faces a bleak, penniless future. In the nick of time her former lover offers her a future of riches and independence in return for helping enemy invaders identify and capture a Guardian of her own people — someone who wields the magic of the Twin Gods. Convincing herself that a peaceful capture with her help is the best that can be hoped for, and looking forward to a life of ease and plenty, Kari accepts. But can the Halurdow and her old lover be trusted?

Author: Susan Stuckey says of herself (on Facebook) “[I am a] wife, mother, sister, daughter, caretaker of multiple dogs, cats and ferrets … sometimes writer always a reader. One of these days I will advance into the modern age and convert some of my pictures to digital and have a real “me” for an avatar.” In the meantime her online avatar is a delightful shaggy dog with a quizzical expression.

Appraisal: Traitor’s Ring, published in July 2018, is around the 20th book in Ms Stuckey’s ‘Aldura’ series, others of which have been reviewed here.

Don’t worry if you haven’t read any of the others. Neither have I. The book stands alone well. And if you often pass on fantasy novels because the saga seems to go on forever, be reassured that this adventure is completed in a modest 142 pages.

When we first meet Lady Kari Farley there is a lot of ‘woe is me’ about her. She has been brought up to believe that wealth and position are the only important things in life and has lost both, so she’s in a pretty grumpy place and is hard to warm to. However, as soon as she sets out on her mission to Furster’s Farm she begins to question her life to date and develop as a person. Stuckey keeps the focus on Kari’s mission and the story quickly picks up pace. (I read the final 40% of the book in one go.) The Halurdow invaders are satisfyingly sinister: the invaded Kalieri are much more fey, with a pleasing line in wolf protectors. Jeopardy is plentiful. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves room for a further adventure to take off. If you enjoy this book, there are a further 19 set in the same world to entertain you.

** This review was originally prepared for Big Al & Pals, for which I received a complimentary file copy of the book. **

Review of ‘The Posthumous Adventures of Harry Whittaker’ by Bobbie Darbyshire (2019, Sandstone Press)

March 19, 2019

The Posthumous Adventures of Harry Whitaker by [Darbyshire, Bobbie]A new novel from Bobbie Darbyshire is an event to celebrate. Here one is. Huzzah!

I have seen her new novel described as ‘quirky’. As she has created her own version of the afterlife I wouldn’t argue with that epithet. When we first meet Sir Harry Whittaker, inheritor of Olivier’s mantle, he is already dead – albeit recently. Subsequently it is agreed by all those dealing with his estate that he was not a very nice man. With all this against him how is Darbyshire going to make a satisfactory protagonist out of him? But this is, as it were, a crossover novel as there are vibrant living characters in this drama as well as the dead one. All have their flaws; also pathos and redeeming qualities. These living characters are all affected by Sir Harry’s Last Will and Testament.

The story reminded me of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in which the ‘rude mechanicals’, the fairy folk, and the love-sick nobles flit about a magical wood looking for their hearts’ desires and ways to achieve them. For ‘magical wood’ read ‘Brighton’ (dear Brighton, so warmly drawn!). As with MND, there is a nexus towards which all the characters are drawn. The nexus is dead Harry Whittaker, his Will, his cat and his portrait. The various characters bump into each other quite logically, if apparently out of the blue – again as in MND – and are forever changed. The magic of Darbyshire’s world draws in just the right characters and gives them exactly what they need.

The substantial cast of characters are beautifully realised. They demonstrate that trying to define ‘normal’ is a fool’s game and that nobody is ever average. There is pink hair. There is a pack rat. There is a port wine stain. There is a solicitor. The reader is guided accurately through the activities of this ever-increasing cast as they swirl through the pages of the book. One wonders how so much can possibly be brought to a conclusion. But order is brought out of chaos, as Darbyshire shows us precisely each character’s place in her schema.

One doesn’t come across magic realism that often in British writing. Angela Carter is the author who springs immediately to mind when searching for a work comparable with this. Darbyshire is a kinder writer than Carter, but with this novel is definitely operating in a similar milieu.

This is a lovely book about the possibility of becoming a better person than you ever thought you could be.

