Goodness, Grace and Me by Julie Houston

I was contacted by author Julie Houston some weeks ago introducing her book Goodness, Grace and Me. Following my usual practice, I read the free sample on the Amazon site and enjoyed it so much I bought the book.

Then I visited Julie's Blog and really enjoyed her account of looking for readers outside Waterstones in Leeds. Really, don't miss it - it's very funny.

The book has been in my Waiting To Be Read Folder for quite a while as I haven't been doing so much reading recently as we've been busy publishing Learning Lines? A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors by Michael Murray. Check out our website for more details if you're interested.

Anyway things have settled down a bit now and Goodness, Grace and Me was at the top of my list for what to read next. I finished it a couple of days ago and have really enjoyed reading it. It's a light-hearted, amusing, romantic, well-written story about a couple of life-long best friends and it explores their lives, families and loves in an interesting setting and context.

I really like Julie Houston's writing style: it's crisp and clear and quickly draws you into the lives of her main character, Harriet, her best friend Grace and their family and friends. The story unfolds at a good steady pace and the author has taken the time to let all her characters fully evolve as the plot develops.

Harriet is the narrator and you can really hear her talking to you as you read the book. She shares her thoughts and feelings which are at times quite poignant and at other times hilariously funny. Like author Julie Houston, Harriet is a primary school teacher although this is back-grounded until near the end of the book when you join her at school for one of the funniest descriptions of classroom life I've ever read. The "green ticks" anecdote is brilliant! I should think anyone who knows and loves British primary schools will really enjoy this aspect of the book.

The book is a complex web of relationships which leads to a shed-load of mis-understandings, complications, failures to communicate, humorous incidents and unexpected explanations. It's an ideal book to curl up with on cold, winter nights and would make a great read for the Christmas holidays. 

You can find out more about Julie Houston and her writing on her website and get a copy of Goodness, Grace and Me at the Amazon Kindle Store. The book has received lots of very well deserved five star reviews and that's what I've given it too.

Conversations in the Abyss by Michael Brookes

Conversations in the Abyss is the second part of a trilogy and although you could read it as a standalone book I would recommend that you read volume one, The Cult of Me, first. That’s what I did (review here) and I was so intrigued by that story I couldn’t resist getting the second volume. This is not my usual sort of reading matter and I think that if I’d started straight off with Conversations I wouldn’t have finished it; but other readers who reviewed the book just read it alone and thought it was great.

So, having got that out of the way: this book is amazing. If you like devils and demons there’s something for you; if you like to be horrified there’s something for you too; if you like a good old political thriller there’s plenty for you; if anticipating the apocalyptic is to your taste then there’s plenty for you as well. And it really is a page-turner; when I finished Cult I bought Conversations straightaway but I’ve kept holding back from reading it as I suspected that once started I wouldn’t be able to put it down. Funnily enough it didn’t quite work out like that; I read roughly the first third over three night’s reading……. and then I couldn’t put it down and everything else was on hold until I’d finished it.

So, what’s it about? I think the book is best summed up by the narrator when he asks Venet, one of the characters he’s in conversation with, what he has to do and Venet tells him in reply that he has to stop the Apocalypse. That’s all right then. In the first book the narrator ended up in let’s say a difficult place and much of the start of the second book is him talking with a few visitors and over a period of time (an hour, a day, a week, a month, who knows?) he explores his situation. Meanwhile, back in the other place things are hotting up and clearly a crisis is looming. Bringing all the strands of the book together is really well handled and despite the huge element of fantasy it’s entirely plausible.

Once again there is a clear, direct writing style and I think my only criticism is that sometimes the sentence structure is a bit staccato without any apparent purpose. However that is a minor complaint when taken in the context of some of the wonderful poetic, descriptive passages and evocative turns of phrase of which this is typical: “The obsidian exuded cruel menace, a coldness which sliced through my will as if it were a wind of razors.” Stunning: what a fantastic image.

The author explores a whole range of ‘where do we all come from’ and ‘what is god’ and ‘where is heaven’ sort of questions starting with the beginning and ending on the edge of doom. Although I don’t normally seek out that sort of writing I really enjoyed the way the logic of the argument was sustained right through; and although it has religious overtones it isn’t in any way a proselytising tract.

There’s a kind of Dan Brown aspect to the politicians, priests and pagans thread in the novel which works really well and the projected route to Armageddon is, I think, entirely feasible.

The ending is completely unexpected but brings the book to a great conclusion even though you are left stunned because the rest of the tale, of course, is in part three which doesn’t appear to have been written yet. Please get on with it Mr Brookes! I really want to know what happens next!

You can get links to all Michael Brookes books 
on his Amazon author pages UK and USA and on his Blog.