Thursday, 13 September 2018

AMONG WOLVES by R A Hakok

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian, SciFi, Horror

Gabriel is sixteen, and has been living in a bunker inside a mountain since the world went to hell ten years before ~ he and his classmates were on a school trip to the White House on what turned out to be the Last Day.  The US President was already dead from the virus, but the newly sworn-in replacement insisted that the children should be saved too, and taken to the bunker.  Now, Gabriel goes out scavenging for anything that can help the inhabitants of Eden survive.  Outside, the world is cold, silent, where ash storms rage.  No one know what started the virus that precipitated the end....

I loved this book.  It's one of those stories that builds up gradually, so that, chapter by chapter, you begin to understand why the situation is as it is now, and this makes it a real page-turner.  The narrative goes back and forth between then and now, which is one of my favourite structures.  The sense of suspense is so good, all the way through, as Gabriel begins to uncover the truth about his situation.  Much of the book is taken up with the trips outside Eden that Gabriel makes with former soldier Marv; there is much practical detail that in a less well-written book would be boring, but R A Hakok had me glued to every page.

Alongside Gabriel's story is that of Eliza, an analyst sent to Korea back before the Last Day, to look at the nuclear reactors.  But she has another, far more sinister mission to complete.  Slowly, the two plot threads come together.

The action really revs up in the last 20%, and the ending is great, making it a complete story but kind of a cliffhanger as well - now excuse me while I go and download the next one!

 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

THE MEN by Fanny Calder @fannycalder #RBRT

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.

Genre: Contemporary Drama, Relationships, Popular Culture, London, Love and Relationships.


Loved this book!  As a member of Rosie's review team, I look down the submissions list when it's time to choose a new one, and I usually go for sci-fi, dystopian or something otherwise nice and dark, rarely anything about love relationships or labelled 'women's fiction', but I'm so glad I stepped out of my box with this one - it's eons away from mainstream relationship dramas.

The Men is a series of thirteen snapshots, all linked so that it's a continuing story, about the relationships with the opposite sex that have punctuated the author's life.  It appears they're part autobiographical, part fiction: 

'It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.' 

Some of them reminded me of my own younger years, the racketing around and caring only about the moment, which is perhaps why I liked them so much; particularly the first one, The Singer.  The writing style is great - witty, sharp, joyful, but melancholy at times, too.  Some of the relationships are sad, some heartbreaking, and some made me think 'what the hell was she thinking of' (Rotting Man!), but those made me sad, too; loneliness can push people into all sorts of bad decisions, and I felt that the author was lonely, sometimes.  Never in a victim or despairing sort of way, though she seems to become more so as the book goes on.

I loved how the book concentrates only on The Men, that she was never tempted to give more background, which would have diluted it.  On occasion the writing is quite beautiful; a section about a party with an eighteenth century theme made me want to stay in it.

One point that intrigued me―earlier in the book she clearly has a high-powered job that involves much travel, though we are never told what it is.  I did a bit of digging and discovered that the author is a fairly well-known environmental campaigner; all that and she can write, too.

Highly recommended; I wanted to carry on reading when I'd finished it.




Thursday, 6 September 2018

THE RAVE by Nicky Black @AuthorBlackNE

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I read this review on Bloomin' Brilliant Books book blog.

Genre: Crime, 1980s, Rave Culture, North East England 

A fast moving crime drama sent around a grimy council estate in Newcastle, The Rave is very much of its place and time, in the decade before the internet and mobile phones when the world was a different place.  Or maybe not so much; kids still lied to their parents about what they were doing, did drugs, and girls still broke their mothers' hearts by falling in love with layabouts.  I smiled at Denise Morris's attitude towards her son-in-law Tommy Collins, just after she'd bought her granddaughter some new clothes: 'Denise knew it would rile Tommy, make him feel inadequate.  But he was inadequate, and someone needed to make that clear.'

The novel is written in alternating POVs.  The first is that of twenty-one-year-old husband and father Tommy, who fancies himself as having the vision that can get him out of dreary Valley Park estate way of life; not for him a life on the dole or a depressing, minimum wage job.  He's not unlikeable, and I found myself hoping that he would 'make it'.  The second is DI Peach, who has many crosses to bear (no spoilers here), and is gunning for Tommy and his gang.  Lurking in the shadows is Paul Smart, local crime kingpin and the brother of Tommy's mam-in-law Denise.  The story takes place over eight days, as Tommy looks for a way of making his dreams of hosting the ultimate rave a reality.

This book drew me in quickly, and very soon I couldn't put it down, even taking it with me when I was cooking dinner.  All the characters, even the minor ones, are beautifully drawn, and the dialogue and attitudes of the rougher side of Geordieland are totally convincing.  I also enjoyed the visiting Mancunian cop, Murphy, who was revoltingly sure of himself and quick with the witticisms.  I did find Valley Park and its inhabitants depressing in the extreme, but there is joy to be found, and this is an absolute must-read for anyone who was involved in this scene in the late 80s - particularly if you're from the Toon!


Sunday, 2 September 2018

GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: recommended to me by my sister.

Genre: 16th century historical fiction, 1960s drama, reincarnation.

'Whatsover has been in the past or is now, will repeat itself in the future, but the names and surfaces of things so altered that he who has not a quick eye will not recognise them, or know how to guide himself accordingly.'

Green Darkness opens in the late 1960s, when Celia, the new wife of baronet Richard Marsdon, is unhappy in her marriage.  This part is set during one of the country weekends enjoyed amongst the aristocracy; it seemed oddly dated; you know how some books 'travel' well, and some don't.  This didn't.  I enjoyed it well enough but didn't love it.  A few reviews have talked about how 'offensive' it is - I imagine this is because of the inclusion of certain words.  It depends how easily you're offended; I think that if a term/word/point of view is right for the dialogue, either spoken or inner, of a particular character, then it's right, whenever it was written.  I was keen, though, to move on from the 1960s to see what Celia's link with the past was all about. 

