Saturday, 18 November 2017

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHILD by Jenny Twist @JennyTwist1

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've read quite a few of Jenny Twist's short stories and novellas before, and liked them.

Genre: Short stories, miscellaneous drama.

These five stories are grouped together under the loose theme of mother love, and they are all very different.  Two are flash fiction, one page long each, and I liked both of those.  The others are long-short stories.  The middle one is an amusing fantasy about the possible existence of fairyland (note for author: I liked the last paragraph very much).  The last is the best one, I think, a piece of romantic suspense with the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War; I particularly liked the authenticity of the setting.  The first is about a 1960s mother and baby home, which I was slightly less keen on, as I kept expecting a dark twist that never came.  I am not, of course, criticising the author because she didn't write the story I wanted to read; this is just personal taste, and I am sure many would prefer the more promising outcome.

It's a nice collection for a couple of undemanding hours' reading.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

JONAH by Carl Rackman @CarlRackman

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book:  I read the author's debut novel, Irex, after chatting to him on Twitter, and thought it was very good indeed, hence the purchase of this one!

Genre: WW2 Naval Thriller 

This book is stunningly good.  I finished it in the early hours of this morning when my eyes were tired and I wanted to go to sleep, because I had to know what happened. 

The blurb (extract):

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.  Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Jonah ticks every single box.  It's exceptionally well written, interspersed with tales from members of the crew from before the war, relevant to the plot (love little flashbacks like this!).  It's meticulously researched, completely convincing, but Rackman hasn't fallen into the amateur's trap of explaining naval terms to the layman; it is assumed that the reader will gather what they mean, sooner or later, and I did.  There's a glossary at the back, if you need it.

The story is utterly gripping and unpredictable, the sense of menace builds up at just the right pace, and even by the last chapter I had no idea of the outcome (and, indeed, thought it would go another way).  The characterisation is well defined, the dialogue spot on, and it's edited, proofread and formatted to the best of traditional publishing standards.

It's really, really, really good.  You should download it.  Immediately.  Definitely one of the best five books I've read this year.  



Friday, 10 November 2017

ALL THE TOMORROWS by Nillu Nasser @nillunasser

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: Romantic suspense, family drama.


Set in Bombay, the novel starts when Jaya, one year into an arranged marriage, discovers that her idealist, undemonstrative husband, Akash, has a lover.  Criticised by her parents and feeling uncared for, her torment results in a truly shocking action, so stomach-turning I wondered if I could actually carry on reading the book.  Brave of the writer to include it, and that I reacted so strongly shows that it was well-written; I did continue, anyway.

Akash is knocked sideways by Jaya's extreme reaction, and his life takes a swift, sharp turn downwards.  In short, this novel is about a falling apart and slow coming together... several of them.

The first twenty per cent is about Jaya and Akash's younger years and the immediate fall-out of 'the event', after which we are moved swiftly on by being told that 'the years sped by', and suddenly it's twenty years later, when we find out how the characters' lives have fared in the interim, and what happens when they collide once more.

Nillu Nasser is a talented writer, without a doubt.  One of the reasons I chose this is because I like to read about other cultures, and this book taught me stuff I didn't know, so that's a tick from me.  Her storytelling ability held my interest, which is good for another big shiny red tick.  On occasion the dialogue felt a little stilted, or a teensy bit Hollywood, and she fell into the debut novelist trap of using dialogue to impart information to the reader rather than keeping it realistic, but I'll cut her some slack with this; it was not constant, and, as I said, it's a debut novel, and a good one (nb, this is not her first published work, but her first published novel).  Her characterisation was good; Jaya, her sister Ruhi, and their mother, were real, as were Akash, his friend, Tariq, and his lover, Soraya; Ms Nasser writes them all in clear definition, and even the secondary characters were completely convincing ~ another big tick!

