Archive only

Hi,

The quick witted amongst you will have noticed that IEBR is no longer reviewing. It was a year long project and we reviewed approximately 150 ebooks. There are plenty more great ones out there. It’s up to you to find them now.

We’re still getting visits to the site and so we’re keeping it open as an archival catalogue of the reviews posted over the year of the project. Click on the virtual bookshelf to find them.

Please notify any link breaks or errors to indieebookreivew@btinternet.com or to the indieebookreview facebook page.

smallREADING

For ongoing reviews why not visit Reading Between the Lines Review Collective. It’s hub is a Facebook Page (to ease administration) but the reviews are posted on the individual reviewers site. All reviewers are publishing writers in their own right.

Advertisements

The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska

physisI may be stretching the truth only a little when I suggest that in days gone by mainstream literary publisher types dismissed this novel as ‘just an old man’s havers’. But dismiss it they did and it’s just another indication of the fact that ‘no one knows anything’ is all too prevalent in mainstream publishing.

Here in the world of indie publishing I DO know something and I believe I can spot good writing and a great novel when I see one. That’s why I write reviews, to share this knowledge with you, the potential reader. And for my money, if there was any justice in the world I reckon The Physic Garden would (and should) win the Orange Prize for Fiction – or similar.

I have read a lot of Catherine Czerkawska’s output over the past year (and known her for many years) but believe me my comments on The Physic Garden would stand whoever had written it.  Knowing the writer and some of the ‘history’ around the non publication of it, I feel confident in stating that it has become clear to me that while some writers may well need editing, other writers write best when unfettered by the constraints of the mainstream demands and fashions.  Catherine is clearly one of these writers. As a longstanding professional she is more than capable of structural editing and with developing confidence I hope that she will finally realise that work such as The Physic Garden is not in the bestsellers list purely because they are served by marketplace fashion rather than by any real understanding of what makes good novels.

This is not just a good novel. This, I contend, is a great novel. It’s reminiscent to me of The Mill on the Floss and Tess of the D’Urbevilles BUT it’s better because I cheered when the Tullivers were drowned they annoyed me so much and however much I know I should have sympathy for Tess I just want to give her a slap and tell her to grow up. In constrast I had such a feeling of emotional engagement and empathy for William Lang that it actually broke my heart a bit when the denoument was revealed. Yes it’s true. I kept telling myself, it’s only a story but WHAT a story. It is a beautiful, elegant at time elegaic expression and exploration of betrayal.

And the construction is so great too.  In the beginning it seems incredible to the reader that William can have much of a secret, and one cannot imagine what the ‘betrayal’ which caused the lack of friendship would be. I guess it’s at this point that the superficial reader would dismiss the story as ‘an old man’s havers.’ It may be an old man’s havers. If so, what havers. And actually, what we have is yes, an old man, but he’s telling the story of his life, so it’s not ‘old’ in any sense at all.  Perhaps the combination of an old man looking back on his life in a historically distant time is too much for the superficial reader?  But the skill with which Czerkawska keeps the reader on the hook, getting right to the end of their tether asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ and ‘how’ (active engagement in such questions is a great way to draw an audience through a story in much more depth than simply feeding them a plot which answers specific questions at every small step of the way) and one has a constant unease because one realises it must be something really bad if William is still so obsessed with Thomas even all these years on. And yet, the old man William, how can he have any really dark secret?  We are played with in the best way possible. It’s not a ‘thriller’ but it keeps you asking questions and so keeps you engaged.

Then, we find out part of the reason. And it’s shocking. And sympathy with William is firmly established. However, one still can dismiss William (the young William) as simply being too ‘moral’ for the world he finds himself in and conclude that he’s bound to be let down by Thomas – but you’ve still only got a small part of the whole story under your belt. There’s so much more.  One becomes as obsessed with finding the answers in the story as William is with Thomas. That is really clever writing.

