Wednesday, 17 August 2016

NUDGE NB Newbooks Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

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The Heavenly Table
Donald Ray Pollock
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Souce: NUDGE, NB Newbooks
Genre: Historical Western Noir


Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of The Heavenly Table
from NUDGE NB Newbooks in exchange for my honest review.

A classically written western with a contemporary noir twist
Read in July 2016
Cane, Cob and Chimney Jewett are young Georgia sharecroppers held under the thumb of their domineering, God-struck father Pearl. When he dies unexpectedly, they set out on horseback to rob and loot their way to wealth and infamy, inspired by a lurid dime novel that only one of them can read. But little goes as planned and soon they're pursued by both the authorities and by stories that make them out to be the most fearsome trio of bank robbers and murderers around. The truth, though, is far more complex than the legend. And the heaven they've imagined may in fact be worse than the hell they sought to escape. The Heavenly Table is gritty, electrifying and weirdly funny. It cements Donald Ray Pollock's place among America's best contemporary novelists.

My Thoughts:
My first encounter with Donald Ray Pollock was with 'Kockemstiff' and 'The Devil All The Time'. I just love the gritty hillbilly, redneck storylines. I just love his twisted, cruel sense of humour. Peppered throughout with the worst acts of human kind, moral angst and a just a sprinkling of goodness or innocence, Pollock does not write comfortable easy reading material. So then, with 'The Heavenly Table' I knew what I was likely to be getting and was not disappointed.

Set against the backdrop of Alabama and Meade in 1917 and the beginning of America's involvement in WWI, 'The Heavenly Table' is an epic family saga with the Jewett family at the heart of the story, with Pearl a fanatically religious hardworking farmer and his sons, Cane the oldest, wisest and literate, Cob the 'dummy' and Chimney the rebellious youngest and least moral of the three sons.

We also hear about the Fiddler's; Ellsworth who has lost the family's life savings to a travelling con artist, Eula his long suffering, all forgiving wife, and Eddie their good for nothing drunk of a son.

Initial chapters give alternating perspectives of the families with a build up of characters adding their own distinctive points of view along the way. These seemingly unrelated storylines will eventually converge with an exciting explosive climax.

The Heavenly Table's titular phrase comes from a mystical drifter Pearl encounters one day, who tells him to, “welcome all the suffering that comes your way” and preaches that if he does so, one day he will “eat at the heavenly table.”  Well darn it if Pearl and those boys haven't suffered enough already, but Pearl believes they can and must suffer more to do whatever it takes to be worthy of sitting at that table some day.  Fortunately for Pearl his suffering is soon over and the boys decide that they've had enough and want something better while they're still alive.  With the influence of an old dime novel and its violent tales of 'Bloody Bill Bucket', a hero they will aspire to more and more, the boys set off on their adventurous, often disastrous, road to to seek their fortunes.

This is gritty western noir at its best with impeccably placed humour with gruesome graphic scenes, one such as a parasitic worm vacating the dead body of the Jewett boys' mother.

Pollock writes with such fluidity and emotive intensity about his deprived and often depraved characters, about the hardship and savagery in their lives, and of their grit and determination to better themselves.  So fabulously drawn that at times it feels as if the Jewett boys could just ride off the pages in a blaze of dust and played out for me like a Cohen Brother's movie.  Surface to say, it's deliciously dark, mean and cruel with a smattering of good old religious comeuppance and plenty of brutal black humour.

Perfect for fans of Bill Frank, Joe R Lansdale, Patrick de Witt, and because I don't think it has quite the same level of violence as in his previous books, it would make an excellent introduction for newcomers to the world of Mr Pollock who is in my opinion a cracker of a story teller.

Favourite Character/Scene: I loved all the characters and far too many scenes were memorable so I'll go with...the image of a drunken Eddie Fiddler accidentally blasting his mom's cat Pickles to Kingdom Come.

Least liked character: ohh it’s got to be the big 'Bad Bob' psycho killer.

