The Home Front Detective: Dance of Death by Edward Marston Review

Edward Marston’s fifth book in his The Home Front Detective Series is set against the backdrop of World War One. Murder, sex and scandal are all involved, so Smile Sessions should love it, but do we?

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Autumn 1916; a German Zeppelin moves silently across the night sky before being shot down by an English fighter plane. Those brave enough to watch are cheering with ardent delight, but one man – Simon Wilder – cannot join in the celebrations, instead he takes his last breath drenched in his own blood.

The fifth in Edward Marston’s The Home Front Detective Series promises a lot. The Daily Mail emphatically explains Marston: “has tapped into a rich vein of inspiration,” and as newbie to his work I was hoping they would be right. I haven’t read the previous four of the series, so I was little concerned I would get lost amongst characters that should, after four books, be well established. We’ve all been there, you get a book only to find out it’s the second, third, or fourth, (place any number) in a series and, as you try to get into it you realise you can’t. It’s not because the writing or the story is no good, but instead it’s because you feel as if you are diving into a life that really you know nothing about, but it’s clear that you should. So the book gets put aside, waiting to the day you finally purchase the previous ones, which if you are anything like me you’ll forget to do.

My advice for this book, if you’ve not read the others, is don’t be ‘scared’ of it. Yes, there is some backstory you feel that you’re missing out on, but overall Marston has a way of pulling you in, not only into the story of murder, but also of the personal lives of the characters without ‘penalising’ you for not having read his other books.

Now, with that out of the way, onto the actual review.

Simon Wilder, a champion ballroom dancer is butchered in an alleyway – with no apparent witnesses around but a seemingly endless list of potential suspects, Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy are on the hunt for the murderer. Under the beady, patronising eye of their superior Claude Chatfield, they find themselves thrown into the shady entertainment industry where lies, hatred, sex and scandal run rife amongst their ever-growing list of potential killers. With the added strain of their own intwined personal lives strained, the two find themselves in hot water both at home and on the job as they struggle to identify the killer.

Marston seems to be an expert at making you doubt yourself. That is the first thing. He really has got this inexplainable way of taking something you feel you believe in and turning it 180 degrees, until it couldn’t possibly be right. You find out you are indeed wrong, but in a completely different way to what you originally thought had made you wrong. It’s a confusing, and entertaining way of keeping you, the audience, enamoured with a story that quite frankly, once I got to the end, I felt had already been written time-and-time again. That doesn’t however mean it was a bad read, Marston’s ability to confuse and mislead means you won’t realise just how predictable the story is until you finish it, and you should finish it.

Having said you should finish it, there are perhaps a few things I should say before you start. Firstly, it’s an incredibly easy read – the dialogue feels extraordinary simply, which sometimes feels as though this book’s target reader is teen rather than adult. Secondly, it’s not complex – yes it’s confusing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean complex. If you are into deep and meaningful reads, although there is an element of the travesty of what World War One did to returning soldiers (in the form of Marmion’s son), this doesn’t really hit the spot. If you are also into books where you really have no idea whodunnit than this perhaps also isn’t for you. Yes it’s confusing, and Marston makes you doubt yourself – but if you are a crime novel extraordinaire,and you also tend to stick to your guns, then you might work this out at about the halfway point.

Having said that, I will be purchasing the first book in the series, as although the murder plot wasn’t my favourite I have become quite attached to the personal lives of some of the characters. I find I want to know more about them, which is where I think Marston’s talent truly lies. In a matter of a few hundred pages he has made you invest in the characters – brought them to life, and even if you didn’t think you would originally, he makes you want to know what happens. This book is certainly more than just a murder mystery, it brings to light real feelings and real common issues that people face daily. The backdrop of World War One certainly allows the story a more interesting set-up, and the use of bringing people back from war who are suffering is a large part of what makes this book compelling.

It might not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it certainly has a little something-something that is making me go back for more. This book is definitely a grower, stick with it and you’ll find it does get better.

Promise.

Buy this book here.