There is so much domesticity that one is completely tricked into thinking the ‘bad’ thing will have to be small and William’s response will have to be over-reaction.  You think?  Czerkawska pulls us along towards some truly grim and awful resolutions and even when you think you’ve cracked the ‘why’s’ they suddenly become less important.  When you know why there is still more.  It’s not just about the reasons. It’s about the effects. It’s a deep study of betrayal and how that impacts over a lifetime.  I was being manipulated by the writer all the way along in the best of ways.  I felt like Czerkawska was completely in control of her story and that I was privileged to have it fed out to me in the way it was. No editor could have done a better job, believe me. This is writing from the heart and with the skill of a lifetime’s experience as a creative individual.

The history is also very interesting. There’s plenty of wee gems of information regarding gardening and publishing – the impact of the printworks on the garden is a very clever and very powerful image throughout and works on the reader on a subliminal level to show the connectedness of things which otherwise one dismisses as quite diverse.

But most of all I have to commend the power of the writing which can get a reader to care so much (about an old man’s havers.)  When the denoument is finally revealed and it all comes crashing down around the reader’s head, Czerkawska is not finished. She has consideration for the bombshell she has dropped and gives us time to fully get to grips with what’s happened by the final section which patiently explains life ‘after’ the end and pulls all those questions together and leads to understanding. This section contains the most eloquent and deep exegesis of betrayal I think I’ve ever read.  It touched me deeply. And it got me thinking about betrayal in a whole new light. Which again has be great for a novel – it connected directly with my lived experience.  It’s a novel written by a very good writer and written for readers. It may not have passed through the filter of mainstream editors but I think it’s all the more powerful for that. This is truly an ‘authored’ piece and the committee work a publishing company looking for that elusive ‘bestseller’ would have destroyed it.  If you ever want an example of how writers can achieve great things without intervention – this is it. This is as good (and better) a novel as many I have read, including classics.  But what do I know – after all, this review would be dismissed by the mainstream as just an old woman’s havers wouldn’t it?

Reviewed by Cally Phillips

The Physic Garden is available in Kindle format

Find out more about Catherine Czerkawska. 

And this is our last IEBR review. It’s been a busy and exhausting, but extremely rewarding smallREADINGyear’s work.  For those mourning the passing, don’t fear – we have evolved into a more flexible, less admin hungry review collective and in future if you’re looking for a great read, why not try the evolved site READING BETWEEN THE LINES on Facebook. All you have to do is like the page to get news of the latest reviews.

If you don’t ‘do’ Facebook you can also find out about Reading Between the Lines HERE 

 

Alternative Dimension by Bill Kirton

newadThis is a second opinion review. For an earlier review (before Bill ‘came out’ as author) click HERE 

First of all let me say that this book is different. It is not one of Bill Kirton’s crime novels, nor is it a spoof, although Kirton’s brand of humour does shine through. I hesitate to classify this one. Is it fantasy? Is it sci fi? Or is it a blend of both. Whatever it is, I found it not only unusual but highly entertaining.

As soon as I started reading I knew I was going to like this book, although the Prologue did not really address what the book was about, and the character in the Prologue appeared only fleetingly in the story. But the character, who hates mirrors as much as his name, is the product of flower children, and because he was conceived in a barn at the Stitchley Experience event, he was named Stitchley Green. His parents, Samuel and Samantha “tossed a coin to decide whether to make love that night or wait until the following day, and do it in dew and sunshine. It was tails so Stitchley was conceived twelve minutes later on a hay bale. If the coin had come down heads, he’d have been called Dew.” I would have liked to follow Stitchley, But Kirton had other ideas.

