Tuesday, 16 January 2018

FRED'S FUNERAL by Sandy Day @sandeetweets

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

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

Genre: Family drama, history

Fred's Funeral is a long novella, beginning with the death of Fred Sadler, in 1986.  As he dies, his ghost floats up and observes his relatives at his bedside, and follows them to the funeral and back to his family home as they share their memories of him.  The book then dips back and forth between present and past, to his childhood in Jackson Point, near Toronto, to his horrific experiences in the First World War, to the many years afterwards when he was trying to find his feet.

Fred led a difficult life, always the outsider.  His family history is complicated, with many undercurrents, resentments and complex issues.  Little went right for him after WW1, which was, of course, closely followed by the Depression.  He suffered from shell shock for many, many years, but this was not understood in those days; his family tried to get him a disabled war veteran pension, or into a hospital for those who suffered with this malady, but they were to discover that the doctors were in cahoots with the military: if a patient was diagnosed with a different sort of mental illness, the War Office would not have to pay.

Fred is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and goes through much in the various hospitals he is sent to.

As Ghost Fred watches his family, he feels in turn angry, misunderstood, unloved and, occasionally, pleased by what he hears.  He was thought of as 'mad old Fred', and there is much in this book that is so sad; it made me want to find the younger man and make everything alright for him.  As the book dots about between times, I kept being lifted out of one era and put down in another but they fit together nicely, I became quickly engrossed in every snapshot of his life, and gradually the jigsaw fitted together.

The book is so readable and well written, and I enjoyed how the story built up, not only in Fred's life but from a sociological history point of view.  It's interesting (if frustrating) from the point of view of family wrangles, and builds such a tragic picture of the poor men caught up in the pointless carnage of WW1.  I really liked it.

Friday, 12 January 2018


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I was sent a review request and an ARC by the author.  I accepted because I have read other books by him, Back Home, one of my favourite books of 2016, and its prequel, Cawnpore.

Genre: early 19th century historical miliary/espionage adventure.  Although a work of fiction, some characters and events are taken from real life; there is explanation of this at both the beginning and the end of the book.

The 'land of silver' in the title refers to Argentina.  James Burke is sent by the War Office to Argentina, where he must assume various identities to forward British interests; like the Argentinians, Britain is against its rule by Spain.  Ultimately, he must assess the feasibility of British invasion.  Taking his trusty servant, William Brown, he sails with Irish merchant O'Gorman.  I enjoyed Burke's first impressions of South America, how he was astounded by its sheer size. 

Once established, Burke mingles with Society and starts an affair with O'Gorman's beautiful wife, Ana, whilst William assumes the persona of a hard-drinking rogue and rebel in order to infiltrate the lower echelons and discover plans for rebellion again the Spanish.  Burke himself takes on many guises in his quest for intelligence, and tussles with his rival, the Frenchman de Liniers.

It is clear that Tom Williams has a great love for his setting, and knows much about its history.  I loved the descriptions of rural Argentina and Chile, and the pictures were painted with so much detail that I found fascinating, even down to how the cattlemen would catch and prepare a beast for eating, or how the men survived the long trek to, and up and down, Chile.  My knowledge of this place and era of history is sparse, and this book taught me a lot.   The story is well structured, the plot successfully intricate, and if Burke and William's escapades ran a little too smoothly at times, they worked well within the context of the story.

This first Burke adventure is certainly plot rather than character driven; although some of the smaller players, like O'Gorman and rancher Paco Iglesias, came alive immediately, I only experienced the occasional glimpse of who James Burke actually was.  Maybe because the narrative was in the form of an omniscient narrator who had a similar 'voice' to Burke, I didn't see inside the characters' heads.  I never had a feeling of who William was, either, aside from a loyal servant, and his dialogue sometimes seemed to come from someone higher up the social scale.

As for Ana, we are told she is enigmatic and beautiful, and that she and Burke are having a passionate affair, but I felt little passion between them.  The most telling point of their relationship was when she said, 'You're a soldier.  You're back because your duty has brought you back.  And when your duty calls you away, you will depart.  And I will be left here alone.'  Burke's reasons for this were always warranted, but the little I did know of him I didn't particularly warm to, not least of all his disappointment that Chile was not European enough.

Having said all that, books of this genre tend to concentrate on the action and history, and avid readers of them probably have different requirements from me.  I need to 'know' a character to care what happens to him (I wanted Paco the rancher to outwit the Spaniards, yet cared little about the fortunes of Burke), but that's just a personal preference; there is no doubt that the plot and military skirmishes are well-developed and artfully told, and both the historical element and the descriptive settings deserve applause; there was much I enjoyed.

To sum up, and to review objectively, I'd give this book a range of different star ratings for various aspects, so I think 4* is fair overall.  It's quite an achievement, and would appeal a great deal to anyone with interest in or experience of these countries, and to those who love historical and miliary action/adventure.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

BEAR MEDICINE BY G Elizabeth Kretchmer @gekretchmer

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

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

Genre: Contemporary family drama/historical/feminist issues

Bear Medicine tells two stories.  The first is that of Brooke, a middle class, marathon-running, oddly unworldly wife of a domineering Oregon politician, who, when taking some 'time out' from family life, gets mauled by a bear in Yellowstone National Park.  In alternating chapters we read about Anne, in 1877, a young wife of a domineering husband, who gets separated while on an adventure trek with him, again in Yellowstone.

