Review: Mona Lisa’s Secret by Phil Phillips

February 13, 2018

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. Received a free review copy.**

Mona Lisa's Secret: A Historical Fiction Mystery & Suspense Novel by [Philips, Phil]

Genre: History and mystery

Description: This book is described on Kindle as ‘A Historical Fiction Mystery & Suspense Novel Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones!’. There is plenty of room for good books in the ‘history and mystery’ genre. It gives nothing away to say that we are revisiting that most complex of Renaissance men, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Priory of Sion who are both guarding and leaving clues to an ancient secret.

Author: here is a link to the website of our Phil Phillips. http://philphilips.com/about-the-author/ (There is another Phil Phillips who writes for children: he is not our Phil Phillips). Our Phil Phillips lives in Sydney, Australia and his background is in digital graphic design. He considers himself a modern Renaissance man having an interest in ‘anything and everything’. He strives to create art in everything he does, be it a magazine layout, a painting in oils or writing a thriller. His writing style has, apparently, been compared to James Patterson and Matthew Reilly. He has published two books. Mona Lisa’s Secret is his second. The protagonist – Joey Peruggia – also carries the first book, but this book stands alone just fine.

Appraisal: the book follows Dan Brownian paths. There is plenty of violence (although fortunately nobody loses body parts: I parted company with Dan Brown at that point in The Lost Symbol). There is plenty of historical stitching holding the story together (the Mona Lisa really was stolen in 1911): familiarity with Dan Brown’s tropes is taken as read, but is easy enough to catch up with should you be a history and mystery fan who has never read Dan Brown (you may be the only one …). The action moves from luxury in Los Angeles, to Paris, to the Jura mountains to Cyprus and back to Paris: the author has been to these places and takes pains to spice his scenes with local flavour.

There is plenty of meat to the plot, which is based on some fascinating historical facts with some whopping great ‘what ifs’ added. Who does not enjoy a good ‘what if’? The bigger the better!

There are a few unfocussed and/or unnecessary descriptive passages; the violence becomes a little wearying for this reader (although the hero’s escapes are most inventive); and a number of small tautologies (eg ‘the sink basin’) irritate slightly. There are a couple of plot holes. And I can just imagine what my Cypriot friends would say if they heard Cyprus described as ‘a small Greek island’ (we Europeans view the Med rather differently).

Despite the occasional fuzzy focus, the book gallops along like a horse just on the right side of bolting.

FYI: a fair amount of swearing.

Rating: ****

Approximate page count: 374pp

(for some reason I’m having trouble inserting Amazon links. I’ll let you know when that’s sorted out.)

 

 

 

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Gulp!

February 11, 2018

This evening, for at least half an hour, my new book Wonders will never cease  made it into Amazon’s Kindle top 100 satirical novels (soixante neuf, since you ask) one ahead of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. Now that’s posh company to be in! It is a teeny tiny,  specialised, list I grant you – but my first.

[Preens.]

Wonders will never cease

Lovely review of ‘Wonders will never cease’

February 6, 2018

Just seen a very positive review of ‘Wonders will never cease’ on Amazon. Thank you JC, whoever you are!

“A very enjoyable novel – especially if you have any inside knowledge of the workings of a certain unique university! Judi writes skilfully with great style. Reading this book led me read all her other Kindle-published output – it is all quite excellent! She has real talent and deserves to be widely read.”

here’s a link to the opus: Wonders will never cease!

Wonders will never cease!

January 24, 2018

Hooray! The paperback version of my naughty new satire about university life, sex and alcohol in Thatcher’s Britain is now available from Amazon. Also from Feedaread, Hive, Fishpond and other independent online bookshops.

(The Kindle edition has been out for a while)

Do please share this information widely.

Cover Wars @ Author Shout

January 15, 2018

http://authorshout.com/cover-wars/#pd_a_9916856

In here is a certain pink SF cover of mine (‘Is death really necessary?’). It sticks out like sore thumb. Tee hee. Do vote for it if you feel you can. Indie authors need all the exposure they can get. And I’ve got a cold … feel sorry for me and give me a click, pretty please?

 

Review ‘Dead Man Falling’ (A Johnny Fedora Espionage Assignment Book 3) by Desmond Cory

January 15, 2018

Dead Man Falling (A Johnny Fedora Espionage Assignment Book 3) by [Cory, Desmond]

I picked this up on a whim, partly because I wanted to test my month’s free membership of Amazon Prime and borrow a book (something I’d never done before) also because (as with all my reading these days) I was directed somehow to the engaging synopsis of the book on Amazon. (Which synopsis bears rather little relationship to the actual plot.)

I like Cold War stories. Big fan of John Le Carre, me. This one is set in 1950, when East-West political patterns for the next nearly 40 years were being set, a lot of roads weren’t tarmacked, most vehicles still had no synchromesh on any gear and a significant number of places had no electricity.

The book gallops along from the off. Mr Cory has an insouciant style and writes a great page-turner. One learns something of post-war Paris and European trains, rather more about rural Austria, and a considerable amount about the technical and philosophical aspects of mountaineering.