The story is based on a computer programmer’s vision of an Alternative World. A world where people could go to relax, have fun, and be anything they want to be. He sets up this world which he calls Alternative Dimension, or AD for short, whereas real life is labelled Normal Dimension, ND for short. When describing what he has done, he says “Their avatars moved in magic kingdoms but the experiences took place in the minds of the people sitting at keyboards in ND.” Initially the world he set up reminded me of the computer game Sims, where other worlds and realities are played out on the computer. But AD goes well beyond this, and “in AD if you could imagine it you could do it.” Needless to say that the avatars acting out the imaginations of millions of people around the world created some interesting situations.

Joe gives himself two avatars. He is Ross Magee who moves around AD like any other player, but the other avatar is Red Loth, the creator of AD which is based on God’s creation of earth. But Red Loth gets more than he bargains for when other avatars demand commandments, and the compilation of these commandments was hilarious. For example, Joe thought anal leakage should be banned until he is reminded that avatars do not possess an anus! He reckoned people could worship graven images if they wanted to, and he advocated castration, the removal of the entire male organ in order to make bicycle and horse riding more comfortable. In this section Kirton comes closest to the kind of spoof writing that he is so fond of, and uses to great effect in The Sparrow Conundrum.

There is also social commentary in this book, and I loved the quote, “To the north were the Canadians, who were thought by all to be Americans, but nicer.” (apologies to any Canadians reading this but it is an example of Kirton’s satire). Kirton goes on to say that AD mimicked the world. The UK had no “industrious shopkeepers from the Indian sub-continent, no plumbers or construction workers from Poland and Eastern europe, no Russian plutoctrats” and so “AD Brits were deprived of the chance to grumble that all these foreigners were taking their jobs and claiming unemployment benefit.”

Stitchley appears briefly in chapter five, where he is classed as an entrepreneur. He takes the name of Brad the Enigma, and tries various occupations, they all fail, but then he sets himself up as a Consultant and becomes highly successful.

Joe, meantime is busy creating an environment in which normality and virtuality could be synchronised. He is trying to create the perfect world but “others found that their avatars freed them from life’s limitations, and yet their only use of freedom was to tread predictable paths.” When creating their avatars “almost everyone elected to be beautiful, fall in love, become tycoons, warlords or porn kings and queens.” Not all of the avatars are human though. There are animals of all descriptions, both real and mythical. It would seem that some people were more comfortable as cats, dragons, unicorns, dogs, horses, ad infinitum.

As the book continues Joe is not entirely pleased with how things develop. He had meant AD to be a fun place, but bureacracy has a way of rearing its head, and he is less than pleased to find the Health and Safety Inspectorate operating.

The book continues, illustrating various stories of the people involved in AD, the real life stories as well as the imaginary ones, such as the voluptuous sexy female who is, in reality, a wheelchair bound male researcher. Some of the stories are pleasant, some not so pleasant, and at one stage in the book cannibilism rears its head.

I don’t want to go much further in describing the book as I don’t want to reveal the ending. Suffice to say that AD is a place where inhibitions could be cast off and dreams lived. A place where someone could be outrageous and do anything with no consequences. It is a mix of satire, social and political commentary, with a philosophic outlook. It is a very clever and interesting novel illustrating what can happen in a perfect world.

I’m glad I read it, although it gave me a lot to think about.

Reviewed by Chris Longmuir

Available in Kindle format

Find out more about Bill Kirton 

Another World is Possible

ACPRINTIf you are one of those readers who simply devours fiction – you know the kind of fiction I mean: clichéd romances and thrillers, with stereotypical characters and pedestrian writing – then this book is NOT for you.  Another World is Possible is for those who want something different to read, something challenging, something authentic.  In short, it is a book for thinkers.

Those words “different”, “challenging” and “authentic” sum up the book.  It is constructed like a set of Russian dolls: there are puzzles within riddles within a conundrum.  The overarching conundrum is, of course, whether Roisin really is the lovechild of Che Guevara.  I’ll say no more about that, except to warn you thinkers that you’ll be kept guessing throughout.

