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 fiancĂ©, 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.....

Book Review: Travel Memoirs With Pictures by Brenda Mohammed



A chronicle of the author's travels around the world. The author relates the family adventures and describes places visited and the wonderful times she and her family had in their travels.


Travel Memoirs With Pictures is the second travelogue I have read this year, and just like the other book, readers will find themselves treated to a pictorial story as they go along. Some books like these tend to be 'photo-heavy' and rather redundant with the actual test.

In other words, pretty pictures alone do not make for a great book. So it's with pleasure that this book gives us insight into many countries.

I paid particular regard to places I had been to before in this book, for example, places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Italy, France (because I have been to these places before) and others.

Of the places I haven't yet been to, I would dearly love to go to Cartegena (in fact, thank you Author for putting this idea in my head!), but readers will have their own choices as they read the book.

"Pretty pictures alone do not make for a great book. So it's with pleasure that this book gives us insight into many countries."

Of course, the author has been to England and to my country's capital, London. As a national I must say that whilst London is definitely worth visiting, there are many gems in England that people don't know about. Aside from writing I do love to get out there and see what England....10 minutes drive in any direction from where I live, has to offer.

Travel Memoirs With Pictures offers readers a personal glance into one tourists view of many different places, and the different ways one can travel to them.

Recommended for anyone who has the travel bug!

Monday 9 May 2016

Book Review: Betrayal - The Complete Story by Sharon Brownlie


A psychological thriller and an enthralling tale of revenge and police investigation. An upbringing marred by rejection and hurt turns Helen King into a serial killer. Detective Inspector Belinda Brennan and her team are on the hunt for her. How many must die before the team can find a connection? Book 2 The Consequences concludes the story of Betrayal but will Helen go quietly?


Since writing my initial review for Betrayal, we’ve seen the subsequent evolution of the story with the release of Betrayal: The Consequences. Now, for the first time, we can read the complete story in one volume.

From the very first line of the book, I was captivated by the story, though I admit to going over it a second time in more detail. However, what a first line:-

"The man slapped Helen hard across the face and grabbed her by the hair, and threw her onto the bed."

To some, that will mean something. To me, as a reader, it meant ‘read on, this is going to be good.’

Here, I will offer a capsule review of each book, and a summary of the series.


‘Betrayal is a hard book to review because it's generally opposite to what I read - it is very hard hitting account of a woman who has been abused by all and everyone around her. Oh, I know the passer by wouldn't necessarily know of her problems, and Helen - our anti-heroine, of sorts, is not someone I immediately warmed to.

That's fine, because your main character should have flaws. If he or she is perfect, how can you root for them.

"Once the story gets going and the nasty acts pass and the character motivations become clearer, the story changed from a dark tale of abuse to a taut, gritty thriller that I could not put down."

But Helen was largely unlikeable in the early chapters, and yet, underneath the story I could see that the premise would be amazing if executed correctly.

Here's where author Sharon Brownlie scores very high indeed, and perhaps it is typical of many books. Some start out like a rat out of a trap, and fizzle out after 30 or so pages. Others take their time to grab you.

Once the story gets going and the nasty acts pass and the character motivations become clearer, the story changed from a dark tale of abuse to a taut, gritty thriller that I could not put down.

This is a story you have to take a chance on. It's hard, brutal, unflinching in its descriptive detail. The dialogue changes from stilted in parts to fully understanding what is going on. I blamed part of how Helen talked, on the drugs themselves. But I think she was an extremely frightened young woman who basically life had trampled on from the start.

I rooted for her but not in the way I expected.

The ending is satisfying and yet, still has me thinking some days on!

I know 'must-read' is a well worn phrase, but do give this book a try. It is an examination of the human condition, and a damning report on what humans are actually capable of doing to each other.

A brilliant book that will make you think.

Summary: More than a year on and this powerful story still resonates. Get it on your read list today.

Betrayal: The Consequences

Actually when I heard this was coming out, I was genuinely thrilled. Everything had been left for us to pour over. Now, with this mini-novel completing Helen’s story, there were all sorts of directions in which the author could take us.

‘After the events in Betrayal, it wasn't really in doubt what was going to happen to our anti-heroine Helen King. What would have been less obvious, and perhaps remains so, is what would happen to us, as the readers of the stories.

Betrayal - The Consequences is a very interesting addition to the series. As I stated at the top of the review, it is obvious Helen is in for more hardship, but it is not what one expects. In fact, there seems to be a sense of resignation about Helen in this story, she not only accepts her fate, but seems to have taken a morbid delight in planning it.

She's more in control of her life - this part of her life, than the lawmakers think.

