Friday, 17 June 2016

Book Review: The Sirens of Falkeld by Julie Tuovi

The Sirens of Falkeld


Kade Finley, of the Scottish Isles, was raised on legends of the sea. His Gaffer, Toran Finley said, that beneath Muireall’s wind-swept cliffs, deep under the waves, there lived a legend as old as the Highlands themselves. Of Manannán Mac Lir, the sea god, and his beautiful sea maidens, the maighdean mhara, who swam the tides, luring sailors to their deaths.

But they’re not just legend. 

Kade saw one on his ninth birthday. On that day, a fierce storm swallowed half the island, and his da, Aidan Finley, was never seen again. 

It’s been nine years since Da disappeared, and Gaffer is dying. 

Desperate to save him, Kade decides to capture a maighdean mhara, of whom the stories say will grant one wish if caught. But Admiral Gilbert Owen, commander of the island’s WWII naval base, complicates things. In his quest for power, the Admiral has enraged the maidens, making it dangerous to be human in maighdean mhara infested waters.


When an author creates something out of pure fiction, it has to be written with authority. The characters have to be believable. Most of all, any preconceptions one might have had about the story have to be discarded right from the outset.

The Sirens of Falkeld is the debut novel of Julie Tuovi, but you wouldn't know it from the writing. Here is a story that has rather incredible world building. The author really has a talent for describing literally everything in the book. The titular Sirens, of course, are nothing like the Disney mermaids. It's a risk to describe them as Miss Tuovi has done in her story, but the payoff is wonderful because the main Siren, Cora, is no airhead waif. She's actually something to be respected, and yes - something to be feared.

The style of the book is interesting given its shifting perspective, chapter to chapter. Our hero, Kade, is threatened with death more times than seems fair by the shifty, arrogant and pompous Admiral near the start of the story. Kade's perspective is quite formulaic so we can relate to him easily. Initially, he is not an overly complex character. But as the story advanced and he interacts with Cora, we get a glimpse of the man in this youngish-boy. 

Cora seems too advanced, too wily, too clever and yes - too dangerous for Kade to interact with her.
But inbetween these wonderful character developments, we really are swept along by the author's engrossing story. Not once did I think 'this is a fluffy story about mermaids.' 

"It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end."

However, I did find the book a challenging read at times. The first third of the book takes a little while to find its 'sea legs', but once it does, it rewards readers with action, danger, romance and thrills. 

This could be said of many a debut author's story, so it is no slight on the author, who has created an incredibly detailed and believable world. I like the authentic use of the Scottish language, it's well done and never grates. 

One thing I really loved and rounded off the book just perfectly was the author's notes. I know, some of you will skip that part but I urge you to read it. The author is honest in her influences for her story, which I could see early on in the book. Thankfully The Sirens of Falkeld grows into its own very deep rewarding story.

It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Book Review: Coping Mechanisms by Tracy Black



Coping Mechanisms demonstrates how adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can cope with stresses that occur in their everyday lives. Adult survivors can find life to be a bit more difficult, and feelings of isolation, fear, loneliness or being frozen in time are not uncommon. The casual or innocent things which trigger flashbacks bring back painful and unwanted memories. A simple sound or a smell can trigger the brain and transport you to 'that time or 'that' place. A number of survivors have contributed by writing about their personal experiences and how they cope. They bravely share their stories and explain how motivational exercises and self-help have made their lives manageable. Coping Mechanisms examines the practical ways of coping and explains how you can implement them. Don't allow the demons from your past to haunt your future.


                    "In the future, when a woman's crying like that - she isn't having any fun."

Louise (Susan Sarandon), to a would-be rapist from Thelma and Louise (1991)

In the difficult world we often find ourselves in, the pull of fiction, to read something of fantasy, or something uplifting seems to be far more attractive than to read the subject matter in this book. Child sexual abuse is no laughing matter, and so any words I choose in writing this review has to be done correctly. This is not an easy task, but I think it's important people know my viewpoint, then, whether you are the kind of person who reads reviews and makes a judgement on a book, rather than read the book first and make your own judgement - then I had better get this right.

