Sunday, 4 December 2022

CROW COUNTRY by Emily Sullivan

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this bookfreebooksy

In a Nutshell: Bleak post-apocalyptic world in which men are mean and crows are ... huge.

“Everyone was, in one night, made basic again. For when the Lord snapped his fingers, the Devil took the stage. What tremendous music he made”.

A strange book ... highly atmospheric, and that was what kept me reading.  That and wanting to know if the main character, Judge, would make it.

It's almost three decades after some event that caused a blackout across America, a situation never reversed.  Alas, we never find out what happened on October 9th, nearly thirty years before, or why fertility has been affected.  This isn't really a criticism as the book is about the events of the present; I just like to know the full story!  Judge lives in Colorado, in the new town of Genesis, run by a man known only as Law (at first).  Gradually, little bits of information are dropped in to show the reader details about the past.  I liked the way this is done, as by the time this appeared I really needed to know what the backstory between Law and Judge was.

As well as dealing with the usual horrors of a post-apocalyptic world, the inhabitants of Genesis must take cover from the crows, grown huge and predatory.

I found the writing style compelling (in that I couldn't have not read until the end) yet frustrating at times, when something was not explained as much as I would like; at other times, though, this was most effective.  Occasionally there were odd word choices, unusual ways of describing a feeling, the weather, the atmosphere that mostly worked very well but now and again had me thinking, what does she mean?  I noted afterwards that the author writes Westerns, and this book is very much in that vein.  It's raw, bleak, with little comfort for the characters and a dark portrayal of the worst in man.

I liked it.  It's good.  Now I want to read a prequel!

Monday, 28 November 2022

On Giving the Unknown Author a Go #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Recently I've run a poll on Twitter to see how much people are willing to pay for either a debut novel, i.e., one who has not been tried and tested.  This was sparked by a conversation on the subject with writer Ben Winter.  At the moment, the '1.99-2.99' option is winning.  

This led to chat with others about trying unknown authors, generally, and I commented that something I love about being a member of Rosie Amber's book review team is that I have, on occasion, discovered a real gem that I would otherwise not have known existed.  

As I have no book review ready for #TuesdayBookBlog for the second week running, I thought I'd show some examples of those gems - in many cases, I've gone on to read more of the author's books.  Please note, they are all by authors I had never heard of before I chose their book to read.  I didn't know them from Twitter, I hadn't even seen a passing tweet by them!

The poll is HERE, if you would like to vote - I know it's not a black-and-white question, but you're only allowed 4 options!

...and here are the books.  I've been keeping this blog and reviewing for Rosie for nearly 9 years now, so some of them go a fair way back.  Click title of book for my review and Amazon/Goodreads links.

The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat

I've read almost all her books since this one!  Excellent family drama set in small town Australia.

The Usurper King by Zeb Haradon

A great find indeed.  I've read two more since; his latest, Cousin Calls is one of my favourite books in years.  Genre?  He writes like no one else, and certainly doesn't fit into any neat Amazon box.  Just take a look :)

The World Without Flags by Ben Lyle Bedard

Post Apocalyptic, therefore right up my street, though that is no guarantee I'll love the book!  This, however, was so good I bought the prequel as soon as I'd finished it.

Rizzio by Denise Mina

Historical novella

Singularity Syndrome by Susan Kuchinskas

Actually the sequel; I read the first book via Rosie, too.  Dystopian, scifi

An Idle King by Andrew Paterson

Military Drama

Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise by O J Modeska

Non-fiction, an account of an airplane tragedy.  Bought her next book too - just as good.

Neander by Harald Johnson

Went on to read the whole series (I liked Book #2 best), and also read an earlier book of his.  Time Travel, human drama.

Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

Crime drama set in New Jersey

The Memory Box by Eva Lesko Natiello

Psychological family drama

Obsession by Robin Storey

Human drama/thriller novellas - I've read a few of hers via Rosie's blog

The Unrivalled Transcendence of William J Gyle 

by James D Dixon

Read this years ago but it still sticks in my mind as a terrific book.  Drama about a homeless man.

