Friday 26 February 2021

THE HEART STONE by Judith Barrow

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book
: I've read most of the author's other books, and was looking forward to this one.

In a Nutshell: Family/romantic drama set during World War I.

Jessie: sixteen years old, with a revolting stepfather and the boy she loves going off to war ... the stage is set.  I was thoroughly engrossed in this book all the way through, looking forward to getting back to it each time.  The aforementioned revolting stepfather, Amos Morgan, was so despicable that I was hoping for his comeuppance all the way through the first section of the book, and don't get me started on Bob Clegg....

What struck me most, throughout, was how hard life was for women in those times.  I questioned, now and again, why Jessie put up with all that she did, but you can't judge a woman of the second decade of the 20th century by even the standards of a woman, say, in the 1950s.  Especially not one who is poor, and not that well educated.  Then there's the First World War propaganda that sent all those young men off to almost certain death, and made them feel guilty when they didn't want to go—one of the biggest crimes against humanity in history.  Not to mention the fate of deserters. Words fail me.

My favourite characters were Clara, Jessie's educated, progressive friend, and Arthur, Jessie's love who went to war.  The chapters written in his point of view were stunningly good; Ms Barrow portrayed his haunted, disturbed mind so well. Although her main characters are usually female, it's her male characters that are often the most memorable—Bob Clegg's dialogue was masterful.  

This is definitely my favourite, all round, of all the books by Judith Barrow that I've read.  Previously, my favourite was A Hundred Tiny Threads, which tells me I like her historical fiction the most.  I think it's because her settings and characters are all northern working class of the, 'aye, love, I'll put the kettle on when you've filled the coal scuttle and boiled the cabbage for our tea, and that Ada Bloggs over t'road is no better than she ought to be' type, which I find slightly depressing in more modern times, but, pre-World War II, it's far enough away not to be so!

As with most books there were odd occasions when I was a little frustrated by a development, but much of this is just personal taste—if domestic wartime dramas are your thing, I guarantee that you will love this book!

Saturday 20 February 2021

THE RINGS OF MARS by Rachel Foucar

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: Sabotage aboard a space ship

About a 500-strong crew on a year-long mission to Mars, to establish a society that will, it is hoped, be part of the solution for all the troubles on earth.  But there appears to be a saboteur on board ship...

I liked the premise very much, and Ms Foucar has a most readable, flowing writing style.  I was drawn in quickly; the beginning, with Jane Parker leaving a dying country, held great promise, and there is an excellent part early on in which a maintenance crew member gets killed.  Around a third of the way through, though, my interest began to lapse.  There are a lot of main and secondary characters, all with unmemorable names like Pat, Pamela, Jane, Mark, Frank, Beth, Sam, which wouldn't have mattered so much if the POV didn't change so often, and most of them didn't talk in the same way.  It was okay at first, and I had a clear picture of Jane, Mark and Pat, but after that it all got a bit hazy.  Having said that, most of the dialogue is basically good; natural, convincing.  

I wasn't sure how old they were all supposed to be, but they gave the impression of being in their early twenties, and sometimes seemed more like students running around a campus than people especially selected to go on this important voyage; I didn't get the feeling that they were on a ground-breaking mission into space.

For a scifi thriller, there was a lot of talking but not very much tension or drama.  I also felt that the plot itself wasn't very clear, as if there hadn't been enough thinking through, but, it didn't help that the mobi copy I was sent for review was badly formatted - on (literally) every other page there was a gap in the narrative thus:

ARC Not for Sale

*page number*

The Rings of Mars 

Rachel Foucar 

....filling a third of the page, sometimes breaking a sentence in two.  Obviously I would not mark down the book itself for this, and I tried not to notice and just read the story, but it became off-putting, and made me lose concentration.  Also, early on, there were a few punctuation errors - simple ones, like apostrophes in plurals.  

This is a first novel - the author definitely has talent, and this story is a great idea.  I would suggest a) working with a good editor to pull it into shape, b) instructing her publisher to make decent review copies before she sends out any more! and c) having a re-think about some of the character names - perhaps make some of them more unusual, and more 21st century.  To sum up - it's good, and has the potential to be very good, but it felt a bit 3rd-draft-ish, and needs more work to make it publication-ready, in my opinion.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Neander: Exploitation by Harald Johnson @AuthorHarald #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.

In a Nutshell: Time travel between the near future and 40K years ago

I read the first book in this series, in which Tom Cook first ends up back in Neanderthal times, and of course his first realisation about what had happened was so good to read, but I actually liked this book more.