Brooke and Anne's stories run constantly parallel, and are connected.  Brooke goes to recuperate from her injuries nearby, cared for by a woman called Leila in a cosy log cabin; their lifestyle builds her confidence and makes her reluctant to return home.  Anne is saved by a young Native American woman, Maggie, who educates her about the reality of the evils done to her people by the White Man, builds her confidence, and makes her understand how badly she was treated by her husband.  Both women get early chances to return/be 'rescued', and reject them, though the differences in options for the women of the 19th and 21st centuries is more clearly marked later.

I found this book immensely readable, written with understanding of the author's subjects, and well-placed wit.  Ms Kretchmer sets a scene perfectly, and both her narrative and dialogue flow so well.  The two women's stories run side by side most comfortably, as the parallels and connections emerge.   All characters are clearly defined, and the pace is just right, with slower passages (inner dialogue/descriptive narrative) interspersed evenly with events to keep the reader turning the pages, and I loved the insights into Native American lifestyle; the reminder of their tragic history at the hands of the so-called civilised invaders was heartbreaking.

The theme is very much one of women standing together and overcoming male domination, and I think it would be of great interest to female readers who have felt oppressed by the men in their lives or by society as a whole.  I found this aspect of the novel a little dated, having been a reader of people like Erin Pizzey 20/30 years ago, but I understand that in Brooke's world it was still very much an issue, and reading about Anne's life was certainly enough to make me feel grateful I was born 80 years later!

I have one minor complaint, of a proofreading nature: the use of hyphens (-) instead of em dashes (—) throughout the book, which was an irritation; sometimes they were used to create both pauses and hyphenated words in the same sentence, which was very confusing (example: Shane-still on the dock-fiddled with his keys, wallet and phone-double-checking to be sure); as it was, I kept thinking random words had been hyphenated when they weren't.  Publisher, sort out your proofreader!   On the whole, though, I'd definitely recommend this book, and I'd read more by this author.

Sunday, 31 December 2017


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

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

Genre: Hard-boiled crime

The Blurb:
His last job a disaster, a professional thief teams with an old partner eager for one last score – a safe in the home of a wealthy Philadelphia politician. But they are not the only ones set on the cash. His partner dead and the goods missing, he hunts for his money and the killer to find out that this may have been a job best left undone.

I liked this!  I enjoyed Tony Knighton's writing style, and it's a well-paced, cat-and-mouse page-turner with no unnecessary padding, and plenty of action. 

I felt the author must know the dark streets of Philadelphia well; it's highly atmospheric without being wordy or overly-descriptive.  Telling the story through the eyes of the violent thief anti-hero made me feel far more involved in the story than I might have done had it been told using a third person narrative; even though the thief is ruthless, with little disregard for anyone, I kind of liked him.  That's an art; making the reader like an unlikeable person.  

It's gripping, sharp, not too long, with excellently observed dialogue and convincing secondary characters.  Good job.  My only criticism is the Kindle price, from the point of view of those who might want to buy it; at over £5, it's more expensive than most full-length novels by more established authors.  The publisher might want to have a think about this, as it would be a shame to lose out on potential sales of a highly readable book.  It is available on Kindle Unlimited, though.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

How do we discover the books we read?

Some months ago I did a quick count up of all the books I have reviewed on this blog, and did an analysis of how I discovered them.  The results were interesting, from both a reader and a writer's point of view.

I thought I would do another assessment of how I discovered the 99 books I have reviewed during this year only (I do not put all reviews on this blog; if I have little to say, the review might just be a couple of lines on Amazon). 

The results:

Favourite Author
This means I have bought/downloaded at least one other book by this author.  
In other words, an writer whose work I've enjoyed enough to want to read more.

Review Submissions
I am a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team; these are the books I have chosen from the list of those submitted to her blog for review.

Amazon Browse
Books that I liked the look of, mostly found in 'also boughts'

Any book that I got to know about by talking to the author on Twitter

Bought/downloaded because a passing tweet from an author 
previously unknown to me piqued my interest

Book Blog
Chosen after reading a review or other article on a book blog

A friend's recommendation 

A book bought because of my interest in a TV show or film

Thus, tips for writers.... !!
  • Write decent books so that readers want to buy another one!
  • Submit to book blogs
  • Get books downloaded any way you can so they appear on more 'also boughts'
  • Talk to people on social media

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

THE FOREST AND THE FLAMES by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD Stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Gemma Lawrence is absolutely my favourite writer of historical fiction, so I buy all her books as soon as they come out, and start reading them as soon as possible.

Genre: historical fiction, 11th century.

This is the second of two books about Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, and picks up the story just after the Battle of Hastings.  