That said, this story focusses more on DI Brennan. Readers will have their own view about that, perhaps wanting Helen to feature more in the story. But here is my take on this - even when Helen is not in the story, she kind of still is. Her presence throughout is undeniable.’

Summary: I enjoyed this second story even more. It rounds off a lot of threads from Betrayal. If anything, the story would work best when read together, and with this new compilation, you can!

Sunday 8 May 2016

Book Review: Revenge of Zeeka (Zeeka Trilogy) by Brenda Mohammed



Revenge of Zeeka is the complete trilogy of a multi-layered zombie tale, set in the year 2036 in a small exotic island called Gosh. 
The story is told in three parts, which are available as kindle short reads. 
Zeeka and the Zombies is an intriguing introduction to this zombie story, which leaves you wondering what will happen next. 
In Zeeka’s Child, the plot gets more complicated, and after many twists and turns, much is revealed. 
In the final episode, Zeeka Returns, this very exciting three part series concludes in a most surprising way. 
This book is for readers who want to follow this dramatic horror story to the very end in one reading.


This is a solid collection of zombie stories from author Brenda Mohammed. I have read each of the three stories in turn, so for potential readers looking at this, I offer a capsule review of each tale, followed by a summary of the series as a whole.

I: Revenge of Zeeka

Who is Zeeka? Why is he revenge-ing? What would your government’s response be to zombies waddling around, mixing with the locals? It’s all here in the first book. I love the author’s descriptions. The dialogue can be a little weighty at times, but it’s all part of the set-up. It’s an intriguing horror that slowly pulls you in.

‘These different plot lines keep you reading, and keep you guessing. Despite its length I did not read this book in one sitting. I wanted to absorb the cleverly interlinked plotlines. In fact, there's not a lot of the mysterious Zeeka of the title in this first story, and I think that's a clever decision by the author.’

Summary: Here’s an author stepping out onto a new genre and scoring high. It’s not the best in the series, but it sets up an intriguing premise. When read back along with parts II and III, I think it is a story that gets better with successive re-reads.

"Zeeka is a series that could have run on and on…and into self-absorbed oblivion. A good author knows when to wrap a story up."

II: Zeeka's Child

Oh. It had to happen, didn’t it? It’s not enough to have adult size flesh eating zombies running amok on a small island…we have to have kiddie sized versions too? Or do we?

‘When book one ended, there was what I would call a 'soft' cliffhanger in that readers would not be annoyed that there was a cliffhanger in itself, because it was a complete tale in itself. Now with Zeeka's Child, the plot revolves around Raynor and Janet, and the serious nature of having to raise a child that is not his own.

This is an interesting concept to feature in a zombie story, which would at first appear to be nothing more than a skin bursting sideshow, and I was a little (just a little) put off by the initial chapter because it seemed more like a romantic interlude than anything else. This is actually a very clever piece of writing by the author, because it is like she is saying 'hey, you know this is a zombie tale, I know it's a zombie tale, but let's confuse the hell out of the readers by focussing on contemporary romance for a while.' This could be the first ever zom-contemp-rom, unless you know of another story like it.’

Summary: The best thing about Zeeka’s Child for me was the beefed-up story re the two cops, Wildy and Cole (hey, give these two their own spin-off series!). The author doesn’t drop the threads of book one. They are skillfully integrated into this story, and it works. It’s a much more deeper and complex story than book one, some achievement in such a short story.

III: Zeeka's Return

Oops. Zeeka is returning, and the island of Gosh is not happy about it. He is also revealed to be, as everyone knew, as Brian Cameron (of course he isn’t, I made the name up because you don’t want the reveal spoiled, do you?)

I expected mayhem in this final third and we do get it. The highlight is Miranda (oh, Miranda!) whose presence gives a lot of weight and realism to the futuristic theme and setting of 2036. The ending is unexpected but enjoyable.

'Zeeka Returns is the pleasing third installment in the Zeeka and the Zombies series. What I have observed through reading each tale in sequence is a significant level up in terns of writing style and character development. That is no easy task in a short story format, and given Zeeka Returns is the longest of the three, it should be noted that it is still a short story. One wonders how our anatagonist from book one is going to prevail - or not, as the case may be.'

Summary: Zeeka is a series that could have run on and on…and into self-absorbed oblivion. A good author knows when to wrap a story up. Zeeka is a trilogy that is done and dusted and edited well. There are few multi-layered zombie stories out there, so this is a gem readers will enjoy.

