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

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.