Over the years, what has been considered 'normal' in society has shifted. Perhaps it always has. But I believe 'normal' is whatever you are exposed to. For example, if you lived in a rural area, it would be normal to see the odd car pass by. But take that same person and put them in a built up area of a busy town or city, this person would see swathes of cars and people. To them, it would not be normal. It would not be what they were used to.

It wouldn't feel right, and they would want to scurry back home to the open fields.

This is a normal, healthy and completely understandable reaction.

In the UK in the 1960s it was still a criminal offence to be homosexual. Now in the recent years the UK Goverment passed the Same Sex Marriage Act.

For some of us, this won't be normal. For others, it won't be normal but they can accept it because it doesn't affect them. (I am neither for or against it, I am married to a woman and what others do have no bearing on our lives).

So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book.

For the offenders in Coping Mechanisms, clearly their 'normal' differed from most people. They believed they had the right to perform sexual acts on others without their permission. They believed it was okay to force themselves as adults, onto children. They believed that because they were in a position of authority, that it was okay, it was their 'normal' to force themselves onto others.

I've read some of Tracy Black's other books on this subject and I have to say that this is perhaps the most revealing one. I could feel her sense of anger and betrayal when she tells us (in an early passage) that her search for books on this subject left her 'an emotional and mental wreck'.

You might think she is overreacting. But if you've never been a victim of sexual abuse, especially when you were a child, you cannot underplay just how angry she was feeling.

"So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book."

That is not to say Coping Mechanisms is a depressing read. It's a thoroughly engrossing work that gives you Tracy's view, a leading psychotherapist's view, followed by the views of individuals who have contributed to this remarkable volume.

Who is this book for? Well, if you want to read a well written book with articulate prose and some never to be forgotten passages, read Coping Mechanisms. It is the very definition of a hard-hitting book, so newcomers to the author may find it a very uncomfortable read. The author doesn’t have to apologise for that and the reader in question should have the maturity to handle the contents.

The author takes us through a number of myths and busts them up for us. Quite right, sexual abuse is not something you ‘get over’….but you do learn to cope. That’s why this book is THE essential read for survivors of sexual abuse.

The section on triggers is particularly powerful. But there is something in the book that pretty much any reader can appreciate, even if they have not experienced such horrors. I also like the individual stories were kept in their raw, original state. I liked some writing style far less than others, but the fact is, it was kept raw and real - it's a far better book for it!

It may not be pretty, it will be far from easy, and survivors see many black clouds amongst the blue skies.

But there is a hope out there of a better life and it’s not trite or unrealistic to say that.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Film Review: A Hologram for the King (2016)

Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury

I've been watching Tom Hanks in the cinema since 1988's Big, and it's fair to say he is one of the most dependable actors in the business. His films haven't always reached the heights of Forrest Gump or The Green Mile, but his presence has often lifted an average movie and made it great.

A Hologram for the King follows 2015's Bridge of Spies (yet to be reviewed by me but I will) along with another stellar performance in Captain Phillips

The film opens up with a bizarre sequence with Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) seeing his house, car and marriage literally going up in smoke, before some very quick editing cuts place him on a plane en route to Saudi Arabia.

Why is an American businessman going to the Kingdom? Given how difficult it is to get into the country in the first place (you have to be sponsored to enter the country - I know, because I was in Bahrain in 2000 and was told in no uncertain terms that crossing the border was a no-no). 

Well, Alan is on the Last Big Deal (TM) of a lifetime. He'd previously been in charge of a huge number of people and had to lay them off when Chinese imports undercut them in price. If he doesn't get this deal closed, and thus provide a Hologram for the King, his professional as well as his personal life will be broken, and he may never recover from it.

