Saturday 30 March 2019

STORYTELLERS by Bjørn Larssen @bjornlarssen #RBRT

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, but I'd been interested in it since seeing the author talking about it on Twitter, so I bought a copy when it came out, anyway.

In a Nutshell: Icelandic history set in the 1920s, with moments of subtle humour.

I loved this book - it was a delight to read, an unusual debut novel by a writer with much talent.

The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his 'medicine' (alcohol).  One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again.  From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.

Meanwhile, Gunnar's life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways.  I loved these women - the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read.  The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, amusingly executed as it is.

This is actually a story within a story - the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime.  Threaded through Gunnar's own tale is another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers.  Both stories are so compelling.

As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.  

The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing.  The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered.  In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a 'page-turner', was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.

The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*.  When I read the book it contained a few editorial errors; Americanisms and phrases/words too modern for the time, but I believe these have now been remedied.  English is not the author's first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don't want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders.

This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.

Bjørn Larssen writes about Iceland 99 years ago 

Author Bio:

Bjørn Larssen - writer, blacksmith, mathematician, graphic designer, model (not all at the same time) was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine,,, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.

Bjørn used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.

Thursday 28 March 2019


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read stacks of this author's books and actually can't keep up with the rate at which she writes them!

In a Nutshell: Zombie apocalypse, nine years in, set in Oklahoma.  Possibly YA.

A new zombie apocalypse series, set in the same world as the fabulous Broken World series, but in Oklahoma, starring Reagan, a 21-year-old who has been taken care of by her brother's best friend, Kellan, since the collapse occurred, nine years before, when their families all died.  They're now in a secret underground shelter, with four others - I liked that three of the characters actually come from one of the short stories in Broken Stories - love this sort of detail/connection.

Kate Mary is as readable as ever, and this story zips along, with some great new plot ideas that make it stand out from the usual collapse/survival/fight off zombies and scary people scenarios - I liked, too, that it started nine years in.  

Ms Mary does incorporate a fair bit of romantic suspense into her post apoc stories - a warning for those who don't like this element.  Whereas I was mostly fine with it in the Broken World series, because Vivian and Axl's relationship was so heartrendingly real, I wasn't so keen in this one.  Like, we knew they were going to end up together, so I didn't need to read about Reagan's frustrated hormones and Kellan's avowals of 'I have to keep you safe' every few pages; I was keen to get back to the survival/danger aspects.  But perhaps that's just me, not being into romantic suspense.  If you are, you'll love it.

I didn't find the characters quite so compelling in this story as the previous series, but I still kept reading because I loved the setting, the plot is excellent, and she writes so well.

Friday 22 March 2019


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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: character drama spanning several decades, dealing with sociopolitical issues of mid-twentieth century America.

I was attracted to this book because of the great title, the great cover, and the blurb that spoke of the 1951 campaign to root out communists in the US film industry, something that interests me greatly.  Mr Levitt writes well, and the book flowed along nicely.  I did like much of it, hence the 4 stars, although it was not the book I expected.

The anti-communist witch-hunt is dealt with in a brief fashion in the first ten per cent, after which the novel is about the life of Sophie Hearn, the daughter of Larry, who suffered under the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) campaign.  Running alongside Sophie's story is that of Steve, whose parents were also involved; I found his early development one of the most compelling parts of the book, especially as it took place in a time when developmental disorders went unrecognised.

Mr Levitt creates the atmosphere of 1960s California so well, I would imagine from personal experience, and many of the incidental characters come alive immediately, particularly in their dialogue.

The reason I didn't enjoy the book quite as much as I had hoped is that there was not much actual plot; it is more of a biographical account of Sophie's life, with chapters dedicated to the social issues of the time.  Throughout, I kept waiting for some real conflict, or suspense; opportunities for drama were missed, with any problems (one character's excessive use of marijuana, and, later, the logistics of a mixed race marriage) being resolved quickly and easily, within a page or two, almost as if the author had a checklist of issues to be mentioned.

