Thursday 31 August 2017

STRANDS OF MY WINDING CLOTH by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Gemma Lawrence is one of my favourite authors ever, and I adore all her books!

I have been so looking forward to this, the 4th book in the Elizabeth of England series.  It covers of the reign of Elizabeth I from 1560-1567, after the death of Amy, wife of Elizabeth's great love, Robert Dudley, to the resolution of the succession question.  The Queen is under great stress as she is pressured by Robert for his hand in marriage, and by the rest of her realm, and beyond, to choose a husband and name an heir.  In case you are wondering, the 'winding cloth' of the curious title (which I love) refers to her death shroud; Elizabeth is only in her late twenties, but feels that death is ever with her, not only in the passing of those close to her and her own health problems, but because of the endless discussion about who will sit on the throne after she is gone.

This book has much to do with the politics behind the gaiety of court life, as Elizabeth struggles against her cousins (Mary of Scots, Margaret Lennox and Katherine Grey), and those who consider them to be not only the rightful heir, but, perhaps, to have a better claim on the throne that she has, despite her being the last child of Henry VIII... meanwhile, there is trouble to the north, and in France and her own country, with the never ending Catholic vs Protestant wrangles.

This part of Elizabeth's reign is not something I knew about, which meant that I learned much from this book.  I didn't know, for instance, that James 1st was the great-grandson of Henry VII, though how that had eluded me I don't know.  I knew how all the cousins (second and otherwise) were related, but had to stop and think, often; I would have loved a family tree at the beginning of the book (hint, hint!).  I felt I understood Elizabeth more and more as I read; this book is listed as a biography rather than historical fiction.  Clearly her personality is shaped by her early life: the fate and loss of her mother, her father's attitude to marriage, her abuse (and the shame she felt at her response) at the hands of Thomas Seymour, and her abandonment by just about everyone.  Those who she could rely on were her friends: Parry, Blanche and, of course, Kat Ashley.  As the book went on, I came to wonder if she was by nature, or was made to be by circumstances, almost asexual; not a bad thing for a monarch to be, in those times; certainly friendship was more important to her than romantic love, and she clung to Kat Ashley as a young girl clings to her mother.   I had sympathy for Robert Dudley ~ she expected him to remain true to her whilst never giving him what he really wanted, but dangling it, always out of his reach, letting him believe that she would one day grant him her hand in marriage.  No wonder, then, that he sometimes acted outside her best interests ~ and will, in volumes to come, replace her.

Threaded throughout the story is the drama and catastrophe of Mary, Queen of Scots; fascinating, I must read about her soon, too.  At the end of the book, Elizabeth and Robert draw parallels between their own situation and that of Mary's.  

I loved the representation of Tudor life, the changing of the seasons, the peep into how the people of 450 years ago actually lived, and the strange beliefs held by even the most educated and intelligent.  When the winds whistled around the castle walls, I could imagine being there.

Terrific book, a great achievement, well worth the hours spent reading it ~ it's long!  Highly recommended, but do start at the beginning, with The Bastard Princess. 👑

Sunday 27 August 2017

AFTERMATH (Invasion of the Dead Book 1) by Owen Baillie

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse.

I'm always looking for good new post apocalyptic/zombie books to read, so thought I'd give this a go. I thought it was really promising at first; I liked that it's set in Australia, and the scenario about the five friends coming back from a trip into the wild, not knowing that the outbreak has taken place. I loved their first realisation that something was amiss, when they got to the petrol station. At that point, it was most atmospheric, and building up nicely. I also liked that the author gave background about the relationships between Callan, Kristy, Sherry, Greg and Dylan, so they weren't just a bunch of random names.

Alas, the first 15% was the best bit. The characterisation was reasonable, but a little bit stiff. I felt we were supposed to like Kristy the most, but she was just irritating in her 'oh my God, I've got to go and help because I'm a doctor, even if it means great danger' - and, hang on, yet another zombie survival group who just happen to have a qualified doctor amongst them? No, really? 

Then the group were driving through their devastated hometown with the possibility of finding their loved ones turned into flesh eating monsters, and a couple of them were talking about their love life....once it started getting into the zombie fights I'm afraid I began to lose interest - they're supposed to have seen all the films/TV series, but didn't know about bashing them in the head... then it's zombie fight followed by zombie fight, and it all got a bit samey; I couldn't picture the town. I started skip-reading at about 40%. Having said that, I might go back to it, if only to find out what happens with Callan and Sherry, which was by far the most interesting of the human sub-plots, and to see how the sinster beginning with the guy in the bunker whose name I can't remember, plays out.

I think it would have been better if the beginning was twice as long, so we really got to know the characters and thus cared more what happened to them, and if the uncovering of what had gone on in their absence had been slower. It's not a bad book, it's quite good, but I think 3* is a reasonable rating; if I had nothing else to read I'd have persevered with it. Possibly.