I was, however, less sure about the pacing and structure.  With the younger lives of Akash and Jaya taking up only around the first fifth of the book, I was given little time to care that much about what happened to them before suddenly they were older, and little had gone on in the intervening twenty years except more of the same.  How much more effective it would have been to have cut the line about speeding years, and have a couple of interim chapters showing their lives after five, ten or fifteen years, too.  Akash tells Soraya all he has suffered in those years, but I wanted to see it, not just read it in a spoken report.  I loathe clichés, not least of all book reviewing ones, and you can't play out every scene or the book would be a thousand pages long, but in this case I needed to be shown, not told.  For me (and a review is only ever a personal opinion), a slow build up could have turned this 4* book into a 5* one. 

As the rest of the story unravels, Ms Nasser continues to write with authenticity, care and sensitivity, and I'd say that if you like emotional family dramas, you'll love this.

 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A TINCTURE OF SECRETS AND LIES by William Savage @penandpension

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. However, I would have bought the book anyway as I have read and reviewed all of Mr Savage's books, which speaks for itself; reviews for the others can be found by clicking his name in the 'labels' at the end of the review.

Genre: 18th century history, murder mystery.  The 4th in the series, it stands alone, but I'd suggested reading the earlier books first to become acquainted with the players.

The first 35% or so of this novel takes place in the bedroom of our hero, Norfolk doctor and crime solver Adam Bascom; he is suffering from dire injuries following an accident, and, whilst recovering, is brought news of foul deeds and heinous crimes that deserve his attention.  Anyone who can hold my attention with the first third of a novel set in one room (and I read every word) is worthy of applause ~ indeed, in many ways, this is the best so far of Mr Savage's novels.  As well as the nicely plotted murder mystery, he has included more scene-setting, more detail about the day-to-day living of the time, and the history of the area; North Norfolk is particularly close to my heart, and the setting of his books is part of their appeal for me. 

The story brings to life so well the class hierarchy of the time, and tells how for the inhabitants of coastal villagers, involvement in smuggling was a way of life; I'd love to read another Bascom book based around this.  It also shows how those in power in England were concerned that the rebellion of the French peasantry would influence those in this country to rise up in the same manner.

With Adam housebound, the novel needed to step outside his Aylsham house eventually, to add drama, and I was pleased to see some chapters from other characters' points of view: Ruth Scudamore, who is absolutely my sort of girl (she has no time for fripperies and society trivia), her brother Charles, who finds himself far outside his life of genteel leisure when he joins in a military attack to stop a scuffle with a group of rebels, and Adam's groom, William, sent to uncover a mysterious 'quack' who sells his elixirs to the gullible public.  I was also very impressed by a chapter written from the point of view of rebel Peter Gort, who sees himself as a swashbuckling hero of the underclasses.

I was slightly underwhelmed by the wrapping up, and would have liked to see the baddies get their comeuppance(s) rather than just hearing about it in reports and letters, and just a bit more drama and impact, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the book ~ and the delightful way in which it ended: will Adam's romantic life unfold as he wishes, after all his doubt and frustration?  I look forward to the next episode, to find out!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

THE UNRIVALLED TRANSCENDENCE OF WILLEM J GYLE by J D Dixon @James_D_Dixon


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: Literary, psychological, contemporary drama. 

What a find.  This book is seriously good.  I mean, seriously.  I'd recommend it to anyone, whatever your usual genres of choice. 

Willem J Gyle is a bit slow.  But he gets by.  He lives with his mother, who takes care of all his needs, including finding him a job on a construction site which suits his size and strength, and where he makes friends.  He loves his mam, his dog, and the football on the telly.  Then, in just a few days, his world comes crashing down, and Willem finds himself homeless.  Having neither verbal skill nor knowledge of how 'the system' works, he is unable to find anyone to help him, and drifts into a life on the streets and, inevitably, crime.  Much to my surprise, his darker side comes to the fore, but is this innate psychopathy, anger at the world, an expression of pain for all he has lost, or just a primal instinct for survival?  I thought it was a combination of all those elements.

Winding up in a community of other homeless people, which he considers, at first, to be 'no more perfect place ... outside the law, above the law', he soon finds out that it's a reflection of the 'real' world, corrupt, with the weaker members suffering.  And on he walks....

