Friday, 29 April 2016

TRUST ME by Earl Javorsky

4.5 out of 5 stars

Murder/thriller set in LA

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team



Trust Me is a well written and cleverly plotted crime/murder thriller set in and around Los Angeles.  The main character is Jeff Fenner, a heavy drinker and jaded coke/LSD dealer whose life is imploding as his addictions wear him out, and one piece of bad luck follows another.  Running alongside is the story of deeply troubled Holly, who gets involved with SOL, the 'Save Our Life' organisation that purports to solve problems of addiction and psychological blocks by way of finding one's 'inner child'.  At an SOL meeting she meets the mysterious Art Bradley. 

Ron, a journalist, befriends Jeff; he is helping his cop mate Joe to solve a series of suicides-that-might-be-murders.  Soon, the links to all storylines become clear—and there's a great twist at the beginning of Chapter 27, at 44%; didn't expect that at all, even though I had my suspicions... 

I loved the character of Jeff, and Ron was another favourite; Art Bradley was scarily sinister from the off.  Aside from the highly readable story, I liked the way that this book was amusingly scathing about New Age self-help psychobabble, and the comments about the unreliability of the field of mental health, and how doctors and psychiatrists dish out one medication to counteract the side effects of another, and then another, and another.   

I haven't got anything negative to say about this novel; it held my interest throughout, ends well, and isn't predictable.  For me, it just missed the spark that sends a book into the '5*, I loved it' zone, but that's only personal taste; it's jolly good, I'd recommend it, and I'd definitely read more by this author.

 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

LA PETITE BOULAIN (Above all others: The Lady Anne Book 1) by Gemma Lawrence

5 GOLD stars

Fictional account of the early life of Anne Boleyn

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


Why did I love this book so much?  Apart from the fact that Gemma Lawrence is a magical writer and you can feel the love for her subject oozing through the words, apart from the clever and subtle use of intricate research, it's because it shows the influences in Anne Boleyn's early life that made her the person she became, and a view of her other than the one so often portrayedIn La Petite Boulain, Anne is not the selfish, ambitious ice queen of Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, for instance, but a serious, extraordinarily intelligent girl with great insight into the human psyche, a voracious appetite for many aspects of education, loyalty, and high moral standards.  A thinker, a participant but also an astute observer in the game of courtly love, a woman who saw past the corruption and pretensions of the powerful church and nobility, with a genuine desire for change for the good of all.


Let us not forget that she was the mother of one of the greatest monarchs in English history; Elizabeth I did not only inherit her strength and wisdom from her father.   This first book in The Lady Anne series depicts Anne's happy childhood at Hever castle, then her removal to various royal courts in France.  Reading about how she was influenced by the great and noble women who took her under their wing, it is easy to see why she made such a huge impression on her return to the court of Henry VIII (though we have to wait for the next book to read Ms Lawrence's take on these events!).  

Tudor addicts like myself often debate whether or not Anne really loved Henry VIII, if she was driven by ambition for herself, or was merely a pawn in the games of her father and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk.  Gemma Lawrence portrays Anne as a practical idealist, a romantic; it is not unthinkable that a girl such as herself might have fallen in love with the handsome, charismatic king.  How his taking her sister, Mary, as a mistress must have irked her competitive spirit.


Aside from the portrayal of Anne herself, I loved this book for its comment on the lot of women during this period, of the way in which it shows how the people of five hundred years ago saw life, the world, the social structure, religion.  So often the story of Henry VIII and his six wives begins when he casts off Katherine of Aragon for Anne, but in this book we see how it all began.  

This part of the series begins and ends with Anne in the Tower, shortly before her execution.  It's a terrific book, and I have just one warning: if you get it, as you really SHOULD, be prepared to groan in despair when you've finished it, as I did, because the next installment is yet to be published!  Soon, soon....