You’ll also constantly ask yourself other questions.  Who is narrating the story?  How much of what they say is truthful?  Where does the reality of the story end and the fiction begin?  An awful lot is known publicly about the life and death of Che Guevara.  But did he really stop off at Dublin Airport in 1964 and Shannon Airport in 1965?  Is it possible that his words and actions during those stops altered so dramatically the course of the lives of characters in the book?

And there are as many, if not more, questions about the author.  We know, because Cally Phillips tells us in the introduction to the book, that her lifelong interest in Che is something of an “obsession” (her word).  Cally also tells us that the story is “personal” to some extent.  But to what extent?  The mother/daughter relationship between Mary and Roisin is so finely drawn you just know it must be based on reality.  And the squats in London in the Sixties are so accurately described you feel she must have experienced that life as a child.  The same goes for the London music scene in the Seventies.  Then suddenly you find yourself wondering, even though you know it can’t be possible, whether the author herself is the lovechild of Che Guevara.

See what I mean?  Questions upon questions; riddles everywhere.  It’s a challenging book, to say the least.  Not only is it cleverly conceived and constructed, it is also written in clear, unadorned prose.  A must for thinking readers everywhere.

If you fit that bill, go to these links on Amazon to download the Kindle version or to order up a paperback copy.

Reviewed by Brendan Gisby 

smallREADING

This review was originally posted as part of the Reading Between the Lines Collective on Brendan’s own site but I thought it appropriate to include here on my birthday since fact and fiction in identity are key feeatures of the story and of my life.

If you want to join in my 50th birthday celebrations, he best present you could give me would be to buy one of my books – failing that hop over to my site  HERE and join in the 50 days of celebration currently underway.

Poison Oak Summer by A.K.Dawson

poisonoakOn the cover it says Poison Oak Summer (Part One), which should have been the giveaway, I suppose. But as it is a novel, I imagined it was the full bit, the whole thing, the alpha to omega, so to speak. So I paid me seventy seven p, and waited till it hit the Kindle. The price, perhaps, should have been another clue.

Apart from a few reservations, I read it with a lot of pleasure. It’s a YA book, which always interests me, because I’ve written several of them myself, and I wonder, still, what YA’s make of them, and whether we older types have any hope of getting it right. That, of course, remains a mystery, but this book is set in a summer camp in America, has tough young men and smart young women, and is fast moving and a little spooky. I should think it has a very good chance of hitting the spot.

It’s a bit weird, too, from the very start. Our heroine, Lucy, is English and is dropped at the apparently empty camp out in the wilds of the San Francisco hinterland with no back-up, little luggage, and absolutely no welcoming committee. The ‘warden’ is an ageing hippy called Super Steve, and the place has an aura of loneliness and absolute abandon. The first two people of her own age she meets are an Australian who very quickly makes a pass at her, and an unpleasant girl called Shelly who sees her as a deadly rival.

Worst of all, before she’s even met the hippy, she has found a small, drowned boy in the river. A boy whose body cannot be found an hour later, and whose presence is disputed by Steve, then everyone. Lucy, afraid, sleeps in the woods, and picks up a fierce infection from contact with the leaves and branches of a poison oak.

The children begin to arrive next morning. Steve, welcoming them, makes it clear they have died and gone to heaven, in summer camp terms. There is only one rule, and that is that there are no rules. They can do what they like, engage in any activity, eat and drink entirely at their own desire. Lucy, feeling like an uptight English swot, begins to teeter on the edge of lost control.

She is vulnerable. She is recovering from the death of her lost love, David. Worse – she feels that she killed him herself, behind the wheel of his car the day she passed her driving test. Her grip of reality begins to fade. The continued mystery of the drowned boy gets worse. Until she spots him in the camp, alive and well, and laughing. Meanwhile the three little girls who are her exclusive charges are turning very nasty.

As I said, it’s gripping. The main problem is that it re-covers ground too many times to sustain the mystery, it needs at least another major twist. But when that comes it means you have to buy another book. The possible resolution to the main mystery leads on to another one. But we don’t get to see it.