 

 

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee – Review

” If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?” page 251

IMG_1760I’ll start of by telling you that I struggled with this book. I don’t for definite know the reason behind my struggle, I just didn’t want to pick it up after I would put it down, but when I did pick it up I wouldn’t want to put it down. It was for me a hard read, and took me a lot longer then a book of this size usually would. But, I’m still so glad that I read it because I seriously enjoyed this novel.

Harper Lee brings to life a glorious and humorous world of prejudice, race, violence and hypocrisy viewed through a child’s eyes.

When a white young woman is suspected to have been raped by a young black man, tensions fly in a 1930s town stooped with coloured prejudices and incorrect theories and gossip. Where race is what makes you who you are, and family name gives you standing Scout Finch alongside her brother Jem are plunged into an adult world which, quite frankly is just one big mess of grown-up irrational hypocrisy. Where one man, their father, begins to rise against the oh-so-typical standing that white is right and black is well black and therefore wrong and defends the alleged rapist. Scout and Finch must grow and come to terms with a world that doesn’t make any sense. A world that makes no sense, if like these two children you go with your gut instincts of morality.

Although perhaps a six-year-old Scout would not know half the words that come out in the writings of Lee and this does sort of hack away at the believability of it all, you can forgive it. You can forgive it because this book, written in the 1960s gives a voice to the children of generations who didn’t understand (quite rightly) the black and white issue. An issue that wasn’t an issue until they were grown and had the ideas placed in their heads by parents and other elders that mixing black and white was wrong. Until they were brought up to believe that some are born ‘better’ then others, which as a child you don’t even think about. You just want to play, or at least I did. I couldn’t have cared less if my friend was an interesting hue of blue so long as they knew how to play skipping rope.

Lee definitely has a unique way with her words and as she moves through the years within the books, and the difficulties Scout faces firstly from growing up and secondly from the backlash of the trial that brings about dangers of its own. This book is exciting and truly I hated putting it down, which is part of my issue with why I didn’t want to pick it up again afterwards. Part of me says the reason is, was that I had no way of knowing if I was going to like what I read next. I knew from what I had already read that Lee was an exceptional writer and her style and prose had me hooked, but was I, morally going to like what she was writing? Of course for some bits this turned out to be a no, but this book was made to be read.

It was made to be enjoyed and to be understood.

I don’t believe for one moment this is a book that should be forced upon school children, like we had Catcher of the Rye done to us (which still to this day makes me shudder at the sight of it) I think this book should be encouraged as a message. Even today there is a lot of racial tension and prejudice against people of all different colours and nationalities. But from the eyes of a child there is only one question that is asked, and that is why?

Hatred or fear for the sake of hatred or fear is pointless. It has no meaning, but still people fight one another for no clear cut reason other then that person is different.

Harper Lee brings up an interesting point towards the end of her book, and I think this will probably stay with me for a long time. Whilst the youngest Finch, believes that all people are the same the eldest has started to wonder if they are all the same. Because of judgements passed and views full of hatred shown how can people be considered a unified people, if some are not allowed to be a part of it. This idea of growing out of unity really reminded me why its so important that children are taught to accept and be accepted by others because growing up with the notion that others are different in a bad way, is no way to grow up at all.

I thoroughly recommend this book, it simply is wonderful.

To purchase on Amazon click here.

The Road Of The Dead, Kevin Brooks – Review

IMG_0866I’ve had this book since I was 15. That’s seven years of having it and, not reading it. I can’t really justify why I never read it, there was just something that seemed more exciting available on my book shelf. So, after a seven year waiting period I finally picked it up. I was originally worried that being 22 would impact how I read this book which lends itself to the ‘young adult/teen thriller’ genre, but I was pleasantly surprised.

To me, there are a lot of things that are right with this book, but there are also quite a few bits that are wrong as well.

