Monthly Archives: June 2016
Raptor: A Journey Through Birds by James Macdonald Lockhart
The Last Word Review
A journey that takes in the length and breadth of the UK to discover the fifteen different birds of prey in all their glory and their landscapes. Within the pages of Raptor: A Journey Through Birds is an adventure as well as a discovery. A journey of discovery that opens with chapter one in the Orkney with the Hen Harrier and ends with the Sparrowhawk in Devon.
For someone like me who has spent a lifetime studying our birdlife in the British Isles and like James Macdonald Lockhart I have travelled the roads and moors and mountains in search of birds of prey in natural environment and fortunate to have seen all fifteen as James has. The one aspect of his writing is just how modest he comes across as he talks about his travels and locations.
Like any keen naturalist they may have a special favourite species and I was keen to read the chapters on the Golden Eagle and the Goshawk I would be very interested to know which is his favourite bird of prey after reading the chapter on the Goshawk I got to thinking this was it. There are a number of books that inspired the author as he set about writing Raptor: A Journey Through Birds. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk was one of them so it is not difficult to see why this is not just a labour of love as it transcends even that.
As a natural history book this is one that will be appreciated over time and one I am delighted to add to my large library of books on the subject. As you read each chapter whether it is about the haunting Hen Harriers that are horrendously persecuted to the very edge of extinction in the Britain to the humble Kestrel as seen by many hunting and hovering over a fields. His descriptions of each species is written with such precision it is as if you are there with James hiding in the hedgerow or on the moors watching each species.
Added to this incredible insight is that he uses the 19-centrury Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray north – south journey more or less in his footsteps, he uses the analogies of MacGillivray rather a lot through the book some may see this as a distraction but I thought this made the journey more interesting especially if you are just getting to know the natural history of our birds of prey.
This is not just an ornithological book but also acts as a travelogue and another aspect of this book is that it is not one you have to read like a novel, this is one book you can actually drop in and out of, something I deliberately set about as I read through it, in no way does this detract from the book in any way, in fact it made the journey through birds all the more interesting. And for me with nearly 40 years of watching and studying birds I learned a lot from it. The real beauty of this book is that every chapter is dedicated to each of the birds of prey and the writing makes them literally fly off the page.
Raptor: A Journey Through Birds by James Macdonald Lockhart was published on 11 February by Fourth Estate and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
A Life Without – by Katie Marsh
The Last Word Review
A Life Without You is the second novel from Katie Marsh following on from My Everything which was so beautifully written and a story that is thought-provoking. I highly recommend it if you have not yet come across it. When my advanced review copy arrived in April I was very humbled to find out that I had been mentioned towards the end of the book.
It is Zoe’s wedding day a day that is supposed to be a very special day and one that she will remember for the rest of her life. But something is wrong, is this a case of wedding day nerves or is this Zoe wondering if SHE really is doing the right thing. Then the doorbell rings and Zoe’s life changes. A friend of her Mum is standing on the doorstep. Zoe’s mum has been arrested now her wedding day lies in ruins. Is this the moment for Zoe to escape what is meant to be her big day?
What comes next through a story of pure unconditional love from a mother to her daughter. But there is much more to this story and it is a powerful story, of forgiveness or the road to forgiveness. How do you start the process of forgiving a parent for something that happened many years before? Sometimes this journey is not an easy path to take.
Through A Life Without You we see the story from Zoe and her Mum and the letters written by Zoe from an early age to her mother Gina. Then we start to see what went wrong and from her mother to her daughter. At times I felt I was intruding into the very personal lives of a mother and daughter but this is how beautifully Katie has written such an emotive story that deals with themes including the devastating impact of the onset of Alzheimer’s. Some readers will recognise some of the issues raised with the pages at times heart-breaking and yet there is laughter also within the story. There is so much warmth that comes from this story and one of hope when illness can literally tear a family apart. It is a story of hope in despair and one that will make you think about your life and how you must live for every moment of every day. It is an evocative story that Katie tells and one that you will not forget. A story of hope and of forgiveness.
I have little doubt that A Life Without You will receive even more praise. When I started reading I knew very quickly I was reading something quite something a tender story of a mother and daughter and of the past and the future. Bags full of emotion written and will pull on your heart one moment and make it soar the next.
Thank you to Emma Knight at Hodder & Stoughton for the advanced review copy.
A Life Without You by Katie Marsh is published on 14 July by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to pre-order through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
A Divided Spy – Charles Cumming
The Last Word Review
Thomas Kell returns in what is the third novel in A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming. For those who enjoy a gripping spy novel and have not encountered the series by Charles Cumming then I must recommend you seek out the series so far. A Divided Spy I found can be read as a standalone novel but you will then want to read the previous two in the series A Foreign Country and A Colder War as then you will really get behind the lead character Thomas Kell.
