Monday 25 April 2022

UNDEAD by Mark Brendan #RBRT

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)

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: Three macabre novellas of blood, terror and the living dead

In the first of these horror novellas, a man falls foul of the Spanish Inquisition and finds himself on a curious island where he comes under threat from unhuman terrors.  The second tale is about a necromancer in the eighteenth century, and the final one about some members of Napoleon's forces stationed in Northern Africa, who are looking for a way out of their situation.

All three stories are highly inventive, and I very much enjoyed some aspects of all of them.  My favourite was the last one, about the French deserters; this one really kept my attention and I was engrossed.  The atmosphere of the time was so well written, and I particularly liked the early scenes at the site of the battle.  I also liked the sections of the first one where the hero is a galley slave. The stories are fairly gory but not unnecessarily so; it worked.

I felt that the book, as a whole, could have done with a better copy editor/proofreader, as there were some wrongly used words and many punctuation errors, mostly missing vocative commas.  The content editing is fine; the stories flowed well and were told in a way that kept my attention. It was just the incorrect punctuation and other errors that should have been picked up, that distracted me.  Also, I felt that on several occasions the dialogue was too modern for the relevant periods in history.  Not horrendously so, but I think an experienced copy editor could polish them up to something first rate.

Friday 15 April 2022

DARK HUNTER by F. J. Watson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
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: 14th Century murder mystery set in Berwick during the wars with Scotland.

This novel's background is factual; it centres around the early 14th Century territory wars between Scotland, led by Robert the Bruce, and England with its ineffectual King Edward II.  

Squire Benedict Russell has joined the English-held garrison of Berwick-on-Tweed, but soon finds that his attention is taken up by the murder of a young woman from a good family; he is given the task of finding her killer.

Rather than the murder mystery, it was the setting and the era that made me choose the book, as I love reading about both Plantagenet history and wars, and have been to Berwick several times.  I did guess the identity of the murderer early on, but this did not matter because, for me, Benedict's sleuthing activities came second to the book's greatest strength: the intricate detail about the people and how they lived, their customs, beliefs, every day life, all woven so seamlessly into the narrative, which flowed so well.  I've rarely read a piece of historical fiction that put me so much in the place and time.

There are a lot of characters, many with similar names so I admit to getting a tad confused at times.  I didn't know which were real and which were fictional; a short 'afterword' might have been useful, so that the reader could discover which fictional characters were based on actual historical figures, etc, and what happened afterwards (though I did hit the internet for more information after I'd finished the book!).

F J Watson must surely be something of an authority on the history of the town; I'd say this book is a must-read for anyone who lives in Berwick and is interested in its past.  Fascinating; one of those novels that makes you want to go back in time and see it all. 

Incidentally, I discovered on my first visit to Berwick that most consider themselves staunchly English, to the extent that some pubs and shops have the English flag in the window, though everyone I spoke to behind bars and shop counters had a Scottish accent :)

Sunday 10 April 2022

WHY ODIN DRINKS by Bjørn Larssen #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
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: A Norse God with Imposter Syndrome...

I read the first episode of Bjørn Larssen's (very) alternative Norse mythology, Creation, which is now incorporated into this book - this is good, because I was able to re-read it before embarking on the confused All-Father's further adventures.

I think I would need to know a lot more about Norse mythology than I do in order to fully appreciate this, though I did look up bits and bobs here and there, which helped.  The idea of portraying Odin as rather hesitant and not quite sure of his role as ultimate creator, is inspired.  Problem is that he and all the other gods (and versions of Odin in the past, present and future) know about everything that will be (which seems logical, what with them being deities), but are not always sure whether items or concepts actually exist yet.  Like Odin's wife Frigg not being sure what a miniskirt is, but knowing she wants one. 

'What sort of tea will you have?'
'They haven't discovered it yet,' said Urðr.  'He looks like the lapsang souchong type to me, though.'

One of my favourite aspects was the occasional presence of 'literature'.  She is an entity that whispers to Odin's mind a piece of information pertaining to something that has just been said, such as 'Loki is foreshadowing', but Odin cannot see her; he just hears the sound of her sneakers as she sprints away.  I love that.

In parts 2-4 we meet many more gods - Loki, Freya and Freyr, and Frigg.  Freya, goddess of love, beauty, fertility, sex, war and gold (pretty much all the most important things to a Norseman, one imagines) is portrayed as a sort of Paris Hilton type, which I thought was genius.

'As he travelled, Odin thoroughly investigated people of all shapes and sizes, casually letting it slip that he was the All-Father'.

Some of the time the references went over my head because of my lack of knowledge of the subject, though other times I felt the prose needed a bit of tightening up; it seemed to career away with itself now and again.  However, the good is very very good, and I also liked the pertinent observations about life and death, time and war, woven amongst the ridiculousness.  And the ending.  Clever.

A light-hearted romp through Norse mythology, and a fitting development for Bjørn Larssen's comedic talent!

I laugh every time I look at this - the grinning Odin doing a thumbs up!

Monday 4 April 2022

RIZZIO by Denise Mina #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
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: Novella about Mary, Queen of Scots

The first word that came to mind when I was thinking how to describe this book was 'enchanting', though the story itself is the very opposite.  The way in which it is written, however, is a delight indeed, even down to the off-the-wall chapter headings.  The shocking story of the murder of David Rizzio, servant, advisor and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots, bounces along in page-turning fashion, with a whisper of almost humorous cynicism as the author narrates the appalling events of the few days in question.

It is a chilling irony that the hornéd demons who stormed the Queen's apartments in Holyrood Palace claimed to be motivated partly by divisions in the Christian church - this grisly moment in history could have come straight from an anthology entitled 'The Devil and his Work'.  Also that the unborn child the demonic lords were so keen to write off actually became James VI of Scotland and James I of England - named by Elizabeth I as her successor.

Spoiled wastrel Lord Darnley - Mary's husband who threw his toys out of his pram when he didn't receive his 'Crown Matrimonial' (the sharing of the reign and the authority to rule in his own right if he outlived her) - was beautifully portrayed, while background information about the activities of his father and some of the other lords who took part in the brutality sent a chill up my spine that remains with me.  This novella brings home what a wild, dark and dangerous place 16th Century Scotland was - every scene is atmospherically perfect, and one is given the feeling that in aristocratic and 'noble' circles, one's life was hanging by a thread pretty much all the time.  

I loved what Denise Mina did with the insane Henry Yair, and the 'afterwards' section, when we read what happened to Mary in the years to follow and, most interesting of all, what happened to the Queen's apartments at Holyrood Palace.  Fascinating.  I have to look up more about this!

Excellent.  Loved it.