Monday, 14 January 2019

THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD by John R McKay @JohnMcKay68

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I read this review on EmmabBooks.

In a Nutshell: Fiction, WW2 Naval supply runs between Liverpool and Russia, skirting enemy territory.

This book gripped me all the way through.  George Martin was a young working class man from Liverpool when he joined the navy, and most of the book is about the horrendous Arctic conditions of his voyages to Murmansk, a period spent in this desolate, war-torn part of Russia in what passed for a hospital, the destruction of his ship, and a hellish few days on a lifeboat in unbelievably cold conditions, in which several of his friends perished.

It is also, of course, a story about those friendships and the comradeship that exists in the most testing of times.  The book is obviously so well-researched; what struck me most was what the human mind and body will endure. Sometimes the book is quite poetic - philosophical, even.  George's first impression of the Arctic ocean, when he hears the songs of the whales beneath the sea: 

'We were invaders, after all.  All of us.  Both us and the Germans should not be here.  This place did not belong to any of us.'  

John McKay's writing is so conversational and easy to relate to that I felt as though I was reading a memoir, much of the time.  George was, to me, a real person, not a fictional hero.  Threaded through the tales of life at sea is the story of his home life in Liverpool, in particular a relationship with a girl called Glenda.  This secondary story is interspersed at exactly the right times, and in the end, the two stories converge.

It really is a terrific book.  Highly recommended.


Monday, 7 January 2019

SISTERS OF ARDEN by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've read a few other books by Judith Arnopp, and have much interest in this period of history, so leapt on this when it came out.

In a Nutshell: Historical fiction, about Henry VIII's dissolution of religious houses, and the Pilgrimage of Grace, from a nun's point of view.

Margery is a young girl who has known nothing of life but the tiny, isolated Arden Priory in North Yorkshire, when Henry VIII gives the order for Catholic religious houses across the land to be dissolved.  Cast out to fend for herself, along with two other young women and a small baby, the novel is about her dangerous journeys to York and Pontefract, the news she hears about the uprisings against the atrocities committed in the King's name, and her journey back to what she hopes will be safety.

Judith Arnopp describes the world of Margery so well; I liked seeing the 16th century from the POV of the ordinary people, so far away from that of the aristocracy and nobility that they might as well have inhabited another planet.  Ms Arnopp has a lovely, easy-to-read writing style, and it is clear that the book is well-researched without the research ever seeming intrusive.  

It's a short novel, and at times I would have liked more detail about various events, but there was no part that I didn't enjoy.  The 'Author's Note' at the end is most interesting, and I was intrigued to find out that Arden Priory actually existed; on the whole, Sisters of Arden made me want to read more about the time, which is a sign of good historical fiction.  The ending gives hope for the future, with a different purpose for Margery.

I liked this book very much and would most definitely recommend to anyone who likes well-written, authentic fiction based on fact about this period.


Friday, 4 January 2019

BLOOD OF MY BLOOD by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I have read the other 5 books in this series, so it was an obvious choice!

In a nutshell: Book 6 in series about the life of Elizabeth I.

I expected this to be the last in the series but realised half way through that there is quite a long way to go - this book takes place in the middle of Elizabeth's reign, and concerns her ongoing battles with the comfortably captive Mary of Scots, her struggles to keep England out of the wrangles between Spain, France and the Low Countries, her own battles with her age as she reaches her 40s, and her complex relationship with Robert Dudley.

I was less interested in the political to-ing and fro-ing in this book than the more domestic aspects - the dramas with her 'Robin' were as compelling as ever, and so sad; I like how Gemma Lawrence showed Elizabeth's human side, in her jealousy and, yes, sometimes spite, when she discovered that Lettice Knollys was more than just another of his mistresses.  I felt sad for her that, as someone who chose to remain a virgin and be married to her country only, she could not understand the power of sex, that most people need more than a cerebral relationship, and that the closeness this brings can lead to love, and the desire to have a family.  She seemed so lonely, somehow.... but I completely understood her reasons for her decisions, so well-painted was Ms Lawrence's portrayal.

