4 out of 5 stars
On Stephanie's Etsy Shop
On various online retailers listed here on books2read
4 out of 5 stars
That time of the year again....
Usually I do a Top Twenty, but I haven't found so much reading time this year. Out of the fifty-five-ish books I have read or started to read (not all of them reviewed on this blog), I have chosen my ten favourites, which is actually twelve, because two of them have a sequel or related book that I liked just as much. They were not necessarily published in 2020, but this is when I read them.
At the bottom are three other books that were my nearly-favourites, so it's really fifteen, I suppose! Please note - when reviewing, I may on occasion give a book 4.5* or possibly even 5* because I feel it is worthy of that rating, even if it wasn't quite my thing; I try to always review objectively. This list, however, is made up simply of those I loved the most.
These are in no particular order, but they all come with my highest recommendation. If you click the title of the book, it will take you to my full review, with Amazon and Goodreads links.
~ Tudor historical fiction ~
~ 19th/early 20th century historical fiction ~
~ Contemporary Drama ~
~ Memoir ~
~Photography, with non-fiction historical text~
~6th-7th Century Historical Fiction~
~ Victorian Murder Mystery ~
~ Post-Apocalyptic ~
~ Post-Apocalyptic ~
(I said 'no particular order', but, okay, the following are my top three 😉)
~ 10th Century Icelandic Historical Fiction ~
~ Post-Apocalyptic ~
~ Tudor Historical Fiction ~
I'd also like to give a mention for these three, that almost made the top ten:
Obsession by Robin Storey
~ Psychological thriller novella ~
~ SciFi/Climate Change/Dystopian ~
~ Dark Contemporary Fiction ~
📚 Happy Reading! 📚
How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. I couldn't resist that gorgeous cover, even before I read the blurb!
In a Nutshell: Romance and family dramas, set in Hawaii, California and Cambodia
This book was not as I expected from the blurb. I did enjoy much of it, even though I was expecting to read about human relationships in general, travel, adventures in and the cultures of countries far away; however, this aspect of it does not start until Part 5, at 72% in the Kindle version. For the most part, this book is a romance.
Luna and Lucien are two rather humourless, intense young people, both so introspective that I felt the powerful love between them was more about seeing a reflection of themselves in each other. They meet because Luna leaves her journal in a café they both frequent, and Lucien finds and reads it. I liked the beginning of the book, when Luna is young and spends her summers with her beloved grandmother in Hawaii; this came alive for me, making me feel nostalgic for a place I had never been to, which is always a good sign. The grandmother was lovely, and I enjoyed reading about the life there. As Luna grows older, falls in love for the first time and discovers secrets about her family, her naïveté is a little irritating, and I found Lucien's obsession with her and her journal a little creepy.
I could easily have skipped the drawn-out detail about their love affair to get to by far the most interesting part of the book: Luna's experiences in Cambodia. I had limited knowledge about this country, and what I read made me want to find out more, so this certainly ticked a box.
As for the writing itself, it flows very well, and the author writes nicely, though I found the dialogue rather unrealistic, particularly between Luna and Lucien. Much of the book is written in journal entry and letters between the two main characters, a structure I like, and alternates between their two points of view. I found the main characters too bland to care much what happened between or to them, but this is only personal taste; other readers may see this story as a beautiful romance. Had there been more about Hawaii and Cambodia and less about Lucien and Luna's self-absorption, I might have loved it.
How I discovered this book: I've read loads of Blake Crouch books and hadn't bought one in a while, so I took an Amazon browse and decided on this one.
In a Nutshell: Parallel lives and time travel.
Scientist Helena's life's work is making a memory device - a 'chair' - that can extract memories from the brain and store them. The purpose of this is to help her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. Out of the blue, she is approached by entrepreneur Marcus Slade, who wants to fund her project. She little realises that Slade has other plans...
Barry is a cop whose daughter died when she was fifteen; this death led to the break-up of his marriage. When his world collides with Helena's, the fate of the entire human race is affected.
I admit to getting slightly lost with the science in this book, as I didn't absolutely understand how the reliving of memories could work in the way they did, though this is perhaps because I found it difficult to think of time as anything other than linear; I'd be about to grasp it then not understand the next bit. It amounts to time travel, as Helena goes back to her sixteenth birthday over and over again, in an effort to alter the catastrophic outcome of the technology that she created and Slade misused.