As well as a broken marriage and hastily run through divorce, Alan is paying for his daughter's college education, and the closing of the deal becomes more important. So we have a set up, a back story, a reason for why Alan is doing what he is doing.

The film switches between comedy and drama, but it's not easy done or easy to watch as a film lover. There's too many cliches thrown in such as Culture Shock (TM). What? Saudi Arabia doesn't have decent wi-fi in an area where an IT company is setting up a presentation?

Alan meets his team, who have been stuck in a tent in the middle of the desert somewhere. They don't have wi-fi for their particular needs. It's a weak signal at best, and no, they don't have food either. In another scene and appearance of Culture Shock (TM), Alan is unable to get the secretary to be helpful. She abruptly informs him that his contact will not be meeting him, so the things his team needs cannot be provided that day. She does it with a smile at least, but it's too typical of many supposed cultural shocks that foreigners are not used to, because of course it works differently in the home country.

Okay, I could understand the difficulties of a foreign company setting up shop in a place like Saudi Arabia. 
There would be teething problems. But what does his team actually do when Hanks is not on screen?

Meanwhile, in his hotel he is unable to procure any beer. Fair enough, that's the country's rule. However, his contact, when he eventually meets him, is able to to provide a cool beer. What message are we being sent here? The same message about the World Cup 2022 in Qatar? That rules and traditions can be bent or discarded altogether where money is involved?

Even though the film had a bizarre, disjointed start, I thought it would settle down. It doesn't. And even when you think something is going to happen, such as the meeting of Chicago and ELO loving local taxi driver Yousef (played earnestly by Alexander Black) and he forewarns Alan that his car is under threat of being wired. When Alan merely thinks that means it will be stolen, he is told 'No, wired means someone has attached a bomb to the car.'

I didn't know whether to laugh at that line, or be scared for our main character. And that's the film's biggest problem - it never draws you in. You feel very much like a hologram, actually. I felt completely hollowed at this point, because nothing of note was happening.

The farce - albeit a moderately acceptable one, of the King maybe arriving today, next week, but 'hopefully not months' wears thin quickly. I started to believe that the King actually was toying with his American 'friends' and planned to go off to Yemen or something. At least then they could pack up and go home, which at this point I wanted to.

(It was at that point that my OH, Katie, provided the highlight of the evening by mishandling her popcorn (because we know how tricky that can be) and spilling it everywhere. We were in Gold Class at the cinema which means that only a handful of seats are there compared to a much larger auditorium. I like the free popcorn and reclining electric seats too. But if I did an eye-roll in the darkness, Katie didn't see it. But I did chuckle.)

Maybe I was missing something, but a few seats up from Katie, another viewer seemed to be having the time of his life, and was laughing at most of the scenes.

That would be fine but A Hologram for the King never makes its case to us, so we are as much in the dark as to the type of story they are trying to present. This is a big disappointment, to put it mildly.

The other company crew that are based there seem like caricatures too. Hanne, a lady of Danish origins, is there purely to get Alan into bed. This plays into another Overplayed European Cliche (TM) that Danish women are 'easy' and will throw themselves at any man. The film never makes it clear if Hanne hasn't had sex in a long time or not. She takes Alan to a Europop Drugs Party (TM) and though she probably could have any man she wanted...I'm guessing she picks Alan for the sole reason that she hasn't. Yet.

She whispers to him 'Let's make a mistake.' Cue more eye-rolling from me. Attention single boys - if you want an easy lay, go to Denmark. Or find the nearest Danish girl you can. It's that easy.

I really started to hate the film at this point. There is simply no reason for a man in Alan's fragile state - emotional financial, personal and professional - to simply fool around with this woman. She throws herself at him for no reason at all.

Other things like this are littered throughout the movie.

Yousef picks up a cousin and he takes a turn in the road leading to Mecca, a place in which non-Muslims are not allowed. Even when the car drives through a packed street with police and other Saudi locals, they never catch on that there is a white male in the car. Not that Alan bothers to cover his head and face. The argument over taking the road to Mecca, because according to Yousef, he always drives that way.

