Tuesday 27 December 2016

RUN by Blake Crouch @blakecrouch1

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book: I'd loved Abandon, didn't like Snowbound half so much, but perused his titles on Amazon and the subject matter of this one appealed.

Nothing I love to read about more than post apocalyptic survival, so this novel was a box ticker as soon as I read the blurb.  The US has degenerated into a killing field in a matter of days, and no one knows why (it's revealed early on, by the way).  Worse, those not intent on killing cannot tell the goodies from the baddies.  Jack Colclough is forced to flee with his family, and Run takes us through their breathtaking, horrifying race northwards from Albuquerque.  It's one hell of a page turner, and I read it all in one day.  

The downsides: 1Tense/verb participle inconsistencies (though I realise a stylistic thing to add tension, and it kind of works)2.  The unlikely coincidence of him and his wife meeting up again days after they were separated; I will say no more, but Montana is a big place (it's to do with the particular town being special to them, but I felt that Crouch had thought of this at the last minute to make it feasible).  Not to mention just happening to run into a certain someone from Albuquerque there, too (if you're not familiar with the geography of the US, look up New Mexico and see how far it is from Montana).  3.  The amazing shooting skills of people who have previously never held a gun.  BUT!!!  Unlike in Snowbound, this book was so good that I was unable to suspend my disbelief. 

I liked the way that the novel just plunges in, without build up, to Day 5, when everywhere is mayhem - the blurb is the prologue, in a way, and it's not all explained, but you get the picture as it goes along.  Also liked the idea that not much backstory is given about Jack and Dee's previous life; it's no longer relevant.  The fear, tension and desperation is very well done indeed.  I also liked this new take on a pandemic - a bit like the 'Rage' virus of 28 Days Later, but the baddies still have all their mental faculties.

Not quite sure if I'm all Crouched out for the time being or not.  Yeah, I'll probably try another one.  If you like exciting, dangerous stories of survival against terrifying odds, and aren't too picky about them being great literature, you'll love this.


SNOWBOUND by Blake Crouch

3.5 out of 5 stars

on Amazon UK HERE
on Amazon.com HERE
on Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book:  I'd read Abandon and loved it so much I had to read another one by the same author straight away.

Snowbound starts off with such promise.  Will's wife, Rachael, fails to return home, and we see this from his point of view as he wakes up at 4 am to find her missing, and from hers as she is abducted.  The next day, he finds out that local police fancy him for her murder.  Escape is the only answer.  Fast forward five years, and Will is living with his daughter, Devlin, in another state, under assumed names.  Enter Kalyn, a former FBI agent who has her own agenda when it comes to helping Will find out what happened to Rachael. 

Warning: contains spoilers

The book follows an exciting trail up to Alaska as they mess with the mob and get closer to finding out the truth.  Until about 50%, the book's great.  Then it starts to get too outlandish.  Like, sixteen year old with cystic fibrosis manages to survive being chased by wolves and a hike in waist deep snow to a lodge peopled by some seriously dangerous people, one of whom she kills, even though she has never held a gun before.  Will is semi-mangled by wolves but manages a similar hike to rescue his wife and daughter, the former of whom seems to be psychologically intact despite a five year career as a sex slave and worse.  I stopped reading at 75%.  I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent, but....


Monday 26 December 2016

ABANDON by Blake Crouch @blakecrouch1

5 GOLD stars

Rocky mountains adventure/thriller/history

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book:  Read about it on Between The Lines book blog.

What a story!  I love death-defying adventure set in Arctic conditions, and anything to do with the way in which history circles around to meet the present, and this novel is made up of these two elements.  New York journo Abigail goes on an excursion to the lost town of Abandon, high in the Colorado rockies, with her father (who she hasn't seen since she was four), two guides and two paranormal photographers.  Back in the late 19th century the entire population of the town vanished, along with a stash of gold; the mystery of how and why has obsessed Abigail's father, Lawrence, for many years.

The story alternates between past and present, as events become increasingly perilous for Abigail and her group; all is not what it seems.  Back in the late 19th century, a picture is built up of the townsfolk of Abandon, until finally we discover what really happened.....

I read this over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and couldn't have made a finer choice.  At first I just quite liked it, then, when everything starts to get scary (at about 30%) I feared that it might become a story of paranormal ghostly carry-on featuring demonic beings, which would have probably made me abandon (!) it, but such was not the case.  It's very much a story of the evil within man, of madness, retribution, greed, loneliness, loss ~ I loved it.  The pace and structure is perfect, with the slow unfolding of the past to mirror the present.  By the middle I liked it much more, and the last 30% is staggeringly good.

I also liked that it didn't follow oft-used resolutions.  It's unpredictable all the way through; I didn't guess any of the developments.  It's great.  Would be wonderful as an HBO series.  Buy it! 