We join A Divided Spy with Kell now a former MI6 agent, seeking and plotting to avenge the death of Rachel the woman in his life and the woman he loved. Rachel was murdered by a Russian Agent and he wants the chance to find this man and to avenge the killing of Rachel. As with a lot of spy novels the key character has lost faith and trust in those he was working for. Is it a stroke of luck that his chance has come?
Within the story there are two subplots developing with the first Kell is seeking to find and deal with the Russian spy and then a young Muslim man returns to the UK after fighting with ISIS and he is planning a suicide attack in Brighton. Both storylines are carefully woven together as Kell showing no trust goes about his business in seeking out the Russian Minasian and confronting him. Though Kell’s hierarchy are not that happy about Kell seeking revenge.
I have read many espionage novels but I have to say Cumming nails this for the sheer tension as the story starts to reach its explosive climax. Having not read the previous two books I immediately took a liking to Thomas Kell and wanted him to succeed, a likable lead character with all the usual weaknesses you find in our heroes.
If you enjoy reading Ian Fleming or John le Carré then without doubt you will really enjoy reading A Divided Spy with a warning you struggle to put this one down. Cumming writes with authority and the writing grabs you and pulls in and does not let go until the last page.
If you are hitting the beach this Summer, then pack this along with the beach towel and sun lotion it is essential holiday reading.
My thanks to Jaime Frost from Harper Collins for an advanced review copy.
A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming was published by Harper Collins on 2 June and is available through all Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Penance by Theresa Talbot
The Last Word Review
Set in Glasgow and inspired by the events that took place at the Magdalene Institution, the horrors of the stories about the girls being abused in the care of the Magdalene Institutions run by the Catholic Church. These appalling houses were nothing more than sweat shops were laundry houses similar to those in Ireland. The girls who were kept there where nothing more than slaves.
Theresa Talbot’s stunning debut Penance is part historical and part fiction as the terrible events at the Institution are told in a dramatic story of the true events that the those that ran the Institution wanted buried and forgotten.
We find journalist Oona O’Neill setting about uncovering the truth of what really happened behind the closed doors of the Glasgow based institution. The girls aged between 15 and 19 years yet guilty of no crimes faced repeated abuse and the how the girls staged a riot and break-out they were desperate to get their story out there at the time the home was being investigated and
The story is based around three of the girls who were the force behind the break-outs in 1958 and the story is told through looking back in a series of flashbacks from 1958 to 2000 and is reads like a crime novel whether this was the intention by Talbot it really works. With the authors background in the media she portrays Oona perfectly. When Oona decides there is a shocking story to be told she uses her character to get into the story where others would not be so successful. Oona herself is having a pretty awful time of her own but this does not stop her from finding the truth even when her own life is being threatened.
This is without doubt a book that packs a punch and at times makes for very uncomfortable reading. The flashbacks come just at the right time and make this a page turner of a read with some fascinating characters especially DI Alec Davies.
Penance is a story I wholeheartedly recommend you read as the more we talk about the shocking events that took place the more we will remember the victims of the crimes that took place at the Magdalene Institutions and such Asylums many of whom do not have a voice. These women must never be forgotten.
Penance by Theresa Talbot is published by Strident Publishing Limited and is available through Waterstones and Amazon.
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw
The Last Word Review
Sometimes reading a crime novel that is set in a specific location it can help if you know the landscape, and the setting for William Shaw’s new crime novel The Birdwatcher is the desolate Kent coastline that is Dungeness an area I know only too well as I spent a lot of my younger days birdwatching along this part of the Kent coast and for a base to write a crime novel it works.
William South is the Police Sergeant for the local area he lives and works this part of Kent and a keen birder the autumn migration is now in full swing and William South would rather be out looking for birds, but when he is asked to attend murder, there is already a DS from London investigating and Alexandra Cupidi needs some support. William is somewhat nervous as we already know William himself is a murderer this by his own admission and through the story-line we move back and forth to William’s past as a 13-year old growing up during the troubles in Northern Ireland.
The brutally murdered man Bob Reyner is a neighbour and also a friend to South they used to go birding together so there is no way he will be able to leave this alone, as much as he would rather. So why was Bob so brutally murdered? So now the past memories of growing up in Northern Ireland start to come back we will learn later in the book as to why South calls himself a murderer.
