Tuesday, 30 June 2020

THE WORLD WITHOUT CROWS by Ben Lyle Bedard @BenLyleBedard

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads
On BookBub



How I discovered this book: I read the stand-alone sequel, The World Without Flags, in my role as a reviewer for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, and liked it so much I bought this, the prequel, as soon as I'd read it.

In A Nutshell: Post-Apocalyptic, Pandemic/Zombies

In Ben Lyle Bedard's parallel universe, a pandemic known as the Worm swept across the country in 1989 and 90, ending civilisation as we know it.  The Worm turned people into zombies, some docile, a few 'cracked'; the dangerous sort who try to eat people.  I'm 'gimme gimme gimme' when it comes to any end-of-world scenarios, so I was looking forward to this.

The main character is Eric, a fat, shy sixteen-year-old from Ohio, who, some time after the pandemic began, begins a journey to an island in Maine, about which he has idyllic childhood memories.  He is making this journey on foot, and joins up with many others along the way, most importantly a little girl called Birdie, who is the main character of the sequel.  

Through the many events of this journey, Eric changes from chubby, self-conscious boy to a lean, hard, brave and sometimes ruthless man, who will do anything to protect those he cares for.  It's extremely well-written, a real page-turner, and though I could not always like Eric (I went off him big time after one particular incident), and there were a couple of editorial slip-ups, I still loved the book.

It's a great series, and I hope there will be more.



Sunday, 21 June 2020

The World Without Flags by Ben Lyle Bedard @BenLyleBedard #RBRT

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.

In A Nutshell: Post-apocalyptic, 10 years after pandemic

I have an endless hunger for post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, but it has to be well-written, feasible, properly researched and edited, with great characters, realistic dialogue and a plot that keeps me turning the pages.  I am delighted to say that this ticked all the boxes.  I loved it.

It's actually a Book #2, but it's completely stand-alone; I didn't know of the existence of Book #1 until I looked up the Amazon links for this review.

Birdie is around sixteen (she is not sure of her exact age), and lives in the Homestead in Maine, where she shares a house with Eric, who she thinks of as her father.  She has only vague recollections of the Worm, a disease that hit the world a decade ago, around 1990, rendering most of the population zombie-like, though only a few 'cracked' and became flesh-eaters.  She is happy enough in her world - but then a traveller appears with news of a coming war between two factions, both of whom want to rebuild the country under their command.

This news leaves the community in a state of extreme anxiety, but worse is to come.  Much, much worse...

Most of the story is about a journey that Birdie must make to ensure her own safety and that of those she loves, through land she doesn't know, where she will come up against much danger.  The hazardous journey is a post-apocalyptic standard, but it works every time if done well, and this was.  It's exciting, unpredictable, and Birdie's development, as she learns more about the world outside her safe enclosure and finds much strength within herself that she didn't know existed, is a joy to read.

If you love this genre, I recommend highly; even if you think you don't, I still recommend.  Suffice to say that I've downloaded Book #1, and started reading it as soon as I'd finished #2.  One word of warning: it's rather gruesome at times.  Don't read it while you're eating.  I say this from experience.




Wednesday, 10 June 2020

CRACKED LENSES by L J McIntyre

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Friend Recommendation

In a Nutshell: English photographer visits eerie New Zealand town.  Murder and mystery.

This book reminded me, at first, of films such as The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs, and also, slightly, of 1960s TV series The Prisoner.  Jack Coulson is a photographer who travels to the isolated, small town of Nesgrove in New Zealand, hoping to take the photograph that will go 'viral' and make his career.  He soon discovers that this is no normal town - especially when he finds out that, owing to a Facebook post about his trip, they're already expecting him...

Jack's personal demons are as much a part of the story as the mystery surrounding Nesgrove.  He is on medication for anxiety, had a traumatic childhood, and seeks validation through social media 'likes', on a neurotic level.  At first I thought he was going to be a bit of an irritating twerp, with his social media obsession and preoccupation with his emotional state, but threaded through the story are transcripts of his sessions with a counsellor, and I began to understand why he was so; also, I saw that he makes the perfect main character for this story.  Though the events in Nesgrove are terrifying, they also change his life in ways he could not have imagined.