Snowbound reviewed HERE, Run reviewed HERE


Thursday 22 December 2016

TURN OF THE TIDE by Margaret Skea

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

Set in Scotland in the late sixteenth century, Turn of the Tide's central character is Munro, who is caught between his allegiance to the Cunninghame clan and his friendships with the rival Montgomeries, and also between his active part in this ancient feud and the demands of his family; his desire to protect them is at the root of all he does, but his dedication to those in power mean that he spends much time away from wife Kate and his twins.

Reading this story I felt transported back to the time, a necessity for me when reading historical fiction.  All aspects of day to day life of the era have been researched in detail, and written in such a way that adds so much to the novel.  Margaret Skea clearly has a great love for the history and the country, and this shines through in the writing.  

There is no doubt that this is well written in many ways, with Munro and young William Glencairn, in particular, becoming three dimensional very quickly.  The dialogue is written formally, in the style of the time (as far as I could see) and sometimes this adds authenticity, but at other times it halts the flow.  Also, there are so very many characters and I had trouble remembering who was who and whose allegiance was to whom, which made it flow even less well, because I kept having to refer back to previous chapters.  The other slight problem I had with it was a few instances of incorrect punctuation: missing commas and a few semicolons that should have been commas, but there are only a few and would probably only bother someone who is particularly picky about such things.

I liked the intrigue at court and the subtle humour in some of the dialogue, but I found this novel a little too slow and confusing for me to say that I really enjoyed it; I wanted to like it more than I did.  Margaret Skea is an accomplished writer who has won much acclaim and many awards, so if you like intelligent, detailed, literary historical fiction you may well enjoy this.  It just didn't quite tick the boxes for me.

Sunday 18 December 2016

THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER by Jo Carroll @jomcarroll

4.5 out of 5 stars

19th century historical fiction based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE

This is an interesting and unusual novel that begins as a good, solid and readable story and gets better and better as it goes on.  The Planter's Daughter tells the story of Sara Weldon, a girl from Ireland who leaves her family in the middle of the mid 19th century potato famine to stay with an unknown, well-to-do aunt in Ireland, before falling from favour and being transported to the other side of the world.

The first chapter is told from the point of view of Kitty, the kitchen maid at the aunt's house who finds Sara on the doorstep.  This section of the book reminded me of those historical rags to riches (or riches to rags and back again) blockbusters that were so popular in the 1980s by people like Barbara Taylor Bradford, with the heroine to whom wrong is done, who vows revenge, while those who meet her are struck by not only her beauty (may or may not include tiny waist and head of auburn/raven tousled curls), but also the steely determination in her flashing emerald/sapphire eyes.  However, I always liked this sub-sub-genre, so was happy to read on!

For the second part the story moves to Australia, and a new character's point of view ~ devoutly religious Grace, who lives on a dusty small-holding/forge in the rural area near Melborne with her stepsons and own children, and takes Sara in as a maid.  Well written, well researched and highly readable, the only downside being this: I thought, "but I don't want to read about Grace's path to Australia, I want to read about Sara's."

I had it all wrong.  This is where the novel really 'kicks in', if you like.

Half way through Grace I realised I was completely engrossed, and I began to appreciate the structure.  Grace is fascinating, really quite horrible.  She's pious, more than a little self-satisfied, unable to see any views but her own.  She wears her religion like a badge, cloaking her selfishness in her delusion that she is showing others the path of righteousness.  She thinks she loves Sara, but in fact she loves only the image of her that she has created to fill the gaps in her own life.  During this chapter my inner rating hat added another star to my eventual review; it's really, really good.

Then we get to New Zealand, and Grenville, the magistrate who falls in love with Sara.  Like Grace, he is obsessed with his own image of the girl, and this obsession brings only woe to everyone concerned.  I loved this chapter; I felt that Jo Carroll really got into her stride with Grenville; her writing actually improves over the course of the book.

I very much like the showing of one character's story through the viewpoints of others, and Jo Carroll has executed this challenging format very well, though I did wish that there had been a little variation in the three chosen characters' feelings about Sara; all three adored her, longed to still her butterfly wings (sorry, getting a bit BTB saga, there), but didn't understand her at all.  I didn't know if I did, either; I hadn't met her yet.

I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the last party we finally get to meet Sara: it's about her childhood in Ireland, life during 'the hunger', and her path to Belfast to get a ship to Liverpool.  The last part, about this journey, was outstanding, and the highlight of the book; it made sense of the whole story.  Sara was not a likeable girl at all, but seeing her as she began put it all into perspective, and I understood how clever the book is.

