AFTER PUBLICATION OF “UNDER THE VOLCANO” by Malcolm Lowry

Success is like some horrible disaster
Worse than your house burning, the sounds of ruination
As the roof tree falls following each other faster
While you stand, the helpless witness of your damnation.

Fame like a drunkard consumes the house of the soul
Exposing that you have worked for only this –
Ah, that I had never suffered this treacherous kiss
And had been left in darkness forever to founder and fail.

I was and still am a great fan of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. That and Dark As The Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid remain vivid in my mind, two of the novels which, unlike hundreds of others I have read, I will never forget.

However, I have to say this poem of his reminds me of the old saying: Whoever thinks life at the top is tough has never tried life at the bottom. 

SARI CASTE by Catherine Kirby (Review)

Never judge a book by its cover. Sari Caste seems to have been published by a no-longer-existent ebook website (E-booksonline (UK) Ltd – http://www.e-booksonline.net) back in 2001 and then forgotten. I picked it up on a stall in Darjeeling, carried it back to England with me, still unread, not very optimistic about it, but intrigued by the title. It was a phrase I had come across before. It can mean women in general. Or it can mean hookers, prostitutes: their own name for themselves, because of course, to everyone else they have lost caste, are outcastes. And anyway, the phrase “sari caste” would be considered a great joke, chortle, chortle.

Then I started reading it one boring English Sunday, and was hooked. (Sorry.) Manasa, our heroine, has a drunken father, a broken, abused mother, three sisters and no brother. Daughters mean dowries (legal or not) and the father, who hates the four of them, especially Manasa, and blames the mother for giving him no son, drinks away what little money he earns. Finally, the two eldest are married off but there is no more money for further dowries. Manasa, the third daughter, is sent to work as a weaver in a cotton-mill, and there she gets to know the son of the owner. They fall in love. We’ll get married! cries Patap, the boy. We can’t! No money for a dowry! cries the girl, Manasa. He doesn’t care. His father is rich and dowries are illegal. After that, of course, she allows him to seduce her – only to hear, later, that he is engaged not to her but to her younger sister, Kajal. The fathers had arranged it. And now Manasa has to work even longer hours at the mill earning to get together a dowry for her sister!

But it turns out she is pregnant.

When the baby is born, her mother gives her some of Kajal’s dowry money and she flees the house before her father comes home and learns of her defilement and throws her out.

She goes to Calcutta where, after a period living on the pavements among all the other street people, she becomes a prostitute. And that is what the book is about. Her life as a prostitute in Calcutta. And it is good, very good, and very realistic, believe me.

I am happy to be able to tell you that this enthralling story is now available on Kindle – UKUS

LOST CAUSE by J. L. Simpson (Review)

  FREE TODAY

——-FREE ON AMAZON KINDLE——–

I found Lost Cause quite hard to get into – might even have given up had I not agreed to write a review. I’ll come back to why I found the earlier part of the book somewhat off-putting in a moment.

First, let me say that the book is professionally produced in every way. The writing and the editing are both impeccable. Not even one of those peculiar errors we seem to be becoming inured to like the meaningless “I could care less”. No, here the narrator says she “couldn’t care less”. Bingo.

But how to classify this story? It is called a “mystery” – Daisy Dunlop Mystery Book 1. There are several mysteries, but which one is the mystery I really couldn’t say. It is certainly not a thriller, and though it is a crime story, the rather complex crime and the various bit-part criminals are not really what the book is about. Nor is it a romance, a love-story. The protagonist, Daisy Dunlop, is the mother of a teenage son and almost absurdly happily married to her husband Paul. There is no way she would ever be unfaithful to him. Yet she does flirt, often outrageously, with almost every male she meets. Especially the “Irish git” (her words) that her husband has arranged for her to work alongside as a trainee P.I. and heir-hunter. Both the husband and his friend “Solomon” (the Irish git) assume that after a few days she will abandon this ridiculous idea.

Really, the story is about the relationship between Daisy and Solomon. It is this flirting that you remember when you finish the book on another outrageous line from Daisy. A flirtation story, then. But beautifully done.

Which brings me back to my problem with the opening chapters. Daisy’s husband, Paul, and his mate Solomon are both big, hard, rich, clever, arrogant men. Alpha males. And Daisy is the obedient strawberry-blonde. Well, not always obedient. Far from it. But when she disobeys one of them she invariably feels guilty, and frequently lands herself in a load of trouble from which Solomon must ride in on his white charger (actually an Aston Martin) and rescue her.

