Monday, 31 August 2020

THE END OF THE ROAD by Anna Legat @LegatWriter

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK

On Goodreads

On BookBub



How I discovered this book: a passing tweet

In a Nutshell: A world war to end all wars - nuclear missiles, nerve gas, biological weapons, and then meteorites.  But a handful of people survive...

Brilliant.  Absolutely loved it.

The year is 2027, and conflicts between nations reach crisis point - nuclear bombs, nerve gas and chemical weapons, followed by meteor showers, wipe out the entire population of the world, apart from a very few.  The End of the Road is the story of those who survive - philandering English lawyer Tony, two nuns in Liege, a scientist in Siberia who lost his family in the Chernobyl disaster forty years before, ditzy vlogger Bella in New Zealand, and a few others.

Some of the scenarios intertwine, and indeed they all do eventually, but I was completely engrossed in each one.  There was not a single weak point; when I was reading Reggie, the caretaker of a billion dollar estate in South Africa, I'd got to about 86% and started reading it as slowly as I could because I didn't want it to end.  

At first I was a little confused because there are no actual chapters; each new scenario begins with the location and the name, and that's all, and I wished there was a date, because I wasn't sure exactly when they were all taking place, but I soon got used to the unusual structure, and saw that the actual time frame did not need to be stated.

The narrative is stark and shocking, but the characters and their backstories (just enough, never too much) are written with a light touch and, sometimes, a glimmer of humour - and at the end, even though humanity has finally succeeded in wiping itself out (almost), certain areas of hope remain.

This is currently tying with another for the 'best book I've read this year' award - it's fabulous.  Can't recommend too highly.  And the moral of this story is: don't ignore those passing book tweets.  If you think 'that looks interesting', go download it!


Thursday, 27 August 2020

THE LOST BLACKBIRD by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

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: fiction based on true life events, about the appalling mistreatment of children sent to Australia from English childrens' homes, in the 1960s.

This book is certainly an eye-opener.  In the 1950s and 60s (and as late as 1970), children were taken from English children's homes for a 'better life' in Australia.  Sometimes the children were orphans, other times they were in care because the parents were temporarily unable to look after them, and they were shipped off without parental consent.  A few were fortunate, and were adopted by families, but most were used as slave labour on farms, until they were sixteen, when they would be sent to cattle stations to serve an 'apprenticeship' - more slave labour.  Most suffered permanent separation from siblings and families in England.

This is the fictional story of Londoners Lucy and Charly Rivers who ended up in 'care' (a brutal, regimental establishment) after their mother was wrongly convicted of having killed their father.  When Charly was six and Lucy ten, they were put on a boat with many others, to sail to the other side of the world.

The story alternates between that of Lucy and Charly, who fare very differently.  I found Charly's story absolutely fascinating, and it was so well written by Ms Perrat; it involved a slow brainwashing until by the time she was sixteen she was not sure what was a memory and what a fantasy or dream; the way in which she tried to capture fleeting images was perfectly illustrated, as was the behaviour of the people who perpetrated this; the gradual unravelling was riveting stuff.  Lucy's story was so tragic and I was equally engrossed in the first two thirds or so, though I was less convinced by a couple of developments later on.

The book is certainly a page-turner, nicely structured, making me eager to know what would happen next, as hope twinkles in the distance for the characters, then disappears. The writing flows well, and I'd definitely recommend it to any readers who enjoy emotional dramas based on true life events - the fact that all this stuff actually happened gives a hugely compelling slant to the whole story.  At the end of the book, Ms Perrat writes about her research process, giving details of some of the books she used for reference, which has now added to my reading list, too!  I give her a round of applause for bringing these heinous crimes to light in this highly readable novel.



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

FAME & FORTUNE by Carol Hedges @caroljhedges

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  However, I have read every other book in this series and would have bought it anyway - every one a winner!

In a Nutshell: Victorian Murder Mystery

This is the eighth book in Carol Hedges' Victorian murder mystery, featuring officers of the law Stride and Cully.  The story starts with a mysterious hanging and the theft of rare Japanese artefacts, and takes the crime-fighting duo to the seediest areas of London and then off to more upmarket districts to see out the Black brothers, Herbert and Munro; Munro runs gambling clubs, while Herbert is often abroad, taking care of his trading empire - but what is he selling?

Running through the main story are a couple of juicy sub-plots - that of a romantic novelist accused by an aristocrat of using his marital dramas as a plot for her novels, and the tale of Izzy, a ten-year-old who works painting furniture for dolls' houses by day, and washing dishes by night, then goes home to share a mattress with her uncaring mother in an unsavoury boarding house.  

Fame & Fortune is up there with the rest of this series, a delight to read, as Ms Hedges spins her story around artfully-drawn characters, at the same time highlighting the social injustices of the day (Izzy's story, in particular, is heartrending), and the culture of the Victorian era, throughout all echelons of life; the occasional comparison with modern times is impossible not to draw.

Another winner; if you haven't read any of this series, they're all completely stand-alone, even though certain threads are carried on throughout.  Highly recommended.  

Monday, 17 August 2020

NEST OF ASHES by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

 5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK 


On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: One of my favourite authors, I've been dying to read this since I knew it was being written!

In a Nutshell: The early life of Jane Seymour, from childhood to her arrival at court and first meeting with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.

Loved, loved, loved this book.  Best so far this year!

