Sunday, 29 January 2017

THE MOST DANGEROUS ENEMY 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 used to talk to the author on Twitter because of our mutual interest in the Tudors.  When she published her first book, The Bastard Princess, I read it and was blown away.  This is the fifth she has published ~ she writes another series, about Anne Boleyn: Above All Others.  She's become one of those authors whose books I now buy automatically, when they come out.  

The heart is blind to all but its own desires.  It is a subtle trickster, for it plants its seeds within the mind and lets them grow as though the thoughts it has created come from a place of reason and sense.

The third book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles, this one covers the beginning of her reign, when she aims to dispel the sour taste left in the mouths of her people by the reign of her sister, Mary, to deal with the march of the prospective suitors, the pressure to marry, rivals to the throne, trouble with France and Scotland, opposition from the Church as she tries to find a happy medium between Protestant and Catholic for the Church of England ~ and when, of course, she is in love with the married Robert Dudley, and he with her.

  
Early in the book there is great description of her coronation, and demonstration of how she wanted so much to be a queen of the people.  There is a beautiful scene that made me cry, in which she takes a bunch of herbs as a gift from an old woman; be prepared to dissolve into tears at location 2383!

As with the other books, Gemma Lawrence's voice made me feel as if Elizabeth could almost be speaking through her, so real does it seem.  And, as before, the novel does not deal only with the story and her feelings, but her changing philosophies.  I liked this observation about the religious fanaticism of Mary and others: Those unsure in their faith seem to have a need to make all others think as they do.  They must impose their idea as the only idea.  So right, not just in matters of religion.  

I liked this, too: The past is a bad master, for it will hold us back when we should strike forth, it will paralyse us with terror when we should be bold enough to act.  

...and: the man who wins in this life ... is the man who knows how to make the best of what is given.

This books gives much in depth consideration to why she chose not to marry.  I know how well this author's work is researched; she was reading all she could about this period before she knew to what end it was leading, and it shows.  Therefore, this is possibly the most accurate fictional account of the first Elizabeth you will read.  So much has been written about the Queen and Robert Dudley, but I believe in Gemma Lawrence's version of the story, and most tragic I found it, too.  I think that, had they been able to marry without the shadow of Amy Dudley's death, they would have brought great happiness to each other and the people, and been memorable rulers together, for many years.

I loved reading about Elizabeth's first summer progress, and seeing the lost England of long ago, before it was covered in concrete and tarmac. The detail in this book is great; it covers a period of only a couple of years, and I'd say it's a book for those who already have something of a passion for the Tudors, not readers who are looking for an entertaining piece of general historical fiction.  It needs to be this detailed; I believe this is one of the best written-as-fiction accounts of the life of Elizabeth in existence.



 

 

Monday, 23 January 2017

LAND OF HIDDEN FIRES by Kirk Kjeldsen

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 Review Team, of which I am a member.

I love to read about adventures in icy northern wastes, so I was pleased to see this on the review team list.  The book starts off in occupied Norway in 1943, when 15 year old Kari, who lives on an impoverished farm with widowed father Erling, sees an American plane go down several miles away.  Despite wearing insufficient warm clothing and having only eaten dry bread, she walks miles through the snowy wastes to investigate, then pretends to pilot Lance Mahurin that she is a member of the Swedish resistance.  She then leads him back to the farm, steals her father's horse, cart and money, and the two of them set off on a long journey to get him to safety.  No, I wasn't very convinced, either, but, generally speaking, the book started off on a positive note, as Kari's living circumstances are well-painted, and I like the backdrop of the Norwegian countryside, and the detail about how life has changed in their town since German occupation.

The book moves on with the story of Erling's search for his daughter when he discovers she is missing, and the efforts of Nazi Oberleutenant Conrad Moltke to look for the pilot, too.  Moltke, the disillusioned officer entrenched in bitterness because he is not allowed to play a starring role in the war and live up to his father and grandfather, is by far the most interesting character.

The strength of this is the description of the scenery and the detail about the Norwegian way of life at the time. It's technically well written, but I'm afraid that the storytelling itself lacked the spark, drama, character depth and suspense that keeps me interested in a book, dying to get back to it and unable to put it down.  Some of the characters seemed like stereotypes chosen to fit the plot (Kari and her jaunty American, in particular, who, despite being a pilot who's just crashed down in enemy territory, 'sometimes forgets there's a war on'), and there were several incidents I thought unlikely.  Too many of the sentences were flat, doing nothing more than delivering information.

It's not a bad book by any means, it's well presented and there were sections I liked, but on the whole it's a 'just okay', for me.  

