Playground Cool by Jamie Sinclair

After reading The 24 Hour Jazz Café by Jamie Sinclair (see previous post) I downloaded Playground Cool and it’s been sitting in my WTBR folder for several months. I’ve started it once or twice before and couldn’t get into it but this time I did and really enjoyed reading it.

Playground Cool is a book about relationships and what happens when people stop talking to each other.

Three young women are in relationships: the first is over but she wants it back; the second is over and she can’t get it back; the third hasn’t got one and adamantly thinks she neither wants nor needs one.

Three young men are in those relationships: one is over and he wishes it wasn’t; one is over and he thinks he’s glad but he isn’t; one is determined to have a relationship.

Complicated? Well yes, at first, but as you get to know the characters things fall into place. Complicated? Well yes because there’s another young woman who wants a relationship with one of the men; and another young man who wants a relationship with one of the women. Complicated? Er…. Yes because some of the characters know each other and some don’t know each other at all.

However author Jamie Sinclair is firmly in control of the whole situation and leads all his characters to a very satisfying conclusion and everything works out even though one of the young men ends up with metaphorical egg on his face.

Playground Cool hasn’t got the dark political angle of The 24 Hour Jazz Café but it shares the clear, direct writing style that worked so well in that novel. It’s very funny in places and highly entertaining throughout particularly related to the detailed observation that comes with some of the scene setting and context creation. 

It would make great holiday reading and is well worth a look.

You can find details of all Jamie Sinclair’s books on his author page at Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

Short Stories: Infant Barbarian by Jenny Worstall; Angels by B.A. Spicer

I’ve downloaded several short stories recently and particularly enjoyed reading these two books which explore very different aspects of family relationships.
This is a collection of two short stories which are thematically connected within family conflict situations and their resolutions. I say conflict but this is very genteel, middle-class conflict so the surface remains polite and the tensions are suppressed. The resolutions are connected but it would spoil the stories if I said any more.
And that would be a pity because these are two very well written short stories. They don't take long to read and they are light, easy reading but they remain with you afterwards and contain some interesting in-sights into parenting and grand-parenting.
In "Old School" a new granny / interfering mother-in-law has plenty of opinions about child rearing but not a great deal of practical application; the effects of her contributions are unhelpful in the extreme until she has an unexpected reality check.
The "Infant Barbarian" of the title is a handful and everybody knows it except his mum. Unfortunately (or in the long run, hopefully, fortunately) in this story she finds out.
Thoroughly enjoyable and ideal for reading when you just want something gentle and not too taxing: well worth a look.
Jenny Worstall is the author of several short stories and a full length novel “Make a Joyful Noise” which, judging by what I’ve read so far, is proving to be an entertaining love story in an unusual context.
“When a mother loses her daughter to bullying at school, she decides to take revenge”
The blurb for this rather remarkable short story says it all and within its well-crafted pages a whole life is played out.
The mother in this story decides to take matters into her own hands and deal with the perpetrator herself. Her response is extreme but understandable and anyone who knows the victim of bullying at school, or anywhere else for that matter, will sympathise with her actions.
The story is sad and poignant with an unexpected ending; the characterisation is explored well and there is an almost poetic quality to some of the scene setting.
The author uses an interesting device of paralleling this present incident with one from the past: consequently, the emotional tension is raised considerably through the insights gained into the character of the daughter and the decisions made by the mother as the story moves to its climax.
I’ve already read “Bunny on a Bike” by Bev Spicer (see previous review) and had every expectation that “Angels” would be well written. As an introduction to her writing “Angels” is well worth the read and it has prompted me to remember to download “My Grandfather’s Eyes” which looks set to be an intriguing murder mystery.
You can find details of all the books by these two authors on their Amazon author pages.
Jenny Worstall’s author page: Amazon UK or Amazon USA

Bev Spicer; B.A. Spicer’s author page: Amazon UK or Amazon USA  

From Trincomalee to Portsea: The Diary of Eliza Blunt 1818 - 1822 transcribed and explained by Mary Hope Monnery

Mary Hope Monnery has done a fantastic job in bringing the old diary of one of her ancestors into the public domain. It must have been incredibly hard work to transcribe it but very rewarding at the same time. It has little or no punctuation and Ms. Monnery has published it deliberately as written and it is amazing that once you get used to the writing style the lack of punctuation doesn't affect your understanding of the text at all.

