Friday, 28 June 2019

THE MORNING STAR by C W Hawes @cw_hawes

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: bought a while back via a passing tweet; I chose it out of the many unread books on my tablet after it was recommended by a Twitter friend.

In a Nutshell: Survival eight months after an incident that killed off the majority of the population.  Setting: various places in the US, settling in Missouri.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  Having started and abandoned two other books of the same genre before opening this one, it was great to find something intelligently written by a writer with real talent; as soon as I'd read the first page I was sure I was going to love it.

Bill Arthur is a guy in his late fifties who is surviving after whatever happened on 'That Day'.  Along his travels southwards from Minnesota, after leaving groups that weren't working out, he teams up with several others, and they settle in Rocheport, Missouri.  All is going smoothly - but then another group turn up, led by a religious zealot.

This is a post apocalyptic book about real people, about survival and the effect of TEOTWAWKI on humans used to every technological convenience.  It's told by Bill in the first person, in a laid back sort of diary format.  Of course, this structure has its limitations, namely in describing events that happen to others in Bill's group, and further afield, but this is handled well, and never clumsily.

I liked Bill a lot, enjoyed reading his philosophical thoughts and the methods employed for the group's well-being; I was engrossed all the way through.  Although not a gun fights and action book, it is not without suspense and danger, and is certainly a page turner.

I've knocked off half a star because of an editorial issue (ie, one the editor should have picked up on) that is one of my pet whinges: the not infrequent use of the term 'Sally (or whoever) and I' when it should have been 'Sally and me'**, and because I was frustrated that we were never told exactly what happened on 'That Day', or why it occurred.

These minor issues aside, I absolutely recommend this book for lovers of this genre; it's a quiet gem, and one I'm glad I've discovered.  C W Hawes is a terrific writer, and I've already begun the second book in the series.

** I wrote a blog post about this, a while back, entitled 'The grammatical error that even the most intelligent people make' - it's HERE if you want to read it.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

SECRET KILL by Robin Storey

4.5 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.

In a Nutshell: Novella.  Former criminal turned good guy is forced back into the underworld.  Set mostly in Melbourne.

I liked this book more and more as it went on.  Ex-crim Jackson Forbes is confronted by a grown-up daughter he never knew about - and she wants something from him.  Not just fatherly love, or money, but help; Frida is in trouble, and Jack is about to be pitched back into a world he thought he'd left behind.

This is a novella (40K words or under; I imagine this is around 40k), and I appreciated the way in which the story fitted perfectly into the shorter length; there was no feeling that it needed more detail anywhere, which in turn made me feel as though I had read a full-length novel.  Any longer, and it might have dragged, or been filled with superfluous detail.  It's an easy read and well-written, with a convincing plot.

I read another book by this author and my main complaint about that was that the characters didn't come across.  In Secret Kill, however, I felt that Jack and Frida were completely real; there were no sudden shifts in personality like before.  There was one revelation about Jack's past that made me less sympathetic towards him, but, boy, did he pay for it.  I was fairly set on 4* all the way through, but the unexpected and unusual ending made me want to add an extra half star.  Good one.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

MAHONEY by Andrew Joyce @huckfinn76

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:  Family saga about three Mahoney men, from Ireland's Great Famine of 1846, to the 1930s.

I adore family sagas through the generations, and have a great interest in American history of the last two hundred years, so I leapt on this book when I saw it on the review team list.

The book is split into three sections: Devin, the 19 year old from Ireland eager to make his fortune in America, his son, Dillon, who sets out to travel west, and David, the privileged son of Dillon, whose fortunes take a different turn during the Depression. 

I'll start by saying that a great strength of this book is the dialogue, which never falters in its quality, and is the main reason why the characterisation is so good.  I was also most impressed by the research that had gone into the book; it is clear, throughout, that Mr Joyce has a great understanding of the peoples of each time and place in the novel.

I adored the first part, about Devin; I looked forward to getting back to it each time I had to put it down.  Devin's route to America is depicted so colourfully that I was completely engrossed.  I was disappointed when his section ended; I wanted to carry on reading about him.  I liked the next part, about Dillon's adventures in 'Wild West' Wyoming, but, although the book continued to be well-written, admirably researched, and flowed so well, I was less convinced by Dillon as a character.  

My interested was piqued again by the start of David's section - I loved reading about the spoilt, self-centred young man who cared nothing for his family or the struggles lived through by his father and grandfather.  His first experiences as the Depression hit kept me engrossed, too, but after he changed his way of thinking, I became less convinced by him.  I think what I was not so keen on was the way in which Dillon and David kept bumping into strangers, on the road and in bars, and everywhere else, who offered them the chance to change their lives for the better.  Devin's life seemed more realistic, whereas Dillon and David appeared to fall into one piece of great luck after another.  I was also less keen on David's section because so much of it was dialogue-led, which is not a preference of mine; this is not a criticism, just a personal preference.

