the question of the missing head – ej copperman & jeff cohen

The Question Of The Missing Head

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Samuel Hoenig has set up his own business where he answers questions for a living. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ‘detective’ agency – Samuel has Aspergers and is therefore adamant that he is not a detective but a ‘question answerer’. This means that his cases have to be presented to him in a certain way.

He hasn’t been running his new business long, but a previous client has already recommended him to a friend, which brings him ‘The Question Of The Missing Head’ from the Garden State Cryogenics Centre.

In attempting to answer the question, Samuel becomes embroiled in a murder investigation, along with his newly appointed assistant Ms Washburn.

Samuel’s Aspergers means that he is able to get to the root of the problem, and ask the questions of the people involved that may be harder for others to tackle – but will his distinct difficulty in dealing with certain social situations mean that he gets removed from the case before he has solved it? Will he be able to help solve the murder at the same time?

Obviously, you can’t read this book without comparing it to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time or, more recently Smart. However, this book is set in New Jersey and Samuel isn’t a child – he’s in his mid-20s I believe.

There’s something of a young Monk about him – and I love that programme, so it’s probably no surprise that I loved this book too. It’s charming, as is Samuel as we get to see inside his head, and the way that it works – not just witness what comes out of his mouth. And Samuel has been taught well by his mum – he understands that there are certain things that ‘aren’t socially acceptable’, even if he doesn’t understand why. And he is also aware that there are certain nuances in language and behaviour that he is particularly likely to miss – which is why he sees Ms Washburn as being an asset to his previous ‘team’ of one.

A lovely light detective romp with an endearing character – I hope that we will see more of Samuel in the future.

The Question Of The Missing Head by EJ Copperman & Jeff Cohen will be published on 8th October 2014.

the unfinished symphony of you and me – lucy robinson

July 11, 2014 1 comment

The Unfinished Symphony Of You And Me

I received a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Sally loved opera from a very young age – when her friends were all dancing around to the latest pop sensation, she was being enchanted by arias. And Sally has a fantastic voice, but since a heart-breaking bout of nerves as a child, she hasn’t had the confidence to sing in public.

In fact, the only place that Sally feels safe singing is in the warm, close dark of her wardrobe.

She very quickly accepted that she would never be prima donna, but turned her skills to something new, and ended up becoming a key member of the costume department at London’s Royal Opera House – very nearly a dream come true.

Even better, her beloved cousin (brought up as a sister since her aunt died when they were both very young) is also working there as a ballerina.

Life couldn’t be better as they embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to New York. But love and life are unpredictable and the trip doesn’t go quite to plan.

Can Sally get on with the next stage of her life? Can she move on?

I have never read a Lucy Robinson book before, and I never get very excited by chick lit – although I have to say, I do read or listen to it occasionally as ‘filler’ when I’m feeling particularly tired. However, I really loved this – who would have thought that chick-lit and opera could mix?

Sally isn’t your normal skinny-minnie chick-lit heroine – she’s big and bold, clever, witty, self-deprecating and you want her to be your new best friend. Her raw pain in places broke my heart.

And Julian – the ‘perfect’ ex-boyfriend. I want Julian to be MY ex-boyfriend! He’s wonderful, quirky – a complete anti-hero.

And there is a fantastic secondary cast of characters, able to be even more flamboyant because of the setting. The wonderful Jan Borsos, one of Sally’s fellow students, has been written so well that I can’t believe he doesn’t exist. Jan Borsos MUST exist. Jan Borsos who everyone refers to with his whole name as anything less would be disrespectful.

Yes, it’s generally a chick-lit, but there are darker issues dealt with, and with a well-considered beautifully light touch. Lucy Robinson manages to create characters that you feel yourself searching for on the streets like old friends.

Oh yes, and she can get away with the sentence “How dare he wank on about spiritual connections after what he’d done to me?”

