Monday, 11 January 2021

The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster #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: Family drama covering WW1 and WW2

This book, for me, went from nicely readable and moderately interesting, to absolutely unputdownable, and back to moderately interesting.  The first narrator, in the present day, finds a secret horde of papers belonging to his recently deceased, ninety-five-year-old friend Katie Samson, from which he surmises that her husband had been married before.  At this point, although not enthralled, I thought, well, this is certainly no chore to read, being nicely written and with the possibility of a great story to come.

...and whoosh, there it was. I turned the page to the POV of Hilda, the first wife, and the book bloomed, opened up, emerged from black and white into glorious technicolour.  Hilda's story went back as far as her grandparents' experience in San Francisco Gold Rush days, and on to the making of that city, the role of women in the Victorian era, life in a small Bavarian village, changing times and growing problems in Europe, to do with Germany's place in the world - I was gripped, all the way through.  Hilda and her grandmother were so alive, and aside from being a great story with wonderful characters, it was historically informative.  Fascinating.  Loved it.

Next came Katie's POV, and at first I still liked it a lot, as I read about her family tragedies, the aftermath of WW1 and Berlin's 'Roaring Twenties', the effects of American's Great Depression on the rest of the world, the Nazi party's growing control, and her and lover Josef's route out.  Then the lead up to the WW2 ... and I'm afraid it all went a bit flat for me, lacking in emotion.  The threat to Josef, a Jew, was described as 'very unsettling';  I read of an escape into the woods when Nazis arrive at their door, and their luck at being able to move from one place to another just in time, before the Gestapo established travel restrictions, but there was no drama or sense of danger.  Hilda told her own highly compelling story with the history as the backdrop, as did Katie at first, but the latter part felt impersonal, as though she was just listing events.

I was disappointed by my disappointment, if you know what I mean, because I loved the book so much earlier on; for instance, Katie's only brother, Karl, joins the Nazi party and gains a position of authority, but that's all—we never hear about him again; I'd hoped for a storyline about this.  There was a twist at the end, but it felt a little rushed.  

Four stars on Amazon because Hilda's part was absolutely 5* plus, and because the author writes in an extremely accessible fashion, so that even the parts I liked less were no effort to read.  I would recommend it to readers who like a family drama and are interested in reading about the history of the times mentioned - and it's worth getting just for the middle section.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Finally A Vegan by Stephanie Jane @Stephanie_Jne

4 out of 5 stars


On Stephanie's Etsy Shop
On various online retailers listed here on books2read
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I know the author from Twitter, and was most interested when I saw that she'd written a book about becoming vegan

In A Nutshell: A mini-memoir about how Stephanie went from omnivore to vegan, what it means to her, and also lots of recipes.

First, a bit about me!  I 'made the change' in 2016 - I was a meat eater, never considered trying anything non-dairy.  Then I watched the film Cowspiracy, which made me realise that by eating meat and dairy products I was supporting industries that wreck the planet and inflict harm on animals.  I thought, I don't want to be a part of this; it was as simple as that.  I went vegan overnight and without fanfare; for the first week or so ate only toast, potatoes, vegetables and hummus.  Gradually, though my range expanded, and a year or so later veganism became trendy - suddenly there were all sorts of products available.  I'm not interested in cooking, so I need things that can be made quickly and without fuss!  For anyone who is interested, I've made a list of good supermarket vegan food HERE.

I don't call myself a vegan - I don't buy leather and use mostly vegan-approved toiletries, but not always, and I do have the odd 'normal' chocolate! My actual meals are almost always totally vegan, and I have non-dairy milk, cheese, yogurt and butter; I'm a 90% plant-based person, that's all!

Now, the book:

Stephanie, on the other hand, has embraced the subject with a great deal of thought, and wholeheartedly.  In this book, she talks about her own eating habits over the years and her gradual shift from being an ominivore to vegetarian; it makes for most interesting reading and is written in a conversational, friendly tone that I liked very much.  She also details the events and books that led to her eventually taking the plunge, and her own first Veganuary food diaries.  You'll find her recipes for basics such as roti flatbreads, dips, hummus, nut roast and many more. 