The premise of this book is about two young half-gypsy brothers, both with sort of non-human talents, who discover their sister has been left naked, raped and strangled in a grey village in Dartmoor. Whilst Cole, the eldest of the two brothers has a way with his fists and can blank out his humanity to get answers Ruben has almost telepathic gifts. He can sense others feelings, he feels his sister’s death by whom he describes as The Dead Man and seems to understand why someone has done something before they do. They find themselves fighting to have their sister’s body returned to them so she can be laid to rest. What follows is these two young lads fighting to track down the culprit of the crime. When they finally get to the village they are met with hostility and defiance and discover that Rachel, their sister was murdered in a more complication and dangerous way then what they first thought. This book leads up to a pretty explosive finale, where all is finally revealed.

Trying to put the plot down on paper without giving too much away was a lot harder then I imagined. This book is full of twists and turns that leave the reader wanting more. Brooks’ creation and development of characters is almost perfect. Whilst I found myself feeling for the two title characters I did wish that sometimes Brooks’ would give just a little more to them. It’s difficult to justify this feeling with words but knowing their father was in jail for murder, which is brought up a few times in the novel, meant I had more questions about the characters that weren’t answered. Part of me wonders if because it’s a 22-year-old me reading the book, and not a 15-year-old me.

The book really is about vigilante justice, mainly coming from the eldest brother Cole Ford. Although I could sense some realism from the book I really felt that there was lack of credibility when it came to the consequences of vigilante actions. Some of the events that occur in the book I really felt would justify jail time as opposed to a quick beating, but artistic license is a wonderful thing. I also found it pretty ridiculously that a 17-year-old and 14-year-old could make such an impact on a village full of adults, but then again for a younger reader this probably wouldn’t sound totally bizarre.

This book is dark and can at some points make for uncomfortable reading, I’m not sure I would’ve coped that well with this book if I had been under the age of 15 when I read it, but I guess it really does depend on the maturity level of the person reading it. It’s a very enjoyable book though, if like me you can get over your problems of believability. Brooks’ has a way with words that can immediately transform a scene and cause a visual to pop straight into your head. He can define a place and describe it into a reality. As a reader I felt part of the fabric of the story and this is what gave this book to me it’s overwhelming and deeply emotional premise a base to stand on.

Although slightly chaotic as the book reaches its final with more of my credibility issues coming through Brooks’ does try to balance out the chaos with some interesting and realistic descriptions of occurrences. Graphic though it may be, I did begin to find myself swept away in it all and even though rational me knows that what is occurring in the books is so unlikely I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

One thing I didn’t enjoy however, was the ending. Now this maybe completely personal because for me I struggle with a lot of stories endings, to me there are never good enough. But this one was pretty dismal. It just kind of ended. Like a happily ever after ending and to me it didn’t fit with the book. Brooks’ had got himself in one place and was doing mighty well with it, then you turn the page and it was almost like you were reading a different book altogether. There was no way in mind that this book should have ended as it did, but I guess at the end of the day 15-year-old me would have accepted it and thought it was justifiably happy for all the crap the brothers had already been through.

Maybe that is the difference between me then and now though.

I would highly recommend this book though even with the disappointing ending, the rest of the book is well worth the read. I struggled though trying to think of a suitable age I would put this book out to. I saw on some website some kids as young as 11 reading it, and there is no way I would tell my niece whose about that age to read it. For me the concept of rape and strangulation along with some of the other gritty events that occur in this book would probably minimum say 14-years-old. But then again, today kids seems to be desensitised from such a young age maybe they wouldn’t find it as horrifying as I know I would have done aged 11.

To purchase this book by it here at Amazon.

Not That Kind Of Girl, Lena Dunham – Review

IMG_0844So this week, I went through two books the first was The Miniaturist, and next was this fantastmiscal (yes made up but necessary) book by Lena Dunham. In fact this little gem is so good, I read it in one day. I simply couldn’t put it down, and when I did it made my head hurt so I picked it straight back up so I could finish it.

Oh Lena, well done.

I am not a fan of Lena Dunham, I have never once watched HBO’s Girls which she writes, directs, and stars in as I just thought it looked boring. I would go as far as to say that when I saw the advert, I almost felt a bit sick. I sort of stuffed Lena Dunham into the category of: she’s there but I’m not bothered by her, in fact I can’t remember what she look like. Harsh, but a reality in my life. I do tend to categorise. Well I should have listened to my mum and dad when they said never judge a book by its cover, because how hilarious is this woman. Utterly hilarious is the answer.

