Sunday, 17 September 2023

BROKEN by Anna Legat @LegatWriter

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read another book by this author, The End of the Road, and loved it, so I wanted to read more.   

In a Nutshell: psychological thriller, murder mystery and ... paranormal

This is the strangest book, but in a really good way!  You know when people write 'kept me guessing until the very end' in reviews?  This one absolutely did - even at past 90% I had no clue how it was likely to pan out, or how the points of view would come together.

There's a serial killer, yes, and we don't know the identity, but this turned out to be almost secondary to the stories of Camilla, a middle-aged, middle class housewife, and Joseph, a motorbike and narrow boat loving priest.  The way their stories mesh together is so clever ... and unexpected.  Everything about this book is unexpected, all the way through.  The paranormal element came as the biggest surprise, though to say any more would be to give spoilers.  It creeps up, gradually; I'm not usually into that genre but this seemed curiously believable.  Suddenly I found I was reading a different book from the one I started.

The line 'the real monsters are disguised as humans' becomes increasingly relevant, as the true psychopath is revealed...

Anna Legat's writing is a treat to read.  Never jarring, intelligent, highly readable, the characters jumping off the page.  Definitely recommend.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL FROM THE PRAIRIE by Darlene Foster @supermegawoman

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Read about it on Sally Cronin's blog

In a Nutshell: See cover!

This book is an absolute delight, and made me want to go back to the 50s and 60s to live Darlene Foster's childhood!  It's unusual for me to give 5 stars to a short book of short stories, but I was completely absorbed by this, an insight into a world so different from my own.  I could have easily carried on reading more, and was sad when it ended.

Darlene grew up on a farm in the prairies of Alberta, and some of the stories tell of her family and how they got to be there in the first place (A Tale of Two Katharinas - fascinating).  My favourite story was A Hero in a Pickup Truck, about her late father, which reminded me of my own.  I also loved Warm Hugs, about her 10th birthday and her love for her grandmother.

Darlene's deep attachment to her family shines through in all the stories, which are so beautifully written.  By the end of the book, when I read that they'd all, at different times, moved to the city, I felt nostalgic for a life I'd never known.

Loved it.  It's a real gem - and you can make the family photos larger on the Kindle version, in order to study them!

Sunday, 3 September 2023

THE SHADOWS WE BREATHE Vol 2 - an anthology by Sarah Brentyn @SBrentyn and others

 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: an anthology of short prose, on the subject of health.

Sarah Brentyn has edited as well as contributed to this collection; other contributors are D Wallace Peach, Georgia Bell, Ruth Daly, Ali Isaac, R A Kerr, S Mitchell-Jackson and Allie Potts.

The first part is 'flash' fiction - short stories of 500 words each.  All were emotive and beautifully written, my favourites being Sanity by D Wallace Peach, Bar Made by Sarah Brentyn, Barbed Wire in the Palm of my Hand by Ruth Daly and Extended Performance by Allie Potts.  They cover subjects of both physical and psychological health, as do the shorter pieces.

The second part is a section of 'micro' fiction: snappy 50 word stories. My favourites were The Fall by Sarah Brentyn and Reflection by Ali Isaac.  After this is a collection of very clever 'microbursts' - stories of just 10 words.  The group wrote with these prompts: Never, Insignificant, Discover, Lose, Reach, each of the microbursts including the relevant word.  In a way I felt that these showed off the talent of the authors most of all; to be able to tell a story in such a controlled fashion is quite a feat, and so strongly illustrates the power of words. 

This is a lovely book to read all at once or dip into.  There is not one weak contribution and it is beautifully presented, with a photo and bio of each author at the end.  Well done, ladies!

Sunday, 27 August 2023

THE MIND'S EVIL TOY (The Life and Death of Amy Dudley) by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: A favourite author, was looking forward to it.

In a Nutshell: Historical fiction with a fantastical element.

