Monday 10 June 2024

SIDESTEPS TO THE SOMME by Valerie Poore @vallypee

 5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read lots of this author's books, so, with my own interest in WW1, this was an obvious choice!

In a Nutshell: Travels by barge along the Western Front, with Val and her other half, Koos.

Sometimes I wish Val Poore's books had photos, though more than anyone else, the way in which she writes makes one able to 'see' the places, and certainly feel the atmosphere.  As ever, this book made me long to travel down those little side canals (I'm sure I'd be 'sidestepping' all the time, too!), off the beaten track, as it were.  A perfect way to live.

There were so many lovely tales in this book, one of my favourites being Koos and Val's impromptu musical session in a disused factory.  Koos is fascinated by derelict industrial sites and is a fine photographer - I too have a strange attraction to the derelict and abandoned, so I looked up some of his photos on YouTube via his unused TwitteX profile; they're HERE, if you would like to see.

Best of all, though, when browsing his YouTube profile I happened across this gem - I thought, hang on, I just read about this!  It's a lovely piece of music - oddly mournful, made me think of peasants dancing in a Polish village, decades ago (for some reason).  

Back to the book ... another passage that stood out for me was Val's visiting of some of the WWI graves.  She remarked on how the German dead were commemorated there too - because, of course, those poor boys and men weren't the enemy at all.  That label belongs to the generals, bankers and industry moguls whose own greed and megalomania caused the deaths of so many, for ... nothing much at all, really.  Talking of which, I loved Val's comment about Napoleon's aptitude and foresight when it came to building the canals of France - that he should have been an engineer, not a megalomaniac.

At the end of this piece in the book, Val was joined by a grey mare, who stood there and silently contemplated the graves, with her.

It's a beautiful book about a beautiful two months.  Informative, wistful, entertaining - a delight.


Monday 3 June 2024

PSITTACIDE by @ZebHaradon

 5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: a favourite author, have read Book #1 of the series.

In a Nutshell: The crazy world of 2172

Psittacide is set 150 years in the future, when former stand-up comedian Jim Liu navigates the world of American politics in which authenticity and any real values or integrity are forgotten relics of the past.  And if you think that sounds pretty much like 2024, with all potential leaders resorting to blatant lying and any desperate tricks they can to discredit the opposition, you wait until you meet Silas Blackwolf and Oliver O'Shea.

The shifting of political stances means that the Democrats have become conservatives and the Republicans the liberals, which made me think of the main UK parties, whose lines have blurring for many years now; who knows what their agenda(s) will be in 2172?

In the future world between these pages, most of the bad stuff predicted by the cynics/realists of the current day has happened - drug dependency and sex clubs are the norms (Jim and his girlfriend keep a sex robot under the bed), the attention span of the masses has shortened to the extent that a writer of Blankpage books can win a prize for literature - Karl's process is to think up a concept, brief outline and title, let his terminal design a cover, and publish.  That's it.  'Other than the summary of the plot on the back cover and by Karl on the front, all pages would be blank'.  Fake has become real: actors don't need to be present to act in films, politicians don't have to attend vote-winning activities, whole civilisations can be artificially created for the screen - anything can be rendered to look as if it actually happened.  Populations live in virtual reality without knowing it.

Sometimes it seems as though this novel is a comment on/lampoon of events and people in the present world, other times just the product of Mr Haradon's entertaining thought processes.  The title refers to the strange diseases affecting parrots everywhere.  Those genetically modified parrots, that is, who play such an important part in the new world.  I loved the observations of one character who predicts the worrying rise of the parrots, now that racism is a thing of the past (as everyone is, in 2172, a mixture of ethnicities).

I liked it more than the first book in the series, which I found a bit scattered.  I look forward to Book 3, Bubblequake - which refers to the bigger inside than outside residences (like the Tardis): the bubbles.

It's great - and may make you glad you were born in the 20th century.

Saturday 18 May 2024

ONE TUESDAY, EARLY by Annalisa Crawford @AnnalisaCrawf #RBRT

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: mysterious psychological drama.

A curious and interesting book that kept me turning the pages from the outset.  Finn and Lexi have been together for five years and have their ups and downs, until one morning after a drunken night when Lexi wakes up in a strange, alternative reality.  From Finn's point of view, she's disappeared.  Left him, and everything else in her life.  The chapters alternate from his and her points of view, with Lexi's being written in the second person, which should have felt awkward but for the most part worked very well.

