April 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)A much more productive month on the reading front and I have also stolen a march on May, pre-reading some cracking new releases. That’s good.

However, with such a frenetic pace of reading, trying to get ahead of myself, I kind of lost sight of reviewing the April titles too. That’s bad.

There were also a couple of titles that I’ve deliberately avoided reviewing as I just wanted to read them for pleasure, and not have to pick them apart too much for reviewing purposes. However, with this round-up affording me an opportunity to tidy up a few loose ends let’s crack on, and clear those decks shall we? May is going to be a busy month with blog tours aplenty, a plethora of brilliant crime releases, and the Raven’s attendance at a certain little crime shindig in Bristol….

Books read and reviewed:

David Jackson-  A Tapping At My Door

Annemarie Neary- Siren

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night

Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City

Also read…

dodWhen East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip straight down the middle of white, rural America to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin. Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty, leave the only home they’ve ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map and a gun they shouldn’t have. Along the way, the country surprises East. The blood on his hands isn’t the blood he expects. And he reaches places where only he can decide which way to go or which person to become.

Widely billed as The Wire crossed with road trip movie, I think that this book actually defies the simplicity of this description. In the character of gang member East, who was the absolute stand out for me, Beverly has created something really quite special. This is a bildungsroman for the modern age, with East in particular embracing the possibilities of life outside of the tough LA neighbourhood he inhabits, and the lawless life he leads. As the book progresses and his cohorts fall by the wayside on their cross country mission to murder a trial witness, I found the exploration and growth of East’s character spellbinding throughout. Unlike other reviewers, who bemoan the slower pace of the second half of the book, I thought this worked perfectly, and gave Beverly total reign to explore and describe not only the changes within East, but also aligning these developments in juxtaposition with the new landscape and way of life he undertakes- the urban versus the rural. The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers. An absolute gem and highly recommended.

motherToday, Marcia is heading to the Old Bailey. She’s going there to do something no mother should ever have to do: to attend the trial of the boy accused of her son’s murder. She’s not meant to be that woman; Ryan, her son, wasn’t that kind of boy. But Tyson Manley is that kind of a boy and, as his trial unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s his girlfriend Sweetie who has the answers Marcia so badly needs and who can – perhaps – offer Marcia some kind of hope for the future. But Sweetie is as scared of Tyson as Ryan should have been and, as Marcia’s learned the hard way, nothing’s certain. Not any more.

Categorized as fiction, but following one family’s experience in the aftermath of a heartbreaking crime, The Mother is the second book from Edwards, author of the much lauded A Cupboard Full of Coats. What I loved about this book was the symbiotic balance of the raw, unflinching emotion of a family torn apart by the death of a loved one, set against the remorseless impassivity of both the legal process they must endure, and the perpetrator they face in the courtroom. Edwards takes the reader from one to another with consummate ease, making the heartrending grief of Ryan’s parents, Marcia and Lloydie, and the fissure it has caused in their relationship, all the more poignant against the sterile coldness of the court procedures that Marcia in particular witnesses as the case progresses. Equally, Edwards has a highly attuned ear for, and sharp recognition of, the world of Ryan’s peers, and the insidious grasp of gang culture in the inner city. This comes to the fore in her characterisation of Sweetie, a young girl who is caught between the studious and respectable world of Ryan, and the forced allegiance she has to the local gang. This is a hard-hitting and socially intuitive novel that is ultimately both an emotional and thought-provoking must read. Recommended.

 

poeeeeSummer, 1840. Edgar Allan Poe arrives in London to meet his friend C. Auguste Dupin, in the hope that the great detective will help him solve a family mystery. For Poe has inherited a mahogany box containing sheathes of letters that implicate his grandparents in some of London’s most heinous and scandalous crimes – those committed by the so-called London Monster who, for two years, terrorized the city’s streets, stalking attractive, well-to-do young women, slicing their clothing and their derrières. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to accept that his grandparents – actors who struggled to make a living on the London stage – led a clandestine and nefarious double life, Poe and Dupin set out to prove the missives forgeries. But as they delve deeper into the city’s secrets, and past horrors emerge, they start to suspect that they too are being watched and preyed upon. And if they are, might their stalkers be connected to the London Monster?