#respect

The Unfinished Symphony Of You & Me by Lucy Robinson will be published on 19th July 2014.

if i should die – matthew frank

If I Should Die

I received a review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Joseph Stark isn’t your average Trainee Detective. As the Met investigation team’s newest and youngest member, he expects the going to be tough – but he’s used to that. An Afghan veteran, he has been left severely injured by an attack that killed his comrades.

Of course, his new colleagues don’t know the full story, and Stark isn’t about to start confiding in them – he wants them to accept him on his own merit.

His first investigation concerns a gang that seem to have been viciously attacking homeless people, apparently without motive. But when one victim fights back, and the attack results in murder, Stark’s team are called in.

On the gritty streets of South London, Stark realises that the truth may strike a little closer to home than he would have wished.

This is Matthew Frank’s debut novel, and billed as ‘Joesph Stark #1′ on Goodreads, I am assuming that this is planned to be the first in a series featuring the broken young detective.

It’s a good introduction. If a little repetitive at times. That was one of my very few criticisms – Stark’s thoughts went over and over the same things quite a lot. But in reality, they definitely would have done. On the plus side, it made him feel extremely real, and I completely ‘got’ his motivations, but on the flip side of that, it doesn’t really make great reading.

It took a little while for me to get into a book. That might be because I felt wrong-footed. I was expecting a ‘stabby thriller catchy killer’ book, and the opening scene is of a soldier (Stark) being ambushed. there was nothing wrong with it, I just hadn’t been expecting it, and I’m a bit of a girl when it comes to ‘war stuff’ – I’m not that moved by it. (NB: I’m not saying that girls don’t like war books full stop).

There were some great little twists and turns that hadn’t been entirely obvious throughout the book, and I really enjoyed the ‘unexpected’ ending.

The characters were extremely well written. I loved the banter between Stark and his new boss Fran, and I absolutely love her boss, Groombridge. He’s just SO cool :)

Great debut! It will be interesting to see if the series manages to develop seeing as so much seems to have been resolved in Stark’s psyche within this first book – what other surprises can he possibly be holding out?

alex horne – ‘monsieur butterfly’, pleasance theatre (islington)

Alex Horne – Monsieur Butterfly

I love Edinburgh preview shows. There are some fantastic ones which are really cheap, as they are always a ‘Work In Progress’. I’m lucky that my local pub, Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub has the fabulous Red Imp Comedy Club that plays host to many acts. But, there are shows going on all over London, and one of the busiest is the brilliant Pleasance Theatre just off of Caledonian Road. It has a twin in Edinburgh, so it’s hardly surprising.

Being so busy recently, I’ve only been able to book to see a couple of shows, but last week saw Alex Horne (minus his Horne Section this time). If you don’t listen to Radio 4, you may not yet have heard of Alex Horne. The Horne Section mixes a 5 piece lounge band with comedy. Yes, I know how that sounds, but it works in an irresistible, innocent silly way.

So, Monsieur Butterfly is more of the same but with an absence of musicians.

The show was in The Pleasance’s Stage Space, which is undeniably tiny – it can’t hold more than about 30 people. But this gave the show an intimacy which Alex Horne works really with. His amiable, easy-going inclusive nature meant that even though there was some audience participation necessary – it wasn’t as if anyone was worried that they would have been made to look stupid, the participants really felt like they were helping him out – and for the first time EVER at a comedy show, I wished that *I* had been one of the people picked! I’m usually one of those that wants to sit at the back, just in case…

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual theme of the show, as it’s a pretty ingenious idea, but suffice to say that the audience was entranced, and on absolute tenterhooks willing Alex on to a successful climax – the tension in the air was palpable. We were all rooting for him!

However, a successful climax (ooer) wasn’t the be all and end all, it was the journey. The show was peppered with little anecdotes, childhood stories and very amusing set-ups.

I see quite a lot of comedy shows, but I have to say that there was one particular moment that was SO silly that I really did worry that I was going to leak! It was extremely simple, but so well delivered, complete with audience participation, and the entire place erupted, and took ages to settle down.

