Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Calling Major Tom by David M Barnett

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett ( ) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: I started reading Calling Major Tom and after a couple of chapters almost put it aside to read at some other time. I didn't though, and I'm glad because it turned out to be one of the nicest books I've read this year. It's been described as 'heartwarming', 'life affirming', 'feel-good' and 'charming', and it's all of those things. It's also about loneliness and being a misfit.

Thomas Major, a grumpy scientist, manages to get himself appointed as the first man to go to Mars. The announcement is made the day David Bowie dies and, of course, the media instantly call him Major Tom. Thomas wants to go to Mars because he's had it with Earth and all its inhabitants. Having fallen out with his father, been manipulated by his mother and had nothing but failed relationships, he's happy - in a miserable sort of way - to leave the human race behind. On Mars, he'll build habitations and domes and get some crops established, ready for the first inhabitants who will arrive in ten or fifteen years. In the meantime, he will be blissfully on his own.

Sitting in his tincan far above the world, he refuses to engage in publicity stunts, read the manuals about spacewalks, or brush up on growing potatoes on Mars. He prefers instead to do his crossword puzzles and annoy the Head of the British Space Agency via the communications link. Until, that is, he encounters Gladys Ormerod. Gladys is a pensioner at the start of her dementia journey, who Thomas accidentally phones, and he is soon sucked into her problems. She is supposed to be looking after her grandchildren, James and Ellie, because their mum is dead and their dad is in gaol. However, the burden of care tends to fall on 15 year old Ellie.

As he becomes more and more drawn into the Ormerods' lives, Thomas relives his own experiences as a child and as a young man. He begins to understand things about himself and comes to various realisations.

Sad, funny, and filled with references to popular culture, Calling Major Tom is a little beauty.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Stories that make you laugh and maybe even cry a little.

Avoid if you dislike: Feel-good books that manipulate your emotions.

Ideal accompaniments: Bowie's Space Oddity on the turntable and a determination to keep on reading.

Genre: General Fiction

The Deadly Lies by David C Dawson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

David Dawson’s sequel to his debut crime novel, The Necessary Deaths, makes for another entertaining read.

Dominic Delingpole is on honeymoon with his beloved Jonathan, but neither in life nor in love are things allowed to go entirely smoothly. When a former lover sends a cryptic message to Dominic minutes before a fatal car crash, it puts both their lives and their barely-formed marriage in peril.

With the help of maverick student programmer, Steve, can they solve the riddle before anyone else is killed? And can Dominic and Jonathan's marriage survive its first big hurdle?

The theme of lies runs through the novel. The main plot concerns a chip that could allow the mysterious Charter 99 to rewrite online history – with little regard to the lives they would turn upside down. At the same time, as Dominic and Jonathan navigate the new territory of marriage, the impact of lies – even innocent lies - on relationships is thrown into relief.

The action moves between two long-established gay communities - Sitges in Spain and San Francisco in California. If Dawson’s first novel showed us his relatively conventional hero at home and at work, here he is on holiday, and like Dominic himself, the text has become a little more unbuttoned. There is more explicit (though still not graphic) sex than in the first book.

Last time I compared Dawson’s writing to Margery Allingham. This time, there is an echo or two of Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon. But Dawson writes with a lighter touch than Sayers. There are no great intellectual challenges here. It remains, however, an affectionate portrait of the manners and mores of gay relationships, as well as fast-paced study in cyber-crime.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Necessary Deaths by David C Dawson, Babycakes by Armistead Maupin, Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh.

Avoid If You Dislike: Light-weight crime fiction. Explicit references to gay sex.

Perfect Accompaniment: Albondigas en salsa and a glass of Cava

Genre: Crime, LGBTQ fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake. (

What we thought: I am a huge fan of both author, Ann Cleeves and the central character in this detective series, Vera Stanhope – so I have been waiting in anticipation for the eighth book of the series to be published.

And it’s another cracker! 

Here we see DCI Stanhope at her formidable best. Always one to acknowledge that she doesn’t look like the most professional DCI in the business, here she uses that to maximum advantage to solve a crime whose roots are buried twenty-seven years in the past.

When convicted former CID officer John Brace offers to do a deal with Vera – she looks after his vulnerable daughter outside in the real world in exchange for the whereabouts of the body of a missing man – her loyalties are tested. But as ever, Vera shows herself to be the shrewdest in the crowd as she investigates his claims about a cold case which seems to have its roots buried in a long-ago demolished nightclub in Whitley Bay called The Seagull. 

When Vera’s past life collides with her current enquiry, she is forced to examine whether her own father might be involved in more than just the dodgy trade of rare birds eggs. Could he have been a murderer too?

It was brilliant to be back in Vera’s world again, interacting with the detective team and immersing ourselves in the North East landscape through the author’s superb descriptive talents. There’s nothing I would change about this series and I hope it continues for many years and many books to come! 

You’ll enjoy this if you like : P.D James, Peter May, Ian Rankin.

Avoid if you don’t like : Cold case investigations.

Ideal accompaniments: Pot of tea and hot buttered teacake.

Genre : Crime.

Available on Amazon

French Collection by Vanessa Couchman

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and latest release, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: For Francophiles, French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is an anthology of short stories from Vanessa Couchman, author of The House at Zaronza, which I immensely enjoyed and reviewed here.

This eclectic collection of twelve short stories is inspired by the history and culture of the author’s adopted country, France. The descriptions, emotions and savoir-faire portray her love for the history, people and traditions of France, and the characters are so well-drawn that the reader comes to know and care about them in a matter of a few short pages.

Not all, but most of the stories are historical, and, as an author of French-based historical fiction novels, I admired and enjoyed all of them. My personal favourite was the 17th century plague story, The Visitation, but there’s something for everyone in this mix: historical, contemporary, romance, art, ghosts, all of them entertaining vignettes of French life across the ages.

Included at the end of the collection is Chapter 1 of the author’s next novel, The Corsican Widow, which whet my appetite. After Vanessa Couchman's most entertaining debut novel, The House at Zaronza, I'm really looking forward to reading this new one!

You’ll like this if you enjoy:
literary historical and contemporary fiction; a touch of the supernatural.

Avoid if you don’t like: historical and modern-day short stories.

Ideal accompaniments: French baguette and camembert, washed down with a glass of sturdy red Bordeaux.

Genre: Short stories. Literary fiction. Historical fiction.

Available on Amazon