Monday, 15 July 2019

TREAD: Fallen Nation by Jeff DeMarco @DeMarcoWriter

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter

In a Nutshell: Post-apocalyptic/military novella

Lately I've read some of a post apocalyptic series concentrating on the survival aspect, and a novella that I'd class nearer the horror end of the genre; Tread:Fallen Nation, however, is military-orientated.  All of these books have one aspect in common: the effect of a global disaster on the people.

The main character in this book is Evan, a soldier back from the Middle East who finds his country in meltdown after a mysterious virus has devastated the land.  The US is, in effect, in civil war.  Evan is already disillusioned about the ethics of some of the military, and war itself, and becomes more so as his new tasks are laid out before him.

I knew nothing of the author's background until I read the notes at the end, but it was clear he comes from a similar background to Evan; the details, not only about the weaponry but also the practices, are most convincing, at the same time as being written so that a layperson can understand.  I liked, too, that he destroyed certain myths about the effects of an EMP, which has probably spoiled me for books of this genre that involve such things!  

'Hell, the whole idea of electromagnetic pulse or nuclear detonation permanently damaging electrical systems and communications is just garbage.  Just sayin'; this ain't the movies'

He has a cool writing style, perfect for the subject matter, and I was particularly impressed by the dialogue, which struck just the right chord.  He delivered a good atmosphere of bleakness, using few words.

'Evan rounded the rocky outcropping and found a man in dirtied clothes, his face covered by a white and black shemagh, hunkering down against the boulders as though clinging for dear life.  In the insurgent's eyes ... no, the man's, not the animal he'd been conditioned to see them as, he found only fear.'

I felt it could do with a final round of copy-editing to iron out minor proofreading errors and add a bit of clarity here and there, but I'm one of those people who winces at misplaced commas, and it is far better presented than many self-published books of the genre.  I would definitely recommend it to any fans of military-oriented post apocalyptic stories.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

SEVERED KNOT by Cryssa Bazos @CryssaBazos #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.

In a Nutshell: Fiction centred round the treatment of Scottish and Irish royalist prisoners during the English civil war; slavery in Barbados; romantic aspect.

I enjoyed this book so much.  The basic story: Iain Johnstone is a Scottish 'moss-trooper' imprisoned by Cromwell's men after persuading many of his contemporaries to go south and fight for Charles II.  Mairead O'Conneil is a young woman staying at her uncle's house in rural Eire for 'safety' while her father and brothers fight the Parlimentarians ~ but then the soliders come... and both Iain and Mairead find themselves on a slave ship bound for Barbados.

I hadn't read this relatively new writer before, but I'm glad I've discovered her; she's seriously talented.  The book is professionally presented, which I appreciated so much; it is clear that the research has been both meticulous and extensive, but at no time was I overly aware of it; I never felt that I was reading her research notes, as can so often be the case.  The atmosphere of the prisons, the slave ships and the Barbadian plantations, with all their horrors, is colourfully illustrated, and her characterisation and dialogue kept me engrossed, throughout.  I liked, too, that it gave me a view of how the English troubles spread far and wide.  Aside from all this, it's a terrific adventure story.

Within the plot is a romantic thread, a background shadow in the first half of the book that steps closer to centre stage as it goes on.  The theme is the romantic novel standard of two people taking against each other on sight then being extraordinarily rude to each other whenever they cross paths before finally admitting their passion, which can work well if cleverly written, and this was. 

Sadly, though, because of the descriptions of Mairead (tiny, skinny, frizzy-haired, plain, sprite, 'Mouse') I could only ever picture her as a sort of meek teenage imp, rather than a woman likely to inflame the passions of the Sean Bean-as-Sharpe/Boromir-like Iain, so it fell a little flat for me.  This sort of opinion is only ever personal viewpoint, though, and I must bear in mind that I not a fan of romantic fiction, generally; I was glad that other non-love stuff made up the main body of the book.

Despite these reservations, I am still rounding the 4.5* up to 5* on Amazon in the interests of objective reviewing, because it really is an exceptionally good novel, and I will definitely place her on my mental 'read more' list.



Friday, 5 July 2019

CONGEAL by John F Leonard @john_f_leonard

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I bought it when it came out, as I love this genre and very much liked this author's last book.  Then it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, so I am reviewing it for Rosie too :)

In a Nutshell: Post apocalyptic/horror novella - nasty slimy stuff that covers the world!

