Saturday, 29 July 2017

AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey @MarcusSakey

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I read a review of it on Between The Lines book blog 

What if death is just the beginning?

The basics:  A serial killer on the loose.  Investigation led by detective Claire McCoy, involved in a love affair with subordinate Will Brody.  A main character dies at the hand of the killer, after which we see them in the afterlife 'echo', a strange parallel earth with different players and rules. 

The book starts in the 16th century, when a boy is shipwrecked, dies, but then wakes up to his own 'echo'.  I loved this, and looked forward to reading on, and seeing how this fitted into the 21st century plot.  

I was a bit 'hmm, not sure' about the main story at first; I liked the author's writing style, but was less keen on the slightly hackneyed detective characterisation (the overworked, world-weary female boss with no food in the fridge, the maverick young FBI agent who doesn't play by the rules but gets results).  Within a few chapters this didn't matter a jot, but it was an early reaction, so I've recorded it.  I soon became much more interested in Claire and Brody, and found their relationship believable; the emotional connection between them was perfectly described, and I cared what happened to them, which is, of course, what it's all about.

On the cover, a comparison is made with The Matrix.  If, like me, you found that particular film confusing for the sake of confusing and a bit 'emperor's new clothes', generally, you might feel similarly about this book.  At first.  I wasn't always sure what was going on, and started to wonder if I cared.  I decided to give it to 40% ~ but it clicked into place well before then.  The 'echo' of afterlife became intermingled with real life ~ and I began to understand Sakey's take on what-happens-when-you-die. 

I jogged along, quite enjoying it, but then I got to chapter 26, at 42% ~ for me, the turning point, when I realised how brilliant this book is.  16th century Edmund's role became clear, and I understood that this isn't a novel about the catching of a serial killer, or a kooky idea of people in the afterlife charging around having battles with each other.  It's about the energy of the universe, the reason for the atrocities man commits against man, the manipulation of the living by powers far stronger.  The layers of life, of which the waking world that we surface dwellers experience, in blissful ignorance, is just one.  Awesome concept, I loved it.

Now and again I found it a little long-winded and was tempted to skip-read, but I'm so glad I stuck with it, as it's one of those books that explodes into something else half way through.  Yes, I'd definitely recommend it 😈

Thursday, 20 July 2017

THE LAST DETECTIVE by Brian Cohn @briancohnMD #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

Before the alien invasion, Adrian Grace was a cop.  Then the 'slicks' arrived, and their word is law.  Two years later, Adrian is ekeing out a dreary existence in a motel, with his family far away in Boston.  A group of the city dwellers work for the Authority, and police the population according to the rules of the slicks.  Food is short, there is little fuel, and life is one of darkness and danger, with the Authority herding chosen people off to labour camps from which nobody ever returns.  But there is revolution in the air.

Then Grace is asked to solve the murder of one of the slicks.  In an action-packed plot taking place over a period of just a few days, he is drawn into a labyrinth of corruption, lies, dubious loyalties and misplaced assumptions about those with whom he comes into contact.

Brian Cohn has created a compelling dystopian world, with lots of evocative detail and ponderings on life, the universe and everything.  Grace makes for a likeable and interesting first person narrative, in turn depressive, philosophical, cynical and dryly humorous; there are some amusing touches, such as the daily game of Russian roulette with his food - the tins are not labelled.  He always hopes it won't be dog food.  Sometimes it is.

I did enjoy this book, and love Cohn's writing style, but I wished for a little more rounding out of the circumstances ~ we are taken from the day of the alien landing (in the prologue), to two years later, only ever seeing hints about what happened in between.  I wanted to know how the slicks took over, who they were, why they arrived, how the society broke down.  And what happened in the labour camps.  The darkness of the city is illustrated beautifully, but as the novel concentrates almost solely on the situation in which Grace finds himself, I was left with lots of unanswered questions.

To sum up: it worked well as detective/mystery/conspiracy novel, less so as a sci-fi/post apocalyptic, which was the aspect that attracted me.  I'd definitely read something else by this author, though.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

EVERLASTING by Jo Carroll @jomcarroll

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK

How I discovered this book: A few years ago I won one of Jo Carroll's travel memoirs in a blog competition, and I've bought all her books ever since!

