Monday, 3 August 2020

DIABOLICA BRITANNIA by various authors @serialsemantic @john_f_leonard @kabauthor #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: through Twitter, though it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member; thus, I am reviewing it for Rosie's blog, too.

In a Nutshell: Anthology of horror short stories by various authors, proceeds to go to the NHS's Covid-19 research.  

I'm delighted to see that this anthology, for such a good cause, is still doing well on Amazon.  At just £2.99 or $3.77 (or equivalent, depending on where you are), everyone should purchase a copy!

Keith Baird, whose project this is and who published the book, has brought together a fine group of horror authors to bring you a selection of stories, all very different, that covers the wide range of the horror genre as a whole, so there's something for everyone. As with any such collection, some stand out more than others, though of course this is largely a matter of personal taste.

My favourites are the first and last:

Carreg Samson by Catherine McCarthy
About an ancient stone, all that it has seen over millennia, and the dark 'It' that counters man's greed and destruction of the earth.  Loved every word.

Call The Name by Adam L. G. Nevill 
Another story about the destruction of the earth by man, set forty years in the future; it's a long one, a fine way to end the anthology; fabulous.

Others that stood out for me:

The Secret of Westport Fell by Beverley Lee
A superbly atmospheric story set in the 19th century, about a young woman who, failing to find a husband, goes to live in the back of a dark, misty beyond to tend her ailing aunt.  

We Plough The Fields and Scatter by Stephanie Ellis
Eerie, sinister traditions in a remote village that doesn't want anyone to leave...

Linger by John F Leonard
A man is bequeathed a mansion by his father, who he has never met, and discovers it might be more of a curse than a gift.  What lurks behind that hidden door?

Even if the purpose of its publication didn't make it a 'must buy', it's worth getting for these five stories alone.  😈 😱

Sunday, 12 July 2020

MELUSINE by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: A favourite author, I always look out for her new books.

In A Nutshell: Book #2 of the Heirs of Anarchy series, about the Empress Matilda, daughter of and heir to Henry I of England.

So sad to see Matilda without her beloved Heinrich... the book starts with her unhappy marriage to the boy Geoffrey of Anjou; between them they were to bring about the era of the Plantagenets, with the later birth of their son, who would become Henry II of England (one of my favourite kings).

Matilda is very much a Lawrence heroine; born centuries before her time, independent, always questioning, deeply perceptive, self-critical, capable of much dark thought but with a great strength and capacity for love, and the belief that she can make great changes in the world.  This is a slower-paced book than the first, with much philosophical pondering and magical symbolism (which Ms Lawrence does so well), and also some delightful insight into the way in which the people lived. I love to read this, in particular, especially when she provides little snapshots of the lives of the common people.

My favourite part of the book was the last third when it stepped up a notch, with more events, such as Matilda's return to Anjou, her reconciliation and progress with Geoffrey, the births of their children and the conflict with her father.  This part, in particular, was fabulous, and I was completely engrossed.

Melusine ends with the news that Stephen of Blois has taken the English throne - I have long been fascinated by how this could be allowed to happen, and the struggle Matilda faced simply because she was a woman, so very much look forward to the next book!

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

THE WORLD WITHOUT CROWS by Ben Lyle Bedard @BenLyleBedard

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads
On BookBub

How I discovered this book: I read the stand-alone sequel, The World Without Flags, in my role as a reviewer for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, and liked it so much I bought this, the prequel, as soon as I'd read it.

In A Nutshell: Post-Apocalyptic, Pandemic/Zombies

In Ben Lyle Bedard's parallel universe, a pandemic known as the Worm swept across the country in 1989 and 90, ending civilisation as we know it.  The Worm turned people into zombies, some docile, a few 'cracked'; the dangerous sort who try to eat people.  I'm 'gimme gimme gimme' when it comes to any end-of-world scenarios, so I was looking forward to this.

The main character is Eric, a fat, shy sixteen-year-old from Ohio, who, some time after the pandemic began, begins a journey to an island in Maine, about which he has idyllic childhood memories.  He is making this journey on foot, and joins up with many others along the way, most importantly a little girl called Birdie, who is the main character of the sequel.  