I found this book a definite page-turner, with the grim atmosphere of Nesgrove and Jack's neuroses so starkly illustrated.  The writing flows well, the suspense builds at just the right pace and I read it quickly, eager to find out what would happen next; each event was unpredictable and at no time was I able to see which way the story was likely to go. 

The only part I was not keen on was the 'reveal' about the village: the reasons 'why', and Jack's final scene, which I actually read twice because I was not quite sure exactly what it was supposed to mean.  But that sort of opinion is purely subjective, and I'd still recommend this as a jolly good book.





Thursday, 4 June 2020

ODD NUMBERS by JJ Marsh

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: Psychological/mystery/drama about five friends and their biennial reunions.

I chose this book from the review team list because I loved An Empty Vessel by this author, though this book is completely different.

For the past twenty years, Gael, Lovisa, Mika, Simone and Clark have spent every other New Year together, taking it in turns to choose the venue for a short holiday.  There used to be six of them, but Dhan died at their Y2K celebration two decades before.  At the time it was thought to be a terrible accident, but as the book progresses, we start to wonder if it was suicide, or even murder.

Interesting, interesting - and it is a testament to JJ Marsh's storytelling skill that I enjoyed much of this, and was eager to find out what happened, despite some issues I had with the novel as a whole.

The book is told in first person chapters from all five friends, and dots back and forth in time between the present and the various reunions of the past twenty years, which were held in many different locations.  To say I found the zig-zagging between time and locations confusing is something of an understatement; by half-way through I decided to stop trying to remember exactly where and when I was currently supposed to be, who was married to whom when, what already had or hadn't happened in the chapter I was reading, and just concentrate on the relationship dynamics, and the uncovering of the mystery.

One of the characters comments that if it was not for Dhan's death, maybe their friendship would not have endured.  I thought she was probably right, as much of the time they don't seem that keen on each other.  None of them are very likeable people (even the 'nice' one talks in humourless therapy-speak half the time), but I don't mind that.  I'd rather read about a sociopath than a saint any day; it's far more interesting, the only problem being not having anyone to root for when all the characters are self-centred, cunning and/or in denial about more or less everything. 

Aside from the chaotic timeline, I found it difficult to 'know' any of them, because each of their point-of-view chapters is written in much the same 'voice', despite their being of different nationalities, different social classes, etc.  Aside from the varying subject matter, the odd Americanism from Clark, and Simone being a manipulative, particularly nasty piece of work, they all use the same language, have the same speech patterns, similar mood, tempo, vocabularies.  Mika, Lovisa and Gael I could never 'see' at all; sometimes I thought I was reading Mika when it was Gael, etc.  I also found some of the dialogue unrealistic.

Having said that... (and it's a big 'having said that') I did enjoy reading this book, became immersed in the intrigue and thought the basic plot was great.  I liked the slow uncovering of each person's dark secrets, the truth about Dhan and the final drama, though it felt a bit rushed; I think more could have been made of it.  There were a fair few irritations (not least of all the reiteration of the current trend I've noticed on new, young audience TV shows: that out of any group of young people, fifty per cent of them will have casual sex with either gender at the drop of a hat), but I found that ... yes, I couldn't put it down.  It's a hard one to rate. Yes, I liked it.  Sort of.  Mostly.

To sum up:  The plot kept me interested throughout.  JJ Marsh's innate talent does come across, despite the book's weaker elements; although the characters never really came to life for me, I liked the story a lot.  So although I couldn't say 'yes, definitely, you must buy this', I also want to say, it's fun and original, and I did like it.  Mostly.  Sort of.