It is, quite clearly, a deliberate marketing ploy, and at seventy seven pence a volume one can’t complain too much, even in these troubled times. But it was a bit annoying, and could well prove counter productive. Maybe it’s another YA thing, though. Teenagers love serials, let’s say. People love suspense. My trouble is, I’ve never even watched an episode of Eastenders.

Reviewed by Jan Needle

Available in Kindle format

Find out more about A K Dawson 

The Sun’s Companion by Kathleen Jones

suns companionThis is a SECOND OPINION review. An earlier review is on IEBR HERE.

Kathleen Jones understands the art of story and how it works.  By the end of the first couple of ‘The Sun’s Companion, her effortless-seeming prose had me completely engaged.  Tamar Fell is a schoolgirl who has moved home too many times.  In her new school she meets Anna, who has moved as well, though not because the rent is due, as is Tamar’s case.  Anna is a German Jew.  The Second World War hasn’t yet broken out, but Anna has experienced terrible things, and she’s fled with her mother and can’t ever go back.

Despite their very different backgrounds, a friendship is forged between these two girls. This part of the book, charting the girls’ growing years against a background of approaching war, is completely gripping.  Unfortunately I cared more about the girls as children than I sometimes found myself caring later about their adult selves. Anna’s single-mindedness in pursuit of her dreams, for example, failed to strike a chord with me and I was sorry to see Tamar’s story – and, indeed, the whole book – culminate in an ending that came across as too pat.

This sounds like a gripe, but don’t let that put you off. This was a book I read for pleasure, and which had me hooked all the way through. The real strength of the story lies in its detail. Here we have life in an England overshadowed by war, skirmishes with the arts establishment, robust experiences as a Land Girl and so much more.  And everything is written as if from experience.  You can’t believe Kathleen Jones hasn’t been there. So much rings true.

Kathleen Jones is fine writer.  Her use of language is skillful and precise and has the beat about it of real life.  Hardly surprisingly, I recommend ‘The Sun’s Companion’.

Reviewed by Pauline Fisk 

Available in Kindle Format  

Find out more about Kathleen Jones 

 

 

How do you Voodoo? by Janice Horton

Voodoo-Cover-Sm-jpegThis is quite a short book – 70 pages – and I started reading it because I needed something short to read and, although I don’t really read much romance, the title intrigued me.

Nola, a high-powered, glamorous model, with an inflated opinion of herself, came off the page as particularly unlikeable. Not a good start for a romantic story. She is on her way from the Caribbean to London for an important photo shoot, when she falls foul of a Haitian woman who puts a curse on her. From then on, things start to happen to Nola, which causes her to lose her looks. Her skin changes from a healthy tan to a greyish colour, with a healthy, or should I say an unhealthy, eruption of pimples. Her blonde hair turns mousy brown, and she loses two of her front teeth. Doctors indicate she is suffering from a virus, but Nola is convinced she is cursed.

She seeks out the Haitian woman’s son, Louis, in an attempt to reverse the curse, and from then on things get very interesting. There is a trip to Glasgow, a creepy cemetery visit, a reunion with her mother, and a growing attraction to Louis.

I must admit I had mixed feelings when Nola suffered her loss of looks. I swung between feeling sorry for her, and feeling she deserved all she got. The scene in the NecropolisCemetery was full of the kind of suspense you would expect in a Stephen King book, and I feared for her, expecting the worst. If I had been writing the story, this would have been the lead-in to some nasty happenings. However, this is a romance, therefore blood and gore cannot be part of the menu. The suspense did continue though, but now it was romantic suspense, and it had a different feel.

By the end of the story, Nola had become a very different, and much more likeable person, and I was rooting for her to succeed in capturing her man, if not her career.

I must say, I enjoyed this story much more than I expected to, and consider it an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Chris Longmuir

Available in Kindle format 

Find out more about Janice Horton