Book Reviews

River House Blues by Mendes Biondo

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What Da Cover Says:  A carousel of surreal characters flowing along a river of souls. Lovers, hunters, gamblers, and even lady death herself all make an appearance in this powerful new book of poems from Mendes Biondo.

What I Says:  A nice little chapbook of poems here by Mendes Biondo, a poet that is new to me and it doesn’t disappoint.  Quite quickly into the book you get a feeling of being sat with a beer watching a river slowly passing you by, the heat is making you sweat and blues is playing in the background.  You seem to be on the edge of reality struggling to tell whether the people you see are real or not,  on the pages Bettie Paige and Wild Bill Hickock seem so real.

The poems seem ideal reading for the big lockdown of 2020, when there ain’t much to do then a game of cards with murderers seems the perfect way to pass the time.  My favourite in the collection was “Socks and Other Plagues” an excellent argument for not pairing up your socks.  This is a fine collection that gets the reader’s imagination working.  You can get a copy from HERE.

4_stars

Book Reviews

Conception by Özgür Uyanık

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What Da Cover Says:  Enter Anonymous, a middle-ranking artist rolling between minor shows in New York, London and Istanbul. With his career sliding into obscurity, shamefully forced to consider advertising work to make ends meet, he knows he must break new ground if he is to survive.

With his mother’s encouragement, he decides upon his next work of art: an act of self-violation so outrageous, so horrific, the art world will be forced to take notice. But will it be enough to raise him to the ranks of the elite?

‘Conception’ is the journey of a sociopath who will do whatever it takes to get ahead; a dark comedy exploring who and what determines the value of art.

What I Says:  An amazing debut, Ozgur’s writing has so much energy, it really draws the reader into the macabre life of a sociopath and what a sociopath this character is!  We do not get told his name, you may think this odd but we are getting the story from his point of view and he has no real interest in what others are saying so any mention of his name is lost.  He is a horrible human being and you instantly hate him, but like all decent sociopaths you start to believe him, you create an attachment to him and start to care and then are left feeling foolish when he shows you his true colours.

The focus of the story is his big break through into the art world, you follow him as he plans this piece, he fully immerses himself into his art and this in turn reveals his insecurities and past traumas, explaining just why he is like he is.  The piece of art itself is part performance and this included some incredible writing, I was on the edge of my seat (most probably pulling a stupid grimace) absolutely mesmerised by the complete unravelling of the artist, he almost becomes a child again before your eyes.  Incredible stuff.

This book contains some of the most visual writing I’ve ever read, I finished the book and only then realised I had in my head the feeling that I’d watched a film.  I thoroughly enjoyed this and love the fact that you are left wondering whether this was fact or fiction.  The cover is also something else, the use a black biro to block out the face really pulls you in, almost like a black hole.

Thanks to Fairlight Books for the copy of this book, for info on buying a copy look HERE.

5_stars

Book Reviews

Into the Tangled Bank By Lev Parikian

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What Da Cover Says:  It’s often said that the British are a nation of nature lovers; but what does that really mean? For some it’s watching racer snakes chase iguanas on TV as David Attenborough narrates, a visit to the zoo to convene with the chimps; for others it’s a far-too-ambitious clamber up a mountain, the thrilling spectacle of a rare bird in flight.

Lev Parikian sets out to explore the many, and particular, ways that he, and we, experience the natural world – beginning face down on the pavement outside his home, then moving outwards to garden, local patch, wildlife reserve, craggy coastline and as far afield as the dark hills of Skye. He visits the haunts of famous nature lovers – reaching back to the likes of Charles Darwin, Etta Lemon, Gavin Maxwell, John Clare and Emma Turner – to examine their insatiable curiosity and follow in their footsteps.

And everywhere he meets not only nature, but nature lovers of all varieties: ramblers, dog-walkers, photographers; loving couples, striding singles, families; kite-flyers, den-builders, grass-loungers; young whippersnappers, old codgers, middle-aged ne’er-do-wells; beginners, specialists, all-rounders; or just people out for a stroll in the sun.

