Saturday, 21 September 2019

INTRIGUE & INFAMY by Carol Hedges @caroljhedges

5 GOLD 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 would have bought it anyway because I adore this series!

In a Nutshell:  Mid-Victorian murder mystery, set in London.  Book 7 of a series of stand-alones.

Loved it, loved it.  When I got to 80% I found myself slowing down because I didn't want to read it too quickly.  In this 7th book of the series, racism rears its ugly head, showing that it is far from being just a 20th and 21st century problem.  Stride and Cully must deal with a series of arson attacks on businesses, and the brutal murder of an old Italian man.

Elsewhere, socialite Juliana Silverton is thoroughly enjoying the attention received since her engagement to hedonistic rich boy Henry Haddon, her delight marred only by a secret from the past ... and the appearance of Henry's younger half-brother's new tutor.

This book is as expertly structured as the rest of the series, and includes similarly colourful characters and the ever-present chasm between rich and poor, so much a theme in all the books - and in certain areas of life nothing has changed; young aristocrats with powerful connections are able to get away with the most heinous of crimes, just as they always have been and are now.  

Although illustrating society's problems in the most deft way, Ms Hedges does not fall into the cliché of making all the privileged characters the 'bad guys'; I was pleased to see a happy outcome for one, in particular.  I guessed the perpetrators of the crimes quite early on, but this didn't matter a jot; the joy of reading these books is the writing itself, the vivid pictures of 1860s London, and the slow unfolding of sub-plots.

I can't help but think of what star rating I will give a book while I am reading it, and this was a solid 5* all the way through, but what earned it my extra 'gold' star was the end twist that I never saw coming.  It was beautifully executed, and made me smile as I realised how other aspects were explained by it.  

If you haven't read any of these books, I recommend you start now - and I hope this is not the end of the series....



Monday, 16 September 2019

THE ECHO CHAMBER by Rhett J Evans

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: SciFi, dystopian techno-thriller involving AI and social media

What I liked:
  • The author has talent; this a most original novel that makes some interesting points in an intelligent and well-informed fashion.  Basically, he can write good sentences, has a fine handle on suspense, and uses words creatively.
  • It is clear that he really knows his subject: Silicon Valley, the dangers of AI and dependence on social media; how it is now so ingrained into our culture.  The Echo Chamber shows a good understanding of the future that is just around the corner, some of it already happening; the manipulation of our thoughts and prejudices by the media, the lack of security concerning the data we give out so freely, and its use by AI to re-order the population.  This is all stuff I love to read about, and some of which I have written about myself, so certain aspects had me engrossed.
  • It is inventive; I was impressed by the world put together within the pages, and the insight.
  • There are some great twists.
  • It's well professionally put together, and decently proofread.
  • The author has something to say.  This, I think, makes a novel more than just a story.

What I was not so sure about
  • It's very technical in parts; as I've said, I have an interest in the subject matter, but some of it I found rather heavy-going.  I think that if you don't have a quite good understanding of new technology, much of it might go over your head.
  • The structure: it goes back and forth between 'Before' (the collapse of the US) and 'After', with other 'Outside Time' sections.  I'm usually a fan of going back and forth between different periods, but in this case I think a linear structure would have worked so much better.  I kept enjoying the 'Before' parts, then being dragged out of it to read about different characters and situations, 'After'.  This hampered the flow, and made it definitely not an 'easy read'.*  I wondered, at times, if it was experimental for the sake of being experimental.
  • The dramatic event and its fallout, when it happens, is dealt with so quickly - instead of seeing it experienced from character point of view, we are just told about it, in a brief fashion, by a narrator.  
  • Most of all - there is little or no characterisation.  I felt as though the author had thought up a brilliant plot, but added the characters as an afterthought.  Mostly, they're just seem like names on the page, as vehicles for what he wanted to write about.  Only one is at all three-dimensional (Orion). 

This is a debut novel, and, as I said, I can see that Mr Evans has talent and a great deal to say, but I think he needs to take some time to learn about writing as a reader, and understanding that characters are central to any story - because readers react to what happens in a fictional world because of how it affects the people they're reading about, not because of the events themselves.  It does, however, have a few stunning reviews, so if you're madly into tech rather than people, you might love this book.