As the story goes on, we see Lexi stuck in this strange place in time, and Finn dealing with his life without her - or not dealing with it.  I realised what was happening to Lexi about half-way through, though the ending still held plenty of surprises.  The book is extremely well-written and edited, nicely paced, and Ms Crawford can certainly tell a tale.

It's a particularly hard story to review without giving spoilers, but the next part might be a bit spoiler-ish, so please be aware!

The entire story spans 20 years, and I was quite a way through before I thought, hang on, why isn't this woman's disappearance being investigated more thoroughly?  By the police, and her aunt, who'd brought her up and was like a mother to her?  By her close friends, who loved her?  Nobody appeared to do anything other than ring up Finn to ask him if he'd heard from her.  This bit didn't ring true for me.  If realistic investigations had been carried out, the plot would have fallen apart.  I still enjoyed it, though, and was able to suspend my disbelief.  Mostly.

Monday 13 May 2024

THIS WHITENESS OF SWANS by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: A favourite author; I read most of her books as they come out

In a Nutshell: Book 1 of The Surface and the Deep series, about Anne of Cleves

A most fascinating exploration of the wife of Henry VIII that we probably know the least about, showing that she was so much more than just a wife of Henry VIII.  She was, after all, the survivor, to a far greater extent than Katherine Parr, who lost and suffered a great deal more at the hands of the tyrant king.

Ms Lawrence has portrayed Anna of Cleves as I imagined her to be: more like the version brought to life by Joss Stone in the TV series The Tudors, than the 'Flanders Mare' of legend.  Educated, moral, reserved and dutiful, and quite realistic about her expectations of Henry, in this first book which covers the period from her childhood until her journey to England.

I very much liked reading the folk tales and the imagery of swans (I just love both the cover and the title of this book!) used in the narrative, particularly on, and also the part where her father dies; this was so poignant and real.  The whole story had a feel of three princesses in a fairy tale castle, somehow, though of course the real world kept invading.

I did feel that the book was a little research-heavy, particularly in the first half, in which much information about events elsewhere is given to the reader by way of dialogue; I felt this could have been trimmed down.  However, I enjoyed the final third of the book much more, and await the next episode with bated breath!

Monday 6 May 2024

LIVE AND LET by Judith Barrow @judithbarrow77

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I know the author, saw this advertised on Twitter

In a Nutshell: A short memoir, mostly to do with holiday lets.

I loved this, thoroughly enjoyed reading it!  The main part of the book is a collection of the author's experiences with some of the people who've rented her holiday flat over the years - very funny, often so strange (and unexpected!) that if they were fiction you'd say they were too far-fetched.  But there's nowt as queer as folk, as I am sure Judith and her husband would agree (and yes, my guess is that Party Guy wasn't actually a vicar at all...).

To give the book more context, Judith has written a short autobiography, that explains why and how they came to live in Pembrokeshire and turn part of their house into a holiday let.  Then there are the strange comments left in the visitor's book, the poignant tale of Auntie Olive, and a short story with a most effective and unexpected end.

This is a lovely little book to which I was glued all the way through, immersed in Judith's world - it took me one and a half hours to read, and is currently on sale at just 99p/$1.25.  Worth under a quid of anyone's money!

Sunday 28 April 2024


I saw this idea on Between The Lines book blog and put together my own April list.

Now, May - not as easy as you might think!

My chosen five come highly recommended :)  

Click title for my review.


Monsters In The Mist by Tom Williams


Above All Others by Gemma Lawrence


Had to cheat with this one as I don't appear to have read any books beginning with 'Y'!

New YORK 1609 by Harald Johnson

PRIDE & PESTILENCE by Carol Hedges

 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: Book 11 of the Victorian Detectives murder mystery series

Eleventh book in the series, and I have not given any of them less than five stars!  Pride and Pestilence sits up there with the rest, a hugely enjoyable tale of social climbing scoundrels, unscrupulous journalists, class wars and weary detectives aiming to sort the urgent from the time-wasting, the villains from the victims.

Detective Leo Stride has now retired, but finds himself all at sea; researching old police records for the purpose of writing his memoirs is a welcome escape from bumbling around helplessly in the social and domestic world inhabited by his wife, and also provides an irresistible opportunity to sidle into in some of Cully and Greig's new cases.  Is he still needed?  Of course he is!

The discovery of a plague pit within a building site sparks off rumours of a resurgence of the pestilence of 200 years earlier, and the way in which the tabloid press use this to instil fear into the public (and sell more papers) is most entertaining, and indeed echoes events of a more recent time.

It's great.  Loved it.  Read the whole series, starting now!