What I Says:  If you are new to discovering what nature is all about or like me you enjoy being outside watching birds and insects but are blooming useless at identifying them then this book is for you.  Lev is still new to this nature lark and this book is his journey into the outside world to learn more about what is out there.  It is not packed full with a gadzillion facts about one species, instead you get given Lev’s knowledge on what he sees, with plenty of footnotes explaining he is probably wrong.  He takes you from his kitchen sink to his garden and surrounding area, he gradually moves further afield to zoos and islands and this is one of the best things about this book, it takes you to places that are easily accessible to the reader…well at least once I’ve figured out the clues to find his house that is.

One of the funniest nature books I’ve read was by Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See was so good because his sense of humour gave the reader a bit more involvement, it was like you were there with him.  Lev’s sense of humour is brilliant, I love reading his funny observations on twitter and it was great to see it here in this book.  He does a lot of people watching and his comments about those he met had me laughing, his almost-fear of joggers gave me a good chuckle.  He is also the master of creating some pretty bonkers metaphors, one of my favourites was:

“Good humour runs through them like writing through a stick of rock”

Unlike your standard nature book this author does like a good swear word and for that reason the book should be used in schools, I would have been hooked on nature as a kid if this book was available to me then.  He also explores areas that usually get missed out of other books,  the kitchen sink and it’s resident spider get explored which was a great addition to the book.  He explores his garden too and it’s these sort of things that will inspire the reader to go out exploring.

This is a wonderful book, a must read for all and would make a great gift for anybody showing the slightest interest in the outside world.  The cover makes my top 10, lots of little things to spot in the drawing.

Thanks to Elliott & Thompson for the review copy of this book.

5_stars

Book Reviews

The Energy of Slaves by Leonard Cohen

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What Da Cover Says:  The Energy of Slaves is Cohen’s fifth collection, and one of his most controversial. A dark and intense book, described by one critic as “deliberately ugly, offensive, bitter, anti-romantic,” Cohen considered it a document of his struggle–“I’ve just written a book called The Energy of Slaves,” he told an interviewer at the time, “and in there I say that I’m in pain.” Bracing, challenging, and equally beautiful and off-putting, it remains one of his most compelling and complex works.

What I Says:  Leonard Cohen was a great singer, he had amazing stature on stage, a great voice and brilliant song writer. This is the first book of poetry I’ve read by him and I’ve been surprised by just how insecure he was, at times he seems so lonely and at others he is doubting himself, including at one point his voice! Wha??? He has one of the best sounding voices in music. It’s amazing what a bit of poetry can reveal about a person.  This collection certainly displays the mental health issues he was dealing with at the time and it gives his music a new edge.  In amongst all this darkness his sense of humour still manages to find it way through…which does feel the ready with hope.

Some good poems here, a few made me laugh, like the threat against Norman Mailer and this one:

“I did not know 
until you walked away 
 you had the perfect ass
Forgive me
for not falling in love
 with your face or your conversation”

And some are incredibly bleak:

“I could not wait for you
to find me dead in a rented room
 with my sunglasses dusty 
on the card table
So once again
I tried to set my throat on fire
this time in silence
and not thinking of you at all
(I had so much time to kill)”

This is a real good place to start reading his poetry and I’ll be checking out more. Here is my favourite from the book, shows what a rebel he was.   A very fitting poem for 2020!

“Any system you contrive without us
 will be brought down
 We warned you before
and nothing that you built has stood
Hear it as you lean over your blueprint
Hear it as you roll up your sleeve
Hear it once again
 Any system you contrive without us
 will be brought down
 You have your drugs
 You have your guns
 You have your Pyramids your Pentagons
 With all your grass and bullets
 you cannot hunt us any more
 All that we disclose of ourselves forever
is this warning
Nothing that you built has stood
 Any system you contrive without us
 will be brought down”

4_stars

Book Reviews

Licensed to Thrill By Anthony E. Thorogood

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What Da Cover Says:  Private Detective Jack Hamma, the manic Manooka and Breanna Amore, a billionaire mining magnate with a passion for reckless living, are climbing a sheer cliff, two thousand feet high. Breanna is leading, she moves up the cliff face, gets a new hold, Jack looks up and the rock face begins to crumble.