Newly arrived Alexandra Cupidi from the Met this is her first case, and together will South they start to investigate the murder, but there is something that is causing a distraction to Alexandra and that is her daughter Zoe who is troubled in her own way and is struggling to settle into her new home and environment. For both South and Cupidi there is a connection of sorts between them. Now there is another murder and this one is belongs to the distant past of South, is there a connection between the two murders is South’s past slowly catching up with him. Suddenly Cupidi does not want South anywhere near the murder investigation.
South is a loner and grumpy by any standards and would prefer his company. At first you struggle to empathise with the leading character but as the story moves along at a blistering pace you start to understand William South and his troubled life.
The Birdwatcher is a gripping crime novel that is superbly written and delivers on a level that only the very best in crime writing can deliver. The story moves back and forth to the past and the present as we read of young Billy and then William in the present the characters have been so well brought together which makes the story more credible.
The cover to the hardback actually brings to life the wind swept moody Dungeness coastline this is a hardback to savour and enjoy. A must read.
My thanks to the publishers riverrun for an advanced review copy.
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw was published on 19 May by riverrun and is available through branches of Waterstones and all good book shops.
Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus
The Last Word Review
The opening line of the book is “Tonight I am having sex with Audrey Hepburn.” I have to admit that I have been struggling for a few weeks trying to write a review for Michael Grothaus’s debut novel Epiphany Jones that will do the book justice not because I did not enjoy reading this but really quite the opposite. It is one of the most incredible books I have read. The difficulty is what the story is about and the content. This book will take you to some of the darkest places in your head than any book I can remember. But it is a book I whole heartily recommend you read.
Some subjects are so difficult to write about let alone incorporate into a novel and I must give credit to Michael Grothaus for the writing a story and making sure that that it is done in a way that is both moving and sensitively written. The statistics on sex trafficking involving children is shocking then there is also the human trafficking and the more you read the worse the it gets so it is important for us all to become educated on what is really going on in our world and in Epiphany Jones the author does just this by telling a story and at the same time educating the reader.
Don’t get me wrong this is not all a dark and depressing read, there is humour in the story there has to be for it to work and that is why it really is so well written. What people do and get away with in our world leaves me cold especially some men. And through the pages of Epiphany Jones it goes to the heart of the very problem.
We get to meet Jerry Dresden, a man with so many problems and when you first meet Jerry you will wonder just what the hell this is on, he is really messed up. Addicted to porn and people that wander in and out of his life, the problem is none of these people actually exist, they are not real life people. These are psychotic hallucinations. Here is a young man with a sack full of problems that he has to carry around with him every day of his life. Some years before we learn that his little sister died and so carries that around with him as he blames himself her death.
Jerry is given a job at the local museum and later is accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh but Jerry is not quite sure if he did steal the painting and the killing of a colleague at the same time and the lies he tells when he is confronted just make his situation more precarious. Jerry decides it is best if he is not around and goes into hiding along with his hallucinations, then into his life comes Epiphany Jones who now frames him for theft and murder and with a message from god. Epiphany Jones is not an hallucination the problem is she is real and drags Jerry to Mexico there the sheer horror of human trafficking pours out of the pages as they both now seek answers to their very past. It is Jerry who is narrating and Epiphany Jones through him.
My honest opinion is that this is not an easy read and the graphic detail contained within the story will shock some people but this should not put you off reading what is without doubt a blockbuster of a novel. It is not a comfortable read but one that can only be written and told from someone who has spent time as a journalist covering the sickening sex trafficking trade in the US.
Going back to my opening line “Tonight I am having sex with Audrey Hepburn” this is a brave opening line in any book I have ever read for some it will simply shock for others they will see through the opening line you must as your eyes and mind start a journey that at the end you will only be pleased you did. It may leave you reeling like it did with me but you will have just read one of the most extraordinary works of fiction you will have ever read. Some will weep for Jerry as a character some will weep for the blind eye that the authorities take on the human trafficking and sex trade that takes place. We all should.
My thanks to Karen from Orenda Books for the review copy.
Epiphany Jones written by Michael Grothaus and published by Orenda Books is available in paperback now through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello
The Last Word Review
About to be released on 13 June is the debut novel from Isabel Costello and here is a book I cannot recommend highly enough. When you start a debut novel that after the first few pages you are hooked then you know you are reading a book that you want to let everyone in on. Paris Mon Amour is that novel.
The characters are so brilliantly portrayed that they are totally believable it is one of those novels that has passion written into the heart of the story line and an emotional roller-coaster that will have the reader hooked from page one. A story of one woman and two men and tangled affairs set in romantic Paris.
Alexandra now in her forties and happily married to Philippe some may say the ideal couple. Then Alexandra discovers the Philippe is having an affair. Now Alexandra is struggling to come to terms with this as well as looking back at her past.
