Tuesday, 25 April 2017

BLOOD ROSE ANGEL by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book: I read another title by this author, The Silent Kookaburra, when it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, and liked it so much I downloaded another of her books.

The story is set in the 14th century, in the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, and centres round midwife and herbal practitioner, Héloïse.  Her husband, Raoul Stonemason, has been working in Florence on the cathedral for two years, but when the plague hits Italy, work halts and he knows he must flee.  On the way home he accepts a lift from a merchant, who is to stay a while in Lucie.  Alas, he brings with him the plague, and dies of it the next day.  From then, it spreads rapidly.  As a midwife and herbalist, Héloïse feels duty bound to aid not only those about to give birth, but also the ill of the village, and this causes great friction between her and Raoul, who is terrified that she will bring the pestilence into their own house.


I was pleased to discover that Liza Perrat can write historical fiction as convincingly as the dark (yet humorous) contemporary drama I'd read before.  The research that must have gone in to this book is some feat; there is so much intricate detail about the herb lore of the period, the every-day lives of the peasants, and most interesting of all, the superstitions and religion.  The villagers' lives are ruled by their fear of a wrath-like god, and have faith in all manner of charms, talismans, portents of doom, etc; a minority dared to voice their derision of these far-fetched beliefs, but it was so sad that, of course, they had no idea of the cause of the pestilence; as I read with frustration, it made me wonder what generations far into the future will think of the beliefs that still exist today, that our lives are watched over by invisible, judgemental, parental style entities.  The parallels with our 21st century life are many, and it gave me much food for thought.


The story itself, of how Héloïse deals with the prejudice towards her, and how she climbed from her darkest hours back into the light, is well thought out and so well written, but aside from this, the novel is a fascinating exploration of the rural life of the time, of the societal structure and the way in which the pestilence affected the people and changed the way they thought and lived.  I hope to read another book in this trilogy soon; this is the third book, and a complete stand alone.




Saturday, 22 April 2017

THIS PARODY OF DEATH by William Savage @penandpension


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book:  It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  Mr Savage has published six novels so far, and I have read them all, which speaks for itself; my favourites are The Code for Killing and The Fabric of Murder.  


This third Ashmole Foxe 18th century murder mystery has more humorous overtones than the first two, and is probably a more 'easy read' for those who are not particularly interested in historical fiction per se.   Ashmole Foxe is a wealthy gentleman bookseller of Norwich, a leading member of city society and a slightly world-weary ladies' man.  He is also known to take an interest in crime within the area, and in This Parody of Death he is invited to solve the murder of Richard Logan, an undertaker and recluse.  As Foxe delves into the lives of those involved with Logan, he uncovers far more than he had ever expected.


As ever, I quickly became absorbed in the world of 18th century Norwich; it's a city I know, so this was interesting for me.  Mr Savage's characterisation of Foxe is first class, as, for the first time, he begins to question his own future, his attitudes to women, and even the flamboyant way in which he dresses.  I liked that there was look inside the head of Charlie, Foxe's street urchin messenger, with a chapter from his own point of view, and Mr Savage makes the reader all too aware of the seamier side of life beneath the period's veneer of respectability.  I also enjoyed the amusing insight into the mysteriously competitive world of church bell ringing (yes, it sounds a bit obscure, but it's very well done), and the alternative views on the hypocrisy of formally accepted Christianity.  


With regard to the plot itself, it is convincing, and unpredictable.  I felt there were a few inconsistencies within the novel, and some repetition of fact that was not necessary, but the uncovering of the crime is dialogue-led, so this was perhaps unavoidable in some circumstances.  The characters are the stars of this book; I'd love to see them in a novel other than a murder mystery, as I think they have potential for more.  This is a most enjoyable novel, and I'm happy to recommend it.