Despite the aspects about which I wasn't so sure, it's a most entertaining book.  I think it has real value as a fictional history of America the period between 1846 - the 1930s, even if I felt some of it was rushed through; there is a lot of material for one novel.  Mr Joyce can certainly write; I have just downloaded another of his books, Resolution.  I was also impressed by how he wrote Devin and David in the third person, but Dillon in the first; this was absolutely the right choice, and a clever one.

I'd most certainly recommend this novel for lovers of family sagas through the ages, particularly if you have an interest in American history.

Monday, 10 June 2019

NEW YORK 1609 by Harald Johnson #RBRT @AuthorHarald

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 didn't choose it at first; I did so after reading this review on the blog of Sean, another team member.

In a Nutshell: A fictionalised history of the invasion of the land that became New York, and the city's founding.

A terrific novel, telling of the 'discovery' of Manhattan Island by Henry Hudson, and the beginning of the callous and careless ruination of the Native American way of life.  

The main character is the part-white Dancing Fish, who believes he is gifted with insight into the ways of the 'visitors' from the east.  The story starts in 1609 and moves, through four parts, through to the 1640s, as gradually the Manahate and other tribes are pushed out of their land; the book tells, also, of how they begin to take on the ways of the white man, and become less self-sufficient, something that saddens Dancing Fish.

This is a long book, but at no time did it feel over-written or padded out.  It seems like a foreshadowing of many years to come, as the greed and cunning of the 'civilised' treads into the ground and destroys a culture that had existed, successfully, for hundreds of years; indeed, it makes one question the meaning of the word 'civilised'.  Only once or twice did we see the Europeans' respect for the natives' affinity with the land, in Henry Hudson, in Boucher, an early explorer who was left behind by his party, and Marie, his daughter.

In the latter part of the story, the settlers' treatment of the natives is unbelievably brutal, sickening and heartbreaking, made worse because you know that all this and more really happened. But the ending is not without hope; Johnson's characters have a wisdom far beyond most of their enemies.

Johnson finishes with notes, in brief, about what happened afterwards, and explains which parts of his story have their grounding in fact.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

HOTEL OBSCURE by Lisette Brodey @LisetteBrodey

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read about it in an interview with the author on another author's blog.

In a Nutshell: short stories, separate but with connections, all taking place in a rundown hotel.

I was pleased to find that the seventeen stories in this collection are all quite long, making this book novel-length - there's plenty to get your teeth into.  One element I loved was loose connections between them; if you have a shocking memory like mine, it's best to read them in order, and without too much of a break in between, so you don't start thinking, 'oh yes, she's talking about that chap in that other one, two stories before...which one was it?'  But it doesn't matter if you don't remember, because each works well on its own.

As with most collections, some of them I just quite liked, others I liked more, and a few I thought were outstanding.  There isn't one weak one, though; it's a fine book, all round.  Number three was the first one I really loved, and remained one of my favourites; 'I'm a Fucking Cliché' had a totally different voice from the first two, and featured a self-destructive writer.  I also liked the one that connected to it, 'I Miss Him (The Great Sabotage)'.  The more I read, the more I admired Ms Brodey's understanding of the human psyche; many contained such astute observations, perfect dialogue, immaculate characterisation and some delightful turns of phrase.

Others I liked a lot:
  • 'Twenty-Seven', about a musician's appalling luck in life.
  • 'Only Sixteen', which was one of the saddest.
  • 'To Be Perfectly Frank'.
  • 'Thursday, Wrapped in Sadness' - another heartbreaker.
Some are told mostly in dialogue, others in the inner narrative of the protagonist, either in first or third person; I preferred the latter, but even here there was an exception; 'Junk Truck', a most compelling tale in which the main character is stalked by a lonely, probably psychotic woman desperate for her friendship.  As with others, the tone reminded me, on occasion, of Dorothy Parker's short stories, which I have read over and over. 'Junk Truck' had its threads neatly sewn together in the final story, 'Ellmore J Badget Jnr's Very Unusual Day'. 

This isn't a book for those looking for something 'feel-good'; though not without humour and the occasional happy ending, the stories are sad, raw, tragic, enveloped in loneliness and desperation, sometimes of the character's own making.  But other times not; on occasion I felt so sorry for the person I was reading about that I wished I could climb the dingy staircase of Hotel Obscure and make everything okay for them.  Yes, I most certainly recommend :)

Finally, I love this, taken from another review on 

'There is, though, an eighteenth story that is not immediately apparent. It belongs not to a person, but to the Hotel Obscure itself. We don’t know the beginning of the hotel. We don’t know the ending. We only know the middle. The beginning and the ending are for us to provide. The middle is provided by Ms Brodey.'