Monday, 17 February 2020

STILL YOU SLEEP by Kate Vane @K8Vane

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
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: A redundant crime reporter and a news blogger aim to solve the mystery surrounding the suspicious death of a young woman.

I chose this book from the review team list because I'd read another book, Brand New Friend, by this author and was most impressed by her characterisation.  Although this is a crime novel - not my usual choice - it concentrates on those involved in the situation (families, friends), and the journalists looking into it, which is why I enjoyed it much more than I might have done had it been a police procedural.

Vikki Smith is a young woman with a learning disability who is found dead from a drug overdose.  The police write it off as an accident but online journalist Tilda Green and redundant crime reporter Freddie Stone believe foul play to be afoot; Freddie knows the family and Tilda scours social media on a daily basis, discovering much that makes her suspicious.

The story is very 'real life', warts-and-all, and one aspect that I liked is how current it is, both sociologically and in the way in which Tilda delves into every intricacy of social media, though I did wonder if it would go over the heads of people who don't know exactly how Twitter works, on quite a complicated level.  I'm a Twitter addict, though, so I really appreciated how well the author understood its idiosyncrasies.

The characterisation, dialogue and the logistics of the plot deserve a round of applause, though I felt there were one or two many storylines and character points of view.  Social media strategies, dysfunctional families, social prejudice, drug dealers and abuse, alcoholism, two-faced politicians, unrequited love, alt-right versus liberal politics; every scenario is written most convincingly, but I'd sometimes get to the beginning of a new chapter from yet another POV and think, 'Hang on a minute, who's Simon?', and have to look back to remind myself.  The addition of so many plot threads and characters actually dilutes the evidence of her strengths; Ms Vane is a highly competent and readable writer. Less could be so much more, but this is really the only complaint I have about this book.

Still You Sleep flows along so well, wrapping all storylines together at the end, is entertaining, real, so relevant to today's world, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who appreciates well-drawn characters by a writer who has a sharp understanding of topical issues - or who simply enjoys working out mysteries. 



Tuesday, 11 February 2020

NIGHT SERVICE by John F Leonard @john_f_leonard

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
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: A Bus Ride Into Hell

In this horror novella, Luke is on his third date with Jessica and, finally, is getting to spend the night with her - but first they have to get from their night out in the city centre to her home, in a village miles away.  Luke would get a taxi, but it would bankrupt him, so they settle on their only option: the night service.

Also on board are a drunk skinhead, a chatty old man, a woman and a baby, and three members of a rock band.  All seems, if not fine, then not too much of a worry, until the bus begins to speed up, and they begin to realise that the silent driver is missing out all the stops...

Born from the author's many travels on the night service in his younger days (it says in the notes at the back), this is a fun horror story that kept me turning the pages in its unravelling of unexpected developments, and well-painted atmosphere.  Although horrific, it is not without humour, and it sits well in the novella length, without any padding or excess detail that would slow it down.

The only aspect I was not so keen on was the constant use of the subordinate clause - short, staccato, incomplete sentences - to emphasise urgency, shock, fear.  I'm not necessarily a traditionalist when it comes to literary styles, and thought that sometimes, although not 'correct', it worked well, but other times it was used to the extent that it marred my enjoyment of the story.

The ending features another nice little twist; I'd say that if you love this genre and prefer shorter books that will only take you a couple of hours or so to read, you should like this.


Good article about sentences, subordinate and independent clauses HERE


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

THE HERETIC WIND by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I've read quite a few of this author's books, which speaks for itself.  Originally discovered her via Twitter.

In a Nutshell: Fictional telling of the life of Mary Tudor

I've been so looking forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed.  It tells the story of Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and sister of Elizabeth I, in the first person, and alternates between chronological events and instances just before her death; in these, she talks about the events of her life, which are then expanded upon in the main chapters.  The format worked very well; I was engrossed throughout.


Mary has always had a bad press, for being a religious fanatic and burning so many at the stake for heresy, but this book made painfully evident how tragic and lonely her life was, right from childhood, when her father all but abandoned her.  I've always been Team Boleyn, but one could not help having great sympathy for Mary after reading this.  Some think that she was actually insane during the later years of her reign; I am not sure that she wasn't driven to it before that - and, as I read in the author's notes, we can't try to understand her brutal, inhuman actions by relating them to the world we live in now.  I daresay she really did think she was doing God's will.