KAI by Michelle Abbott

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member. Kai is a 'new adult' romance... not exactly my genre, but the blurb appealed to me.   

This story is nicely written, flows well and is very readable; I like the author's writing style.  The book starts with Lily, who works in a supermarket, discovering that her wages have not been paid into her bank.  The calamity is well written, drawing the reader into Lily's world straight away, though I had an issue with this part: although it would leave her with no food for four days, she rejects the offer of a loan from her manager and chooses to spend her last seventy pounds on paying her electricity bill.  Who can go four whole days with no food?

We then meet Kai, dope dealer with a heart of gold, who is very appealing; I can see that he's a great hero for a book aimed at a young adult age group.  Lily then meets her neighbour, Jackie, who is smoking a joint; it's medicinal, for her MS.  I had another slight issue with this, too.  Lily automatically assumes that Jackie is a 'drug addict', because she's smoking weed.  I would have thought that, as she has been an art student, she'd have a slightly more worldly attitude towards such things, unless art students have become a lot more clean living since my day!

I thought some of the issues raised were well done, such as Jackie's son refusing to go to school, and I liked Kai's bond with his mother and how he wanted to do whatever it took to make a better life for them.  The private, inner conflicts faced by Kai and Lily were nicely written, though I did wish the two characters' 'voices' had been more clearly defined; they both used the same speech patterns and language, had the same tempo and mood.  The book was not as edgy as I expected from the blurb, but I expect that is because it is written within the confines of that which is suitable for the target market, and who, I imagine, will like it very much.

Saturday 26 August 2017

WONDERS & WICKEDNESS by Carol Hedges @caroljhedges

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read all the others in the series and was waiting for this to come out.  Author originally discovered via chatting on Twitter.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.  The fifth book in Carol Hedges' Victorian murder mystery series, featuring crime fighters Stride and Cully, I read and savoured every word.

The plot centres around a man found murdered in the display window of a new department store, and the possible existence of eighteen year old Sybella Wynward, daughter of Lord Hugh and Lady Meriel, who is supposedly dead, following a train accident, but appears to have come to life ~ or has she?

The plot is cleverly and intricately worked out but, as always for me with these books, it comes second to the characterisation, and the star of the whole book, which is London itself.  The parts of the book I enjoyed the most (and I enjoyed every line) were the pictures Ms Hedges paints of our not-so-glorious capital in the 1860s.  As usual with these books, some parts I read twice, because I enjoyed them so much; they made me want to be there and walk those streets myself, even the dark, murky alleys.

Wonders and Wickedness is a riot of technicolour characters, from the bad (Lord Hugh and Montague Foxx), to the daft and deluded (Thorogood and Strictly), to the good (the Cullys), the tragic (Lady Meriel) and the entertaining (Constantia Mortram).  One of my favourites was Felix Lightowler, bookseller and would-be Elizabethan alchemist, who studied the works of John Dee and those of his ilk; I loved the way Ms Hedges wrote his thoughts in the Elizabethan spelling.  The books is filled with similar delightful touches.

Loved it.  Buy it. 🔍

Tuesday 22 August 2017

A HUNDRED TINY THREADS by Judith Barrow @barrow_judith

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I'd read the rest of this series and was looking forward to this prequel.  I highly recommend the short stories attached to the series, Secrets.

This is the fourth book in the Pattern of Shadows series, though in some ways the first, because it's the prequel to the others, which are set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  I'd recommend reading it first, anyway.  It spans the years 1911 to 1923, and tells the story of earlier members of the Howarth family.

So, there was me thinking this was going to be an 'eh-up, love, put the kettle on' family drama amongst the cobbles, with a bit of WW1 angst thrown in.  I was wrong; it's so much more than that, and far more interesting.  The book starts with Winifred Duffy, daughter of 'orrible Ethel, joining up with some enchanting Irish scallywags with irritating dialogue tics who are involved in the fight for the women's vote.  The story was jogging along in a modest fashion, until (enter stage left) along came Winifred's grandmother, Florence, who I loved, and whose story was heartbreaking.  A moment later I was reintroduced to Bill Howarth (Mr Prologue), a thoroughly unlikeable character who grew increasingly despicable, and all of a sudden I realised I was engrossed.  I do love a well-written nasty piece of work, and Judith Barrow has done a masterful job with Howarth.  He'd had a bad start in life, yes, but I didn't pity him; my loathing of him grew more intense as the book progressed.