What I Says:  What an emotional rollercoaster of a book, never have I ever wanted to give a character a slap as much as this before!  Breanna is a horrible person, obsessed with Jack, you really feel for the poor chap and I was really proud that he kept his cool the whole time.  Thorogood has done a great job of channelling his inner “fatal attraction” to create this monster of a woman.

The book is a good advertisement for Australia, the mountain scenes and amazing sunrises are only slightly countered by the poisonous snakes.  Jack has a couple of cases this time and you’d think they were pretty straight forward, a bit of rock climbing and sorting out a dispute about a dog, simple right?  Nope, there is plenty of peril for Jack to deal with.  A new character is introduced, Acid, a punky little kid, I was just starting to warm to him when the book came to an end, I do hope he features in the next book as I could feel him being a sort of protégé to Jack.

Good fun as usual and looking forward to what Jack will be facing in his next book.

4_stars

Book Reviews

Horror Sleaze Trash: Prose in Poor Taste Vol. 2

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What Da Cover Says:  HST: Prose in Poor Taste returns with yet another volume of pure wickedness.  Featuring: Arthur Graham, Joseph RidgwellMick RoseTom LeinsLeah MuellerAndrew DarlingtonJames BurrJohn Patrick Robbins, Gary D. MortonChris CookAngelica ArsanR.J. RobertsTom OverJames BabbsChristy AldridgeMichael MarrottiPeter CaffreyStephanie M. WytovichPaul HeatleyMark MellonDouglas HackleLee KirkJudge Santiago BurdonDavid SpreheLeo X. RobertsonPatrick WintersL MurphyLucas ChapmanJim FarrenGarvan GiltinanOliver LodgeRichard FairclothMatthew LichtBen FittsStephen McQuigganOliver StansfieldMade in DNACharles Austin Muir.

What I Says:  Now this is a mighty fine collection of horrifying sexy sleaze, if you are a character from The Hills Have Eyes, or a cyborg from the future or a puppet that has come to life then this is the book for you.  I’ve been reading the short stories on HST’s blog for a while now and it is great to see they have released a huge collection of them in a book.

There is a lot of sex included and I think the only way to describe it is moist!  There is plenty of horror too, proper b-movie horror, the stuff that makes you laugh as you read about all the tearing and rending.  Bizarro fiction gets a look in too, a couple of stories that are so bizarre you’re left chuckling to yourself “what the hell was that all about”.

Highlights for me, futuristic sci-fi relationship between a monster hunter and his bike, a Demoness trapped by a wizard to make sandwiches and do other stuff, a serial killer playing hide and seek with his unwary victim and the final story…a virus slowly killing off the human race….that’s right this book is a prophesy!

One story needs a special mention as it had such a unique style of writing that it stood above all the others…Cubesville by Mick Alberts…it is a violent invasion by aliens written in the Beat style, very clever stuff and one story I went back to read again.

So to conclude if you like your short stories moist then read this, if you are easily offended then read it also and complain big time about how violated you felt and if you voted for Trump then…..ah nevermind you wouldn’t get it.

5_stars

Book Reviews

Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch

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What Da Cover Says:  Once upon a time that doesn’t make a blind bit of sense, in a place that seems awfully familiar but definitely doesn’t exist, Willem Seiler’s obsession with measuring his world—with wrapping it up in his beloved string to keep the madness out—wreaks havoc on the Wakeling family.

