Book Review: Storming Party

I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series, ‘Turncoat’s Drum’.
https://beetleypete.com/2019/10/14/book-review-turncoats-drum/

I mentioned then that I had already bought the second book, and I have just finished reading it.

Following on from the very last line, we continue the adventures of the characters embroiled in the English Civil War, during the 17th century. This time, the author adds a few more characters, and gives us a look into the court-in-exile of Charles I and his queen, in the city of Oxford. The fawning sycophants, aristocrats and merchants seeking favours, and the romantic affairs and dalliances during the midst of a bitter war.

Carter also adds an unusual Civil War element to the action, the war at sea, with the reader travelling on a Parliamentary warship, following the fate of the prisoners from the previous book. As we reconnect with all the characters, and watch as they interact with the new ones, all roads are leading to the mighty fortress city of Bristol, where the opposing sides are set to clash in bloody conflict. As Parliamentary stragglers seek refuge in the beleaguered city, adding to the small number of desperate defenders, the Royalist general Prince Rupert arrives with a huge army, and many cannon. The scene is set for a desperate siege, followed by a massive assault by the Royalist forces.

Once again, historical detail is flawless. The cramped back streets of Bristol are accurately brought to life, (many still exist today) and the plight of both the defending army and trapped civilians feels all too real. Despite the now familiar characters, the author manages to avoid any ‘soap-opera’ tropes in their relationships, and keeps surprising the reader with unexpected turns in the story. Everything from the preparation of the siege guns, to the desperate hand-to-hand fighting around shattered earthworks is fast-paced, and exciting to read.

The small details are a delight too. From how many teeth someone has, to what is available to eat. As well as the descriptions of clothing, personal habits, and the physical appearance of exhausted and wounded soldiers.
At 371 pages, it didn’t seem that long, and I found myself staying up late to read more. This was also only 99 p, so great value.

Highly recommended for fans of Historical Fiction, and those interested in the background to the actual events of that 17th century war.

The third book of six is already available, but I have to read some others before buying that one.

Here’s an Amazon link.

TV Review: Spiral

‘Spiral’ is a French cop show, called ‘Engrenages’ (Gears) in French.

BBC Four is now showing series seven, and I had been eagerly awaiting it for over a year.

OK, it has subtitles. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t usually like those, as it is easy to understand the action.

This is a TV cop series at its very best. We get the seedy side of Paris, the underworld that carries out crime there, and the detective teams that try their best to combat those criminals.

We see the judges like Judge Roban, attending magistrates assigned to cases, and working alongside the police teams to get a conviction.

Then the lawyers, good ones and bad ones. Honest ones, and corrupt ones. Like Miss Karlsson, looking to profit from protecting criminals, and ending up in prison for their trouble. The cop team headed by the troubled Laure, supported by her loyal colleague and sometime lover, Gilou.

Nothing is over-dramatised.
Nobody is too handsome, or too beautiful.

They are just ordinary people.
They could be us, you and me.

This is TV at its best, and worth trying to find. Wherever you live, and whatever language you speak.

If you can, try to start at series One, as the continuing story is not unlike a serial.

Here’s a short trailer.

Book Review: Turncoat’s Drum

This title was ‘suggested’ to me by Amazon. It is set in a period I am interested in, and on offer at just 99 p for 377 pages, I thought it was good value too. This is book one in series of six, by the same author. It forms part of the ‘Shadow On The Crown’ set of novels, all set during the turbulent years of The English Civil War, from 1642-1651.

Like many similar books in the genre, it takes a series of real events, then peoples them with characters who actually existed, mixed in with fictional ones who mainly drive the plot. In this case, we see the effects of the Civil War in the Western sector of the conflict through the eyes of the opposing generals of the Royalist army, and the Parliamentary rebels seeking to overthrow the monarchy. Also individual soldiers and cavalrymen on both sides, as well as the officers and noblemen drawn to conflicting causes.

Civilian life is dealt with in detail too. The ravaged countryside, looting, stealing of food and livestock, and destruction of property during bitter sieges and larger battles. Women on both sides hoping for love or marriage in the midst of war, strumpet camp-followers trailing both armies selling their bodies for financial gain, and unscrupulous businessmen seeking to profit from selling goods to both sides at inflated prices.

And the ‘Turncoat’ of the title is reflected too, with some soldiers willing to change sides after losing in a battle, or for the chance of better pay, or more loot.

