Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: The Doll Collection

Book Summary (written by me)

Gloria wants to be like Princess Diana. She wants a husband and a baby, just like any other woman, right? But Gloria has a problem with people saying 'no'. Scorned by people throughout her life she has learned to take matters into her own hands. Manipulation and murder. A simple recipe to get what she wants, and get her own back on those who fail to 'play nice'.


The Doll Collection by Joanna Stephen-Ward is a book I started because I thought it looked creepy (from the name and front cover). The book failed to creep me out and I don't think it lived up to the blurb on Amazon.

"Murders that look like accidents. Accidents that looks like murders. 
A psychological thriller.
A couple and their young son burn to death in a house fire. A girl dies from a nut allergy. A woman falls under a train during the rush hour. An accountant falls down the steps to his basement. Their deaths appear to be accidents. Only Gloria knows they were murders, because she murdered them.
Each time she kills someone she buys a doll.
A shy young man who has had a nervous breakdown, advertises for a lodger to solve his financial problems. Gloria moves in. He has no idea she has already murdered six people. His life becomes a nightmare. As her character becomes more twisted, it is no longer enough to kill her victims. First she must wreck their lives and witness their suffering. "

This was what the book should have been about. Gloria's previous murders are all brushed over vaguely so already a majority of the blurb's advertised victims aren't greatly described.

The only time I felt empathy for any character in this novel is in the beginning when Gloria overhears Garry insulting her on the phone. Given the brief information offered to the reader it seemed rather rude, uncalled for and very damaging to anyone's self esteem. When Gloria goes on to kill him, as a reader, I think I can understand her torment. However, beyond that point I had no sympathy or attachment to any character. Gloria is an ignorant and dislikeable character. She is bossy and manipulative - without a doubt she is deranged. This is what we want in a villain, right? Yes, but, and there is a big but, as an author you need to give main character's greater depth than Stephen-Ward gave Gloria, if we dislike her then we want to really hate her. If she has become evil as a result of other people then we need detailed back story to feel pity for her in spite of her evil deeds.

Even the 'good' characters in this novel came across as flat or unrealistic. Maurice, for example, has no back bone at all and seemingly never reveals anything about Gloria's evil scheming. Not even to Odette whose cat is murdered by Gloria. I understand that he might be shy and maybe even scared of Gloria later on in the novel, but to let a strange woman, a lodger, move into your bedroom and perform sexual deeds on you seems to be crossing the line of shy to pitiful. It is because of this that I didn't really care that Maurice got a happy ending - I'm just happy one of the cats survived (I love cats). I didn't find any of the good character's particularly likeable, at best I felt neutral towards them.

There were a few typos and words missing here and there. I figure that is to be expected of self published authors, so that doesn't bother me too much. I was just disappointed that the story fell so far of my expectations after reading the blurb. I expected to read a woman's doll collecting journey. I associate dolls in horror or thrillers which something creepy and sinister, but the dolls were not even a major part of the novel. Gloria does not even seem to spend a significant amount of time searching for the 'right' doll to match her victims. I would have thought this would be important if the dolls are so important to her. I found Gloria's death to be an anti-climax after all the talk of murder.

The positives of this book are that it's teen friendly or low reading level adult friendly. The language is simple and direct. The story leads the book so people with short attention spans won't get bored. Although, there is no guarantee that you won't get terribly bored of the conversations between Gloria and her 'husband'.

 Front Cover

I think the front cover could do with a bit of an update. When I think about it, I can see why a bride doll, fire and coffin are components of the front - it's a give away to the ending, right? - but the overall composure looks a little amateur.

Favourite Quote

‘I found some disgusting things.’‘What?’‘Library books.’

This did make me laugh.
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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: Six Days with the Dead

Six Days with the Dead by Stephen Charlick is a gritty zombie novel which contrasts the monstrosity of the Dead with the evil of the living. 

What this novel does well is explain vividly the state of things. For starters Charlick establishes that difference between wanderers and newly turned zombies is speed. He is also not afraid to limit his characters. They are unable to take on a motorway full of the Dead and see the danger in even tackling a small group of four. Charlick also isn't afraid to describe the zombies as they should be - a real creature of horror. Typically the appearance of zombies is commented on to elicit a reaction from the reader and/or the characters.  When there is a zombie child we feel pity and good characters may find they have difficulty killing it or it may make them remember a loved one. Charlick goes beyond this and gruesomely describes their state of decay where necessary. As I'm a fan of horror and gore so I enjoyed this detail. The inclusion of maggots, mould and putrid decay helps to create an even greater sense of repulsion in the reader when characters encounter the Dead. It also adds a greater sense of time to the novel which made it feel more real and reminds the reader that seven years have passed since the first Dead.

