Saturday 11 November 2023

MONSTERS IN THE MIST by Tom Williams @TomCW99

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: murder mystery with humorous undertones and a vampire detective, set in rural Wales.  As a further indication of writing style, if you like Carol Hedges' Victorian Detectives series, there's a good chance you'll like this too.

First of all, although this is Book 3 of a series, it is a stand-alone.  I can confirm this, as I haven't read the other two.

Right.  Okay.  Urban fantasy, police procedural and vampires.  All three are book genres I wouldn't normally go near, but I enjoy the historical novels of this author, so when I saw this on the review team list I thought I'd do that stepping-out-of-my-comfort-zone thing, which has brought about a pleasant surprise or two in the past.  This was no exception.

I can see why Tom Williams has mentioned that he writes these books as a kind of light relief from his historical works; Monsters in the Mist is fun, filled with the sort of subtly humorous observation I love.  

'"You settle yourselves in and let me know later," the landlady suggested ... leaving Galbraith staring around him like Crusoe taking the measure of his desert island.'

Galbraith is a fairly (intentionally, I imagine) stereotypical worn-down, jaded, middle-aged detective who eats unhealthy food and doesn't do hiking, the sort whose methods are unorthodox but produce results.  However, this is where the stereotypes end, because he also has Columbo fantasies and his colleague Pole, from the mysterious, secret Department S is (wait for it) a vampire.

I loved the sections from Pole's point of view.  I wanted to know more about his centuries long life! 

'Pole gritted his teeth.  He wondered what the man would say if he told him that he was a vampire and standing in front of a plate glass window, even late on a September afternoon, was causing him considerable discomfort.  It was, he thought, probably best not to find out.'

'Back in the 17th century, alchemy was considered a science.  Pole had lived (for a particular definition of 'lived') through the foundation of the Royal Society ... and now he felt himself moving back to a time when 'science' meant trying something to see what happened and then writing about it.  Sometimes he felt that Mortal progress was entirely illusionary.'

A body has been found, and Galbraith, Pole and Department S officer Ellis suspect something sinister afoot; Galbraith and Ellis go undercover, posing as a keen hill-walkers with an interest in local goings-on.  The plot is entertaining, suspenseful, the writing tight and amusing.  And the ending is kind of nice.

At some point I must read the first book which (it says in the author notes), explains how Pole came to be working for the Met.  That, I do want to know about.

Sunday 5 November 2023

HISTORICAL STORIES OF EXILE by Helen Hollick, Annie Whitehead and 11 others @HelenHollick @AnnieW History @abelfrageauthor

 5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Twitter.  I expressed my interest in reading it when available, and one of the authors offered me an ARC :)

In a Nutshell: 13 historical stories of exile.

Deborah Swift, one of my favourite authors, has written a perfect introduction to this excellent collection, with a brief overview of the content as well as thoughts on the subject of exile itself.

I loved reading these stories, the standard of which is high throughout, though they are all so different, in subject matter and writing style.  It is these two aspects that determine one's favourites in an anthology such as this, and can only ever be subjective; bearing this in mind, the story that stood out most for me (and stayed with me afterwards) was the heartbreaking The Unwanted Prince by Anna Belfrage, about a 16th century heir to the Swedish throne forced into exile for his own safety - especially sad because the story is true, as I read at the end, with great fascination.  I would have happily read a whole novel about the rest of his life, as outlined.

My other favourites:

Wadan Wr√¶clastas (Tread the Path of Exile) by the Lady of Saxon History, Annie Whitehead is set a few years before the Norman Conquest.  The title comes from 10th century poem The Wanderer, and in this case refers to the much travelled Ealdgyth.  Again, most of the events really took place, but what I loved most about this one was the glimpse into the Saxon world.

On Shining Wings by Marian L Thorpe, a beautiful story about a 13th century Norwegian falconer, telling his tale to his grandson.

Betrayal by Cathie Dunn: set in AD 900, it tells the story of the urgent flight of Rollo the Viking and his wife Poppa place from the part of modern day France then known as Neustria, to England.