This book has an old-fashioned style, but that is a good thing. It reflects life in 17th century England well, a time when landowners demanded obedience from their workers, mothers sought good matches for their sons and daughters to retain their wealth and inheritance, and bitter differences in religious practices often lent a ruthless fanaticism to the battles. There is a softer side too. Relatives and old friends discovering each other on the opposite side during a skirmish, families divided by adherence to one cause or the other lamenting the events that brought them to this.

Historical accuracy is first rate, as all the engagements between the two sides actually happened. Then there is the description of camp life, or the hardships of defending a town under siege. The weapons used, the uniforms worn, and the tactics employed by the opposing armies, all are related in authentic detail. And when it comes to the full-on battles, the author has done his homework, with completely believable blow-by-blow accounts of 17th century warfare, from cavalry formations, to the ghastly wounds inflicted by the weapons of the time.

This is my kind of book, and I lapped it up. I have also just bought the second book in the series, which follows on from the last page of this one.

If you like your history bloody, bawdy, and completely true to life, then this is a book for you.

Here is an Amazon link. (It is still just 99 p on Kindle.)

Book Review: Human Flesh

I read a review of this on Olga’s blog, and I was intrigued enough to buy a Kindle copy straight away. Here is a link to her review.

#TuesdayBookBlog Human Flesh by Nick Clausen (@NickClausen9) A scary novella that asks us some uncomfortable questions #RBRT

It is another of those ‘short books’, at just 114 pages. But it was only 99 p, so I’m not complaining.

I started reading it that night, and finished it the next night. I was quite keen to get to the end, even though I did guess the outcome almost from the start.

This book is variously described as ‘chilling’, horrifying’, and other scary words.

But I have to say from the start that it neither scared me, nor chilled me. There is nothing new here, and better horror stories are available, no doubt.

However.

This short book is all about the unusual and compelling construction. There is no narrative, as every chapter is brought to us via the blog entries of one of the main characters, or a transcript of police reports, emergency phone calls, and answerphone or text messages exchanged. This is never confusing, and always clearly explained.

I really enjoyed this approach, which reminded me of the best-selling novel ‘Three’, which I reviewed earlier this year. In fact, I doubt this story would have worked at all in a conventional format, and because of that, I am sadly not rushing to read any of the author’s other work. Even with such an unusual construction, such a well-used theme has to have something different to make it grab the reader. In my case, that element was lacking.

So, to synopsis.

Two children, a brother and sister, are sent to spend two weeks with their elderly grandfather in a remote district of Maine. (Yes, Maine. But forget Stephen King)
He is acting strangely, and has been inconsolable since the death of his wife during a particularly bad winter.

One of the children blogs about what happens, and a friendly neighbour helps them both, when things get weirdly out of control. We get treated to wind spirits, Native American legends, and some definite cannibalism.

You get the idea.

That winter is also exceptionally bad. The extreme weather sets off a chain of events that nobody could have suspected, and that leave everyone with terrible facts to face.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. Full marks to the author for packing so much into so few pages, and extra marks for the cool construction.

But I am happy that I only paid 99 p for the experience.

If you think you would like it more than I did, here’s an Amazon link.

Book Review: The Noise Effect

Stevie Turner is a writer and published author who resides in Suffolk, not far from where I live in Beetley. Here is a link to her Amazon author page.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stevie-Turner/e/B00AV7YOTU?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000

She is also a highly engaged blogger, and a valuable part of our WordPress community. When I saw this new book for sale, I bought the Kindle edition for just 99 p, and read it last night in around seventy-five minutes. As you can see on the cover, it is described as a ‘short story’. At just 64 pages, it certainly isn’t a conventional book, and is following a recent trend of what I think of as ‘short books’. These quick reads are always good value, and more satisfying than a typical short story of under 3,000 words.

I am starting this review by letting you know that The Noise Effect is excellent. I certainly could not have contemplated not finishing it in one sitting, as I was immediately engaged with the main characters from the first paragraph, and eager to discover their fate. Set in the recent past, and in a part of England familiar to anyone who knows it, we have a complete tale of the events that rock the life of an average young couple, concluding with a delicious twist.

Anyone who has ever read one of my own fiction stories will know how much I love a twist!

Eve and Leigh are like so many young couples. Hopelessly in love, and not that well off. They begin married life having to live with Eve’s parents, pinning their hopes on being selected for a new council house being built on an estate close to where they both work. When they are allocated a modest two-bedroom house, they are overjoyed. It doesn’t matter that they have to use hand-me-down furniture, buy some cheap rugs, and eat egg and chips for dinner. They have their home, they have each other, and can now plan for the baby that Eve is desperate to have to complete the family.