Noranbole Wakeling lives in the scrub and toil of the pantry, in the ashes of the cold hearth—which, come to think of it, also sounds pretty familiar…She lives, too, in the shadow of her much wooed and cosseted sister, worshipped by the madman Seiler but overlooked by everyone else.

And that, it turns out, is a good thing.

As lives are lost to Seiler’s vanity, the inattention spares her. She spots her chance to break free of the fetters that tie her to Tiny Village—and bolts.

But some cords are never really cut. In her absence, the unravelling of the world she has escaped is complete. Another madness—her mother’s—reaches out to entangle her newfound Big City freedom. The unpicked quilt-work of a life in ruins threatens to ruin her own. It will be up to Noranbole to stitch it all together, into something she can call true.

What I Says:  This book is totally Wacker-doodle-dandy to the max!  I love a good absurd novel and this is a mighty fine addition to the genre.  Yes it does feel like the author is using the luck of dice to create the plot and there is no way of guessing what is going on until you get told but at it’s heart is a wonderful story full of love and heartbreak, exploring the everyday fears that people experience…not the silly ones about spiders…fear brought on by the birth of a child and making sure they get the right life, of being out of your depth and whether or not you’ll be the next world champion burger flipper.  At least that is my interpretation and like any great piece of art there are so many different ways of seeing this story.

The book follows the four main characters; Mr Seiler, obsessed with measuring everything with string, he can even measure the length of winter, this is until he becomes obsessed with measuring the depth of a lake.  Next up is Noranbole, she has her own Cinderella story, from doing her chores to working in The Big City.  Then Noranbole and Urine’s mother, Emma Wakeling, tells us about each of her husbands interspersed with chapters describing the house and family life.  The book is concluded with Urine’s story which gives you a cracking finale.

Noranbole’s story was my favourite part of the book, the satire surrounding The Big City and the Giant company that she works with was very clever, I got the feeling that I was reading a new book by Vonnegut for a while.

This will most definitely be re-read by me in the future, give it a couple of years and I’ll be spotting new things I missed first time around.  A fine novel well worth reading.

Check out the book HERE:

5_stars

Book Reviews

Dickens’s London by Peter Clark

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What Da Cover Says:  Marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s death, Dickens’s London leads us in the footsteps of the author through this beloved city. Few novelists have written so intimately about a place as Dickens wrote about London, and, from a young age, his near-photographic memory rendered his experiences there both significant and in constant focus. Virginia Woolf maintained that “we remodel our psychological geography when we read Dickens,” as he produces “characters who exist not in detail, not accurately or exactly, but abundantly in a cluster of wild yet extraordinarily revealing remarks.” The most enduring “character” Dickens was drawn back to throughout his novels was London itself, in all its aspects, from the coaching inns of his early years to the taverns and watermen of the Thames. These were the constant cityscapes of his life and work.

In five walks through central London, Peter Clark explores “The First Suburbs”—Camden Town, Chelsea, Greenwich, Hampstead, Highgate and Limehouse—as they feature in Dickens’s writing and illuminates the settings of Dickens’s life and his greatest works of journalism and fiction. Describing these storied spaces of today’s central London in intimate detail, Clark invites us to experience the city as it was known to Dickens and his characters. These walks take us through the locations and buildings that he interacted with and wrote about, creating an imaginative reconstruction of the Dickensian world that has been lost to time.

What I Says:  This is a must read book for the fans of Charles Dickens, ever wondered where the great man himself lived or went to school?  Want to know the area his books were based and where his characters lived and died?  If you want to visit these places and look for the landmarks that still exist, then this is the book for you.

The book contains 5 walks, it doesn’t give lengths of the walks as there are plenty of little detours down side streets to make that a too difficult task.  The first walk starts off at Trafalgar Square and if you look at all the routes at once it takes a sort of circular route around London finishing up at Trafalgar Square again.

