Tuesday, 21 May 2019

NO MORE TIME TO DANCE by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads




How I discovered this book: I didn't so much discover it as wait for it to come out and make haste to Amazon as soon as I saw (on Twitter) that it was available!  I've read and reviewed almost all this author's books.

In a Nutshell:  Part II of a two book series about the life of Catherine Howard.

Loved it, loved it.  This second book takes us from the beginning of Catherine's marriage to Henry VIII, to her death, and in this book, as in the previous one, Gemma Lawrence shows us a different Catherine from the one so often portrayed; a young woman ill-educated, but not without intelligence and understanding of people.  A woman who knew what she must do to survive, until those who resented her position whispered the words that would bring about her downfall.

At the end of the book, Ms Lawrence's notes give her educated opinion about many of the fictions and assumptions told down the years, about this fifth wife of Henry.  For instance, Catherine never actually said that she would rather die as the wife of Thomas Culpepper than live as the wife of the King, as she was facing her death, and it is unlikely that she had the raging physical affair with Culpepper as portrayed, for instance, in Showtime's The Tudors.  We actually have very little factual knowledge about her.


Lawrence's Catherine talks much about the lot of women in that period in which she lived, and about the men who abused her (Manox and Dereham): Their greatest power is our silence.  An echo through time, of all women too scared to speak out about abuse, both mental and physical.  This aspect, though, is not rammed down the reader's throat; the book is just a cracking good read, in which I was totally engrossed all the way through.  The historical detail paints perfect pictures, both of the way in which the people lived, and England itself (I loved reading about the Progress, the buildings, the countryside).  

There was so much I loved about this book: the portrayal and understanding of Henry's motivations, fears and self-delusion, the fact that Catherine never refers to him as 'Henry' but always as 'the King' or 'my husband', and the sense of suspense when she doesn't know that she is far from safe is real page-turning stuff.

Excellent two book series.  Highly recommended.




Wednesday, 15 May 2019

MONKEY TEMPLE by Peter Gelfan @GelfanP #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.

In a Nutshell: Friends, wives and lovers and the complex dynamics of the relationships between them. Jules, a freelance editor, is jolted out of sliding unresistingly into old age by best buddy Ralston, and memories of the 1960s and 1970s.  Told in Jules' first person POV.

An unusual and entertaining book, mostly based around a short period during the twilight years of protagonist Jules, his wife, Ritz, and their mixed bunch of ageing hippie friends from the old days—mostly the complicated and high-maintenance Ralston, who is determined not to see Jules go gently into that good, comfortable retirement.  Mostly, it's about Jules' relationship with Ralston.

Deciding that the time has come to leave New York, he and Ralston go on a road trip to look for a house for Jules and Ritz.  When they find a possibility, Ralston has plans for it other than simply being his friends' last home.

Interspersed with present events are Jules's memories of their past, chaotic life; the travelling, the experiences and the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 1960s and 70s.  For this reason I'd say it would be appreciated mostly by the over fifty-fives, those who have experienced the backpacking type of travelling or are familiar with, shall we say, a more erratic lifestyle; I think some of the references might go over the heads of anyone who ticks none of those boxes.  Maybe it's a book about old hippies for old hippies.

Much of the narrative and dialogue is centred around the subject of the characters' ageing processes, rubbish that is talked about 'alternative' philosophies, and also Jules's observations about the writing world.  I found myself smiling a lot, and highlighting passages I agreed with or enjoyed.  Alas, I forgot to highlight many, but here are a few.

(about Jules's client, who is writing novel based on her life)
'Problem is," I said, 'her life's not a story.'
...'Everyone's life is a story.'
'No it isn't.  Things happen, but that doesn't make it a story.'

'You can learn something by studying its opposite.  Like, who the hell knows how to be happy?  So instead, think about what makes you unhappy, and avoid it.'