At only about 50 minutes long, and just £5 at The Pleasance (playing again next Wednesday – 25th June), I really recommend that you get a ticket if you can…or catch him in Edinburgh of course!

(Edit: Have just seen that he’s also on at The Bowler Hat in St Paul’s next Friday, June 27th – but that is £15, although Time Out are currently offering half-price tickets)

ghost stories, arts theatre

Ghost Stories

I will start by saying that I don’t want this review to be a spoiler for anyone who is intending to see the show. So, I will be vague where necessary, and ‘keep the secret’!

I love being scared.

I mean I really, really love it. I think that’s why I no longer go to theme parks, as it was never the adrenalin rush of speed that did it for me, it came from fear that I might fall out. These days, you’re so tightly strapped into everything that there’s no fear there. Well, not for me, anyway.

I love scary films, but not the stupid Hollywood ‘horror’ ones which are mainly slasher-types. I’m usually a sucker for the J/K-Horrors where the menace is always just out of sight. They tend to really ramp up the tension effectively – and that’s what fear is, the feeling that there’s something bad about to happen. Saying that though, I thought The Conjuring was pretty jumpy – there was one part
where I hid my face in my hands in expectation.

I keep meaning to go and see The Woman In Black as everyone tells me that’s dead scary, but it’s a bit like the London Eye. It appears to be there forever, so I keep thinking “Oh yeah, I’ll do that one day”, but there’s no pressing urgency. I’d seen the posters for Ghost Stories and heard great reviews, so when there was a special offer on the tickets, I quickly booked mine and looked forward to it for weeks!

On Tuesday, I took my seat and chatted over-excitedly with my mate about what we might see from the music and the clues on and around the stage.

It didn’t start how I was expecting, and considering I had purposely not read any in-depth reviews and there was a lot of hype around ‘keeping the secret’ of Ghost Stories, I did wonder whether it was all a front for something else. I couldn’t work out whether this disappointed me, or whether actually it was better than what I had been expecting.

Just as I was getting to a point where I would have had to make my mind up, it all changed, and we were thrust into the main part of the show.

There is so much I can’t fault. The acting was superb, considering there are three monologue heavy main narratives as well as the overall ‘star’. Stand outs in a small but fantastic cast were the main character Paul Kemp and Philip Whitchurch (next-door neighbour Tyler from My Hero if anyone used to watch it) as a night watchman / security guard.

So, the acting was great. The staging was brilliant – really cleverly done. The lighting and sound were spot on, really atmospheric. The script too was well thought out, and the ‘stories’ were just as spooky as I was hoping for, and yet sounded so natural coming from each of the characters.

So why am I so obviously not raving about it and telling everyone “OMG GO AND SEE IT!!”?

Because they didn’t know when to stop. hey had it all so perfect. At each ‘scare’ point, I had felt the tension build, been made to jump most agreeably. I’d had points where I expected something to happen, and then they hadn’t done the obvious. Brilliant! And then they went one step too far, and in an almost cartoonish manner.

Every single time, I was made to feel as if I was sitting in a crap local travelling fairground Ghost Train in the 80s. Or watching an episode of Scooby Doo – yeah, maybe even one of the ones when they introduced bloody Scrappy too! And that was SO disappointing. It could have been so much more.

My friend was even more scathing about it, but I can’t bring myself to completely slate it. It was 95% right as far as I could see, it was just that the 5% of wrongness was such an important 5% that it completely negated the 95%

However, don’t let MY feelings on it dissuade you from seeing it as I have to say, we appeared to be in a minority in the audience. We were in the circle, and there was a LOT of hysterical screaming and prolonged nervous laughter going on in the stalls – especially near the front. I don’t know whether it was full of middle-aged women (although I guess I’m officially a middle-aged woman myself), or
whether they were drunk, or whether there was a mass of giggling schoolgirls below us, but it obviously seems to appeal to a lot of people.

