NIGHTMARE ALLEY

NIGHTMARE ALLEY
WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is Stanton (Stan) Carlisle’s story, charting his rise and inevitable fall. Set in the depression era, against a backdrop of a travelling freak show, the novel gets off to a great start, rich in characterisation, heavy on ‘carny’ slang and laden with atmosphere. The carny folk are all dishonest, as we would see it now, everything is aimed at fleecing the ‘mugs’ even if only a dime or a quarter at a time.
Stan aspires to more and, through a mixture of deceit and treachery, moves on to working in vaudeville as a mentalist, taking with him Molly, beautiful and not very bright. Over the next few years he moves on to become a spiritualist, styling himself Reverend and fleecing wealthy dupes out of their money. In these sections, again, there is a wealth of detail which I found fascinating.

He betrays the faithful Molly in the worst way imaginable and retribution, when it finds him, is merciless. To reveal any more of the plot would be to wander into Spoiler territory so I’ll stop there.
It’s not an enjoyable book, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is riveting, the first book in a long time where I neglected everything else to finish it. The flow is patchy at times and occasionally parts of the plot beggar belief. Normally, I would award four stars because of this but it gets the fifth and final star because the ending made me gasp aloud at the final twist in Stan’s story.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

THE DOLL

THE DOLL
YRSA SIGURDARDOTTIR

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The tagline on the front cover of The Doll proclaims, “It brings death to all who find it” signalling a thriller with supernatural overtones. And, indeed, the doll features in the opening sequence of the book, suitably grotesque and sinister.
It is then ignored for quite a long time while the author sets up quite a long and pretty dull investigation into abuse at a children’s home. In this section, we never meet the suspect or, indeed, learn any details of the supposed crime. Instead, the narrative concentrates on a social worker and a police officer who discuss it a lot. Many external characters and references to crimes are introduced.
By the time the middle section of the book began to reveal the connection between some of these people and incidents, I was rapidly losing interest but forged on as, at last, there was some action.

The doll does eventually turn up again but, at that point the investigation ‘in real time’ ends. The policeman turns up at the social worker’s home and tells her a VERY long rambling story involving several murders, suspects and more than a few coincidences to fit everything together.
At times, when questioned, he says, “We’ll never know the answer to that.” and it’s just glossed over. I admit to skip reading most of this really turgid section as I just wanted to get to the end.
Just as I thought it was all over, another fairly minor character began another lengthy exposition which made nonsense of a lot of the police’s conclusions. The ending was incredible, in the truest sense of the word.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

DIVING FOR PEARLS

DIVING FOR PEARLS
JAMIE O’CONNELL

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This is a difficult novel to review. The plot is a complicated one where the ostensible murder of a young woman affects the lives of six different and seemingly disparate people. The death takes place in Dubai and some of the characters involved, although living in Dubai, originate from Ireland. Full credit must be given to the author for bringing alive both locations, especially Dubai, where he goes into great detail about the architecture, the lives of ex-pats living there and the multi-cultural citizenship. He also gives a lot of time to introducing the main characters and delving into their backgrounds. Ancillary characters are a little one dimensional.
The first half of the book is a rich tapestry, excellently written and I was enthralled.
Having brought all the characters to the point of their involvement in the murder, however tangentally, the novel simply runs out of steam.
Of the six people involved, only two have a logical end to their

story. Of the others, some had a rushed synopsis-like explanation of what happened to them, almost ex deus machina. Others were simply left hanging with no resolution.
The biggest disappointment to me was that the character who turned out to be the chief suspect never actually appears in the book, allied to the fact another major character, seemingly falsely accused of the death (I can’t write murder because that was never determined) disappeared part way through the book and was only referred to fleetingly once in the ‘epilogue’ which was a very unsatisfactory and partial tying up of only some of the loose ends.
I am awarding two stars because of the excellent first half of the book but really can’t award more stars because of the bitter disappointment I experienced when sticking with the second half to the bitter end.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

TWICE BROKEN – RISING FROM THE ASHES

Well, here it is – new title, new design, new back cover. I’m going to miss Ashes on the Tongue, having lived with it for nearly a year, but I think Twice Broken is more appropriate to the story as it has evolved.

ASHES TO ASHES

Alas!

Ashes on the Tongue is no more.

Laid to rest 18th March 2021

LATEST COVER FOR ‘ASHES’

With a publication date of 1st June firmly established, I really need to settle my mind on a cover. This is the latest (not the last) version and has a (sort of) blurb. Although I love the picture of the old farmhouse, I had quite a bit of feedback saying it wouldn’t have any impact at thumbnail size.
One person said she’d love to read the book but would have passed over the thumbnail. So I’ve reintroduced Devonn, who is so like Fen in my mind’s eye.

ashes on the tongue

novel

historic

FIND YOU FIRST

In this fast-moving, quite complicated thriller, Barclay comes roaring back on form after a couple of lacklustre efforts. I really empathised with Mike, one of the main characters. His frustration at his illness and his determination to 'do the right thing' were portrayed consistently and empathetically. In fact, all the characters were well-rounded, even those with a smaller part to play in the story. It was a quick and easy read and left me longing for just a little more story, but there was still room for a couple of decent twists and a satisfactory ending.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

OUR LITTLE CRUELTIES

OUR LITTLE CRUELTIES
LIZ NUGENT

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three brothers – William, Brian and Luke – take turns in narrating the story of their childhood, their careers and love lives. Nugent does a good job of telling the same story from three different viewpoints and, because of this, the story becomes fully fleshed out with many small twists and turns.
The brothers co-exist uneasily and, at times, bitterly dislike and resent one another. As they grow older, they betray each other in many ways – socially, morally, financially and in the bedroom. In short, they are unpleasant and unlikeable characters. As is their mother who is vain, prideful and selfish.
The book is a slow burner, teasing out the story in flashbacks which were a little hard to comprehend sometimes. Within each brother’s story the timeline ricocheted alarmingly back and forth between their childhood and later years.