Amy Dudley, neglected wife of Lord Robert Dudley, walks through the story of her life with him ... after she has departed this world.  She is led from place to place, from situation to situation, by her companion: Death.  The purpose of this journey is to uncover the truth, and thus allow her to rest in peace, behind not only her mysterious passing, but the crumbling of her once happy marriage, as the love between Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I deepens.

I'm not into the genre of fantasy at all, but this book worked for me so well.  I loved it.  It didn't feel like fantasy as such, I think because the events portrayed really did happen. 

Amy and Death discuss the machinations of her husband and his ill-fated relationship with the queen, shown to them via their invisible presence in scenes from the past.  I found this a perfect way to tell such a story; a straight fiction from the points of view of Elizabeth, Robert and Amy would not have been half so compelling.

The twist on the likely truth behind Amy's demise is clever and interesting, written in the mode of any good murder mystery, though the notes at the back of the book reveal the author's actual thoughts on the matter (I too am in agreement with the general opinion).  However, this is not all the book is about.  It's the story of a love that couldn't be, of ambition and deceit, of the Queen's triumph of sense over passion; it makes one ponder an abandoned woman's lot in such times, and also the value of life itself, with some wise observations from the not-at-all-demonic Death.

'The wisdom of others should never be ignored, but it should also never be followed with such slavish abandon that we forget to use the matter of our own minds'

'All things must end, that is the way of things. But other beings than me, grief, bitterness, resentment, these are the true enemies, for they steal life still there to live.  They make people think life, this precious and unlikely gift, is not worth living, and the worst of it is, it is a lie and people are tricked into believing it.  I am not the enemy, just the end.  Those who steal away life from those still living, they are the enemy'

It is observations such as these that reiterate to me why Gemma Lawrence is so successful at her chosen profession.  Well done.

Sunday, 13 August 2023

FAST CASH by J Gregory Smith #RBRT

 3.5 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: Vigilante justice to avenge scammers.

This is book 4 in a series; a look back at my reviews tells me that I read and liked Book 1 back in 2018.  I can't remember anything about it, as I read a lot and we're talking five years ago, so this was like being introduced to a completely new scenario. 

Did it work as a stand alone?  Yes and no.  I felt there were far too many characters mentioned in the first few chapters, to the extent that I couldn't keep straight in my head who they all were, and many of them were introduced with a quick backstory, but it was all too much information.  It was like starting to watch a film half way through and having to keep nudging the person next to me and saying, 'So who's he again?'

Main character Kyle is at the centre of a raggle-taggle group who operate outside the law, targeting scammers and other crooks.  This time, they're up against some Indian call centre cheats and the extremely suspect Sweat Equity, a crooked pyramid scheme disguised as a great opportunity for those down on their luck.  I loved reading about this, and the ghastly pair who run the outfit; I actually thought the story could easily have centred just around this.  As it was, I felt there was almost too much plot, which necessitated much of the book being in dialogue, as one character explained stuff to another, and thus to the reader.

Having said that, I did find all the scam info fascinating; how they operate, how Kyle's mate VP worked out systems to foil them.  Also, I very much liked the writing style, which is conversational, intelligent and often amusing; it just needed a bit of paring down and sorting out, I think.

Monday, 7 August 2023

WE THE LIVING by Ayn Rand @AynRandOrg

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I watched a documentary about Ms Rand, after which I knew I had to read this.

In a Nutshell: A love story set in the Communist USSR of the 1920s, first published in 1936.  Rand says it is not a book about the Russian Revolution; this is just the setting.  However, from a reader's point of view, it is indeed a novel about just that, expressed through the eyes, lives and minds of the characters.

This is one of the best books I've ever read.  Kept feeling excited about going back to it.  The main character is Kira, from Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg) who, as a child, migrated to the Crimea with her wealthy family when the revolution took hold.  Some years later, when the Red Army reached the Crimea, the family returned to Petrograd (which became Leningrad after Lenin's death), to find everything they had owned and known gone, under the new regime.  Like everyone else in the city, they were forced to live a meagre, dangerous life, frequently with not enough to eat.