Although the blurb appealed to me, I was dubious at first; the book starts off well-written but whimsical, which, coupled with the too-long and pretentious title, made me wonder if it would be slow-going.  But four pages in I was completely hooked, and stayed that way until the end.  J D Dixon has a real gift, the innate sort that cannot be learned from classes, 'how to write' books, blog posts, or anything else.  To me, writing talent is all about being able to create characters and worlds that absorb the reader completely, needing no wordy description, and JDD has this in spades.  He writes in a spare fashion, which I like.  He doesn't explain, or over-emphasise.  

The book is raw, rough in places, and sometimes shocking.  It's also immensely sad.  It's just - great.  One of the best debut novels I've ever read.



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

THE DARK ROADS by Wayne Lemmons @wayne_lemmons

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: Amazon browse ('also boughts').

Genre: Post Apocalyptic.

I loved the premise of this book.  It's an alternative reality set in the immediate future, in which climate change began to have a devastating effect on the world as early as 2015/6.  By 2021, it is no longer safe to be above ground during daylight hours, and anyone caught thus is instantly burnt to a crisp.  Most people are dead, water and food are scarce, and the heat has rendered vehicles unusable; the world is dying.  Three young men (Buddy, Richie and Elvis) are travelling on foot from Florida to Alaska, in the hope of finding some relief from the heat.  The story is their journey (I adore post apocalyptic cross-country stories, can't get enough of them!), as on the way they meet a few other survivors, struggle with near death as they almost get caught with no safe place to be before sunrise, cope with their own losses and, of course, are pursued by the evil 'feeders' ~ cannibals.

The book could do with a professional editor, or at least a more experienced pair of eyes; there are instances when a clunky omniscient narrator pops up out of nowhere, and a little head-hopping now and again, most noticeably in the epilogue, which changes from narrator to a first person point of view, out of the blue.  Also, there are times when the story skips over the boundary between fiction and unfeasible; the group find shelter in department stores and service stations, but there never seem to be any houses.  The author has a good handle on the effect of heat on some items, but now and again chooses to ignore his findings for the sake of the plot.  The group has a never ending supply of ammunition whenever needed, but I can't see a) where it comes from or b) how they could possibly have carried it all along with the food and the other utensils, medical supplies, etc.  

However (and it's a big 'however'!), Wayne Lemmons is a good storyteller and I was able to suspend my disbelief, most of the time.  I looked forward to getting back to it with each session.  The basics are all there.


I would have given it 3.5* rounded up to 4 on Amazon (because 4* means 'I like it', and I did!), if it wasn't for the epilogue, which was a big disappointment.  The whole book is about them getting to Alaska, where they hope to find a temperature in which they can sustain life, but there is no evidence to show that life is going to be much easier there, and the epilogue itself is less than two pages long.  I felt as though someone had told the author that he had to finish the book by lunch time, or something, so he just scribbled down anything without giving it much consideration, let alone the painstaking redrafting that all novels need.  It doesn't do the rest of the book justice.  BUT (and it's a big but!), I liked it enough to want to take a look the next book, which I will.   It's good, it's not bad at all - it just could have been terrific, that's all. 



Saturday, 21 October 2017

BREAKING BONES by Robert White @robwhite247

3 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: Crime Thriller/Gangster.


Blurb extract: 
Inseparable since childhood and feared by their community, Tony, Eddie and Frankie are beyond the reach of justice.  The brutal gang, The Three Dogs, are a law unto themselves. 
Detective Jim Hacker has watched The Dogs grow from thuggish youths to psychotic criminals. He seems to be the only one who wants to see their empire fall.  
Meanwhile Jamie Strange, a young Royal Marine, finds himself embroiled in the lives of The Three Dogs when his girlfriend, Laurie Holland, cuts off their engagement… to be with the most dangerous of The Dogs: Frankie Verdi. 
Jamie vows to save Laurie, before Frankie damns them both.

Robert White is a talented writer, and what I liked most about this book is its authenticity.  It is always clear when a writer truly knows the world and characters he has created; this is no chronicle of inner city crime attempted by a middle class scribe from the suburbs relying on research to produce a lucrative piece of gangster-lit.  The plot is interesting and the novel well structured; White understands the building of suspense and how to keep the reader turning the pages; the pace is perfect, the dialogue realistic, and the characters are all three-dimensional.  I was impressed that he can write convincing women, too.