Dystopian future, England and Japan

Fred's Funeral by Sandy Day

Historical family drama

The Code For Killing by William Savage

Not the first of Mr Savage's books that I've read - I read his first one via Rosie's blog and went on to read about ten more!  Historical mysteries.

The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell

Contemporary family drama

I'm a great one for buying random books via Amazon browsing, or after I've read a great review on a blog.  Perhaps one of these might hit the spot for you, too :)

Sunday, 13 November 2022

STOLEN SUMMERS by Anne Goodwin @annecdotist #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: the prequel to Matilda Windsor is Coming Home

For anyone who hasn't read Matilda Windsor is Coming Home, do read this novella-length prequel first.  It centres around how, in the 1930s (and before, and a while after), unmarried girls who became pregnant were often sent to mental asylums - once inside, they would become institutionalised, some to spend their whole lives locked away.  Poor Matilda - the first scene, when she thinks she's going home from the nunnery where she had her baby, but is in fact being driven to Ghyllside Hospital, is heartbreaking.  It made me want to reach out a hand and shout, 'don't go in!  Run!'

The book alternates between the outbreak of World War II, and the early 1960s, when she and her friend organise little escapades.  Alas, Matilda, already emotionally and mentally unstable because of her years at Ghyllside, cannot take on board how much the world has changed.  Finally, there is a chapter set in 1989 which, if I remember rightly, is how the main book starts.  By this time her mind is gone, though she is not unhappy in her fantasy world.

The book is so well-written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through, even though it made me want to weep for Matilda and the other women like her.  Highly recommended.

Monday, 7 November 2022

SEED by Ania Ahlborn @aniaahlborn #TuesdayBookBlog

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

In a Nutshell: Low key horror, family drama about demonic possession

This is a solid 4* book (I did contemplate an extra half star).  Jack lives with wife Aimee and daughters Abby and Charlie.  At the age of six, Charlie begins to display some worrying traits - Aimee and Abby are disturbed and confused by this, but Jack knows what is going on - he sees himself in his daughter.

As the story develops we see how Jack uncovered the awful truth that he is the victim of demonic possession.  This is nothing like The Exorcist; it's much more subtle.  The plot moves through Charlie's increasingly erratic behaviour, and is interspersed with tales from Jack's childhood; slowly, slowly, the truth about why he left his childhood home and what happened to his parents, is revealed.  The pace of the book seemed a little slow at points during the middle (one big event would have made all the difference), but I didn't get bored with it, at all.  The last chapters are great, and wrap it all up so well; I was glad the author dared to make the ending all it should have been, and not go with a cop-out HEA.

Ms Ahlborn writes in a most engaging fashion, and Charlie is truly terrifying ... in a subtle, low-key way.  It would make a terrific film or limited series.  I'd read another book by her, for sure; I definitely recommend if you like this sort of story.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

LOVE, LOSS AND LIFE BETWEEN by Suzanne Rogerson @rogersonsm #TuesdayBookBlog #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: Short Story collection, as per the title.

Ten short stories from fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson, snapshots of lives, some with happy endings, others bittersweet.

My favourite was the first one, Spirit Song, about an old lady called Cecilia and her lute.  Short, so atmospheric; I loved it.  I also liked Goodbye Forever, in which an abused wife makes her escape.  This was most exciting and fast-paced, and I whipped through it.  Another favourite was Garden Therapy, with its unexpected plot that unfolded so gradually, and I liked Catalyst, too.

As with many short story collections there were some that appealed more than other; I preferred those with a little glimpse of 'outside this world', rather than the straightforward love stories.  I would say Ms Rogerson's talent is in writing the benign paranormal, for sure!

Sunday, 23 October 2022

TALES OF EMPIRE by Tom William, Antoine Vanner, Jacqueline Reiter and Penny Hampson

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Twitter.

In a Nutshell: 4 long-short stories set in the 19th Century.

