Wednesday, 30 March 2016


I have read far, far more books than usual this quarter (because I was laid up in bed for much of it), so it's been harder than usual to choose just ten for the 'highlights' out of the 45-ish I've read or started to read. I've been fortunate to find a high percentage of gems over the past three months, too, so all those in my top ten are those to which I've given either 5 stars or my extra special 5 GOLD stars.  They range from a classic, to the traditionally published, to a couple from small independent presses, to self-published. 

I've also read lots of great books to which I've given 4.5* which you can find HERE, and all the 4* are HERE .

A click on the title will take you to the review, and I've also written a quick line to say how I discovered the book, as I think this is interesting for both readers and writers alike.  I've listed them in the order I read them.

I've linked most of the authors' Twitter handles so you can follow them if you wish, too.


Non-fiction/Humorous travel memoir/India

I bought this after reading Barb's extremely funny blog @barbtaub on Twitter 

2. THE HERETIC HEIR by Gemma Lawrence

Tudor historical fiction

I got to know the author via Twitter @TudorTweep because of our mutual interest in the Tudors

3. LEAVING THE BEACH  by Mary Rowen

Quirky contemporary drama about eating disorders and music

I read the author's other book after reading a guest post by her on a book blog, and thought she sounded interesting; liked this one even more. @maryjrowen  on Twitter.

4. THE FABRIC OF MURDER by William Savage 

18th Century Murder Mystery

I read the author's first book in my capacity as a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team.
I liked it so much I've read and reviewed both his others; this is my favourite. @penandpension on Twitter.

5. OCTOBER RAIN by Dylan Morgan  

Dystopian/Sci-Fi Novella

A Rosie Amber's Review Team choice
 @dylanjmorgan on Twitter

6. THE ART OF STAYING DEAD by Joel Hames  

Conspiracy thriller 

I read Mr Hames's first book (discovered via a promotional tweet); didn't like the subject matter but loved the way he writes, so thought I'd give this one a go.
@BankersTown on Twitter

7.  BLACKWATER by Alison Williams

17th century witch hunts, novella

Discovered the sequel via Twitter ages ago, and for some reason had never got round to reading this, too - glad I did!
@Alison_Williams on Twitter

8. FIVE BOOKS  by Jon Krakauer

Non-fiction: adventure/religion/injustice/mountaineering

I discovered the books of Jon Krakauer earlier in the year and decided to lump them all together as they're all brilliant!  Above is the link to Under The Banner of Heaven, with links to my reviews of the others.

9.  THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London  

Classic; 19th goldrush century adventure

I read about this in one of Jon Krakauer's books, so thought I'd give it a whirl.   

10. JASPER: Book Two of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches 

Plantagenet/Tudor historical fiction

A Rosie Amber Review Team choice.  Author is @tonyriches
on Twitter 

Hope there's something there that interests you!

JASPER: Book Two of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

5 out of 5 stars

Plantagenet/Tudor historical fiction

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Review Team

I LOVED this book.  It's a terrific page-turner, a real adventure, from the time when the country was such a dangerous place, when men were men and women waited in castles for them to come home (not so keen on that bit, as I am sure many of the women weren't).  It made me long to go back to those times (as a man!); this book brings the England of over five centuries ago to life so well.  Book One, about Owen, Jasper's father, was jolly good, but this is what I love to see ~ a sequel that takes the story to another level.

There is so much written and on television about the Yorkist side of the Wars of the Roses, I find, but less about the Lancasters, so this filled in many gaps in my knowledge.  It's expertly planned; I was particularly interested to see how Tony Riches would write about events during which Jasper was far away and out of touch, like Warwick's change of allegiance, but he did this most convincingly, using the fictional Gabriel, an Irish mercenary who becomes a close friend of the hero, as a reporter of events.  Similarly, the disintegration of the Yorks following the death of Edward IV is cleverly accounted for via the messengers who visit Jasper during his exile in Brittany.  I also enjoyed the first appearance of the Duke of Buckingham, whose son causes trouble for Henry VIII, and of other characters who appeared as Plantagenet made way for Tudor. 

Jasper with Henry the boy, and Margaret Beaufort: 'The White Queen'

In my opinion this is a book for those who already know something of the history, as there are so many names and changing allegiances that, even being quite well versed in this period as I am, I had to stop and think a few times about who was who.  This isn't Riches' fault; he has dealt with a long and complicated story admirably.  On occasion I got confused about the passage of time and felt that there needed to be a gaps in the formatting of paragraphs to indicate that a year or so had passed, but I've rarely read a book of this length, covering so many events over a long period, which conveys the passing of years perfectly. 