I found that I really liked the characters in this book, even those who were minor. I have a particular liking for Jackson. I did notice that in the beginning of the book Liz, the main character, is established seeming to care most for her younger sister, Anne. However, when Liz is out travelling, away from her sister, she doesn't seem to think about her sister as much as I would expect a weary overprotective sister would. This could have been done to avoid the narrative getting a little repetitive, but it felt as though she was simply forgotten for a day or two. Charlick did a good job of making the book seem, dare I say it, realistic. The world is grim, there is no knight in shining armour, even dogs turn on living humans, seeing them as meals and even a small band of 'heroes' can't save the unnamed victim. This is not an action packed hack and slash where the good characters can rescue everyone. Good, innocent people die and as a reader it sometimes feels as frustrating for us as it does for the characters because, given such tragedy, we just want that little slice of Lanherne heaven to grow and become normal. I'm pretty sure if Charlick had tried to create a happy book about rebuilding society it would have been dull. It's the heartbreak in this book which makes it a great read.

Charlick's decision to use the days to separate the book was clever. It meant a sense of solid time was always in place and I really like that. Often in novels the space of a day can feel the same as a few weeks. By reading this book I found that I prefer and appreciate shorter chapters. It means there's a natural break point where I can stop, put down the book, and pick it up later. So these six chapters felt pretty huge. I think this book could have benefitted from being split into days the same way some author's separate their books into books, volumes, or parts. Then having shorter, more manageable chapters, would have been a possibility. Regardless of this, the long chapters work in the sense that the reader feels how long and drawn out each day living in that world is and how much happens.

Unfortunately, I did notice a couple of typos in each chapter. It was a shame, but I'm the sort of reader who knows what the writer means, so I don't often notice typos unless they are glaringly obvious. After seeing the first few, however, I found myself on the lookout for more. This was a little disappointing, but I expected this from books published on Amazon.

The ending was, at times, predictable such as the death of Mohammad (he's the single twin, so he's expendable and I sort of thought this would be the case since he was first introduced) and the death of  Charlie (though I had hope it wouldn't happen!). The majority of the ending I didn't see coming. The evil of manically judging children and even throwing a baby straight into a pit of zombies, was truly shocking. I like how, while the evil characters are motivated by religion, Lanherne is a covenant run by Catholic nuns who, despite their religion, accept all newcomers. This helps balance out the religious element in the novel.

Despite the things I have mentioned which I feel hold it back from being a truly polished novel, I really enjoyed this gruesome read and the use of all senses to create an immersive world.
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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: Faust 2.0

Faust 2.0 by Michael Brookes has that certain ingredient which just gets me hooked. Now I'm eagerly waiting the following books in the series.
This is the first book in a while which has really got me hooked. I mean, I love reading, and I get into books easily, but this was something else. Morning, noon and night I was reading this book even if I only had time to read a page at a time. This sci-fi novel doesn't constrain itself to the protagonists and shadowy side characters. The introduction of characters to the novel who then self destruct with the help of Misty, the powerful A.I. whose hate for humanity knows no bounds, is a welcome change to the longevity of most characters in novels.
From the first to the last chapter, this book had me under a spell. I loved the first 'birthing' chapter and the way that throughout the novel Brookes' describes Misty's existence in technical terms. I feel like I would have had a better understanding of Misty's point of view if I had a little more knowledge about computers and viruses, but my near non-existent knowledge was enough for me to understand her network based existence.  So do not be put off reading this book if you don't know anything about computers. You will still be able to enjoy the story without being a professional computer programmer.
I feel like Brookes takes your basic stock character (the manipulative, dangerous woman or bullied, close to the edge student) and developments them beyond that. Even character's who do not live long in this book have a unique personality, motivation and thoughts. There are no clones, and the range of character's just makes Misty seem more horrific as her reach ranges from drug dealers, students, political candidates and even computer savvy shut-ins.
I found it a little strange that, of all the people in this story, Dan is the one to wonder if Misty is a self aware A.I. Yes, he is a computer guy, so I suppose he would be more familiar with ideas related to computers, the internet and the things that exist inside them, but it just seemed a little... philosophical for Dan. However, I can easily believe that Dan is a character who can grow well beyond his rather pitiful starting point in the novel. While clever, and perhaps even, to some degree, relatable to some people, I found Dan was truly a man-child. I don't find this an attractive feature in men - but let's remember, not all characters are meant to be our dream fantasy. That's why I like Brookes' range of characters; this isn't a story about attractive people doing glamorous things. This is a story about people dealing with something evil and something which most aren't equipped to deal with. It's a story about making deals for things typically regarded as bad - such as money, power or sex.
Sarah, the story's main character, is a likeable guide in the story. Her romance with Reynolds' is a little predictable, but, as a reader, I felt like she deserved it given her history. However, I did guess that Reynolds would be killed off before romance could truly bloom (it's called the 'Morton & Mitchell' series, after all), but I didn't want it to happen. It seems like this is important to the story, however, because without a partner like Reynolds', Dan becomes more likely as a partner for Sarah in the following books.