Saturday, 30 May 2020

THREADS by Charlotte Whitney

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: Family drama set in 1930s rural Michigan

Threads is a set on a farm in Michigan during the Depression, about a family struggling to survive.  The novel is told in alternating first person points of view of the three daughters: Flora, who is seventeen, Nellie, the youngest, who is seven, and Irene, somewhere in the middle.  Nellie is a tad wild, with a vivid imagination; Irene is a rather smug goody-goody on the surface, but is clearly suffering from 'middle-child syndrome', while Flora is very much the 'big sister', nearly an adult, who sees how the world works outside the concerns of the other two.  Each sister's character is clearly defined, with her own distinctive voice.

The novel is primarily concerned with the way of life of that place and time; it is character rather than plot-driven, an illustration of the family's immediate world and their fears, joys and struggles.  These people were POOR.  If you've never dined on potatoes every night, or looked on a bean sandwich as a treat, you should never think of yourself as hard-up again!  Within the girls' narratives, Ms Whitney has shown us a bigger picture of the country in the 1930s; they tell of the 'train riders'; unemployed, itinerant young men who travelled the country by stowing away on trains, begging for food wherever they stopped.  The way the community pitched in to help each other.  The fears that consumed them all; if they couldn't sell enough produce, they would lose their homes.

I found Flora's chapters the most interesting as her thoughts concerned not just her own, insular world (what happened at school, etc) but that bigger picture.  On occasion, though, Irene and Nellie's childlike viewpoints skillfully revealed much more.

If I have any criticism, it's that I would have liked a bit more actual plot; events coming to a climax and then being resolved, at some point.  There is a little mystery concerning an event from the first chapter which is not solved until the end, but I felt there were missed opportunities to make the story more of a page-turner.  However, I did enjoy it, throughout, and would most certainly recommend it as an insightful and highly readable look at this recent and still relevant time in America's history.


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Burntbridge Boys by 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: Football-themed horror novella

I've read quite a few of John F Leonard's shorter length horror tales, and always enjoy both his original story ideas and characterisation.  Burntbridge boys is set in 1979 and is about Sammy 'the butcher' Rafferty, a former footballer, football club manager and general bad boy, whose glory days are over; he is currently on the run from the police and from unfriendly criminal types.  When Sammy finds himself in the decaying stadium of a defunct club, it seems that his dreams might not be over after all....  

Much of the story includes flashbacks to the 1960s, detailing Sammy's career and how deeply he became involved in the corruption to do with the game: the pay offs, the dodgy transfers, the darker side of life for many of those involved.  Sammy's backstory is as much a part of the whole as the supernatural side, which I liked; in itself, it's something of a horror story.

I very much liked the unravelling of the ghostly mystery in the last 20% of the story, the strongest part; Sammy's meeting with Burntbridge's Chairman Millicent is stunningly good.  I felt that some of the earlier parts would benefit from a bit of fine-tuning, perhaps another draft or the hand of an experienced copy editor to tidy up some over-use of the subordinate clause and to make the delivery more concise.  A little more attention to detail could raise this author's work to the next level.

Having said that, it really is an excellent story, and I love the way Mr Leonard doesn't shy away from the distasteful, and builds tension so well - I think if you have an interest in football, you'll love it, especially if you like your fiction on the dark side, but even if you actively dislike it, as I do, you'll still enjoy!




Wednesday, 13 May 2020

ABANDONED PENNYSYLVANIA by Janine Pendleton @ObsidianUrbex

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com



How I discovered this book:  Had seen the artist's photography on Twitter.

In A Nutshell: Wonderful photographs and a little about the history of Pennysylvania.

I have a fascination for abandoned houses, dereliction, places where once there was life, now fallen into disrepair.  Having seen some of Janine Pendleton's photos on Twitter, I explored her website and bought this book.  It came with two prints of my choice.  This was one I chose:

  
At the beginning is a brief history of the state, and the photographs are divided into sections: churches, prisons, a trolley car graveyard, hospitals, cars, etc.  Each place is named, and Ms Pendleton has explained why it fell into decay.

It's a terrific book, with just the right amount of text to go with the photos, which are amazing.  I bought a copy for my brother, and he loves it too!  A great purchase for anyone who has an interest in the subject matter.  Highly recommended.