*When I was writing my novel Tipping Point, about certain powers-that-be using data given freely on social media to determine who would survive a virus, I originally used the alternating between before and after structure, until, during the second draft, I realised how frustrating it was to read; I'd be enjoying the build up of suspense as I was redrafting, then be taken out of it to read about a scenario months later.  With so many styles being commonly used these days - multiple POVs, both 1st and 3rd person narration, time-slips, etc, it can be easy to complicate for no particular reason; sometimes, the simple format of just telling a story from start to finish is the most readable.  Not always, but sometimes.

Friday, 13 September 2019

THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads
On BookBub



How I discovered this book:  I didn't so much discover it as awaited it with baited breath after reading The Handmaid's Tale.

In a Nutshell: A dystopian Christian fundamentalist America - what happened next.

Fans of the TV series should not expect the continuing story of June, for this long-awaited sequel is a different version of the story, in which June features only in occasional references.  This is the written/spoken testament of three people: Aunt Lydia, Hannah/'Agnes' (the daughter of June/Offred), and one other person whose name I won't reveal because it would be a major spoiler.

The book is written in alternating chapters between the three, dotting from one to another with little indication of who is speaking, at first, or the exact timescale, though you get used to this.  All three stories held my attention absolutely, all the way through - and I loved the inclusion of a group that doesn't feature in the TV series.  The Pearl Girls are missionaries to other countries to recruit for Gilead, and are essential to Margaret Atwood's new plot.

Any negatives?  Only very slightly - the path of Hannah/Agnes means that she knows no world other than Gilead, of course, and although she is something of a rebel in her head, she is bound to have their belief system ingrained within.  At the beginning there was little difference between her 'voice' and that of the third POV, but she becomes more devout as she grows up and follows a route other than the one her 'parents' chose for her.  The story speeds up in the last third, and the change in her seemed to come too suddenly.  I was unsure about one aspect of the continuity, too, as the three POV stories converge. 

Despite any slight misgivings, this book was even more compelling than I had hoped, faster moving and with more action and events than The Handmaid's Tale, and gives more indication of what really goes on in Gilead, and how fragile the whole structure really is.  Also featured is a backstory for Aunt Lydia that is different from the one on the TV, and just as interesting.  Highly recommended - if you loved the prequel and are an addict of the TV series, you'll adore this.


 

Monday, 2 September 2019

BY THE FEET OF MEN by Grant Price @MekongLights

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: Dystopian, post climate change

I was really impressed by this book, set during an unspecified time in the future when all that has been predicted about our destruction of the planet's ecosystem has come to pass.  Across Europe, meagre supplies of fresh water, medical supplies and other essential cargoes are delivered between settlements by 'Runners' - the drivers of huge trucks.  The stars of this book are two of these Runners, Ghazi and Cassady - who are called on to make a delivery to deep in the Italian desert, where scientists are working on a way of reversing the 'change'.

'Standing in their way are starving nomads, crumbling cities, hostile weather and a rogue state hell-bent on the convoy's destruction'

I read the paperback version of this book, unusual for me as I prefer to read on Kindle, but I'd just like to say how well-presented it is, and I am pleased that I now own it.  

As for the story itself, the world-building is terrific, totally believable, inventive and clearly well-researched, with details building up gradually to present a full picture of this fantasy world that may or may not be a taste of what lies ahead for humanity.  The atmosphere is just as it should be for a story about a dying planet; it's raw, dark, sinister, and there is also a certain strength, cameraderie and resignation of their circumstances between the characters that keeps you rooting for them.  Aside from anything else, they know only the world they now inhabit; they refer to the actions of the ancestors who destroyed the world within which they now have to scratch an existence.

This is only this author's second published novel, and he clearly has a lot of talent.  Definite recommendation for anyone who is interested in this genre, or loves reading about resolute men and women overcoming adverse circumstances in a hostile landscape.



 

Monday, 26 August 2019

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've read one of Margaret Atwood's dystopian books before, Oryx and Crake, and liked it, though, like thousands of others, I was inspired to read this after watching the TV series.

