Saturday 26 September 2020

GORGE by Katherine Carlson

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK


On Goodreads

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


Friday 25 September 2020

KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by Nicholas Conley

3.5 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: 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.


Tuesday 22 September 2020

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C A Fletcher

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK


On Goodreads

On BookBub

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse

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.


Tuesday 15 September 2020

DARK OAKS by Charlie Vincent

3.5 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: 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.




Sunday 13 September 2020


5 GOLD stars

Amazon UK                                                                                                                                                                              Goodreads                                                                                              BookBub


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.