Me, I like strong female leads. The stronger the better. And yet I liked Daisy more and more as the book went on and she began to find her feet (not easy on those heels) till by the end she was saving Solomon (all right, causing some typical dumb-blonde chaos in doing so) and I had quite made up my mind that I would definitely read Daisy Dunlop Mysteries Book 2 (see below). I also very much liked the gradual focus on homeless people, whom Daisy decides really are “the secret eyes and ears of the world”.

Final verdict? If you are in the mood for a light-hearted crime story featuring an irresistible would-be sleuth, this is the book for you.

And Book 2? Here’s the cover I found. I’ll put a link here when I get round to writing a review of it.

Quote from THE WEIRD SISTERS

Came across this short passage from The Weird Sisters and want to share it. Haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to!

“She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year. “A few hundred,” she said.
“How do you have the time?” he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don’t spend hours flipping through cable complaining there’s nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game, and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in reflective surfaces? I am reading!
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging.”

THE FOREST OF SOULS by Carla Banks (Review)

Helen Kovacs and Faith Lange are old school and university friends who, after graduating from Oxford, went their separate ways. Helen, despite her First, married and settled into life as a mother and housewife, while Faith pursued the academic career that has led to her being appointed Senior Research Assistant at the Centre for European Studies at the University of Manchester.

Briefly, their lives come together again when Helen tires of being a housewife, completes her PhD, and is accepted at Manchester for post-doctoral research. And leaves her husband.

Then Helen is murdered.

From the beginning, Faith  is sure that this was not some random, possibly sex-related, killing, and she gradually becomes obsessed with the notion that the killer was in fact Helen’s jealous and violent husband, Daniel.

Jake Denbigh, however, while agreeing that it was not some random killing, has a different theory. He believes Helen was murdered because someone did not want her to pursue her research into the atrocities committed in and outside the city of Minsk during WW2. Denbigh,  a writer and journalist who has himself been carrying out research in the same field,  is very interested in Faith’s own grandfather, who arrived in the UK as a refugee in 1943 and whose home, though he has always been very secretive about it, was in Minsk.

An exciting read and a mind-numbing reconstruction of the war years in Poland and Belarus. Eastern Poland and Belarus were occupied first by the Russians (when Hitler and Stalin divided Poland between them), then by the Germans after Hitler (greedy for more of Eastern Europe and after having lost the Battle of Britain and the Battle of El Alamein) declared war on Russia. The Nazis were seen by many at that time, in Belarus anyway, as liberators. But not for long, once the atrocities began.

It is those atrocities – the massacre and the mass graves under the trees in the Kurapaty Forest; and the Maly Trostenets death camp – and the further atrocities committed by the Communists when the Nazis were pushed back out of Minsk and the rest of Belarus and the Russians rolled back in, that forms the heart of this unforgettable book. 

DEAD GORGEOUS by Elizabeth Flynn (Review)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

I didn’t know this book was the second in a series until I’d finished it and at the end came across a blurb for Game, Set and Murder, the first book. So there you are. It stands alone. It needs no prequel and it ends neatly with no cliff-hanger. I like that.

To tell the truth, the title (Dead Gorgeous) grabbed me because I do love a good vampire and/or zombie story, but the word “Dead” in the title here signifies what it used to signify before the vampire and zombie craze, and it is actually one of a new series of police procedurals featuring D.I. Angela (Angie) Costello. About whom, it has to be said, there is nothing particularly special or memorable. She is married to a retired policeman and has a grown-up step-daughter who returns home to live early in the story. A bit like Mr Wilkinson the clergyman.

What I most enjoyed about the book was the setting, the London fashion scene. The author is clearly at home there but I was moving into a new world, and that for me is the acid test of a novel and a novelist.

The eponymous victim is indeed “dead gorgeous” (though still alive) when the story opens. But though she looks like an angel, her character is far from angelic, and when she is murdered there is, as her flat-mate Sandra remarks, going to be no shortage of suspects.

The plot is original, the setting interesting, the characterisation good, the writing professional and the editing competent. I enjoyed it, and if you are into UK police procedurals, then you will, too. However, Angie Costello herself  is, as I say, depressingly ordinary – reality personified – and that is just what I don’t want when I pick up a book. (See the previous post!)

PERSONA NON GRATA by Avery Mann (Review)

[This is a review I wrote a while back of a book I loved and considered very important. I thought I had posted the review on this site but as it doesn’t seem to be here so, as it is even more relevant today than it was then, I am posting the review again.]

At first sight, it is just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting us know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.

The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.

But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:

While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …

Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.

I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.