Friday, 12 August 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS REVIEW: The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann

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The Ninja's Daughter : A Hiro Hattori Novel
by Susan Spann
Publisher : Seventh Street Books (August 2, 2016)
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Genre: Crime Mystery set in 16th Century Japan


Disclaimer: Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for my complementary digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and to take part in this book blog tour.

Read in July, 2016

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.
As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

My Thoughts:
The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann is the latest novel in the Hiro Hattori detective mystery series set during 16th century Japan.  Having not read any of the other books in the series, I don't think this detracted any from my enjoyment or understanding of the characters or their history together, as Susan supplies the pertinent information without going overboard to understand what is going on within the context of current storyline.

The case the duo are investigating is that of a young girl who shows definite signs of having been murdered. However, being from the low born status of an actress she is classed as 'a nobody' and therefore 'nobody' has been killed and no crime committed. To complicate matters further the victim happens to be the niece of Father Mateo's bodyguard.  The formidable duo, Father Mateo and Hiro Hattori his bodyguard and translator certainly have their work cut out for them in solving this mystery.

An enjoyable quick satisfying read with a little Japanese cultural history to boot, 'The Ninja's Daughter' is an engaging story with a likeable and quirky cast of characters from the main duo, to Ana the very cranky landlady, and Gato the adopted cat. I really liked this one and will definitely look at the previous books in the series.

Highly recommended for fans of the cosy crime genre and wanting or maybe willing to try something a little different, and exotic blended into the mix.  Fabulous fun, great for book group reads too.

A glossary of the cast of characters and Japanese words are included to enrich the readers experience and understanding.
About Susan Spann
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Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Here's a link to the schedule of reviewers participating in the TLC tour for THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER by Susan Spann: TLC BOOK TOUR schedule

Susan Spann’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS
Monday, July 25th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, July 26th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, July 26th:Book Dilettante
Wednesday, July 27th: In Bed With Books
Thursday, July 28th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Friday, July 29th: Wordsmithonia
Friday, July 29th: Write Read Life
Sunday, July 31st: Write Read Life – author interview
Monday, August 1st: Hoser’s Blook
Wednesday, August 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 4th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, August 4th: Book Dilettante – author guest post “Swords & Crosses: Jesuit Missionaries in Japan”
Sunday, August 7th: Buried Under Books – author guest post, “How I Decided to Murder The Ninja’s Daughter”
Monday, August 8th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Tuesday, August 9th: Open Book Society
Thursday, August 11th: Luxury Reading
Friday, August 12th: SJ2B House of Books
Monday, August 15th: Books and Tea
Monday, August 15th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 16th: A Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 17th: Broken Teepee
TBD: Lavish Bookshelf
TBD: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Atomic Weight Of Love by Elizabeth J Church

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Title: The Atomic Weight of Love
Author: Elizabeth J. Church
Publisher: Algonquin Books (3 May 2016)
Pages: 320 pages
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, WWII, Vietnam War, women's studies


Disclaimer: A complementary copy of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J Church was provided by the Publisher for an unbiased honest review.

Read in July, 2016
In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.

My Thoughts:
On Meri's 10th birthday her father gives her a book, 'The Burgess Bird Book for Children'.  For her 11th birthday he gives her, Darwin's 'On The Origin of the Species'. Six months later her father dies leaving both Meri and her mother utterly devastated.
At 17 years old Meri leaves her hometown of Pennsylvania and attends Chicago University with a fierce ambition to earn an advanced degree in ornithology.  She sits in on one of Professor Whetstone's physics lectures and is completely smitten by this man old enough to be her father. This is what she says about seeing him at that first lecture, ' I was in awe of Alden. I could only sense the very fringes of concepts that his intellect grasped with such easy, ready fingers. I worshipped his knowledge, his aloof independence and greater world experience. He was my teacher; he led me, and I followed gladly.'  They embark on an affair fuelled, not by passion or lustful recklessness, but of joint admiration of intellectual minds. They marry and Alden takes her away to Los Alamos, New Mexico.