I enjoyed reading Steve and Sophie's experience at their student parties (and the ridiculous dialogue of the hippie idealists was extremely well done), but few of the scenarios tied together, events happening in isolation.  I wonder if there was perhaps too much material for one book; the author has dealt with not only the HUAC campaign, but also the newly permissive 1960s, sexism, drugs, the women's lib movement, living in a commune, new teaching methods, racism, the difficulties of mixed race marriages, employment problems—all this is crammed into one medium-length novel, whereas any one of those subjects would make a great basis for a story all on its own.  This is a debut novel, and I know it can be a temptation to play all your cards straight away!

The bulk of the book is about Sophie running an experimental school, and her subsequent difficulties in finding a post in a 'public' school.  Sadly, I never got a sense of who Sophie was, though Steve was a rounded, three-dimensional character.

What kept me turning the pages was the writing style, which is extremely readable, the entertaining snapshots of particular aspects of the era, the fact that the author clearly knew his subject matter so well, and the excellent dialogue in the portraits of incidental characters.  In the last fifteen per cent, too, there is more of a coming together of Sophie and Steve's lives, a little more suspense, and an explanation of why and how they were affected by what happened to their parents at the beginning of the book.

To sum up: as a fictional account of the sociological history of the era, this is a most fascinating book; for those who are looking for a plot-driven novel about the HUAC campaign and its affects, though, not so much.

Thursday 14 March 2019

HERE AFTER by Sean Costello

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

In a Nutshell: Man whose son has just died goes on a mission to find the son of a friend who has been abducted.  Paranormal element.

I was attracted to this book because I'm a sucker for a cover with a road going into the distance, and I made the decision to buy because the reviews are so good.  I didn't realise until later that I'd read an earlier book by this author, Squall, that I thought only so-so; this book, though, is in a different class.

The early part, when main character Peter is dragging himself through his days after the death of his son, is so well done and believable.  I'm not usually much of a one for death-in-family dramas, but this is very readable.  At a group for parents who have lost children, he meets Roger, whose son was abducted.  Roger is a mess; aggressive, drinking too much.  Peter begins to see a connection with Roger's son and another boy abducted previously.

After the great start I felt my enthusiasm for this book ebb and flow; sometimes I was really enjoying it, other times I thought it needed a bit of editing down, as there is a fair bit of detail that I found too long-winded.  Then I'd start to enjoy it again, particularly in some terrific bits of dialogue with some people Peter meets on his search; small town types, and a great section in which some the policemen on watch outside another abducted child's house are killed.  You know when you read a few pages and find yourself sitting back, thinking, wow, that was good?

One thing I did like was that the paranormal element (only minor) is not over the top; it was just kind of touching.  And he never tried to explain it, which absolutely worked for me.

The last third of the book is the best, really gripping, and the plot unfolds in a way I would never have guessed; it would make a great TV series.  I definitely recommend!

Friday 8 March 2019

THE CLEANSING by Anton Eine @AntonEine

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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 short story 

I liked this story - it's clever and well written.  Unusual, too - it consists only of dialogue, with no dialogue tags, between two beings (aliens) in a space ship, many miles from our galaxy, and many millions of years (one presumes) into the future.  

The aliens' mission is to wipe out any life on Earth, but as they look into the future of humankind they become increasingly intrigued by the way in which we have fought to survive pandemics, invasion, wars, all manner of natural disasters; they're especially interested in the way we have documented our history in intricate detail.

The story held my interest all the way through; it ticked boxes from imaginative to funny, and I thought the chosen method of execution, ie the dialogue, was inspired.

Please note: I have since heard from the author who told me that I totally missed the point of this, ie, that the book is set in the present, and the aliens are watching our films, thus seeing the disasters, etc.... never mind.  I enjoyed it as it was, anyway!!!