With my nom de plume and love of Mr Poe how could I resist this one? Despite my usual hesitation in reading historical crime fiction, I though this was marvellous. Clever, knowing, witty,  and wonderfully researched with not only its reimaging of the salient details of Poe’s life, but also the repositioning of Poe’s relationship with his finest creation Dupin, banding together into a pretty damn effective detective team. Their are tricks, hints and allusions to Poe’s literary oeuvre, which add a layer of reader participation as the book progresses- no, I don’t think I spotted them all- and the use of the infamous real life case of the London Monster adds another layer of interest to the book. It’s beautifully constructed, alive with the feel of the period, and all the darkness, violence and treachery one would expect of any case involving Poe. An intelligent literary crime thriller that will keep you guessing throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

Taking into account the books from both March and April, the Raven has decided to award two books as the stand out reads over this period. I will give very, very, honourable mentions to Annemarie Neary- Siren, Yusuf Toropov-Jihadi, David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door and M. P. Wright- All Through The Night for providing unabated reading pleasure as they were all inherently different, and pushed my buttons in different ways.

However, the two books that have so firmly remained with me since reading, and which I’m still thinking about in the wake of reading them are….drumroll…. these two exceptional reads- Katie Medina- Fire Damage and Bill Beverly- Dodgers The Raven highly recommends both!

medina   dod

 

 

 

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake- Review #BlogTour

in her wakeWelcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the paperback release of Amanda Jennings’ psychological thriller In Her Wake, an emotionally intense exploration of familial relationships, attracting widespread acclaim from readers and reviewers alike…

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life, reminding us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

This is an incredibly female-centric novel, with the author quite evidently showing the amount of time and intensity she has invested into her two central protagonists, Bella and Dawn. Trying hard to avoid any major plot spoilers, the difficult emotional issues that lie between the two women as they seek to build a relationship after many years of estrangement is powerfully drawn, and Jennings spends a considerable amount of the book exploring Bella’s emotional journey in particular, which counterbalances to a degree the slight suspension of disbelief that the reader needs as the story unfolds. Bella is an entirely credible and empathetic character whose growth in stature and confidence drives the book onwards, and refreshingly, she is imbued with a host of insecurities that will be instantly recognisable to the female readership. As she seeks to overcome the trauma of her uncertain background, there is much soul searching and naval gazing on Bella’s part which worked to a certain degree, but at times, through no fault of the author, slowed the narrative down too much- this could have been addressed in the editing stage. Equally, Dawn’s story is crucial to the success of the book, and was for me far more engaging with her difficult emotional background, and her life curtailed by her fierce loyalty to her mother. The sacrifices she has had to make which have thwarted her potential for a far more satisfying life, have set her on a very different course to which she imagined. However, with the strength of the female characters so clearly in evidence throughout, an inevitable consequence of this was the more two-dimensional drawing of the male characters in the book, which did tend to descend into a rather clichéd compartmentalising of the worst male character traits, physical abuser, lothario, controller, doormat, and so on. Consequently, I found my reading experience was frustrated by this underlying feeling of implausibility and frustration as to the male characterisation, but the portrayal of the female characters was more successful and carried the book.

Back on a positive note though, I loved Jennings’ portrayal of Cornwall itself and its unique landscape and weather patterns which so cleverly seemed to echo and reflect the surge of emotions that arise in Bella. The changeable nature of the natural environment of Cornwall is consistently drawn on throughout, so like Bella you can almost feel the sand between your toes, coupled with the mercurial mixture of rain, sun and breeze, and the stomach dropping wonder of a stroll along rugged cliff-tops, with the waves crashing below. I thought this added an overall additional intensity to the emotional turbulence of the plot itself, and very much enjoyed Bella’s perambulating exploration of unfamiliar terrain. In common with Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors which draws on the Scottish folkloric traditions of the Selkie, Jennings uses the Cornish equivalent with her inclusion of mermaid myths, which provided another point of local interest in the book.

Hence, In Her Wake proves itself to be a largely satisfying example of more literary domestic noir, in the currently overcrowded market for this particular genre. The more obvious flaws in the plot, and the weaknesses evident in the male characterisation are roundly dispelled by the strength of Jennings’ female characterisation which is compelling throughout, and the unfailingly pictorial part that her chosen location of Cornwall plays within the book.

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Catch up with, or keep following the In Her Wake Blog Tour at these excellent sites!

 

In Her Wake Blog tour

A Raven’s Eye View of CrimeFest 2015- with added hilarity…

bHaving posted an eminently sensible round-up of some of the highlights of CrimeFest 2015 at Crime Fiction Lover  including the terrific interview by Lee Child of Scandinavian crime legend Maj Sjowall, the announcement of a plethora of awards, and some fascinating debut novelists’ panels, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more light-hearted moments to entertain you. I endeavoured to attend as many panels as possible to bring you some more highlights. Hope you enjoy…

#1. A large percentage of the Icelandic population believe in elves, and in precise statistical terms there are on average 1.5 murders a year. Yes, 1.5…. The elves are invariably convicted.

