Review – Count The Shells by Charlie Cochrane

Count The Shells review book coverCount The Shells
Series: Porthkennack, #5
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide
Our rating: 3 stars

Publication date: October 16, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance (M/M)
Length: 253 pages
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Review Summary: A story of secrets and past loves, that had the potential to be a lot stronger than it was, but finished well.

Plot Summary/Description

It’s 1919. Michael Gray has lost most of his friends in the Great War, including his best friend and former lover, Thomas Carter-Clemence – though they’d already broken up, some years before the war started, after a stupid fight. Now, with his sister’s family, he’s come to Porthkennack where they always spent summers, and where Thomas’s younger brother still lives. But meeting Harry will stir up the past in a way that sends ripples through more lives than just Michael’s.

Count The Shells Review

I had high expectations of this book, which weren’t met right away. But I know I’m picky over certain things. Others may enjoy it a lot more. And really it was the first half where I had issues with it. I found the second half much stronger.

I liked the characters (although I wanted to know more about Harry) and I think the main relationship might have worked better for me if their first sex scenes hadn’t happened and the two men had worked through all their emotional stuff and secrets – which could have made a very powerful story – while they were attracted but before they got together. The resemblance of the younger brother to the older could have been deeply disturbing for our hero, but I felt it was all smoothed over too easily.

As a reading experience, it didn’t start well for me. I found the first few chapters especially slow and frustrating, as I kept getting annoyed over little things that threw me out of the story.

This is supposed to be 1919, but it felt like 1999. In 1919, a nursery maid wouldn’t socialize with the family. Her status was very different from a governess. She ate with other servants, if not eating separately with the children. A 9-year-old boy wouldn’t call a newly-introduced grown man ‘Harry’ – no freaking way. Not without getting severely punished for his impertinence. And people in Britain didn’t say things like “I guess so” and “I’m sorry for your loss.” Those are phrases of American origin that have crept into British English in the last 10-20 years.

I know Charlie Cochrane is British, and I know she writes a lot of fiction set in the early 20th century, so I can’t understand what happened here. A major edit fail?

I like this series and I enjoyed the way the caves etc were brought in. I’d certainly read more by this author. I guess I like more angst in my stories, and this one was frustrating because the potential was there but the angst was avoided. However, the ending was well done, with satisfying tie-ups to the family side of things. HFN rather than HEA, however.

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Review – A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stuart

A Boy Made Of Blocks coverTitle: A Boy Made of Blocks
Author: Keith Stuart
Publisher: Little, Brown
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 1, 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 400 pages
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Review Summary: A sweet story about a father who connects with his autistic son by using the Minecraft game.

Plot Summary/Description

Bringing up an autistic child isn’t easy. Alex leaves it all to his wife. So he has no real connection with his 8-year-old son Sam, and his marriage is breaking up under the strain. He moves out to sleep on his best friend’s floor, and from this new life he tries to build some kind of relationship with Sam.

It seems a hopeless task until Sam and Alex discover Minecraft. Sam’s imagination comes to life, and he allows his dad to help him. Slowly, they connect on a level Alex would never have imagined.

A Boy Made Of Blocks Review

This book was inspired by the author’s relationship with his own autistic son, and that makes it both true-to-life and sometimes painful. But it’s also often very funny. Like life, really – painful and funny!

Before they separate, Alex’s wife Jody’s life is dominated by dealing with young Sam, and Alex is working at a mind-numbing job. After the separation, Alex tries to rebuild bridges with both Jody and Sam. The distance helps him to do this, although whether it helps Jody is another question! However, it was great to see a man leaving a marriage physically but not leaving it emotionally. They do work at it.

When Sam discovers Minecraft and begins building things in that virtual world, he needs technical support that Jody has no idea how to give – but Alex does. This gives Sam a reason to value his father and Alex a way to communicate with his son.

The book contains a lot of little episodes in the struggle of living with autism, both for the autistic child and his parents. It all feels very real because we know the author has an autistic son himself. Of course, not all autistic kids are alike, and a lot of books and movies present one (often extreme) example and allow readers/viewers to believe all autistic people are like this – especially by giving the idea that autism always involves some kind of Rainman-like genius. This book doesn’t do this, which is great.

It’s a heart-warming story with a satisfying ending. Everything is neatly concluded – perhaps a little too neatly, but that’s better than leaving a ton of loose ends in my opinion.

Expect to shed tears 🙂

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Review – Blow Down by J.L. Merrow

Blow Down coverTitle: Blow Down
Series: The Plumber’s Mate, #4
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: July 12, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Mystery/Paranormal
Length: 249 pages
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Review Summary: I’ve read all the series and this is my favorite (so far… hope she keeps writing them!)

Plot Summary/Description

Tom and Phil are engaged, but that doesn’t mean their lives are perfect. Too many people are trying to get in on the wedding plans and/or demanding Tom’s psychic abilities for their problems. When he’s hired to find a missing necklace, he uncovers a dead body instead – and the murderer is more than willing to kill again.

Blow Down Review

In case you’ve missed the rest of this series, Tom Paretski is an English plumber with a Polish name and a psychic talent for nosing out what’s hidden. He’s been slowly building trust and love with his old high school nemesis Phil, a former police officer, now a private investigator. Phil and Tom make a great team to read about, and they have enough communication issues to keep the reader interested. These books are funny, too! OK, so now go catch up on the series (link to Amazon) 🙂

Blow Down is book 4, and Tom and Phil are engaged, but they still each don’t know where the other one is half of the time. This allows for some minor angst about the relationship and major worries about physical safety once a murderer appears on the scene. Tom’s talent for finding things is expected to stretch way beyond its normal boundaries, and he’s become quite the local celebrity.

J.L. Merrow is a master of descriptions of English village life, and this series is no exception. I thought I caught some nods to Miss Marple as she brought in a village fete and the local clergy – right up to the bishop – in this instalment.

I cannot get enough of Tom. His gorgeous cats, his wonderful customers, the bizarre things that happen to him every day – I lap it all up! Phil is a little more aloof but that works well because he’s intriguing, a good balance for Tom’s point of view. In Blow Down, Tom’s own history is brought into question, communication with Phil is no better than it ever was, but somehow they muddle along and the love is even more convincing for the questioning that they do. They know each other well enough to make it work.

The romance is sweet rather than hot, but the sweeter tone goes perfectly with J.L. Merrow’s comic skills and the cute and quirky cozy mystery feel of these books. I hope this Blow Down review has given you an appetite for Tom and Phil’s latest series of mishaps!

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