I very much enjoyed the more human side of this episode, showing the customs and domestic routines of the people, both rich and poor, and also the little glimpses of people like William Shakespeare, and the information about Drake's adventures.  The beliefs of the people, even those wealthy and educated, about the rest of the world were both amusing and fascinating.

Well done Gemma Lawrence for another great achievement.  I believe a book about Catherine Howard is in the pipeline, which I can't wait to read!


Monday, 31 December 2018

BAD PENNIES by John F Leonard @john_f_leonard

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: Twitter

In a Nutshell: Lad Lit meets Supernatural/Horror.

Chris Carlisle is an ordinary guy doing an ordinary sales job that he hates, with a couple of mates that he sometimes loves and sometimes loves to hate, and a gorgeous girlfriend: the nauseating Becca.  She was meant to be nauseating, I think; something about the way she calls Chris 'special fellow' and 'my special man' all the time.  Chris is always skint, a typical lad lit hero who doesn't bother to clean up unless he's likely to have company.  He's a nice guy; you can't fail to like him, with all his flaws.  The scene-setting was quite long and fully sketched, which I liked; I'm not one who needs to be plunged into action on page one.  

At the end of most chapters are hints that danger is around the corner, in a 'little did she know this was the last time she would see him' sort of way.  I liked this; I thought it added to the suspense and made me want to keep turning the pages, and it worked along with the slightly comic book tone of the novel.  

Chris's life changes when he discovers a bulging wallet, the property of a man he saw run over.  It's not just an ordinary wallet...and Chris little understands that, by claiming it as his own, he has opened doors that should have remained shut.   There are some good dark and dingy descriptive pieces in the book, particularly a scene featuring a detective in the home of the repulsive Ronald Hodge, in the bleak and mysterious Empire Road.  

I enjoyed the 'real life' elements of this book most, and the darkly comedic side.  I liked the whole 'totally ordinary guy in super-weird extraordinary circumstances' thing.  John F Leonard has a witty, easy-to-read writing style, with some good turns of phrase: 

'No milkman in his right mind would have delivered to Brabham Building, Ashton High Street.  Even the postmen wanted stunt doubles and danger money.'

'...tall wide and ugly in every way you could imagine.  He looked like he ate BMWs for breakfast'

'My source of income, other than my shit job at the ISWS misery factory?  Well, you see, I found, sort of stole I suppose you could say if you wanted to get pedantic about it, an enchanted wallet.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it's shag me in the ass without lube mental, isn't it?' 

My general feel about the novel as a whole was that it needs another tidying-up draft, and perhaps the intervention of a more experienced copy editor/proofreader, to sort out the lack of vocative commas and the few editorial errors, and cut some of the funnies that need a bit of fine-tuning.  All of this would have made it the book it deserves to be; there is no doubt that Mr Leonard is a talented writer, and I enjoyed it.  I did guess the twist, from early on, but it's well done and was in no way obvious; my mind jumps ahead when I'm watching TV shows, too.  I especially appreciated the well-thought out last chapter and a great epilogue that definitely makes you want to see what happens next!


Friday, 28 December 2018

THE STAND by Stephen King (original edition) @StephenKing

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: it was recommended to me by book blogger Mrs Bloggs The Average Reader after she read my book Tipping Point.

In a Nutshell: Post Apocalyptic, worldwide pandemic, battle between good and evil.

This should really have gone on my Top 20 Books of 2018 post, but I hadn't expected to read another so excellent when I did my rundown the other week; it was an impulse read!

I know it's a classic, so probably doesn't need too much description, but in case you don't know, the story is thus: a pandemic is accidentally released from a lab, and kills almost everyone, worldwide.  The book follows the stories of several characters who prove to be immune, and their journeys both physical and personal.  All are having strange dreams, drawing them either to Nebraska, where an old woman, Mother Abagail, awaits them, or to Las Vegas, where the 'dark man' is planning his new world.  It can be read as either a battle between God and the devil, or, if you don't believe in all that stuff (I don't), about the battle between good and evil within man.