Going the extra mile, Stephanie gives advice on how expensive (or not) veganism may be, and addresses the health benefits and potential problems to look out for, kitchen tips, the leather and plastic issue - there is a chapter called How Vegan Do I Want To Be?

To sum up, it's a complete vegan lifestyle handbook, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is vegan-curious, or about to start out on Veganuary this year!


Saturday, 26 December 2020

My Top Ten (and a little bit more) Books of 2020

That time of the year again....

Usually I do a Top Twenty, but I haven't found so much reading time this year.  Out of the fifty-five-ish books I have read or started to read (not all of them reviewed on this blog), I have chosen my ten favourites, which is actually twelve, because two of them have a sequel or related book that I liked just as much.  They were not necessarily published in 2020, but this is when I read them.

At the bottom are three other books that were my nearly-favourites, so it's really fifteen, I suppose!  Please note - when reviewing, I may on occasion give a book 4.5* or possibly even 5* because I feel it is worthy of that rating, even if it wasn't quite my thing; I try to always review objectively.  This list, however, is made up simply of those I loved the most.  

These are in no particular order, but they all come with my highest recommendation.  If you click the title of the book, it will take you to my full review, with Amazon and Goodreads links.


The Heretic Wind by Judith Arnopp

~ Tudor historical fiction ~



The Covenant by Thorne Moore

~ 19th/early 20th century historical fiction ~



Rum Hijack by Phil Motel

~ Contemporary Drama ~

and

Plumas de Muerte by Phil Motel

~ Memoir ~




Abandoned Pennsylvania by Janine Pendleton

~Photography, with non-fiction historical text~



Cometh The Hour by Annie Whitehead

~6th-7th Century Historical Fiction~



Fame & Fortune by Carol Hedges

~ Victorian Murder Mystery ~



The World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard

~ Post-Apocalyptic ~ 

and 

The World Without Flags by Ben Lyle Bedard

~ Post-Apocalyptic ~





(I said 'no particular order', but, okay, the following are my top three 😉)


Smile of the Wolf by Tim Leach

~ 10th Century Icelandic Historical Fiction ~


The End of the Road by Anna Legat

~ Post-Apocalyptic ~


Nest of Ashes by Gemma Lawrence

~ Tudor Historical Fiction ~


*

I'd also like to give a mention for these three, that almost made the top ten:

Obsession by Robin Storey

~ Psychological thriller novella ~


Singularity Syndrome by Susan Kuchinskas

~ SciFi/Climate Change/Dystopian ~


Gorge by Katherine Carlson

~ Dark Contemporary Fiction ~




📚 Happy Reading! 📚

Thursday, 24 December 2020

THE SHADE UNDER THE MANGO TREE by Evy Journey

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.  I couldn't resist that gorgeous cover, even before I read the blurb!

In a Nutshell: Romance and family dramas, set in Hawaii, California and Cambodia

This book was not as I expected from the blurb.  I did enjoy much of it, even though I was expecting to read about human relationships in general, travel, adventures in and the cultures of countries far away; however, this aspect of it does not start until Part 5, at 72% in the Kindle version.  For the most part, this book is a romance.

Luna and Lucien are two rather humourless, intense young people, both so introspective that I felt the powerful love between them was more about seeing a reflection of themselves in each other.  They meet because Luna leaves her journal in a café they both frequent, and Lucien finds and reads it.  I liked the beginning of the book, when Luna is young and spends her summers with her beloved grandmother in Hawaii; this came alive for me, making me feel nostalgic for a place I had never been to, which is always a good sign.  The grandmother was lovely, and I enjoyed reading about the life there.  As Luna grows older, falls in love for the first time and discovers secrets about her family, her naïveté is a little irritating, and I found Lucien's obsession with her and her journal a little creepy.

I could easily have skipped the drawn-out detail about their love affair to get to by far the most interesting part of the book: Luna's experiences in Cambodia.  I had limited knowledge about this country, and what I read made me want to find out more, so this certainly ticked a box.  

As for the writing itself, it flows very well, and the author writes nicely, though I found the dialogue rather unrealistic, particularly between Luna and Lucien. Much of the book is written in journal entry and letters between the two main characters, a structure I like, and alternates between their two points of view.  I found the main characters too bland to care much what happened between or to them, but this is only personal taste; other readers may see this story as a beautiful romance.  Had there been more about Hawaii and Cambodia and less about Lucien and Luna's self-absorption, I might have loved it.