At the commencement of each chapter there are ornithological terms of reference which cleverly shadow Meri's experiences within the chapter they refer to.
The writing style is gently paced, and intelligent, with beautifully constructed sentences and phrases such as,"I watched the first snowfall begin as a light, dry powder and morph into those luscious, fat, lazy flakes that sashay downward and accumulate into weighty drifts." I fell immediately under the authors spell of words and eagerly devoured the pages of the book. In another poignantly beautifully written scene where the crows say farewell to one of their own, I cried as the loss and feeling of loneliness was utterly palpable and I truly believed I understood how Meri was feeling at that particular stage of her life.

The Atomic Weight of Love is primarily a love story written and voiced by Meri about the ever changing, evolving love she feels for Alden, and then in her 40's of her love for a much younger man.  I found it in turns to be heartbreaking, and infuriating due to the out dated attitudes of the times, but above all an uplifting read.  There is a bittersweet quality to the story and at times it simply broke my heart.

Elizabeth Church’s debut novel is an exquisite poignant tale of loyalty, trust and knowing when to let go. I truly hope there's a lot more to come from her as a writer.  I'd recommend it for readers who love beautifully written literary historical fiction that will make them question their own sacrifices and accomplishments.  I would also suggest it for book group readers as the multitude of topics raised throughout the book could generate some lively discussion.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Far Empty by J Todd Scott

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The Far Empty, J Todd Scott
Publisher: G P Putnam's Sons (9 June 2016)
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher/Edelweiss
Genre: Contemporary Western Crime Noir, Fact Based Fiction
Themes: Mexican Drug Gangs, Graphic scenes of violence, Abuse of every kind...

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of The Far Empty was provided by G P Putnam's Sons via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest unbiased review.
Todd Scott s "The Far Empty" is so good I wish I d written it. The poetic and bloody ground of west Texas has given birth to a powerful new voice in contemporary western crime fiction. Craig Johnson, "New York Times" bestselling author of the Walt Longmire series
In this gritty crime debut set in the stark Texas borderlands, an unearthed skeleton will throw a small town into violent turmoil.
Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb s father and Chris s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford Judge Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, "The Far Empty" is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it s a debut novel you won t soon forget."

My Thoughts:
So much time and effort goes into getting a book cover right so when one catches my eye I think it deserves a mention. The cover has to convey something about the book, as well as making sure it appeals to a potential reader, because if it's not right it can be the death of a book. I always tell customers (especially if they're looking at a book with a spectacular cover) that, you can tell a publisher believes in the author from the quality of the cover... So to The Far Empty... I love the cover artwork for this gritty, crime debut.  It certainly gives a clue as to what the book is about...Mexican border gun culture, drug cartels with a murder or two.

If you find scenes of graphic violence abhorrent then move away from this one and if the cover is right I think you'll have done that anyway.

The Far Empty is a fictional piece based on actual violent drug related incidents and on a corrupt local sheriff from a drugs task force in Texas.
J Todd Scott, a federal agent with the DEA for many years has drawn on his experience to pen this gritty, brutal debut and with twenty years experience in the force investigating smuggling, domestic meth lads and Mexican cartels, he knows what he's writing about.

Ok so Caleb Ross, he's 17 and his father is the charismatic, influential Sheriff Stanford 'Judge' Ross and in Celeb's own voice he says this of him, 'My father has killed three men. My father . . . that f*****g monster . . . also killed my mother'.
So Caleb doesn't like his father...He even feels uneasy turning his back on him. Why would he feel such hatred for, and fear of his own father, unless of course he has reason. Caleb 'knows', that his mother wouldn't have run out on him with no word for the last thirteen months, and that his father killed her. He just cannot prove it.

Chris Cherry, after a knee injury ends his promising football career, returns to Murfee taking on the role of sheriff's deputy.  His girlfriend Melissa is not so sure that its such a good move when they arrive.