I did enjoy reading it, and I liked all the parallel life stuff; it is clear that this book has involved an incredible amount of work and thinking through, and I love the way Mr Crouch writes, generally, but it's not my favourite of his books (my favourites are Abandon, and his collection of short stories, Fully Loaded). I found it overly complicated, and ended up just reading it as a story without trying to understand exactly what was happening. It has a good ending, which I always appreciate.
How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.
In A Nutshell: Light mystery set in Florida
Art lecturer Jane Chasen is recently widowed and moves from Detroit to live within a community in Florida. Shortly after her arrival, she admires a neighbour's unusual art installation - but then a murder takes place. Detective Jesse Singer wants her help when dissecting the art angle of the case, and together with friend Kim and neighbour George, Jane sets out to help solve the mystery. Also involved is FBI agent Barb, who has a special relationship with George.
It's clear from the book that Ms Harrison is familiar with this part of Florida, and she makes it sound idyllic. There is quite a lot of most interesting detail about Jane's loveless marriage to the late Stan, and I couldn't help feeling glad for her that she was able to start this new chapter in her life, despite the difficulties with her daughter, who accuses her of being glad her father is dead. Jane is fifty-five; I very much liked the way in which she is not written as an 'older woman', but simply how your average fifty-five year old is, these days - still wearing cool clothes, being up for adventure and new experiences, and a new love relationship. She could have been any age from thirty to sixty-five-ish.
The novel is nicely written, perfectly presented, and a cosy 'easy read'; the sort of story to be relax with after a long, busy day. Good for women who want to read about older female main characters - and I must just drop this quote in, that I really liked:
'Jane felt bad for George. Young people didn't get it. Love wasn't fate or soul mates, it was just hormones that evaporated with time.'
How I discovered this book: Twitter
In A Nutshell: A collection of historical long-short stories by various authors, all on the subject of betrayal.
This is a fine collection—it is rare to find an anthology by many authors without a weak moment here and there, but this is such. The stories follow on through time, chronologically, starting with Death At Feet of Venus, set in Roman times, by Derek Birks, and ending with a modern day story featuring alternative history, The Idealist by Alison Morton.
The stories you like best will depend on your preferences for writing style and the periods that interest you most; my favourites were House Arrest by Judith Arnopp, about Margaret Beaufort, who is one of my historical heroes—I highly recommend Ms Arnopp's series about her, incidentally—and Love to Hatred Turn'd by Annie Whitehead, set in the 10th century; Ms Whitehead has that knack of making you feel as though you are sitting within the king's great hall in the kingdom of Wessex, as you are reading. I also very much liked All Those Tangled Webs by Anna Belfrage, which covers the time in 1330 just after Edward II had died, and Road to The Tower by Elizabeth St. John, about the lead up to the imprisonment of Princes Edward and Richard, who famously disappeared from the Tower of London.
I bow with respect to all involved. Highly recommended.
In a Nutshell: Novella about one day in the life of three German soldiers. Written in the first person from one point of view.
On a freezing day during a Polish winter, three German soldiers out 'hunting' find a young Jewish man hidden in a hole. After his capture, hungry and tired, they make camp in a deserted hovel, where they break up furniture and doors in order to make a fire and cook the little food they have into a soup. Soon, a guest arrives: a Pole, who displays great animosity towards the Jew, and offers his bottle of alcohol for a share of their meal.
The novella, which I would say took me about two or three hours to read altogether, centres around that cold afternoon and evening in the hovel, while the five wait for the meal to cook and, finally, get to eat. The German soldiers are portrayed not as monsters, but simply as men trying to find a way to sleep at night, in view of what they must do. Of the three, Bauer is the most ruthless and jaded; I had the impression that he has only become so because of the horrors of the holocaust. Emmerich, on the other hand, is plagued by guilt and fear about the effects of their actions on the rest of his life.
The brutality of their existence, and those of the Pole and the Jew, underlined for me once again how we in the Western world in the present day know so little about true hardship. It's beautifully written, highly atmospheric, a story that will stay with me for some time.
In a Nutshell: A man with nothing to lose.