It is however quite difficult to read because of all the gaps in this record of the past; Eliza Blunt wasn't writing for us: she was writing for herself and possibly for her lover. Consequently you have to use your imagination at times to try and make sense of developments and here Ms. Monnery comes to our aid with lots of helpful annotations at the end of each chapter.

The diary contains a wealth of fascinating detail about daily life in the early nineteenth century. The range of Eliza's purchases and the prices she pays is remarkable; the amount of time it took to sail from Trincomalee to Portsea (5 months!) and the quantity of fresh livestock carried on the ship and butchered regularly truly amazing; the huge significance of washing day and the  hard work it entailed is back-breaking; and the relationship between Eliza and the Royal Navy on whom she was dependent for her pension is as relevant to-day as it was then.

Eliza actually records a visit to the theatre to see Edmund Keane in Richard III!

In addition the diary records a love story that is passionate and turbulent. Eliza was marrried when she went to Trincomalee (in present day Sri Lanka) but her husband died shortly after their arrival. While waiting to return to England with her family she meets and falls in love with another man and the feeling is mutual. She manages to sustain her love for many months without any contact at all with the man of her affections and  pours out her feelings in an extrordinary stream of consciousness style to her diary. You wonder if you're going to find out what happens:  and you do but I'm not going to tell you. A wonderful romance!

This is a most unusual book: fascinating, intriguing, packed with information. For anyone who enjoys family history it's a real gem.

You can sample and download "From Trincomalee to Portsea: The Diary of Eliza Blunt 1818 - 1822" at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Review | A Memory of Grief | Dale Phillips

Don't let the very long preamble to A Memory of Grief by Dale Phillips put you off this book. The legal stuff, testimonials, dedication, acknowledgements and an author's forward all have to be read before you get to the novel: and I must confess I almost gave up. I prefer novels that start straightaway with a minimum of distractions. So when I arrived at the novel I wasn't in the best frame of mind for reading it and I almost stopped.

But I'm glad I didn't.

It was Maureen who made me change my mind. She is the ex-wife of Ben who is the best friend of Zack or rather was the best friend of Zack because Ben is dead. Maureen is pitiful: abused, down-trodden, working all hours God sends to keep her current boyfriend in a good mood. She sends Zack a letter about Ben's death which starts off a train of events that take you with Zack on a determined journey to find out the truth of Ben's death.

Zack is tough and uncompromising and nothing is going to stop him getting to the truth -or is it?

I'm not going to give away anymore of the plot except to say that I thought this plot was very well executed and I kept turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The construction of the novel is complicated but everything stacks up and author Dale Phillips has done a good job in writing a convincing tale with some unusual twists.

The protagonist is Zack Taylor and he is a fully rounded character and as well as his tough exterior you get to know his more sensitive side too. The supporting cast are well drawn and in addition to Maureen there's a host of additional players from a variety of backgrounds including some seriously unpleasant characters that you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night in November.

I thought a great strength of the novel was its dialogue: it's sharp and real and provides much of the forward drive of the story. There are some scenes of violence in the book but not gratuitous. In fact some of the details of the fight scenes are quite fascinating and I guess that the author either engages in some form of "karate" sports or has done a lot of research. When characters get hurt they bleed although Zack demonstrates almost super-human powers of recovery.

The book is priced quite highly at £3.12p and there is something odd with the lay-out of the dialogue in places which is indented for no apparent reason. This doesn't spoil the story in any way but it takes a bit of getting used to.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Memory of Grief and I liked Zack Taylor sufficiently to want to read the sequel too. You get the first chapter of the sequel, A Fall from Grace, at the end of the book and it looks as though it will be a good read as well.