Maybe the Saudi force really are that stupid. But I don't think so. Here's an American movie giving two fingers to another culture that politically, it allies itself with, but culturally (and on a basic respect level) it is wide of the mark.

Yousef even casually points out the place where executions happen, to which Alan exclaims "In Public?". I mean, come on....don't insult the viewer. People who know anything about Saudi Arabia is that it is one of those countries that carry out public executions. I don't even know if half the material that ended up in this film is in David Eggers 2012 book of the same name. Apparently Tom Hanks read the book and tweeted to the author about it. Is that how films get made today?

Nothing happens! The drive -  through, to and beyond Mecca should have had some kind of payoff...I don't know...Alan is captured by the Saudi forces and stoned to death. Yousef's car actually blows up. His cousin starts talking in English. I don't know....just give us something....anything!

The Next Big Joke (TM) is played on another of Yousef's cousins when Alan tells him he is working freelance with the CIA, which he is not, but that doesn't matter. It would have been better plot-wise, perhaps, but this film lacks one.

By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks' career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.

Yousef curtly tells Alan that 'it's like telling someone in the airport that you have a bomb'. True. Not funny. Not appropriate at all.

Then there's the scene with the wolf. I think 'Aha! Something is going to happen'....then it doesn't.

The third act sees Alan falling for his doctor, played by Indian-English actress Sarita Choudhury. Earlier in the film she helps him with the lump on his back, which could be cancerous, so that have to deal with it. Again, this should have elicited an emotional response from me, but frankly, we don't care about Alan. The character is weak, and Tom Hanks does not look comfortable in the skin of this person, who is at hollow and soulless as the Hologram in the title.

Choudhury plays up to yet another cliche of Scowling Foreign Woman (TM). She's professional and a good doctor. But the ropey romance scenes - dragged from the corpse of Hanks other calamity of the 2000s, You've Got Mail, do not work. Again, there is no reason for the good doctor to fall for Hanks' character.

The email sequences are badly handled, and are even more toe-curlingly awful than anything You've Got Mail had got to offer (and that film had nothing to offer).

Maybe it's me. And readers of this who loved the film may think I should just go back to watching The Hunger Games and Star Wars.

Maybe I will. At least then I will be entertained.

A Hologram for the King tries to be an intellectual comedy drama, but it fails on practically every level.

Should you see it? Only if you are a Tom Hanks completest and / or a fan of Egger's novels. And stop with the redundant imagery please. When Hanks says that the lump on his back is like spiders trying to break out, I thought, no....I know what was in that lump... a plot!!

Sadly the director decided to discard it, just like Hanks does with his own sickening self surgery.

By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.

In summary: You've Got Meh. Watch it and expect nothing, then you might just be entertained.

Spectre <  Previous / Next > Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Friday, 27 May 2016

Book Review: Food for the Gallows by Suzanne Downes (Underwood Mysteries, #2)



An historical murder mystery set in the 1820's. 
The second Underwood mystery finds the self-appointed detective back in the Pennines, now a married man. 
His brother Gil has been made vicar of a Spa town called Hanbury and it is here where Underwood and his wife Verity arrive for a visit. 
Within days they are embroiled in another murder mystery when Josephine Dunstable dies in the Spa Pump-rooms, apparently poisoned by a cup of the supposedly healing waters. Since she is seventy and her new husband just barely twenty-seven, immediate suspicion falls upon the groom, and only Underwood believes the young man’s protestations of innocence. 
Hanbury is full of interesting characters and during the course of his investigations, Underwood finds himself befriending Toby Hambleton, a black ex-puglilist, Major Jeremy James Thornycroft, a Waterloo veteran without legs, Lady Hartley-Wells, a redoubtable widow and her foppish nephew Vivian Pepper. 
Will Underwood find the true killer of Josephine Dunstable or will her young husband Oliver become ‘food for the gallows’?