I also liked The Past, My Future by Loretta Livingstone, which is a bit different as it involves time travel from a dark, dystopian future England, to an abbey in the 13th Century.

The book is beautifully presented, with notes about each story and a biography and links for each author.  Congratulations to Helen Hollick for the original idea, and a big thank you to Annie for sending me an ARC when I said how much I looked forward to reading this!  Historical Stories of Exile is available for pre-order now, and for sale on November 12th. Highly recommended, and a great way to dip into the work of authors yet to be discovered.

Sunday 29 October 2023

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW by Marie Keates @marie_keates

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read Book #1 in this series.

In a Nutshell: A missing girl, domestic troubles, the lure of gambling and the rumblings of war

I read the first in this series, Plagued, earlier this year, and thought it was time I tried another!  The series is a continuing saga of the people who live in one area of Southampton between the two World Wars; it is their story, with the events of those tumultuous 21 years forming the ever present and always relevant backdrop.  This is Book #5, taking place during the second half of 1937.  I have a terrible memory so couldn't remember any of the characters; I can, thus, confirm that the book is a stand-alone as well as being part of a series.

The story centres around a few plot threads: the missing Sophie Morales, the mysterious activities of unsavoury Norm McCartney, and a discovery that tests tram driver Walter's greatest friendship.  I had in my mind an idea to write about how convincingly this was dealt with, but I've just re-read the blurb and realised that to do so would be a massive spoiler, so I'll just say that I thought Walter's private thoughts were so well written.  Odd sentences absolutely nailed it.

The other main storyline was that of Clara, a 20 year old young woman with an unhappy homelife, already with a broken heart.  She unsure of herself, hoping for happy-ever-afters, and so different from her more confident, outspoken best friend Gladys.

Although World War I finished almost twenty years before this story took place, it is still very much a part of all their lives.  Older character Percy made a couple of memorable statements:

'All the generals keeping nice and safe behind the lines, sending us infantrymen off to die.  They saw it as a game of chess and us as expendable pawns.'

'Anyone who saw the things we did can understand why someone would desert.  Those poor sods, just boys, some of them, were shell-shocked and terrified, but they shot them anyway ... How is that right?  Those generals issued orders without ever setting foot on the bloody battlefield.  If anyone needed shooting at dawn, they did.'

If you like wartime domestic dramas, this will totally hit the spot for you.  A very 'easy read', and it's clear how well the author knows her subject!

Saturday 21 October 2023

THE BOY FROM BLOCK 66 by Limor Regev

 4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

In a Nutshell: account of Moshe Kessler, a Hungarian Jew, in the Nazi death camps and afterwards ; it is written in the first person, as told to the author.

While reading this I wondered why so many of us choose to read survivor accounts of the Holocaust.  I think I do so because the 'how' fascinates me so much - how ordinary people would turn a blind eye to, or even join in with, the ill treatment of another group.  How a few psychopaths could persuade thousands of soldiers to commit such atrocities.  I've recently read most of a book on this subject, Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning, if you're interested in this aspect.  Do all people have this potential evil within, a fire waiting to be lit?  I don't believe so, but...

Moshe Kessler had an idyllic childhood within his large, extended family.  Many, many have asked, over the years, why the Jews allowed their persecution to take place, seemingly without protest.  Moshe answers this question in detail; here is an excerpt I marked:

'You must understand that our future in those days was completely uncertain, for better or worse.  Our daily routine had gradually changed in the past two years, with each new directive or restriction by the Hungarian regime.  We thought this was just another period of temporary worsening of conditions, and we would soon return to our homes.  Information about what to expect next was concealed in a way that dispelled our suspicions.'

Moshe was only 13 when he and his family were taken to Auschwitz.  He escaped the gas chamber on the advice of a veteran prisoner, who told him to join the 'other queue' and say he was 16.  This nameless prisoner was one of many who saved his life over the terrible fifteen months he survived there; another was Antonin Kalina, a true angel who was active in Buchenwald camp underground (Moshe was driven on a 'death march' from one camp to another), who established Block 66 for the children, and initiated many procedures to keep them alive.

