Saturday 30 March 2024

THE SHADOW NETWORK by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read all Deborah Swift's books, full stop!  Original discovered her on Twitter.

In a Nutshell: World War II espionage drama

The next in the series of Deborah Swift's excellent and oh-so-British tales of espionage and undercover networks during World War II.  The Shadow Network is particularly interesting because Lilli, the main character, is a part-Jewish refugee from Berlin, who falls prey to circumstances that lead her to take a major part in a 'black' propaganda outfit, targeting the German people and armed forces.  

This book has a particularly thrilling start, set as it is in Germany, when life was precarious for so many.  The pace continues throughout, culminating in gripping ending that made me wish it was a TV mini-series.  Ms Swift has painted a wonderfully nasty antagonist in the form of Brendan Murphy, member of the IRA.

As ever, the research is detailed and fascinating; Deborah Swift outlines the real story behind the fiction in the back of the book, and, once more, I wished I'd read it first.  I've no doubt that this novel will be as successful as The Silk Code - and I look forward to Operation Tulip!

Monday 11 March 2024

HARD TO FORGIVE by Georgia Rose @georgiarosebook

 5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I'd already read another in the series.  This is Book 3 of A Shade Darker.

In a Nutshell: A woman alone, a life lived in obsession and regret...

I've read a few of Georgia Rose's books over the years.  I liked the last one in this series, the most enjoyable Shape of Revenge, but this is a different class, by far the best thing she's written.  Loved it!

Dora Smith is 69 and lives alone in the cosy village of Melton, in which all these books are set.  It's a close community, with all the advantages and drawbacks this brings, and Dora is involved yet sets herself slightly apart from her neighbours.  She has secrets; conflicting in her head is a riot of heartbreak, loss, obsession and a sense of isolation that she reveals to no one.  Sometimes she wears it well, and is content in her life.  Other times the ghosts from the past as well as the present crowd in, tearing her sanity apart.

This is a short novel, probably around 50-60k words, which is just right for the story.  Early in the book we're taken back in time to see Dora as a young woman and experience the tragedies that befell her - I found this absolutely gripping.  Yet there was another surprise I didn't expect, near the end.  The end itself made me need to know more.  What happens to her?  Hopefully we will see Dora again in another instalment of this twelve-book series.

So skilfully written is Dora's first person narrative that - even though she lives in her own head, rarely looking out - it allows the reader to see what the other people in the village think about her, opinions of which she is probably unaware.  So clever!  All the way through, Dora reminded me of Susan the vicar's wife in Alan Bennett's Bed Among The Lentils - if you like his Talking Heads monologues you'll love this, though it's considerably darker.

Well done, Georgia Rose, and I look forward to the next book!

Monday 4 March 2024


 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read a lot of books by this author, so Amazon recommends others!

In a Nutshell: Beginning of zombie apocalypse, in Australian Outback.  

Frank Tayell has written extensively about the same zombie apocalypse, a main series (Suviving The Evacuation) that started about ten years ago and is up to Book 21, and the other related collections, set in different places.  Kind of like The Walking Dead with all its spin-offs!

This first book of the Surviving The Evacuation: Life Goes On series is set in Australia, in which a carpet salesman from Indiana called Pete Guinn goes on a mission to find his oddly elusive sister, where she works mending fences in the Outback.  The events of the first chapters were labelled as '18 hours before the outbreak', etc - the suspense building even though Pete didn't know it!  As well as breakdown of civilisation and the zombies, rich evil cartel type people provide Pete, Corrie and their friends yet more headaches.

I very much liked going back to the beginning of the apocalypse (I've only read up to about Book 8 of the original series), and enjoyed Pete's shock at the reality of trying to exist in the Outback, even before the zombies appear.  It's a good story and I did like it, but my interest waned with the original because the characters' conversations became too information-dump-ish, as though the dialogue is being used primarily as a vehicle for giving information to the reader, rather than as an expression of character, and I felt the same creeping in here.  This can result in the characters coming across a bit one-dimensional, or all speaking in the same 'voice'.  This wasn't the case in the earlier books (my review of Book 1, written 9 years ago, HERE).

Anyway, I still liked it!  Mr Tayell is a fine judge of pace, creator of plot, builder of suspense, etc - and, in case you ever read this, Frank, I laughed at this: He didn't know much about hotels, motels or any variation in between, but he knew carpet and the one beneath his feet was expensive.  A hard-wearing, two-ply, eighty per cent wool mix with a polyester coating to ease cleaning.  I used to know a chap who sold carpets, and he was not dissimilar.  We'd be watching telly and he'd point at the screen during a really dramatic scene, and say, "That's a nice bit of Worsted fibre bonded.  Made by Danflor, if I'm not mistaken'.

Saturday 24 February 2024

THE SURFACING by Terrance Coffey @terry_coffey #RBRT

 4 out of 5 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.

In a Nutshell: Body snatchers, mind control, a supernatural race, in normal situations in small-town America

What struck me all the way through this book is that it would make a terrific Netflix series of the Stranger Things kind; I notice that the author is also a screenwriter, so I wondered if he'd imagined it in this vein as it was being written.

I like books set in small-town America; this takes place in Lynch, Kentucky and Appalachia, Virginia.  In each close community, it becomes increasingly apparent that some people are not who they claim to be.  Others are possessed of superhuman powers, while mysterious chasms appear in the land, and curious sightings are recorded.  People disappear, or change personality overnight.