This was a terrific story, a most original idea that would make a marvellous film or miniseries. Three friends, Michael, Drew and Aaron, get together on the eve of Drew's wedding. Aaron, who works on top secret projects at NASA, tells the other two about a gamma ray burst that will hit the southern hemisphere the next day. He warns that it will quickly destroy the food chain, cause massive radiation and thus end human life on earth, sooner rather than later. Basically, the world is about to end.
During Drew's wedding the sky does indeed light up at exactly the time Aaron predicted, but the news media dismisses it as a harmless event, as he warned would happen.
The story is written in the third person POV of Michael, and details his reactions to this news, and the effect it has on him. Having always been an introverted sort of guy who lived a 'safe' life, he wonders if, now that there is so little time left, he can let loose a part of himself that he is not even sure exists.
The characters are all clearly defined, and the dialogue is great—you know it's good when you don't feel as though you're 'reading dialogue', as I didn't, in this. The plot itself is extremely well thought out, with plenty of surprises, though a few warning bells did ring for me early on. On the whole I enjoyed reading it, though I found it somewhat lacking in suspense; there was too much 'Michael did this, then Michael did that'. I thought some of the detail could have been edited out; a loss of around twenty-per cent could have made it sharper, fast-paced, more of a page-turner. It just needed a bit more pizazz, to do justice to the excellent plot. I also expected a final twist that never came; okay, I'd actually decided what it would be, but this is Patrick Morgan's book, not mine!
This is a commendable first novel, and I'm sure that the author will develop his style as he continues to write. Nice one.
In A Nutshell: Literary coming-of-age novel set in 1960s New Jersey, with a low-key mystery.
From the blurb, I thought this book would be dark and plot-driven; it mentions protagonist Ben's suspicions about a body found floating in the lake, thus: As Ben’s suspicions mount, he’s forced to confront the terrifying
possibility that his close-knit community is not what it seems to
be—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darker forces
may be at work. I expected all sorts of sinister revelations, but the Ben's questions surrounding the death of Helen Lowenthal form the background rather than the main story—though when his answer arrives, it is shocking indeed. I love a good twist within a twist that I didn't even half-guess, and this certainly ticked that box.
Essentially, this is a coming-of-age novel. Although I think it could have done with a little more plot, the writing itself is spectacularly good, of much literary merit, making it a joy to read. The subtleties of the characters, traditions and social protocols of the Jewish community in the 1960s were acutely observed, as were the marital problems of Ben's parents, his mother's neuroses, and his own burgeoning drink problem. Later, the lake by which the community lives is contaminated, which I took to be allegorical of not only the underlying problems within the society that was Red Meadow, but the 1960s themselves—the corruption and unrest beneath the image of hope, prosperity, revolution and the Summer of Love. Or perhaps I'm reading too much into it.
It's one of those books that I didn't absolutely love because of personal preference about genre, but I can appreciate is first class of its type. Should complex family intrigue, stunningly good writing, coming-of-age dramas and the strange new world of the 1960s be totally your thing, I would recommend that you buy and start reading this immediately. And the ending is perfect.
In A Nutshell: A re-telling of Norse myths
I'm not the ideal reader for this book, as all I know about Norse mythology is (very) basic information about Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki, what Valhalla and Ragnarok are, and that's about it. Also, I am not a fan of fantasy, on the whole; magic and hallucinatory goings on - nah, you can keep it. However, I was hugely impressed by Storytellers and had read some excerpts of this before it was published, which I liked a lot, so wanted to take a look at this.
The main characters, their stories told alternately and in the first person, are Magni, son of Thor, and sorceress Maya, who has had a somewhat difficult upbringing, not least of all under the watchful eye of the goddess Freya, one heck of a piece of work, to say the least. I liked Maya; she was amusing and spunky. I loved Magni; yes, even when he was taking part in raids on farms, and killing people.
Children is atmospheric, clever, brutal, emotional, extremely well-written, intelligent, imaginative, and funny—and the dialogue is spectacularly good, some of the best I've read. Now and again, the dialogue and Magni's inner thoughts made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I read. The sexual activity in the book does not hold back, but get this: it didn't make me cringe. And that comes from someone who almost always cringes at sex scenes. Magni's feelings for Herjólf were so real, so well-portrayed; anyone who has ever been in love (or infatuated with) someone who remains elusive will feel Magni's pain throughout.