 

 

Review of ‘Incognito’ by Khaled Talib

March 13, 2019

Incognito by [Talib, Khaled]Review originally prepared for ‘Big Al & Pals. Received a complimentary review copy.

Genre: thriller

Description: Here is some of what is posted on Amazon about this book: “Pope Gregoire XVII was last seen waving to the crowd at Saint Peter’s square from the famous Apostolic Palace window. Despite several layers of tight security, neither the Gendarmerie nor The Entity (the Vatican’s secret service) or the Swiss Guards claimed to know anything about his sudden mysterious disappearance… Ayden Tanner, a former British SAS commando officer — who is officially dead — is dispatched with two other crew members to find the Supreme Pontiff by The League of Invisible Knights, a covert division of Anonymous that aims to bring about the triumph of good over evil.” Great premise! (BTW: other readers may be puzzled, as I was, by references to the ‘Gendarmerie’. This is the Vatican’s police force.)

Author: Khaled Talib has worked in journalism and in public relations. He has written three novels since 2014 – SMOKESCREEN, INCOGNITO and GUN KISS. He is a member of the Crime Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. He lives in Singapore.

Appraisal: The puffs for this book claim kinship with the likes of Dan Brown and Robert Harris. That’s a broad church. And a big claim. Talib knows (as all good writers need to) a little bit about a lot of things. I enjoyed much of the material about the Vatican, the information about Turkey and Egypt, and about recent European politics (although I was puzzled to find reference to Italian ‘lire’ since Italy has been using the Euro since 1999). There is a definite ‘Mission Impossible’ vibe, as well as a substantial nod to our old friends the Knights Templar.

This is, at bottom, a story about fake news. Very topical. The Prologue sets the scene beautifully. The prose in it is taut and lyrical. The necessary backstory is laid before the reader. Now the story can hit the ground running …

There is plenty of action in the book. Fights abound. It is a teeny spoiler to let on that our protagonist and his ‘crew’ are ambushed so many times that one begins to wonder just how good they are at what they do.

I found it peculiar that, despite all the action, no progress seemed to be made with finding the kidnapped Pope for the first third of the book.

I also found the swathes of description and backstory (what does Maria have to do with anything?) slowed pace and made it more difficult to follow the machinations of the large cast of characters as they whizzed about Europe from Geneva, to Rome, to Istanbul, to the Sinai Desert.

Approximate page count: 268 pp

Get it from AmazonUK here:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B06ZZNRDHW/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Or from AmazonUS here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06ZZNRDHW/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

 

‘Prince Arthur: the Tudor king who never was’ by Sean Cunningham

March 1, 2019

I don’t usually review a book if I don’t like it. It seems unfair to the author, who has spent many hours on the work. But in this case I do feel a word of warning is warranted.

Books about Prince Arthur are thin on the ground, so alternatives to this book are rare. Indeed, I could only find one other on Amazon and they wanted fifty quid for that. So I do not have anything much to compare this book with.

Sean Cunningham’s academic credentials are first class. He is an archivist. Therein lies, perhaps, ones of the problems with this book. It extrapolates the life of boy prince (and his bride) through extant lists: joinery costs is a favourite, another is the pageantry and household expenses of his wedding and funeral, a third is the list of retainers who at various times surround Arthur and/or Catherine.

Cunningham has a definite idea about why Arthur was sent away by his family as a toddler, and yet further away when he was invested as Prince of Wales. The reader has Cunningham’s theory of why Henry VII did this explained to her many times as the book unfolds.

Even the illustrations, whilst pleasant in themselves, do not deepen the reader’s knowledge of what Prince Arthur and his bride were like. The only picture of Arthur is a small replica of a stained glass window (very difficult to pick out much from that). The only picture of Catherine describes her as ‘wife of Henry VIII’: she looks about 40.

There appear to be no surviving letters from or to Arthur and Catherine, Arthur’s parents, siblings, friends – indeed, anyone at all! He was being trained as a king, a negotiator, a diplomat, a peacemaker – did he correspond with nobody? Apparently not. Nor does it appear that anybody wrote about him. Tucked away in the Welsh Marshes he was, nevertheless, a force to be reckoned with. But nothing so much as an invitation to his neighbours to come and share a meal appears to have survived. The boy remains a ghost. Even more oddly, Catherine of Aragon never comes into focus either, despite later becoming queen of England and the mother of a queen.