'Doesn't it ever occur to you that ... when you don't like someone, it's because there's something very wrong with them?'
'Of course...and then I try to distinguish the subjective from the objective'.
'What a bunch of pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Nothing's objective...it's just a cop-out'

'The truth hit me.  The journey to transcend ego is an ego trip' 

Yes, I enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend.  My only criticisms are practical ones; at £6.13/$7.97 for the Kindle version it's priced a bit high for the market, and the rather dull cover doesn't do the book justice, or give any indication that this is a dryly amusing, entertaining and poignant story about artists, writers and other colourful people who have spent their lives living and thinking outside the box.  I'd have chosen a sunset streaked road with a back view of Jules and Ralston driving over the horizon, corny though that may be—or a few of them sitting on the dilapidated porch of the Monkey Temple.



Friday, 10 May 2019

AN EMPTY VESSEL (BY VAUGHAN MASON) by JJ Marsh #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.

In a Nutshell: a book within a book, about a woman in prison, condemned to death.

My understanding is that this long novella is a book mentioned in a novel by JJ Marsh, a work written by one of her characters, Vaughan Mason.  Though not clear on the blurb, this is what Rosie told me she thought it was, when I chose the book to review.

An Empty Vessel is most interesting story that depicts the thoughts of Nancy Maidstone, a woman accused of murder 1958, the day before her execution, and her life from childhood up until that point.  Other chapters are from the point of view of her lawyers and others involved in the plot.

JJ Marsh has a highly readable and compelling writing style and has created characters that jump off the page, with excellent dialogue, both spoken and inner, from the thoughtful Doctor Waterhouse and his socially self-aware wife, to Nancy's self-serving brother, Frank, to the women she worked with at the supermarket that led to the abrupt downturn in her life, to Nancy herself, for whom my sympathy increased the more I read. Every character story is a tale within itself, rather than just a part of the whole, and I was completely engrossed in each one.

The story gives a colourful picture of ordinary life in the 1950s, with all its social prejudices, accepted behaviour and sometimes almost charming innocence about the world.  Running through all the scenarios is the question of whether or not Nancy is guilty, and if so, why she would have committed such a crime, but there is so much more to enjoy than simply an amassing of clues. 

An entertaining, heartbreaking and unusual story - I loved it.



Tuesday, 7 May 2019

DESPERATE PASSAGE by Ethan Rarick

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: it was recommended in the acknowledgements in The Hunger by Alma Katsu, as one of the books she had used for her research.

In a Nutshell: Non-fiction - account of the Donner Party's fatal crossing of American by wagon train, in 1846/7.

I was gripped by this book all the way through.  It tells the story of a party of pioneers travelling from Illinois to California in 1846, to start a new life.  But they made 3 fatal mistakes: they set off too late, they travelled too slowly, and, instead of taking the traditional route up into Oregon and down into California, they took a short cut, the 'Hastings Cut-Off', little knowing that Lansford Hastings, who was trying to lure more Americans into Mexico-owned California, had never actually tested the route himself.  Somewhere between a third and a half of the pioneers perished en route.

The account is fascinating on so many levels: Rarick gives a great insight into the characters of the travellers, and I actually found it easier to follow the large cast in this non-fiction account than in the novel.  I like that he dispelled many of the myths about the relationship between the travellers and the native Americans; for the most part, the latter were helpful, and friendly.  

The already difficult journey becomes tragic in the extreme once the party realises that they have hit the mountains at the onset of winter; a large section of the book is concerned with this part of the journey, with all its horrors; starvation, divisions in the group, failed attempts to cross the high peaks, many deaths, and cannibalism. Rarick has given all viewpoints, taken from those who survived it, the rescuers, and the accounts in the newspapers afterwards.  The last part of the book is spent discussing what was true, what was exaggerated, and the downright lies that were conjured up for the purpose of selling books and newspapers.  Also, he tells what happened to the survivors after their ordeal was over.  

Most tragic of all is the thought that within some of the survivors' lifetimes, new technology would have made their crossing so much easier, saving many lives. 

A terrific book that I recommend most highly.


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've read a few reviews of it on book blogs, via Twitter.