Then while working late in walks Jean-Luc who is 23 and the son of her husband’s best friend, Alexandra is attracted to Jean-Luc and so it begins. But this is no one-off as Alexandra finds it difficult to say no to the attractive Jean-Luc.
I have to admit to having a lot of sympathy with Alexandra, and there is also something about Jean-Luc that will attract the reader, both have a past with Alexandra’s past experiences of life that has been hard on her. The reader will make up their own mind on Philippe but I personally took a dislike to him very early on which then grew.
The reader now becomes part of the affair between the forty something woman and the much younger Jean-Luc. What is to become of them both and their own affair? As for the ending well I will let you the reader what comes at the end. Keep those tissues to hand.
Paris Mon Amour is a debut novel that is totally addictive and you will struggle to put this down. A story packed full of raw emotion that some will find themselves shedding a tear or two and it is set against one of the most romantic cities in the world I must give credit to Costello for the way she has brought together each of the characters blended against beautiful Paris.
Just a word on the writing style of Isabel Costello, it is passionate so beautifully written. Some readers may already know of Isabel Costello Literary Sofa blog it is worth visiting.
Paris Mon Amour is a book I am delighted to recommend as a summer read, I do not think you will be disappointed in anyway. It really is that good. Exceptional even.
Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello is available to download from 13 June via Amazon.co.uk
The Last Word Review
Guest Blog – Owen Mullen
It gives me great pleasure to bring you a guest blog from a new author to me who I know will excite many readers. On my review blog I review books from successful writers and it is always a great pleasure to review books from those writers who are just starting or have recently started their writing journeys.
Today I would very much like to introduce a writer that is new to me but I know some already are enjoying his writing. Today Owen Mullen joins me on a guest blog to tell us how he became a writer. To-date Owen has written two books: Games People Play and his latest Old Friends and New Enemies.
The Bridges We Burn
Looking back, it seems to me that my whole life has been a long series of burning bridges. I have never thought of myself as a ‘risk taker’ although a quick glance at my history tells a different story.
As a teenager I was obsessed with music and formed a band with a couple of friends which led to the re-invention of myself from a short-haired assistant to the inspector of weights and measures [the first job I has after I left school] to a long-haired bass player, travelling the country in a beat-up Transit; singing songs about love – although I’d never been in love – and freedom – without ever having known a single day of oppression in my life. None of that was important. What was important was smiling at the girls at the front of the stage.
After about a year, I packed in the ‘assistant to the inspector…’ lark and went professional; a fancy way of saying we didn’t have other jobs. Years later I went to London, joined other bands and became a session singer. I had already started writing songs with another guy and managed to create a stir. For a while we believed we could crack it. But it didn’t happen. I returned to Scotland.
That was the end of the first re-invention.
Music had been a fabulous distraction but a distraction nevertheless. Without it to give me direction, I found myself singularly unqualified for just about everything so I set to putting that right. In the space of half a dozen years I went from sad old muso to Owen Mullen. MSc DipM MCIM. The transformation was remarkable though it didn’t fool everybody. A colleague saw the string of credits after my name and said. ‘Very impressive. What is it you’re insecure about exactly?’
He was joking but of course he was correct. In an attempt to catch up on the people whose evenings had been spent studying while I was in some garage practicing I had turned myself into an education junky. I gave the textbooks to the charity shop.
The second re-invention had crashed and burned.
For a guy who didn’t think he was much of a risk taker the next move was bold. And how it came to be was positively spooky.
I had left a large local authority where I would, most probably, have a job for life and went to work for one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions. I learned a lot there and met some good people. But I wasn’t happy. My wife, Christine, and I had always been great travellers: India, the Brazilian Amazon, Botswana, Nepal; the list goes on and on.
During one trip to Borneo, we were walking along a rope ladder high up in the rain forest canopy. Christine is much braver than I am; she went faster and was soon way ahead. I looked over my shoulder and saw someone – a woman – coming behind me. When she had almost caught me she said, ‘Excuse me. Are you from Scotland?’
I admitted I was.
‘Is your name, Owen?’’
This in the middle of the Borneo jungle!
‘You gave me a job. Don’t you remember?’
I didn’t remember and let her go. This happened in Poring Hot Springs on Mount Kinabalu. We went off to bathe in the water produced by the volcanic activity under the earth. In the bath Christine told me she wasn’t pleased.
‘You’re crazy. Don’t you realise what just happened? You’re at a crossroads. We believe there’s no such thing as coincidence. This is synchronicity. You meet someone who knows you in the bloody jungle – what are the chances? – and you don’t twig she’s carrying a message for you.’