My favourite part was when Magni was first involved with the outlaws (I loved Ludo, too!), and I also liked Maya's encounter with Harbard, the idea of Idunn's fruit, Magni's conversations with his father, and the information about what each of the 'worlds' is all about, which interested me enough to look up more about Norse mythology.
Subject-wise, it wasn't absolutely my cup of tea, and I did get a bit confused with all the Norse names sometimes ('hang on, was that a person or a place?'), but it's definitely a novel of which Bjørn Larssen should be very proud indeed, and if the magical and mythological floats your boat, I would recommend that you buy it without delay.
In a Nutshell: dystopian alternative present, post-'Crisis', in which everyone lives in fear of viruses. Yes, I'm aware of the irony in that sentence.
I gathered that this book is set not in the future but in an alternative though chillingly relevant fictional present; there are some suggestions of the years in which events took place, though not many. At some point which I took to be the recent past, the 'Crisis' has occurred: over 200 million deaths and counting, as spiralling drug resistance means that ordinary infections can kill, and the availability of antibiotics that actually work is severely limited. Seventy years old is the cut-off point for being allowed anything but over-the-counter medication. If ill, men and women wait for a painful death, or can choose to end their own lives.
The narrative zig-zags between present and past, a structure I always like, as the meshing of the two timelines is gradually revealed. Kate, a nurse in the restriction and doom-filled present, has a husband and daughter, but knows she was adopted. The other main present day POV is that of Lily, a woman in a private care home facing her seventieth birthday. The chapters in the past centre around Mary, a biologist in South Africa, who meets the married Piet Bekker, and begins a love affair. It is clear almost from the start that Mary later becomes 'Lily' (ie, this is not a spoiler); the reasons why are revealed slowly, throughout the book. The plot centres round the Crisis itself, the part Mary and Bekker played in the TB pandemic, and family secrets.
I enjoyed reading this unusual story, which brings to mind many frightening real life predictions. The contrast between Lily and Kate's world in the present and Mary and Bekker's carefree life at the end of the last century is heartrending, and makes me glad I am old enough to remember the 1960s-90s. A most memorable part for me was Mary's obsessive love for Bekker; her every emotion and action were so real. Bekker was horribly arrogant, and I felt so sad for her, especially as time went on; the 'other woman' is so often seen as a person whose feelings are of no importance. In order to avoid facing up to choices made by the husband and father, the family is inclined to place all blame on the girlfriend.
As for Africa, the sense of place was so vivid; it made me feel nostalgic for somewhere I have not been.
There were a couple of aspects about which I was not so sure; I couldn't work out why Lily, at just sixty-nine, seemed more like a woman in her nineties. She had crippling arthritis, but the other descriptions of her (papery skin, wispy white hair, etc) seemed unlikely. Several of my friends are in their late sixties, and look much the same as I do (I'm 61); my mother didn't seem that decrepit even in her late eighties, and she had Alzheimer's. It's possible that I missed something; there was a lot of information to take in (if I did, please tell me!). Also, I wished there had been a little more explanation of the Crisis itself, exactly how it unfolded, what actually happened, rather than just snapshots; the accounts were a little haphazard, and I felt it was here that the zig-zagging between time periods came unstuck. A bit of chronology might have helped.
On the whole, though, it's one of those 'not 5* but better than 4*' books, and one I definitely recommend.
I didn't realise when I bought this book that it's YA. I've recently read other post-apocalyptic books in which the main characters were adolescent, that didn't feel YA at all. It was only later that I looked at its categories on Amazon, and discovered the intended audience.
That having been said, at first I loved it. Starts with Cassie, who is 16, in the later stages (the 4th wave) of the takeover of Earth by aliens. Back to when they first appear - a ship, hovering near us in space for 10 days, while the entire country is in uproar about what it might mean.
The 1st wave is an EMP blackout that wipes out the electrical grid. The 2nd is a spate of tsunamis around all coastal areas, forcing survivors into the centre of all countries. 3rd, a plague that wipes out 97% of humanity. The 4th is discovered only gradually - apparent humans who are 'infested' with something that alters their brains to make them think like the aliens.
First we see what happens to Cassie, from the 1st-4th waves. Next, a chapter from the POV of a teenage boy, who actually survives the plague. Thirdly, one from the POV of one of the soldiers whose was impregnanted with whatever it is that the aliens put there - this happened 4 years before. This part, in particular, I found most absorbing.