In a Nutshell: Fiction taken from fact - pioneers crossing America heading for California, in 1846, slowly realise that a great danger is walking alongside....

I didn't realise until I read the author's notes at the back that this is based on a true story; I wish I had known.

The atmosphere in this book is a such a winner, and the naïveté of the families who set out to travel through uncharted territory, from Illinois to California, is quite pitiful; they fancy they are setting out a great adventure, little understanding the size of America, the range of temperatures and terrains, the dangers they might face when trying to transport their families and entire homes through completely wild lands.

Main characters feature: Stanton, a lone traveller with a troubled past; Bryant, a man fascinated with the Native American culture; Tamsen, a dissatisfied trophy wife; Reed, a pompous former shop owner; Elitha, a young woman who hears voices, the sinister Keseberg, whose back story is flesh-crawlingly gruesome, and there are points of view from various others, too....

...in fact, there are so many characters that I sometimes forgot who was who, but the main ones were well-drawn enough for them to stand out, and I realised after a while that it wasn't absolutely essential to remember everything about a character, just because he or she had a name.

The party have started out too late in the season, and face many problems on the way, as, against advice, they take a route that is supposed to shave many miles off the journey, which becomes increasingly arduous ... and, waiting in the wings, is another danger.

I did enjoy this book, a lot, though I thought it could have done without the supernatural aspect, which didn't really work for me, and seemed superfluous, turning the book into a genre it needn't have been; the darkness of man himself was enough to add all the terror the story required.  However, this side of it is not too over-played, and I enjoyed it enough to buy a book suggested in the notes at the back - an account of the actual story, which Katsu used in her research: Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick.

I felt that some of the individual stories could have been rounded off more (I was left not knowing exactly who had died and who hadn't, or maybe I just couldn't remember, because the dramatis personae was so extensive), but on the whole the ending was satisfactory - I do most certainly recommend, and look forward to reading the book mentioned above.

(note 7/5/19: Nearly finished Desperate Passage, which I highly recommend.  Had I read it first, though, I don't think I would have enjoyed The Hunger as much as I did; I would have been too irritated by the way Katsu changed the story and characters, and gave so little story space to what was actually the longest and most horrifying part of the journey.  To read The Hunger just as fiction, is probably better.)



Wednesday, 17 April 2019

JANE THE QUENE by Janet Wertman @JanetWertman

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: the story of Jane Seymour, 3rd wife of Henry VIII.  Book 1 of 2 book series, The Seymour Saga.

A light piece of historical fiction that, on the whole, I liked.  I was tentative at first, being very much 'Team Boleyn' as far as the six wives are concerned, but I was pleased to note that Jane Seymour was not portrayed as the meek angel of many a historical novel or TV drama, but every bit as calculating as her predecessor in her mission to capture the heart of Henry VIII; she was used as a tool by her ambitious family in exactly the same way.

The book is written in alternative third person POVs: that of Jane herself, and Thomas Cromwell.  I liked that the author showed the downfall of Anne Boleyn to be a fiction carefully constructed by Cromwell, who knew that Henry needed to get rid of her so he could marry another who might give him a son, but that he could not afford to have another abandoned ex-wife who refused to disappear.  Thus, a story had to be concocted to justify the murder of Anne.  I also liked the explanation of the dissolution of the monasteries; it is clear, concise, and makes for a good understanding of the whys, hows and consequences.  Janet Wertman writes factual detail in a fashion that is both easy to read and entertaining; thus, this book would be an excellent choice for someone who doesn't know much about the era; for instance, she even explains what a monarch's yearly Progress is.  Now and again I was a little too aware of the research being translated into the narration, but on the whole it was executed well.