Historians such as Bethany Hughes, Lucy Worsley, John Man, Michael Wood, Jack Weatherford et al have upped the ante with historical writing. It is not enough now simply to lay out the facts one has amassed and derive one’s thesis from them. Some focus and a bit of sparkle needs to be injected: a story needs to be made of the researched facts. Sadly that has not happened with this book.

There are some errors, for example some of the information in the extensive family tree is missing and some is wrong. There is also some confusion in the text: eg the same people are from time to time (with no discernible reason for the change) referred to with different titles. As everyone is called Margaret, Catherine, Henry or Edward this can make one’s head swim.

As this is pretty much the only history of Prince Arthur’s life, you may still feel a need to engage with it. Although it is a reasonably recent publication (2017) one can only hope that something more readable and informative is produced soon to supersede it.

Free, oh lord: free at last!

March 1, 2019

‘Is death really necesary?’ is free to download to your Kindle from Amazon US and Amazon UK between 1 and 5 March 2019.

If you’ve read it and enjoyed it please tell your friends.

If you haven’t read it – give it a go, why not. It’s free this week!

Don’t forget shoppers at Amazon UK can now gift Kindle books.

The first live link, above, is to AmazonUK, the second to AmazonUS. I hope …

‘Lena’ by Malcolm R Campbell

February 27, 2019

So glad finally to have got around to consuming this third part of Campbell’s magic realism trilogy. I have been looking forward to it for ages.

Like the first two books, it is set in the Florida Panhandle, where Jesus co-exists happily with haints and hexes. This time the story rests with the ‘sweet kitty’, Lena, her conjure woman Eulalie being … indisposed.

The local police intend to kill Eulalie and stop her meddling with their illegal schemes. But she is a very powerful conjure woman, so Lena believes there is just a chance Eulalie may have survived their efforts to murder her. Meanwhile, it is a dark time for anyone who tries to speak truth to power, and increasingly evil deeds are done by those who should uphold the law – all observed by Lena. Events are, indeed, pushed and pulled into shape by Lena in ways that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been manipulated by a cat.

It has to be said that the cat narrator stretches credulity in places, and sometimes leads to a little muddle about point of view. But this is magic realism, and there’s a lot going on in this short book, so stick with it and enjoy the ride.

If you haven’t come across this series of three short books before then do start at the beginning. They are now issued as a complete set which you can find under the title ‘Florida Folk Magic Stories’. If you like magic realism and/or tales of the Deep South in the USA (with the Ku Klux Klan an’ all) you will certainly enjoy these well-written little volumes, full of intrigue, clever critturs (perhaps unsurprisingly, Joe Moore is my hero) and comeuppances. You can safely invest in the box set.

Link to The Zon (UK) here:

Great new review of my first novel, ‘Is death really necessary?’

February 26, 2019

reviewed By Charles Remington for Readers’ Favorite Is death really necessary? by [Moore, Judi]

“Teddy Goldstein is dying, but she manages to leave her highland home and travel by jet pod to Edinburgh for the funeral of her father. Later, at the reading of the will, she is surprised to have been left the company which had been her father’s lifetime obsession – the company that took him away, making him a virtual stranger to her as she grew up. Is Death Really Necessary? by Judi Moore launches us straight into the complex world of nanotechnology and is a fast-paced adventure which will find Teddy using the resources of her newly acquired company to launch a project to save herself; a project which will have far-reaching implications for the whole human race; a project which will bring her love, adventure and much, much more. But the brilliant, secretive, unpredictable genius who will bring about her salvation has his own agenda. Determined to put an end to fossil fuel powered personal transport, the project which he runs in tandem will bring about even greater changes to the entire planet. Journalist Lox Tuthill and Detective Sergeant McCall are both determined to track down those involved. But as the fabric of society starts to fall apart, will they have any chance at all to bring a halt to the impending nanoid-fuelled disaster facing humanity?