I read the original version, which was a mighty tome in itself; there is an extended version showing all the back stories of some characters that were originally cut out by the editor.  I've read reviews that say the extended version is not so well put together, and contradicts itself, so I decided on the original.  As it was, every back story did not pull me out of the main plot but had me totally engrossed.  My favourite parts were the slow unfolding of the virus in the first 20%, and the last 15%, which involved the inevitable long post apocalyptic journey, with all its struggles and near-death experiences.  It's a terrific book, and I was gripped throughout.  Recommend most highly, and thank you, Mrs B, for putting me onto it!



Wednesday, 26 December 2018

How do we discover the books we read?

At the end of last year, I did a quick count up of how I discovered all the books I had reviewed (I don't review all of them on my blog; if I have little to say, it might be just a short paragraph on Amazon), and how I discovered them.  It's HERE, if you would like to take a look.   I think the results of such count-ups are interesting for both readers and book bloggers, but most of all for writers; I will let you draw your own conclusions!


Now and again the categories collide; for instance, if a favourite author submits a book that I would have bought anyway, to Rosie's blog.  In this case, I chose the one I felt most apt.  Here are the results. 📚

How I discovered the books I read (or started to read/will finish soon) in 2018


Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member ~ 
authors submit their books to a list, and team members 
choose those that appeal to them.
25


Read one, went back for more 
This might mean a favourite author whose new books I always pounce on, or just one book bought because I liked Book 1 of a series enough to want to know what happened, even if I never got round to the whole series.  
Either way, it's that all-important 'did I like it enough to read more?' question.
24
 
Amazon Browse/recommendations on Kindle
When browsing, usually through 'also boughts'
10


Book Blog
Read a review of it, or feature about the author; 
either the book or the author interested me enough to buy
7
  

Twitter
Either via a random tweet, or after talking to the author
8


Review Request
I do not take submissions, but on occasion a writer I know 
through social media might ask me for a review. 
2


Recommendation from friend
3

Bought after watching a TV programme/film.
2


Re-reading of an old classic
2

Present from a friend
1



Wednesday, 19 December 2018

KILLING ADAM by Earik Beann #RBRT @EarikB

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.

In A Nutshell: Scifi/dystopian. Brains are implanted with altered reality chips, controlled by artificial intelligence.

A fantasy future, in which most people spend all their time in altered reality, via a chip: an ARC, on the ARCNet.  The world they inhabit is whatever they want to it be, and 23 hours a day may be spent this way, with only 4 breaks of 15 minutes a day to deal with bodily necessities such as eating and washing.  All existence is controlled by Adam, the artificial intelligence, even the people's perception of what occurs elsewhere in the world.

Some, though, cannot have the chip implanted, for a variety of reasons.  These people are considered 'disabled'; Jimmy, the main character, is one of these, because of a football injury.  Their being left behind in the real world keeps them separate, a minority group.

I found the idea of all this quite exciting, and dived straight in; Earik Beann's writing was certainly good enough to keep me turning the pages.  I enjoyed the first 20% of it very much, as a picture of the world was being built up.  I liked the way that the author did not explain much at all, but let the picture of his created world gradually become clear, by what was happening to Jimmy, and going through his mind.  However, as I read on, I felt the whole premise needed a bit more thinking through.  For instance, Jimmy's wife spends 23 hours a day in a catatonic state, as do many.  Wouldn't cities of people spending all their days lying on sofas create massive health problems?  How would the production of life's essentials be maintained?  Would society not just collapse?  Or am I over-thinking?

It's an odd one; I did like the basic ideas; perhaps it is intended to be a comment on our present lives, and the way in which people are so often plugged into online life that the 'real' world has become less and less relevant - especially as the ARCNet and Adam are the work of a corporation: BioCal.  I liked the writing style very much, and the characterisation was solid.  But there were too many times when I found myself thinking, 'yeah, but hang on a minute...'.  On the other hand, it's science fiction. Or is it fantasy?  I couldn't make up my mind.  Either way, I think how much you enjoy it will depend on how far you are willing to suspend disbelief.