THE BASTARD PRINCESS by Gemma Lawrence reviewed HERE



THE HERETIC HEIR by Gemma Lawrence reviewed HERE



Tuesday, 19 April 2016

BITTERSWEET FLIGHT by Anne Harvey

3.5 out of 5 stars

1950s family drama

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



Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team



This is the sequel to A Suitable Young Man, and the two thread together well; it could possibly be read as a standalone.  It starts in 1956, when Sally Simcox has run away from her home in Horwich, Lancs to Blackpool, because she is pregnant.   The father is Nick, with whom she had a one night stand after having liked him for a long time; he offered to marry her out of duty, but Sally knew he loved another, so pretended she'd had a miscarriage to let him off the hook.

Once in Blackpool she meets Phil, who is in the RAF, and he helps her find a job and somewhere to live; there is an immediate attraction between them.  Alas, Phil is unaware that Sally has a connection to his family—and he already has a girlfriend, Pam, who is in love with him and hopes they will marry.

It being the late 1950s, Sally has to go into a mother and baby home.  I thought this bit was very interesting, mostly because it shows the difference in attitudes between then and now.  When I was in my teens, having a baby out of wedlock was still seen as a fairly shameful thing, but this is the generation before, when to be an unmarried mother could ruin a girl's life.

Running through alongside the main story is that of Joyce, Phil's young sister, which is connected to Sally's situation.

The book is very readable, certainly enough to keep me turning the pages because I wanted to know what happened, although I found it information heavy in parts; at times the dialogue was a little unrealistic.  Near the end there is a revelation of sexual deviance which examined the darker side of working class life in those days, and an explicit sex scene, the latter of which I found incompatible with the otherwise 'clean read' tone of the book; it kind of jumped out and made me go 'woah, what happened there?'  Aside from this, though, I would say that the many readers of nostalgia/family dramas will enjoy this book, as it's a basically good story, and well plotted.  Sally is real and likeable, and Phil's dilemma very believable (though I thought Pam's character and reactions could have been developed more).   There is plenty of day to day detail about life during the 1950s, too, that will appeal to this market.

A Suitable Young Man by Anne Harvey reviewed HERE

 




Monday, 18 April 2016

THIS ROUGH OCEAN by Ann Swinfen

5 GOLD stars

English Civil War Drama

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



What an amazing book ~ I don't think I'm going to be able to read anything else for a day or so!

This Rough Ocean is about the fortunes of the Swinfen family in the English Civil War; it's fiction but much of it is based on the real life adventures of John and Anne Swinfen (Swynfen) and their family; the author's note at the back gives more information.

John Swynfen is a Member of Parliament, a 'moderate', and his family have joined him to live in Westminster from their country estate in Staffordshire, during the time when Charles I has been captured and Cromwell's men are ransacking the country.  John is imprisoned, and Anne must take her family back to Stafford to safety ~ and assume the role of 'Lord of the Manor'.


I'd say this is probably the ultimate fiction about the period.  It's impeccably and intricately researched, a book of adventure, great hardship, bravery, loss, the brutality within man but the goodness to be found in unexpected places, too; honestly, it's riveting.  I liked the first half very much, when John is safe in Westminster, and the danger around the country is becoming more and more of a threat, but I ADORED the second half, which is told from the alternating points of view of Anne, with all her difficulties managing Swinfen estate, and John, as his life becomes more bleak, the possibility of escape back to his home and family seeming ever more impossible.  Also woven into this part of the story is the tale of their wayward eldest son, Dick, who decides to walk from London to Stafford instead of going safely back to school....


In the first third of the book there is a fair bit of political detail which you might find a bit hard going unless you are already well versed in/particularly interested in this aspect, but it's an education in itself, and the book soon ups its tempo as it moves away from the London political arena and back to the stories of John, Anne and their family.  Stick with it!

Ann Swinfen clearly has such insight into all aspects of life at this time, and I felt so involved with the characters all the way through this book; it even made me cry at three separate points.  This Rough Ocean is something of a masterpiece ~ I can't recommend it too highly.