In Neander:Exploitation, Tom has a family back in those ancient times, but must travel back to the 21st century to get medical help for his daughter.  The book just flowed along, all the way through, with no dreary bits to wade through, and was oddly convincing despite the subject matter being so bizarre!  I constantly found myself unwilling to put the book down because I was so looking forward to seeing what happened next.

The elements of this book that interested me, in particular, were the idea that a time traveller could enter another era only to find that time has moved more quickly, and the way in which Tom's actions back in prehistoric times alter the world for millennia to come.  I would love to see more of that in book 3, which I notice is being written at the moment, and about how Tom feels about the 21st century versus his pre-history life, which was touched on at the end.

Anyway, top stuff.  Looking forward to Book 3, and if you're a time travel addict, get it now!


Thursday 11 February 2021

EVER WINTER by Peter Hackshaw @HackshawPeter

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse.

In a Nutshell: Post-apocalyptic survival/scifi/fantasy.

A hundred or so years after the big freeze fell over the earth, Henry and his family live on the now frozen Atlantic ocean.  They escaped from a community called the Favela (which I assumed to be in Brazil), and now live completely alone, seeing no one else.  Their trouble begins when, out hunting one day, Henry and his father find a man who has recently died in the snow.

This tale of survival under brutal circumstances had me totally absorbed at first, and I enjoyed the parts when Henry and his family find relics from the past, not knowing what they are.  The suspense builds in a slow, sinister fashion, as they begin to believe that they are not safe in their new home. 

Other reviews mention this being a book of two halves, and it is.  The first one is a post-apocalyptic tale of danger, survival, loss and the desire for revenge, and I loved it.  It's gritty and violent (warning: contains instances of cannibalism).  The second half introduces a robot medic from an abandoned ship - don't want to say any more because of spoilers, but I liked his scenes a lot, too; the interactions are great, and it's all well thought out and feasible.  As it goes on, though, the tone of the second half felt like more of a fantasy novel.

There were a couple of aspects I wasn't so keen on - the long dream sequences, which I've always found pointless in books and on TV.  Then, later on, Henry's younger sisters turn into Game of Thrones characters:  'I thank you, my husband, for bringing me to this place.  But Mister Lanner's presence upsets me.  I want his head.  Serve it on this table with the lobster, if you will'.  Where would they have learned to talk like this?  I also thought the editor could have lost some unnecessary dialogue tags (which dulled the impact of some lines of speech), and some sentences in which the author has told the reader how the character is feeling, though this has already been illustrated by his dialogue and actions.

To sum up: I liked it, and Mr Hackshaw certainly has talent; it's a most respectable debut novel and I'm sure he will go onto bigger and better.

Monday 1 February 2021

TOKYO MAYDAY by Maison Urwin #RBRT

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: Dystopian future, England and Japan

'The human race.  Migrating here and there for centuries, back and forth, whilst objecting to the influx of others.  Like migrating birds.  Like herded sheep.'

I love to read other authors' view of the near future, and Tokyo Mayday is a clever and inventive slant on the subject.  In the 2050s, climate change, political/civil unrest and technological advancement have turned the US and the European states into third world countries, with poverty and lack of jobs.  The world's greatest superpower is now Japan.  Outside the cities, economic migrants are kept in holding camps, hoping for work, but now many of these migrants are white Europeans and Americans.  

Jordan May and his family are offered the chance to live in Tokyo, which means a good job for Jordan at Matsucorp, the top car manufacturer in the world.  When they arrive there from England, however, they discover that all is far from utopian.  They are to live in a shared house, and both Jordan and his son, Alfie, immediately become aware of the opposing factions in the country - the far right who want to keep Japan for the Japanese, headed by the mysterious Yamada, and the movement for better treatment of migrants, more equal wages and fairer treatment for all, which grows in popularity amongst idealistic young people and the low-paid workers from the West.  As a skilled worker, Jordan sits between the two.

Manipulating all players is the mysterious Stepson Struthwin, advisor to the owner of Matsucorp.

It's clear that the author is well-versed in Japanese culture; the detail provided by his insight is an added point of interest while reading this highly original and probably plausible look at the future.  His writing style is spare, which I liked very much, and the characterisation works well, throughout.  The picky might complain about a certain amount of 'telling not showing', but my view is that if it works well, who cares - and in Tokyo Mayday, it does.  

The book held my interest all the way through, with some good twists near the end that I hadn't anticipated.  No complaints; this is a definite 'buy it' recommendation, for anyone who loves this genre as much as I do.