In all other fiction I've read about her, she is shown to have been besotted with her husband, Phillip of Spain, and her infamous phantom pregnancies being, in part, a deranged attempt to bind her to him; in this book, however, Judith Arnopp illustrates her as being as lukewarm about the marriage as he was.  That she only knew just a hint of real love, with Phillip of Bavaria for just the odd brief day when she was young, is so, so sad.


This is not a very long book, and is a very 'easy read', which I liked, with scant detail surrounding some aspects, but I thought this was cleverly done, because the book is written from Mary's point of view.  Some events would not have been paramount in her thoughts, or she simply might not have known a great deal about them.  For instance, when she is placed in a position to overhear a conversation, in order to let the reader know what was going on, Ms Arnopp does not over-egg the pudding, making it unrealistic.  Snatches of conversation are all she hears.

Highly recommended if you are as much of a Tudor addict as I am!






Tuesday, 14 January 2020

THE CITY BELOW THE CLOUD by T S Galindo #RBRT

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
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: Scifi/dystopian novella

Kalan and her younger sister, Sett, live in a climate-changed world in which every minute of every day is a struggle to survive.  Kalan spends her days scrubbing infected lichen from walls of buildings, trying to earn enough for her and Sett to sleep with a roof over their heads.  Life is cheap...

The premise of this book is original, inventive and interesting, and the writing itself is intelligent and evocative.  Some of the characterisation is great - namely Sett and a band of itinerant scavengers, the 'glow punks' - but at other times I felt it came second in the author's mind to describing the world he has created.  Much of the world-building is delivered via an omniscient narrator, so it read like a newspaper article, or an introduction.   

The dialogue is mostly sharp and convincing, except for sections of inner dialogue; rather than keeping Kalan and Sett's thoughts in the third person and writing them in 'deep point of view', the author has them talking to themselves, expressed in a rather clumsy first person.

To sum up, it's an unusual and most atmospheric story and has a lot going for it, and there is no doubt that the author has talent, but I think he would benefit from studying the craft of fiction writing in order to learn more effective methods of putting his story across.  It is his debut; he clearly has much potential still to be realised. 

 

Monday, 6 January 2020

THE OCCUPATION by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads




How I discovered this book: I read all of Deborah Swift books as soon as I can after they're released!

In a Nutshell: A story about the World War II occupation of Jersey, and a German soldier with conflicted loyalties...

I knew little about the occupation of the Channel Islands before I read this book, and it certainly opened my eyes; I had no idea the islanders suffered such hardship.  Deborah Swift's books are always meticulously researched without that research ever being apparent (such an art!), so I know that the novel is an accurate depiction of the time.

The story centres around Céline and Fred, who own a bakery on the island.  Fred is German, and is conscripted into the German army.  Both points of view are written in the first person, which was absolutely the right choice, and Céline's story also involves her friend Rachel, who is Jewish.  When I first started reading, I thought it was going to be one of those 'cosy' sort of wartime books (the type that have covers showing smiling landgirls and tick all 1940s nostalgia boxes) but I couldn't have been more wrong; the picture of how mild and safe Jersey seems at first is there to provide the constrast with how precarious life becomes.

This novel is such an 'easy read'; the writing flows so well and, considering it's based on some events that actually took place, is unpredictable and certainly a page-turner.  The overall message it puts across is how war changes everyone, and how quickly people can be led into prejudice about their fellow man—and I'm not just talking about the Nazis and the Jews.  I applaud Ms Swift for not providing a neatly tied up, happy ending; the outcome for many of the characters made it a much more powerful story than it might have been had she gone for the safer option; I found that I became more and more engrossed as the story went on.

Reading this gave me new respect for all those who suffered under the Nazis.  I enjoyed it, a lot.  Definitely recommended.


Sunday, 29 December 2019

FALLING by Elizabeth Jane Howard

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads
On BookBub



How I discovered this book: I read many novels by EJH years ago, but none since Getting It Right in the 1980s; my sister recommended this one to me.

In A Nutshell: A successful writer in her twilight years becomes romantically involved with a con-man ~ based on events that really happened, which are detailed HERE.

