Monday, 19 November 2018

CHRISTMAS ONCE AGAIN by D K Deters

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: Christmas time travel short story

Madison Knight is an antique consultant with financial problems, a demanding boss, and no one with whom to spend Christmas.  She's looking forward to shutting the door on the snowy season and getting cosy all alone.  Then customer Zach Murdock gets in touch to say he wants to retrieve his grandmother's beloved painting, because he should never have sold it to the company Madison works for.  Unfortunately, retrieving it is more complicated than Madison originally thinks it will be.

The snow gets worse, and Madison gets stranded.  She seeks help from a local family, but there's something decidedly odd about them.  They seem kind of... old fashioned.

This story is not overtly Christmassy, which, for me, was a plus; it's not as sugar-coated as some.  I love a time travel story; it's the slow dawning of what has happened, and the gaping chasms in language and technology that never fail to entertain.  This is a good story, and nicely plotted, but I felt it could have done with a bit more spit and polish; a bit more re-drafting of both narrative and dialogue, and thinking through of the emotions of the characters when they discover what has occurred.  But it was an enjoyable half hour's reading, nevertheless.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

CHRISTMAS IN SWITZERLAND by Melinda Huber @LindaHuber19

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter!

In a nutshell: Cosy Christmas novella set in a Swiss hotel

Spa hotel managers Stacy and fiancé Rico are so busy organising a perfect Swiss advent for their guests that they hardly have time for each other. The arrival of Rico's widowed father, Ralph, is a lovely surprise, but is he hiding something?

Widow Carol arrives at the hotel for a relaxation week with a friend, en route to Australia, to visit her son and grandchildren. Pushed into the holiday by her friend, she can't wait for the week to be over.

With tension building between Stacy and Rico, she feels envious of the guests who have time just for each other.

This is a cosy, 'feel-good' story, with all the atmosphere of Christmas in Switzerland, and I enjoyed reading all about the various Advent customs in this part of the world.  It's most definitely a 'clean read', and I think would be appreciated most by readers who like sweet romances, as this is the general tone of it - and all HEA and Christmas addicts, of course!  A book to curl up with on a cold day, with a huge mug of hot chocolate; this might even make it snow. 😀




Saturday, 10 November 2018

THE SWOOPING MAGPIE by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

 
How I discovered this book: I loved Liza Perrat's other book set in 1970s Australia, The Silent Kookaburra, so I pounced on this as soon as it came out!  Also reviewing it for Rosie Amber's Review Team.

In a nutshell: Emotional drama about the plight of unmarried mothers in 1970s Australia, based on true life events.

This is a fictional story about the terrible injustices committed towards young, unmarried mothers in Australia until the 1980s, when they were forced into homes and made to sign papers to give their babies up for adoption, often without even seeing them.  It's hard to imagine such a crime now, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when this book is set, a teenage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy was seen as a disgrace to a family, with the girls made to feel like the lowest of the low.  No consideration was given to their feelings, or the resulting trauma they would experience throughout the rest of their lives.  Liza Perrat lists her research material at the back of the book.

Headstrong, pretty and popular Lindsay Townsend has an unhappy childhood with a weak mother and a bully for a father, when she begins an affair with Jon Halliwell, a teacher at her school.  The first half of the book describes not only the passage of the affair and her belief that Jon truly loved her (I loved this part of the book!), but also her time at the home, during which she is finally beaten down.  On a happier note, though, it is there that she made lifelong friends with the other girls who shared her plight.

Jon's treachery is worse than she knows, as the middle of the book shows us, with a truly shocking twist; I was gripped.  We then move to the immediate aftermath of Lindsay's loss, and then to the early 1990s and finally to 2013, as she and her friends aim to right the wrongs done to them.

The books is dialogue-led, with much of the story told in conversation.  The emotions are real, and well-portrayed, and there is no doubt that Liza Perrat has in no way exaggerated the effect on the women who were at the home with Lindsay; I admit to shedding a tear or two during the final ten per cent of the book.  Most of all, though, for anyone who might think, 'well, I wouldn't let that happen to me', Ms Perrat has depicted so well the hopelessness, the reality of being completely trapped and without options, that the girls experienced.  It was, indeed, a different world.  Well worth a read.

 

Friday, 2 November 2018

LONG SHADOWS by Thorne Moore @ThorneMoore

5 GOLD 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: three novellas, set in different historical eras, about the same place, Llys y Garn, a rambling Pembrokeshire mansion in which aspects of its former lives still remain ~ and not just within the building itself.