Another fine novella that fits perfectly into the limited space - I do appreciate writers who understand how to use the shorter format so well.

Amelia had a happy life with a man she loved, but then the Clag arrived; now she's stuck in a deserted city with a guy she can't stand, as the nasty slimy stuff from the deep bowels of the earth rises up to swamp the world....

Having just read two post apocalyptic novels that centred round human relationships and practical survival, Congeal underlined to me how many subsections this genre has; this one is far into the 'horror' end.  Amongst its many strengths, I liked the short, sharp prose style, so appropriate for the horror and despair of Amelia's situation, though not without dry humour.  I also enjoyed that those in the group with whom she found herself trying to survive—a standard in all PA stories—were not all of the likeable, resourceful, charismatic variety, as is so often the case; Pete, Maurice, Yvonne and the others were types she would have avoided like the plague (pun intended) in real life.

A good ending, too—I had no clue about Amelia's fate, even by 95%.  Anyone who has read the author's recent novella The Bledbrooke Works will enjoy the connection between the two, but both are entirely stand alone.  Oh, and one more thing - in the flashbacks to Amelia's pre-apocalypse life, she refers to her mother as 'Mom', several times.  As she is English, living in England, and her story is written by a British author, I questioned this - out of place American English is one of my 'ouches', but apparently it's a Birmingham-Irish thing as well; just making this point in case it's one of your 'ouches', too.



Friday, 28 June 2019

THE MORNING STAR by C W Hawes @cw_hawes

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: bought a while back via a passing tweet; I chose it out of the many unread books on my tablet after it was recommended by a Twitter friend.

In a Nutshell: Survival eight months after an incident that killed off the majority of the population.  Setting: various places in the US, settling in Missouri.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  Having started and abandoned two other books of the same genre before opening this one, it was great to find something intelligently written by a writer with real talent; as soon as I'd read the first page I was sure I was going to love it.

Bill Arthur is a guy in his late fifties who is surviving after whatever happened on 'That Day'.  Along his travels southwards from Minnesota, after leaving groups that weren't working out, he teams up with several others, and they settle in Rocheport, Missouri.  All is going smoothly - but then another group turn up, led by a religious zealot.

This is a post apocalyptic book about real people, about survival and the effect of TEOTWAWKI on humans used to every technological convenience.  It's told by Bill in the first person, in a laid back sort of diary format.  Of course, this structure has its limitations, namely in describing events that happen to others in Bill's group, and further afield, but this is handled well, and never clumsily.

I liked Bill a lot, enjoyed reading his philosophical thoughts and the methods employed for the group's well-being; I was engrossed all the way through.  Although not a gun fights and action book, it is not without suspense and danger, and is certainly a page turner.

I've knocked off half a star because of an editorial issue (ie, one the editor should have picked up on) that is one of my pet whinges: the not infrequent use of the term 'Sally (or whoever) and I' when it should have been 'Sally and me'**, and because I was frustrated that we were never told exactly what happened on 'That Day', or why it occurred.

These minor issues aside, I absolutely recommend this book for lovers of this genre; it's a quiet gem, and one I'm glad I've discovered.  C W Hawes is a terrific writer, and I've already begun the second book in the series.
 

** I wrote a blog post about this, a while back, entitled 'The grammatical error that even the most intelligent people make' - it's HERE if you want to read it.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

SECRET KILL by Robin Storey

4.5 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: Novella.  Former criminal turned good guy is forced back into the underworld.  Set mostly in Melbourne.

I liked this book more and more as it went on.  Ex-crim Jackson Forbes is confronted by a grown-up daughter he never knew about - and she wants something from him.  Not just fatherly love, or money, but help; Frida is in trouble, and Jack is about to be pitched back into a world he thought he'd left behind.

This is a novella (40K words or under; I imagine this is around 40k), and I appreciated the way in which the story fitted perfectly into the shorter length; there was no feeling that it needed more detail anywhere, which in turn made me feel as though I had read a full-length novel.  Any longer, and it might have dragged, or been filled with superfluous detail.  It's an easy read and well-written, with a convincing plot.