The author is American and, alas, I did come across some American English in dialogue, along with historical inconsistency and modern phraseology.  Examples: 
  • 'Snuck' - the British English past tense of the verb 'sneak' is 'sneaked'.
  • 'Snicker' - British English is 'snigger'.
  • 'Gift' used as a verb and 'caring' used as a general adjective to describe someone - these have only crept into British English in more recent years.
  • A reference to mashed potatoes - potatoes were not introduced into this country until some fifty years later, by Sir Walter Raleigh.
  • The phrase 'in for a penny, in for a pound' - the first recorded use of this phrase was in a play, in the late 17th century.
  • 'teenagers' - not in use until the latter half of the 20th century.
  • Henry said, 'You center me, Jane'.  So American and 21st century that it might as well have 'Gee' at the beginning and 'lol' at the end!
I also thought that, now and again, the dialogue between Kings, courtiers and Jane was too familiar, and doubted that Cromwell would have introduced the idea of Anne Boleyn's treason to the King while both were in the presence of Jane Seymour.  I'm aware that writing historical fiction that takes place outside one's own country must be an incredibly hard thing to do, and I always feel sorry for authors whose editors have let them down.  Google alone is a wonderful and easy-to-use tool.

Despite these 'dodgy' areas, though, I did enjoy reading it.  The writing flows, Ms Wertman tells a story in a compelling fashion, and I believed in the characters; these three factors alone are much of what this writing thing is about, after all.  With assistance from a more experienced editor (possibly an English one?), I imagine her work would get better and better.  To sum up, I would say this is light fiction for the newer reader of the genre; perhaps lovers of programmes like Showtime's The Tudors series, or who enjoy an introduction to the period, rather than the serious history addict - avid readers of this genre are notoriously picky!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

MURDER UNDONE by Robin Storey

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: Woman murders husband.  Gets chance to go back in time and make different decisions.  Involves drugs, sex, criminal underworld.

This book starts well, with main character Eva poisoning her cheating husband.  Fast forward twenty years: she's married again, and living with the fall-out.  Except she can't deal with it; she drinks too much, and goes into bars to pick up men for casual sex.  Then she is offered a chance to go back in time, still retaining her memories of her 'real' life, and not murder Cheating Charlie after all....

I found this author's style pretty readable; I'd suddenly realise I'd galloped through 10 pages or so, without thinking about stopping to make notes, which is a good sign.  I was moderately drawn in when I first started to read, but as soon as Eva got a chance to go back in time, I thought, ah—now I'm interested!

The story continued to zip along in a readable fashion, but I did have some problems with it.  Eva's character seemed more like a vehicle for the plot that the other way round; I never believed in her.  One minute she is the pampered, submissive wife of a millionaire businessman, the next she is daredevil sleuth, able to talk her way into any private location, and mixing with the criminal underworld without turning a hair, to the extent of having sex with them for information (and enjoying it despite the guy having had a knife to her throat, but I'm not even going to go there; the cocaine she'd taken, alone, would make her paranoid and agitated in this situation).

I was dubious about some dialogue (the way one of the female characters talks about sex would make Samantha from Sex and the City cringe) and unconvinced by some events; for instance, before she goes back in time, Eva is around 60 years old, but gets hit on/approached for casual sex every time she enters a bar to have a drink.  However glamorous and well-kept a woman of that age may be, I found this a little unlikely.

One other point is something the author might want to consider for future work of this genre.  Later in the book, Eva is caught driving under the influence of cocaine.  There was a detailed chapter about her court appearance, ending with the news report about it on TV.  Why not just cut the whole court thing, and start the chapter with the news report, ending with a paragraph or two about how she felt, watching it broadcast to the world?  That would have given all the information the reader needed, and let them get on with the more juicy stuff, like infidelity, deteriorating marriage and underworld dealings ...

... because it is a rip-roaring tale, and not badly put together at all, generally. 
The basic idea is great, though I didn't feel enough use was made of the fact that she was living her life over again; I expected more references to the past, and perhaps the steering of other events, too.  It's a bit like a watered-down Jackie Collins (that's a compliment, by the way!), but, alas, I need to be convinced by and become totally involved with the characters in order to really enjoy a book, and Eva never came alive to me.

To sum up: the author has much of the skill and writing style for this genre, but it still needs a bit of fine tuning!