The story is written from many third person points of view; again, this would have worked if visual, when the actors themselves provide the characterisation, but when they're just names on a page it's not so easy to keep track of them all.  Some, like alcoholic mine worker Clay and his wife Tara, were fully three dimensional, so I could remember who they were, but I had trouble with others; I kept starting a new chapter and thinking, "Who's this fella, again?"  Aside from this, it was well-written and nicely paced, with the mystery of what exactly was going on unfurling slowly, not fully revealed until half-way through.  I appreciated this, as a good plot (which The Surfacing undoubtedly has) is nothing without skilled pacing.

Nice piece of fantasy/paranormal type scifi, for those who love the genre.

Saturday 17 February 2024

A MATTER OF TIME by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: one I was waiting patiently for, after reading the first two in the series.

In a Nutshell: the life of Henry VIII in his own words, from the Anne of Cleves era until his death.

I loved this book!  Marvellous series, quite unlike any other historical fiction I have read.  Henry VIII in first person, present tense - a perfect choice, as the reader walks in his shoes with him, all the way.  Not for a moment does Judith Arnopp succumb to a possible temptation to broaden the point of view, in order to provide more factual detail.  It's totally Henry, all the way.  In the last book I noticed how events that might be given great significance in other works are hardly mentioned, because Ms Arnopp remains completely faithful to Henry's eyes alone.  

The question of Cromwell's lies about the infidelity of Anne Boleyn crops up a few times, as Henry is now able to step back and see the whole picture.  My impression has long been that his whole life was coloured by what he did to her, George, Norris and his other friends, as though he'd opened a door to a dark place that could never be closed.  One feels that Arnopp's Henry may not have actually believed Cromwell at the time, but convinced himself because he was so desperate for a son, exhausted by Anne and temporarily enamoured of Jane Seymour's timidity.

I found myself liking this older Henry, give or take the odd casually signed execution warrant or twenty.  I loved the section about Anne of Cleves (including how he began to see the merest hint of a spark of something between them...), and his delight in Katherine Howard was almost 'sweet'.  Karma or not, I felt so sorry for him when he was faced with the truth about her, the way in which his whole fantasy was torn away, revealing the relationship for what it was - and how it was the end of his fantasy about himself, too.  For one so obsessed with his own image, to see himself laid bare, as others saw him.  Saddest of all was his loneliness in his old age.  If only he could have used that time to get to know his children more.  And perhaps condemn fewer people to death...

Most ingenious of all, throughout the whole series, is that although ostensibly seen only through Henry's eyes, the thoughts of others and the truth about an event are often starkly apparent to the reader.  Now that's what I called skilled writing.  Bravo, Judith Arnopp!

Terrific series.  Can't recommend too highly.  I envy you if you have all three books yet to read!

Both painted during the 16th Century by unknown artists.

Monday 12 February 2024

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET: Book 2: Loyaulte Me Lie, by J P Reedman @stonehenge2500

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Already reading this series

In a Nutshell: The later life of Richard III

Excellent book, this one.  Probably my favourite of the series.  It starts with the aftermath of Edward IV's death, and ends at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Much of this story deals with the fate of Edward V and his brother, the 'Princes in the Tower', and does much to dismiss early portrayals of Richard as a demonic fiend who probably murdered his own nephews and poisoned his wife.  The scenarios put forward by this author are completely feasible and sound a good deal more likely.  Of course the period of the Wars of the Roses was turbulent and dangerous indeed, with so much treason, nobles turning their coats according to whichever cause would benefit them the most; the impression I got was that Richard did what he had to do, but only when he really had to.  Looking at the claims to the throne, it does appear that the Yorkist one was the most valid.

The development of Richard's personality was so cleverly written, as he grew in confidence and became more comfortable within his role as king.

I loved the research that has clearly gone into this book, particularly that about Northampton, near the beginning.  I lived there for 40 years, and was most interested to see that names of some streets date this far back (Gold Street, Marefair, Sheep Street, the Drapery, Greyfriars).  The 'Guild of the Holy Rood' (I have a friend who lives in Holyrood Road).  The abbey of St Mary De La Pre (an area of the town is called Delapre).  Oh, and the Bantam Cock pub, which kept its name until the end of the last century.  In this area is the Queen Eleanor Cross, also mentioned; a marker on the funeral procession for Edward I's beloved wife.

This is a first class series, highly recommended if you are as fascinated by this period in history as I am.   

Monday 29 January 2024

THE KELSEY OUTRAGE by Alison Louise Hubbard #RBRT

 4 out of 5 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.

In a Nutshell: Fictional account based on a true crime story

In 1872, Charles Kelsey, brother of Cathleen, goes missing.  He has, for some time, been pursuing former love Lucy-Jane, now engaged to be married to another man: Sam Royals.  Lucy insists Charles's obsession was one-sided; others know it was not.

A talented poet, educated and striking in his unusual mode of presenting himself, Charles is a controversial figure in the neighbourhood.  When he goes missing, Cathleen is determined to uncover the truth, with the help of a bumbling local constable and the few people not in cahoots with the wealthy Royals family.  

Cathleen and younger brother Danny are distraught when they discover that Charles was tarred and feathered; the crime divides the town.

This story is well-written and researched, and I enjoyed reading it.  I found main character Cathleen a little flat, though others, such as the likeable Sam and his feckless brother Reuben, manipulative Lucy and social-climbing Hank, came alive on the page to a far greater degree, and almost immediately.  There is much entertaining detail aside from the main story, such as Sam's experiences working in his uncle's Manhattan store, with the ghastly manager.

A solid four stars, though I felt it needed a little more oomph, perhaps by making Cathleen a more colourful character, or maybe editing it down; at times it felt slightly plodding, and it's a fairly long book.  But I liked it.  It was good, made more interesting, of course, because it really happened.  Most impressive as a debut novel, too!