Now, I don’t like the cold. Let me lie on a hot rock and call me lizard – that’s my idea of a good time. However, this of the mountaineering I found completely compelling. Not only because of the knowledgeable observations about the mountain and technical information about climbing, where a mistake can easily be fatal (either Mr Cory has been up mountains, or has done his research very well indeed), but also about why people climb. This line was seminal: “Beauty’s nothing but the beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear.” Which is a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke was an intense, mystical and lyrical Austrian poet who died in a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1926. I’m not sure if he was a climber but he certainly found the mountains pressed in upon him, as they do upon the protagonists in this engaging novel.

 

Sea Wall: a journey on the South Dorset Ridgeway by Jennifer Hunt (Archaeopteryx, 2016)

January 2, 2018

I came across this delightful little volume of thoughts, snippets, poems, lino cuts and two inspiring concrete poems at the Weymouth Book Fayre at the beginning of December last year.

The Fayre showcased what all us local authors have been producing. A huge range of books was available there, from stunning picture books of the coastline, through fiction (mine included), via local history (wrecks and castles and battles galore!), to poetry (such as this).

Jennifer Hunt used to live in the shadow of the South Dorset Ridgway, and learned long ago that ‘sea wall’ is what Martinstown people used to call the part of the Ridgeway that kept their village safe from the sea.

Some of the material was created as a result of an Artsreach project, walking the Ridgeway in the summer of 2015. Other poems were the result of her long and deep engagement with the land of the Ridgeway.

In 2016 and 2017 I took part in similar projects, experiencing the landscape over a couple of days and writing about it intensely for the SATSYMPH project (now, sadly, ended). If you ‘do’ Facebook you can access the work we did here : https://www.facebook.com/LBSPoetryParks/. I can attest to the power of clearing your mind and simply sitting or walking in the landscape. In my case sitting on Eggardon Hill in June of 2017. Your eyes and ears become much sharper, and you really smell the land – cut hay, the flowers crushed by your own feet, cowpats – all of it comes to you if you give it space. I got royally sunburned, to the extent that I still have the mark of Eggardon Hill in June upon me as I write this in the winter. I find that somehow very fitting.

But back to Jennifer Hunt’s Sea Wall. I particularly liked ‘West Wind’, a cinquain (a poem constructed of 2,4,6,8 and 2 syllables) which is as full of matter as a pie is full of meat *. The first stanza goes like this:

“Thick fog
wet as sheep’s wool.
Birds fly up underfoot.
A single apple tree in blossom.
West wind.”

‘Ah’, I hear you cry, ‘but that fourth line has 9 syllables, not 8!’ And I admire Ms Hunt as much for stepping outside the form and using the line that makes perfect sense as I do for her choice of the strict form in the first place.

Here are a few lines from the prose poem ‘Maiden Castle’. So much rapturous blueness:

“Clouds of small blue butterflies rose up from the grass. I looked them up in my Observer book – Chalkhill Blue, Blue Skipper, Silver-Studded Blue, Common Blue. White-chalk and blue-sky names, the colours of my childhood summers on these ancient hills.”

The two concrete poems are ‘Quern Stones’ and ‘Snail’ (which seems to have no formal title but is, determinedly, snailish). Consuming these is like eating a Cadbury Crème Egg – first you work your way around the outer shape of the thing, then you begin to investigate the luscious interior, turning the book this way and that to get at every sweet lick. Yummy.

The Illustrations are fresh and sharp and bring an extra dimension to the natural world being described.

If you enjoy the landscape of Dorset I am certain you will love this collection.

I don’t believe Jennifer Hunt’s work is available from The Great Zon, so look out for her at craft and book fairs in Dorset, or contact her via http://archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk/

(*which saying comes from : http://www.samuelfrench.co.uk/p/10731/hans-the-witch-and-the-gobbin)

Review: ‘Permeable’ by Hannah Chutzpah (Burning Eye Books, 2017)

December 20, 2017

This is a poetry collection by a performance poet whose work performs just as well on the page as it does on the stage.

Hannah Chutzpah is a self-named poet, which name demonstrates both her delight in words (Hannah) and her activism as ‘potential maggot thrower’ (Chutzpah). As she says in the poem ‘A dude in an East London pub has just out-Jewed me’, she is half-Jewish, half-American and bisexual. She is what every poet with something to say needs to be: on the outside looking in – sometimes wishing to be on the inside, sometimes pointing out to those on the inside how unacceptable, weird or just plain naff their behaviour looks like from out there. It is a brave place to live one’s life.

I first heard Chutzpah at a three-woman Edinburgh try-out gig in deepest Hackney some years ago. I was impressed, so I bought her pamphlet Butterfly Wings, where some of these poems were first published, and watched others develop on Facebook. When I heard this full collection was out I was keen to review it (not least because I lost the pamphlet in a move) and it is as good as I hoped.