Thursday 5 May 2016

Book Review: Ethan's Secret by Patrick Hodges



Alpha Academic Press is pleased to announce the second novel by the renowned author of Joshua's Island. Kelsey Callahan is smart, tough and fiercely loyal to her friends. She wants nothing more than to follow in her father's footsteps and become a detective just like her hero, Sherlock Holmes. A natural leader, problem-solver and lover of mysteries, Kelsey finally gets the chance to solve a mystery of her own when Ethan, a cute but enigmatic loner, appears in her class. At first mildly infatuated with him, she becomes even more fascinated by his behavior: namely, that he dresses like a 'bad boy' but doesn't act like one. As her friendship with Ethan deepens, Kelsey soon learns that there are events at play in Ethan's life that are both tragic and dangerous: events that, the deeper she digs, could end up threatening not only their relationship but their very lives. 


After hearing a lot of buzz about this book's predecessor, I decided to jump in and take a look. I wasn't disappointed. It was an entertaining read, yet was also a terrific coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of bullying. 

That's not as depressing as it sounds, because author Patrick Hodges created good, believeable characters. Not a Mary Sue in sight. However, as I reached the book's end, whilst I was happy with it, I wanted more, and with Ethan's Secret, we get more.

Frankly, had I known one of the characters from the first book was taking a major role in this one, I think I would have snapped it up earlier. Error corrected. I grabbed book three at the same time as getting Ethan's Secret.

I was't sure where the author would take us this time. And I was unsure whether I wanted to read more about school bullies. If I could go back in time, I would have started martial arts training at age 1, not 13. Bullies only remain bullies to you if you let them. I found once they were hit, they kind of deflated.

And here's the beauty and realism of the author's writing, and also why this is a superior book to its older brother. In one scene a bully is referred to as a beach ball, because one punch and they deflate easily. So true! 

So children - if you are reading this book or have read Joshua's Island, remember you can be the happy child at school. Bullies are idiots who use their aggression to make themselves feel better.

However, this is not just a book for children. It clearly pays homage to the Nancy Drew mysteries and the wholesome quirkiness of many of Judy Blume's books, both of which I read when growing up as a kid.

Ethan is the new boy, and like all new boys at school, he's mysterious, brooding and to some of the schoolchildren....he is cool! The author has not inserted a character cliche, in fact, as you read one chapter narrated by Kelsey you will then be reading Ethan's thoughts next. I thought this was a really clever way to write characters and etch their behaviours, thoughts and motivations into our minds. Within a couple of chapters, readers can easily get a handle on who Kelsey and Ethan are.

"So children - if you are reading this book or have read Joshua's Island, remember you can be the happy child at school. Bullies are idiots who use their aggression to make themselves feel better."

Kelsey is one of the girls who does take a shine to Ethan. And we are treated (with annoying levels of skill by the author) to the behaviours of 13 year olds finding themselves attracted to the opposite sex for the first time. It's a confusing age for anyone. But this is just one of many layered plot lines that the author gives us.

Ultimately, what is Ethan's Secret? Is he desperate to fit in to the 'bad boys' group - a rock group fronted by Bono hating Baz (Sebastian). Ethan wears black all the time. He's not hiding something...all kids do this, I know I did.

But Kelsey can't leave it there. She has a book that she has read four times - a Sherlock Holmes novel and her father is in the police force. So Miss Detective tries to uncover things whilst still getting close to Ethan, and doesn't want to hurt him, because she finds herself falling for him.

Then, there's the interaction between her friends, like April, Bree and Penny. It all works, because on some level the dialogue, though well presented, annoyed me because I was thinking 'wow, girls really do talk like this'....and it's the same when Ethan, his brother Logan and members of the group chat. Boys being boys.

I nitpicked over Joshua's Island and it is true that you could read either book as a standalone, but is best to read JI first. 

Kelsey is one of the best characters I have encountered in a book for quite some time. I would have perhaps preferred a title of Kelsey's.....something (!) but I guess the treat for us readers is that Kelsey is every bit a strong character as is Ethan in this book.

I really loved the interplay between Kelsey and her father....I might have added a few more arguments here and there but it's better that K-Bear (his pet name for her) doesn't fight much with him. The dynamics are clearly drawn out and have been thought over. I don't think there is a scene in the book that the author didn't work hard on.

There's also an amazing, poignant scene between Kelsey and one of her friends. 

In essence, whilst keeping the story wholesome and accessible for all ages, the author treats serious subjects with dignity...and yes - a sense of humour.

The ending is has me thinking 'oh it could have ended like this...or that'...but it is not my book. This is one ending the author has offered us, and that, much like all that precedes it, I am sure will be welcomed by readers.

Onto book three in due course!