As I mentioned last week this holiday period I thought I'd bring you something different. The New Year is upon us and there's a great way to acknowledge friends and family's support over the last twelve months while thanking them for future endeavours: gift them an outstanding novel that will let loose their imagination as they immerse themselves in the author's tale.
To help you with this task I'm going to recommend several 5 STAR stand-alone books I have had the pleasure of reading in recent months. In all cases I'll reproduce the review I wrote (an excellent practice more readers should adopt - it's the writer's lifeblood!) and a link to book's page on Amazon.
I apologize in advance to the authors of many others I've had to leave out through space considerations. In many cases these authors have written multiple novels so click on the author's name to go to their Amazon Author page (where such exist). So, in no particular order (well, ladies first as always), here are my recommendations:
Thrillers are my genre and my own tend to feature larger than life events, yet that isn't an essential ingredient for a great thrilling read as Ulla Håkanson proved in her debut novel:
"Ulla Håkanson’s ‘The Price of Silence’ is an intimate thriller full of credible characters and nail-biting situations set against the backdrop of Vancouver and the British Columbian wilderness. I say ‘intimate’ because the author’s skill in constructing this tale lies in how believable it is. It is populated by people you feel you could meet on the street any day; people who have unwillingly been thrown into dire circumstances and reach into their very souls to find the means to survive. Håkanson takes the reader on that journey of transition, of personal strife, with an aplomb that belies this being her debut novel. Her descriptions of the rugged Canadian wild, of the small townships north of Vancouver, and of the city itself, immerse the reader not just in the places but in the tribulations her protagonist faces as her comfortable life is radically changed by forces far greater than she has ever faced. We experience her evolution as the trials she overcomes allow her to mature as a person. A great read and highly recommended!"
Most readers count themselves lucky to find a particular author whose writing they love. But something special happens when TWO of your favourites, John Dolan and Fiona Quinn, excellent scribes in their own right, get together and co-author a novel:
"‘Chaos is Come Again’, the new thriller from John Dolan and Fiona Quinn, is a superb character-driven novel. And what characters! On one side of the Atlantic we have Avery, a literary agent tasked with coaxing polemic author Travis Bishop into completing his sequel novel. In turn, and thanks to the electronic magic of social media, she is connected to Sean in London. He’s a guy trying to reorder his life working in a coffee shop and managing his Dad’s apartment block. Then there are the tenants, especially Teagan, a dysfunctional young lady with her own, very clear agenda and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her personal goals, aided unwillingly by her brother Clive. Then we have Goose, one of Sean’s work companions, who’s an obsessive conspiracy nut, hell-bent on discovering the identity of the Angel, a serial killer stalking a specific area on the UK’s capital city, and he gets closer than he wants. Although these are the prime movers and shakers of the Dolan/Quinn universe, they are not the only splendidly crafted characters to grace the pages of this intriguing novel. There are some oddball secondary characters helping move the tale along too, creating an ensemble with overtones of Richard Hooker’s ‘MASH’ at times in the way each creation was a gem in its own right.
But great characters alone don’t make for a great novel. The multiple story lines reflect a modern love story, a bloody crime thriller, and quite a bit of sideswiping at social-media and the publishing industry. Each would make an exemplary novel on its own, but here Dolan/Quinn have woven their multiple characters and divergent story lines into a heady mix that will keep the reader guessing the outcome from the start. Even then there are surprises in store. The subtle ending will have you stopping to think. Yes, you won’t just close the book with a sigh as you say goodbye to this collection of memorable personas; you’ll be rerunning what you learn at the end through your mind and smiling at the adept way the authors have crafted this story.
An excellent read for lovers of so many genres. John Dolan and Fiona Quinn take you on a journey of mystery and intrigue that will entertain and amuse, thrill and challenge the reader to solve the mystery. It’s one of THOSE books you wish would keep going… Highly recommended!"
Ocassionally you come across novels that stay with you long after you've read them. Such is the case with my next recommendation, a gritty down-to-earth crime thriller from Andy Laker. Don't miss it!
"‘Time to Think’, the debut novel of ex-policeman Andy Laker, is a gritty British procedural crime thriller with an interesting twist. As I read the novel I found myself thinking it had a number of parallels with that other popular British crime procedural, this time on TV, the series ‘Luther’. Both take place in that grey area where none of the characters are black or white, good or bad. The writer captures this ambiguity with realistic precision, and so well, I was imagining many different possible outcomes to the story particularly as it neared its end.
Of note is Laker’s mastery of descriptive narrative which is especially evident in the scenes in the prison where, with clever prose and superb sensory-laden depictions, he stirs-up emotionally charged memories that transport the reader to the scene almost as a hidden participant. I say ‘emotionally charged memories’, and no you don’t have to have been ‘nicked’ to appreciate this, because the author tailors his prose to elicit the response he seeks in his readers using familiar, everyday experiences, transposing them to the scenes he creates. Brilliantly done!
The tale itself is a superb fast-paced crime thriller with a violent undertone that speaks of the effect on the life of a wrongly accused man through two tight tales that constantly intermingle as they race to a satisfying finale. Lots of promise in the characters Laker had created and I hope that we will read more of them in forthcoming novels by this crime and mystery author."
Sometimes it's the subject matter that makes a book grab your attention. When that's coupled with an author, Mark Fine, whose craftmanship is outstanding, well...