Tuesday, 18 April 2017

CARIBBEAN DEEP by Gary E Brown @oceanmedia

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE



How I discovered this book: It had come to my notice via Twitter, and I eventually took the plunge.   Pun intended.😎

Caribbean Deep is a sailing-orientated human trafficking thriller featuring former Special Forces officers Pete, Willie and Dick; the book is written from the first person point of view of hard drinking, world weary Dick.  Willie is the 'character'; it's very much along the lines of your average Netflix thriller series, with plenty of explosions, witty banter from the main characters, dastardly baddies to get your teeth stuck into, helpless victims to save, and near death experiences.  It certainly ticks all the boxes, and I enjoyed it.

The author, Gary Brown, is an experienced sailor and bases much of his work on his experiences sailing around the Caribbean, and the authenticity of this novel is one of the elements that makes it work so well; it's clear that Mr Brown knows exactly what he's talking about with regard to the organised crime around the area, and I liked the observation that the slave trade has never been stamped out.  As for the sailing itself, there were many terms and words that I hadn't heard of, but it didn't matter; they all came together to build the atmosphere of the novel.  The characterisation and mood of suspense is very well done all the way through.

At £5.22, it's a little more expensive than your average indie-Kindle book, but I'd say that if this is your sort of book, it's definitely worth getting.  Having read this, I have just downloaded 'Biscay: Our Ultimate Storm', which is a mini ebook about a true event in the life of the author and his wife.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

RONALD LAING by David Boyle

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


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

The name R D Laing is one that I've often seen around, probably on my parents' bookshelves, too, but I've never really known who he was.  I've long been sceptical about psychiatric diagnoses, so this book piqued my interest.  It's only novella length, so I knew it wouldn't be a huge chore to get through if I didn't like it.  Happily, I did. 
 
Laing was an unorthodox Scottish psychiatrist who challenged methods of psychiatric treatment during the 1940s and 50s, was greatly influenced by existential philosophy and became a cult figure in the 1960s.  This book is not long enough to be a biography; it's more an overview of his life and an examination of his principles, theories and work in relation to the trends of the time.  David Boyle writes intelligently, clearly and in language plain enough for the general reader with no knowledge of the subject.  He gives a few instances of Laing's experiments when working in psychiatric hospitals, such as this one: '...In one ward, he reduced the drugs to practically zero and locked the door.  In the first week of the experiment, about 30 windows were smashed.  Nobody was hurt, so from the second week onwards he unlocked the doors and found there was no rush to leave, and the windows stayed intact...'

Like others of his brilliance, philosophies, era and convention-challenging ideas, Laing sank heavily into the bottle and became something of a caricature of himself.  I was interested in much of what Boyle touched upon, found myself constantly nodding and highlighting passages, and will find out more, I am sure, probably from the bibliography at the back.   This mini-bio ends at 87%, after which there is the beginning of another work by David Boyle, and a list of others, which I was interested enough to look at.

'He had a complete lack of interest in any kind of small talk or going through the social motions'.   Hang on while I go and look him up on YouTube...



Monday, 3 April 2017

THE HEART OF THE CONQUEROR by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE 


How I discovered this book: I first got to know of Gemma Lawrence via Twitter, and have been reading her since she published on Wattpad only.  I've loved all her books, my favourite being La Petite Boulain, about the early life of Anne Boleyn.  You can see my reviews of her other books by clicking the 'Gemma Lawrence' tag at the end of this one.

This is something I love ~ historical fiction about a time with which I'm not that familiar, written in such a way that it teaches me about the period.  This is the story of the events that brought about the Norman Conquest of 1066, written from the point of view of Matilda, the wife of William, Duke of Normandy, aka The Conqueror.  Not only does it tell the story of the two of them, but also gives much background about the Vikings, Saxons and the rulers of northern Europe, who came before them; it made me want to read deeper into the history (preferably written by this author), and I was completely engrossed.