The saga moves through the treatment of the suffragettes, lost love, unwanted pregnancy, dark family secrets, the evil, pointless horror of WW1, the general godawful fate of the impoverished classes, the 1919 influenza epidemic, the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans ~ this is no rose-tinted piece of nostalgia, and no detail is spared.  Saddest of all is the life of Winifred, in many ways; although she finds some degrees of happiness, the theme all the way through seemed to be how women of the time had to put up and shut up, and accept what they got, even if it was so much less than they deserved.  This aspect of the book is so well done, without being hammered home.  I was pleased that, although there was resolution, there was no great happy ending.  100 Tiny Threads is about real life, and quite an eye-opener it is too; it made me glad I wasn't born fifty years earlier, for sure.

When I got to the end, I wanted to nip back to Pattern of Shadows, set in WW2, to find out what happened to Bill and Winifred; it's two or three years since I read it, and I can't remember.  D'you know, I think I will.

Friday 18 August 2017

VICTIMS by Joel Hames @joel_hames

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse, but I leapt on it because I've loved other books by this author.  I downloaded it on Kindle Unlimited.

Victims is a novella to introduce Sam Williams, the lawyer star of The Art of Staying Dead, which I read eighteen months or so back, and thoroughly enjoyed.  In this story, Sam becomes involved with a woman he shouldn't, and a dangerous gang who are after one of his clients...

I loved this, I was absolutely glued to the pages.  It knocks the spots off many other you'll-never-guess-what's-going-to-happen-next type thrillers that I've read in the last couple of years, and Joel Hames's writing is first class.  So witty, and sharp, and intelligent, and realistic... and I liked that he totally gets the 'impromptu pub sesh' syndrome.  The atmosphere of young professionals in London is perfectly portrayed, and this book is just so well written.

It ends at 70%, after which there are the first couple of chapters of the novel mentioned above, and if you haven't read that, you're in for a treat.  Go on, fork out 99p or download it on Kindle Unlimited.  You'll be glad you did.

Friday 11 August 2017


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

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

This is a novella length story; I wondered if such a plot could be fitted into a novella, and if there would be a lack of detail, but it is well structured and fits nicely into the shorter length.

Xanthe Schneider from Cincinatti arrives in Cambridge as a student, six months before the outbreak of World War Two.  During her childhood, she was endowed with a love of and talent for crosswords by her father, and, in England, during the 'phoney war' of the first eight months following September 3rd, 1939, she gets to know the mysterious Ralph Lancing, a code cracking enthusiast.  Then Ralph disappears, and Xanthe is approached by war officials to take part in the world of British espionage.

One thing I liked about this was the portrayal of the England at the time; it's very well done, but subtly, and it came over, to me, a bit like a black and white film.  I also liked that Boyle has used real life characters, such as Goebbels, and I felt Xanthe's growing fear; the atmosphere of menace certainly worked.  Sometimes I felt the choice of words was a little odd, and I wasn't always sure about the way in which, for instance, a naval commander spoke to Xanthe, a woman he had only just met.

This is a good read for the historical detail in itself, and it is well plotted; an undemanding, enjoyable book with which to curl up for an afternoon.

Thursday 3 August 2017

TWISTED MEMORIES by Kate L Mary @kmary0622

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read all the other books in this series, links at bottom of Twisted World review 😀 Genre: Zombie Apocalypse.

The first book in this series takes place 20 years after the group from the Broken World series, Vivian, Axl and co, finally find perceived safety in Atlanta.  I liked it very much, but was longing to know what happened in those intervening 20 years.  This is the book I was waiting for!

Best of all is the character of Angus James, the Merle Dixon of Kate L Mary's zombie world, who is imprisoned for experimentation at the CDC after it's discovered that he's one of the few people in the world who are immune from the virus.  I felt every tear he cried, I'm sure I did, and his strange relationship with the icy cold Dr Helton kept me completely engrossed.   It's one of those books that's so frustrating, because you, as the reader, can see the peril that the cast are in, and you want to scream at them, 'Go back to Colorado!  Now!  Just go!'  Of course, that I felt so strongly shows how good the characterisation and general storytelling is.

I very much liked some elements of the sinister practices going on behind the Atlanta population's back, such as the orchestration of an uprising, leading to a couple of deaths, so that the evil Star's government could put new, restrictive laws in place under the guise of keeping the people safe.  Something that *many* think happens in the real world....

The pain of the characters I've grown to know so well was heartrending, and some of this book was the very best stuff I've read by this author.  She has a real knack of choosing exactly the right POV for each part of the story, and really seems to understand that sometimes a not fully informed, third party account of another character's situation can tell the reader so much more than the actual words.

This is an excellent book; my only slight complaint is that it seemed a bit rushed at times, with some areas needing more detail; I thought it might have been better stretched over two books, as I didn't get a feeling of time passing.  But I still loved it, and the fact that I would have liked it to be two books instead of one says it all, really. 😌