Friday, 19 May 2017

SPIRIT OF LOST ANGELS 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:  It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  I've read two of the author's other books, Blood Rose Angel and my very favourite, The Silent Kookaburra.

Spirit of Lost Angels is Liza Perrat's debut novel, and revolves around Victoire Charpentier, a peasant living in the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne.  It is linked to the later book, Blood Rose Angel, by the bone angel talisman passed down through generations.  This first novel in the trilogy takes place in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

Victoire's life is one of tragic events indeed, as she loses those she loves to accident, illness, the danger and politics of the times, and at the careless hands of the nobility.  Cast into a brutal Parisian prison, she meets the notorious Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy who inspires within her the fire of revolution; I liked the inclusion of a real-life character in this work of fiction.  All the way through the book I appreciated the amount of research that has gone into writing this novel ~ such an entertaining way to fill in the gaps in my education.  I enjoyed reading about the lives of the rural peasants in the beginning of the book, and comparing this with the medieval life in Lucie, four hundred years earlier, in Blood Rose Angel. 


Throughout the book, the gaping chasm between the lives of the poor and those of the ludicrously self-indulgent aristocracy is always evident; it was most interesting to read the thoughts of the time about the general lot of women, and, as in the medieval story, the restrictions due to social mores and religious belief/superstition.  Victoire lives many lives in her short one, and I was pleased to see her return to Lucie, and reunite with the family she had longed for, for so many years, and to see wrongs overturned.  

Showing the history of a country via the changes in one village over a period of six hundred years is such a great idea, and I now look forward to reading the third book in the trilogy, Wolfsangel, which is set during World War Two.

Monday, 15 May 2017

PLAYING THE ODDS by Kate L Mary @kmary0622


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I've read loads of Kate Mary's zombie apocalypse novels, novellas and short stories (click tag at end of review for more), and downloaded this one when I fancied a nice, light, entertaining book that I was pretty sure wouldn't be a disappointment.  I first discovered her via an Amazon browse, and this is the third in her series of novella-length, zombie apocalypse love stories.  Yep, you read that right.

Cole is (was) a professional poker player who breaks into a winery in the Napa Valley, which happens to be already occupied by Alessa, who happens to be totally hot and the only survivor of her Italian vintner family, aside from Antonio, her over-protective, football playing cousin who is built like a brick s**t-house and resents Cole's interest in Alessa.

Enter zombies, and several waifs and strays who are invited to join them at the vineyard, including dodgy Daren, who Cole is suspicious of from the word 'go'.  

Kate Mary's characterisation is always spot on.  This is told from alternating points of view of Cole and Alessa, and I like the way she made Alessa's attraction to Cole sexually orientated but romantic, whereas Cole was initially just doing the sexual bit; she never falls into the trap of writing men out of the head of a woman.   There's more pulsating desire/rampant pheromones and less post apoc survival in this novella than in the first one of this series (More Than Survival, which I loved), but it's still a well-told story, and I enjoyed it.  

Two other points I liked; firstly, the grapes and dice graphics at the beginning of each chapter.   Also, there are instances of spoken Italian in this.  The author's note says that she did this by internet translation as she doesn't speak it or know anyone who could help her with it, so apologises if she has made any errors.  I wouldn't have a clue if she has or not, but I thought this was a nice touch.  Like, "I did my best, and if there are errors, so be it, but please don't complain; you have been warned."    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

THE BURIED FEW by M J Lau


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

The Buried Few is set in 2030, when wars have left many children in America without parents.  Adults can be 'Creators', ie, give birth to children, which means being watched at all times, or 'Guardians': adoptive parents.  There are many rules governing the status of the parent and their suitability.  Unclaimed children face an uncertain future, to be shipped off to other countries where they may be adopted, or drift from orphanage to orphanage until adulthood.  

Daniel, a computer security specialist, has a broken relationship with Renee, as there are stumbling blocks about their parental future.  He finds an abandoned baby he wants to keep as his own, which sets the couple down a difficult path as they come up against Gozzum, a government agent who has his own issues after a turbulent childhood.

There was much I liked about this book, but I think it needs the hand of an experienced editor.  The beginning was the weakest area and seemed disjointed; if I hadn't been reading it for the purpose of reviewing, I'd have abandoned it, which would have been a shame, because I soon began to like it much more.  It starts with a long prologue told from the point of view of Raina, a small child, containing scenes from her imaginary world that had no bearing on the actual plot; to me, this was as pointless as detailed dream sequences, and not the stuff of which reader-hooking openings are made.  Then the novel proper begins: we meet Daniel.  We see him meeting Renee, then finding the abandoned baby.  I found the first 15% confusing, with little explanation, so I could only guess at what was going on, though I enjoyed some excellent character cameos (feedback for author: Selah and J!).

The 'world-building' continued to be sketchy, and it took until at least 30% before I was clear about the whole parent-child situation (and even then I wasn't quite sure).  However, so much of the characterisation is extremely good, the dialogue is excellent, for the most part, and some passages I loved (feedback for author: the 'typical tale of heartbreak.  Boy meets girl at flash mob', etc, and the backstory about Gozzum's father).  There are many beautifully descriptive sentences, but maybe too many.  Sometimes, they held up the plot.