Saturday, 30 March 2019

STORYTELLERS by Bjørn Larssen @bjornlarssen #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, but I'd been interested in it since seeing the author talking about it on Twitter, so I bought a copy when it came out, anyway.

In a Nutshell: Icelandic history set in the 1920s, with moments of subtle humour.

I loved this book - it was a delight to read, an unusual debut novel by a writer with much talent.

The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his 'medicine' (alcohol).  One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again.  From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.

Meanwhile, Gunnar's life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways.  I loved these women - the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read.  The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, amusingly executed as it is.

This is actually a story within a story - the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime.  Threaded through Gunnar's own tale is another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers.  Both stories are so compelling.

 
As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.  

The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing.  The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered.  In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a 'page-turner', was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.

The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*.  I was, at first, going to knock off half a star because of some editorial errors that may not concern many readers - a few Americanisms, the odd word used incorrectly, and phrases/words too modern for the time.  However, English is not the author's first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don't want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders, and which I believe will be remedied soon.

This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.

Bjørn Larssen writes about Iceland 99 years ago 





Author Bio:

Bjørn Larssen - writer, blacksmith, mathematician, graphic designer, model (not all at the same time) was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine, Edurada.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.

Bjørn used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.



Thursday, 28 March 2019

THE LOUDEST SILENCE by Kate L Mary

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've read stacks of this author's books and actually can't keep up with the rate at which she writes them!

In a Nutshell: Zombie apocalypse, nine years in, set in Oklahoma.  Possibly YA.

A new zombie apocalypse series, set in the same world as the fabulous Broken World series, but in Oklahoma, starring Reagan, a 21-year-old who has been taken care of by her brother's best friend, Kellan, since the collapse occurred, nine years before, when their families all died.  They're now in a secret underground shelter, with four others - I liked that three of the characters actually come from one of the short stories in Broken Stories - love this sort of detail/connection.

Kate Mary is as readable as ever, and this story zips along, with some great new plot ideas that make it stand out from the usual collapse/survival/fight off zombies and scary people scenarios - I liked, too, that it started nine years in.  

Ms Mary does incorporate a fair bit of romantic suspense into her post apoc stories - a warning for those who don't like this element.  Whereas I was mostly fine with it in the Broken World series, because Vivian and Axl's relationship was so heartrendingly real, I wasn't so keen in this one.  Like, we knew they were going to end up together, so I didn't need to read about Reagan's frustrated hormones and Kellan's avowals of 'I have to keep you safe' every few pages; I was keen to get back to the survival/danger aspects.  But perhaps that's just me, not being into romantic suspense.  If you are, you'll love it.

I didn't find the characters quite so compelling in this story as the previous series, but I still kept reading because I loved the setting, the plot is excellent, and she writes so well.


Friday, 22 March 2019

THE WIRE RECORDER by Thomas A Levitt #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.

In a Nutshell: character drama spanning several decades, dealing with sociopolitical issues of mid-twentieth century America.


I was attracted to this book because of the great title, the great cover, and the blurb that spoke of the 1951 campaign to root out communists in the US film industry, something that interests me greatly.  Mr Levitt writes well, and the book flowed along nicely.  I did like much of it, hence the 4 stars, although it was not the book I expected.

The anti-communist witch-hunt is dealt with in a brief fashion in the first ten per cent, after which the novel is about the life of Sophie Hearn, the daughter of Larry, who suffered under the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) campaign.  Running alongside Sophie's story is that of Steve, whose parents were also involved; I found his early development one of the most compelling parts of the book, especially as it took place in a time when developmental disorders went unrecognised.

Mr Levitt creates the atmosphere of 1960s California so well, I would imagine from personal experience, and many of the incidental characters come alive immediately, particularly in their dialogue.

The reason I didn't enjoy the book quite as much as I had hoped is that there was not much actual plot; it is more of a biographical account of Sophie's life, with chapters dedicated to the social issues of the time.  Throughout, I kept waiting for some real conflict, or suspense; opportunities for drama were missed, with any problems (one character's excessive use of marijuana, and, later, the logistics of a mixed race marriage) being resolved quickly and easily, within a page or two, almost as if the author had a checklist of issues to be mentioned.