This book is the correct mix of; shock factor – when she discusses her rape which she herself is confused about and some odd and slightly worrying bits about her sister, humour – all the other bits, and generally giving the air that you could get to know this woman and actually, maybe even surprisingly like her. Now I’ve read it I feel bad about how I sort of judged her before I even ‘got to know her’. You feel as if you can relate to Lena if not because some her weird confessions and hilarious anecdotes remind you of your own life but, because of her language. The way a friend talks to a friend, and not just a friend but someone they feel like they can really trust. And you, the reader feel sort of special because it seems as if she is discussing things that are usually keep confined inside.

Dunham is honest, and that counts for a lot.

In a world where so many people lie about the big things and so many lie about the small things, whether that’s in their books,  television, press or just their daily lives Lena Dunham seems, at least, to be epitomise honesty. From declaring that she had a weird sex dream involving her dad, yikes, to how she coped with therapy, Lena explores what it means to be a woman, the pros and the cons. Blanched with feminism, but supportive of men at the same time, she seems to have a rather quirky self awareness and she imparts the wisdom that she has ‘learned’ to all those who chose to read this.

I have never been a fan of autobiographies or any type of biographies at all, in fact I avoid them like the plague. I don’t really know why, they don’t tend to offend me or amuse me, but really I think why should I care that much about that person’s life. It’s not my business. It’s theirs, and personal life should be personal, even if you live in the public eye. You shouldn’t relive your childhood for a profit. But maybe once again, I’ve been too quick to judge. I would seriously consider reading another biography now, but I truly wonder if anyone can touch on Lena Dunham’s honest way of writing and her satirical self-deprecation which makes her, to me a person I would actually invest my time in. Any ideas for my next biography?

So bring it on, I’m off to buy Girls!

If you want to take a peek into Lena’s life you can purchase you copy of Not That Kind Of Girl here.

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton – Review

IMG_0834This book has been well and truly hyped up. It seems to be everywhere since its publication. Hitting the bestselling list, week after week. Winning and being nominated for bits and bobs here and there. Translated into different languages across the globe it was sure to be an astonishing book.

Perhaps though, after having read so many wonderful and sometimes cryptic reviews I had my expectations a little too high, and this debut novel from Jessie Burton just couldn’t live up to it. That however, is categorically my fault and, although I was definitely swept away and found myself caught up in the Nella Oortman’s story I was left uninspired at the end. In fact, although Burton has this wonderful way of building suspense and creating hauntingly exquisite atmospheres I just wished I’d not read it to the end. Instead I would have settled for one chapter before it. But hey hindsight is a great thing.

Set in 17th century Amsterdam, 18-year-old Nella Oortman arrives to meet her new husband and begin a life as the wife of the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. As Nella’s wedding life begins with her husband basically avoiding her at every possible moment, she starts to wonder if this is all life has to offer. But, as her husband produces a wedding gift of a cabinet-sized doll’s house that is identical to the house they live in, Nella begins to learn secrets about her husband, her sister-in-law and herself. Employing a mysterious woman to create pieces for her little house, Nella’s life soon turns into a circus of chaos and harsh realities that this miniaturist seems to know before she does.

In some respects this book is absolutely fantastic, like I’ve mentioned before, Burton has a real gift for descriptions and creating suspense which, kept pages turning almost frantically trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It is haunting in so much that, you really can’t figure out what will be on the next page. And whilst this was great you do start to wonder, if everything this family has had happen to them could really happen to one family. It almost seems too much, too overwhelming, the different sorts of plot twists Burton undertakes; race, sex and feminism to name but a few and the clarity of which she often leaves these twists leave you no closer to understanding anything about them.

Her writing is so stunning, but the clarity of the book to me, was just not there. I got confused so easily, perhaps though that’s how my brain is, but I just couldn’t sort all the information I needed. Whilst Burton literally leaves you on the edge of your seat the ending is pretty dull. All of sudden everything has become clear, but in a none clear way. Confused? Me too. Everything you thought you knew you don’t. Long conversations that Nella is remembering, you don’t even realised happened because they aren’t in the book as far as I’m aware. Love, that you didn’t even know about is suddenly out in the open. And the escalation of the consequences of one character’s actions is almost dismissed. At least, that’s how I read it.