Then we go forward a little and find Cassie trapped in the snow, almost dead. This is where the book fell down for me. Her saviour just happens to be an amazingly hot-looking guy of around 18, who is living in a cabin alone. Somehow, he has all the equipment and know-how to save her from certain death. Despite them having lost everything, being in horrendous danger and, no doubt, deep shock, the two engage in flirtatious teen banter, and it becomes more like the sort of romance I would have abandoned even when I was at the younger end of the book's target market. So I stopped reading it, which was shame, because the rest of it was SO good. I might go back to it, and just skip-read the romance bits. I'm not sure.
I wouldn't normally review a book I didn't finish, but I am doing so because a) I had already set up this page with the links, b) the rest of it was extremely good, and c) it might help other YA writers to realise that 'teenage' doesn't mean 'unaware that developments are ludicrous'. On the other hand, it's got literally thousands of great reviews, so maybe it's just me. On the other other hand, some of the lower star ones also complain about the emphasis on the teen crush, rather than the excellent plot. So maybe it's not.
In A Nutshell: Government conspiracy/sci-fi thriller
This is the sequel to Rackman's Voyager, which I haven't read, but it totally works as a stand-alone; there is enough information about what happened before, without long, tedious explanations. Could actually be presented as a masterclass in how to do this!
Former pilot Matt Ramprakash is now an aviation expert for M15, and, along with many from other government agencies, etc, awaits assitance from anti-terrorism body Sentinel in taking action on a hijacked plane - but who are the hijackers? The discovery that his old enemy, the Triumvirate, are involved, leads him to Antarctica, along with Sentinel, his wife - and Mirage, a 'supersoldier' who has been genetically engineered - or has she?
As I was reading this, it occurred to me that Carl Rackman has invented his own genre - seemingly earthbound thrillers that end up being a bit paranormal, without it seeming weird. Works very well! The amount of research that has gone into this book is evident; it's highly professional, extremely well-written, and should appeal to anyone who loves an intricate government thriller. With some alien stuff thrown in. I read at the end that a third book is planned - I would love to see some of it from the point of view of the Visitors. The ending was one of the best I have seen for this type of book—the sort that makes you want to open the next instalment immediately.
I felt it could have been edited down a little in places, with less factual detail and fewer conversational exchanges, to tighten up the pace, but that could be just personal preference; it's a smart, intelligent novel of which the author should be most proud. And I know it's a cliché, but it really would make a fabulous TV series!
In A Nutshell: Dark family drama set in Pembrokeshire, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
This doom-laden tale about the Owen family and their land begins with a mystery: the discovery of a body, declared to be that that of Leah Owen, who happens to be the main character of the novel—but this is in no way a spoiler. If anything, it provided added intrigue to the story, which then goes back in time to Leah's childhood. Much later, the why and how of the initial chapter comes as a total surprise.
Life on Cwmderwen is hard, with strict adherence to the word of God—and that of Thomas Owen, head of the family, who becomes a religious zealot to the point of insanity after the death of his eldest son. Leah's entire life is ruled by duty to family and farm, and the restrictions of religion. Her bright childhood spirit is quelled by bereavement and loss of love—happiness is snatched from her at every turn. Aside from the day to day problems (scratching a living, troublesome rellies and a wrathful killjoy of a god), Leah also has to contend with the malignant presence of slimy businessman Eli John, who has unwelcome influence over their lives.
I was completely absorbed in this book all the way through; it's so well-written, every character clearly defined, every piece of research unobtrusive (and it is clear that the author knows her subject so well), every dark, dismal day in the Welsh valleys so real. Although it is most definitely worth 5* for the quality of the writing and the story itself, I was initially going to take off a half star because of personal taste; I found this book more depressing than any novel of stark dystopian futures, simply because of the lives wasted and made unhappy because of the barmy religious and social protocols of the day. But the end was uplifting indeed, enough to make me revise that; Thorne Moore, you have earned that extra half star!
If you love nitty-gritty, no-frills family sagas set in relatively recent times, you will ADORE this. Even if they're not quite your thing, you'll still love it. I did. I read at the end that it's actually a prequel to A Time For Silence, which I have just bought. There—that proves I loved it!
