Tuesday, 22 September 2020

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C A Fletcher

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK

On Amazon.com

On Goodreads

On BookBub

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

In A Nutshell: Post-Apocalyptic Journey

Over a period of three generations humanity almost petered out, as the world population became cursed with a mysterious infertility.  Griz and his family are some of the few survivors not affected by this blight; he was born many years after society collapsed.  They live on a remote Scottish island, with little knowledge of how the ways of the world since the technical revolution; there are still many history books from the 20th Century and before, but since the collapse of the world began, record exists mostly via word of mouth.  The 21st Century has become the new Dark Ages.

One day, a traveller arrives, on his boat.  Brand appears friendly, but he has a hidden agenda.  Because of Brand's actions, Griz sets off down to the mainland to track him.  His only company is his dog, Jip.

Griz's exact age is not mentioned, but one gets the impression he is around fourteen. The story consists of the dangers, joys and discoveries of his journey, and is written in the first person, with Griz addressing a boy from the old world whose picture he found.  A large part of the narrative addresses the difference between the world as it was and as it is now, and his thoughts about it, which I loved.  It flows well, in a conversational, easy-read style. 

On the whlle I enjoyed this book, though now and again I felt it could have benefited from a more ruthless edit; some of the description is a bit skip-read-worthy, and I spotted a couple of errors (including my pet peeve, the use of the word 'I' when it should be 'me').  Half-way through, Griz meets up with a French woman, with whom he travels.  She can't speak English, but they find ways to communicate.  Everything she says to him in French is spelled out phonetically, as Griz would have heard it, which became irritating; much of the time, I couldn't work out what she was supposed to be saying, even when I read it out loud.  A little would have been fine, but there was too much.  

The other aspect I was not keen on was lack of speech marks, an affectation made popular by Cormac McCarthy.  Sometimes it works well, and is actually more effective; this was the case earlier on in this book, but not later, when there is more dialogue; now and again I had to re-read to differentiate between spoken word, inner thoughts and general narrative.  As McCarthy himself says, it's not just a matter of taking the quotation marks out. 

As the book nears its hugely unpredictable end, there are two great twists about which I didn't have a clue.  And, despite all the 'if only I had known' foreshadowing - which other reviews complained about but I liked - the book actually ends fairly positively.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes character-driven post apocalyptic novels, as there is plenty off that stuff-we-love about lost civilisation and survival, though if you like your post-apoc more action-packed, this probably won't be your thing.  Despite the elements I was not so keen on, I was anxious to keep turning the pages to see what would happen, which is much of what it's all about, really.  I'm glad I discovered it.


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

DARK OAKS by Charlie Vincent

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: Thriller, set in Monaco and Hampshire

When I started reading this book I was at once impressed by the writing style and enjoyed reading about wealthy doctor Charles Mason and his ritzy lifestyle in Monaco; there was a certain dry humour about his observations and the narrative flowed well.  There were a few minor proofreading errors which I could overlook, because I liked what I was reading.

Charles wakes up on the morning after his extravagant annual party to find that everything is not as it should be, in a big way.  The book then moves to Dark Oaks, his ancestral home in rural Hampshire.

It is clear that the author knows Monaco well, and I liked reading about the lifestyle, but there is a little too much detail that is not relevant to the rest of the book.  Throughout, there are long blocks of description, much of it superfluous, which is unbroken by dialogue and slows down the plot, not least of all a long paragraph describing the making of a sandwich, and a wince-making piece of exposition in which Charles has the phrase 'chop shop' explained to him, which is clearly only there to explain to the reader (I thought it unlikely that Charles would not have known what a chop shop was).  

The book is basically well-written, and the plot is interesting, but the structure lets it down.  The history of the family is told in backstory when Charles gets to Hampshire; an initial few chapters set in the past, at the beginning, would have set the scene much more effectively, and linked the Monaco and Hampshire sections together - once Charles got to Hampshire I felt as though I was reading a completely different story, with the sudden introduction of a number of new characters who had not been mentioned previously.  To sum up, there is much to commend about this book, but I think it could use a bit more thinking through and the hand of a good content editor.




Sunday, 13 September 2020


5 GOLD stars

Amazon UK                                                                                             Amazon.com                                                                                           Goodreads                                                                                              BookBub


How I discovered this book: Exchanged a few words with the author on Twitter.  Had a look at his bio, clicked on the book.  Looked right up my street, so....