I enjoyed reading Steve and Sophie's experience at their student parties (and the ridiculous dialogue of the hippie idealists was extremely well done), but few of the scenarios tied together, events happening in isolation.  I wonder if there was perhaps too much material for one book; the author has dealt with not only the HUAC campaign, but also the newly permissive 1960s, sexism, drugs, the women's lib movement, living in a commune, new teaching methods, racism, the difficulties of mixed race marriages, employment problems—all this is crammed into one medium-length novel, whereas any one of those subjects would make a great basis for a story all on its own.  This is a debut novel, and I know it can be a temptation to play all your cards straight away!

The bulk of the book is about Sophie running an experimental school, and her subsequent difficulties in finding a post in a 'public' school.  Sadly, I never got a sense of who Sophie was, though Steve was a rounded, three-dimensional character.

What kept me turning the pages was the writing style, which is extremely readable, the entertaining snapshots of particular aspects of the era, the fact that the author clearly knew his subject matter so well, and the excellent dialogue in the portraits of incidental characters.  In the last fifteen per cent, too, there is more of a coming together of Sophie and Steve's lives, a little more suspense, and an explanation of why and how they were affected by what happened to their parents at the beginning of the book.

To sum up: as a fictional account of the sociological history of the era, this is a most fascinating book; for those who are looking for a plot-driven novel about the HUAC campaign and its affects, though, not so much.



Thursday, 14 March 2019

HERE AFTER by Sean Costello

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

In a Nutshell: Man whose son has just died goes on a mission to find the son of a friend who has been abducted.  Paranormal element.

I was attracted to this book because I'm a sucker for a cover with a road going into the distance, and I made the decision to buy because the reviews are so good.  I didn't realise until later that I'd read an earlier book by this author, Squall, that I thought only so-so; this book, though, is in a different class.

The early part, when main character Peter is dragging himself through his days after the death of his son, is so well done and believable.  I'm not usually much of a one for death-in-family dramas, but this is very readable.  At a group for parents who have lost children, he meets Roger, whose son was abducted.  Roger is a mess; aggressive, drinking too much.  Peter begins to see a connection with Roger's son and another boy abducted previously.

After the great start I felt my enthusiasm for this book ebb and flow; sometimes I was really enjoying it, other times I thought it needed a bit of editing down, as there is a fair bit of detail that I found too long-winded.  Then I'd start to enjoy it again, particularly in some terrific bits of dialogue with some people Peter meets on his search; small town types, and a great section in which some the policemen on watch outside another abducted child's house are killed.  You know when you read a few pages and find yourself sitting back, thinking, wow, that was good?

One thing I did like was that the paranormal element (only minor) is not over the top; it was just kind of touching.  And he never tried to explain it, which absolutely worked for me.

The last third of the book is the best, really gripping, and the plot unfolds in a way I would never have guessed; it would make a great TV series.  I definitely recommend!




Friday, 8 March 2019

THE CLEANSING by Anton Eine @AntonEine

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: SciFi short story 

I liked this story - it's clever and well written.  Unusual, too - it consists only of dialogue, with no dialogue tags, between two beings (aliens) in a space ship, many miles from our galaxy, and many millions of years (one presumes) into the future.  

The aliens' mission is to wipe out any life on Earth, but as they look into the future of humankind they become increasingly intrigued by the way in which we have fought to survive pandemics, invasion, wars, all manner of natural disasters; they're especially interested in the way we have documented our history in intricate detail.

The story held my interest all the way through; it ticked boxes from imaginative to funny, and I thought the chosen method of execution, ie the dialogue, was inspired.

Please note: I have since heard from the author who told me that I totally missed the point of this, ie, that the book is set in the present, and the aliens are watching our films, thus seeing the disasters, etc.... never mind.  I enjoyed it as it was, anyway!!!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

NOT HERE by Genevieve Nocovo

3 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: Mystery/thriller set in San Francisco.