How I discovered this book: Amazon browse, downloaded on Kindle Unlimited. Couldn't decide if the cover/title combo was inspired or ghastly, but it intrigued me enough to see what it was about, so it did its job!
In A Nutshell: Unhappy, overweight woman survives near death in the Montana wilderness; thriller, with dark humour.
Enjoyed this a lot, an unusual story indeed. Southern girl Marty Clawson is morbidly obese and unhappily married to a man who has lost interest in her. She is desperate to beat her cravings for food, and comes up with the idea of being stranded alone in the state park, with no access to fast food joints and cake shops. When her marriage falls apart and she gets in touch with an old friend in Montana, she has no idea that her survival fantasies will become real—and a matter of life and death.
Most of the first half of the book is taken up with Marty's depressing life, in which she is trapped inside her mounds of excess flesh and inability to stop comfort-eating; we later find out why and when it began. This part of the story is tragic but funny, and Marty is most likeable. When she sets off for Montana, neither she nor the reader has any idea about the danger that awaits her.
Without giving the plot away (because you really should read it yourself!), the nine days of Marty's ordeal are frightening, realistic (in that she doesn't suddenly become a survival expert), tragic, though still darkly humourous in places; it's a real page turner.
The only negative element about the book was that the author has used 'en' dashes instead of 'em' dashes throughout: instead of—this to set off a clause or add emphasis—, she has used this–without a space at either side, which I kept–mistaking–for–a hyphen. Many times I had to go back and read the sentence twice, because I thought I'd read a hyphenated word. But aside from this irritant, it's great. I'm glad I clicked on that strange bright green cover that stood out in the list of of 'also boughts' on Amazon. I shall seek out another book by her, some time.
If anyone is not sure of the difference between the en dash and the em dash and when each of them should be used, I have found this article which explains it clearly and concisely
In A Nutshell: Supernatural/dystopian/near future US
Billy Jakobek was born with powerful psychic abilities and has lived most of his life in a town called Heaven's Hole, under the care of the Thorne Corporation that dominates America. Billy absorbs the physical pain, trauma and memories of everyone he meets, which, most of the time, causes him fear and sadness. He frequently visited by an entity called The Shape, which he perceives as being the darkness in man, and which predicts a calamitous future for mankind.
At school, Billy meets Natalia, with whom he feels an immediate, powerful connection—it is more than just attraction. Elsewhere, we learn more about Billy's 'Mother', aka scientist Roseanne, and Caleb Thorne himself. I liked that the author wrote chapters from Roseanne and Caleb's point of view, too, as shows us what is really going on behind the scenes—and what Caleb's plans are once he has harnessed Billy's powers.
I liked the feeling of depressed doom about the town of Heaven's Hole, in which immigrant workers live and work in appalling conditions, though I would have liked to know more about it, and also how the country came to be how it is now—more background would have been welcome.
The characterisation is good; I had a clear picture of who each of the main players were, and the dialogue is strong and realistic, the emotions portrayed well. What I was not so keen on was the frequency of inner thoughts in italics (on just about every page), and the fact that the book was more YA-orientated than I thought it would be; I would class it as a YA book even though it is not listed as such. One can have enough 'teen speak'.
I thought this book would be very much my cup of tea, though it wasn't so, but it's good of its type, and it is clear that a lot of work and thought has gone into it; and the aspects I was not so keen on are down to personal taste rather than there being anything wrong with the book. I've given it 3.5* for how much I enjoyed it, though it's worthy of 4* for readers who enjoy teen-supernatural books with powerful themes of good and evil, and the overcoming of light over dark.
In A Nutshell: Post-Apocalyptic Journey
Over a period of three generations humanity almost petered out, as the world population became cursed with a mysterious infertility. Griz and his family are some of the few survivors not affected by this blight; he was born many years after society collapsed. They live on a remote Scottish island, with little knowledge of how the ways of the world since the technical revolution; there are still many history books from the 20th Century and before, but since the collapse of the world began, record exists mostly via word of mouth. The 21st Century has become the new Dark Ages.
One day, a traveller arrives, on his boat. Brand appears friendly, but he has a hidden agenda. Because of Brand's actions, Griz sets off down to the mainland to track him. His only company is his dog, Jip.