In a Nutshell: 10th century Icelandic historical fiction

I've been lucky lately - this is the third novel I've read in the last month that competes for the title 'favourite book of the year.'  It's a gem, and I loved it.

Smile of the Wolf tells the story of Kjaran, a wandering storyteller, and the consequences of one lonely night when he and his friend, Gunnar, set out to hunt a ghost.  Instead, and unintentionally, they kill a man.  The ensuing feud colours the rest of their lives and those of the people they love.

I'm sure the word 'stark' has been used in many reviews already, but it's the one that comes to mind before any other, for me, in describing this book.  Tim Leach knows 10th Century Iceland - this reads as though he understands every trek across harsh landscape, every gnawing hunger pain in the wastelands of the outlaws, every shred of misplaced bravery in these people's hearts as their lives are ruled not by a king, but by their code of honour, a far more brutal taskmaster.

It's a story of heroes and courage in the face of death, of singlemindedness and the will to live, of love, friendship, gods and ghosts, freedom and survival; I didn't skip a word.  It's terrific - read it.


Monday, 31 August 2020

THE END OF THE ROAD by Anna Legat @LegatWriter

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK

On Goodreads

On BookBub



How I discovered this book: a passing tweet

In a Nutshell: A world war to end all wars - nuclear missiles, nerve gas, biological weapons, and then meteorites.  But a handful of people survive...

Brilliant.  Absolutely loved it.

The year is 2027, and conflicts between nations reach crisis point - nuclear bombs, nerve gas and chemical weapons, followed by meteor showers, wipe out the entire population of the world, apart from a very few.  The End of the Road is the story of those who survive - philandering English lawyer Tony, two nuns in Liege, a scientist in Siberia who lost his family in the Chernobyl disaster forty years before, ditzy vlogger Bella in New Zealand, and a few others.

Some of the scenarios intertwine, and indeed they all do eventually, but I was completely engrossed in each one.  There was not a single weak point; when I was reading Reggie, the caretaker of a billion dollar estate in South Africa, I'd got to about 86% and started reading it as slowly as I could because I didn't want it to end.  

At first I was a little confused because there are no actual chapters; each new scenario begins with the location and the name, and that's all, and I wished there was a date, because I wasn't sure exactly when they were all taking place, but I soon got used to the unusual structure, and saw that the actual time frame did not need to be stated.

The narrative is stark and shocking, but the characters and their backstories (just enough, never too much) are written with a light touch and, sometimes, a glimmer of humour - and at the end, even though humanity has finally succeeded in wiping itself out (almost), certain areas of hope remain.

This is currently tying with another for the 'best book I've read this year' award - it's fabulous.  Can't recommend too highly.  And the moral of this story is: don't ignore those passing book tweets.  If you think 'that looks interesting', go download it!


Thursday, 27 August 2020

THE LOST BLACKBIRD by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

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: fiction based on true life events, about the appalling mistreatment of children sent to Australia from English childrens' homes, in the 1960s.

This book is certainly an eye-opener.  In the 1950s and 60s (and as late as 1970), children were taken from English children's homes for a 'better life' in Australia.  Sometimes the children were orphans, other times they were in care because the parents were temporarily unable to look after them, and they were shipped off without parental consent.  A few were fortunate, and were adopted by families, but most were used as slave labour on farms, until they were sixteen, when they would be sent to cattle stations to serve an 'apprenticeship' - more slave labour.  Most suffered permanent separation from siblings and families in England.

This is the fictional story of Londoners Lucy and Charly Rivers who ended up in 'care' (a brutal, regimental establishment) after their mother was wrongly convicted of having killed their father.  When Charly was six and Lucy ten, they were put on a boat with many others, to sail to the other side of the world.

The story alternates between that of Lucy and Charly, who fare very differently.  I found Charly's story absolutely fascinating, and it was so well written by Ms Perrat; it involved a slow brainwashing until by the time she was sixteen she was not sure what was a memory and what a fantasy or dream; the way in which she tried to capture fleeting images was perfectly illustrated, as was the behaviour of the people who perpetrated this; the gradual unravelling was riveting stuff.  Lucy's story was so tragic and I was equally engrossed in the first two thirds or so, though I was less convinced by a couple of developments later on.