Tuesday 5 March 2019

NOT HERE by Genevieve Nocovo

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
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: Mystery/thriller set in San Francisco.

Dina Ostica, a 23 year old podcaster living alone in San Francisco, has a troubled background after escaping a difficult relationship.  The mystery begins when her friend, an old hippie who is her go-to source for material for her podcasts about life in and the history of the city, disappears.

I thought the atmosphere of the city came across as most authentic; it is clear that the author has a fine knowledge of the place.  I liked the subject matter; Dina's story was very 'current', with issues raised so relevant to this part of the 21st century.  The problem I had with the book as a whole, though, was that it felt rather flat.  There were too many irrelevancies that were not woven into the story, like what people wore and what they ate, intricate detail about gym sessions and mundane conversational exchanges.  Dina is written in the third person, in such a way that we never experience her inner thoughts; we are told how she feels, or what she thinks about something, but I felt that I was being supplied with information, rather than getting to know a character.

The plot is well put together (aside from the fact that I couldn't work out how Dina hoped to make enough money to live on from podcasting), the ideas are interesting and the book is professionally presented, but the writing itself needs some work if this series is to become memorable.  The information was all there, such as what a place looked like and what happened after what had happened previously, but I never felt involved in the story or the characters.

I believe this is the author's debut novel.  It is competent and the basics are there, with some excellent plotting and slow build of suspense; she just needs to work on really getting inside the head of her characters, seeking ways to make her storytelling more captivating, and her dialogue more realistic, character revealing and interesting.

SHADOW OF PERSEPHONE by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I love this author's books and she has instructions to let me know as soon as a new one comes out!

In a Nutshell: the first in a two-part series about Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

Gemma Lawrence has given an interesting and unusual view of Catherine Howard in this first book about her life, which starts when she was sent to be brought up at the house of her grandmother, Agnes Howard, from the age of around seven, and takes us right through to her wedding to Henry VIII.  Ms Lawrence gives a thorough explanation, in the back of the book, about why she sees her not as the frivolous, superficial butterfly who knew little and cared less, but as a abused, lonely child, damaged by her early experiences, who, though not academically educated, was intelligent, clever, and used those experiences to gather her wits about her for what was to come. 

As with all Ms Lawrence's books, this spares no historical detail.  In the first twenty per cent, when Catherine was child and the country was caught up in the saga of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, there is much talk of what was going on at court.  This is conveyed mostly in staged conversation between Agnes Howard and the Duke of Norfolk (almost like a play), and although it is interesting, and relevant to the world in which Catherine would eventually find herself, I looked forward to getting back to the story of Catherine.  As the novel progresses, her own life soon takes centre stage once more, and I was completely engrossed; it was one of the those books that got better and better as it went along, and by 80% I was trying to read slowly to make it last longer

The second half of the book concerns much about when Catherine went to court, and the Anne of Cleves fiasco.  This part was particularly fascinating to me, as I have only read a few accounts of the second and more fortunate Anne, the true winner in the tale of Henry VIII's six wives.  I loved the court gossip; much of the tale is told in this way.  

Few reliable accounts about Catherine Howard exist, and if I sometimes thought that Ms Lawrence wrote her as more mature, analytical and intelligent than one imagines her, this all made sense in the notes about her at the back, where Ms Lawrence gives a highly convincing argument for the young Howard girl having far more savvy than history would have us believe - you've won me over to your way of thinking, Gemma!  If you already know the story of Catherine, it might make sense to read these first.

The novel tells us much about the lot of women in those days - even if rich, from a 'good' family and in possession of much beauty and intelligence, their lives were never their own, with their futures completely at the whim of men's wishes and politics.  Those who survived and gained some happiness were masters of the game, or simply those who were in the right place at the right time - but even clever souls like Anne Boleyn and Catherine could not get every move right.  Maybe the cleverest of all were those who understood their lot and didn't try to assert themselves - like Anne of Cleves.

This was a fine book, and I am already counting the days until the release of the second part.