I didn't know much about this period of history before; everyone knows of this most famous of historical dates, but I knew nothing about the problems that followed.  In this second book, Gemma Lawrence softens Matilda as she grows older and wiser, but does not attempt to glorify the harshness and brutality of the time, nor the terrible brutality that William forced upon the north of England; it was odd, in a way, to be reading a book in which one is rooting for the adversaries of the protagonists.  Of course the Anglo-Saxons rebelled.  That William had been promised the crown by Edward the Confessor meant little to them.  Matilda was partly English, and made many bold steps to calm the waters and bring about peace in the land.

What I loved about this book was not just the story, but how much I learned about the history of the time; this is no watery piece of fanciful fiction.  Gemma Lawrence shows what the towns, villages and landscape were like, how the people of the 11th century ate, travelled, dressed, cured their ills and lived their day to day lives, which were ruled by the ever-controlling church and its tales of the wrath of its ruler.  I thought, several times, how much more effective a ruler Matilda could have been had she been able to give her time and wealth to the people who needed it, instead of spending so much of both on appeasing this allegedly omnipotent being.

Matilda was an unusual woman of her time, the first to be recognised as a queen of England, and her marriage to William was unusual, too, in that the marriage was a happy one and William was faithful to her; indeed, after her death, he went into a terrible decline and returned to his brutal ways.  Also well documented in this book is his lifelong feud with his eldest son, Robert 'Curt-hose' (love that!).

At the end of the book there are notes about truth versus fiction and what happened to the graves of Matilda and William, and the continuing stories of their children... Gemma Lawrence talks of Matilda's granddaughter, also named Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England and the first woman to be named as heir to the English throne.  She says she hopes to write her story one day, too; I hope she does.

I loved this book; if you liked the first one, you're in for an even bigger treat.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

My Top 25 Books of 2017

I took a long time choosing my favourite 25 out of the just over 100 books I have read this year (not all reviewed on this blog).  Please click the title of the book for my review, which contains Amazon and Goodreads links.  The ratings given to my chosen books range from 4.5* to my rarely given 5 GOLD stars; all come highly recommended.   One writer shows up twice, another four times.

Historical Fiction: 10
General contemporary/psychological drama: 6
Thriller: 4
Travel/Memoir/0ther non-fiction: 4
Zombie Apocalypse: 1

Numbers 25-11 are in no particular order.....

Everlasting by Jo Carroll 
Travel Memoir ~ Malawi

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow
Early 20th century family drama

Twisted Memories by Kate L Mary
Zombie Apocalypse

Victims by Joel Hames

The Most Dangerous Enemy by Gemma Lawrence 
Book 3 of the Elizabeth of England Chronicles, about Elizabeth 1

Lad by Andrew Webber
Lad Lit

The North Water by Ian McGuire
19th century thriller

Fully Loaded by Blake Crouch
Short stories, mostly crime/thriller

Lion by Saroo Brierley
Memoir, family adventure/drama

Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise by O J Modjeska 
True life 1970s air disaster account

The Heart of the Conqueror by Gemma Lawrence 
Saxon/Norman historical fiction

The King's Mother by Judith Arnopp
Book 3 of The Beaufort Chronicles, about Margaret Beaufort

Faring to France on a Shoe by Val Poore
Travel Memoir

Whispers in the Alders by H A Callum
Coming of Age Drama 

A Tincture of Secrets and Lies by William Savage
18th Century Murder Mystery

 ~ The Top Ten Countdown ~

Shining brightly at Number Ten...

A Shiny Coin for Carol Prentice by Mark Barry
Contemporary revenge drama

Psychologically fascinating at Number Nine:

The Unravelling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn
Contemporary psychological drama

Pleasing enough to reach Number Eight:

Pleasing Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift
Based on fact, 17th century drama/mystery.

A modest, unassuming Number Seven:

The Beaufort Woman by Judith Arnopp
Book 2 of The Beaufort Chronicles, about Margaret Beaufort 

Silently cycling along to Number Six:

The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat
Dark 1970s Australian family drama.

First of my Top Five books of 2017 ~ at Number Five:

Strands of My Winding Cloth by Gemma Lawrence
Book 4 of the Elizabeth of England Chronicles, about Elizabeth I.

An outstanding debut at Number Four:

The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J Gyle by J D Dixon
Dark drama about a homeless man in Scotland.

Bronze medal: a wonderfully wicked Number Three

Wonders & Wickedness by Carol Hedges
Victorian Murder Mystery

A thrilling silver medallist at Number Two:

Jonah by Carl Rackman
WW2 Naval Thriller

And.... my Number One book of 2017....

Above All Others by Gemma Lawrence
Book 3 of The Lady Anne series, about Anne Boleyn

Thank you, wonderful authors, for many happy hours of reading ~ putting this list together was hard, as there were some I wanted to include that didn't quite make the final cut.  All my reviews have 'labels' at the end, showing author, genre, star rating, etc, and these can be clicked on to find other, similar books.  I hope you will give some of my Top 25 a try.  And if you like them, don't forget to stick a few words on Amazon to say so!