Update: June 22nd 2013

While browsing in the Kindle Store I noticed that Memory of Grief has a new price in UK: just £2.03p.
Well worth checking out at Amazon UK.

'The Cult of Me' by Michael Brookes

I enjoyed reading a collection of four short stories by Michael Brookes entitled 'An Odd Quartet' particularly 'The Yellow Lady' which was a ghost story with an unusual twist. I liked the writing style in 'Forced Entry' which gave a fairly predictable story-line a strong sense of urgency and unease. 'The Reluctant Demon' was really good with a great twist at the end and some very funny contrasts between the young demon and its parent. I thought 'This Empty Place' was the least successful of the four stories and it didn't really work for me. I don't usually read ghosts and demons but I liked the way Michael Brookes writes: clear, direct, slightly tongue-in-cheek and I was interested to see what else he could write so after checking out the sample I downloaded 'The Cult of Me'.
I haven't read anything like this novel for a very long time: a person who can get inside other people's heads and control their minds is much more fantastical than anything I usually read these days. What I found quite remarkable about the book was the way in which the author gets you to buy into this remarkable mind shifting ability of the main character. He introduces the idea very early on and does so in such a down-to-earth manner just as part of his scene-setting in the prison cell where the story starts that you don't quite realise what's happening. All the other details about the scene are very mundane and matter-of-fact and his introduction of this mind-travelling ability by the main character gets in under the radar. Once you've bought into this ability as a matter of reality you just go along with it for the rest of the book.
I'm not quite sure where to place this novel. It's certainly in the fantasy / paranormal zone because of the extraordinary abilities of the main character. It's also a thriller and you are kept on the edge of your seat in the later stages when the novel reaches its climax. In addition it contains elements of the philosophical and religious and it's a story with murders, crimes and a bit of social commentary. It's a really interesting mix of ideas and keeps you engaged from beginning to end.
The story-line has many original and creative twists and turns and you get some big surprises and changes of direction.
The writing style is economical with occasional flights of fantasy resulting in some almost poetic descriptions at times. The structure of the novel works well with a generous helping of flashbacks to bring you up to speed with the protagonist's situation at the start of the book.
I really enjoyed reading 'The Cult of Me'. The ending is a shocking cliff-hanger and I've downloaded the sequel 'Conversations in the Abyss' because I really want to know what happens next.
Sample and download 'An Odd Quartet' Amazon UK Amazon USA 
Sample and download 'The Cult of Me' Amazon UK Amazon USA 

Visit the author's Blog at 

A Letter for Maureen by Jonathan Hill

Author Jonathan Hill has created in "Maureen" a character who is slightly larger than life and prone to social gaffs to the extent that “Hapless Maureen” has become the default position. 
I'd already been with Maureen on her visit to Venice and to an Art Exhibition and was looking forward to reading about her exploits at her local Book Club in “A Letter for Maureen”. There's much more to the book than just the Book Club and I was certainly not disappointed; in fact I think this is the best story Jonathan Hill has written about Maureen so far.
A Letter for Maureen” is much deeper than the other book and tackles some difficult issues relating to illness, ageing and death. That's not to suggest that the book is dark or depressing; it's not. It's very funny in places; it's unusual and original and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it; it just had a bit more substance than the other 'Maureen' stories and benefited from that.
The characterisation is really good and all the supporting cast are well developed, engaging and interesting. In a relatively short book (18,000 words) you meet and remember the customers in the bakery, Maureen's neighbours, the Book Club members, Nigel the librarian, the residents of a nursing home and their carers, a theatre fan, a theatre audience and performers as well as Beryl and Roy the two other main characters. Each character gets a pen portrait that has been written with economy, style and wit.
This same economy of style is used for scene setting: just enough details to get you into the right place and then on with the story. Consequently you engage really well with the book and I read it straight through in one sitting. I've read it a second time actually and enjoyed it just as much so well done Mr Hill.

You can read more about author Jonathan Hill at his web-site   and sample and download “A Letter for Maureen” at Amazon UK or Amazon USA.