Daisy Langrish is a sixty-year-old, successful playwright who has known much pain and loneliness in her life; the loss of the beloved aunt who brought her up, betrayal by two husbands.  When she buys a country cottage as a retreat, she meets Henry Kent, a gardener who lives on a boat.  Slowly, slowly, he inveigles his way into her life.  They become close, and she is happy to be granted another chance for love and companionship.  On the surface he seems like the perfect man, in so many ways... but he has been less than honest about his history, and his motivations.

The story is written in alternate viewpoints—Henry in the first person and Daisy in the third, and some of the story is conveyed by way of letters and diary entries.  All of this worked beautifully; I was completely engrossed in this novel all the way through.  That Elizabeth Jane Howard is a master of the human drama goes without saying, but what I liked most about it was the unravelling of Henry's hidden self, which is done so subtly.  There is enough information for us to realise that he has an alcohol problem, and that he has a short temper and reacts violently when events do not go the way he wants, but this is never lain out in black and white; it is suggested, as the picture of him slowly builds...

When I started to read the book I already knew about the true story, but knowing what sort of outcome it must have didn't spoil it; indeed, it opens with Henry saying that Daisy has told him their affair is over, and gives a fair indication of the sort of man he is, so this review is no 'spoiler'; the beauty of the book is in the gradual seduction of Daisy, the uncovering of Henry's past life, and the question it left me with: did Henry actually love her, as much as he was capable of loving anyone?  Of course, we do not realise the full truth about his personality until his actions are revealed by others, because he lies to himself and, thus, in his narration to the reader.  Are his feelings part of the fantasy he must create, in order to make his behaviour acceptable in his own mind?

By today's standards this is a 'slow' book, and, although set in the mid 1980s, seems a little dated, more as if it is set in the 1960s or early 1970s; also, there were some elements I questioned.  For instance, Henry's most recent wife, Hazel, is supposed to be a fair bit older than him.  He is sixty-five.  Yet she is working as a physiotherapist; if she is nearing or possibly over seventy, wouldn't she have retired?  When the truth about Henry's past life is revealed, it seems a little muddled and rushed, with Daisy's friends having conversations with complete strangers which are then reported back to Daisy; I was disappointed by this, as I was so looking forward to it; although the way it was wrapped up was realistic, it felt a little anti-climactic.  I wondered if it was just me, but I looked at other reviews and some of them said the same.

However!  I still give this book five stars because I loved it, generally, and looked forward to getting back to it at every moment I could.  

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

NEANDER by Harald Johnson #RBRT

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads
On BookBub




How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member; I offered to review it for the team, though I had already bought it after reading the author's previous publication, New York 1609.

In a Nutshell: A time travel adventure (modern day to Neanderthal times) that ponders questions of an anthropological nature.

Tom Cook is a science journalist working on an archaeological dig in Gibraltar, when disaster strikes in the form of a boat accident—his pregnant fiancée is missing.  When Tom goes searching for her, he slips through a time portal that takes him back.... way back, to 40,000 years ago.  Neanderthal man has yet to become extinct, though the threat of Homo Sapiens is on the horizon.

Tom finds ways to communicate with them and become part of their world.  Quite early on, I saw that this was not just a time travel adventure, and that Tom's actions would have repercussions, which added interest, as I looked forward to finding out how great these would be.  Tom has a wealth of knowledge to teach his new family, and draws on his own research about Neanderthal man to find the best methods to help them, especially when they come face to face with the more ruthless Sapiens.

In the notes at the back, the author mentions having read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari; I've read three books by Harari and could feel the influence; I actually thought 'ah, he's been reading Sapiens' a couple of times, before I read the notes, but this wasn't a negative; I liked it.  

Neander held my interest all the way through; of course time travel stories always depend on disbelief suspension on the part of the reader, but the fantasy must be believeable within the fiction, and for the most part this was; I'd give it about seven out of ten, because I needed to know more about how he communicated with these prehistoric people in order to be completely convinced by the fact that he did.  Also, I was so looking forward to finding out how Tom's actions of 40K years ago impacted on the world we know now, but there was less detail than I'd hoped for.  On the whole, though, this book is fun and an easy read, an inventive, interesting and original story, as well as providing questions and ideas on which to ponder, which makes it a win-win as far as I'm concerned; yes, I recommend it!