So why only three stars?  Sadly, Mr White has been let down by his publisher.  The book does not appear to have been either edited or proofread with any kind of professionalism, experience, knowledge or care.  There are numerous punctuation errors on every single page (missing vocative commas is the most common error) as well as typos, spelling mistakes ('hand-full' instead of 'handful', for instance), and missed words.  Sometimes, the lack of punctuation actually changes the meaning of a sentence: 

"He was just asking Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

...which reads as though a third person was just asking Eddie something; in fact, Tony is telling Eddie that the person was 'just asking'.  Thus, the correct version:

"He was just asking, Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

As far as the editing is concerned, there are many instances of exposition, 'telling not showing', and unnecessary or perhaps slightly amateur sentences.  For instance: 'Frankie was the epitome of the Italian gangster caricature.  He hunched his narrow shoulders, tucked in his elbows, palms up.  "Like, y'know...Blondie...Boomtown.".  

Any editor worth their salt would have removed the first sentence; it is 'telling not showing' and superfluous, as Robert White has depicted Frankie's gesture perfectly, without it.  Never mind the lack of spaces before and after the ellipses; they probably should have been commas or full stops, anyway.

In short, the lack of work on this novel turned the reading of it into something of a chore, rather than the enjoyable experience it should (and would) have been, otherwise.  A shame, indeed.

CHIMERA CATALYST by Susan Kuchinskas @susankuchinskas

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 Review Team, of which I am a member.  I chose it after reading a review of it by another member of the team.

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, SciFi, Dystopian

'The planet is getting drier and drier.  In fifty years, it won't be able to support human life - not as you know it' ...

Chimera Catalyst takes place in an unspecified time in the future ~ from the information given, I am guessing around 150 years on.  The world as we know it now is gone, following the Big Change (some apocalyptic climate disaster, I gathered); water is a luxury, seas are brown and murky, weather is punishingly hot.  The gap between the '1 per cent' (the rich) and the poor is vast.  Children are for the rich only; meanwhile, the manipulation of genes and DNA and advanced cosmetic surgery enables the creation of fantasy creatures and beings.  Religion is a mish-mash of science and hippie spiritualism ~ 'mystical neuroscience crap'.

Most of life is lived virtually; following pandemics, people are scared of human interaction.  Food is scarce, the air inhospitable, and life is maintained via cocktails of chemical supplements.

The novel is written from the point of view of The Finder, who searches through data to fulfil his commitments to those willing to pay him the coin.  He has a pet he has made himself; the Parrot, who is actually part parrot, part dog.  The story centres around his search for the mysterious Miraluna Rose, but I found that the plot took second place to the fascinating and convincing picture of life in this future world.  It's very readable and intelligently written, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad.  The Finder, for instance, knows little about human contact, and is baffled by how comforting he finds the ruffling of the Parrot's feathers, or his warmth lying beside him. 

Although the world functions 'normally', I found this more terrifying than any epic about a pandemic or zombie apocalypse, simply because it's what could happen if the world carries on down its path to destruction; it is far more of a living hell than any return to medieval times with no power, etc.  It's a jolly good book and I enjoyed it ~ I hovered between 4 and 5 stars throughout and my only complaint is that I wanted to know what the Big Change was, how it came about, and what happened immediately afterwards.  This is a series; I very much hope it will include a prequel!






Thursday, 12 October 2017

FOR THE THRILL OF IT: Leopold, Loeb and the murder that shocked jazz age Chicago, by Simon Baatz

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've always been interested in and had just watched a documentary about this case, so sought it out.

Genre: True Life Crime Story


Most people know about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two college boys from affluent Chicago families who murdered young Bobby Franks just 'for the thrill of it', to see if they could plan the perfect murder and get away with it.  The fascinating element, I think, is the 'why', and this book gives a detailed background, in which we discover that Leopold was a bright, hardworking but socially inept boy who became infatuated with the feckless, hard drinking, handsome and popular Loeb.  Their relationship appears to have been one of those 'perfect storms', in which the intense, lonely Leopold allowed Loeb to turn his fantasies into reality.  Loeb had been obsessed with detective stories from a young age, and started off his secret criminal career by committing petty vandalism, then discovered that, in Leopold, he'd found the ideal partner with whom to carry out the ultimate crime.

