Sunday 28 March 2021


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.aus

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In A Nutshell: Sort of fantasy, sort of folklore, sort of pre-climate change apocalypse....

I admit to struggling a bit with this book, although it was well-written in many ways.  A look at Goodreads half way through told me that Her Mad Song is not the first in this series, and I did feel as though I needed to understand more about the world the author has created, to fully 'get' it.  An introduction tells us that Tempest Bay {a remote coastal town in New Zealand where the series is set} exists in novellas, podcasts and interactive experiences.

The story begins with an unnamed man and a twelve-year-old girl, Lucia, arriving at Tempest Bay, and moves on to curious relationships with the people they meet there, including a meteorologist they've sought out.  CJ Halbard certainly has literary talent and has produced some fine atmospheric prose.  The characterisation and dialogue are both fairly good, though the experimental style didn't always work for me; the predominance of the subordinate/dependent clause became irritating after a while.  The subordinate clause in place of a full sentence can have such impact, but it needs to be used sparingly.  Then there's that lack of speech marks thing ... writers such as Cormac McCarthy manage to get away with it by leaving you in no doubt when a passage or line is speech rather than narrative, with minimum use of he-said-she-said, but it's not the easiest of skills to master.   Breaking 'the rules' tends to work better once you've worked within them for a while.

Readers who appreciate poetic writing and like something a bit unreal and outside the box may absolutely love this, but I thought it could do with the hand of a good developmental editor to give it better structure and definition; the story seemed a bit 'all over the place'.  There is much to commend, but I'm just ... not sure. 

I read the information at the back, hoping to get a bit more insight.  Much of it appears to be allegorical; an 'emotional climate change', an 'external imaginative environment that connects us all', in which we could be 'causing permanent lasting damage'.  The concept seemed rather vague, without much substance or explanation, though I took a look at the excerpts from the other stories, at the end, and I liked them well enough.  Could be that I'm just the wrong audience; the website is enticing and well-presented, for anyone who is interested; it's HERE.

Tuesday 23 March 2021


out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: a favourite author, I buy all her books.

In A Nutshell: Book #2 of a 3 book series about the life of Jane Seymour.

This second book in Gemma Lawrence's Phoenix trilogy, the story of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII, covers the period from the early days of the King's affair with Anne Boleyn, and ends the day after Anne's execution.

Most of the first two thirds of the book is about the King's Great Matter, with developments being told by Jane through information given to her by others, mostly brother Edward, or through conversations that take place in her hearing.  This must have been the number one topic for discussion, argument and gossip both at court and throughout the country, and constants throughout the account are Jane's love for and loyalty towards Queen Katherine, and her deep resentment of Anne Boleyn.  Having read and loved Ms Lawrence's series about Anne Boleyn, it was interesting to read the view from the other side.  More than any other book I've read about the period, this one made me fully realise what Anne was up against.

Later on, as Henry and Anne's marriage crumbles, the King notices Jane, and their relationship begins.  This is talked about only briefly at first; I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on and actual scenes showing how their relationship began and developed, and Jane's life, generally, rather than so much about what was going on elsewhere, politically, although of course this was the backdrop for Jane's story.  However, this could just be because I've read so much about the Great Matter in books over the years!

I have always been of the belief that Jane Seymour was every bit as ambitious and calculating as Anne is thought to have been, and indeed she appears so in this book—and the Seymour family were no different from the Boleyns in the way that they pushed Jane forward. I was so glad Ms Lawrence didn't paint Jane as saintly and of great virtue.  Never having had any attention from men, the love Henry professed to feel for her became as a drug, and she had no qualms about doing to Anne Boleyn the very same thing that she'd hated her for doing to Katherine.  Worse, really; at least Anne was passionately in love with the King, though Jane seems to be motivated more by loneliness, the desire to improve her own self-image, and to triumph over a woman she hated.

The last third of the book is by far the most compelling, and I was glued to my Kindle.  Jane only once or twice considers that Anne might not be as black as she is painted, but by being an 'unreliable narrator', she gives the reader sufficient information to see her rival as would her admirers and supporters.  I was most impressed by the clever way in which this was written.

Once the trials and executions begin, the truth begins to dawn on her.  Be careful what you wish for....

As is the norm in Ms Lawrence's Tudor books, both prologue and epilogue are set as the main character faces death, which always works so well.  I thought the epilogue in this book was particularly good, a fine ending.  I am so, so looking forward to Book 3, and indeed to more of Ms Lawrence's books about Henry's wives.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

BLACK IRISH BLUES by Andrew Cotto @AndrewCotto #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: Crime novella set mostly in New Jersey

Black Irish Blues is a long novella (or possibly a short novel) featuring Caesar Stiles, a man whose childhood was spent in a rough area of a small town in industrial New Jersey.  His father left the family when Caesar was thirteen, and his two brothers are now dead; he loved the older one who died in a tragic accident, whereas the middle brother was a vicious thug. Caesar spent most of his life travelling all over the country, but returned when his mother died, moving into the family home and buying the local inn.

The story centres around blasts from the past, friends reunited, mysterious disappearances and the local gangsters.  Written in the first person, much of the narrative details Caesar's observations about small town life and his impressions of the town and people in which and with whom he grew up.

The plot is perfectly paced and structured, and fits well into the shorter length; although the story itself is fairly standard, I loved Caesar, the writing itself is as good as that of any classic American novel, and the characterisation is outstanding, making it a real page turner.  All the side characters are beautifully observed, the dialogue is spot on, and the atmosphere is vivid and so well described without ever being wordy.  I could tell by reading this that the author really knows his subject, along with the place, time and people about whom he has written.  I'll definitely read something else by him, probably the book before, which I've already had a look at.  Highly recommended.