In a Nutshell: Dystopian, set in an imaginary former America, in the 1980s

If you're one of the five people in the world who haven't seen the TV series,
much of America has become 'Gilead', ruled by Christian fundamentalists and cut off from the rest of the world; this is the story of one of the 'handmaids', rare fertile girls forced to bear children for high profile couples after sterility has become commonplace.

The story is told in the first person by 'Offred', though in the book we never have her real name confirmed, or that of her child.  It is slow in pace, especially at first, but this does, of course, reflect the pace of her life.  I did wonder, during the first few chapters, if anyone reading the story without having seen the series might take a while to appreciate it or even understand what is going on, as the world in which 'Offred' now lives is revealed to the reader only gradually.  I adored this book, all the way through, and couldn't read it fast enough, though I did feel frustrated by the lack of explanation - but when it comes, half way through, it is all the more shocking to find out how the 'normal' world became Gilead.


Although written in 1984, the story is chillingly prescient; Offred talks of the false flag* operations, designed to create fear within the people, so that they will not complain when their privacy and liberty is taken away ... then there is the lack of paper money, with transactions made only via 'Compubank'; another withdrawal of privacy and removal of a person's ability to stay anonymous.

Even though the people are kept relatively safe, they are fed, and have comfort and adequate medical attention, it is the the removal of liberty and the ability to communicate, and the ever-present, underlying threat should one not comply with all rules, that makes this the worse sort of horror story.

Obviously the TV show has ratings to think about, and so the story develops differently; viewers will want some happiness and resolution for June/Offred, some reconciliation, and a 'personal journey' for her, in which she grows, positively - but this was written in a time before heroines were required to be kick-ass.  The end is left open for almost all the characters... but after it finishes there is a great addition to the book that rounds it off in a different way: a transcript of a lecture given in the year 2195, talking about all that is known about the Gileadean era, much of it from Offred's account.  

Good news for those who, like me, can't get enough of either the book or the telly version - the long-awaited follow-up, The Testaments is out on September 10th.  





*...countries organize attacks on themselves and make the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus giving the nation that was supposedly attacked a pretext for domestic repression and military aggression.


Saturday, 24 August 2019

ENTERTAINING MR PEPYS by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Deborah Swift is one of my favourite authors, and she very kindly offered me a review copy, but I've bought it on pre-order anyway!

In a Nutshell: 17th century historical fiction, set in London.

What an excellent trilogy this is!  Three books set in the Restoration era London of Samuel Pepys, with him as a secondary character. I think #2 is still my favourite (actually one of my favourite books of the past ten years), but I loved this one too.

This is the story of Mary Elizabeth 'Bird' Knepp, a young woman stuck in a ghastly prison of a marriage, until one day she goes to the theatre, and knows straight away that this is where she is meant to be.  But this is no drudgery-to-diamonds historical romance, despite her flirtations with Pepys; it's 17th century London at its most filthy, squalid and hungry.  Each time I read one of Ms Swift's books set in London during this time, I think 'I really must read Pepys's diary - I really AM going to, this time!

The book is not just about Bird, but also Livvy, her Dutch maid, living in England at a time when being Dutch is almost as bad as being Catholic.  Then there is Stefan, a young theatre player who realises something about himself when he is no longer allowed to play female parts - and Christopher Knepp, Bird's taciturn husband.  There are some other wonderful secondary characters, too, such as Knepp's cantankerous old mother, and Bird's horribly superficial father - and 17th century theatre itself; such a vivid, fascinating picture is painted.

The climax of covers the last twenty per cent, with the Great Fire of London - I was utterly gripped all the way through; it brought the horror of those days to life in the way that no other account I've read ever has.

The books intertwine but are complete stand-alones, so you can read them in any order.  They're SO worth reading; I read this in three days because I didn't want to put it down.  Do give this series ago - you'll feel as if you're in Pepys's London with the turn of every page.  Honestly.


Monday, 19 August 2019

LIPSTICK by Peter Davey @PedroYevad

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter

In a Nutshell: Infidelity and mystery in glorious French locations

This is a book to download for a beach read, for anyone who hasn't gone on holiday yet!