What a gem this book is!  Four long-short stories set during the age of the British Empire, and every one a winner.  Brittannia's Chase by Antoine Vanner is a short story from the author's Dawlish Chronicles series, in which a young naval officer's vessel crosses paths with a slaver ship.  A Clean Sweep by Penny Hampson focuses on an unscrupulous fellow who sends little boys up chimneys, and Tom Williams' The Tiger Hunt is an exciting side story from Tom's The White Rajah, and features John Williamson and James Brooke once more (The White Rajah is excellent too, incidentally!).

If I had to choose a favourite it would be Jacqueline Reiter's The Arabian, set in Gibraltar, from the point of view of an aide to the 2nd Earl of Chatham, John Pitt  (I liked it so much I bought Ms Reiter's novel about Pitt, The Late Lord), though there's not much to choose between them, as they're all beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly illustrate the attitudes and social limitations of the time.  Before each story is an introduction with background about how it came into being, which makes the collection feel rounded and complete - and there's a little something extra at the end.  The book is a nice length - you could read them all in, say, one afternoon.

Tom Williams is the only one of these authors I have read before; I look forward to reading more from the others, too.  This book comes most highly recommended, whether or not you have an interest in this period of history.

Monday, 17 October 2022

CAPTIVE OF THE KING by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

 4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: one of my favourite writers; I've been following this series.

In a Nutshell: Book 4 of a series about Lady Jane Rochford, set during the reign and downfall of Anne Boleyn.

The fall of the Boleyns is such a terrifying and sad story, and Gemma Lawrence has told it here in a most compelling fashion from the point of view of Lady Jane Rochford, George Boleyn's wife.  

Reading about the period after Anne, George and their friends had been executed, leaving Jane all alone and out of favour with just about everyone, I was struck by the way in which her whole life was lived in relation to other people.  In the notes at the back, Ms Lawrence described Jane as the watcher, just out of focus; isn't that perfect?  Jane felt that without her status as George's wife and one of Anne's senior ladies, she faded away.  The feeling I had about her was more than that, though; I noticed, throughout, that there was nothing in her life that was just for Jane.  Scarcely a book, a favoured food, a pastime, a preference.  As though it never occurred to her that what she wanted mattered.

Her childlessness must have had a huge impact on her feelings of worthlessness and invisibility; I am sure the way Ms Lawrence has portrayed her is close to the truth.  Although during the first third I felt a little frustrated by the book being more about Anne than Jane herself, told in reported and overheard conversation, I daresay that this is a good representation of Jane's life.  That only her involvement with others gave her existence any validity.  Her days were marked by events at court, even when she was not there, rather than anything that actually happened to her.

'There were no morals in the world anymore, just varying degrees of monster'.

...and the greatest monster of all was the King himself.  A small man who gorged himself and postured, to fill the emptiness inside.  Reading historical fiction about his reign (mostly by Ms Lawrence), I have long felt that he deeply regretted what he did to Anne and all those others who'd died on his watch, and his conscience could not deal with it.  Though he appeared to have little conscience during the dissolution of the monasteries, for his own vanity and to distribute largesse amongst those currently in favour.

I like how, in this series, Jane is given slight psychic abilities.  Nothing too outlandish, just enough to be believable. It adds another, most interesting dimension to her story - and this book certainly blows apart the myth that Jane Seymour was the most loved of Henry's wives.  I imagine the reality was that, as Jane Rochford observes, he very quickly grew tired of Seymour's pale character.  Of course, he hadn't got a clue what he really wanted, other than a son; he thought Seymour a soothing balm during his tempestuous relationship with Anne, but without the latter, the former must have been less appealing.  

'He did not care what she wanted.  He wanted her to nod and agree with him, get fat with a son and be silent.  She was not his love or equal.  She was livestock.
And though she said it not, Jane knew that.'

The notes at the end show which parts are fact, and which parts are dramatic invention.  I was fascinated to read that Jane really did write to Cromwell asking for help after George's death, and that the letter still survives!

It's a jolly good book, and I particularly liked the end fifteen per cent or so: the aftermath of the May murders, and Jane Seymour's growing realisation that she is in as much potential danger as anyone else in her husband's orbit.  I very much look forward to the next episode!