New characters are brought in at regular intervals, and there was a lot to keep in my head as it was not clear at first how they all linked up.  I loved the story of Ten, a Native American, and I particularly liked M J Lau's ideas about the fate of her people.  There are some good observations later on about how the government uses the internet to collect data about the population, how/why the population give it up willingly, and that if they have enough opportunity to 'vent' on social media, they are less likely to actually do anything about social injustices; so, so right, and enough said.  Suffice to say that the author and I are singing from the same hymn sheet 😉.

To sum up: there is no doubt that M J Lau can write, but I think he needs to learn when less can be more.  My opinion is that this is a good novel that could have been much better; it's all there, it just needs restructuring.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

IRELAND: Surviving The Evacuation Book 9 by Frank Tayell @FrankTayell

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I came across Frank Tayell's zombie apocalypse series during an Amazon browse, and have since read most of them; for other reviews of books in this series, please click the 'Frank Tayell' tag at the end of the review.

I've missed a few of the more recent instalments, simply because of the 'so many books, so little time' factor, but wanted to catch up with it.  Although these books are not stand alones, it was easy enough to get the basic gist of the story threads I've missed, and enjoy the book for itself; might be useful for other readers to know.

I enjoyed Mr Tayell's writing, as ever, and I'm a total post-disaster/danger survival addict, so loved all the detail about what Bill, Kim and their friends must do, to this end.  In Book Nine of the series, they're in south west Ireland, and need to get back to the safe haven of Anglesey - but this means travelling across a couple of hundred miles of zombie infested country.  Sailing seems like the best option.  One thing I really liked was the way that every time Bill's group came upon a new situation, any large building where it was obvious that people had sought refuge, they assessed what happened to those people and how they might have been killed.  Later, they meet a new group, amongst which is Siobhan, a former policewoman, who is able to suggest exact time frames to him from her experience in forensics.

I felt this book could have done with a better edit; there are lots of instances where the word 'I' has been used when it should have been 'me', which drives me nuts ('she'd refused to let Sholto and I row from Menai Bridge to Bangor'), and much of the conversation is unrealistically information heavy, but that mattered to me less than it would normally, possibly because it gave me the information I needed, even if it wasn't how people really talk to each other.  There is a section late in the book in which Bill talks to himself a lot, which was completely unrealistic and would have been better written as inner dialogue.  All this being said, though, I still enjoyed the book; these comments go to show how much dodgy stuff you can get away with, if you're basically a talented writer with a great story.

I'm looking forward to the Book Ten, which I have already bought and hope to get to before long.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

WALLS OF SILENCE by Helen Pryke

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

I was not sure how to review this book at first, because it's a strange one; my opinion of it varied so much, all the way through.  It's a long novella (or a very short novel - I am sure it is no longer than 50K words, maximum). 

Warning: this review includes plot spoilers.  

Set in northern Italy, the story opens with Pietro, heartbroken over the loss of his wife, Maria, who has just died from cancer.  It then goes back to Maria's childhood in Sicily, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Maria lived in a small village, where life rolled by at the slow pace of fifty years before, and the Roman Catholic church and the family were the main focus.  I adored every word of this part; it's beautifully written, and I felt so sad when Maria's mother died, even though I'd met her only briefly.  Yes, the characterisation is that good.  The atmosphere of the time is simply yet vividly portrayed, and I was completely engrossed in the story. 

Maria's childhood takes a darker turn when her father remarries, and her 'uncle' Salvo comes to live with them.  Her account of the abuse she suffered is raw, poignant and utterly believable, and I loved that this part of the book showed not only the reasons for her silence, but also the way in which the simple, ill-educated population were manipulated by the rigours of formal Catholicism.  Stunningly good.  At this point I was going to give the book 5*, which is not a rating I give often. 

Skipping forward, a marriage is arranged between Maria and Vincenzo, when she is sixteen and he is in his late twenties.  They go to live in Milan, and the marriage is difficult, interspersed with brief moments of happiness.  They live in a squalid apartment, Vinny struggles with the prejudices of the northern Italians, he gambles, drinks, and eventually abuses her physically.  I felt this part was a little rushed, and I was sometimes a bit 'hmm' about Maria's reactions, but I was still enjoying it.  Eventually, Vinny's gambling spirals out of control, and he offers Maria up as a final wager in desperation to recoup his losses.  He loses, and Maria has to leave the house with her new protector, Matteo. 