Still, there is something about this book, and about the way Burton tries, quite confidently I would say to hold her own. She does have a way with words, she has researched Amsterdam and also the actual Petronella Oortman doll’s house that inspired her novel, and she can write. I just can’t make myself like this book, but having said that I literally can’t wait for her next one.

To purchase this book visit Amazon!

Jonny Duddle’s Harry Potter Cover Collection

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I wonder if that little strip of prettiness above these words, along with the title of the blog gives away what I’m going to write about today. Could it be something to do with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter, Bloomsbury and the extraordinarily talented Jonny Duddle? Well…if you were thinking those precise words then you would be right.

I love Rowling’s Harry Potter books, much more then the films – although I still, to this day find myself a little bit in love with Draco Malfoy? Sorry. But I am one of those kind of people, yes those, who hates it, literally can’t stand it when my collection of books don’t match. I don’t like to call it an obsession but, it does sort of enter into those realms, for example I haven’t read the last book in the Divergent Trilogy yet simply because I can’t find a matching copy!

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I was taking a sneaky peek at the Bloomsbury website looking for a job with my favourite publishing house, ultimating ending with a rejection email (cry) but more positively ending with me ordering this stunning complete set of Jonny Duddle’s illustrated Harry Potter books (whoop). So all is not lost. Especially when these lovelies arrived at my front door to carry the sadness away. PLEASE NOTE this, I bought the children’s edition set of Harry Potter but there is an adult version which is thoroughly beautiful done by Andrew Davidson which is definitely a bit more sophisticated, unlike myself. Both these paperback sets are currently £53.99.

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Without further ado, here are the photographs of the books which really don’t do the actually illustrations any justice but I did promise them to you.
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Jonny Duddle also does something perfect he adds little surprise illustrations round the back of the books which represent what’s occurs, or a favourite character much like the beautiful illustration of Dobby the house elf which I put on my Instagram. The rest of the pretty ones I’m leaving so you can have a surprise if you buy!

I think this collection speaks for itself they are absolutely glorious. Right from the start you get a feeling of the world of Harry Potter, especially if you’ve been hiding under a rock since 1997. It’s almost been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book came out and became pretty much iconic from the start and these books still provide magic today especially with their new covers. All I can say is that my obsessiveness is taking a rest now I’ve achieved the ultimate – a got a matching set of Harry Potter.

Right what’s next for my obsessive tick?

Lord of the Rings?

To purchase this Jonny Duddle children’s paperback set click here.

For the Jonny Duddle’s hardback version £103.50.

And for the adult version by woodcutter Andrew Davidson which is pretty damn amazing click this sentence, now!

The Outsiders, S.E.Hinton – Review

IMG_0749I never thought I would enjoy a novel like The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. All I could see when I looked at the cover and read the blurb was sameness. A story that would no doubt be exactly the same as like West Side Story. Now, although I love West Side Story I just couldn’t get it out of my head that The Outsiders just probably wasn’t worth reading simply because it would be the same. There would be gang fights, and some sort of forbidden romance which would only end in tears yadedahdedah. Oh so typical.

Well if I had a hat, I would eat it.

It took me a year to actually buy this book and read it, and now I wish I’d read it sooner. Yes there are similarities between a lot of other things like West Side Story and a little bit of Grease but this novel stands out on its own. It’s quite simply put awe-inspiring.

Knowing first and foremost that this book was written in the 60s by a 17-year-old girl did at first give me more doubt. How could someone not involved have any idea what she was talking about? Could a 17-year-old actually have enough maturity to write a novel like this and really would I find any relevance in the novel today? To these questions Hinton smashes it. Basing the two rival gangs of her book The Greasers and The Socials (Socs) on actual rival gangs of the same names that she watched clash during her high school years, Hinton was able to give this book credibility and realistic qualities. She may not have been part of the gangs she used an inspiration but she certainly seems to get the general gist of gang ‘warfare’ from what she potentially saw. Being 17 also didn’t stop her, and I should know better then thinking a teenager can’t pull off such a serious topic because Hinton, just can. And worrying about how accessible the book would be to me was just unfounded. It’s seemingly timeless. What Hinton explores in her book is, sadly just the same as what a lot of people, young people especially see and experience today.