When skeletal remains are unearthed out in the 'badlands' Cherry wants to do everything he can to put a name to this poor soul. However it's not going to be easy with the apathetic, unwillingness to investigate on the part of Sheriff Ross and his psychotic chief deputy Duane Dupree. After all it's probably just another dead Mexican in the desert so who cares.  Well, Cherry does and so too does Caleb who's convinced it's his mum that's been lying out there all this time.

Into the mix we have, another missing person Rudy Ray a border patrol officer; the arrival of Anne the mysterious new teacher at Caleb's school; América Reynosa Caleb's Mexican friend whose brother Rudy Ray has gone missing, and Maximo a young teen 'hired Killer' for one of the drug cartels.

Each character gets their own chapter to tell us about their history and their thought process throughout the story, but its only Caleb's narrative which is in the first person, lending his voice focus and impact.

The Far Empty is dark, brutal, menacing and exceedingly violent with all of the unsavoury characters you'd expect to find involved in Mexican border gun culture, and some ignorant or down trodden towns folk living within an environment where the law is just as feared as the drug run cartels. There are some shocking and unexpected surprises along the way with one big shocker I didn't see coming.

If you read to escape reality and whats really going on in the world then steer very clear, this one really is not for you.  However, I really enjoyed The Far Empty and fully believed in the depraved characters and the world within which they resided. I'm so looking forward to reading his next offering.

Perfect for fans of James Ellroy, Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill and Don Winslow.

Most memorable character:  Maximo, frighteningly all too real, desperately unsettling as it is an all too real scenario and inescapable reality for many kids like him.

Characters disliked: The callous cruel remorseless and calculating Sheriff 'Judge' Ross; his sidekick Deputy Dupree and most of the seedy darn right despicable townsfolk.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

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The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius
Publisher: Melville House (19th July 2016)
Source: Publisher/TLC Book Tours
Pages: 465


Disclaimer: Thank you to the Publisher and TLC Book Tours for a complementary D-ARC in exchange for my unbiased and honest review.

THE MONSTER‘S DAUGHTER is a tale of race and murder that takes readers through South Africa’s remarkable history. It’s a mix of the personal and the political, the past and the present.

After a fling with one of her superiors, young policewoman Alet Berg is reassigned from her big city beat to a small village in the country, where she makes a horrific discovery: the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition. None of the villagers are willing to speak, especially to a transplant from the city whose stubbornness rubs even her colleagues the wrong way. But it’s also a dangerous case for reasons that Alet can’t know — reasons that go back one hundred years to the height of the Boer War, and a British doctor who conducted a series of grim experiments on Boer concentration camp prisoners. His work ended in chaos, but two children survived.

Pretorious was born and raised in South Africa, and she wrote the novel partly as a way to understand her country’s history, a history that her family (like many others) didn’t discuss. THE MONSTER‘S DAUGHTER is a gripping thriller, and a fascinating look at 100 years of buried history.

“Michelle Pretorius is a funny, surprising and fearless writer. The Monster’s Daughter is at once a historical thriller that reckons seriously with South African politics, an imaginative piece of speculative fiction, and a stereotype-busting roller-coaster ride of a novel. I loved it.”
—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

My Thoughts:
Well it's day two of the TLC Book Tour for Michelle Pretorius' 'The Monster's Daughter and here's what I thought of it.  2010 - Modern Day (Post Apartheid South Africa) Constable Alet Berg has been demoted and relocated to serve her probation on traffic duty in Unie a small quiet, 'out of the way' town. At the discovery of a badly burned body, and desperate to get into something more exciting, Alet deviously manoeuvres herself into position to assist Mathebe the local chief investigating officer in solving the crime.  During the course of the investigation she will unwittingly uncover involvement of prominent townsfolk in crime and corruption on a vast scale, spanning several decades.