Is Death Really Necessary? is part science fiction, part thriller and part love story. Judi Moore’s title doesn’t really give much of a clue as to the narrative content of what is a very readable book. The story line moves along at a brisk pace and involves a cast of solid, believable characters immersed in a complex but well thought out plot. The author deals with difficult technical concepts in a way that a layman can easily follow. I did feel, however, that the truly dramatic, global repercussions of the nanotech projects described in the book seemed rather inconsequential to the characters involved. These were treated with seeming nonchalance, perhaps some indifference. Nevertheless, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought the characterizations, particularly that of D.S. McCall, worked very well. Judi Moore is a talented author and I do not hesitate to recommend this book.”

 

“30 Pieces of Silver” by Carolyn McCray

February 24, 2019

30 Pieces of Silver: An Extremely Controversial Historical Thriller (The Betrayed Series Book 1) by [McCray, Carolyn]This is a really interesting novel. It is definitely in Dan Brown’s wheelhouse. If you like esoteric mysteries you will enjoy this.

Its controversial aspect is presumably that it revisits and recasts the Crucifixion story, to good effect, and gives Judas a different motivation. I have re-examined Judas’s supposed betrayal myself in fiction, so am glad to see him getting a better press.

I have to tell you, the novel is too long at 535 pp, which makes it flabby in places. As a consequence there are a number of unfocused bits that, frankly, make no sense. Do not bother puzzling over them, they’re not important. Do not, either, pause to engage more than once with the beauties of Buda and Pest which are described in detail, then described again, and then some more. You don’t need to linger over any of this stuff – just keep going, because this is a page turner of a novel for more than one reason. The ideas in it are fascinating.

The whole thing pretty much hangs together, and it is a wild ride. Although I did have a laugh out loud moment which I’m pretty sure the author didn’t intend, and some difficulty with people getting up and carrying on as if nothing had happened after being seriously wounded. The almost-sex is good too. Enjoy.

*

If anyone is interested in my own take on Judas, ‘Judas the Iscariot’ can be found in my volume of short stories, Ice Cold Passion, on Amazon, paperback or Kindle:

AmazonUK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ice-Cold-Passion-other-stories-ebook/dp/B0190IKL0G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1551018592&sr=1-1&keywords=ice+cold+passion%23

AmazonUS – https://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cold-Passion-other-stories-ebook/dp/B0190IKL0G/ref=sr_1_9?keywords=Judi+Moore&qid=1551018839&s=gateway&sr=8-9

 

 

Review of ‘Bretherton, khaki or field grey?’ By WF Morris

December 27, 2018

I have no idea, now, how I came across this rather peculiar book. It is one of the Casemate classic war fiction series.

It is set in the first world war, a period which I know to be a period of poetic flourishing, but had always assumed to be rather under-represented by fiction.

W F Morris first published this book in 1929, and it reads very much as though he was there. Indeed, I cannot remember having read a book of prose in which the way of life at the front is so vividly depicted. No Mans’ Land, the minor and major forays across that blasted ground, the barrages, the spotter plans, the strafing, the Verey lights, the landscape – grass and tree and cottage – torn to shreds; the comparative comfort of a billet behind the front lines, the calm acceptance of a duty to be done. What is not in the book is the sort of condemnation of the war that one finds in the later WWI poetry of Owen, Sassoon, Blunden and others. A task is being performed as well as possible by men who maintain a sense of humour and drink a lot of scotch. It is surprising, perhaps, how believable that is. Or perhaps it is not surprising at all.

The plot of the novel is complex and to hint, even, is to give too much away. Suffice it to say that this reader believed three times that the denouement had arrived when it had not. The book meanders through the story in an apparently random way, which is actually cunningly crafted so that every time one thinks, ‘Ah! So that’s when/how/why …’ it actually isn’t. Morris put together a fine mystery in 1929 and told it beautifully. It has stood the changes of fashion in fiction remarkably well, and certainly merited unearthing and reprinting in this current Casemate series in 2016. Although Casemate might have made a better fist of proofing the last third of the book. Most of the errors are just little irritants, but on a few occasions they lead to puzzles for the reader.

If you are interested in WWI I recommend this to you without reservation. Despite the proofing errors, holistically it is a really interesting and well written novel.


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