Hinton creates the character of Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year-old Greaser from the East Side who within about two pages of the beginning of the book is jumped by The Socs, a gang from the more blue-collared well-to-do West Side who drive around in their flashy cars jumping Greasers. All very typical stuff I would say for a novel about gangs. This sort of theme is the book, and it continues throughout; Socs jumping Greasers, Greasers retaliating, until one night a fatal stabbing of a Soc occurs forcing Ponyboy and the stabber Johnny another Greaser into hiding.

Up until this point in the novel we learn about how Ponyboy, the youngest Greaser comes to terms with being raised by primarily his oldest brother Darry whilst his middle brother Sodapop is the pendulum in the middle of the two’s turbulent relationship. Their parents having died in a car accident a short while before this book is set, give the appearance of a family who were almost broken by tragedy. Being six years older than Ponyboy Darry, must give up his dreams and desires to raise his younger brothers which leave him often seeming hard and uncaring. Through Ponyboy’s eyes we develop a feeling of hardness towards Darry as it seems he simply doesn’t seem to care about Ponyboy; grounding him, always nagging about his Greaser behaviour (although Darry himself is a Greaser) and staying out late. As an older reader it was all too clear to see how Darry’s care of Ponyboy is his way of showing how much he wants Ponyboy to have a life out of the East Side and how his inexperience at parenting and raising a child being only 20 impacts the way he and Ponyboy react to each other. Hinton’s development at such a young age of this brother-to-father relationship is one that astonishes me. We’ve all, as teenagers had problems with our parents nagging, being exasperated at us for not living up to our potential but we only really understand why our parents act like this as we get older. Hinton seems to have worked this out long before I ever did and she writes their relationship so well, that you can’t help but get caught up in how you felt when you were younger and your parent was nagging. This relationship is a perfect side-story to Ponyboy’s rapidly changing life in The Outsiders and provides heartbreak as well as happiness throughout.

One of the other things that I am probably going to go on for too long about is Hinton’s way of expressing how the divide between the two rivals; the Socs and the Greasers is only one of many problems and how each social group suffer. Using Ponyboy as a tool to deliver the realisation that although Greasers are financially worse off, they have no breaks and their lives are pretty much set in an unbreakable stone of poverty Socs have their own demons they have to fight. Being rich, although it’s quite clearly helpful doesn’t solve life’s many problems. Ponyboy’s original attitude of how unjust the system is changes with introductions to new characters such as Soc girl, Cherry Valance (no romance, woopie) and as he learns more about the Soc who is killed and other potentially typical Soc problems he learns that no one’s life is perfect. Nobody can control the accident of where they were born, and who they were born to. The Socs who fight The Greasers are almost as damaged by some social impacts as The Greasers are. Whilst Greasers are born into believing their will fail Socs are not allowed to. An unjust and unfair situation of what makes a person better. Hinton’s language and words are riveting during the course of this book.

As we learn to love each of The Greasers separately and begin to understand the meaning of friends who are also family we are drawn deeper into a world which cannot seemingly end happily. As we lose characters that we actually bond with there is a sort of realisation of a deeper meaning of how a life is significant not by what you achieve but the choices you make and the fear of doing what’s right versus what you’re being pressured into doing by someone else.

Hinton’s book is a masterpiece of peer pressure and teenage rebellion. And as you begin to figure out what is happening in the book, you are thrown one last twist at the end which leaves you smiling through tears.

In this book there is an important poem by Robert Frost which is constantly referred to. It’s lovely little poem and it really does define this book. So here it is:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost1874 – 1963
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
To buy The Outsiders on Amazon click on the title.
OR,
Check out the movie here.