The #RBRT Reviewer Profiles – Bev Spicer @BevSpice

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Reviewers on the #RBRT are very busy hard working people who give their time freely, so I thought it was about time readers had the chance to meet them and find out a bit more about them.

bev christmas 2014

 

Bev Spicer lives in sunny Charente-Maritime, France.

Bev Reviews on her blog: http://www.baspicer.blogspot.fr/search/label/IndieReads

Bev likes reading literary fiction, and all well-written genre fiction.

For the book review team Bev prefers kindle files sent direct to her email, or mobi.

Interests: astronomy, astro-physics, science, Ted Talks, reading, writing, keeping fit.

Reading Soft edge

 

I asked, “What new genres have you tried from the review team list?”

 

I’ve tried speculative short stories, detective fiction, thrillers and historical fiction.

“What genres make you step out of your comfort zone?”

Books which are outside my comfort zone: slushy, sentimental romance.

“What do you look for in a book?”

 

What do I look for? Strong, realistic characters, not too much back story (prefer dialogue), good plot and pace, great settings. And it’s always good to learn something new.

“Book Styles you don’t enjoy?”

 

I’m willing to give any style of book a go.

“Do you read & review Non-Fiction?”

 

I wouldn’t say no to non-fiction, depending on the subject matter.

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT The Undertaker’s Son by @BevSpice #bookreview

Today’s team review comes from Olga, she blogs at http://olganm.wordpress.com

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Olga chose to read and review The Undertaker’s Son by Bev Spicer

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I am reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie and to the author for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The book intrigued me because of the description and the setting. We all seem to expect crime, and crime novels, to be set in big cities, but when evil hides in a small, picturesque and peaceful town, it seems worse. As if evil had no place in such environment. It’s true that it’s perhaps more difficult to hide in a small and idyllic French town, but some manage to hide in plain sight.

The novel, written in the third person, is told from the point of view of a large number of characters, from the “evil” character hinted at in the description, the undertaker’s son of the title, Claude, to Patrice, a young student who ends up being more central to the plot than it seems at first. The author allows us to peer into the heads of her characters, and this is sometimes a very agreeable experience (like in the case of Martha Burton, the British divorcee out to create a new life for herself in France, who despite disappointments in love, is fairly happy), and at others, an utterly terrifying one. Apart from Claude, who has no redeeming qualities, and Patrice, who is a nice young man without any shades, all the rest of the characters are all too human, they hesitate, they are morally ambiguous at times, and even downright immoral. Felix Dumas, the crook, is utterly dislikeable, but even he has some redeeming qualities (he does not understand his son, but seems to love him, and he tells Claude not to take drastic measures. He does not want anyone killed.) And Angeline… It’s a credit to the author that by allowing us into the minds of her characters, we might not agree with what they do, the secrets they keep, or their reasons and justifications, but we understand them. Well, that is, except for Claude.

Claude reminded me of the main character in Peeping Tom due to his fascination with death. But, in contrast with Mark Lewis, the protagonist of Peeping Tom, who is a victim of his father’s psychological experiments, Claude is unknowable. We share his memories and see his attachment to Felix, but he operates outside of our conceptions of right and wrong. He’s a psychopath, but from what we get to see of him, he uses his interest and fascination with death in a utilitarian way, and turns it into a business, rather than being compelled to kill. He plans his jobs with military precision, and seems alien to humankind, functioning at a different level. This is not the typical serial killer whose neighbours would say he seemed so “normal”. He is nothing if not extraordinary. A character very difficult to forget that makes us question the limits of humanity and conscience.

The plot is intriguing but the writing ebbs and flows through certain moments, like parties, planting a tree, and the fleeting memories of a dementing old-man, that help us get a vivid sense of the town and its people, and make us care for the fate of its inhabitants. For the duration of the book we become privileged town dwellers and get to know everybody. This is not a frantically paced thriller, but a novel that shares in the more relaxed pace of its setting, and that’s perhaps what makes it more chilling.

The ending is satisfying (perhaps everything works out too well and that’s the least realistic aspect of the novel) and reassuring. I look forward to reading more novels by B A Spicer.

Four and a half stars.