FLOOD by Ann Swinfen reviewed HERE


BETRAYAL by Ann Swinfen reviewed HERE

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE by Annika Milisic Stanley

5 out of 5 stars

Drama set in Tajikstan

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team



I enjoyed this book very much indeed, it's excellent and so unusual.  It's set in 2007/8, in Tajikistan, one of those countries that used to be part of the USSR; I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know where it is, but looked it up (it borders China and Afghanistan).

 


The Disobedient Wife of the title could refer to Harriet Simenon, ex-pat wife of a Belgian diplomat who is unhappy in her current surroundings, or her home help/nanny Nargis, a young mother who has suffered much over the years; her first husband, who she loved dearly, died from cancer caused by toxic waste, and her second husband was violent.  Under Tajikistan tradition, Nargis is seen as a fallen woman because she left him; he kept their son with him.  I like book titles that could refer to more than one aspect of a book; it might also apply to a friend of Nargis who rebels against her controlling husband by taking a lover, a decision that has terrible consequences.

Nargis's life is one of harsh drudgery, but she's a fighter and I loved her character. Aside from the fact that the story is so well planned out and beautifully written, I was fascinated by the insight into the lives of the people of this country, and the effects of the release from Russia's control. 



At the beginning of the novel, English Harriet comes across as shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, but as her own marriage runs into difficulty and her friendships with her ex-pat friends are shown to be superficial, her relationship with Nargis deepens, and she begins to understand her strength, and examine her own way of life.

The story is written most from alternating points of view of Nargis and Harriet (some of Harriet's is written in the form of her journal, which gives yet another insight), with occasional chapters looking at Harriet's revolting ex-husband, who becomes involved with some dangerous people in an effort to better himself.

I was completely engrossed all the way through this book.  There's plenty going on, it's quite a page-turner, and it's as well written as any best seller by an established writer (and probably better than many).  Highly recommended, I think it would be enjoyed by readers who love gritty crime/real life drama and more emotional women's fiction alike, as it's a mix of these two genres.  Big thanks to the author for educating me about this country, too.




Saturday, 9 April 2016

THE FINAL VIRUS by Carol Hedges

4 out of 5 stars

YA Post Apocalyptic Novella

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team


I've read Carol Hedges' three Victorian murder mysteries and loved them; even though I am not a fan of YA books I love the whole post apocalyptic genre, so was keen to give this a go.  It has a sub-theme of Christianity (those with a knowledge of 'Revelations' will find it interesting), and is the first part of a series, although it's a complete story in itself.

In this future world all countries are one, with one president, and peace reigns.  This follows a cybercrash in which the computer systems of the world were wiped out within a couple of hours, and also the effects of climate change which has altered the entire landscape of the planet. 

The story centres around Will and Amber.  Will is popular, clever and sought after; Amber is a non-conformist with strange intuitive capabilities.  Oddly attracted to each other, they come together to investigate the truth behind the death of Will's father and possible government conspiracies.

As always, Carol Hedges' characters are immediately real and three dimensional, the dialogue sharp, realistic and often funny; there's a definite element of dry humour throughout this book that I liked very much.  However, I would have liked to know much more detail about how the current situation came to be, and how the people now live, how the world had changed as a whole; at the beginning I couldn't quite work out what was going on, when and where it was supposed to be taking place, etc, though some of my questions were answered fairly soon (by Mr Neots, the boring teacher, a great character!), and more later. 

The Final Virus is a good mixture of the sci-fi thriller/adventure and believable relationships between the teenage main characters, and I think YA fans of the genre will enjoy this series very much.

For my reviews of Carol Hedges Victorian Murder Mysteries, see HERE 

 


BETRAYAL (The Fenland Series 2) by Ann Swinfen

5 out of 5 stars

17th century historical fiction

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

 
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Flood, so much that I began the sequel as soon as I'd finished it ~ a recommendation in itself!

Betrayal carries on where the prequel left off, as the villagers in Ann Swinfen's fictional 17th century Fenland village recover from the devastation caused by not only the weather but also the destruction of their way of life by the money men who aim to take their land for their own profit.