Sunday, 22 January 2017

FULLY LOADED by Blake Crouch @blakecrouch1

5 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book:  I'd read four of Crouch's novels, then tried a short story, Shining Rock, which I liked very much, so I thought I'd splash out £1.99 on this collection of his short stories.

Fully Loaded is a collection of different lengths, from less than one page (yes, really) to a couple that are a good hour's read, and every one is very good indeed; I wonder if the shorter story may be absolutely Crouch's forte, because each one encapsulates all that is brilliant about his writing.  My favorite novel of his iAbandon, and the very best in the Fully Loaded collection is an outtake from it, On The Good, Red Road, which is as stunningly good as the main story.  My other favourites were The Meteorologist (I enjoyed reading that Mr Crouch adores extreme weather, as I do - he ought to try the frustration of living in boringly moderate England!), about a lonely man who chases storms, Unconditional, which is about a father whose son is a killer, and I loved Serial, because I like reading about grisly murders and psychopaths.  They're all great, though; there isn't one weak one.

Before each story is a short explanation of how it was born.  Excellent book.  Get it.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

FAMOUS by Blake Crouch

4 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book:  The first book I read and reviewed by this author was Abandon, after reading a review for it on Between The Lines book blog.  I have since read and reviewed Run and Snowbound.  I happened to notice this one as a suggestion on my Kindle app, when I'd just finished my last book, and couldn't resist letting it queue-jump the to-read list ;)

This is a long novella length story (or perhaps a short novel, I didn't count the words!), and a fair bit different from others I've read by this author.  Although there are moderately horrific elements, it's essentially a darkly humorous contemporary tale, about a man called Lancelot Blue Dunquist who happens to be the exact double of famous Hollywood star James Jansen.  All his life he has had a plan, and one day circumstances conspire to make him put it into action.

I love the way Blake Crouch writes, and this story is great fun.  As with Run and Snowbound, though, I felt myself having to do the belief suspension thing just a little bit too often.  Lance's character is fairly fluid, changing to fit the plot; he's a 38 year old who has lived with his small town parents in South Carolina all his life, happens to be incredibly handsome, and moderately self-confident and intelligent, but has only ever slept with one girl, 18 years before, and has no social life.  At times he seems entertainingly naive, which is reasonable considering his lack of life experience, yet at other times displays a sharp insight that seems unlikely to have evolved, given his story-so-far.

I won't be giving out too much in the way of spoilers if I say that he pretends to be James Jansen, but where it became a bit too ludicrous even for belief-suspended-me was when people that Jansen knew well were taken in by the charade.  The end is great, a terrific twist in the tale, but, again, impossible - however much you look like someone, you can't fake medical records!  On the other hand, it's a smoothly written, never-a-dull-moment, entertaining romp, so maybe all these things don't matter too much; I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it.  Just :)

RUM HIJACK by Phil Moss @Literastein

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE


How I discovered this book: I've known the author on social media for about ten years and have always loved everything he's written.  This book is in three parts.  The first two, Inkker Hauser and Literastein, were originally published separately and have been slightly re-vamped in this edition.  The third, Death From Below, now completes the story... sort of ;)

This book is unlike anything I've read before and probably will ever read in the future, and it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's most certainly mine.  Phil Moss's nameless character (who, later, hits upon the name Inkker Hauser, reasons explained in the story) is a writer.  He knows that he possesses the raw talent and originality to light a fire under the literary world, if only he could just write the book that's inside him ... somewhere.  He doesn't want the pathetic glory of Amazon ebook bestseller tags and five star reviews from sycophantic fellow writers and chums, he wants the highest literary accolades in the world for the masterpiece yet to be born, after which he will write no more, depriving his fans of the words he knows they will crave.

The young man's story is funny, sad, tragic, and I've read some parts more than once because they're so good.  Not only is he delusional, he also has a drink problem, an obssession with dead birds, nautical disasters and model submarines, a deep and abiding love for his fish, Kursk (named after his favourite nautical disaster).  He's lonely, and longs for a woman to love, but his behaviour repels those who are attracted to him (I get the impression he's rather handsome).  In the second part there is the best story of a disastrous date ruined through too much alcohol that I've ever read.  He despises self-promoting, self-published writers, and is driven to a state of insanity when one, the irritatingly smug Adrian, moves in upstairs.  When Adrian and his wife Claire (who calls our hero 'Inky') invite him to a cocktail party, he sees an opportunity to show himself in his best possible literary light.  Of course, he drinks too much, it all goes horribly wrong, and ... sorry, no clues!