1901 - At the height of the 2nd Boer War the British are destroying all property, land and livestock belonging to any Boer they encounter under 'the scorched earth' policy.  Jooste is one of the marauding party and he relishes in the destruction and pillaging opportunities.  Although a Boer himself, Jooste has no loyalty to anyone but himself and will change allegiance to whomever he will best profit from. At one such farm raided is a young girl, Anna, and her little brother who are rounded up and imprisoned at one of the British run concentration camps. It was heartbreaking to hear about the horrendous camp conditions and the inhumane treatment that the women and children, who were the majority of the prisoners, received from their captors and from each other in their struggle to survive. Sanitary conditions were appalling and disease rife and of which many would succumb and with many more dying the lingering agonising slow death of starvation.

We meet up again with Jooste in his search for young healthy looking girls, to abduct and hand over to a doctor for his secret genetic medical research. Anna is one of his victims but in exchange for submitting to the experiments she receives food and a safe place to sleep. Anna and the other girls at the doctor's mercy may just survive the horror of the concentration camp.

Two surviving children are the result of these latest experiments, Tess and Benjamin, both with strange characteristics and suffering from what is thought to be stunted growth. We follow them as they mature to adulthood and find their way in a country full of prejudice and violence.

The first part of the book resonated with me so powerfully and was the most compelling and unsettling to read.  Dialogue runs smoothly and believably and with the full bodied development of key characters I found it highly plausible and indicative of the times portrayed. With all too vivid imagery the characters felt real and I absolutely believed in them, so much so I was devastated when the story moved on without them.

The Monster's Daughter is narrated in dual timelines with the majority unfolding progressively from the 1900's through to 2010 where Alet's investigation will lead her to research back in time in order to solve the present day murder.

An hugely ambitious multi genre, part speculative, part historical political fiction, all encompassed into a murder mystery thriller, this debut is a credit to the author and one I highly recommend.  Book groups would find 'The Monsters Daughter' of particular interest as there would be a fantastic amount of content to discuss.

About Michelle Pretorius
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MICHELLE PRETORIUS was born and raised in South Africa. She received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD candidate at Ohio University. She has written for numerous publications, including Bookslut, Word Riot, and the Copperfield Review. She is a recipient of the John Schultz and Betty Shiflett prize and lives in Athens, Ohio.

TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for The Monster’s Daughter:

Tuesday, July 19th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, July 21st: SJ2B House of Books
Tuesday, July 26th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 28th: Crime Segments
Monday, August 1st: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, August 2nd: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, August 8th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, August 9th: Travelling Birdy
Wednesday, August 10th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, August 15th: Dreaming Big – author Q&A
Thursday, August 18th: The Book Whisperer

Nina Is Not OK (Debut) by Shappi Khorsandi

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Nina Is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi
Publisher: Random House/Ebury Publishing (28 July 2016)
Source: Publisher/Netgalley
Pages: 352

Genre: New Adult, Older Teen, Adult, Teen Issues


Disclaimer: Thankyou to the Publisher for the D-ARC
in exchange for my unbiased, honest review

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t?
Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend.  But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…
A dark and sometimes shocking - coming of age novel from one of the UK’s leading comedians. NINA IS NOT O.K. will appeal to fans of Caitlin Moran and Louise O'Neill.

My Thoughts:
I am so excited about this one...This is going to be big ... big !

Sometimes an author can get writing about troubled teens so wrong.  For instance, characters are written to be way too angsty and antagonistic with explicit, and sometimes laughable sex scenes, and using a barrage of crass language just for shock value can really be a turn off for a mature reader; or writing in too literary 'a style', again may put off its intended Teen/YA audience by boring them half to death with preachy dialogue.

Shappi hits it right on target every time with just the right balance of crude, lewd behaviour from its rebellious, antagonistic (inwardly desperately confused and unhappy) teen for both an Adult and Teen/YA reader to want to read.