This time Jo spends six weeks in Malawi, and the 'Everlasting' of the title refers to her sixty year old guide ~ that is him on the cover. 😀

What I love about Jo Carroll's books is that they read as though she's written them from the heart, without thinking too much about it, just her opinions of the country as it unfolds to her; her impressions often change back and forth as her time there goes along.  The short cameos of the people she meets are always so vivid; I can usually see exactly what they are like (particularly those with whom she has a less than totally positive experience!); there's a touch of Bill Bryson about her style.  The star of the show in this case, of course, was Everlasting himself, who sounded delightful.  Oh, and that's something else that I like ~ her portraits pick out the amusing aspects without ever being patronising.  I am always left feeling that part of Jo doesn't want to go home to her First World life... 

In poverty stricken countries such as this one, Jo Carroll delivers a fair and uncomplicated view of the problems facing the country.  In the case of Malawi, she felt she was going round in circles as she talked to aid workers from large organisations, villagers who were helping themselves, independent aid providers, tourists and white settlers.  She has a way of picking out the essential information, but her delivery is never preachy, and there is much else to enjoy, simply about the beauty of her surroundings and her experiences.  With every book she writes, it makes me want to visit the country.  Thus, as far as I can see, her work is done!

Everlasting is only novella length, I read it in one evening, and I recommend it most highly if you have any interest in this sort of book.

Monday, 10 July 2017

WHISPERS IN THE ALDERS by H A Callum @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  Interestingly, I didn't initially choose it as the genre and blurb didn't particularly appeal, but then I got talking to the author on Twitter (about something else entirely) and he asked me if I would take a review copy.  I'm glad I did.

Lesson for readers: don't bypass books just because they don't immediately appeal; you never know what gems you might find behind that quiet cover.
Lesson for writers: talk to people on social media!

Whispers in the Alders is set in the small east US town of Alder Ferry, where young teenagers Aubrey (female) and Tommy both suffer loveless, cold childhoods. Aubrey's family are wealthy, whereas Tommy's are poorer, and his life is quite brutal.  They meet in a wooded area behind Aubrey's family home, amongst the alders, a place that both of them feel is their only home.  This is described by the author as an 'alder stand', not a term with which I am familiar, so I looked up some pictures on DuckDuckGo images to make sure it was as I imagined it!

The book starts in the present, with Aubrey in Portland, Maine, as an adult; she has left her family and the prejudices of the small town long behind.  It then goes back to her early teens, and the loneliness she feels.  The books spans the period of this time until early adulthood, and follows the tragedies of her and Tommy's lives.

I'd class this book as literary fiction, as well as a contemporary 'coming of age' story.  Much of the writing is beautiful; I read that Mr Callum is a poet, too, and this is evident, but it's not wordy for the sake of it.  It's quite a dense sort of novel, with much description, and on occasion I felt it could have been trimmed down just a little, but that's just personal preference, and I certainly appreciated every line.  The plot itself develops slowly, with some shocking outcomes (child abuse and homophobia, but nothing graphic), and it's perfectly plotted.  It's a heartrending, lonely sort of book; I longed for Aubrey and Tommy to find happiness.

A hidden gem by an extremely talented writer, very American (which I liked), and one I definitely recommend ~ I hope some other members of Rosie's team pick it up, or that anyone who reads this takes the plunge and clicks 'buy'!

Friday, 7 July 2017

SQUALL by Sean Costello @SeanCostello51

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  Amazon browse.  Attracted by the title (I love anything about disaster in terrible weather).  Liked the blurb, and it was free.  It's a short book, only 178 pages on Kindle.

The blurb:
Bush pilot and family man Tom Stokes is about to face the worst day of his life. On a clear winter morning, he sets out to do some repairs on a remote hunt camp, leaving his five-year-old son and very pregnant wife snug in their beds.

On the return trip, a squall forces him into an emergency landing and he winds up—quite literally—in the lap of petty criminal Dale Knight. Dale, now a fugitive from the law—and worse, from a merciless drug lord who just happens to be his brother—draws Tom into a web of mayhem and treachery that puts not only his life at risk, but the lives of his wife, son . . . and unborn child.

I quite enjoyed this.  It alternates from various points of view all the way through, which I liked, the pace is fast, the dialogue good, the characters clear and well-defined.  It didn't quite hit the spot, though; it was a nearly-but-not-quite for me as far as the storytelling itself was concerned.  There's a bit of sloppy proofreading (words like 'defuse' that should be 'diffuse') that wouldn't have bothered me if I'd really loved it.  

The story is good, and mostly well thought out, with some nicely psychopathic killers, a ruthless slapper, a likeable junkie, and, of course, the 'goodies' ~ Tom and his family.  There are some dodgy plot points, though, such as why Tom would have gone out in a flimsy plane to repair a building (that could have waited) when a severe storm was on its way, especially when it was his and his beloved son's birthday and his wife was about to give birth.  Then the whole reason why the aforementioned killers find his house - he left his wallet in the plane after it crashed into the house in which Dale was taking a bath.  Seemed completely out of character for someone so conscientious, especially considering that his license was in it, and he knew Dale was being hunted by dangerous people.  