Having set a high standard in A Noble Pair of Brothers, book two in the Underwood series was going to have a tough time topping it. Fortunately, Food for the Gallows doesn't try to outdo its predecessor, however it does bring back our favourite characters from book one. Underwood is less stiff in this one, and I like the charm of the scenes between him and wife Verity.

Verity's a more realistic woman compared to waif-like Charlotte (who I also like but Verity just seems like a better fit for Underwood).

The plot this time centres on the death of Mrs Dunstable, a woman in her 70s. Now for the time period, living into your 70s would be like living into your 100s today, so at first her death is not treated with suspicion. But she has a young husband...and she left a considerable estate. More than enough reason to do her in.

 " of the most enjoyable murder mysteries I have read in a while."

So the book's set piece is off and running. Underwood does do some running around the truth, before the eventual culprit (in a very intense and surprising scene) is revealed. Being taken to the gallows back then would be the most horrendous method of execution in my view, but the setting, just as with book one is beautifully created.

This is one of the most enjoyable murder mysteries I have read in a while. I like the Latin introductions to each chapter, and the interplay between Underwood and his brother, still the Reverend Gil, are entertaining and believable.

Without graphic violence or gratuitous sex scenes, the author has created another solid mystery for readers to enjoy. 4.5 stars from me.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Book Review: I am Cancer Free by Brenda Mohammed



This is a most touching and emotional true story. of the author's battle with cancer. It is a detailed and personal account of how a very strong believer and family-oriented woman beat ovarian cancer. Although that type of cancer historically develops rapidly and has devastating effects, this true story shows how faith, family and love are a powerful force to reckon with


I am Cancer Free is an extremely positive title for something that is so terrifying to pretty much all of us, were we to be diagnosed with it.

No illness is pleasant, but surely cancer is one of the very worst, and although survival rates are increasing all the time depending on the type of cancer concerned, it is good to know that the author, who thankfully defeated this terrible disease, overcome it in order to pen this extremely good read.

From a carefree life, visiting friends and relatives, through to the initial concerns and then onto the diagnosis, the author takes us on a journey in this book. But potential readers shouldn't be put off by the subject matter. The author has bravely chose to share her experience with the reader. It is never negative, although some of it is very harrowing to read.

The description of the subsequent and very necessary operation which resulted in the author regaining her full health is a case of just enough information. There's no need for gory details and we don't get them. In essence, the author has the balance right between info-dumping and info-giving.

"From a carefree life, visiting friends and relatives, through to the initial concerns and then onto the diagnosis, the author takes us on a journey in this book."

Again, it's a book that educates and informs.

Thank goodness for medical insurance. In the UK, we are fortunate that the NHS provides many life saving treatments. I do hope the government (s) wake up and spend money on research to defeat this terrible disease in all its forms.

Well done to the author on the beating of this disease and in the creation of this book.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Book Review: The Reluctant Duchess by Sharon Cullen



Perfect for fans of Mary Balogh and Eloisa James, Sharon Cullen’s seductive new historical romance ignites as a shy country girl and a hotheaded duke surrender to dangerous temptations.

Lady Sara Emerson was jolted out of her dull provincial life by her cousin’s murder. Now that the killer seems to be targeting her, Sara seeks help from the man who was once her cousin’s fiancé, Gabriel Ferguson, Duke of Rossmoyne. With his towering frame and fiery personality, Ross cuts an intimidating figure. Living under his protection, however, has its own hazards—like the sudden urge Sara feels to take their relationship in new, exquisitely inappropriate directions.

Dazzled by the social graces of his betrothed, Ross never noticed her shy, blushing cousin. Looking at Sara now, though, he’s drawn to her lovely eyes and calm disposition. Funny how a year away from the hustle and bustle of the ton changes a man. But Ross has no intention of allowing a woman to interfere with his plan to return overseas. He will simply capture the murderer and set sail once again. The problem is, with her beguiling lips and heavenly touch, Sara makes him never want to leave home—or his bed—again.


