Sunday, 19 June 2022

THE MUD MAN by Donna Marie West #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:  Anthropologist Veronica finds prehistoric man frozen but still alive in a thawing bog.

An interesting book!

What I liked:
  • The story idea; it was the blurb that attracted me.  What a great premise!  Wanting to know what would happen kept me reading all the way through.  I thought the gradual, slow way in which the man's recovery was described was very well thought-out.
  • The fact that the author made something that sounds crazy unrealistic come across as totally feasible.  I was impressed by this from the beginning.
  • The amount of research that has clearly been done, into every aspect of this story, and the way it was woven seamlessly into the text; I never felt as though I was reading Ms West's research notes, as one sometimes does.  Every part of the Mud Man's recovery and development felt authentic.
  • The 'easy read' quality of the book; the scientific aspects are explained so that anyone can understand them - and learn something.  I found some of the explanations most interesting.
  • The ending: it was fitting, and I'm so glad the author didn't make it schmaltzy.

What I was unsure about:
  • The tone of the book, which is a little twee at times and I felt would be more suited to light 'women's fiction' or even a sweet romance.  The writing style didn't seem right for a book about this subject matter; Veronica didn't come across as a respected academic, to me.  
  • There was too much mundane detail.  If a character is having a day at home, we don't need to know what she did unless it is plot relevant, or pertinent to her character development.  Lists of information telling us what she ate for breakfast, that she rang her mother, cuddled her 'kitties', then ate such-and-such for lunch, etc., come across as superfluous.  There was too much needless detail about what people ate and drank, throughout.
  • Mud Man Dom's way of speaking.  Surely the amount of time he spent with people educating him would have resulted in him able to speak in more than childlike monosyllables, which became monotonous to read after a while.
  • How some characters are described as 'African-American'.  It seems odd, if you're not also pointing out every time someone is of Asian or Caucasian origin.
  • The way in which Veronica (and others) looked on Dom as subject matter to make her rich and respected in her field, even down to exposing him to the hell of TV and chat shows.  
Having said all that, I did want to keep reading, all the way through, because of the storyline itself.  It's not a bad book at all; I just think it needs a firmer hand!

Monday, 6 June 2022

THE LAST PRINCESS by Shelley Wilson @ShelleyWilson72 #TuesdayBookBlog

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  Disclaimer: I know the author and was excited about reading this book, but this has in no way affected the content of the review; if I had not liked it, I would not have reviewed.

In a Nutshell:  YA historical, Vikings and Saxons.

I'm mad for anything about Vikings and Saxon history, and some of this book is set in an area near where I live, so I was looking forward to it.  From the way Shelley Wilson talked about it on social media as she was researching and writing, I had a feeling it would be good, and it is.

First of all, I am aware that I am decades older than the target market; I would say it's quite young YA, as it would be the sort of book I'd have loved when I was 12 or 13, and if I had a young teenage daughter I would be happy for her to read it.  I tried at all times to read it with this in mind, though it's a cracking story whatever age you are, and I very much enjoyed it.  There is one scene that is a bit more sexually explicit than I expected, but no more so than some books available in children's libraries today.

(I mention reading it with its target market in mind, because some reviews on Goodreads appear to assess it as if it were an adults' book, which must be so frustrating for both author and publisher.)

The Last Princess is loosely based on the 9th century taking of the Northumbrian throne by Aelle, starting with the murder of King Osberht, his brother.  Whether or not Shelley Wilson's Edith, the daughter of Osberht, existed, I don't know; little is definite about that period.  This novel is about her life as a Northumbrian princess, the loss of her family, and the many adventures that took her from a slave ship to Viking battlefields.   It's got the lot: fear,brutality, love, hardship, betrayal, loss - I would actually like to read a longer version for AA (actual adults!), because I  enjoyed it so much.

Edith's growth and change throughout the story is believable, and my favourite character was Jarl Aaric, the Viking leader who becomes an important part of her life.  One aspect about it that I loved was how it didn't talk down to the reader, or try to push forward certain narratives, like so much in YA-orientated fiction (written word and TV) these days.  Ms Wilson has not shied away from the brutality of the time, or given her characters present-day attitudes.  In the 9th Century, people were far more close to death than we are now, and this is reflected.