I loved every word of this book; I kept trying to read it slowly, so it wouldn't end.   The stories are haunting and sad, and say much about the sad lot of women in eras in which they are set.

The Good Servant takes place around the turn of the 20th century, and is about an old spinster maid, Eluned Skeel, who has no one and nothing to love but the unwanted nephew of the family she serves, taken in by them when he has no one else.  As Cyril Lawson grows up he causes everyone around him pain - but he is Skeel's reason for being, whatever he does.  

The Witch is the story of 17th century Elizabeth, daughter of a father who cares nothing for her aside from the fortune or social standing she can bring him through marriage.  Elizabeth, though, cares only for Llys y Garn, and wonders if she might be a servant of the devil, as ill falls all who would seek to take it from her.

The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad, in the 14th century, who longs to escape from the brutality, pain and death of her father's house, and see the world.  

I didn't have a favourite; they're all as good as each other.  Beautifully written, marvellous stories.  This book reminded me, in subject matter and writing style, of Norah Lofts' books The House at Old Vine and A Wayside Tavern.  Can't recommend too highly.



Friday, 26 October 2018

THE TOMATO QUEST by D G Driver

3 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: Fairy story/sweet romance, long-short story.

In an undisclosed historical era and place, this story is about lowly gardener Dash, who wants to marry the daughter of the noble for whom he works.  Dismissing his request, Lilian's father sets him a task: he hands him a box of tomatoes and says that if he can make his fortune before they rot, he may have Lilian's hand in marriage.  Then follows adventure after adventure, as he struggles to complete the seemingly impossible, while Lilian does her best to postpone the engagement to the man her parents want her to marry.

This is a fun idea and a nicely put together story.  I admit to being slightly bothered throughout by the incorrect use of titles; for instance, a 'Sir' should be referred to by both first and surnames, never as 'Sir Barrymore', and a Duke would be known as the Duke of such-and-such a place, not as Duke followed by his surname.  This sort of thing is easy to find out; I just checked it in a few minutes on Google, to make sure I wasn't wrong.  Having said that, the story has fantasy elements, so perhaps it doesn't matter too much!  It should appeal to lovers of fairy tale romance and happy endings.



 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari @harari_yuval

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I read Sapiens and thought it was fabulous, and Homo Deus ditto, though with a few reservations.  So I had to read this, too.

In a nutshell: Anthropology, philosophy, sociology ~ a look at the possible, immediate problems facing the human race.

Fascinating book that made me think about some stuff that I'd rather not think about (but I was glad when I had), and also made me feel relieved that I was born when I was, though I know this is the most common reaction when people come face to face with the world as it may be in forty years' time!

21 Lessons discusses why, in the future, the common man may become not so much oppressed as irrelevant, as automation takes over many jobs ~ and in fact how we may have to rethink the whole subject of jobs and careers, as online life takes over.  It ponders the sinister reality of AI, the benefits of the emerging technologies and the dangers, as Homo Sapiens as a species undergoes the most rapid changes in its two million years on the planet.  

'...the best advice I could give a fifteen-year-od stuck in an outdated school...is: don't rely on the adults too much.  In the past, it was a relatively safe bet to follow the adults, because they knew the world quite well, and the world changed slowly.  But the twenty-first century is going to be different.  Due to the growing pace of change you can never be certain whether what the adults are telling you is timeless wisdom or outdated bias.'

What I liked so much about this book is that it explores the pros and cons of such concepts as globalisation and liberalism in such a readable way, with passages that make the philosophical ponderings so relatable.

Harari doesn't know what the world will be like in 2050, and doesn't claim to, but he talks of of the possible sociological and technological developments; the way we have already forced the latter on the world is terrifying indeed:

'...we have gained the power to manipulate the world around us, but because we didn't understand the complexity of global ecology, the changes we made inadvertently disrupted the entire ecological system and now we face an ecological collapse.'

'We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk, but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors.  They are less agile, less curious, less resourceful.  We are now creating tame humans that produce an enormous amount of data and function as efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism... we hardly invest much in exploring the human mind, and instead focus on increasing the speed of our internet connections and the efficiency of our Big Data algorithms'

With 'lessons' on the 'why' of religion, on truth, justice, law, the meaning of life (!) and one on meditation, it's a fascinating study and debate that everyone should read.  And yes, it raises some of the questions already covered in Sapiens and Homo Deus, but that's okay.

I'll finish with this: 

'At present the meat industry not only inflicts misery on billions of sentient beings, but it is also one of the chief causes of global warming, one of the main consumers of antibiotics and poison, and one of the foremost polluters of air, land and water... it takes about 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilo of beef, compared to 287 litres needed to produce a kilo of potatoes.'  