I investigated the story of Matilda and William while I was reading the book, so I'd know what came from fact and what is of Ms Lawrence's creation, and could see that she's stuck close to 'the script', but told their story in such a way that only she can.  Gemma Lawrence's Matilda is clever, vain, proud, ambitious to the point of egomania, narcissistic in the extreme, and so assured of her superiority over all beings apart from her husband that she thinks even her God speaks to her, and that she can buy his grace with gifts of money and her own daughter; in anyone's hands apart from this author's, I might not have wanted to read about her, but I loved this book.  Of course the church has long been corrupt, with those high up in it behaving far from the basic ethos of Christianity, but, reading this, it occurred to me that the early Christians did, in fact, treat their God as the pagans did theirs, by offering up material goods in exchange for imagined/expected favours; the insight into the spiritual beliefs of the time fascinated me.

There is much expression of the passion between Matilda and William in this novel, and I will admit to skip-reading some accounts of their frenzied coupling so I could get back to the actual story, but these passages were written so well, highlighted the fierce love between them, and were not in the least bit cringe-making.  Their love was illustrated so beautifully when they were fully clothed, too, in the way they worked as one to fulfil their mutual ambition ~ and there's a terrific section when William comes back from battle seriously ill, and Matilda and a monk work tirelessly to nurse him back to health.

The last 20% is taken up with the preparation for and the events of the Battle of Hastings.  As the book is written from the point of view of Matilda, I wondered how the novel would end without an anti-climax, as, of course, Matilda was not present, but no: the battle is described in all its horror and gory glory, and Ms Lawrence has found an artful way to make sure no detail was spared.


The question of violence towards women arises in this book, as Matilda's first encounter with William was a brutal one, and Ms Lawrence discusses this at some length in the Author's Note at the end of the book, but even as I was reading it I thought this: we can't judge the people of hundreds of years ago on the standards by which we live now, because attitudes were vastly different, and we do not walk in their shoes.  I add this into the review only to make you aware that there is an occurrence of violence towards a woman at the hand of a man, near the beginning. 

This is a long book; sometimes there is repetition, with the same factual detail provided more than onceOn the odd occasion it felt a little research-heavy, and I felt one or two observations might have worked better written in the present tense, but none of these doubts mattered a jot overall; Gemma Lawrence writes with such intelligence, emotion and innate understanding of her characters and period, and I am so looking forward to reading the next partAmazon tells us that the highest star ranking should mean 'I loved it', and I did, I loved this book, so I'm happy to award it all five of those potential stars.


In 2015, Gemma Lawrence appeared on my series about writers and their star signs, The Zodiac Files.  You can see her piece HERE

 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

LETTERS NEVER MEANT TO BE READ by Marc D Crepeaux

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


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

Isn't the cover gorgeous?  This is a collection (by a group of writers) of those letters you'd love to write, to get off your chest what you really want to say to people like the friend you've fallen out with, your ex-husband, ex-employer, the descendent you'll never meet, etc.  A clever and unusual idea, I thought.

As is always in compilations, the quality of these little pieces vary, though they are all well presented.  Generally, I liked the contributions by Meghan best; they were more acerbic, witty ~ and more concise, which I think works better for this.  Others reminded me more of blog posts, or essays, with far more background and explanation than might be found in a real letter to someoneMy absolute favourite, though, was 'Dear Mother Prostitute' by Marc, which was excellent.  I could tell which ones Brandon had written from the title and first line; I guessed each one, after reading his first two, and was never wrong.  They seemed brooding, introspective; the styles of the writers was much in evidence.  Interestingly, the last letter is from older Marc to his younger self; I liked that, and it made me want to write my own.

I don't know if they were written as catharsis for the writers, but I would guess so.  I am sure they worked very well for this (I bet most of us have written that email or letter in such a vein, that we've never sent!).  As such, they were perhaps less entertaining than they might have been, had they been written more with the reader in mind, and now and again I felt a bit of professional editing might have served the book well, but the honesty and emotion certainly shone through in each one.   A thought-provoking exercise, and there's a good bit at the back showing a photo and a small bio of each writer, which meant so much more after having looked inside their minds.  For the record, only Marc looked anything like I imagined him.

Incidentally, Marc also invites contributions....