Any negatives?  Only the occasional use of the word 'gifted' where 'given' or 'gave' would have done just fine; it's an Americanism that should have been pounced on by the editor.  However, apart from wincing each time I read this (and do bear in mind that it's a pet hate of mine - you may not mind it!), I wholeheartedly recommend this book - if you have a teenage daughter, buy it for her now - she will love Edith!

Sunday, 5 June 2022

PRIDE'S CHILDREN: Purgatory by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon
On Goodreads

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

Kary is a writer with more than her share of emotional baggage.  Andrew is a charismatic leading man, while Hollywood princess Bianca fears that her star might be fading, and hopes to keep it shining alongside the presence of Andrew.

Kary suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and this novel certainly gives the reader an insight into what this debilitating illness involves, and the restrictions it imposes on the life of the sufferer; also, I felt it gave the story an unusual slant.  Kary can't afford, emotionally, to fall in love, but she reckoned without meeting Andrew on a New York talk show - and then the New Hampshire town where she lives is chosen as the venue for Bianca's new film; here the three lives become emotionally entangled.

Ms Ehrhardt has such an entertaining writing style, easy and conversational.  The narrative is presented in alternate points of view of Kary, Andrew and Bianca, enabling the reader to immediately connect with each of them - my favourite structure.  Pride's Children: Purgatory is the first of a trilogy, but is complete in itself.

At times I felt the book could have used a tighter edit, to remove some of the detail that slowed the story down, and just to make the narrative more succinct, but it's still well-written and a jolly good story.

Monday, 23 May 2022

WHAT WAS ONCE HOME by B K Bass @B_K_Bass #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

4.5 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:  Post-apocalyptic, alien invasion, set in southern USA.

Jace Cox is a young teenager when the 'twigs' invade - and after one August day in 2034 his life will never been the same.  Fast forward a few years and he's part of the militia fighting against them.  A few more years, and the town of Lewisburg has been reclaimed by its inhabitants, with Jace as its the sheriff - but the troubles are far from over.

Although I'm first in line when it comes to a post apocalyptic book, I wasn't sure I'd like one about an alien invasion, thinking it might be too comic book-like.  But this isn't.  B K Bass has made the subject totally convincing, and I really enjoyed it.  It's got a great structure that kept my attention throughout - although the main story is told from Jace's third person point of view in the early 2040s, there are occasional flashbacks to earlier, and also excerpts from the autobiography he wrote as an old man.  Aside from this, I loved the 'interludes' - sections told from other points of view in other areas, for a wider look at the situation.  These diversions from the main story were perfectly placed, and I could see how well thought-out the whole book is.

Bass has an easy writing style, creating good dramatic tension with a feeling of foreboding.  Every aspect of the book feels feasible, from the people who take charge in the new Lewisburg, those who want to be guided and given instructions, the fighting force, to the independent who want to do their own thing outside the walls - and, of course, the opportunity for the power-hungry to take over.

One small aspect I appreciated was how Jace, having been so young when the twigs arrived, knew little about life outside his immediate environment.  At one point an older person referred to a settlement as a 'hippie commune', and Jace didn't know what he meant.  I loved that!

This book gives food for thought about war versus murder, what is 'right' when it comes to defending your home and your people, what it takes to live in harmony alongside those who are different from you, and leaves a couple of unanswered questions, which made me think that another book, perhaps after Jace's time, would be most welcome.  I'd most certainly recommend What Was Once Home as a fine example of the post-apocalyptic genre.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

FORTUNATE SON by Thomas Tibor #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon
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: Coming of age story set in 1970, on a college campus in southern Florida.

Reed Lawson has a lot on his plate - he's juggling college and membership of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), and his much revered father has been MIA in Vietnam for three years.  Then there are the droves of anti-war demonstrating hippies on campus, calling people like himself and his father 'warmongers'.

When circumstances lead him to volunteer at a community project giving help to people with drug and emotional problems, he falls for Jordan, a strident feminist and peacenik.  His life also becomes entangled with a younger girl with serious emotional and family problems.