"Many years ago I found myself literally immersed, in every sensorial possibility, in a book set in Africa. Long before Hollywood placed its sugar-coated paws on Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’, I encountered the novel on the sparsely populated shelves of the house I was staying at in Nairobi. A couple of days later, fate took me to the ‘farm in Africa’ she spoke about and an indelible memory was born; reading about the life and tribulations of this intriguing character whilst sitting outside her house in the Kenyan hills. I thought that instant of my life would never be repeated, despite incessant travelling over the years. I was wrong.
Mark Fine’s ‘The Zebra Affaire’ sparked a similar sentiment. It should be noted I have never visited South Africa, yet his prose took me there, placing me on the streets of Jo’burg as though I had known it all my life. Yet the magic of Fine’s novel did not end there. Not content with transporting me in space to that distant land, he also successfully sought to send me back through time, to the cruel, unreasoning days of Apartheid.
This book told two tales. First, the bitter-sweet song of love between the white Afrikaner, Elsa, and the Malawian, Stanwell Marunda. The story encouraged hope, in a period when everything was stacked against a mixed relationship, and its telling reflected many parables of the times in which the characters’ lived, the mid 1970’s. The second story, far harsher because it was reality, consisted in the notes inserted in the narrative by the author. Here he gave depth to the fictional tale, painting its backdrop with unerring clarity and perceptiveness, whilst providing the anchors those of us who had only experienced the events back then through news footage from the comfort of faraway shores. This combination must have been a difficult choice for the author in what is in essence a novel, yet it totally works. The incidents in the life of Elsa and Stanwell led support to the readers’ understanding of the real events, and vice versa.
For me, this book sits proudly alongside Blixen’s autobiographical tales; a worthy recounting of a time and place rife with lessons for all. If I could, I would give it six stars!"
Not every thriller has to be serious to get the job done. Alan Hardy had me in tears of laughter as his characters sought to solve the murder mysteries he presented:
"Writing a great mystery story full of red herrings and unexpected twists is a hard task.
Writing a humorous book that will have you chortling constantly is even more difficult.
Author Alan Hardy in his ‘The Case of the Tattooed Buttocks’ novel has taken on both challenges with admirable success. Not only is this a fast-paced intricate crime thriller, dotted with gruesome murders in a country house, in the most pure style of Agatha Christie, but his comedic approach will have you laughing constantly.
Hardy’s writing style is reminiscent of the great British mystery writers and adds a comfortable layer of familiarity to his prose. But without an outstanding Poirot or Miss Marple, the tale could fall flat. Not to worry: Inspector, sorry, ex-Inspector Cullot definitely stands there alongside Holmes and the irascible Belgian, as he leads his investigative team through an ever more complex puzzle until all is revealed in a classic climax. His protagonists are superb characterisations: Cullot, a mixture of brilliant mind and perverse addiction, a wonderful Holmes parallel; Sergeant Watkins, the ever faithful number two, with a few obsessions of his own; and the bumbling Constable Blunt, someone who you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons a long time after reading the book.
A most definite recommendation for all lovers of Mystery Crime novels and those who just enjoy a good laugh.
(the above review found on a mahogany table in a study…)"
[you'll understand the reference when you read the book]. Note: I'm pleased to report Alan has now written a sequel to the above. Check out his Amazon Author page for details.
Another hard-nosed crime thriller, this time from the versatile (actor, author and aka 'The Greatest Poet Alive') James Gordon:
"James Gordon’s ‘The Warmest Winter’ is an intricate murder mystery where no one is exactly who they seem to be. As befitting all great crime thrillers, there are more unexpected twists than in a barrel full of red herrings. These serve to maintain reader interest and create the marvellous atmosphere of constant tension present throughout. Yet what drives this novel forward are two masterful traits the author brings to the narrative. The first is the powerful prose that sets the tone in each scene and lends an enviable solidity to the events the writer conjures up. The second, a far more difficult proposition, is the courage to tell this complex tale in the first person. We, the readers, find out what has happened at the same time as the protagonist, and are equally led up false trails with him until the surprising climax is revealed. Our involvement with the protagonist though is not one of an ephemeral observer. Author Gordon places us in his skin, allows us to experience his own troubles as his marriage crumbles and his future prospects appear to disintegrate too. It makes the eyes through which we witness the mystery unravel a very human perspective which serves to colour our own appreciation of the trials and tribulations other characters experience.
If you are looking for a robust murder mystery with a down-to-earth flavour, this is the one for you. Highly recommended! One of my best reads this year!"
Leaving thrillers aside for the moment, a recent read of one of Owen Jones' cozy Welsh tales got my neurons flowing:
"Owen Jones’ ‘A Night in Annwn’ is a lyrical mixture of a cozy tale with the intriguing and challenging subject of life after death. Jones’ tackles the story with delicacy and creates a sense of hope within the reader whatever their own beliefs about the subject may be. Unlike other books, usually non-fiction, which treat the concept of life after death in an almost clinical fashion, often citing case histories etc, the use of fiction to relate the simple life led by the protagonist, and how that changes after his experience, is very effective. Jones’ explanations of how matters ‘work’ in Annwn (the Welsh concept for the afterlife) is one which will provoke interest and discussion long after the reader has finished the book."
My very BEST WISHES to all my friends, readers, fellow writers, and anyone else who happened to pop by, for 2016.
May this year bring us all Peace and Harmony.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com