Find the book here

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G04DWWS/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00G04DWWS/

 

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT The Undertaker’s Son by @BevSpicer #bookreview

Today’s team review comes from Cathy, she blogs at http://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com

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Cathy chose to read and review The Undertaker’s Son by Bev Spicer

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The story opens with Claude Cousteau reliving a time in his childhood when he was helping his father, who was an undertaker, to dress and prepare bodies for viewing. An unhealthy obsession began to take hold of Claude and he had to satisfy his macabre desire to know how it would feel when a person’s life force was extinguished by his hand.

Claude is a man who doesn’t feel the need for friends or relationships and lives a solitary life. The only person who has had an impact on his life is Felix Dumas, the son of his father’s friend. Felix had been kind to the young Claude, and Claude holds Felix in high regard.  Now a prominent lawyer, Felix is not above shady dealings but regardless, Claude makes it his business to ‘help’ Felix whenever he can.

Claude is a complex and chilling character, more so because he’s so focused on safeguarding, as he sees it, the person he’s fixated with, whether or not that person wants Claude’s help.

Martha Burton, a British divorcee, has lived in France for almost two years, in the picturesque village of St. Martin-le-Vieux, teaching English. Dissatisfied in her relationship with Michel, and because of her work, she begins to make more friends in the local community. Looking for a special tree for her garden brings her into contact with Guy Roche and his wife, Angeline, which in turn leads to more characters being introduced.

I like the distinctive ‘Frenchness’ of the village, the sense of community, and the convoluted and unexpected way people’s lives can overlap. It was intriguing and I enjoyed the first and last parts of the book, wondering where the story would take me, but for some reason I kept losing concentration and connection with the characters during the middle section. I think perhaps it felt a little slow and didn’t completely work for me. The concluding scenes, however, bring everything to a disturbingly believable conclusion.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Angels by @BevSpice #Shortstory #Bookreview

Today’s team book review comes from Alison, she blogs at alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com

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Alison chose to read and review Angels by Bev Spicer

Angels (a metaphysical horror story)

Angels by B A Spicer

This gripped me right from the beginning and I read the whole story in one sitting – very unusual for me however much I love a book because my life is horrendously busy! But I was so drawn in that I had to read on.

This story sensitively and yet honestly portrays the lengths mothers will go to for their children and the emotional depth there is behind a mother/daughter relationship. I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the story, but as a mother it spoke to me, and I identified so closely with the main characters that it was actually quite unsettling.

And that goes to show what a talented writer B A Spicer is. The writing is beautifully crafted, the characters really well drawn for such a short piece. I do think this story has real potential to be developed into something much longer.

4 out of 5 stars.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT The Undertaker’s Son by @BevSpice #BookReview

Today’s team review comes from Alison, she blogs at http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

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Alison chose to read and review The Undertaker’s Son by Bev Spicer

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The Undertaker’s Son by Bev Spicer

I have to admit to being a bit of a Francophile so this book appealed straight away although not only because of its setting, but also because Bev Spicer is a writer whose books I’ve enjoyed previously.

I was hooked straight away. The sleepy charm of the French village and the relationships between its inhabitants are all really well drawn. And the character we meet first, Martha, appeals to me with her brave decision to move to France alone to live the life she wants after her marriage collapses.

But this book isn’t a jolly light summer read about British people abroad. It’s far darker and deeper than that. There’s the creepy Claude, whose obsession with a childhood friend, and strange career choice make for a very chilling character; Felix Dumas, a villain that you desperately want to get his just desserts; spoilt, selfish Angeline, who is so intent on her ambitions that she fails to see, and almost loses, what she already has; and unreliable Clement, who I wanted to hate, but whose touching dedication to his father made me warm to him. All these characters, and more, are woven together in a narrative that is intelligent, engrossing and a real pleasure to read.

This isn’t a book with a fast-paced plot, lots of excitement and dramatic twists and turns, but it is no less compelling for that. It is a well-crafted, thoughtful book about people, the choices they make, the secrets they keep, the obsessions that drive them and the paths they choose.

My only gripe is that, having become invested in Martha’s story, I felt that I lost her about half way through; she became simply part of the larger cast of characters, rather than the centre around which the others revolved. Aside from that, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book.