I enjoyed reading this; the storytelling itself is fine, the characters are clear and three-dimensional, and the author certainly knows how to write convincing, appropriate dialogue, a talent I believe is innate - I didn't wince once, which says to me that the knack probably comes naturally to him.  Reed's conflicting emotions about his father, and his reaction to discoveries about his parents, were extremely well written.  Also, there were a few excellent passages about the time and feel of the era:

'The interstate had opened a few years ago.  Motels, fast food joints and gas stations mushroomed at each exit, sprouting garish oases in the rural countryside.  His mother hated the trend, predicting the country's regional charms would be bulldozed in a few decades to make way for chain stories and restaurants that peddled the same brand of blandness in every state.'

'He felt a kinship with all who'd travelled before him on thousands of miles of highway, which had replaced dirt roads, which covered trails hacked from raw wilderness.  Generations of restless Americans, forever on the move.  Pushing west, pushing south, yearning to go anywhere that promised to be better than where they came from.'

Although it's a good book and I liked it, I thought it could have been cut down by about ten per cent to make it tighter; it's quite long, and a fairly slow unfolding.  Also, the reminder of the era's culture was a little over the top - the frequent indication of what song was playing on the radio or floating out of a student's window, the way everyone's conversation revolved around drugs, Vietnam, feminism and their own existential crisis, constantly.  It became a little repetitive after a while.

Having said that, I would most definitely recommend it as a solid human interest novel and a good story, particularly if you remember or have an interest in the era.

Monday, 25 April 2022

UNDEAD by Mark Brendan #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: Three macabre novellas of blood, terror and the living dead

In the first of these horror novellas, a man falls foul of the Spanish Inquisition and finds himself on a curious island where he comes under threat from unhuman terrors.  The second tale is about a necromancer in the eighteenth century, and the final one about some members of Napoleon's forces stationed in Northern Africa, who are looking for a way out of their situation.

All three stories are highly inventive, and I very much enjoyed some aspects of all of them.  My favourite was the last one, about the French deserters; this one really kept my attention and I was engrossed.  The atmosphere of the time was so well written, and I particularly liked the early scenes at the site of the battle.  I also liked the sections of the first one where the hero is a galley slave. The stories are fairly gory but not unnecessarily so; it worked.

I felt that the book, as a whole, could have done with a better copy editor/proofreader, as there were some wrongly used words and many punctuation errors, mostly missing vocative commas.  The content editing is fine; the stories flowed well and were told in a way that kept my attention. It was just the incorrect punctuation and other errors that should have been picked up, that distracted me.  Also, I felt that on several occasions the dialogue was too modern for the relevant periods in history.  Not horrendously so, but I think an experienced copy editor could polish them up to something first rate.

Friday, 15 April 2022

DARK HUNTER by F. J. Watson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 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: 14th Century murder mystery set in Berwick during the wars with Scotland.

This novel's background is factual; it centres around the early 14th Century territory wars between Scotland, led by Robert the Bruce, and England with its ineffectual King Edward II.  

Squire Benedict Russell has joined the English-held garrison of Berwick-on-Tweed, but soon finds that his attention is taken up by the murder of a young woman from a good family; he is given the task of finding her killer.

Rather than the murder mystery, it was the setting and the era that made me choose the book, as I love reading about both Plantagenet history and wars, and have been to Berwick several times.  I did guess the identity of the murderer early on, but this did not matter because, for me, Benedict's sleuthing activities came second to the book's greatest strength: the intricate detail about the people and how they lived, their customs, beliefs, every day life, all woven so seamlessly into the narrative, which flowed so well.  I've rarely read a piece of historical fiction that put me so much in the place and time.

There are a lot of characters, many with similar names so I admit to getting a tad confused at times.  I didn't know which were real and which were fictional; a short 'afterword' might have been useful, so that the reader could discover which fictional characters were based on actual historical figures, etc, and what happened afterwards (though I did hit the internet for more information after I'd finished the book!).

F J Watson must surely be something of an authority on the history of the town; I'd say this book is a must-read for anyone who lives in Berwick and is interested in its past.  Fascinating; one of those novels that makes you want to go back in time and see it all. 

Incidentally, I discovered on my first visit to Berwick that most consider themselves staunchly English, to the extent that some pubs and shops have the English flag in the window, though everyone I spoke to behind bars and shop counters had a Scottish accent :)