This meant that, having learnt of one of the betrayals, we were then taken back to the events leading up to it, sometimes more than once as each brother gave their version of it.
The book began with the funeral of one of the brothers (as yet unnamed) and the conclusion was the revelation of which one it was. By then, I didn’t really care anymore. There wasn’t a single redeeming feature among the three of them.
I felt the book leant too heavily on the terrible things the brothers did to each other; I wanted some light moments here and there to show that they weren’t complete monsters. There isn’t even a ray of hope for future generations at the end.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


RAPID EYE MOVEMENT

RAPID EYE MOVEMENT
AMANDA SHERIDAN

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Jennifer and her husband, Ilan, are fleeing for their lives through the night in Cyprus. A high speed car crash leaves her critically injured with a head wound.
Lucy steps in a rabbit hole on a hillside in Yorkshire, whilst out photographing landscapes and acquires a head injury that sees her lapse into a coma.
And so begins a very tightly plotted story, centred round the lives of the two women and their husbands.
The early part of the book sets up the events immediately before the accidents.
The section dealing with Jennifer has a sharpness and clarity suited to the hectic drive through dark roads. At times, the sentences are almost staccato. Yet Sheridan manages to feed in enough information to give us an idea of Jennifer’s character, particularly her coolness under stress, even though consumed with fear.
Leaving Jennifer’s story just after the point of impact (and there is a great bit of foreshadowing there for the discerning reader), attention turns to Lucy, her husband Charlie and their two daughters. The writing style changes almost imperceptibly here to a softer, more gentle tempo as we gather details of Lucy’s domestic life and her

burgeoning career as a photographer.
The book now becomes a series of dream sequences where the two women’s lives unfold, so vivid that at times they almost feel as if they were a part of the other’s life. It’s not a long book and some of the chapters are quite short, but I was always aware of which woman’s story I was in. The two characters are very distinctively drawn.
Although this book is promoted as Romance combined with Mystery, it’s more than that. There is Romance, certainly. Ilan and Charlie are both charismatic figures in their own way and we’re treated to a few intimate moments, which are sensitively done. The mystery element is very strong; some parts reminded me of a cosy mystery, especially the excellent descriptive passages but, by the time I passed the halfway mark, I felt the plot was heading into thriller territory at times.
When Sheridan begins to tighten the strands of this book, she does it so subtly that the “OMG! I get it!” moment really is a revelation. Suffice to say, this is no ordinary tale and I guarantee you won’t see the end coming until the author chooses to reveal it. One of the very few books that will go on to my To Be Read Again list.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
D I HILL
PUBLISHED BY DAVID HILLS

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Unintended Consequences is a dark, twisty, innovative thriller. It’s Ben Smith’s story, told in the first person and directly addressed to the reader. He’s not a hero. He’s not even an anti-hero. His conscience gave up on him a long time ago and briefly surfaces, only to disappear again under the weight of his immoral choices.
D.I.Hills has created a memorable character in Smith, a man who has waited seven long years before beginning his attempt at revenge and retribution. The reason for this is teased out slowly over the opening chapters and, although Hill’s conversational tone may not be to everyone’s taste, I was pulled in straight away and never felt his style to be intrusive or detrimental to the plot.
He has a rich cast of secondary characters, fully fleshed out but seen only through Smith’s somewhat distorted viewpoint which only serves to heighten the interest in them – for as long as Hill allows them to live. Because the strapline pointing out that this is a dark thriller doesn’t lie. There is a high body count, some of them in flashback. I laughed out loud, felt deep compassion and was rendered queasy at Hill/Smith’s recounting of how the characters were dispatched.
I was continually reassessing Smith’s character as I read. As soon as I thought I knew him, another layer was revealed which cast him in a completely different light.

He is one of the most complicated characters I have read in contemporary thrillers.
Interesting and engaging as the plot and characters were, I was repeatedly pulled out of the story by long discursions on a variety of subjects. These were very well written and a massive amount of research must have gone into the creation of them but they smacked of pop psychology or pseudo philosophy. Sometimes they worked but at other times just went on a little too long and verged on the preachy. Another reader may appreciate this device.
There is a very good twist near the end that I didn’t see coming and caused quite a sharp intake of breath. The ending itself disappointed me because I thought it was out of character for the Smith that had been revealed to me during the course of the novel. 
As a storyteller, Hill pulls the reader into Smith’s story with a mixture of cynicism and black humour. He is a master of the twisty turn and of revealing barbarous details in the most matter of fact way, thereby enhancing the underlying horror. 
I admit to skipping some of the long seemingly unrelated pages, but I will remember Ben Smith’s story for a long time and will investigate more of D.I.Hill’s work
Thank you to REEDSY DISCOVERY for an ARC in return for an honest review.

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