Bobby Franks, the victim.

The background about Leopold and Loeb's personalities was detailed and insightful.  Baatz has provided similar intricate detail about the prosecutor and defender, too; I understand that they are important to the story, as Robert Crowe was determined they should hang, whereas Clarence Darrow was equally determined to save their lives and was fiercely against the death penalty, but I felt that these chapters could have been chopped down a little; I got the impression that Baatz had done months and months of research for this book and was hell bent on including every single bit of it. 

More interesting is William White's analysis of the boys' personalities and fantasies, and how each allowed the other's to take shape.  I felt I learned more key points about them from this shorter section than from the earlier individual histories; it made more sense.


What this book lacked was the atmosphere of the era.  'Jazz age' Chicago is mentioned only in the title; I would have liked to know more about the college life of Loeb and his friends, for instance, to arrive at more of a sense of place and time.  Other reviews have said that it is too much like a newspaper report; I felt that, too.

Near the end of the book is much discussion about Crowe, Darrow and the death penalty, and also an account of how prison life treated Leopold and Loeb.  Loeb was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1935, but Leopold was eventually granted parole in the 1950s.  I found this last chapter most interesting.  The story ends at 72%, and the rest of the book is taken up with an author's note, sources, etc.


Nathan Leopold shortly before his death in 1971

Saturday, 7 October 2017

DONKEY BOY and other stories by Mary Smith @marysmithwriter

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 Review Team, of which I am a member.  Two years ago I read No More Mulberries by this author, which I liked a lot.

This is an interesting and diverse collection of stories, set in several locations, from Scotland to Pakistan, where the author lived for a while.  Some of them were written as monologues, which have been performed.

I liked those set in Pakistan best, my very favourite being Accidents Happen, about a girl whose mother marries a man she hates.  I liked it so much I read it again, straight away.  I also liked Donkey Boy itself, about a little boy who has to work for his father instead of going to school, and Trouble with Socks, about the sort of ghastly, patronising auxiliary in a care home who thinks that physically disabled means mentally deficient.  The last one, a longer story called The Thing In Your Eye, was interesting.  A woman believes she sees evil in people in their eyes; this left me a little unsure, as I didn't know if we were meant to think it was all in her mind (as everyone else does), or if she really could 'read' people.  

They're all unusual, with a theme of private sadness.  I liked a very short one called My Name is Anya, too, about an Afghani girl adopted by Scottish parents.  They're ideal for a nice bit of lying on the sofa, afternoon reading when you're not in the mood for complicated plots.



Thursday, 5 October 2017

WHISPERS OF A STORM by Anthony Lavisher @alavisher

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've got to know the author a little via Twitter and thought I'd like to try one of his books, after reading some good reviews.  This is the first episode of the now complete Storm Trilogy.

The novel is set in the medieval-esque fantasy world of the Four Vales, and follows the story of two main characters: Cassana, a noblewoman, and stonemason Khadazin.  The story contains all the ingredients necessary for an epic fantasy series ~ political intrigue, wrongful imprisonment, conspiracies, dark secrets.  I thought the land of the author's imagination was constructed well; it's all believable, with some original ideas that make this very much his own story.  One element I liked was that his women are certainly not second class citizens; nobleman's daughter Cassana is sent to represent her father in political dealings, and others are military captains and solidiers.  From adolescence, the girls are taught military skills alongside the boys.

I liked reading Khadazin's story best, as I found him the most three dimensional character; I was interested in his backstory and everything that happened to him.  In Cassana's chapters in particular, I found the book a bit on the description-heavy side, with mundane detail that slowed the pace down.  Having said that, this is a novel let down only by the elements that hinder most debuts, and that authors usually 'grow out' of: overly explanatory dialogue, too many adjectives and adverbs, using ten words where five will put the point across with better effect. However, fantasy epics often tend towards flowery prose; one could not accuse GRR Martin, for instance, of writing in a spare fashion.