The characterisation all through the book is outstanding (I particularly liked the characters in the pub in the first two parts), and the young man's slow descent into alcohol fuelled eccentricity bordering on insanity is brilliantly executed.  Sometimes, though, his thoughts are not so offbeat; sometimes you'll find yourself smiling in agreement.  Despite, or maybe because of, his unusual characteristics, he's so likeable.  I want things to work out for him.  I also think that novel is in his head, somewhere ...

In much of the book there is only the one character, with his thoughts, curious impulses and domestic rituals, and it never moves further than his local pub, The Laughing Goat, his local shops and the flat upstairs, but there is not one boring sentence.
 
There are some punctuation and grammatical errors, and in places it could do with a bit of 'tidying up'; I've knocked off half a star for this only in the interests of valid and honest reviewing, but it scarcely detracted from my enjoyment.  20/1: Please note: the author tells me that the errors have now been fixed and a new version uploaded.

Meanwhile, I won't tell you about the seven television sets, the gas mask, the mannequin and the black marker pens.  You'll just have to read it for yourself.

Monday, 16 January 2017

IREX by Carl Rackman @CarlRackman

4.5 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book: I got talking to the author on Twitter, took a look to see what sort of stuff he wrote, decided it looked up my street.  Downloaded via Kindle Unlimited.

This is a debut novel, and a fine achievement it is.  Set in the late 19th Century, it centres around the maiden voyage of tall ship Irex, and good Christian captain Will Hutton.  Although a cargo vessel, the Irex has also taken on a few passengers: the mysterious aristocrat Edward Clarence, and Salavation Army missionaries George and Elizabeth Barstow.

Irex's voyage is ill-fated from the beginning, with a false start, and terrible storms.  Fascinated by his passengers, Hutton begins to become enamoured of Mrs Barstow, and suspicious of Clarence.


The novel alternates between the voyage, and the unravelling of the tragedy of the Irex, in the Isle of Wight, some weeks later.  The book is extremely well-written; Mr Rackman has a fine talent for atmosphere and characterisation, with the plot unfolding slowly ~ until I got to about 34%, when the truth about Clarence was revealed.  This was one of those mouth dropping open moments, and everything suddenly became a lot more interesting.  The plot is unusual, though I don't want to give any of it away because I'd spoil the surprise!  When Hutton looks for support amongst his men he finds himself cast as the villain, and county coroner Blake comes up against the highest authorities in the land.

The pace of the story ebbed and flowed; some parts, like Clarence and Elizabeth's revelations and the descriptions of life on board in a storm to end all storms, were stunningly good.

**Please note: since I wrote this, the author has re-published the book, cutting it by 15k words**
I did think that the book was a bit long-winded; I thought that the alternate investigative chapters could have been shorter and with less detailI found myself hurrying through them because I wanted to get back to the Irex.  I think I'd have preferred it if they'd been every third chapter, perhaps; it was a shame to keep being pulled away from the main story.  The quality of writing never faltered, but on occasion I felt that less would have been more, throughout.  That this is a spectacularly good first novel, there is no doubt, but I think Mr Rackman might do well to find an editor to do his writing justice.

It's the story of good versus evil, faith and delusion, as well as being a grand, seafaring adventure and thrilling murder mystery, and I give it a definite thumbs up.


 

Monday, 9 January 2017

THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire

4.5 out of 5 stars

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


How I discovered this book: I read a review of it on Evie Gaughan's blog.  Arctic wastes, hardship on a sea voyage, history, murder ~ I had to have it!  Longlisted for the Booker prize.

The North Water starts out as shocking, stark and not-for-the-faint-of-heart as it continues, with the introduction of psychopath Henry Drax in mid 19th Century Hull, waiting to board a whaling boat bound for Greenland.  Once on board, we soon become aware that Captain Brownlee and first mate Cavendish have more in mind than the usual expedition; the whaling industry is in decline, and they are looking for other ways to make money.  Enter the main character: opium addicted ship surgeon Sumner, who has fallen on hard times.

There is no doubt that the author has researched every aspect of 19th century whaling, and this book was fascinating in its detail and disturbingly real in its atmosphere.  The characters become three dimensional as soon as they open their mouths, and the underlying suspense made this novel one I would have read all in one go if I'd been able to.  A cabin boy is abused, murders take place, ill fate befalls the mariners, and many are left stranded... the plot is terrific.

Although I adored most of this book, I was slightly let down by the last 10%, which, although a well written and a suitable ending, was not as suspense-filled as the rest, and I felt a couple of elements went unanswered.  My only other complaint is that, whereas I do like gritty, gory realism, I could have done with a few less depictions of bodily odours/excretions.  But I still loved it, and would still recommend it most fervently, as long as you're not put off by graphic descriptions as mentioned in the previous sentence.