We first encounter Nina, in a seriously drunken state, in a taxi with her knickers in her hand.  Nina cannot remember very much at all after being thrown out of a club for giving a 'blow job' to someone at the bar.

I only intended to peruse the blurb to find out about the book. I finally put it down two days later after I'd finished it.

Nina was like watching a car crash, I wanted to look away but just couldn't do it, I had to keep watching as she spiralled into a never ending whirling dark hole.

At times I thought out loud 'no Nina don't ...oh too late you did', and 'O.M.G. I can't believe you just did/said that'

The second half does ramp up on the emotion side with things becoming rather more darkly disturbing. That said, 'Nina Is Not OK' is full of hope, forgiveness and surviving to maybe screw up another day, but luckily Nina has some great friends and with support from people who love her hopefully Nina Will Be OK.  With wit and humour laced throughout, with one or two cringe worthy laugh out loud moments, and considering the subject matter, Shappi has written a positive uplifting tale about an out of control teen learning to live with, and respect herself and to not allow others to treat her so badly.

In 'Nina Is Not OK', Shappi's writing style is full on hectic and I wondered if she could sustain the pace without it becoming monotonous, but she did and it didn't. It was brilliant and fabulously written and I loved it !

I know it's probably not going to be for everyone due to the sexual content and bad, very bad language and lewd situations but because of the seriousness of the subject matters involved including, slut-shaming, alcoholism, and social media bullying, to mention just a few, it's one I'd wholeheartedly recommend for anyone who is or ever was, or just needs a reminder of just how difficult it is to be, a teen.

Favourite Character: I absolutely loved the 'too honest for anyone's good' Trish, the hopelessly tactless 'stand-by' friend of Nina's

Least Liked Character (understatement !) : ALEX !

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Wolf Trial: a novel by Neil Mackay

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The Wolf Trial by Neil Mackay (Read: April 2016)
Pages: 352
Publisher: Freight Books (21 April 2016)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley


Sheer breathtaking brilliance ... a near perfect 5 ... Oh why not...the perfect 5 !

Where do I start with this one ? There is just so much going on in this 16th Century historical fact based novel.  I kid you not, here is a teaser of what's going on in this blockbuster:

Gothic horror, cruelty and debauchery
circus freak shows
witch, and dog trials, including graphic execution scenes
vampires and werewolves
serial murder of women, men, children and babies
torture and more executions
oh and a smidgen of romance !

Written in the 1st person narrative, Neil Mackay's 'The Wolf Trial' is an uncomfortable, absolutely compelling tale set in Bideburg, Germany during the 16th Century about the first documented case of a serial killer who was also believed to be a werewolf.

Peter Stumpf, the accused, makes no bones about his guilt of the murders but as a man and not as a werewolf.  However, his crimes are just too horrific for the townsfolk to accept that a human being could commit such crimes that they choose to believe in the supernatural and for him to be a werewolf.

Paulus Melchior and Willy Lessinger are to be witnesses to this trial and subsequent punishment of Stumpf.  It is from William Loos' (the scribes) documentation some 60 years later that we hear about Paulus' childhood and events that shaped him into the man he became; such as his first public execution and watching his father beheading a woman found guilty of being a witch. The horrific scene unfolds and he watches as other children delightedly play football with the severed woman's head.

Many scenes in this book are shocking and vividly depicted, another of which includes the accused's rendition of a game he played as a child called 'frogging', which again is pretty horrific, especially for the frogs. Frog lovers be warned!
There is however, a touching, love affair between Willy and a young girl from the town, albeit with a tragic outcome.

The punishment is brutal, torturous and unbelievably barbaric, the unnecessary violence metered out to Stumpf is almost unbearable to read. It is hard to feel pity for a person who has committed such horrendous crimes but it is abhorrent and frightening to believe the extent humans will go to inflict pain on each other.  The crowd's vengeance and excitement is whipped up to such a crescendo, and to the point of sheer boredom, that they finally lose interest when nothing more can be done to prolong the agony of dying a slow, brutally degrading death.