The author (a friend of the family in later years), writing as Moshe, describes much about the emotional repercussions, and the slow easing back into 'normal' life after the Americans liberated Buchenwald; many years passed before he found any sort of contentment.  

My only complaint about the book is the bad editing; there are occasional grammar errors, and duplication of facts, as though the process was a bit on the sketchy side.  This was only mildly irritating; it's definitely worth reading.

Monday 16 October 2023

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET : Tante le Desiree by J P Reedman @stonehenge2500

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read and loved earlier books about Richard, Duke of Gloucester by J P Reedman, and finally decided this had been on my TBR list for long enough!

In a Nutshell: Richard's life up until the age of 30.

I loved this book, totally engrossed all the way through.  There is so much detail about customs and the way people lived back then, that I found fascinating to read about.

Throughout the years this novel covers, J P Reedman has cleverly developed the main characters as they age.  Richard becomes harsher, more determined, and with an increasing sense of right and wrong, while the negative aspects of George's personality are magnified; his stubbornness, inconstancy and drinking.  Edward the King becomes almost a parody of himself, and I was struck once more by how his grandson Henry VIII was all him, with few traits inherited from his father, Henry VII.

The book is written in Richard's first person, but I was aware of how deftly the author has made clear to the reader the thoughts of other characters, too, even though they may not have expressed them verbally.  How they thought of Richard, too, as he becomes more and more like the historical figure many perceive him as.  Smart writing!

This part of the story ends when Richard is 30, just after the complicated skirmishes with the Scots, and as Edward's health is failing.  I look forward to reading the next episode very much.

Monday 9 October 2023

DAUGHTER OF THE SUN by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)

How I discovered this book: a favourite author whose new releases I usually buy immediately.

In a Nutshell: the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine

This reminded me of the beginning of Gemma Lawrence's series about Anne Boleyn, in that it gives so much detail about the less well known, early life of an exceptional historical figure, showing how she became a woman centuries ahead of her time.

Ms Lawrence's Eleanor is not always particularly likeable (she seems most pleased with herself, particularly for the first two thirds of the book, though some might say with good reason) but the fascinating beginning of this full and eventful life was a joy to read.  I also enjoyed reading about how different the geographical borders of the world were then; countries, duchies, principalities and kingdoms that no longer exist, which does remind one that countries and borders are man-made constructs.

The part of the book I liked most was the second half, covering the period of the Second Crusade - this was absolutely riveting, throughout.  Couldn't put it down, I was excited to turn each page, and the book is worthy of 5* for this part alone.

As is usual for this author's novels, it is written in the first person.  Lawrence's Eleanor has much to say about the subjugation of women and the folly of men, though given her experiences this is hardly surprising.  The book ends as she becomes close to her third cousin Henry, later to become Henry II, and whom she marries.

I am SO looking forward to reading the next book!

'I would not have let him keep you prisoner,' growled the young idealist.  'By the eyes of God!  I would not!'

Sunday 17 September 2023

BROKEN by Anna Legat @LegatWriter

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read another book by this author, The End of the Road, and loved it, so I wanted to read more.   

In a Nutshell: psychological thriller, murder mystery and ... paranormal

This is the strangest book, but in a really good way!  You know when people write 'kept me guessing until the very end' in reviews?  This one absolutely did - even at past 90% I had no clue how it was likely to pan out, or how the points of view would come together.

There's a serial killer, yes, and we don't know the identity, but this turned out to be almost secondary to the stories of Camilla, a middle-aged, middle class housewife, and Joseph, a motorbike and narrow boat loving priest.  The way their stories mesh together is so clever ... and unexpected.  Everything about this book is unexpected, all the way through.  The paranormal element came as the biggest surprise, though to say any more would be to give spoilers.  It creeps up, gradually; I'm not usually into that genre but this seemed curiously believable.  Suddenly I found I was reading a different book from the one I started.

The line 'the real monsters are disguised as humans' becomes increasingly relevant, as the true psychopath is revealed...

Anna Legat's writing is a treat to read.  Never jarring, intelligent, highly readable, the characters jumping off the page.  Definitely recommend.