The characterisation, atmosphere and world-building is very good; some professional TLC would make it as good as it could be and give the punctuation a bit of spit and polish (nb: do bear in mind that I am one of those weirdos who erupts in hives at a misplaced semicolon!).  It's only 99p, and I'm sure that it will tick all the boxes for addicts of this genre.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

HOME TO ROOST by Chauncey Rogers

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

When trying to 'tag' this book for my blog, I wasn't sure under what genre to put it; possibly there should be a new Amazon category for it, called anthropomorphic suspense, or something.  There's a horror aspect too - it gets darker as it goes on.  Okay.  The basics.  It's about chickens, mostly Little Crown, a small black rooster, and how he finds his way in the world (or the coop).  But it's also NOT about chickens, but about social hierarchy and pressure.  Another reviewer labelled it 'Animal Farm meets Watership Down', which sums it up, I think.  

I loved some of the all-too-human observations, like the way in which Long Tail the Father Rooster does not want Little Crown to learn to fight, because he wants to be all powerful, and show to the hens that he can protect them.  And how the chickens think that the Great Yolk (actually the sun, which they consider to be ruler of all things) prizes chickens over other beings, and looks after them first and foremost.  Reminded me of the practice of armies praying to an entity in the sky for victory in battle, with the self-important assumption that such an entity would necessarily favour them over the opposing armies.  

Home to Roost is written mostly from the point of view of Little Crown, and the first half dots back and forth between his very early life, when he was adopted by the daughter of the farmer's daughter, and before and after 'the racoon incident' ~ an attack outlined at the beginning.  Other points of view are from dogs or occasional humans.  It's well-written and clever, but I think it would have worked better without all the to-ing and fro-ing with the timeline, just as a straight narrative; I didn't think going back and forth between time periods added anything to it.  I also thought the whole thing was too long; chopping down by about a third would have given the story more impact.

Little Crown (earlier and later to be known as Brad) gains knowledge about coop life through the somewhat limited guidance of the Mother Hen, faces fear in the form of cats and snakes, experiences love, loss and revenge.  It's good, and interesting; I'd say that it would appeal most to readers interested in sociology and psychology, and people-watching in general.

Monday, 25 September 2017

OATH BREAKER by Shelley Wilson @ShelleyWilson72

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I know the author from the Twitter writers community but had never read her books.  I had, however, seen a few very good reviews for this one, and decided to cut my YA Fantasy teeth on it.
Please note: I told Shelley that if I found YA werewolves were totally not my thing then I would let her know, rather than write some bullshit half-hearted/dishonest review.  As it happened, although I doubt this will ever become a favourite genre (something to do with being over 40 years older than the target market, I imagine), I thought Oath Breaker was jolly good!

The story starts with motherless Mia's horrible father having been killed by a werewolf, Mia being shipped off with the cold, distant Uncle Sebastian, and madly missing her beloved brother, Zak.  Mia is most surprised to discover that Uncle Sebastian runs a school for werewolf hunters.  Enter evil bitch Felicity, new pals Lizzie and Adam, and a total hottie called Cody who Mia meets when out running a marathon.

She uncovers a truth about the (life and) death of her mother, hears strange rumours about what is really going on at the Hood Academy (and the odd mysterious scream), and know she must take the oath to become a fully-fledged werewolf hunter...

So why did I like this, much to my surprise?  I'm not au fait with the werewolf world (being more of a zombie sort of girl), but I was most interested to find out what it's all about!  Shelley Wilson writes in a great style that's so readable, and the characters all came to life with ease; I wanted to know about them.  Most of all, though, the atmosphere really worked.  There are no great pages of description, but this book is real proof that writing can be descriptive without being chock-full of adjectives and metaphors.  I could feel the still, dense, damp wood where Mia met Cody, see the quiet village with its tea shop, imagine the dark halls of the Hood Academy (not sure if they were meant to be dark, but they felt so to me!).  I wanted to be in the story ~ and any book that provokes that reaction gets a tick v.g from me!

Yes, I liked it.  And I imagine that if I was a YA who was into werewolves, I would LOVE it. 😀



Sunday, 17 September 2017

DO YOU REALIZE? by Kevin Kuhn

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 Review Team, of which I am a member.