The bottom line is that this is a book for anyone who likes cyber set, science fiction or mystery novels. The characters are unique and have a real quality about them, even those that don't live long. Brookes' isn't afraid to take character's on a downward journey to hell from which there is no saving. For that reason the title reference to Faust is well earned. This novel is a must read for those who like their character's realistic and flawed. 
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Saturday, 10 August 2013

Review: A Brooding Beauty

A Brooding Beauty by Jillian Eaton is a short adult book with adult content. While I think a few readers may start reading (or be put off reading) this because of the erotic elements implied by the blurb, I think this novella has merits well beyond that.

A Short Summary: Catherine and Marcus married and were very much in love. Poor communication and general stubbornness, foolishness and sometimes even cruelty, lead Catherine to pursue her husband for a divorce. As a man at the end of his tether Marcus eventually agrees under the condition that she produces an heir. Their journey to eventual reconciliation is heartfelt and passionate.

Descriptions of the heroine, beautiful beyond compare, can often sound a little worn. There are certain features which are often considered attractive and are often written about. These can make characters seem rather boring, despite the fact that they should seem excitingly captivating. Small, slender builds with soft 'feminine' curves, shapely lips and musical voices typically come up in what author's build as a dream woman in their novels. While Eaton does draw on this stock appearance I feel for the purposes of this book it suits, this is helped by the fact that it's told from the male protagonist's point of view in the beginning.

Eaton utilises a strong vocabulary which helps to flesh out the novel, without which it could have been a weak book. Her use of bold, emotional vocabulary makes this story captivating and enables the reader to plunge straight into a story of a warring husband and wife. It is because of this that Eaton's characters have so much life and vitality.

Having the first chapter split into two with first the husband's, Marcus, perspective followed by Catherine's allows the reader to see both sides of the story. Eaton has explored the thoughts and feelings of both character's allowing the reader to see what the characters cannot: that both love each other dearly. I think this works well as a device, because it reminds the reader that love can be spoiled by couples failing to communicate and withholding the truth of things to each other.

One of the things I disliked about this book was the ever typical sex language 'yes, just like that'. It seems like those words have become synonymous with sexual intercourse and feel that perhaps Eaton could have found some other way to describe the fact that the first sexual encounter of the two main characters was surprisingly pleasurable and went perfectly swell without any problems. It could just be me that finds those sorts of lines over used and a little cringe worthy. In all fairness this spanned only a few lines - it's just one of my pet hates, though it hardly ruined the novella.

This novella is set in the past.  As far as I'm aware there's no direct mention to a time period. To be honest, the exact time period of this novella does not matter too much. The time period merely allows the Eaton to employ conventions of the past (such as divorce and adultery being scandalous) and also rids the fictional world of things like pants (or panties if you're American). It also allows Eaton to play with the strong gender roles of the past where the male is gruff and dominant, while the female attempts to gain control in the relationship, but ultimately allows herself to become the submissive which, to this day continues to be a popular base for romance and erotic literature.

While I don't think it really matters when this novella is set (I believe the details are vague for a reason), keen readers of historical novels may be left a little underwhelmed. In this book there is reference to a 'Mathew Twinning' and tea shop, however Thomas Twinning was the first tea Twinning and his heir was Daniel. The Twinning's London (Strand to be exact) tea shop was first opened in 1706. Around that time, however, coffee houses were popular and they were a men only establishment. I don't know a lot about English history, but I would guess this book to be set around the early or pre-Victorian period. There's no mention of electricity, but divorce is a (disagreeable) possibility and women in the novel walk alone and visit tearooms. A little more research suggests these novels are set in the Regency period, not sure if that is accurate or not. In many ways Catherine breaks many social conventions of past eras (from what my brief research tells me) such as refuses confinement when pregnant, desire for a divorce and her general attitude. Her behaviour is scandalous, to say the least, however as this novel centres almost exclusively around Catherine and her husband the wider social implications of her behaviour are rarely commented on. However, I'm sure many readers are happy to allow history to be twisted in fiction because 'it's just a story' and because the time period doesn't play a major role in the book.

In terms of general quality I would say this novella is of a high standard. The front cover is attractive and matches the story (though I personally imagined Catherine to look softer in the face, the model looks a little sharp to me). From my second read I saw only one possible typo ('her red hair is wild disarray' was perhaps meant to be 'in' instead of 'is'). In short, this novella was written in a wonderfully dramatic and passionate style, which captures the personality of Eaton's equally spirited two main characters. Not one word was wasted and even an epilogue was employed to give the reader a more wholesome end to the story as opposed to simply leaving it at the reconciliation stage.
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