I had a few issues with style/format, but this is normal for a debut novel, and no one likes every single part of even their all-time favourites.  The research that has gone into this novel is apparent without ever being intrusive.  The idea comes from a true life story, and Sara's ending is shocking and surprising (don't read about the real life story first!); I was waiting for something more in line with yer typical historical saga, but it didn't happen - well, who needs predictability, after all?  The Planter's Daughter is a 'slow burner' and so much more than the tale-of-love-determination-and-revenge-across-three-continents, Taylor Bradfordesque epic that I thought it was going to be at first.  Read it.  You'll be pleased you did.  

Sunday 11 December 2016

HELL HOLES by Donald Firesmith @DonFiresmith

4 out of 5 stars

Arctic supernatural thriller

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

Mostly, I enjoyed this.  It's very much escapist genre fiction, which could have done with a better edit to rectify repetitions and a few lazily constructed sentences, but I did like it.  It's about geological scientist Jack Oswald who goes out to Alaska with his wife and two of his grad students, to investigate the appearance of mysterious holes in the tundra.  Also along for the ride is enigmatic journalist Aileen O'Connor. 

Once at camp, all hell is let loose as demonic beings appear from the depths of the mysterious craters.  Very quickly, the situation grows from horrendous to super-horrendous.

The author has obviously done his geological research, to the extent of the dialogue being a bit on the information-heavy side in the first half of the book, but if the information is interesting I don't mind, and this was.  It cracks on at a great pace thereafter.  At first I was a little put off by the sudden change from feasible arctic geological mystery thriller to Harry Potter-like spells and gargoyles the size of lions, but once I got used to it (pretty quickly), it kind of worked.  The action was fast, convincing and scary.  Do bear in mind that I'm not a great lover of supernatural; I don't imagine that this will be any sort of problem for those who are used to reading this genre, in fact you'll probably love it.

The book turned out to be only long novella length, or certainly very short novel, as it suddenly ends at about 80%, with a humdinger of a cliffhanger.  The rest of the book is taken up with information about the series, notes about the inspiration for the book, and part of Book Two.  Now, I didn't understand the 'part of Book Two' thing AT ALL.  Some people don't like parts of series ending in a cliffhanger.  I do, I love it.  This cliffhanger was so good that all I wanted to do was find out what happened next, to the extent that I would have gone straight to Amazon and bought the next one if it was available, which is, surely, the purpose of such endings.  So why, Mr Firesmith, have you given me a reason not to, by sticking 'what happened next' at the back of Book One?  Think on! 

My other complaint is about the diagrams at the beginning of the book.  Placed there, they meant little.  If the diagram for Pump Station 2 was placed right at the start of, or in the middle of, the chapter when the group arrive there, it would have given me all the information I needed, instead of me having to imagine it/keep flicking back to the start.  The Alaska map could have been better placed, too.

I give this book a thumbs up, despite the criticisms.  If you like arctic landscapes and demonic thrills, I suggest you nip over to Amazon and download it immediately.

My Favourite Books of 2016

In December I usually do a Top 20 of the books I've read, but I can't do so for 2016 because I've discovered lots of new authors in the past year and wouldn't know which of their titles to choose!  Instead, I've decided to do a 'highlights' post, by genre.  I have only chosen my very, very favourites for this post or it would go on forever, as I've read so many good books in the last twelve months.  If you want to look at any similar, just click on the tags at the end of each post for subject, author, star rating, etc.

Most are my own reading choices, but some I have been fortunate to find via my role as a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team (#RBRT on Twitter)

Here we go, then; just click the title of the book for my full review, with Amazon links.

First off, one of my favourite genres.  This is my most read category, so the list is the longest: Historical Fiction.  All the books mentioned are exceptionally well written, intricately researched, and I'd recommend them to any fellow history lovers.

If I was to name my favourite book of the year it would be La Petite Boulain by Gemma Lawrence, which is about the early life of Anne Boleyn.  Wonderful.  I've also loved the second book in the series, The Lady Anne, and you can find links to books one and two in her series about Elizabeth I on the first link.  Bowled over by them all!

I'm not usually a great fan of Victorian history, but I was completely engrossed  in this story of the darker side of life in 19th century London ~ the outstanding Back Home by Tom Williams.  It's part three of a trilogy, but a complete stand alone (I read it before the others).  Staying in the 19th century, I was certainly not disappointed by the fourth in Carol Hedges' Stride & Cully murder mystery series, Rack & Ruin.  Links to the other three can be found on this review; it's a terrific series, never so much as a weak sentence.

Back to the 18th century, and I've become a great fan of William Savage's fantastically well researched and plotted Georgian murder mysteries, my favourite of the five that I've read being The Fabric of MurderContains links to all others, and here's his latest one, A Shortcut to Murder

Now a free novella you must get if you're interested in the witch hunts of the 17th century ~ Blackwater by Alison Williams.  It'll be the best £0.00 you ever spent!

On the same theme ~ some non-fiction telling the stories of several of those accused of witchcraftAccused by Willow Winsham.  Fascinating!