Saturday, 19 December 2020

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I've read loads of Blake Crouch books and hadn't bought one in a while, so I took an Amazon browse and decided on this one.

In a Nutshell: Parallel lives and time travel.

Scientist Helena's life's work is making a memory device - a 'chair' - that can extract memories from the brain and store them.  The purpose of this is to help her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's.  Out of the blue, she is approached by entrepreneur Marcus Slade, who wants to fund her project.  She little realises that Slade has other plans...

Barry is a cop whose daughter died when she was fifteen; this death led to the break-up of his marriage.  When his world collides with Helena's, the fate of the entire human race is affected.

I admit to getting slightly lost with the science in this book, as I didn't absolutely understand how the reliving of memories could work in the way they did, though this is perhaps because I found it difficult to think of time as anything other than linear; I'd be about to grasp it then not understand the next bit.  It amounts to time travel, as Helena goes back to her sixteenth birthday over and over again, in an effort to alter the catastrophic outcome of the technology that she created and Slade misused.

I did enjoy reading it, and I liked all the parallel life stuff; it is clear that this book has involved an incredible amount of work and thinking through, and I love the way Mr Crouch writes, generally, but it's not my favourite of his books (my favourites are Abandon, and his collection of short stories, Fully Loaded). I found it overly complicated, and ended up just reading it as a story without trying to understand exactly what was happening.  It has a good ending, which I always appreciate.



Tuesday, 8 December 2020

JANE IN ST PETE by Cynthia Harrison @CynthiaHarriso1

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: Light mystery set in Florida

Art lecturer Jane Chasen is recently widowed and moves from Detroit to live within a community in Florida.  Shortly after her arrival, she admires a neighbour's unusual art installation - but then a murder takes place.  Detective Jesse Singer wants her help when dissecting the art angle of the case, and together with friend Kim and neighbour George, Jane sets out to help solve the mystery.  Also involved is FBI agent Barb, who has a special relationship with George.

It's clear from the book that Ms Harrison is familiar with this part of Florida, and she makes it sound idyllic.  There is quite a lot of most interesting detail about Jane's loveless marriage to the late Stan, and I couldn't help feeling glad for her that she was able to start this new chapter in her life, despite the difficulties with her daughter, who accuses her of being glad her father is dead.  Jane is fifty-five; I very much liked the way in which she is not written as an 'older woman', but simply how your average fifty-five year old is, these days - still wearing cool clothes, being up for adventure and new experiences, and a new love relationship.  She could have been any age from thirty to sixty-five-ish.

The novel is nicely written, perfectly presented, and a cosy 'easy read'; the sort of story to be relax with after a long, busy day.  Good for women who want to read about older female main characters - and I must just drop this quote in, that I really liked:

'Jane felt bad for George. Young people didn't get it.  Love wasn't fate or soul mates, it was just hormones that evaporated with time.'




Wednesday, 2 December 2020

BETRAYAL: Historical Stories by Judith Arnopp, Cryssa Bazos and more

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: Twitter

In A Nutshell: A collection of historical long-short stories by various authors, all on the subject of betrayal.

This is a fine collection—it is rare to find an anthology by many authors without a weak moment here and there, but this is such.  The stories follow on through time, chronologically, starting with Death At Feet of Venus, set in Roman times, by Derek Birks, and ending with a modern day story featuring alternative history, The Idealist by Alison Morton. 

The stories you like best will depend on your preferences for writing style and the periods that interest you most; my favourites were House Arrest by Judith Arnopp, about Margaret Beaufort, who is one of my historical heroes—I highly recommend Ms Arnopp's series about her, incidentally—and Love to Hatred Turn'd by Annie Whitehead, set in the 10th century; Ms Whitehead has that knack of making you feel as though you are sitting within the king's great hall in the kingdom of Wessex, as you are reading.  I also very much liked All Those Tangled Webs by Anna Belfrage, which covers the time in 1330 just after Edward II had died, and Road to The Tower by Elizabeth St. John, about the lead up to the imprisonment of Princes Edward and Richard, who famously disappeared from the Tower of London.

I bow with respect to all involved.  Highly recommended.