The title of the collection is taken from the idea of roots working their way down through Maslow’s hierarchy of five needs (food and shelter, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualisation). While the collection certainly travels through all the five levels, I’m not sure the poems are always in the right level. You might have fun re-allocating them. I did, although it was a surprisingly complex task. Chutzpah says about the decision to include the Hierarchy ‘”Millennials” have been raised with a lot of insecurity around the basics of jobs and housing. It doesn’t always stop us, but it often erodes us.’ This is becoming increasingly true, making Permeable an important (and definitely quotable) book for the way we live now.

Here are some of the highlights: ‘This is your Twenties’ in the first section about food and shelter, drives forward like Auden’s ‘This is the night mail’: it deals with the constant relocation by a whole generation of ‘urban nomads’ looking for the ‘scraps of jobs going’, upping sticks, cats, plants and lighters, ‘And you think you might be doing this wrong.’ Your whole life can be fitted into a transit van, you flit between flats, all the time looking for The One – the good job ‘with a pension scheme/You’ll actually use/Or the person you’ll grow old with.’ ‘Tumbleweeds’ expands on that idea:
‘They said we could be
Tall as redwoods
Bright as autumn maples
Bold as monkey puzzles
But to survive
We are learning to be tumbleweeds.’

Two more of my favourites from this first section are ‘Job Centre’, ‘Blood, Bone, Bowel, Brain, Breast’, about working at a cancer charity, and ‘Fairy rings’, which is a modern take on the  way a London borough can be Unsafe, moving through OK and Cool to Unaffordable in the time it takes to get settled in a new flat.

In the second section, acquiring safety enables the poet to play ‘Shithead Bingo’. You can play it too: the instructions are very clear. ‘Too Good to be True’ has been true for me many times. Does ‘Platters of praise you never knew you were hungry for’ speak to your own experience?

From the ‘love’ section I pull out ‘Tetris (as a Relationship Analogy)’ and ‘Necrokitty Comic Sans’ which titles are so good in themselves you wonder what the poet could possibly add, but she mines the analogies deeply. In this section is also the clever ‘In Tents’.

In the ‘self-esteem’ section the poet lets her readers see how raw some of this emotion is. ‘Snakeskin’ resonated particularly with me.

‘Self-actualisation’ contains, perhaps unsurprisingly, some complex poems of which my favourite is ‘Butterflies’.

This really is poetry for a Millennial generation: if you are that generation it will speak to you. If you are older than that (as I am) it will help you understand what today’s young adults are going through.

Or you could just enjoy it.

Get it from Burning Eye Books here: https://burningeyebooks.wordpress.com/?s=permeable

Or from The Zon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Permeable-Hannah-Chutzpah/dp/191157003X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513796629&sr=1-1&keywords=Permeable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Whales and Strange Stars’: review

December 7, 2017

Whales and Strange Stars: An Adventure by [Sharp, Kathy]

Kathy Sharp is a novelist well known for her three charming fantasy books set on an historical, fictionalised Isle of Portland: the Larus trilogy.

This, her latest novel, is also set in a simpler time than our own – but in a quite different place (although in it, too, water plays an important part).

Whales and Strange Stars begins with the quiet elegance of an otter slipping into the water. The story quickly gains breadth and depth and momentum as it swims downstream, urged on by deliciousness such as this ‘an empty gape draped in drab’ and this ‘The infant New Year lumbered forward unsteadily, burdened with ice and nearly knocked off its feet by strong winds’.

The book’s time is the eighteenth century and, as an historical novel, is unusual in that it does not deal with specific historical events, except for a passing reference to the king raising taxes to fight his war in America. What it does is tell a story of the time before the railways came and changed communications forever.

The book’s place is East Kent, as the author explains in an Afterword. If you are familiar with that part of the world you will enjoy picking out the real locations and geographical features which have been fictionalised for the book (and checking them at the end, when all is revealed). The author writes of the area with a deep affection and intimate knowledge, lightly worn. Exquisite thumbnail sketches of the river, the marshes, the winter weather, the big skies, the very contents of the hedgerows, set the scenes of the book.

The story concerns hard lives and making do. When money is scarce what may a man try to cushion his family from hardship? Personal possessions are so few, is it wrong to covet a fine knife or pretty ribbons?

It also concerns love – of uncles and niece each for other, of a man for his boat, occasionally of a man for his liquor. But it also concerns greed. How powerful men may ensnare others to their will, how having a little more makes a man want a lot, and how this can make him seem quite mad to his loved ones. There is treachery in the story too, as well as coercion.

And, finally, it is about growing up in a slow, circumscribed universe. How a girl on the cusp of womanhood, living in a backwater, full of fancies and commonsense both, must puzzle out the behaviour of the adults in her world for herself. Men and women alike are too busy working to explain. There is a book on manners, and there is the back of my hand, and between these two extremes one must puzzle out what actions and words may mean and what that may signify for one’s life to come.

It is also a salutary lesson against eavesdropping.

 

‘Wonders will never cease’ now live on Amazon!

December 4, 2017

Hooray – new book is now live to buy on Kindle from The Zon @ £3.50 (paperpack will be £7.99).

A proof of the paperback book arrived on Saturday. Although, sadly, the paperback will not be available to buy for a little while yet.


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