Through the many events of this journey, Eric changes from chubby, self-conscious boy to a lean, hard, brave and sometimes ruthless man, who will do anything to protect those he cares for.  It's extremely well-written, a real page-turner, and though I could not always like Eric (I went off him big time after one particular incident), and there were a couple of editorial slip-ups, I still loved the book.

It's a great series, and I hope there will be more.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The World Without Flags by Ben Lyle Bedard @BenLyleBedard #RBRT

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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: Post-apocalyptic, 10 years after pandemic

I have an endless hunger for post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, but it has to be well-written, feasible, properly researched and edited, with great characters, realistic dialogue and a plot that keeps me turning the pages.  I am delighted to say that this ticked all the boxes.  I loved it.

It's actually a Book #2, but it's completely stand-alone; I didn't know of the existence of Book #1 until I looked up the Amazon links for this review.

Birdie is around sixteen (she is not sure of her exact age), and lives in the Homestead in Maine, where she shares a house with Eric, who she thinks of as her father.  She has only vague recollections of the Worm, a disease that hit the world a decade ago, around 1990, rendering most of the population zombie-like, though only a few 'cracked' and became flesh-eaters.  She is happy enough in her world - but then a traveller appears with news of a coming war between two factions, both of whom want to rebuild the country under their command.

This news leaves the community in a state of extreme anxiety, but worse is to come.  Much, much worse...

Most of the story is about a journey that Birdie must make to ensure her own safety and that of those she loves, through land she doesn't know, where she will come up against much danger.  The hazardous journey is a post-apocalyptic standard, but it works every time if done well, and this was.  It's exciting, unpredictable, and Birdie's development, as she learns more about the world outside her safe enclosure and finds much strength within herself that she didn't know existed, is a joy to read.

If you love this genre, I recommend highly; even if you think you don't, I still recommend.  Suffice to say that I've downloaded Book #1, and started reading it as soon as I'd finished #2.  One word of warning: it's rather gruesome at times.  Don't read it while you're eating.  I say this from experience.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Friend Recommendation

In a Nutshell: English photographer visits eerie New Zealand town.  Murder and mystery.

This book reminded me, at first, of films such as The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs, and also, slightly, of 1960s TV series The Prisoner.  Jack Coulson is a photographer who travels to the isolated, small town of Nesgrove in New Zealand, hoping to take the photograph that will go 'viral' and make his career.  He soon discovers that this is no normal town - especially when he finds out that, owing to a Facebook post about his trip, they're already expecting him...

Jack's personal demons are as much a part of the story as the mystery surrounding Nesgrove.  He is on medication for anxiety, had a traumatic childhood, and seeks validation through social media 'likes', on a neurotic level.  At first I thought he was going to be a bit of an irritating twerp, with his social media obsession and preoccupation with his emotional state, but threaded through the story are transcripts of his sessions with a counsellor, and I began to understand why he was so; also, I saw that he makes the perfect main character for this story.  Though the events in Nesgrove are terrifying, they also change his life in ways he could not have imagined.

I found this book a definite page-turner, with the grim atmosphere of Nesgrove and Jack's neuroses so starkly illustrated.  The writing flows well, the suspense builds at just the right pace and I read it quickly, eager to find out what would happen next; each event was unpredictable and at no time was I able to see which way the story was likely to go. 

The only part I was not keen on was the 'reveal' about the village: the reasons 'why', and Jack's final scene, which I actually read twice because I was not quite sure exactly what it was supposed to mean.  But that sort of opinion is purely subjective, and I'd still recommend this as a jolly good book.

Thursday, 4 June 2020


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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: Psychological/mystery/drama about five friends and their biennial reunions.

I chose this book from the review team list because I loved An Empty Vessel by this author, though this book is completely different.

For the past twenty years, Gael, Lovisa, Mika, Simone and Clark have spent every other New Year together, taking it in turns to choose the venue for a short holiday.  There used to be six of them, but Dhan died at their Y2K celebration two decades before.  At the time it was thought to be a terrible accident, but as the book progresses, we start to wonder if it was suicide, or even murder.

Interesting, interesting - and it is a testament to JJ Marsh's storytelling skill that I enjoyed much of this, and was eager to find out what happened, despite some issues I had with the novel as a whole.