Still in the 17th century, I discovered one of my new favourite authors via a tweet RTd by someone else (***don't ignore all those book promo tweets!***).  
This Rough Ocean by Ann Swinfen is an epic adventure set during the English Civil War, and definitely in my top five books of the year.  I was also engrossed in her two books set during this time in the Fenlands, Flood and Betrayal, and the first in her medieval mystery series, The Bookseller's Tale.  Also set in the Civil War, I recommend Deborah Swift's Highway Trilogy ~ I thoroughly enjoyed the last one, Lady of the Highway. 

And back to the Plantagenets, just pre-Tudor times ~ I've read a few of Tony Riches' books, but the one that really stood out for me was Jasper, following the fates of Jasper Tudor, great uncle of Henry VIII, in the Wars of the Roses. 


Next, a few I can't categorise ~ the Contemporary Dramas (being a writer of books that don't fit into a pigeonhole, I sympathise!).  These are the outstanding ones I've read this year; all of them come under the banner of 'women's fiction', I suppose, too.

Fascinating drama set in Tajikistan ~ The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic Stanley.

I also loved the edgy psychological drama The Memory Box by Eva Lesko Natiello, and family mystery The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell.

I'm not usually much of one for medical type dramas, but I was most impressed by the unusual Silent Trauma by Judith Barrow ~ 'the story is fictional, the drug is real'.  Something that needed to be written.   I also read a collection of short stories by Wendy Janes, the title story of which is outstanding ~ What Tim Knows is written from the point of view of a boy with autism.  It's so worth reading, as is The Never Ending Day, about a woman with post natal depression.

I must include Leaving The Beach by Mary Rowen, even though it's currently unpublished.  Eating disorders and the music of the 70s and 80s.  Loved it.

...and not forgetting a quirky little novella set in 1970s New York, by L Donsky-LevineThe Bad Girl was an unexpected gem!  Similarly, this delightful collection of short stories set in Suffolk ~ Sandlands by Rosy Thornton.


Now... the Zombies.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm borderline obsessed with The Walking Dead, and I love good zombie fic, too.  These are the best of the bunch. 

I'm mad about Kate L Mary's Broken World series, and thought the 6th book was the very best ~ Forgotten World.  I also loved the short stories attached to the series, Broken Stories, which I'd recommend to anyone as an introduction, along with Silent World and the sinister Twisted World (links to reviews for all her books can be found somewhere on the two reviews provided!).  Set in California and Colorado, mostly. 

A great new discovery: the Mountain Man series by Keith C Blackmore.  This author's zombie world is a lot more gory and brutal than Kate Mary's, with few nice settlements where everyone gets along.  More of a guy's zombie series, maybe (I veer away from all things girly, so they suit me fine).  Here's the link to my favourite in the series so far, the stunningly good third one, Hellifax.  Links to others at end.  Set in Canada.

Frank Tayell's were some of the first zombie books I read, and this year I really enjoyed Here We Stand: Infected books 1 and 2.  Set mostly in England and Pennsylvania. 

Three that come under the heading Post Apocalyptic/SciFi:
Part 3 of the totally excellent Blueprint Trilogy by Katrina Mountfort Freedom's Prisoners was a very worthy finale.  The UK nearly 200 years on, now State 11 of China... scary indeed!

Dylan Morgan is a great favourite of mine (and indeed with many of the reviewers in Rosie Amber's Review Team), a master of characterisation and darker than dark suspense, and I highly recommend The Dead City and novella October Rain

Next, some Non-Fiction, of many types...

I discovered the books of Jon Krakauer this year, and read several of them.  He's a mountaineering addicted journalist, for those who aren't familiar with him (click name for more info).  My favourite book of his was Under The Banner of Heaven, about the Mormons, but I've loved all of them.  Here's my review of Into Thin Air, on which the film Everest was based, links to others at the end.

The funniest book I read this year was Do Not Wash Hands In Plates by Barb Taub, a short account of her trip around India with two friends.   It's HILARIOUS. (I just found this very funny blog post about it, too...HERE)

I adore Travel Memoirs, and love anything by Jo Carroll.  I found Frogs and Frigate Birds absolutely magical ~ it's about Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

I also enjoyed Val Poore's account of her watery exploration of Belgium: Walloon Ways.


I'm not a great reader of Thrillers, but I've discovered Joel Hames' books this year. The Art of Staying Dead fairly blew me away, and Brexecution was jolly good too - no prizes for guessing what that's about!  Also just adding Abandon by Blake Crouch, which I read over Christmas Day and Boxing Day ~ top stuff!

And finally.....a Classic I can't believe I never got round to reading before.  Wonderful, wonderful book.  The Call of the Wild  by Jack London.

And another year bites the dust.  Seriously, I'd recommend any of these, they're all first class!