An hour later, when we were leaving, this woman was waiting by the side of the road trying to get a lift down the mountain. We stopped and invited her to share our car. At lunch she told us her story and the message for me became clear. She had become dissatisfied with her lot in Scotland and had decided to go to Australia: the job, the boyfriend, and everything else were gone as she took a leap into the dark.
I never saw her again but she changed my life. I returned home, put in my notice and started my own marketing and design business. Another re-invention.
For the next seven years I ran that business and liked what I was doing.
But it couldn’t last.
We had just come back from a trip around Europe. One stop had been Athens and the island of Santorini. It was September; the weather was wonderful. We loved it. A few weeks later, in Scotland, an idea came into my head.
‘Why don’t we build a house in Greece and spend time living in the sun?’
Christine thought for a whole five seconds and said, ‘Okay. Let’s do that.’
It took a while and there were many obstacles to be over-come. Eventually we left Scotland for our new home. Re-invention number…Who’s counting?
No sooner had we arrived than the economic climate changed. The dream was in danger of becoming a nightmare. One leap too many perhaps? The gods were angry at me for spurning the many pieces of good fortune they had bestowed on my unworthy – fickle head.
What was to be done?
‘I know,’ I said. ‘I’ll become a writer.’
Christine said, ‘Are you sure. You haven’t really written very much, have you?’
And I did.
As I write this I am 10,000 words into my seventh book. Two books – Games People Play and Old Friends and New Enemies – are already on Amazon and I am firmly established as an author.
How long will it last? Is this finally it?
Watch this space.
I’ll be watching too. And nobody will be more interested than me.
One final thought. I read a quote recently that spoke to me.
“May the bridges I burn light the way.”
Boy do I understand where that guy’s coming from.
Look out for a review of Owen Mullen’s latest novel Old Friends and New Enemies very soon here. Both books are available to buy through Amazon.co.uk Here
Tenacity by J.S. Law
The Last Word Review
Over many years I have read countless crime books, now comes along one debut crime novel set 200 metres beneath the surface on board a Royal Navy Submarine. This is a first for me and Tenacity by JS Law delivers on all fronts and impressive debut that is totally addictive and authentic down to the last detail from a man who actually served in the Royal Navy and ended his career serving on submarines.
A sailor has been found hanged in the engine room on-board HMS Tenacity did Stewart ‘Whisky’ Walker take his own life just a few days after his wife was found brutally murdered or is there another story?
We are now introduced to Dan (Lieutenant Danielle Lewis) from the Royal Navy’s investigation team which has the title of ‘Crimes Involving Loss of Life Division.’ Dan is tasked with the job of confirming that it was suicide. The last thing a crew of a nuclear sub needs is a killer on the loose. As the tag line of the book says 200 metres beneath the surface there is nowhere to run.
Many questions face Dan as she goes about trying to understand why Stewart would take his life on-board Tenacity. The more she sees the more she believes there is something more sinister going on. This is a fast paced thriller that actually makes you feel rather Claustrophobic. No-one likes to be investigated but Dan has no choice but to look to the crew and she feels hostility growing and she is right eyed with nothing but suspicion even the Captain does not like her presence aboard Tenacity. Dan has a job to do and she will not be deterred by anyone and justice must be seen to be done and when Tenacity is given orders to set sail Dan decides she will continue with her investigations.
Tenacity is a stunning and exceptional debut crime novel that takes the reader to a place were no previous crime novel that I know of has been before down to deep dark depths below the surface. It is chilling and highly detailed with many twist and turns that will keep the reader guessing from one page to the next. I dare you to put this one down.
Dan is an extremely interesting character, and credit to the author for adding some mystery to the leading figure in the story, she faces not just sexism in her role but also real danger while aboard Tenacity and she arrived with a lot of personal baggage and these come back to her as she investigates the death of the sailor.
Now imagine being aboard the cramped confines of a nuclear submarine you are a stranger among a ‘tight’ crew the eyes of the crew on firmly fixed on you now try and investigate a crime, many of us would not last five minutes on a submarine a long way from home never knowing where you are at any-one time. There really is nowhere to hide let alone run.
The more you read the more you get to like Dan as she goes about her role and you want her to be successful and that is why you will struggle to leave this book alone.
As you go deeper into Tenacity the tension is palpable as we head towards a gripping ending. In Lieutenant Danielle Lewis we have a new heroine and I can only just hope this is the start of a series of novels featuring Dan. A full five star crime thriller that many will enjoy reading.
Thank you to Ella Bowman for a review copy of Tenacity.
Tenacity by J.S. Law is published by Headline and is now available in paperback through Waterstones and all good bookshops.