The book is told in first person chapters from all five friends, and dots back and forth in time between the present and the various reunions of the past twenty years, which were held in many different locations.  To say I found the zig-zagging between time and locations confusing is something of an understatement; by half-way through I decided to stop trying to remember exactly where and when I was currently supposed to be, who was married to whom when, what already had or hadn't happened in the chapter I was reading, and just concentrate on the relationship dynamics, and the uncovering of the mystery.

One of the characters comments that if it was not for Dhan's death, maybe their friendship would not have endured.  I thought she was probably right, as much of the time they don't seem that keen on each other.  None of them are very likeable people (even the 'nice' one talks in humourless therapy-speak half the time), but I don't mind that.  I'd rather read about a sociopath than a saint any day; it's far more interesting, the only problem being not having anyone to root for when all the characters are self-centred, cunning and/or in denial about more or less everything. 

Aside from the chaotic timeline, I found it difficult to 'know' any of them, because each of their point-of-view chapters is written in much the same 'voice', despite their being of different nationalities, different social classes, etc.  Aside from the varying subject matter, the odd Americanism from Clark, and Simone being a manipulative, particularly nasty piece of work, they all use the same language, have the same speech patterns, similar mood, tempo, vocabularies.  Mika, Lovisa and Gael I could never 'see' at all; sometimes I thought I was reading Mika when it was Gael, etc.  I also found some of the dialogue unrealistic.

Having said that... (and it's a big 'having said that') I did enjoy reading this book, became immersed in the intrigue and thought the basic plot was great.  I liked the slow uncovering of each person's dark secrets, the truth about Dhan and the final drama, though it felt a bit rushed; I think more could have been made of it.  There were a fair few irritations (not least of all the reiteration of the current trend I've noticed on new, young audience TV shows: that out of any group of young people, fifty per cent of them will have casual sex with either gender at the drop of a hat), but I found that ... yes, I couldn't put it down.  It's a hard one to rate. Yes, I liked it.  Sort of.  Mostly.

To sum up:  The plot kept me interested throughout.  JJ Marsh's innate talent does come across, despite the book's weaker elements; although the characters never really came to life for me, I liked the story a lot.  So although I couldn't say 'yes, definitely, you must buy this', I also want to say, it's fun and original, and I did like it.  Mostly.  Sort of.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

THREADS by Charlotte Whitney

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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 set in 1930s rural Michigan

Threads is a set on a farm in Michigan during the Depression, about a family struggling to survive.  The novel is told in alternating first person points of view of the three daughters: Flora, who is seventeen, Nellie, the youngest, who is seven, and Irene, somewhere in the middle.  Nellie is a tad wild, with a vivid imagination; Irene is a rather smug goody-goody on the surface, but is clearly suffering from 'middle-child syndrome', while Flora is very much the 'big sister', nearly an adult, who sees how the world works outside the concerns of the other two.  Each sister's character is clearly defined, with her own distinctive voice.

The novel is primarily concerned with the way of life of that place and time; it is character rather than plot-driven, an illustration of the family's immediate world and their fears, joys and struggles.  These people were POOR.  If you've never dined on potatoes every night, or looked on a bean sandwich as a treat, you should never think of yourself as hard-up again!  Within the girls' narratives, Ms Whitney has shown us a bigger picture of the country in the 1930s; they tell of the 'train riders'; unemployed, itinerant young men who travelled the country by stowing away on trains, begging for food wherever they stopped.  The way the community pitched in to help each other.  The fears that consumed them all; if they couldn't sell enough produce, they would lose their homes.

I found Flora's chapters the most interesting as her thoughts concerned not just her own, insular world (what happened at school, etc) but that bigger picture.  On occasion, though, Irene and Nellie's childlike viewpoints skillfully revealed much more.

If I have any criticism, it's that I would have liked a bit more actual plot; events coming to a climax and then being resolved, at some point.  There is a little mystery concerning an event from the first chapter which is not solved until the end, but I felt there were missed opportunities to make the story more of a page-turner.  However, I did enjoy it, throughout, and would most certainly recommend it as an insightful and highly readable look at this recent and still relevant time in America's history.