Friday, 21 October 2016

The Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and The Man with the Horn.

What We Thought: The Glue Ponys is billed as a short story collection but to my mind it is more a collection of vignettes. Anecdotal in form and substance, these pieces give glimpses into life at the lower end of society. We meet the drugged up and the desperate, the sick, the dying and the imprisoned. People live in cars or on the street; they con, steal and do tricks for drug money. This is a world of junkies, hookers and hustlers.

Though often fundamentally sad, these stories are never miserable. There is plenty of humour here – dark humour involving bodies in cupboards, beached whales, over-literal porn stars, and a redneck neo-nazi “being pinned to the wall by a six foot two black male transvestite with fake tits and wearing a spandex leotard.”

Chris Wilson spent time with “the lost and wandering of America” living on the streets and in the prisons of the USA before returning to the UK. Though this collection is classed as fiction, it would seem many of the incidents recorded are autobiographical or based on personal experience. The writing is straightforward and gritty, though at times I found the language of the streets and drug culture a little obscure. No punches are pulled and the reality of life in the gutter is exposed like a pus-filled open wound.

It’s difficult not to like these bruised and bleeding characters, though – the wily, the stupid, the drug-addled – and to feel for them in their deludedly optimistic quests for another score, another hit, another chance.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jim Carroll, William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski.

Avoid if you dislike: Anything too gritty, druggy or sleazy.

Ideal accompaniments: Jim Carroll’s Catholic Boy album.

Genre: General Fiction/Short Stories

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Paralian by Liam Klenk

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: The extraordinary tale of an exceptional life. Any one of the barbed wire fences Klenk has overcome might be enough to define an average person, but this journey is as far from average as can be imagined.

Born into the wrong body, adopted by dysfunctional parents, battling spasticity, marrying for convenience, living as an agnostic with Mormons, undergoing gender reassignment, suffering heartbreak and embracing career changes while digging deep for a true identity, this is an epic journey. An odyssey.

Paralian, meaning a water-dweller, is a wonderful way to connect the flowing adventures and experiences. Each chapter takes the name of a body of water, and each has as much variance of temperature and hue.

Autobiographies tread a delicate line. Especially those rare few actually written by the subject, as opposed to handed over to ghostwriters. How to balance the personal journey and the unavoidable self-regard? Thankfully, Klenk gets it right. This is essentially a subjective take on a set of jaw-dropping adventures and the character who managed not only to survive, but to triumph.

Readers travel through peaks and troughs without ever losing sympathy with our narrator, even when he exasperates himself. By the end of the book, we feel we have made a fascinating friend and feel uplifted by the encounter.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Avoid if you don’t like
: Personal intimate stories of body and mind

Ideal accompaniments: A Sea Breeze cocktail, freshly grilled barracuda and a view of the ocean

Genre: Autobiography, non-fiction

Buy on Amazon

Monday, 19 September 2016

To Retribution by FJ Curlew

Reviewer: JW Hicks

What we thought: This novel, a convoluted thriller with nods to Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, gives a Nostradamus-like prediction of the rise of the Right in the Britain of the not-too-distant future.

After a coup, life in Britain has changed beyond recognition. Fear and intimidation reigns. The only law is meted out by the New Dawn security force. The only citizens that prosper are the lickspittle followers of the facist regime. Corruption is widespread, especially amongst the new political elite.

Two young journalists, Suze and Jake, bent on reporting political corruption on their pirate website find themselves attacked by New Dawn security force. Barely escaping death in a raid on their secret headquarters they set out to discover exactly why they have been so murderously targeted. Their journey of discovery is a long and winding trail along which they not only meet horrors they couldn’t imagine, but allies that share their hatred of the new regime.

Gripping from the outset, To Retribution, is a fast paced narrative which leads its youthful protagonists into the very heart of a truly evil conspiracy.

A definite page turner!

You’ll enjoy if you like: Fast paced action culminating in an all-ends-tied-up finish. 
Avoid if you don’t like: Political corruption and fascist atrocities.

Ideal accompaniments: A hot toddy and a wrap-around comforter.

Genre: Thriller

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights. (

What we thought: Quote: “There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.”

I listened to the audio version of Gregory’s new release, wonderfully narrated by Bianca Amato.

I am a huge fan of historical fiction, and Philippa Gregory in particular is one of my favourite authors. Her prose may not be as lyrical, and the narrative not as layered as some other writers in the genre – but what she never ceases to give you us a damn good story.

This book is no exception. Written in first person, present tense, it relates the story of a little-known Tudor queen, Dowager Queen Margaret of Scotland – eldest sister to Henry VIII. Married at fourteen to King James of Scotland, moved from her life at the Royal Palaces of London to the remote and barren land of Scotland, we see Tudor life from a completely different perspective.

The three queens mentioned in the title of the novel are Margaret, her sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon, and her younger sister Mary, who became Dowager Queen of France. All three of the young princesses were ‘sold’ off for their titles at a very young age, all three of them in constant rivalry at the Royal Court, all three of them went on to face infant deaths and the betrayal of the men they married. In fact, their lives mirror each other’s in so many ways, it’s almost like this is a work of fiction, rather than based on historic fact.