Such a shame. Such a disappointment for me. But saying that, I have tried to forget the 5% and a few days later I keep remembering snatches of the good bits. And they were good.

the second life of amy archer – r s pateman (audiobook)

The Second Life of Amy Archer

On the eve of the new millennium, ten year old Amy Archer disappeared from her local playground without a trace. Her mother, Beth, has found it hard to get any kind of closure as she doesn’t know for sure whether Amy is dead or alive. Her obsession with finding out what happened was a factor in her marriage ending – her life seemingly becoming more desperate and erratic.

On the tenth anniversary of Amy’s disappearance, Beth has her annual visit to see a psychic – but this year, the outcome isn’t quite the same as previously, leaving Beth wondering if there may have been a breakthrough.

And then Libby arrives at Bath’s door with her ten year old daughter Esme, who is the spitting image of Amy – and seems to know things that only Amy could know and claims that she IS Amy. Although Libby only seems to be there begrudgingly and out of sheer desperation, are her and Esme very cleverly scamming Beth? Feeding off of her grief and need for closure. Esme can’t really be Amy reborn, can she?

At first I thought that this book would be some airy-fairy, spiritual ‘cute little ten year old girl reincarnated’ stuff to give some hope and love back to a grieving mother. And to be fair, that’s kind of how it started out. We see the depth of depression that Beth has sunk into, and we WANT her to be able to pull back out of it, and be given a lifeline to thinking that there can be more to her life – something to fill the Amy-sized whole that has dominated everything for ten years.

And I found myself rooting for Esme to be exactly who she said she was. And then, the mood shifts. Not only are we given cause to doubt Libby and Esme, but the whole thing wanders into really dark territory that I can understand many people (especially parents) wouldn’t feel at all comfortable reading.

If you don’t want to be forced into thinking about child murder or rape, then this definitely isn’t the book for you, but these things do unfortunately exist in the world, and I think the subject matter was handled very well. Yes, I felt uncomfortable in places – but that shows how well the characters had been formed. The twists and turns, trying to put the pieces together, trying to work out which version was actually the truth was well worth the occasionally uncomfortable journey.

And the climax, when it came still couldn’t have surprised me more.

If you can deal with the subject matter, then it is a very well written book. And personally, I could listen to Clare Corbett narrate every single book I ever listen to – she brings all the characters to life so well.

the murder pit – jeff shelby

May 30, 2014 2 comments

The Murder Pit

I received a review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Daisy Savage is living the real life Brady Bunch dream. She’s back with her high school sweetheart, very much in love and their respective families (her two girls and a boy, him one girl) get along great. They’ve also bought a beautiful old house in her hometown that she has been completely charmed by, even though it is more than a century old, with all the problems that come with that.

The problem that she didn’t expect to come with it though is a dead body hidden beneath it.  What’s more, the body turns out to be of someone that she knows. Even worse, it becomes clear that her fellow citizens of Moose River seem to believe that SHE is the prime suspect.

Can Daisy find out what happened and clear her name?

This is an extremely light read – there’s not a lot of brain power that needs to be invested into it, which is obviously quite a relief sometimes after harder reads (I was also reading a book about a murdering paedophile, so the lightness and humour was rather inviting!)

Daisy has a strong voice, and is a very likeable realistic character, as is her husband Jake and a couple of the lesser cast members that we meet along the way. However, other than the son (for obvious reasons), the children kind of merge into one.

I liked the coziness of Daisy’s relationship, which fit in will with the ‘coziness’ (read ‘unbearable closeness’) of living in a small town – where everyone knows everyone, and everything that have got up to with everyone else. Where people jump to conclusions, and cast their own judgement without any evidence.

To be honest, the actions of her fellow townsfolk didn’t really ring true to me. There was far more accusation and blaming than I personally would have expected. I’d have thought a murder would have brought everyone out and gossiping, and trying to get closer to the limelight.

Of course, Daisy wanting to clear her name was her motivation for ‘solving the case’ – but I think the absolute ostracism felt far less believable than finding a corpse while trying to deal with your frozen pipes.

However, it was quick, light and easily enjoyable.

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