This was a tricky book to review as I think it had already set up a high standard by saying it was for fans of Mary Balogh. I'm not one for being swayed by such things, no more than I would read a horror if it was for fans of Stephen King.

The Reluctant Duchess is a reasonably good yarn, though it never quite becomes the story it could have been. The heroine is a rather naive girl who almost turns in a demanding sexual temptress overnight. The has to be said is rather loosely defined. He never seems to take control of the situation he finds himself in.

"A lot of reviews gave this five stars. In many ways this book deserves it."

If you can put these aside, there's a greater story to be had here. The suspense is well done, the killer on the loose is very interesting and works as a great hook to reel you in. The characters are just a little one dimensional for me, but this is a small gripe in an otherwise very readable historical romance.

I was leaning towards 4 stars for this one, but I've gone for 3. No doubt some of you will agree with this review, others will totally love it. I really appreciate what this author has tried to do with the story, but her peers set almost too high a standard. Still, if you write HR, there is nothing wrong with being compared to Mary Balogh. And a lot of reviews gave this five stars. In many ways this book deserves it. The final thought is that it was ambitious in its aim, just falling slightly short for me.

Book Review: Murder At The Lighthouse by Frances Evesham



Love cosy crime, murder mysteries, clever animals and cake? Don't miss Murder at the Lighthouse, a cosy animal mystery set in Exham on Sea, a seaside town in Somerset. 
Everyone knows the dead woman under the lighthouse, but no one knows why she died. What brought the folk-rock star back to Exham on Sea after so many years? Who wanted her dead? Does the key to her murder lie in the town, or far away across the Atlantic? 
Amateur female sleuth Libby Forest arrives in the small town after years in a disastrous marriage, to build a new life making cakes and chocolates in Exham on Sea. She finds a body under the lighthouse and discovers her own talent for solving mysteries, helped by Bear, an enormous Carpathian Sheepdog, and Fuzzy, an aloof marmalade cat.
Libby joins forces with secretive Max Ramshore and risks the wrath of the townspeople as she puts together the pieces of the jigsaw to solve the mystery of Susie Bennett's death.
Buy Murder at the Lighthouse now, pit your wits against Exham's female sleuth and solve the mystery.
The first short read in the series, set in the coastal resort of Exham on Sea, Murder at the Lighthouse introduces a cast of local characters, including Mandy the teenage Goth, Frank the baker and Detective Sergeant Joe Ramshore, Max's estranged son. The green fields, rolling hills and sandy beaches of the West Country provide the perfect setting for crime, intrigue and mystery.
For lovers of Agatha Christie novels, Midsomer Murders, lovable pets and cake, the series offers a continuing supply of quick crime stories to read in one sitting, as Libby solves a mixture of intriguing mysteries and uncovers the secrets of the small town's past. Download the first in the series now. The second story, Murder on the Levels, is also available now.


I really do love a good little mystery, and I am reading more and more of this 'cosy' genre of late. Murder at the Lighthouse is immediately intriguing, I love the title and was going to read this anyway, as it is not my first read of this author's work.

Whilst other books I have read of hers had fewer characters, this book is choc-full of them. But the clever writing, fast narrative and sharp dialogue mean you know who is who. You never get lost. In fact, I think the considerable cast is there to deflect our attention, as to who killed who.

I loved the whole seaside town setting. You really feel you are there, and yet, in many English tales...a beautiful seaside town doesn't exactly prevent a murder from happening. In fact, there's more than one in this book. Readers who fancy themselves as amateur Sherlocks will delight in unpicking its secrets.

"Murder at the Lighthouse is immediately intriguing."

There's an obligatory pet thrown in, which seems to be a characteristic of these cosy thrillers. That's okay. I liked Fuzzy!

This really is a great book for any time of the year, but I liked reading it outside in the garden on a Sunday afternoon. There's also more in the series to come, so if you enjoy this kind of genre,you'll love this. Just avoid the seaside.....