4-5 out of 5 stars.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Alison reviews My Grandfather’s Eyes by @BevSpice

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs at alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com

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Alison chose to read and review My Grandfather’s Eyes by Bev Spicer

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My Grandfather’s Eyes by B.A. Spicer

Alex Crane is the narrator of this dark, clever and extremely well-written book. This novel is completely different o anything I have read for a long time, disturbing and fascinating, Alex’s story is one that tests your sympathies to the limit.

Alex has moles. This might seem a simple thing but they, in some way, define her. She bears them proudly, refusing to be ashamed, refusing to accept the place in society that they should, in others eyes, confine her to. Her mother’s revulsion shapes her too and she grows up to love with passion, particularly her best friend Lizzie, who remains frustratingly out of reach, and to disdain, or at least discount, those who don’t rouse this passion in her – her weak father, her obliging husband, for example.

She loved her grandfather though and has a sort of grudging respect for her grandmother. It is her grandparent’s history, intertwined with her parent’s past, that becomes a source of fascination for Alex – the mystery at the heart of it revealing aspects of her grandmother that are within Alex too.

The first person narration places you, uncomfortably at times, in Alex’s world, with her skewed ideas of right and wrong. But, despite the things she does and thinks, I don’t hate her. I’m not sure that I like her, but I do, to an extent, understand her. And this is where the talent and the skill of the writer show. It’s hard to have the ‘hero’ of your story someone who should be the villain and even harder to write that character in such a way that your reader isn’t completely turned off. The author has managed to do that and the result is a book that’s hard to put down, beautifully crafted and compelling.

My only complaint? Without giving too much away, I would have liked to have known more about Alex’s grandparents and the effects of the Mexico trip. Although this was touched on, I would have liked more details.

Apart from this very minor point, I totally recommend this.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Chris reviews My Grandfather’s Eyes by Bev Spicer

 

Today we have a review from team member Chris,

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Chris chose to read and review My Grandfather’s Eyes by Bev Spicer

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My Grandfather’s Eyes is an interesting read, drawing you into the life of an extremely unlikeable protagonist and her equally unlikeable family and friends.

Alex Crane is scheming, uncaring and lacking a conscience. The moles on her face are cited as the reason for her disdain for almost everyone and everything, but her self-centred and calculating nature have a deeper cause. When faced with news of her husband’s death, all Alex worries about is what he told the doctors. When faced with the past, all Alex cares about is the elusive Lizzy. And when faced with her family, all Alex cares about is uncovering the family secret that has laid buried, regardless of the consequences.

The book juxtaposes two strands of Alex’s life, so that her childhood days are weaved into the story set in the present. The language is rich, the point of view intimate, the characters intriguing and the plot wholesome. The author has managed to create an obnoxious, selfish character that’s both believable and engaging. Unfortunately, the pacing of the story was too slow for me, which made my reading experience less enjoyable than I would have hoped and so I can only give it a 3* rating. But if you enjoy slow-burners, please don’t let me put you off.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Noelle reviews Stranded In The Seychelles by Bev Spicer @BevSpicer

Today we have a review from Noelle, she blogs at https://saylingaway.wordpress.com/

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Noelle chose to read and review Stranded In The Seychelles by Bev Spicer.

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Stranded in the Seychelles is a fun, frothy memoir of two young women looking for adventure before they have to make a life decision about settling down. It is written by Bev Spicer, who has written several humorous memoirs of her life, including Bunny on a Bike, telling of the time she was a Playboy croupier in London.

Bev and Carol, her bosom buddy, have come to a fork in the road. Carol has just returned from teaching English to monks in Tibet, while Bev has held a series of uninspiring jobs, including typing out legal contracts and folding and labelling bin bags to send off with a quote to possible customers (that one really impressed me!). She finally gets a postgraduate teaching certificate from Cambridge and, at the time of this story, has been teaching English to uninterested secondary school students for a year. When Bev comes across an ad for qualified English teachers for the National Youth Service of the Seychelles, they both bite. I had to look up the Seychelles: the Seychelles Islands are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the eat coast of Africa, in the same general region as Zanzibar, Madagascar and Mauritius. The two friends fly out to their new island home, picturing a luxury villa on a beach, tropical fruit and air-conditioned class rooms. They should have been alarmed by the lack of information or even a syllabus for the classes they were to teach. By this time the reader is thinking too good to be true, don’t do it!