At about 20%, the book moves back to 1552, at Cowdray Castle, where the monied upstart Brownes and the impoverished but aristocratic de Bohuns await the arrival of the young king ~ the fifteen-year-old Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, who was, of course under the control of the scheming Duke of Northumberland.  Suddenly I was reading a different book, and I loved it.  I've read so much about the troubled period between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and am always keen to read other viewpoints.  Such a dangerous time, when one's very existence depended on the whims of whoever wore the crown, and those who influenced them.  I particularly liked one part set in Cumberland.  Books written about this era are often set in the south of England, and I'd never before read such an absorbing account of what life would really have been like up in those cold northern hills; indeed, London and the south must have seemed like another country.

As 1960s Celia and other characters in the first part drift into the past, so the characters of the 16th century experience flashes of their future lives ~ this I loved, and would have liked to see more of it.  The reincarnation aspect aside, it's one of the best books I've read about life during those few dangerous years.  Interesting, too, was the suggestion that Edward VI was poisoned, and that he was not only a meek puppet controlled by Northumberland, but had all of the stubbornness of his father.  

Loved this, about Mary's coronation procession, at which the young Elizabeth was the people's star... 'So the small moon pales when the sun comes out.'

I didn't like the way in which the dialogue is painstakingly delivered in the regional dialects - it was tedious to read and sometimes not very clear.  Once you know which region a character comes from, you tend to read it in that accent, anyway; you don't need to have 'Cumberland' written as 'Coomberland' every time.   The novel is written from an omniscient narrator's point of view, hopping in and out of various heads; because Anya Seton was a talented and experienced writer this works well, but it's definitely one of those 'don't try this at home' styles; it can be confusing at times, even when so expertly executed.

I love books that illustrate the circle of time, how the past merges with present and future; this certainly ticked those boxes.  I was struck, though, by how much more sophisticated the art of novel writing has become in the past fifty years; elements of this would not stand up well under the scrutiny of today's reviewers.  But I still liked it.  😉


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

FEAR & PHANTOMS by Carol Hedges @caroljhedges #RBRT

5 GOLD 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.

Genre: Victorian Murder Mystery

This is the sixth book in Carol Hedges' Victorian Detectives series, featuring the inimitable Leo Stride and Jack Cully.  As ever, it is a complete stand alone; there is the odd reference to events that occurred in previous books, but none of these would make the book any less enjoyable to a reader new to the series.

The story opens in London's freezing early months of 1865, with a series of sightings of a ghostly Madonna in the Underground.  This, however, is but a humorous diversion from the main story, which involves a dastardly conman who defrauds banks to the extent of their ruin, and murders those who impede his success.


As ever, the star of the show is mid-Victorian era London itself, with many delightful, larger-than-life characters to illustrate its many faces.  You will meet the enchanting Pip and Muggly - starving street children who press their noses up against bakery shop windows - the rich in their gambling dens, hard-working clerks Helen and her twin brother Lambert Trigg, the lovely Lucy Landseer - aspiring novelist and writer of controversial articles - and the Triggs' landlords, Mr and Mrs Mutesius, so beautifully painted that you can almost smell the fustiness of their downstairs quarters, and many more.

One quip I have to mention ~ Jack Cully's disapproval of the name of a new cosmetic.  'I'm not a religious man, but all the same, I don't approve of using Bible names like that.  It's wrong.  Virgin soap, Virgin cream ~ whatever next?  Virgin trains?' 

 
No detail is spared in illustrating the gap between rich and poor, the plight of those who are just scraping together enough to keep body and soul together in grim lodgings, and the careless attitude of the unprincipled rich.  Ms Hedges' love of London and the period shines through, as always, her impeccable research and easy wit making this novel a joy to read; I read it in bed, as I always do with this series; curled up under the duvet I could almost believe that outside my window was Victorian London.  I loved every word. 


*****

Monday, 20 August 2018

LILY WHITE IN DETROIT by Cynthia Harrison @CynthiaHarriso1 #RBRT

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, Psychological


Lily White is a PI in Detroit who usually concentrates on insurance scams and missing persons.  When she is asked to investigate the activities of Jimmy Heyl's wife, she finds herself involved in much more than she bargained for, and events become complicated when her personal and professional lives become intertwined.


The novel is written in alternating POVs: Lily in the 1st person, and Detective Paxton in the third.  From the beginning of the story, we discover that there is more to Lily than meets the eye, and the mystery surrounding her is drip-fed slowly, which I liked.  The theme of PTSD is examined throughout the novel, with regard to both Lily and the ex-partner of Paxton.  It is clear that the author has done her research into not only the psychological effects but also the physiological, and the effect is quite an eye-opener for a reader such as me; I knew very little about it.  The factual side of the novel is convincing throughout, and I liked the picture of the Detroit of the 21st century.


I do warm to an emotionally damaged loner in novels, and though this character type is one to be found often in detective stories both in literature and on-screen, Lily was in no way a stereotype.  The author's background in romance novel writing was evident in that I could see exactly where a certain relationship was heading from the very beginning (you know how in romance novels the reader knows before the characters do!), but this element did not seem out of place, for this is a psychological drama as well as a crime story.


There were some events that I thought deserved to be shown in an actual scene via flashback, or at the time, rather than the details being related to one character from another in dialogue, which would have made for more impact and suspense, but on the whole it's a cleverly put together book, and I'd recommend it for anyone who enjoys unravelling murder clues, or has particular interest in PTSD.