Monday 27 February 2023

EL NORTE by Harald Johnson #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: Fast paced organised crime 'on-the-run' thriller

Never a dull moment in this high-speed thriller starring Jager Flores, an eighteen-year-old who goes on holiday with his family (mother, father, sister) to a Honduran island, never suspecting that this will end in a white-knuckle-ride of a journey north to the US - or that he will be accompanied by Flea, a former gangster who wants to disappear.

Jager knows his father is involved with some dodgy people, but does not know to what extent.  

It's clear that the author has spent much time researching every aspect of with how migrants sneak into the US; the local culture and jargon is convincing, throughout.  I was fascinated to read about 'La Bestia', also known as 'El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death), the freight train used for the purpose of getting across Mexico for those who can't afford a smuggler.  

The plot is suspense-filled and unpredictable, as every good action thriller should be - the story is well put together, and definitely plot- rather than character-driven, though Flea and his gang at the beginning were very well drawn, I thought.

Unfortunately, though, this didn't quite hit the spot for me, although I usually love on-the-run stories.  I couldn't 'see' Jager; he never jumped off the page like a character needs to, in order for you to care what happens to him.  He is a schoolboy whose parents have seen fit to send him to a therapist and get him hooked on diazepam (Valium) because his personality is of the introverted type and he suffers from 'social anxiety', which apparently means he needs to be dosed up with strong, highly addictive medication.  However, within a couple of days of shocking, tragic events that give birth to his perilous journey, he throws away his pills and starts facing down gangsters, thinking on his feet in the manner of Jack Bauer, and becoming the de facto leader of small parties of South American undocumented immigrants.  I get that dire circumstances can bring out a side of a person that they didn't know existed, but it usually takes more than a matter of days.  I'm afraid I couldn't suspend my disbelief.

Another detail that grated was this: Jager's gangster father kept a top secret, wildly important document containing certain names, that must not fall into the wrong hands ... on a Google doc.  Surely a hacker of the type that exist these days would be able to hack into such a document within minutes?

To sum up, the story has a lot going for it, especially if you like non-stop action, but it didn't really work for me for the reasons stated.  Which is a shame, because I like this author's historical and time travel fiction very much.

Sunday 19 February 2023

PLAGUED by Marie Keates @marie_keates

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Twitter

In a Nutshell: WW1 soldier is invalided home after injury, only to face a feeling of alienation - and the Spanish flu epidemic.

An emotional family drama about one of the hardest times in the 20th Century, Plagued tells the story of Thomas, a soldier who gets a 'Blighty wound' during his time at the front during the last year of World War I.  Having changed in every way from the man who left so joyfully in 1914 - he and his friends thinking that they were setting off on glorious, honourable adventure - he finds integration back into 'normal' life beyond difficult.  Like his friends, he doesn't want his wife to know how hellish the war actually was, but at the same time feels alienated because he has been through appalling experiences that he can't talk about.

This is also the story of Thomas's wife Mary and her many friends who face the hardship of civilian life during a war, of fear that their husbands, sons and brothers will not come home, and finally of the Spanish flu that felled so many at that time.

This is a highly readable book and I looked forward to getting back to it each time I put it down.  So many aspects of the time are dealt with, and the research is evident without being intrusive.  I did have trouble remembering who was who in the large cast of characters - who was married to whom, which children belonged to which mother, but this didn't really matter.

I particularly liked the ending, in 1919, when Thomas and some friends stand by the site of the future cenotaph; it had a sadly poignant ring to it.  If you like wartime family dramas, you'll love this.

Monday 13 February 2023

SHAPE OF REVENGE by Georgia Rose @GeorgiaRoseBook #TuesdayBookBlog

 4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Recommendation from a trustworthy source!

In a Nutshell: Book 2 in the A Shade Darker crime thriller series, all set in the fictional village of Melton.

A Shade Darker is a great idea for a series - I believe there will be 12 novels, all stories being connected though each a stand-alone.  Quite a challenge for any writer; having not yet read Book #1, I am in the perfect position to confirm that, as far as Book #2 is concerned, it is one to which Ms Rose has risen admirably!

Shape of Revenge centres around Sharon Beesley, the owner of the local village shop.  She's a terrific character; horribly self-centred and self-righteous, blinkered, unable to 'read the room' whilst believing herself to be so perceptive.  She (thinks she) completely rules the roost in her household, with husband Eric tightly reined into humdrum subservience and daughter Daisy following whatever path Sharon deems suitable.  Of course, both Eric and Daisy have all sorts of stuff going on, not least of all in their individual heads, about which Sharon does not have a clue.

I so enjoyed reading the inner workings of Sharon's pernickety little mind; seeing a character's view of the world whilst knowing it to be utterly skewed is always so entertaining.  The book is most 'reader-friendly', flowing along in such a way that the pages just have to be turned.  I've noticed when reading another book by this author that she is a master of structure, revealing details at just the right time and making all events fit together perfectly.  This is so important in a book of this type, with its secrets, lies, smoke and mirrors, and themes of dastardly revenge, abduction and faked identities.

I don't know if this was intentional, but most of the way through, I felt that it had an element of dark comedy, a genre so popular at the moment with shows like Why Women Kill, You, The Flight Attendant and films such as Promising Young Woman.  The way that some of Sharon's antics were written, as well as those of secondary character Ella, definitely had this feel to it.  Somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  It worked, anyway!