 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A SHINY COIN FOR CAROL PRENTICE by Mark Barry @GreenWizard62

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I first got to know Mark Barry via Twitter, when he asked me to appear on his blog.  I read one of his books out of interest and it was so good I carried on reading them, the best (in my opinion) being Once Upon A Time In The City Of Criminals.  You can click that title to see my review; links to those for Carla, The Night Porter and Ultra Violence are to be found at the end.

I read 90% of this book in one session ~ I had to know what was going to happen, and I knew I wouldn't be able to settle to anything else until I'd finished it.  I can't describe too much about the plot without giving away the story, but... Carol Prentice is a young woman recently returned to her hometown after university.  In this hometown, businessman and politician Leonard Gifford is king, while the handsome, popular and privileged prince is his son, Toby.  Carol starts work part time in a book shop run by Steve, a man much older than her, and with whom she begins to form a deep connection.  War breaks out between Steve and the Giffords, with Carol in the middle.  What starts as a mild spat escalates into something much, much more serious....

This book has a slow start, and at first I just thought, yes, Mark Barry's always worth reading, but maybe this isn't as hard-hitting as my favouritesBut by only 10% it became much more interesting, and I was reminded why I like his stuff so much.  The observations, the character detail, the dialogue, the sharply viewed snippets of popular culture, the fearless sentences that might make lesser writers think 'hmm, I want to write that, but dare I?' ~ I loved it.  The basic you-got-it-or-you-don't talent, and he has, in spades.  Unanswered questions kept me agog all the way through the first half; what was Carol's connection to the Giffords?  And what were these mysterious 'work outs' with 'Gnasher' about?

Up until 52%, it was a jolly good book, I thought, but then ~ whoosh!  It became something else.  Questions were answered, and there were some passages of real brilliance (feedback for Mr Barry: Steve's speech about why he doesn't talk about feelings, and Carol's description of Steve's bender).  The plot stepped up about ten notches, and all of a sudden I was reading a different novel.  I couldn't read it fast enough, so eager was I to find out what happened.

At the beginning, we're told that it's connected to Barry's earlier book, Carla, and I never, ever guessed how ~ nice one, and it made me want to read Carla again!

I have only one criticism, and that's the constant repetition of Carol's dialogue 'tics' that I had to train myself to gloss over so that they wouldn't spoil it, but I am exceptionally picky about stuff like this, and this one minor irritation doesn't stop me from recommending this story of love, pain and revenge absolutely, totally and wholeheartedly.  

 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

THE PLANCK FACTOR by Debbi Mack #RBRT

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


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

This is a short book, a long novella.  It's an unusual plot ~ student Jessica starts to write a thriller, then discovers that life is imitating art as she is swept into a cat and mouse chase involving mysterious men in vans, research into the possibility of making a bomb more powerful than a nuclear attack, truth seeker groups and murder.

I like Ms Mack's writing style very much; it's sharp, current and witty, and she has clearly drawn on her own experience to write Jessica, which was entertaining and amusing.  The book alternates between Jessica's own story and that of the novel she is writing, which was only occasionally confusing; mostly, it works, and is nicely interspersed with short chapters from 'observers'.  I was interested in the subject matter, and it has a good end twist which I hadn't anticipated.

For me, the downside to this story was the lighthearted tone in which it's written, almost a comedy thriller.  Despite being the subject of a nationwide search and having witnessed murders, chasing across the country in an effort to hide, and wondering what the hell is going on, Jessica still makes quips and manages to work on her novel.  This does make more sense when you read the twist at the end, but the problem was the rest of the story; I think it would have seemed more feasible if her work had resulted in her getting drawn into the danger, rather than having her novel 'come to life'.  Also, if it had been a bit more serious, and possibly longer.  It's a great idea, I just thought it needed a bit more research and thinking out.  

One thing that made me choose this book was the 'New York Times best selling author' line on the cover.  This refers not to this book but to a 2011 mystery, Identity Crisis, which made numbers 27 and 35 on the NYT ebook best seller list for two weeks during that year, in case you're interested.