I read this book during the great lockdown of 2020 so was unable to get out and do this book on foot, instead I read it from the comfort of my home using google maps as a tool…not the easiest thing to do with that temperamental piece of software but I did mange to find a number of the places mentioned.  Most interesting to me was the church that rang the bells in A Christmas Carol, that was the point where I realised just how brilliant this book was.  I’ve only read a few of Dickens’s books so I will have to re-read one day in the future when I’ve read more of them.

There is a huge amount of history included in the book and it was interesting to read about how London has changed since Dickens walked the streets…it is a shame that a lot of the buildings have been replaced with boring concrete and glass structures.

A very enjoyable book, crammed with lots of facts and hopefully one day I’ll be able to get out there and follow one of the routes.

Thanks to Haus Publishing for the copy of this book to review, you can get a copy of the book from their WEBSITE.

4_stars

Interviews

Locked-down & Bored with Jay Spencer Green

Hello everyone.  I got another interview in the locked-down & bored series,  this time it is one of my favouritist one-of-them-that-writes-books people.  He once was the proud owner of a moustache and is rumoured to have a collection of giraffes.

Please wave enthusiastically at Jay Spencer Green!

 

Question 1: How are you handling the lockdown? What’s the most exciting thing to happen to you so far?

Hi Jason. My pre-lockdown life involved sitting at my desk all day (with the odd break for tea) editing other people’s work—you know, people who actually venture out into the world and experience things—but last year I was struck with a bout of sciatica, so just before lockdown I bought myself a standing desk. Thus, my lockdown life has consisted of standing at my desk all day (with the odd break for tea) editing other people’s work. The arrival of the stand-up desk has been the most exciting thing to happen, but technically it was pre-lockdown and doesn’t count. The most exciting thing has therefore been the absence of sciatica. As my Instagram profile says, I am boring as fuck.

 

Task 1:  (Testing artistic skill) To celebrate the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, draw a picture to commemorate to event.

Here’s Keir Starmer taking the knee for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter while weeping uncontrollably about the Colston statue being removed “the wrong way.”keircry

And here is my masterpiece, I feel nobody asked the little fishes if they wanted a statue in their house.

evilstatue

 

Question 2:  For those trapped inside recommend 1 book, 1 movie and 1 album.

Book: I’m a really slow reader but even I have managed four or five books thus far during the lockdown, so if you’re looking for one book to last the lockdown, it will have to be a biggie. I recommend Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. It’s over 1300 pages of fascinating, inventive, and imaginative word use. Where else would you learn the meaning of “finty,” “munket,” or “felcherman”?

Movie: I suppose it needs to be lockdown-appropriate, so Room or The Shawshank Redemption. For the more adventurous, Pasolini’s Salò.

Album: Not an album as such, but the Genius Jon Langford, who designs the covers for my novels, has just embarked on a massive project that will see him release 23 singles in as many months. The first three have been released as an “LP” and can be bought HERE. You also get a Jon Langford–designed cover if you’re fed up waiting for my next book to come out.

I quite like Jon Langford’s video for Losers, it reminds me of somebody but I just can’t quite put my finger on who…

 

Task 2:  (Testing athletic ability)  My favourite game at a party is musical statues, sticking with the statue theme, how long can you stand still?  Bonus points given if your family don’t notice you.

See my answer to question one. I’m usually standing for eight hours every day (with the odd wobble). And as I’m shut away in the study, nobody notices me at all.

Well I stood no chance there….intentional pun…little did I realise I was up against a professional standing hermit.  I managed just over a minute before I gave up, the dog staring at me started to freak me out, maybe I shouldn’t have stood by his lead for this challenge?

 

Question 3:  As you are a writer, you got any good ideas for a quarantine story?

