THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV

THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV
DAWNIE WALTON

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ms Walton is an excellent writer and presents a meticulously researched account of the music industry during the 1970s and 1980s. Although entitled The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, the story is dominated by Opal. Told through a series of interviews and newspaper clippings, interspersed with many footnotes, the plot is glacially slow. An inordinate amount of time is given to the two protagonists’ early lives and I was a little impatient for the ‘real’ story to begin. The seminal moment that affects Opal and Nev’s relationship occurs halfway through the book and it is at this stage that the story finally runs out of steam. The rest of the book recounts what happened to them in subsequent years but doesn’t really add anything to resolve the issues raised.
Characters: at one stage Opal and Nev are described by another character as ‘arrogant’. This certainly applied to Opal who is one of the most self-centred characters I have ever read and that includes Becky Sharpe. She endlessly preaches, proselytises and complains until my teeth were on edge. I felt that she was merely a mouthpiece for the author’s opinions. Nev is selfish and weak but at the same time very loyal to Opal.

The point where doubt is cast on this loyalty, a defining moment in the plot, is never fully resolved one way or another. The narrator, Sunny, never came alive for me and, although emotionally involved at one level with Opal, remained strangely detached through most of the story. Opal’s friend and designer, Virgil, was the only really likeable character in the story.
Ms Walton’s habit of constantly name checking, and attributing quotes to, famous people made sections of the book seem like a non-fiction tract as she hammered home yet another ‘fact’, usually to excuse Opal’s increasingly bad behaviour.
I nearly gave up at the three-quarter’s stage as the writing had become a long string of who did what next, most of non-related to the main story, but I stuck it out to the end when it briefly rallied and I thought a big reveal was coming. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case and the whole thing fizzled out with a couple more footnotes to wrap things up. Three stars for the excellent writing and the interesting accounts of the music industry but two stars lost for the weak story and unbelievable characters.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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.

FAMOUS – A SHORT STORY

SOURCE UNKNOWN

After school, I have to play outside. Mammy’s at the factory and Daddy’s in England looking for work. I’m not allowed in the house on my own because I can’t be trusted.
Me and my best friend, Rosemary, sit on the pavement, poking sticks in the soft tar. It’s getting all over our hands and we’ll be in trouble, but we’re bored.
“What would you do if you were rich?” Rosemary asks.
“I don’t know. How do you get to be rich, anyway?”
She thinks about it for a minute. “I guess if you were famous you’d have lots of money.”
“But how do you get to be famous?”
We both stab furiously at the tar for a few minutes, neither of us quite sure how to go about being famous.
Then Rosemary says, “Well, if you got your name in the paper you’d be famous, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, but only important people get in the paper.”
“Yeah.”
We wander round to the backyard, where there’s a cold water tap. It doesn’t wash the tar off but we manage to get our socks and shoes wet.
I have a good idea. “What if we gave money to the hospital like Mr. Brown did? He got his name in the paper.”
“Yeah, but Mr. Brown’s not rich, is he?” Rosemary objects.
“He’s richer than us, though, because he’s got a car and a job.”
“My daddy has a job.”
“But he doesn’t live with you and he hasn’t got a car.”
“You’re right.” Rosemary sees the sense of what I’m saying. “But where will we get the money to give to the hospital?”
I look at Miss Barr’s apple tree in the garden next door and the branches which hang over the hedge into our garden.
She goes mad if we pick her apples and I’ve been told time and again not to touch them.
“We could sell apples on the corner to the people coming out of the factory.”

Rosemary follows my gaze and gasps, “Susie, that’s stealing
“No, it’s not, because they’re already in our garden. So, really, they belong to us, don’t they?”
She always believes me and I always get my own way. Rosemary’s pretty but I’m the smart one. Too clever for my own good, Mammy says, which is very nice of her.
I climb on the dustbin, with Rosemary hanging on to my legs, and pick the apples I can reach, hitting the far-off ones with a stick so that they fall to the ground. Some of the apples have marks on them.
That’s all right. We can turn them upside down.”
We find a cardboard box in the shed and carry the apples to the corner. It’s throwing out time at the factory. The women frown at us and hurry past. The men laugh as if we’re funny and give us pennies. Sometimes they don’t even take the apples.
One of the men says, “You’d better watch out, your mammy’s coming.”
All the apples are gone anyway and we trail behind Mammy as she heads for home. Rosemary decides she’s in charge of the money and counts it. “Two shillings and thruppence. It’s not much, is it?”
It seems a lot to me.
“They’ll be delighted with that at the hospital. We’ll take it up on Saturday morning.”
She looks doubtful and I have to give her a pep talk.
“We have to make a start, or we’ll never be famous. Wait til our names are in the paper, everybody will be talking about us.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“I know.”
Rosemary clears off for her tea and I go in to wash the dishes from this morning while Mammy cooks.
The lady at the hospital on Saturday morning is very smiley and laughs a lot.
I nudge Rosemary. “See, I told you they’d be delighted.”
“And what are your names, may I ask?”
The lady has her pen out. This is it, we’re going to be famous!
We split up at the corner of my road. Rosemary’s going swimming in the Bann this afternoon with her brother, Adrian. I’m not allowed to go to the river, because I can’t swim.  But it’s all right. I’ve got an Enid Blyton book from the library and I get sixpence on a Saturday for sweets.
I help Mammy with tidying up and peeling potatoes for dinner,