ONLINE REVIEWS: One panel was asked to bring along to their event, their favourite 1* review posted online. Inevitably “the book arrived late” or “the courier dumped it in my next door neighbour’s garden” featured, but my personal favourite was “I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop”….

#2. One author revealed he has a ‘f**k radar’, to judge the potential response of the assembled throng to potential profanity….

GETTING PUBLISHED: There was a terrific selection of Fresh Blood panels, featuring debut authors, with an incredibly interesting collection of tales about the road to publication. Blood, sweat and tears (and more) featured heavily, but the general consensus was DON’T GIVE UP, the road may be difficult but the end result cannot be beaten, and you will not regret it. The fact that I’ve come back with a list of debut authors to read now is testament to this.

#3 It was possible during WW2 to steer a certain make of Russian tank with your feet resting them on another person’s shoulders. Bet not many of you knew that….but why would you?

THE MOST HILARIOUS PANEL: CFIwGa_WYAAjsMG Moderated by bon vivant crime and YA author Kevin Wignall, I had a feeling that this one would be full of laughs. Stepping bravely into the breach were A. K. Benedict, J. F. Penn, Oscar de Muriel Mark Roberts to talk about Things That Go Bump In The Night– the blending of crime with the supernatural. Peppered with probing questions such as ‘Do you have pets and what are their names?’ accrued from Wignall’s children’s events, and the left field responses particularly from the quirky Roberts, this panel quickly descended into comic chaos. Rest assured though, we did find out enough about the panellists’ passion for the supernatural to seek out their books, and a round of applause to them all for the entertainment!

#4. It is recommended to do one hour of yoga before your first CrimeFest appearance to calm your thoughts…(or even before attending one of Kevin Wignall’s panels- see above)

THE MOST CONTENTIOUS PANEL: There was an extremely feisty discussion at the Playing God With Your Characters panel comprising of Stav Sherez, Amanda Jennings, David Mark and Linda Regan, moderated by Christine Poulson. When discussing how your characters’ voices and actions dictate how they appear in the plot, we were taken on a strange flight of fancy about how the characters appeared to be real in one case with no control over them whatsoever, pitted against the more down to earth opinion that you control your characters, and use their characteristics to drive and inhabit the central plot. It got a little heated, until tactfully diffused by another member of the panel.  But we loved it. As did, I suspect, others on the panel too.

#4. You could be routinely called upon to hold the reins of a police horse while the officers nip into the venue to use the facilities…

FANGIRL MOMENTS: I’m sure that most attendees had a list of authors that they were bursting to meet, but equally to retain a certain decorum in the face of those that you particularly admire. No squealing. So, in this spirit, can I say a personal thank you to Anthony Quinn, Tom Callaghan, Grant Nicol, Thomas Mogford, Steve Cavanagh and William Shaw, amongst others, for their good-natured and friendly response at being cornered by me trying not to gush about how brilliant they all are. Thank you chaps! (Be sure to check out my reviews in the Reviews 2014/15 tabs).

#5. Crime authors drink..a lot…

HEARTWARMING MOMENTS: CFIdK0GWYAAG0jmIn the interview with Lee Child there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Maj Sjowall spoke so movingly about the loss of Per Wahloo, and how her writing could not continue without his presence in her life. Also the refreshing wide-eyed and humble response of Ragnar Jonasson at gaining the No. 1 spot in the Amazon book chart, during the festival, for his exceptional debut Snow Blind. It was a delight to witness, and congratulations. On a personal note, I would like to thank William Ryan (I tip my hat to you sir!) , David Mark, Quentin Bates (great curry!), Stav Sherez (have I met you?!), Simon Toyne, Steve Mosby and others for remembering me, and greeting me like an old friend, despite not having seen them all for a while. Likewise, the warm glow of meeting up with fellow bloggers old and new, made for an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable time. We rock! And finally, the hardiness of the Icelandic contingent in the face of a 4am flight from Bristol on Sunday morning, and lasting so long in the bar on Saturday night.

Lastly, a big thanks to the organizers, authors, publishers, bloggers and readers for one of the best CrimeFests to date. It was a blast, and if you’re a crime fiction fan and you’ve not been, you should. You’ll love it. Piqued your interest? Visit the CrimeFest website here