The real horror for me is that we all have the potential to be monsters and that in today's world where videos are frequently uploaded showing the most horrific scenes of violence, torture and murder, with a majority in the name of religion or honour, I fear that we've not moved much farther forward than our medieval predecessors and that these practices are still all too evident in today's world.

The Wolf Trial is hugely rich in historical detail and also a coming of age tale during violent medieval times. I thoroughly enjoyed all it had to tell me and found it to be an engrossing read.  It is brutal, blood thirsty and bloody brilliant ! Definitely not for the squeamish but if you have a strong stomach you'll definitely not want to miss out on this one.

Perfect for fans of atmospheric reads such as Umberto Ecco's, In The Name of The Rose.

Disclaimer: I received a digital advanced readers copy (ARC) of 'The Wolf Trial' by Neil Mackay from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Coming Review: The Wolf Trial: a novel by Neil Mackay

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The Wolf Trial: a novel by Neil Mackay
Freight Books (21 April 2016)

Sheer breathtaking brilliance ... a near perfect 5 ... Oh why not...the perfect 5 !

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose meets Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho in this brilliant historical epic.
Inspired by an extraordinary true case - the first ever documented account of a serial killer in world history.
In the second half of the 16th century, Paulus Melchior, lawyer, academic, and enlightened rationalist, travels with his young assistant Willy Lessinger to the isolated German town of Bideburg where local landowner, Peter Stumpf, is accused of brutally murdering dozens of people. A society still trapped in a medieval mindset, the townsfolk clamour for the killer to be tried as a werewolf. If their demands are met, his blameless wife and children will also be executed in the most barbaric way imaginable as agents of Satan and creatures contaminated by wolf blood.
Paulus and Willy must fight superstition, the cruelty of those who fear what they don't understand, and a zealous church determined to retain its grip on the souls of Bideburg in this compelling, utterly unforgettable, shocking tour de force.

A Note From the Publisher
Neil Mackay is a multi-award winning investigative journalist, newspaper executive, non-fiction author, radio broadcaster and film-maker. He has won around two dozen national and international awards for his newspaper journalism. Mackay was a launch editor of the Sunday Herald newspaper, and has subsequently been the paper’s Crime Editor, Investigations Editor and Head of News. His last film, an investigation into the rise of the far right in Europe and America, was nominated for a BAFTA. His book, The War on Truth, which investigated the roots of the invasion of Iraq, was published in the UK and USA. He has written for the Sunday Herald, The Observer, Scotland on Sunday, Ireland’s Sunday Tribune, Australia’s The Age and most newspapers in Northern Ireland. His debut novel was All The Little Guns Go Bang Bang Bang.

Advance Praise
'A great storyteller.' Louise Welsh

'First, a warning. This novel isn’t for the squeamish. Then again, neither was 16th century Germany, yet Neil Mackay brings its crimes and cruelties, heresies and horrors to life with all the manifold skills of a natural-born story-teller. A frighteningly impressive achievement. Imagine a land in which Christianity is as bloodthirsty as Isis, and where the punishments heretics face make Bosch’s nightmares look timid. That’s what Neil Mackay has done here, turning back to 16th century Germany and the world’s first recorded trial of a serial killer for an impeccably crafted story that also never stops rooting out answers to the question of evil.' David Robinson, author of In Cold Ink

'The tale is gripping, the violence extreme, and the storycraft utterly superb... The Wolf Trial will be one of the landmark texts of the year, without a shadow of a doubt.' Sogo Magazine

'The Wolf Trial is an audaciously imaginative novel, as haunting and atmospheric as The Name of the Rose, as beautifully written and finely plotted as An Instance of the Fingerpost. It is a novel to savour, to relish its fine and beautiful sentences, its cunning plot, its rich evocation of a brutal time and place. A joy to read... this is historical crime fiction at its very finest.' ES Thomsom, author of Beloved Poison.