They step off their plane into the climate of a convection oven, peopled by native and mixed raced individuals who speak mainly Creole, with strange customs and even stranger food. Eventually they are given their own house, with a steady breeze from the ocean and electricity. Also lizards and a wondrous variety of spiders, which spin webs like nets overnight.

Their school is on another island, which they reach by landing craft each morning, together with other recruited teachers. The voyage is spent gagging on the acrid black smoke from the engine. Their classrooms are outside under tin roofs, which heat the air beneath to baking levels by the end of each day, and have poisonous centipedes dropping in from time to time. Teachers at the school come from various European countries as well as Sri Lanka and Mauritius, making a colourful, multilingual lot. The students, by contrast, are perpetually sleepy and unengaged in learning, despite Bev and Carol’s best efforts.

This memoir is filled with eclectic characters, surprising and humorous adventures, lots of local beer, and experiences on and with an ancient Kawasaki 250 cc motorbike they purchase for getting around. Along the way, the reader is nicely schooled in the sometimes harsh realities of life in a poor, politically unstable country. A concatenation of events lead to Sue and Carol’s long and eventually successful attempt to terminate their contract after the first school term: most significantly to them was the ban on traveling anywhere during their breaks except within the Seychelles and Mauritius. Not to mention the lack of eligible men.

This was a fun read, written with a sharp wit and keen sense of humour, with an eye to the ridiculous and candour with the politics. It’s a great memoir. It made me want to be young again, carefree and open to any adventure.

Bev Spicer was born in a small market town in the Midlands of England and educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge. She was a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University before moving to live in France with her husband and two of her children; there she writes full-time. Along the way, she has been a teacher, blackjack dealer for Playboy, examiner, secretary (various sorts – most boringly ‘legal’) and Sunday checkout girl at Tescos. As well as France, she has lived in Bridgnoth, Cambridge, Rethymnon (Crete), and Mahe (Seychelles). The next place she has said she wants to explore is probably Spain. She reports that her husband is very tolerant.

She loves people, reading, writing, speaking French, astronomy (quantum theory addict), gardening, traveling, and hates housework, cooking, drizzle and honey.

Sounds like my kind of author!

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

 

 

 

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Cathy reviews My Grandfather’s Eyes by Bev Spicer

Today’s review comes from Cathy, she blogs at http://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com

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Cathy chose to read and review My Grandfather’s Eyes by Bev Spicer

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Alex’s story is told, in the first person and present tense and draws the reader into her world of extremely well drawn and distinct, albeit not always likeable, characters that surround her. The narrative begins with the death of Alex’s grandfather, his funeral and the first signs that maybe something about this family is slightly skewed. The heated words Alex overhears exchanged between her mother and father later that night unnerve her although she’s not sure why.

And then, back to the present where Alex’s husband, Richard, is in hospital in a critical condition as Alex waits for news. Thereafter the timeline alternates between past and present giving an insight into Alex’s sometimes irrational thoughts and feelings, or rather the lack of them, since she was a young child.

Alex’s physical appearance, and how it affects herself and others, may have sown the seeds for her heartless, and sometimes callous, behaviour but whatever the reason there are only two people she loves; her grandfather and her best friend since childhood, Lizzy. She selfishly manipulates situations and people, without conscience, to achieve her own desires regardless of any negative effects.

From the beginning of the story it’s apparent Alex has done something appalling but as the story progresses her cold and calculating nature becomes more and more obvious. It’s as though sentiments skim the surface, she does what is expected, and not much actually touches her. She’s always distant and detached and marries Richard with that same mindset, although he loves her deeply. Only her very strong feelings for Lizzy and her grandfather break through the barriers.

It’s an extraordinary novel, given the content, the original take on the main protagonist and making her mostly unlikable and difficult to warm to, as well as the excellent writing leading into ever more complex and multi layered plot lines. The family skeletons are revealed in such a way as to make reading compulsory with the need to know. And, although initially I felt some measure of sympathy for the young Alex, I couldn’t really maintain it. The characters are very well-developed and intertwined in an intensely powerful and dark psychological drama.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com