Kira falls in love with Leo, also of the former bourgeoisie; their attraction is instant and intense.  The story follows their lives and the paths they and their families and friends choose in order to survive under the punishing Communist regime.

Many of the 'white' Russians who fled their homeland, like Kira's parents, considered the situation temporary, and thought their former lives would soon be restored.

The novel is widely considered part-autobiographical; it was written once Rand had managed to escape to America.  She writes about life in Russia as she experienced it, of the increasing threat to anyone who did not want to accept the new order.  Aside from being a warning to the world about the evils of Communism, however, it's a masterfully written story about love, sacrifice, survival, tragedy, about the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature, about fear and courage, those brave enough to suffer for what they know is right, and good versus evil.  It's neither preachy nor black and white; the basically brave and courageous can make bad choices.

I've read around the Revolution since finishing it, and discovered that the widely purported idea that it was an uprising of the downtrodden masses against the tyranny of the hated ruling classes is a myth.  It was actually crafted and funded by wealthy financiers from Germany, Britain and the US. Quelle surprise.

Monday, 31 July 2023

FIFTEEN FIRST TIMES by D G Kaye @pokercubster

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book
: Twitter

In a Nutshell: Memoir; the author looks back at early life experiences, in the form of short essays.

I so enjoyed reading these snapshots of D. G. Kaye's life, growing up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s - partly because I discovered that she is just two months older than me, so it's a world I know about ... mostly!*

I love the conversational aspect of the essays; the way Kaye writes is so readable, so down-to earth that it's like she's talking just to you, from the first kiss to the first love, to the first car and apartment, and, more seriously, the first bereavement of someone her own age.  This one was so heartrending that I found myself missing Alba too, a woman I know only from this one short story.

I think the piece that made me smile and nod the most was the 'first diet' - years of yo-yo dieting and obsession with what is put in one's mouth, the bane of many a young (and not so young) woman's life.  The daft things you try to lose weight.  

It's definitely a generational thing; I remember my mother (born in the 1920s) telling me that when she was a young woman, you were just the shape you were, and you didn't give it a great deal of thought.  In the late 1940s and 1950s most people were slim anyway, before advertising got serious and the world was filled with junk food - and when self-control was considered virtuous.  I grew up with the idea that to eat too much is greedy, as Debby must also have done.  Unlike these days, when young women are encouraged to indulge in 'guilty pleasures', with celebrity role models flaunting excess weight.

Back to the book!  It's great, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone, from those who can relate to Debby's experiences and younger women who want to know what life was like in mum and/grandma's day!  It's not that long; you could probably read it in a couple of afternoons.  Ideal for a nice bit of holiday reading, too :)


*Although I found it all so relatable, there are many cultural differences that I thought about while I was reading.  Who'd have thought that growing up in a middle class home in the English East Midlands could be so different from a middle class home in Toronto?  

For instance ... the beginning of the dreaded 'monthlies'.  I knew all about it because my mother sat me down with a book called 'Where do babies come from?' when I was nine, and I think we were taught about it at school.  My first kiss was later, my first adult relationship earlier.

My generation in England tended to move out of home as soon as we were able to support ourselves, renting tatty furnished flats that we found in newspaper adverts, that inevitably had no heating or a dodgy old electric fire.  I left in 1978 and shared a house with a friend.  It cost £11 per week; I earned £31.  It was rare that anyone my age had a car - learning to drive at 17 (16 in Toronto) was only for the school goody-goodies!

Ah, the 1970s, when everyone smoked ... I didn't grow up in a smoking household, but started tentatively when I was 14 and properly when I was 16.  It was just something you did, if you were one of the non-straights ('straight' meaning something entirely different back then!).  It went with drinking and rock music and going to see bands - almost everyone I hung around with smoked.  And we all drank underage too, and pubs never asked for any sort of ID.