Of course, we all know the story of Henry VIII but seeing it from the outside, from the remote castles of Scotland, and discovering how this strong and independent woman coped in the turbulent Tudor period, and managed to successfully get her son to the Scottish throne, was a truly entertaining experience. Gregory proudly shows the strength and guile of a woman, who although betrayed by men and let down by her role in society, become powerful through her own hard work and guile and owned her own lands and fortune in a time when this was unheard of.

Great story, superbly narrated, excellent pacing and strong characterisation. This is Gregory at her best and comes highly recommended.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Hilary Mantel, Barbara Erskine, Alison Weir.

Avoid if you don’t like: Royal Courts, scandal, philandering husbands and whores!

Ideal accompaniments: Venison pie and a tankard of small ale.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Available on Amazon

The Trysting Tree by Linda Gillard

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights. (

What we thought: I’ve read and enjoyed at least three of Linda Gillard’s previous novels now, so I looked forward in anticipation to catching up with her latest The Trysting Tree.

This is an enchanting and compelling story of love and loss over a hundred years, all set beneath the leafy boughs of the ancient trysting tree which has hidden the secrets of many women in its lifetime. The idea is charming in its originality and worked well for me, passages written both in a modern day scenario, where the current owners of the house and gardens discover through long-forgotten diaries and letters, the love and loss of a previous generation of occupants.

I’ve read novels with similar narratives before, and the key to making the novels work is the ability to connect the reader with the character – and I’m pleased to say I think the author really nailed it here. The modern day story between Ann and Connor was well written, the baggage of their respective pasts finally revealing itself as their love deepened. And in the historical thread, the triangle the author weaved between a previous mistress of the house and her staff was gripping and emotional.

I have a real soft spot for novels that blend elements of present and past so that the reader is presented with a satisfying tapestry of stories, which, when done well blend together effortlessly for a satisfying conclusion. Every box was ticked in this novel by a talented writer.

Highly recommended for people new to Linda Gillard’s work and for fans of her writing this is certainly up there with the best.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jan Ruth, Elizabeth Harris, Gill Paul.

Avoid if you don’t like: Country living and artistic folk.

Ideal accompaniments: Blue cheese and a large Chardonnay spritzer.

Genre: Contemporary.

Available on Amazon

Holding by Graham Norton

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and The Man with the Horn.

What We Thought: Yes, it’s by that Graham Norton. This is his first novel and I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here goes: It’s not bad. It’s actually not at all bad. A minor grammatical blip in the first paragraph almost put me off but then I realised I was being a bit up myself and carried on.

Set in the small Irish town of Duneen, Holding delves into the murky pasts of the various residents. There’s the rather odd Evelyn Ross and her sisters, spinsters all, and there’s Brid Riordan, unhappily married and hitting the bottle. There’s Mrs Meany, the housekeeper, and there’s the overweight Sgt PJ Collins who Mrs Meany ‘does’ for. There is also the sleepy background of Duneen itself and its shopkeepers, publicans and incidental others.

The discovery of bones buried on a building site shakes the town awake and gives PJ Collins his first real crime to solve. Apparently Tommy Burke, the former owner of the farm on which the body is found, mysteriously disappeared some twenty years or so ago. Rumours begin to fly that he never left. PJ soon discovers that Tommy was involved with both Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross. Into the mix comes Cork Detective Linus Dunne, at first PJ’s adversary but ultimately a respected colleague.

The characters are beautifully drawn, very real and fully human. The plot is intriguing and has a surprising twist. The writing shines with humour, sadness, and most of all compassion. I was touched by this story, cynic that I am, and the large, sweaty PJ is policeman I would love to meet again. I can see a series arising out of this and if done sensitively, it would make delightful television.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Hamish Macbeth.

Avoid if you dislike: Cosyish crime.

Ideal accompaniments: A full Irish breakfast and vast quantities of tea.

Genre: General/Crime Fiction.

Available on Amazon

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Humans by Matt Haig

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: This is a tough one to get right. Too practical and it becomes geeky. Too sentimental and it becomes mawkish. Matt Haig’s tale of the alien who comes to Earth to smother certain information treads that line with near-perfect balance.

Our narrator, an alien sent on this mission as a punishment, observes the Humans in a similar tone to Mork and Mindy. He’s assumed the form of a middle-aged maths professor and with the body comes a wife, son, job and dog. Like all aliens to another culture, at first he is repulsed and yearns to complete his duty and return home.

Yet as he grows to understand this ugly race with their facial protruberances, he begins to see nuance and his clinical observations gain a philosophical note.

Some great comic moments with shades of darkness and touching insight combine to convey a sinister premise in a light tone. Imagine The Terminator directed by Richard Curtis.

It’s touching and likeable and provokes some put-down-the-book-and-think moments.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, the work of Matt Haig

Avoid if you don’t like: Philosophical insights on the human condition, some swearing and mathematics

Ideal accompaniments: Peanut butter sandwiches, a glass of Pimms and Holst’s The Planets in the background

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Available on Amazon