Huzzah! A chance to plug my next novel (thank you for the set-up, Jason):  The inhabitants of a remote desert island in the Atlantic endure a state of peaceless co-existence with the Gambies, victims of a strain of non-lethal rabies that renders them something of an inconvenience to the tourist industry. This suits Manuel Estímulo, retired from an illustrious career as a brothel-keeper and drug dealer for Spanish intelligence, who generally tries to keep a low profile and rarely receives any visitors, devoting his days to producing his fascist encyclopedia. However, when news reaches him that the Beast with Three Fingers has arrived on the island, thereby fulfilling an ancient Falangist prophecy, he is forced to up sticks and make the perilous journey South to the Nazi redoubt of his longtime friends the Köhlers. Equipped with only a Spanish army knife, a map of England, a vast armory of guns, and the body of his sister Candelaria, can Manuel make it to safety, or will his past catch up with him on the land that Time just remembered? You can find out by reading Manuel Estimulo’s Fascist Book of Everything, the ultimate zombie-Brexit-Nazi satire until the next one.

I’m really looking forward to this one, and what a great title….it’s weird you starting writing this before the pandemic…it’s almost as if you released the virus as a publicity stunt???

Task 3:  Jay is to decide on a task, carry it out and challenge me to best him.

Could you take the washing in for me? I did it the other day and was stopped by a neighbour for not wearing the correct PPE.

OK, no worries I was in the bushes in your garden anyways….it was going well until I saw your neighbour so I quickly threw a pair of pants from the line over my face and that seemed to satisfy him.  Either that is considered correct PPE or he is used to seeing you running around the garden with pants on your head.  I took the liberty of folding the clothes and putting them away…I also laid out what I’d like you to wear tomorrow.

Question 4:  There have been a lot of crazy conspiracy theories about this virus, create a new one now, let us spread it on social media and see how long it is before breakfast news or Trump mentions it. (so far he has ignored all attempts to trick him)

Always ask, cui bono? Who benefits? Clearly the virus is the work of mask manufacturers in cahoots with Big Rubber Gloves.

 

Question 5:  What’s the thing you miss most about life before the lockdown and what’s the first thing you’re gonna do when we are free again?

Oh god, I’ve really missed shoplifting. I can’t wait for the big stores to re-open. I have an order list as long as your arm (though not as long as mine, obviously). Plus, we have a big wedding anniversary coming up this year, so the priority will be jewellery or sex toys, depending on what the charity shop has in stock.

 

Thank you Jay for taking part in this and I hope you have a nice anniversary…it looks like you’ve got it all sorted to be a day to remember.  For the stalkers out there go find Jay on Goodreads, Instagrams and Twitter.  Check out his books because they are hilarious, if you look at the gallery on his website you’ll find my dog modelling the books.

If anybody else out there wants to do one of these then just give me a shout.

 

Book Reviews

Massacre of the Sixty by Dave Johnston

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What Da Cover Says:  The billionaire Mengistu is running a competition with a ten million dollar prize fund: 60 minutes, 60 players, no rules, a straight fight to the death. Massacre of the Sixty attracts only the depraved and psychotic..

Can Holly Holloway survive the carnage to discover more about the shadowy agency “The Hollow Falx”? It’s gonna be brutal, it’s gonna be violent, it’s what she’s trained for.

What I Says:  After reading Atomic Number Sixty and how much Holly had gone through I did wonder where the next book could possibly go…turns out it went to a tournament featuring sixty bad guys (well 59 and Holly) in a fight to the death.

The book is a fun read, super violent, some brilliant criminal names “Suki Capote”, “Johnny Raiden” and “General Socket”. It does feel just like Mortal Kombat at times, so if you’re a fan of that then read this book.  The only thing missing is the classic “FINISH HIM!”  🙂

The most impressive bit of the book is how long each fight lasts, movies try to convince you that a sword fight can last ages whilst the combatants dance about chatting, this book shows a much better side, fights are short, once you’ve been wounded it’s pretty much game over. Whilst reading you can almost feel the pain and tiredness of Holly as the battle goes on.  When the next challenger steps up to take on Holly you think there is no way she is getting through this round but you are soon punching the air celebrating her kill.

Brilliant stuff and it looks like things are lining up nicely for book 3.

5_stars