It's now that the book trails off.  Maria is forced into prositution.  At one point, her flat mate, Lisa, gives her a tablet 'to take the edge off', which turns out to be LSD.  Girls in that situation are usually given (or choose to take) heroin or cocaine (or possibly dexedrine, in the 1960s), which give the illusion of wellbeing, not LSD, which is a powerful hallucinogenic and produces a 'trip', not the sort of drug that would be offered to 'take the edge' off anything; I suspected Ms Pryke had not done her research.  After a terrible few months, Maria meets Pietro, a young, professional man who falls instantly in love with her during their brief afternoon/early evening meetings.  Despite the danger involved with going up against Italian gangsters and the fact that he hardly knows her, Pietro hatches a plan to aid her escape, which involves them faking their own deaths and changing their identities.  For some reason I couldn't fathom, his parents (who, in the staid Italian 1960s, are perfectly okay about him potentially ruining his life for the sake of a prostitute he hardly knows) agree to orchestrate this preposterous plan.  I am afraid I could no longer suspend my disbelief at this point; I thought of at least three more convincing ways to end the Matteo section even as I was reading it. 

The book is wrapped up quickly, with details about Pietro and Maria's happy new life, her return to Sicily and reunion with her family.  Again, it was over too soon.  The reunion with Guisy should have been hugely emotional, but it felt raced through, with all information given about the people of Maria's childhood like a quick report. 

I am giving this book 3.5* but rounding it up to 4* on Amazon because the beginning was so very, very good, and because Ms Pryke can certainly write; I read it in one day and looked forward to getting back to it each time.  The main problem is that for the depth of plot it needs to be a novel the reader can become immersed in emotionally, not a short catalogue of disastrous events.  Had the second part, with Vinny, been extended, and the prostitution plot been less outlandish, it could have been a terrific book.  Sometimes, less is more; this author is talented enough not to need car chases and faked deaths.  The atmosphere of Sicily, the stark contrast between the 1960s and the 21st century, the characterisation and her simple knack of writing good sentences that keep the reader wanting to turn the pages, are enough.  And I'd definitely read something else by her.

 





Saturday, 29 April 2017

GONE: CATASTROPHE IN PARADISE by O J Modjeska @OJModjeska

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 and read a couple of her articles, which were extremely good, so I was interested enough to download her first book when it was published. 

This is a novella length examination of the events leading up to and the aftermath of the Tenerife air disaster of 1977.  In March of that year, two planes, a Pan Am and a Dutch KLM jet, were heading for the Canary Islands where passengers would disembark for holidays.  Because of a bomb scare at their designated airport, Las Palmas, they were re-routed to the much smaller Los Rodeos, where the disaster took place.

 

In describing the events leading up to the tragedy, Modjeska clearly outlines the extraordinary series of minor events, which, on their own, caused difficulty.  Occurring at the same time, however, the bomb scare, the size of Los Rodeos, the language difficulties, the concerns of the pilots, the lack of standardized terms used in transmissions, radio glitches, the regulations about the amount of time a pilot is allowed to remain in the cockpit before taking a rest, and finally the weather, all came together to produce the perfect, disastrous storm.  The movements of the planes are clearly described, using diagrams; the detail is important.  The author also uses transcripts of the transmission conversations to give the reader a clear understanding of the misapprehensions between pilots, co-pilots and air traffic controllers.


The description of the tragedy itself, when the two planes crashed on the runway, is harrowing indeed, and close attention is given to the question of who was to blame.  Modjeska has presented the information in such a way that the reader can make up his own mind.  It's so well written, with even the minute technical detail clear enough to hold the attention.  At first I found myself thinking it was the fault of one person, then another, but in the end I came to the conclusion, like the author, that the cause was a coming together of many unfortunate circumstances.  She talks, near the end, of a film that was made of it that portrays Pan Am as the heroes and victims, and KLM as the cause; I am glad she showed another slant to this.  

It's an excellent book, and probably, I would imagine, the most comprehensive and fair account of this tragedy.





Friday, 28 April 2017

THE MISTRESS OF BLACKSTAIRS by Catherine Curzon

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.  I have read two of the author's other books and enjoyed them, most recently The Crown Spire.

The Mistress of Blackstairs is set in Covent Garden in the late 18th century, where the mysterious, veiled Madame Moineau runs an establishment in which she provides entertainment for some of the moneyed men of London.  In reality she is former courtesan Georgie Radcliffe.  In the winter of 1785, two men appear in her life.  The first is portrait artist Anthony Lake, looking for the daughter he has never met, and the second is someone she would rather not remember, Viscount Polmear.  Georgie and Anthony's lives become entwined as they face a mutual foe.

There is no doubt that the author knows her subject very well, and she portrays the period in intricate detail, creating a lovely atmosphere of the time and showing the pretensions of the well-to-do against the seamier side of life, with the whores and gambling.  It's a jolly good story, with some evocative description that I enjoyed very much; the dialogue is interesting and adds to the characterisation in each case, from the snooty Viscount Polmear to the dialect of the kitchen staff, young Molly (Georgie's ward), and the ladies of the night.

I didn't enjoy the book quite as much as I'd expected to, alas, because I felt it could have benefitted from some redrafting/editing to tighten it up and make the actual prose read more smoothly.  The punctuation bothered me; there are blocks with no commas where I thought there should have been some, which meant I had to read passages twice to get their meaning.  There was too much use of the words 'and then', where a semicolon, instead, would have made the whole paragraph read so much better.  I'd sum it up as a very good book, let down by less than satisfactory editing and proofreading.