After settling in, and being able to walk to both their jobs, they feel that life is wonderful, and their future is spread out ahead of them, full of possibility.

Then the next-door neighbours move in. A father and two sons. Unfriendly, unemployed, and inconsiderate. From the first day, they have parties all night, with loud music and noisy guests milling around in the street. Leigh tries to reason with them, but they are aggressive and threatening. Eve turns to the council for help, and registers a complaint about the noise. But such things take time, and the troublesome family next door are well-known to be difficult to evict.

What follows is a nightmare for the previously happy couple, resulting in a chain of events that spirals tragically out of control.

Stevie gets it all just right. The period details fix the era, and the descriptions of everything from surrounding streets to the music being played is all completely authentic. As someone whose life was also plagued by irresponsible noisy neighbours when I lived in London, I immediately identified with the sense of helplessness and frustration overwhelming the couple.

And then there was that good twist I mentioned.

Highly recommended.

Here is a link to Stevie’s blog.
https://steviet3.wordpress.com/

And this is an Amazon link, if you want to buy your own copy.

Film Flops I Have Seen (2)

I am continuing this series of film flops with this completely unnecessary remake, from 2004. As a child, I went to see John Wayne starring in ‘The Alamo’, in 1960. It was a more-or-less factual account of the famous defence of the Alamo Mission in 1836, against the superior Mexican forces led by Generalissimo Santa Anna.

For some reason best known to themselves, Touchstone Pictures, and producer Ron Howard, decided to do a by-the-numbers remake, 44 years later.

They scraped together a decent, if far from stellar cast, including Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid in the main roles. Both leading men had been in far better films, and it is fair to say that both were in the autumn of their film careers. It is also fair to say that the ‘target market’ for such a film had already seen the 1960 original, probably many times. And like me, they undoubtedly retained a fondness for it. Besides that, it was on TV all the time, dirt cheap on DVD, and there was zero demand for it to be remade.

From anyone, anywhere.

Disney refused Howard’s over-optimistic budget, and the original cast members Russell Crowe and Ethan Hawke left during the financial arguments. The director insisted on complete historical authenticity, and many details were changed from the John Wayne version. Deciding on presenting a ‘serious’ view of the Alamo battle proved to be the film’s undoing.

The critics didn’t like it. The public didn’t like it. Too much detail, too much talking, and action sequences that were not as exciting and involving as the 1960 film. With the critical panning, the audiences stayed away in droves. It wasn’t 1960 anymore, and they had all seen bigger and better historical blockbusters. Then there was that John Wayne original. It was undeniably a better film. More stirring, more involving, and overall more exciting.

The film lost a fortune. It cost $107,000,000 to make, and took less than $23,000,000 worldwide, including DVD sales.
That left it at number six, of the all-time film flops.

I watched the film the year after its US release, and can only agree with the critics, and the public. Another pointless remake.

Will they ever learn? I suspect the answer is “No”.

Book Review: Call Drops

When is a book not really a book? When it has just 79 pages, it is a stretch to call it a book. I read this in one bedtime session, and it felt a lot more like an elongated short story, rather than a novella. But it only cost 99p, so I’m not complaining.

This is marketed as a ‘horror’ story. But it’s not really horrific. It is sinister, that’s for sure, and in a good way.

The writing is very good. I was drawn in to the main character immediately, and the sense of a time and place are very well illustrated too. Perhaps because I write a lot of short stories and fiction serials, I sensed immediately that this was heading for a ‘big twist’, and long before the reveal, I knew what the ending would be. But none of that is a bad thing, as the idea behind it is well-constructed, and I could easily believe the story in that genre.

Vincent Preece is a self-made man. He built and sold a business, and is enjoying the fruits of his wealth. But all is not well. His wife and daughter have deserted him, and he lives alone in a huge house, with nothing to occupy his time.

One day, he is wandering around a boot-sale market, and he buys a strange old mobile phone for £10. Back home, he discovers that the phone has no battery, no sim card, and seemingly no way to connect to any network. But he likes the look of it, so keeps it around.

And then one day, it rings…

Vincent gets mysterious messages, but the calls drop out before he can question the caller. Each message tells him a dark secret, one he feels he must act upon.

This is nicely paced, and manages to cram a lot into those 79 pages.

Despite guessing the end, I really enjoyed it.
https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/36767177