To all avid readers of books such as the Game of Thrones series, I'd say 'read this too!' ~ it's every bit as magical, every bit as exciting - and it really happenedHighly recommended, a real achievement, and I'd just like to say that the author's note at the end brought a tear to my eye.  I shall be the first in the queue for the final part of the trilogy (and plan to read 'Warwick' in the meantime!)

OWEN: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches reviewed HERE


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

THEMSELF: Confessions of an Open University Creative Writing student by James Kemp

3 out of 5 stars

Non-fiction, Creative Writing short articles

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

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

This is a sort of diary, originally produced via James Kemp's blog, of some of his exercises from his course.  It includes some pieces he submitted, and a few other random ones, and poetry.  At the back there is some information on editing, self-publishing and promotion from James's own experience. 

This would be of interest to the absolute beginner, as some of the initial exercises are elementary, the sort of thing one learns at school.  It's nicely written and laid out, and James's manner is honest, pleasant and helpful.

This book skirts the edges of the various subjects it explores, as James's experience in such things as editing and marketing a book via Twitter is limited.  The information is basic, but not unhelpful, though some is incorrect (the minimum price to charge for a book on Amazon UK is 99p, not 77p, for instance). 

To sum up, this is a book for a novice or another creative writing student, and I'd describe it more as an anthology of pieces to dip into, as there are some of practical use and some pieces of fiction.

Sunday, 20 March 2016


5 GOLD Stars

Classic adventure/Gold Rush

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads
It's FREE on Amazon!!

HOW have I managed to get to the age of ** without reading this???  I described it thus to my sister last night: 'I can't believe how brilliant it is, it's one of THOSE books.'

For anyone who hasn't read it and doesn't know about it (yes, I know it's a classic and this is probably like saying 'for anyone who doesn't know what Wuthering Heights is about!), it's set in during the Klondike gold rush of the late 19th century, in Yukon Territory and Alaska.  The story is told from the point of view of Buck, a St Bernard/Scottish shepherd dog crossbreed who lived a luxurious existence in a wealthy house in California, and is stolen and sold by the gardner to work for prospectors, a hard life indeed. 

Much of the book is about how he adapts to his changing environment, but more than that, how 'not only did he learn by experience but instincts long dead within him.  The domesticated generations fell from him in vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed....they came to him without effort or discovery as though they had been his always.'

I am sure that those who've studied this book will tell you that what happens to Buck along the way is a parallel of what might happen to man under such circumstances, too; well, that was how it seemed to me, anyway.  I am not a 'dog person', but I loved Buck and the dogs with whom he travelled.  He had masters who cared for him properly, and one horrible group who deserved all that happened to them, until he finally found his one true master.  The passages about the relationship between him and John Thornton were so, so touching, but what I loved most was the discovery of his 'race memory', how he dreamt of and somehow knew about times so long ago, etched into his DNA.

Of course, the call of the wild becomes stronger and stronger....  this is a wonderful book, not very long (I would have been happy if it had been three times the length), and I'd recommend it to anyone.  So now I've found another author whose books I will be working 'White Fang'!


3.5 out of 5 stars

5th century English historical fiction/Romance/YA

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads 

Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Review Team 

This novel is British historical fiction set in the 5th Century, with many fictional characters and places.  At the beginning, Alden du Lac, once king of Cerniw (Cornwall, I believe), has been captured by the Saxons. 

I'd say this is definitely more of a book for teenagers/young adults, as the characters are of that age, and it's more of a historical (fantasy) romance than fiction about the historical period in time per se; the focus of the book is the relationship between Alden and his rebel Saxon saviour, Annis.  Although it's in two 'teen and young adult' categories on Amazon, the blurb does not make clear that it's aimed at this age group.  Note to publisher!

For the most part, it's well written (I found myself thinking 'oh good' when I started reading it), though there were a few instances of bad English that should have been picked up by a copy editor/proofreader.  But on the whole it's very well presented throughout. 

There's a fair bit of good atmospheric detail and the characters are sufficiently convincing, Annis being one of those great role models for girls, but I'd say it's for lovers of history based escapism (of which it is a good example) rather than the reader of serious histfic.  If you're a young reader of the former, I'm sure you'll love it!