I was so intrigued to see how Gemma Lawrence would portray Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, as relatively little is known about her.  Traditionally, she is the meek and mousey one, the antithesis of the charismatic, sophisticated Anne Boleyn, the biddable daughter of the proud Seymour family of Wolf Hall (Wulfhall), minimally educated (she could barely read).  Ms Lawrence has brought her to life.  In Nest of Ashes we see a timid girl, plain of face, a disappointment to her more socially adept mother, bullied by brother Thomas (who I have long thought seemed a nasty piece of work) - and the keeper of a dark, dark family secret.

One of the most well-known stories about the Seymours is that elder brother Edward's wife, Catherine, was cast out for having an affair with his, and Jane's, father, John.  Ms Lawrence writes this as having coloured Jane's whole life.

Of course, historical fiction based on fact will always contain some aspects that are purely the author's imagination, and with those about whom little is known there is more of a necessity to create events and scenarios.  Unlike her series about Anne and Elizabeth I, both of whose lives are well-documented, Nest of Ashes features much of Ms Lawrence's own creation, but it is written with such understanding of her character(s) and the era that every part of the story is completely feasible.  She sees Jane as I have always thought she was - reserved, lacking in confidence and unremarkable, yes, but with a certain harsh ambition derived from the desire to rise above those who considered her unimportant - including members of her own family.  More than this, you will have to discover for yourself when you read it (that is 'when', not 'if'!).

Alongside the story of Jane's life, in which I was completely engrossed, all the way through, Ms Lawrence gives so much detail about how the people of the time lived, with their customs and day-to-day routines ~ fascinating.  There is one chapter in which Jane visits the cottage of a 'cunning woman', which I loved.  Never does she make the mistake, as a lesser writer might, of writing Jane's reactions as though she was a woman of our time.  This book brought home to me how restricted people were by their belief in an often wrathful god who ruled all their lives.

The last part of the book describes Jane's arrival at court, and her first impressions of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, little knowing what part she will play in the life of the latter.  As the end grew nearer, I tried to read it slowly, and after I'd read the last page I actually moaned out loud because there was no more - suffice to say that I am counting the weeks until the next part is published!  

Intricate historical detail, complex family drama, love, lust, loss and intrigue - it's a terrific book.  One of my favourites by this author, and I can't recommend it too highly.


Monday, 10 August 2020

COMETH THE HOUR by Annie Whtehead @AnnieWHistory

5 out of 5 stars

How I discovered this book: I'd seen many historically-orientated tweets from the author, and decided to try one of her books.

In a Nutshell: Saxon England in the 6th-7th Century.

I loved this book, a fictionalised version of the true saga of the Saxon rulers, from Edwin of Deira to Penda of Mercia, in which I was engrossed.  Annie Whitehead has turned the history into a terrific story, as compelling as any Game of Thrones type fantasy.  There is a large cast of characters, but she has provided a family tree diagram in the front if you forget, for a moment, exactly who everyone is.  The characters themselves are so well defined that I didn't find their number confusing.
Until I read this I knew little about the period, other than the fact that what we now call Great Britain was divided into seven basic kingdoms, so I enjoyed finding out about the divisions of territory within these kingdoms, with the different tribes who had their own languages and traditions.  The book covers the period when Christianity was first becoming more popular; I was surprised to find how gradual it was, and I could understand why it was treated with such suspicion, the pagan ways being far more relatable.
The way in which the people lived is so well-researched, intricately detailed, painting a vivid picture of the era, but at no time did I feel bogged down with irrelevant facts.  What I loved most about the book, though, is the feeling it gave me; it made me want to be there.  To experience the times for myself.  That's the sign of a truly talented author of historical fiction, I think - one who can make you want to go back in time and live in it, because the scenes and people come alive.  The journeys, the battles, the winter nights in the long halls; I yearned to be Derwena, wife of Penda!
This is the first book I've read by this author, and I am sure I will pick up another at some point in the not too distant future.  Highly recommended to all histfic lovers, especially those with a particular interest in the 7th Century. 

Monday, 3 August 2020

DIABOLICA BRITANNIA by various authors @serialsemantic @john_f_leonard @kabauthor #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: through Twitter, though it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member; thus, I am reviewing it for Rosie's blog, too.

In a Nutshell: Anthology of horror short stories by various authors, proceeds to go to the NHS's Covid-19 research.  

I'm delighted to see that this anthology, for such a good cause, is still doing well on Amazon.  At just £2.99 or $3.77 (or equivalent, depending on where you are), everyone should purchase a copy!

Keith Baird, whose project this is and who published the book, has brought together a fine group of horror authors to bring you a selection of stories, all very different, that covers the wide range of the horror genre as a whole, so there's something for everyone. As with any such collection, some stand out more than others, though of course this is largely a matter of personal taste.

My favourites are the first and last:

Carreg Samson by Catherine McCarthy
About an ancient stone, all that it has seen over millennia, and the dark 'It' that counters man's greed and destruction of the earth.  Loved every word.

Call The Name by Adam L. G. Nevill 
Another story about the destruction of the earth by man, set forty years in the future; it's a long one, a fine way to end the anthology; fabulous.

Others that stood out for me:

The Secret of Westport Fell by Beverley Lee
A superbly atmospheric story set in the 19th century, about a young woman who, failing to find a husband, goes to live in the back of a dark, misty beyond to tend her ailing aunt.  

We Plough The Fields and Scatter by Stephanie Ellis
Eerie, sinister traditions in a remote village that doesn't want anyone to leave...

Linger by John F Leonard
A man is bequeathed a mansion by his father, who he has never met, and discovers it might be more of a curse than a gift.  What lurks behind that hidden door?

Even if the purpose of its publication didn't make it a 'must buy', it's worth getting for these five stories alone.  😈 😱