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In a Nutshell: Military drama set mostly in Afghanistan
'An Idle King is a modern retelling of an ancient story about lost soldiers who can never go home.'
Callum King, a former army officer, is trying to come to terms with civilian life, including family difficulties and the depressing veterans' meetings. Following news about one of his soldiers who was involved in the incident that led to Callum's discharge, he joins a team employed by a private security company, going back into Afghanistan for a chaotic, dangerous and mysterious mission.
That the author has a military background is clear from this book, not only in the practical detail but the way in which he describes the emotional state rigours of his characters. The book is extremely well-written and certainly kept me turning the pages; Andrew Paterson has a good deal of understated talent.
The secondary characters are a fairly stereotypical bunch that one would expect in a story of this genre, whether in a book or a film - the naïve newbie, the brute, the big fatherly guy who doesn't talk much, the one female officer who becomes his right-hand-woman, the psychological wreck ... but because they're so well-drawn they didn't feel clichéd at all. Callum himself is complex and confused; although the book is written in the third person, it still manages to show us inside his and others' heads rather than coming from a detached, omniscient narrator.
The revelation about the true nature of the mission comes as a shock to the reader as well as to Callum - it says a lot about this world, and none of it good. There were so many quotes I loved, that spoke about the wider world as well as the country that Paterson clearly has great feeling for:
'Your people have been coming here for thousands of years trying to conquer our country. You might as well throw sand against a mountain.'
'Habs spots a caravan of Kuchis trundling along the dried out riverbed ... mostly men in long wool coats, shepherding goats and sheep. But some women, too, riding on the backs of camels or walking with small children in their arms ... together on some ancient migration, following routes seared deep into their forgotten histories.'
'Nation states are finished. The future is the market state. Instead of parliament and politicians, now the world's run by hedge fund managers and venture capitalists.'
'Callum knows all these men even though he hasn't met them before ... the scars on their faces, the missing limbs, the suffering in their eyes. They're the children of war, soldiers in name only. Boys who grew up without fathers. Boys who were handed a rifle or the trigger to an improvised explosive device by old men who live far away ... and when the old men were finished with them, they were tossed aside like spent shell casings.'
'They're two old soldiers who went away to fight wars in far off places started by fat men for petty reasons.'
The ending is one of those that offers some resolution but not too much; it's sad and kind of mournful, but so right for the story. It really is a very good book; I'd most definitely recommend.
In a Nutshell: Family drama/mystery set in rural Michigan during the 1930s Depression
A book about America's Great Depression always piques my interest; this suspense-filled story of sisters Sarah and Polly, living in farming country in Michigan in 1934, certainly conjured up the atmosphere. Elder sister and vicar's wife Sarah is dutiful, industrious, a tad self-righteous and bitterly jealous of Polly; Polly is stunningly pretty, stylish (with a penchant for glamorous hats), and newly married to the mysterious Sam.
It's clear that the author has a passion for this period of history and really understands the hardship people lived through, with no knowledge of how or when it would end, and I so appreciated all the detail of the every day lives. As for the characters, I found that at first I sympathised with Sarah and wasn't so keen on Polly, but as more insight was given, I soon felt the other way round, and felt the claustrophobia of Polly's life, while disliking Sarah's attitude. I very much liked how the truth about Sam and Polly emerged so gradually; a slow 'unveiling' indeed.
The book is told from the POVs of Sarah, Polly and Sarah's husband Wes; I did feel that Sarah and Wes's 'voices' were too alike, and I'd sometimes have to flick back to remind myself whose chapter I was reading.
I didn't realise straight away that I'd read another book by this author for the review team, a while back; I refreshed my memory about it, and think this is a much more interesting novel, with a more complex and intriguing plot, though one storyline seemed superfluous - a forbidden desire that I thought was going to go somewhere exciting but just petered out, as if the author had got bored with it. Aside from the start being a little exposition heavy, to set the scene and give background information, I enjoyed the unfolding of the story and was completely taken by surprise when the 'reveal' came - that's always a real bonus!
In a Nutshell: Book #2 of The Armillary Sphere series, about Lady Jane Rochford
The weighty events of the King's 'Great Matter', ie his quest to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, are just beginning as this part of Jane Rochford's story continues; the book takes us up to Henry's break from Rome.
My favourite aspects of this book:
The descriptive passages about the sweating sickness plague; it is talked about in other Tudor era books by Gemma Lawrence, but in Lady Psyche Jane tells us what it was actually like to live in a time and place when a deadly disease was rampant—a disease that was not understood, and from which few recovered. She gives detail about how it was to live with this, on a daily basis; I was engrossed.
The picture painted of the 'cage' Jane was in (as described by a woman she met on a visit to Bedlam); she felt invisible and probably was, to a large extent, sitting as she did on the sidelines of the Boleyn family. So in love with her husband and longing for a child, each day being reminded of her empty womb and her husband's indifference, and being faced with the realisation that she was not of importance to anyone. Her fears for the future, her sanity and her soul once Henry named himself Head of the Church, and her constant loneliness. Rarely have I seen illustrated so well how bleak was the lot of women in those days. Put simply, she had no choice in how her life was lived.
How Jane has been given a slight and believable psychic ability, the occasional vision of the future. I loved reading about the times when she saw what was to come but could not interpret it, and would have loved to see more, but on balance I think Ms Lawrence was wise to show this only sparsely.
This is the fourth series by Gemma Lawrence in which the 'Great Matter' takes centre stage; it also features prominently in her series about Anne Boleyn (obviously!), Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. Each time it is told from a different point of view, which is clever, though I wonder if the accounts might benefit from a little pruning of detail, so that it remained, in this case, primarily Jane's story, rather than that of Anne, Henry, Wolsey, etc. Having said that, the royal love triangle would have been the main topic of conversation for anyone in court circles at the time, Jane's fortunes were inextricably linked with Anne's, and ladies-in-waiting did not do a great deal apart from attend their mistress and take part in court gossip!