Dina Ostica, a 23 year old podcaster living alone in San Francisco, has a troubled background after escaping a difficult relationship.  The mystery begins when her friend, an old hippie who is her go-to source for material for her podcasts about life in and the history of the city, disappears.

I thought the atmosphere of the city came across as most authentic; it is clear that the author has a fine knowledge of the place.  I liked the subject matter; Dina's story was very 'current', with issues raised so relevant to this part of the 21st century.  The problem I had with the book as a whole, though, was that it felt rather flat.  There were too many irrelevancies that were not woven into the story, like what people wore and what they ate, intricate detail about gym sessions and mundane conversational exchanges.  Dina is written in the third person, in such a way that we never experience her inner thoughts; we are told how she feels, or what she thinks about something, but I felt that I was being supplied with information, rather than getting to know a character.

The plot is well put together (aside from the fact that I couldn't work out how Dina hoped to make enough money to live on from podcasting), the ideas are interesting and the book is professionally presented, but the writing itself needs some work if this series is to become memorable.  The information was all there, such as what a place looked like and what happened after what had happened previously, but I never felt involved in the story or the characters.

I believe this is the author's debut novel.  It is competent and the basics are there, with some excellent plotting and slow build of suspense; she just needs to work on really getting inside the head of her characters, seeking ways to make her storytelling more captivating, and her dialogue more realistic, character revealing and interesting.




SHADOW OF PERSEPHONE by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

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How I discovered this book: I love this author's books and she has instructions to let me know as soon as a new one comes out!

In a Nutshell: the first in a two-part series about Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

Gemma Lawrence has given an interesting and unusual view of Catherine Howard in this first book about her life, which starts when she was sent to be brought up at the house of her grandmother, Agnes Howard, from the age of around seven, and takes us right through to her wedding to Henry VIII.  Ms Lawrence gives a thorough explanation, in the back of the book, about why she sees her not as the frivolous, superficial butterfly who knew little and cared less, but as a abused, lonely child, damaged by her early experiences, who, though not academically educated, was intelligent, clever, and used those experiences to gather her wits about her for what was to come. 

As with all Ms Lawrence's books, this spares no historical detail.  In the first twenty per cent, when Catherine was child and the country was caught up in the saga of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, there is much talk of what was going on at court.  This is conveyed mostly in staged conversation between Agnes Howard and the Duke of Norfolk (almost like a play), and although it is interesting, and relevant to the world in which Catherine would eventually find herself, I looked forward to getting back to the story of Catherine.  As the novel progresses, her own life soon takes centre stage once more, and I was completely engrossed; it was one of the those books that got better and better as it went along, and by 80% I was trying to read slowly to make it last longer

The second half of the book concerns much about when Catherine went to court, and the Anne of Cleves fiasco.  This part was particularly fascinating to me, as I have only read a few accounts of the second and more fortunate Anne, the true winner in the tale of Henry VIII's six wives.  I loved the court gossip; much of the tale is told in this way.  

Few reliable accounts about Catherine Howard exist, and if I sometimes thought that Ms Lawrence wrote her as more mature, analytical and intelligent than one imagines her, this all made sense in the notes about her at the back, where Ms Lawrence gives a highly convincing argument for the young Howard girl having far more savvy than history would have us believe - you've won me over to your way of thinking, Gemma!  If you already know the story of Catherine, it might make sense to read these first.

The novel tells us much about the lot of women in those days - even if rich, from a 'good' family and in possession of much beauty and intelligence, their lives were never their own, with their futures completely at the whim of men's wishes and politics.  Those who survived and gained some happiness were masters of the game, or simply those who were in the right place at the right time - but even clever souls like Anne Boleyn and Catherine could not get every move right.  Maybe the cleverest of all were those who understood their lot and didn't try to assert themselves - like Anne of Cleves.

This was a fine book, and I am already counting the days until the release of the second part.