Thank you, Mr Harari.  Can't be said too often.


 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU by Nikki Crutchley @NikkiCAuthor

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.

Genre: Crime and abduction, set in New Zealand

The book opens with an excellent prologue about Faith, a teenage foster kid getting abducted, back in 2001.  It then goes back to the main story, about Zoe, a thirty-something, recently unemployed teacher whose life is all at sea, going back to small town Crawton because her mother has died.  Zoe's feelings about this can hardly even be called 'mixed' ~ her relationship with Lilian was cold and distant, and she hasn't seen her since she was eighteen.  When she arrives in Crawton, though, she is left wondering what really happened to her mother.

Meanwhile, meth-head Megan has been abducted, and is kept prisoner in a storage cupboard.

Despite the themes of abduction, murder and the sleazy underworld of drugs, I'd describe this as a low-key thriller; much of the novel concerns Zoe's relationship with her mother and the other issues she is working through, and there is quite a lot of domestic and day-to-day conversational detail, which, together with the writing style, lends itself more to a dark drama with gradually unfolding sinister developments than edge-of-your-seat suspense.  It's nicely written and the characterisation is good, particularly Faith, with whom the book opens.  One of the characters has Alzheimer's, and I thought this was most realistic.

I had a feeling who the baddie(s) might be about half way through, but that's probably because I watch a lot of TV of this genre; it's not at all obvious.  The plot is convincing and cleverly structured, I thought the descriptions of what the abducted girls went through was particularly well done, and the ending was good ~ I do appreciate a well-thought out ending.  I can imagine this being the sort of book you might get into reading on holiday.







Thursday, 11 October 2018

FARM LAND: Sentience by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I will read anything by Gemma Lawrence; coupled with my love of dark, dystopian futures, I could hardly open this quickly enough, once I'd bought it!

Genre: Dark fantasy, dystopian, horror

This story takes place thousands of years into the future, after the world as we know it has been all but destroyed by the greed of those in power.  After widespread war, death and famine, the waters rose and many species became extinct.  Now, the corner of the world in which this story takes place is governed once more by the rich and greedy, with the less affluent in society doing as they're told.  But there is a yet less fortunate underclass ~ those who fought against the rich back in times of war were enslaved, with their descendants kept captive and used for meat.  They are bred in the Factory, never seeing the light of day.  At puberty, suitable girls become 'breeders'.  

There are those, though, who still live free, or have escaped the Factory, and are hunted by the flesh-eaters; wild, non-Factory meat is much prized.  The free people eat only that which they can grow in the soil of their land.

'Those who founded this place, our forebears, told us that All Life Is Sacred...as the flesh-eaters had denied our rights, we should not deny them to other sentient creatures...who can think, feel and experience pleasure and pain.'

Then there are the other dangers; insects have evolved and become larger.  Much larger.

Farm Land: Sentience can be read as a dark, futuristic fantasy ~ it's great fiction, exciting and well-written.  I think, though, that it has deeper meaning, and I've found myself thinking about it a lot, when I'm not reading it.

The flesh-eaters believe that those bred for meat have no feelings, are not the same as them; they choose to believe this, because they have been told it is so, by those who rule over them; if they see anything in the slaughtering process that makes them feel uncomfortable, they close their eyes ~ except one, who begins to understand what is actually going on.

The story is told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl; an old woman she meets tells her more about how and why the old world ended.  There are so many parallels with our own destruction of our planet and the evils of animal agriculture that I could quote away until this review was far too long, but the book does not preach, at all.  It talks of belief in gods, and whether or not they were all imaginary; either way, by now they are long gone, with the flesh-eaters living only to satisfy their own immediate needs.  

The main character discovers that she is a 'Reacher', in that she can enter the thoughts of others, and communicate with the few who have this ability.  Much about this, and the evolution of other species, made me think of something else I've read lately, ie, that man as we know it now has not necessarily finished evolving.  For all we know, we may indeed develop other abilities much, much farther down the line ~ if we do not destroy ourselves.

'They are careless with lives because they do not consider anything to be as important as themselves...they started to use everything, exhausting the world, ignoring warnings screamed by the earth... the greed of man is such that they will seek to consume the world, and never stop to wonder what will be left for them to stand upon.'

Whether you read this as compelling and unpredictable fantasy fiction or see more parallels with our own society within, it's a terrific book.  It's about the possibility of love, acceptance and care for others being allowed to triumph over greed, selfishness and evil.  Unmissable.