Griz's exact age is not mentioned, but one gets the impression he is around fourteen. The story consists of the dangers, joys and discoveries of his journey, and is written in the first person, with Griz addressing a boy from the old world whose picture he found. A large part of the narrative addresses the difference between the world as it was and as it is now, and his thoughts about it, which I loved. It flows well, in a conversational, easy-read style.
On the whlle I enjoyed this book, though now and again I felt it could have benefited from a more ruthless edit; some of the description is a bit skip-read-worthy, and I spotted a couple of errors (including my pet peeve, the use of the word 'I' when it should be 'me'). Half-way through, Griz meets up with a French woman, with whom he travels. She can't speak English, but they find ways to communicate. Everything she says to him in French is spelled out phonetically, as Griz would have heard it, which became irritating; much of the time, I couldn't work out what she was supposed to be saying, even when I read it out loud. A little would have been fine, but there was too much.
The other aspect I was not keen on was lack of speech marks, an affectation made popular by Cormac McCarthy. Sometimes it works well, and is actually more effective; this was the case earlier on in this book, but not later, when there is more dialogue; now and again I had to re-read to differentiate between spoken word, inner thoughts and general narrative. As McCarthy himself says, it's not just a matter of taking the quotation marks out.
As the book nears its hugely unpredictable end, there are two great twists about which I didn't have a clue. And, despite all the 'if only I had known' foreshadowing - which other reviews complained about but I liked - the book actually ends fairly positively.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes character-driven post apocalyptic novels, as there is plenty off that stuff-we-love about lost civilisation and survival, though if you like your post-apoc more action-packed, this probably won't be your thing. Despite the elements I was not so keen on, I was anxious to keep turning the pages to see what would happen, which is much of what it's all about, really. I'm glad I discovered it.
In A Nutshell: Thriller, set in Monaco and Hampshire
When I started reading this book I was at once impressed by the writing style and enjoyed reading about wealthy doctor Charles Mason and his ritzy lifestyle in Monaco; there was a certain dry humour about his observations and the narrative flowed well. There were a few minor proofreading errors which I could overlook, because I liked what I was reading.
Charles wakes up on the morning after his extravagant annual party to find that everything is not as it should be, in a big way. The book then moves to Dark Oaks, his ancestral home in rural Hampshire.
It is clear that the author knows Monaco well, and I liked reading about the lifestyle, but there is a little too much detail that is not relevant to the rest of the book. Throughout, there are long blocks of description, much of it superfluous, which is unbroken by dialogue and slows down the plot, not least of all a long paragraph describing the making of a sandwich, and a wince-making piece of exposition in which Charles has the phrase 'chop shop' explained to him, which is clearly only there to explain to the reader (I thought it unlikely that Charles would not have known what a chop shop was).
The book is basically well-written, and the plot is interesting, but the structure lets it down. The history of the family is told in backstory when Charles gets to Hampshire; an initial few chapters set in the past, at the beginning, would have set the scene much more effectively, and linked the Monaco and Hampshire sections together - once Charles got to Hampshire I felt as though I was reading a completely different story, with the sudden introduction of a number of new characters who had not been mentioned previously. To sum up, there is much to commend about this book, but I think it could use a bit more thinking through and the hand of a good content editor.
5 GOLD stars
How I discovered this book: Exchanged a few words with the author on Twitter. Had a look at his bio, clicked on the book. Looked right up my street, so....
In a Nutshell: 10th century Icelandic historical fiction
I've been lucky lately - this is the third novel I've read in the last month that competes for the title 'favourite book of the year.' It's a gem, and I loved it.
Smile of the Wolf tells the story of Kjaran, a wandering storyteller, and the consequences of one lonely night when he and his friend, Gunnar, set out to hunt a ghost. Instead, and unintentionally, they kill a man. The ensuing feud colours the rest of their lives and those of the people they love.
I'm sure the word 'stark' has been used in many reviews already, but it's the one that comes to mind before any other, for me, in describing this book. Tim Leach knows 10th Century Iceland - this reads as though he understands every trek across harsh landscape, every gnawing hunger pain in the wastelands of the outlaws, every shred of misplaced bravery in these people's hearts as their lives are ruled not by a king, but by their code of honour, a far more brutal taskmaster.
It's a story of heroes and courage in the face of death, of singlemindedness and the will to live, of love, friendship, gods and ghosts, freedom and survival; I didn't skip a word. It's terrific - read it.