It's like a less compelling Blake Crouch novel.  I'd try something else by this author, though.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

ABOVE ALL OTHERS by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I adore all Gemma Lawrence's books, and leap on every new one she brings out!  First discovered through our mutual interest in the Tudors, on Twitter.

'He wanted all to know that he adored me above all others'.

One of those novels that has given me that 'what on earth do I do next?' feeling, now it's finished... the third part of Ms Lawrence's series about Anne Boleyn, Above All Others is concerned with the years 1527~1530, when she and Henry have pledged their love to each other, and think it will be only a matter of months before she is his queen - only to discover what a long, tedious process the King's Great Matter would become, as they come up against the all powerful Catholic Church, and the scheming 'fat bat', Cardinal Wolsey.   But this book is so very far from tedious.

Even more than the first two books, I'd say that this episode is a work for those who already have a deep interest in Anne Boleyn and the Tudors.  It explores the theological questions of the time in great detail, and illustrates, with no stone unturned, the difficulties faced by Anne and her King with regard to the social traditions and beliefs of the time.  I know how well-versed Ms Lawrence is about her subject, and I see this book as an education, too; it explained much to me.

Gemma Lawrence's Anne has much to say about the corruption within the Church, the hypocrisy; I loved her pronouncement on Wolsey's wearing of a hair shirt, something that has often occurred to me when I see the flaunting of piety:  'It seems to me, however, that when such a thing is done, and it is made known that it is done, it loses the benefit of true and honest spirituality.  It becomes, rather, a pretence, a show designed to tell the world how very good that person is'.  

Wolsey was ' man of God; he was a man of gold.' 

The way in which Anne's spirit progresses from the still girlish lover at the beginning of the book to the wiser woman, who realises that she must use every atom of her wit to fight her enemies and get what she wants for her and Henry, is so clever, and subtly portrayed.  It is apparent that she is the stronger of the two, though, of course, she is wise enough not to let Henry realise this. This version of the much-maligned Anne is the person I always saw her as, too ~ no means without fault, but her good intentions were genuine, and she had ambition for her people, her country, as well as for herself.  Secondary characters of her family (including the slippery Norfolk) are as vivid as Anne and Henry.  

Something I appreciated is that the author never falls into the trap of allowing Anne to think like a woman of later times; her point of view is always very much that of a far less enlightened period, when the Church controlled the behaviour of the population, and the lot of women was a frustrating one, indeed.

The novel ends just after Wolsey's death, when the coming of Cranmer and Cromwell into her circle gives Anne new hope for a solution to their problems.  

I believe this series to be the only fiction about Anne Boleyn that you need to read.  I was completely absorbed by it all the way through, and my only task now is to stand by Gemma Lawrence's desk with a threatening expression and a big stick to make sure she hurries up and gets the next book, The Scandal of Christendom, out as soon as possible!

Monday, 3 July 2017

WOLFSANGEL by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, but I had downloaded it anyway because I love Liza Perrat's books.

This is the second of the Liza Perrat's Bone Angel trilogy to be written, but the latest in historical period; it takes place during the Nazi occupation of the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne in World War Two.  I think it's the best of the three.

The trilogy's theme of medicine woman and herbalist continues in the form of the mother of twenty-year-old Celeste, the main character.  At the outset of the book, Celeste is dealing with the occupation of Lucie with the same quiet fear and anger as the other villagers and her friends.  As time goes on, the demands of the Germans increase in their severity, and no one is sure who is collaborating.  Celeste goes to work with the Resistance in Lyons, but she has has her own dark secrets with which to contend, as she falls in love with someone she shouldn't.

The book is a real page-turner, and the sense of growing fear is so well done.  I was pleased that it was realistic; Celeste loses people she loves, and there are some truly gripping scenes, such as when she and other Resistance workers rescue two prisoners from a hospital.  The last twenty pages, when a truly shocking event takes place, took me by complete surprise; I was engrossed.  The 'afterwards' bit is written with great sensitivity, too, with a couple of surprising reuinions, but it avoids becoming schmaltzy; it's too respectful of those who really suffered such tragedy for any such cheap shot.

I found the hot-headed Celeste irritating at times, but that was fine, because she was meant to be like that; she worked.  The book is so well researched, and there is a section after the novel has finished that tells of the real life events that inspired some of this fascinating story.  Well done, Liza Perrat!