Tuesday, 31 May 2016

'PSYCHO: SANITARIUM' BY CHET WILLIAMSON


Yes, dear readers, Norman Bates is back.  Thanks mostly to author Chet Williamson who did an impressive job bringing back to life this lunatic motel keeper who has a penchant for embodying his dead mother and killing people in showers.  Sure, original author Robert Bloch did pen more than one sequel during his lifetime but, having been all underwhelming, it took PSYCHO: SANITARIUM (Canelo publishing) to finally do the original novel justice.  Never mind that the wait was long time coming (more than 50 years, not counting the previous follow-ups).   
 
As in Bloch’s PSYCHO, the narrative in PSYCHO: SANITARIUM is clear, to the point, with a bit of more pizzazz.  The Williamson touch I call it, meaning he makes it his own while moving the plot along with Norman’s arrest and his confinement in a psychiatric hospital.  What then follows is a moody, scary engaging thrill-ride where you get the chance to meet a bunch of well-defined characters.  You’ve got psychiatrists, orderlies, nurses, and of course, fellow patients who are far from being the only ones making Norman’s stay unpleasant.  You even get to meet a distant relative of Norman’s who may or may not be what he seems.  When people connected to our resident psycho start disappearing, then all hell breaks loose.  But is Norman really back to his old tricks?  

I wish I can say that he is, but that would be revealing too much.  But trust me, you have to go through the motion of reading this thing to find out.  Not that the revelation is such a gasp worthy moment, but you’re never sure of your hunch until the last chapter.  In addition, there are a couple of scenes that will certainly give you the creeps or make you even more aware of your gag reflex.  Now on to the big question: is PSYCHO: SANITARIUM as memorable as Robert Bloch’s PSYCHO?  No freaking way.  How can you top an infamous classic such as this one?  But it is a worthy follow-up that does deserve the stops, if only to rekindle with Norman Bates and his pushy mama. 
 
 
 
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.
 
 
 
 
Until next post—Martin

 


Monday, 23 May 2016

'THE ST. TROPEZ LONELY HEARTS CLUB' BY JOAN COLLINS



Joan Collin’s latest could have easily been called Murder in St. Tropez since the topic of the novel is about a murder among the rich.  But those expecting a classic whodunit will be highly disappointed.   THE ST. TROPEZ LONELY HEARTS CLUB (now out in paperback from Constable) is rather a sexually-charged roman-√†-clef that never lingers too much on character development or intricate plot twists.  It is a sort of homage to the work of Harold Robbins, Barney Leason, and her late sis Jackie Collins whom she dedicates her work to.
 
The plot is rather simple:  when a bunch of colorful jet-setters gather at a billionaire’s home in the south of France to celebrate the beginning of the party season tragedy strikes.  One highly-sought guest succumbs to a planned food poisoning.   Who’s the culprit?  In comes a reputed father and daughter detective team to help us figure it out. During the course of the investigation, we discover what makes these people tick, what irks them (a lot, it seems) but also what makes them swoon (money, power, sex, mostly).  We also discover that Dame Collins knows a thing or two about smut.  And therein lies the strength of THE ST. TROPEZ LONELY HEARTS CLUB, the way it always comes back to that topic.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  The novel is like spying on your hot next door neighbour doing it.  Even though you know better, you just can’t help linger for a while.   

Another plus factor is the author’s surprisingly wicked sense of humor.  More than once does the reader find himself smiling, even chuckling, at the many zany situations or bawdy dialogue between rivals. They even help digest the many coital moments in between.  Moreover, the author’s keen eye approach for promoting the many hip places around St. Tropez is always interesting; sort of like reading Michelin Green Guide, or St. Tropez for Dummies, if you will.   As for her people, most are over-the-top but never boring, exactly as THE ST. TROPEZ LONELY HEARTS CLUB should be.     
 
 
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.
 
 
 
Until next post—Martin

 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

'A GOWN OF THORNS' BY NATALIE MEG EVANS



Natalie Meg Evans’ award winning first novel THE DRESS THIEF made a huge impression on me when it first came out in 2014. I bought it during my stay in Paris that same year. I can still see myself in the late hours of the night devouring every word of this glamourous tale of a girl who wants to make it big in the haute couture world during the 1930s and does but with big consequences. It was the perfect book for a perfect trip. Fast forward it to 2016 and voil√†, a third novel called A GOWN OF THORNS (published by Bookouture). It’s actually more of a novella (around 250 pages) but who gives a flying whoop as long as it delivers the goods, and it does but with a few minuses along the way. 