I read another book by this author and my main complaint about that was that the characters didn't come across.  In Secret Kill, however, I felt that Jack and Frida were completely real; there were no sudden shifts in personality like before.  There was one revelation about Jack's past that made me less sympathetic towards him, but, boy, did he pay for it.  I was fairly set on 4* all the way through, but the unexpected and unusual ending made me want to add an extra half star.  Good one.



Saturday, 15 June 2019

MAHONEY by Andrew Joyce @huckfinn76

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 saga about three Mahoney men, from Ireland's Great Famine of 1846, to the 1930s.

I adore family sagas through the generations, and have a great interest in American history of the last two hundred years, so I leapt on this book when I saw it on the review team list.

The book is split into three sections: Devin, the 19 year old from Ireland eager to make his fortune in America, his son, Dillon, who sets out to travel west, and David, the privileged son of Dillon, whose fortunes take a different turn during the Depression. 

I'll start by saying that a great strength of this book is the dialogue, which never falters in its quality, and is the main reason why the characterisation is so good.  I was also most impressed by the research that had gone into the book; it is clear, throughout, that Mr Joyce has a great understanding of the peoples of each time and place in the novel.

I adored the first part, about Devin; I looked forward to getting back to it each time I had to put it down.  Devin's route to America is depicted so colourfully that I was completely engrossed.  I was disappointed when his section ended; I wanted to carry on reading about him.  I liked the next part, about Dillon's adventures in 'Wild West' Wyoming, but, although the book continued to be well-written, admirably researched, and flowed so well, I was less convinced by Dillon as a character.  

My interested was piqued again by the start of David's section - I loved reading about the spoilt, self-centred young man who cared nothing for his family or the struggles lived through by his father and grandfather.  His first experiences as the Depression hit kept me engrossed, too, but after he changed his way of thinking, I became less convinced by him.  I think what I was not so keen on was the way in which Dillon and David kept bumping into strangers, on the road and in bars, and everywhere else, who offered them the chance to change their lives for the better.  Devin's life seemed more realistic, whereas Dillon and David appeared to fall into one piece of great luck after another.  I was also less keen on David's section because so much of it was dialogue-led, which is not a preference of mine; this is not a criticism, just a personal preference.

Despite the aspects about which I wasn't so sure, it's a most entertaining book.  I think it has real value as a fictional history of America the period between 1846 - the 1930s, even if I felt some of it was rushed through; there is a lot of material for one novel.  Mr Joyce can certainly write; I have just downloaded another of his books, Resolution.  I was also impressed by how he wrote Devin and David in the third person, but Dillon in the first; this was absolutely the right choice, and a clever one.

I'd most certainly recommend this novel for lovers of family sagas through the ages, particularly if you have an interest in American history.




Monday, 10 June 2019

NEW YORK 1609 by Harald Johnson #RBRT @AuthorHarald

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, but I didn't choose it at first; I did so after reading this review on the blog of Sean, another team member.

In a Nutshell: A fictionalised history of the invasion of the land that became New York, and the city's founding.

A terrific novel, telling of the 'discovery' of Manhattan Island by Henry Hudson, and the beginning of the callous and careless ruination of the Native American way of life.  

The main character is the part-white Dancing Fish, who believes he is gifted with insight into the ways of the 'visitors' from the east.  The story starts in 1609 and moves, through four parts, through to the 1640s, as gradually the Manahate and other tribes are pushed out of their land; the book tells, also, of how they begin to take on the ways of the white man, and become less self-sufficient, something that saddens Dancing Fish.

This is a long book, but at no time did it feel over-written or padded out.  It seems like a foreshadowing of many years to come, as the greed and cunning of the 'civilised' treads into the ground and destroys a culture that had existed, successfully, for hundreds of years; indeed, it makes one question the meaning of the word 'civilised'.  Only once or twice did we see the Europeans' respect for the natives' affinity with the land, in Henry Hudson, in Boucher, an early explorer who was left behind by his party, and Marie, his daughter.

In the latter part of the story, the settlers' treatment of the natives is unbelievably brutal, sickening and heartbreaking, made worse because you know that all this and more really happened. But the ending is not without hope; Johnson's characters have a wisdom far beyond most of their enemies.

Johnson finishes with notes, in brief, about what happened afterwards, and explains which parts of his story have their grounding in fact.  Highly recommended.