The book is certainly a page-turner, nicely structured, making me eager to know what would happen next, as hope twinkles in the distance for the characters, then disappears. The writing flows well, and I'd definitely recommend it to any readers who enjoy emotional dramas based on true life events - the fact that all this stuff actually happened gives a hugely compelling slant to the whole story.  At the end of the book, Ms Perrat writes about her research process, giving details of some of the books she used for reference, which has now added to my reading list, too!  I give her a round of applause for bringing these heinous crimes to light in this highly readable novel.



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

FAME & FORTUNE by Carol Hedges @caroljhedges

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  However, I have read every other book in this series and would have bought it anyway - every one a winner!

In a Nutshell: Victorian Murder Mystery

This is the eighth book in Carol Hedges' Victorian murder mystery, featuring officers of the law Stride and Cully.  The story starts with a mysterious hanging and the theft of rare Japanese artefacts, and takes the crime-fighting duo to the seediest areas of London and then off to more upmarket districts to see out the Black brothers, Herbert and Munro; Munro runs gambling clubs, while Herbert is often abroad, taking care of his trading empire - but what is he selling?

Running through the main story are a couple of juicy sub-plots - that of a romantic novelist accused by an aristocrat of using his marital dramas as a plot for her novels, and the tale of Izzy, a ten-year-old who works painting furniture for dolls' houses by day, and washing dishes by night, then goes home to share a mattress with her uncaring mother in an unsavoury boarding house.  

Fame & Fortune is up there with the rest of this series, a delight to read, as Ms Hedges spins her story around artfully-drawn characters, at the same time highlighting the social injustices of the day (Izzy's story, in particular, is heartrending), and the culture of the Victorian era, throughout all echelons of life; the occasional comparison with modern times is impossible not to draw.

Another winner; if you haven't read any of this series, they're all completely stand-alone, even though certain threads are carried on throughout.  Highly recommended.  

Monday, 17 August 2020

NEST OF ASHES by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

 5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK 

On Amazon.com

On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: One of my favourite authors, I've been dying to read this since I knew it was being written!

In a Nutshell: The early life of Jane Seymour, from childhood to her arrival at court and first meeting with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.

Loved, loved, loved this book.  Best so far this year!

I was so intrigued to see how Gemma Lawrence would portray Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, as relatively little is known about her.  Traditionally, she is the meek and mousey one, the antithesis of the charismatic, sophisticated Anne Boleyn, the biddable daughter of the proud Seymour family of Wolf Hall (Wulfhall), minimally educated (she could barely read).  Ms Lawrence has brought her to life.  In Nest of Ashes we see a timid girl, plain of face, a disappointment to her more socially adept mother, bullied by brother Thomas (who I have long thought seemed a nasty piece of work) - and the keeper of a dark, dark family secret.

One of the most well-known stories about the Seymours is that elder brother Edward's wife, Catherine, was cast out for having an affair with his, and Jane's, father, John.  Ms Lawrence writes this as having coloured Jane's whole life.

Of course, historical fiction based on fact will always contain some aspects that are purely the author's imagination, and with those about whom little is known there is more of a necessity to create events and scenarios.  Unlike her series about Anne and Elizabeth I, both of whose lives are well-documented, Nest of Ashes features much of Ms Lawrence's own creation, but it is written with such understanding of her character(s) and the era that every part of the story is completely feasible.  She sees Jane as I have always thought she was - reserved, lacking in confidence and unremarkable, yes, but with a certain harsh ambition derived from the desire to rise above those who considered her unimportant - including members of her own family.  More than this, you will have to discover for yourself when you read it (that is 'when', not 'if'!).

Alongside the story of Jane's life, in which I was completely engrossed, all the way through, Ms Lawrence gives so much detail about how the people of the time lived, with their customs and day-to-day routines ~ fascinating.  There is one chapter in which Jane visits the cottage of a 'cunning woman', which I loved.  Never does she make the mistake, as a lesser writer might, of writing Jane's reactions as though she was a woman of our time.  This book brought home to me how restricted people were by their belief in an often wrathful god who ruled all their lives.

The last part of the book describes Jane's arrival at court, and her first impressions of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, little knowing what part she will play in the life of the latter.  As the end grew nearer, I tried to read it slowly, and after I'd read the last page I actually moaned out loud because there was no more - suffice to say that I am counting the weeks until the next part is published!  

Intricate historical detail, complex family drama, love, lust, loss and intrigue - it's a terrific book.  One of my favourites by this author, and I can't recommend it too highly.