This is a most unusual and interesting novel, categorised on Amazon under 'metaphysical and visionary', and 'time travel'.

George is your average American middle-aged husband and father, unstimulated by his job, with a marriage that's lost its joy and the usual teenage children angst.  On his morning journeys to work he gets to know the curious Shiloh, who philosophises about life, the universe and everything, and asks him to beta test a new app for an Apple watch.  There is, of course, more to both Shiloh and the app than meet the eye.

Meanwhile, back in his normal life, George struggles with family problems ~ his daughter has a bad car accident, his son is being difficult and secretive, and his job is giving him headaches.  Soon, he realises that Shiloh and his mysterious app are giving him a completely different perspective on life, introducing him to the idea of parallel universes.

I loved the first half of this book.  I really like the author's writing style; George and his family are very real, and the narrative is darkly comic, interesting and highly readable, with lots of popular cultural references; I liked that each chapter has the name of a song.  I also loved the philosophy, ideas and views of Shiloh, many of which echoed my own, though this was not the only reason I was toying with 5* for the book at this stage.  I read the first 50% almost in one go.

The quality of the writing does not falter throughout, but at around 60% my attention started to waver.  Story threads that seemed interesting were quickly resolved and everything was hunky dory in George's world for quite a while - nice for George, and, indeed, this served a purpose for the outcome of the story, but it was not that interesting to read about.  Without giving too much in the way of spoilers, the app means that George relives days in his past life.  He also has vivid dreams.  I thought the dream sequences were far too long, slowing the progress of the story down, and the relived days from the past could have been written more succinctly, especially when a day was lived more than once.  Also, Shiloh's long explanations became longer (or maybe it was just me), and I thought there was too much explanatory dialogue, generally.

In the second half is a tragic episode which I thought was well done; all the threads lead to the outcome, as Shiloh reveals his purpose; sadly, by the end I felt less involved with the story.  The whole idea is a terrific one, and Mr Kuhn clearly has much talent, but I felt that the second half was written less with the reader in mind than the first. 

My overall rating is based on the fact that I'd give the first half 5* and the second half 3*.  It's a good book, and readers who are particularly interested in the metaphysical and visionary will probably enjoy it very much indeed.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

PLEASING MR PEPYS by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

5 out of 5 stars


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How I discovered this book: The author has been a great favourite of mine ever since I discovered her books on her history blog, via her Twitter page.  I was sent an ARC, but would have bought it anyway!

Set in 17th century London, the two main character points of view in this excellent novel are Deborah Willet, a young girl who goes to work as a lady's companion for the wife of Samuel Pepys, and Abigail Williams, an actress and mistress of a lord, who has a tragic past and a dangerous present, working as a spy for the Dutch.  Deb unwittingly gets more involved with Abigail than she intends, and before long finds herself a part of a terrifyingly dark world.
 
Samuel Pepys

It is clear, all the way through, that Ms Swift's knowledge of 17th Century London is extensive; I particularly enjoyed this rare look at how life was for Londoners, post plague, Civil War and, of course, the Great Fire.  The depiction of the dark alleyways, filthy lodgings, women of the night and the poor, unpaid sailors was so good I could see it all.  Abigail Williams, though a 'baddie', is written in such a way that I liked and felt sympathy for her, and, indeed, for all the women, simply because of the social restrictions of the time.

The plot itself is cleverly executed, building up pace gradually; by half way through the book I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, so eager was I to find out what happened.  This novel works well on so many levels: as a thrilling tale of espionage, as a peep into the world of 350 years ago, as an historical education and also a love story, that of Deb Willet and the delightful curate, Jeremiah Wells.

The Author's Notes at the end of the book were quite a revelation, as I discovered I'd been reading more of a true story that I'd thought; I deliberately left them to the end.  Pleasing Mr Pepys is one of those pieces of historical fact/fiction that makes you want to find out even more. :)

If you're as fascinated by this period of history as I am, you might like this 'fly through' of 17th Century London (pre-Great Fire), which I have looked at several times, and gave me an even better idea of what the capital was like in those days.