even washing the dishes afterwards without being told to.
When I’m famous, she’ll be saying how good I was about the house.
I’m a good way into The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters and the Famous Five are showing the police how to do their job when there’s a knock at the door. I ignore it, until Mammy shouts, “Get the door, are you deaf?”Sighing loudly, to make sure she hears me, I make my way to the front door. Norman, from across the road is outside. I know from the look on his face he’s got something he’s just dying to tell me, but I won’t ask him and put on my patient face to stare him out.
It’s a waste of time, anyway, because he blurts straight out with it. “Your friend, Rosemary – she’s drowneded!”
He’s so stupid, the same age as me and he can’t even read yet. I tell him, “First, it’s drowned, not drowneded. And, second, if she was drowned, she’d be dead.”
His mother (he doesn’t say Mammy like ordinary people) comes running across the road after him and grabs him by the arm.
“Come away, Norman,” she says and looks at Mammy, who’s come up behind me. They do that thing grown-ups do, talking without saying anything.
I feel sick, like I’d eaten too many of Miss Barr’s apples.
Mammy brings me back into the house and talks to me ever so soft. It’s true. Rosemary got drowned in the river.
“But, she can swim. It’s not true. We’re going to be famous.”
I shout at Mammy and slap at her arms. When she cuddles me instead of scolding me, I know it’s true.
The Chronicle comes out on Friday. There’s a list of people who made kind donations to the hospital. Me and Rosemary are at the bottom of the list with two shillings and thruppence. Over the page, in among things about people who got born or married or died, there’s a picture of Rosemary in her school uniform. Underneath it are lots of nice things about her and how sad it was she got tangled up in the weeds. I find a bit that says how much her friend, Susie, misses her. I expect Mammy put it there.
Anyway, Rosemary is more famous than me because she got a picture in the paper as well as her name printed twice. I don’t mind.
Being famous isn’t at all like I thought it would be.

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

BE A LADY THEY SAID

THIS IMAGE ACCOMPANIED CAMILLE RAINVILLE’S WRITING WHEN I FIRST CAME ACROSS IT ON FACEBBOK ON A FRIEND’S PAGE. IT’S A BRILLIANT IMAGE AND, IF ANYONE KNOWS WHO PHOTOGRAPHED IT, PLEASE LET ME KNOW SO I CAN GIVE HER CREDIT FOR IT. TNANK YOU

A really powerful piece of writing I happened on whilst idly browsing. It bears reading more than once, twice, three times …so, for the first time ever I’ve blogged someone else’s work. (And followed her, of course).

Writings of a Furious Woman

Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs. You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it. Wear black. Wear heels. You’re too dressed up. You’re too dressed down. Don’t wear those sweatpants; you look like you’ve let yourself go.

Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat…

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THE PACT

THE PACT
SHARON BOLTON

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sharon Bolton has a well deserved reputation as an excellent writer. Her plots are (more than) intricate with multiple characters all with clearly defined personalities. She never loses the thread of any of her multi-layered stories and holds the reader entranced to the very last word.
The Pact could possibly be the most complicated novel she has written so far. It is certainly the most convoluted one I have read for quite a long time. The story has been outlined more than once by other reviewers, so I’m not going to rehash it here. Suffice to say, the six protagonists are an arrogant, privileged, self serving bunch that will make your hackles rise. But you will LOVE to hate them.
Unforeseen revelations are thick on the ground as the end of the story looms ever nearer and I didn’t see one of them coming – the hallmark of a great write. The only small cavil I have is that the whole thing is wildly overblown and incredible but, in a strange way, it just enhanced the story more for me. One of the few books I will return to in the future.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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