Our heroine this time around is twentysomething Shauna who finds herself in the southwest of France in the middle of summer taking care of two little brats (not really, but never have been keen on children) while brooding about a perfect biomedical position she had been passed over in London.  While exploring the majestic Chateau and vineyards of Chemignac, she finds herself in a tower one day where she discovers and slips into a beautiful vintage silk gown, which unleashes a chain of events that eventually catches up with her.  Add a hunky master of the vineyards, an English manipulative rival, an ill-tempered old fool, and a subplot involving the ravage of WWII and you’ve got yourself one well-written and thoroughly researched treat that also holds a touch of the supernatural.  

The first thing that came to mind while reading this piece of fiction is how gothic it all played out: an abandoned tower, a presence in the window, strange noises…  Suffice to say, it got my tail wagging. But what really got me super-excited is the flashback subplot involving Yvonne, the English spy secretly hidden in that same tower during WWII’s invasion of the Nazis in France.  Her attraction to Henri the land owner (hunky’s granddad), her relationship with her wounded colleagues (also hidden) and the discovery of the pivotal gown make for a far more fascinating read.  So much so that she could easily have been the author’s main heroine.  And fortunately, she does become so during the book second half.  Well almost.   We still get to follow all the drama involving Shauna in the present-day. As much engaging as it is already, it’s Yvonne’s storyline that really gives A GOWN OF THORNS its strength.  

Moreover, though there is a lot packed into one book (a hundred pages more would have been just perfect), the overall delivery is as addictive, if not the perfect antidote to all of those just too long-winded tales that never give up—sort of like this sentence. 

Natalie Meg Evans newest oeuvre is a cross between Susan Isaacs’ SHINING THROUGH, TV’s Gossip Girl, and every gothic romance novel of the ‘70s.  You’ll definitely want to jump into the story of love, revenge, and heroism.  And as a bonus, you’ll also get a crash course in wine-making and WWII.    So dig in and ride the wave of past and present settings and discover what it really feels like to be caught in A GOWN OF THORNS.
 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

 

Until next post—Martin

 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

PENNY VINCENZI’S 'WICKED PLEASURES'




WICKED PLEASURES, the second offering by the queen of big-ass books Penny Vincenzi, should have been this great love story between the novel and I.  Yes, should have been. After the international success of her first oeuvre OLD SINS, which I loved, you’d think the author would deliver the same page-turning experience, with unforgettable characters in very opulent settings.  Well think again.  Though she tries her best reaching this enthralling plateau, the end result feels more like a damp squib.  And it pains me to say so, for I really enjoy her rich but accessible narrative, not to mention her thorough character development and her keen eye for research.  No, the novel main problem revolves around the plot itself; a plot that is fine for a few hundred pages but becomes redundant in the long run.

Virginia is a fortunate child.  She has wealthy loving parents and a husband who worships the ground she walks on.  The only problem is that she gives birth to three illegitimate children while being married.  Why is that?  Simple: you’ll just have to read the whole 900+ page novel to find out.  What I can say is that around the heroine orbits a cast of colorful characters: from a slutty co-worker who only has her eyes for Virginia’s handsome married brother, to Virginia’s privileged children who yearn to know more about their “floozy” alcoholic mum.  Because mom drinks.  She drinks a lot.  I guess I would too if I’d ever been stuck in a loveless marriage.  Oops, did I say too much?  Not really, for the reason of her unhappiness is much more than a difficult marriage. 
 
The story progresses slowly but surely to the many exchanges between the children and their fathers and to the many life-changing decisions made from those personal encounters.  The book also goes back and forth in time to give you a pretty good idea of why the main character does what she does, and in insight I guess I can’t blame her.  It must not have been a cup of tea living in that chateau...  
 
Told this way, WICKED PLEASURES may sound peachy but trust me, the novel ends up suffering from an overstayed welcome. The thing I must insist upon, however, is that as much as disappointing WICKED PLEASURES ends up being it never made me want to quit.  It just never really caught me like OLD SINS did.  Maybe the third book will, for I plan on going through her backlist even if it kills me.  I heard good things about them, especially the Spoils of Time trilogy.  But to get there I’ll have to go over at least six other novels, I think,  which means if each of them is about 900 page long, the grand total of pages read will be around…  5 thous—  AHHHH!  On second thought, I’d rather go with the flow and see what the next novel feels like instead. 

 


Until next post—Martin

 
US edition