Antoine Cassernet has it all; a prestigious banking career, good looks, a beautiful wife, three children, homes in Paris and the Normandy countryside, and a string of lovers.  Then he becomes entangled with unstable film producer Madeleine de la Cruz, and his perfect life is thrown into disarray. 

I loved the settings of this book, and am sure that the author must be familiar with several of them, as the exotic French feel of the story seemed so real, not one borne of research.  A novel based around multiple marital infidelities, there is a slightly tongue-in-cheek essence to to the whole story that I enjoyed.  As far as the mystery is concerned, I had suspicions about the outcome early on, having read a couple of books years ago along similar lines, but then my thoughts were led down several different alleys and I changed my mind - many times.  Suffice to say that the characters are keeping many secrets, and they come out gradually, one after another, to reveal complicated layers of motivation.

I will tempt you further by saying that the cover doesn't do the book justice; the author's skillful pen conjures up such an appealing picture of Parisian jet set glamour and French country houses in the summer, and I would love to see some of that reflected on the cover.  It's an easy, fun read - recommended!


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

FAT BOY by Joseph Cobb

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: Contemporary drama, humour, sometimes dark.

Fat Boy was not what I expected from the blurb - it's actually an experimental sort of structure, more a series of short stories, poems and scenarios than a novel, though they do tie up later.

The setting is mostly the English West Country, though it may not be one you recognise, with its humorous and fantastical characters.

Joseph Cobb clearly has much creativity and a good eye for the absurd, leaning towards observational humour.  I think this book has potential, though it needs further editing.  There are many delightful turns of phrase, amusing metaphors, funny situations and comic book characters, but some areas felt a little 'first draft', with lazily structured sentences and rambling paragraphs that simply needed more attention.  The book as a whole comes over as somewhat haphazard, as if the author's many imaginative ideas have been splashed across the pages without much thought for cohesion; I couldn't work out, at first, what I was supposed to be reading; was this a book of short stories?  Was Chapter 2 related to Chapter 1?  I even looked at other reviews to see if it was just me, but they were all one-liners, so didn't afford any insight. Chapter 3 was written in poetry format, about yet more characters who appeared again later in the book.  The poems were amusing and well put together, for the most part.

To sum up, I'd say that that Fat Boy has much to commend it, but I would recommend further redrafting to tighten it up, and perhaps the assistance of an experienced content editor to streamline and cut the superfluous, thus highlighting its strengths.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

KILL CODE by Clive Fleury #RBRT

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: Climate change, dystopian, set on the west coast of the US 

At some time in the relatively near future, climate change has affected the world in such a way that those who can afford good food and fresh water live in protected zones, with the majority of the population struggling to survive.  Hogan Duran is a former cop scratching a living, until he is given the opportunity of a lifetime with the NSC - the all-powerful National Security Council.  

I loved the first 40% of this book.  The world-building was terrific, and I was engrossed.  When Hogan gets his life-changing opportunity, he and many other candidates are put through a 'last man standing' series of tests, which was also a real page-turner; this part was great, original and gripping.  Later, there is a jaw drop of a twist when he discovers that his experiences are not as they seem....

The second half of the book is mostly taken up with action scenes and daring escapes, as some of supposed 'goodies' come up against the Krails, a rebel biker gang.  Here, I found that my interest wandered; I rarely find that action in books works anything like as well as it does on screen; there is too much explanation of 'this happened then that happened', and much of it seemed like the stuff of superheroes rather than a man who has been undernourished for years.  I was also unconvinced by the escape in the last third of the book, when the all-seeing people in charge suddenly seemed not so all-seeing after all, enabling Duran and his friends to do all they did.

I thought the characterisation of Duran was extremely well done in the first half of the book; I could really see him.  However, I often find in action books written by men that the women are just men with a female name, or a one-dimensional kick-ass heroine fantasy who is naked as often as the story will permit; Ruby was never more than a word on a page for me.  Also, the plot delves in and out of virtual reality, which was sometimes confusing.  

I liked the ending, and may possibly check out the next in the series because I like the premise, but I'd have preferred it if the book had concentrated more on the characters and less on the outlandish action plot of the second half.


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.