This episode adds another dimension to the story, as Mercy's brother Tom leaves the area after losing his leg in the troubles, feeling that he will serve them better by resuming his legal studies in London.  But these are difficult times; Cromwell is now in power but the Civil War still festers, with young men being rounded up and sent to fight against their will.  The story's underlying focus, though, is Tom's effort to retrieve a charter, written in the twelfth century, that granted the Fenlanders the right to live on and farm their land without interference.

The title of the book tells you that all is not what it seems ~ the reader is given a pretty good idea of who is behind the wrongs being done to the villagers, but Mercy, Tom and their friends have difficulty realising exactly who they can trust.

Aside from being a cracking story, I loved this novel as I loved the first, for its wonderful research and description.  Domestic detail in some books can be tedious, but this book shows how in the right hands it can be fascinating, such an insight into the times.  I so enjoyed the chapters from Tom's point of view, about the London of the 17th century, and it fast became one of those books I wanted to actually live in!


I can't recommend these two books highly enough; historical fiction addicts will adore them.  Although the communities are poor, by many standards, I saw the Fenlanders' way of life as an idyllic one; living with the land as nature intended, pulling together and supporting each other.  I very much hope there is more of this terrific series to come.

FLOOD by Ann Swinfen is reviewed HERE



Wednesday, 6 April 2016

FLOOD (The Fenland Series 1) by Ann Swinfen

5 out of 5 stars

17th century historical fiction/witch hunts

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



What a wonderful chance find this book was!  I've been wanting to read something about the Fens in the 17th century, when the ancient way of life of the Fenlanders was washed away to satisfy the greed of those in power, since reading something about it in a book by Norah Lofts, years ago, but I've never been able to find anything.  Then I chanced upon this book via a random passing tweet (on Twitter). 

The book starts with the very end of the old way of life, when the people of Ann Swinfen's fictional village celebrate old traditions, the bringing in of the May and the beating of the village boundaries, for the last time ~ except that they don't know that the way they live is about to be consigned to a memory of a golden, uncomplicated past.  Mercy, the heroine of the novel, says "Why can we not be left to ourselves, here in the Fens, to grow our food, and rear our animals and mend our houses, troubling no one?  We need no courts or kings or parliaments."  Something that might be echoed by many communities before and since....

As the dreaded 'drainers' move in, life becomes more treacherous for Mercy, her family and friends every day, and is made harder still by unclement weather, failing harvests, and the presence of Matthew Hopkins, witchfinder general.  

This book is so well researched, I relished every word, every description; if only there were pictures, too!  All the characters are so alive (I particularly liked eel fisherman Nehemiah, and soldier George), the story is a real page turner and I was completely engrossed, doing that 'just one more chapter' at three in the morning thing.  It taught me a lot about a subject, time and place that fascinates me, too.  I have just downloaded the sequel, and will be beginning it as soon as I have posted this review.  

Highly, highly recommended; historical fiction at its best.


Review of the sequel, BETRAYAL, HERE

 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

WARWICK: The man behind the Wars of the Roses by Tony Riches

4.5 out of 5 stars

Plantagenet historical fiction

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


Most interesting; this book showed me another side of the fascinating Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as The Kingmaker.  I liked Riches' portrayal of him as a man of intelligence and forethought, not just ruthless ambition.  Certainly made me see why he was so opposed to Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, too!

James Frain as Warwick in 'The White Queen' ~ it's how I always think of him!

I read this hot on the heels of the author's latest book, about Jasper Tudor; it's clear from reading this that it's an earlier book, simply because his writing has improved, as most authors' work tends to; Jasper is something of a masterpiece, whereas this is more of a very entertaining historical adventure.  I do enjoy the way Riches writes.  He sets the atmosphere of the time so well, and I particularly like reading about the battles.  This book gave me a clearer insight into exactly why the Wars of the Roses began and some bits made me smile for personal reasons: Richard and Edward at the ancient fort of Hunsbury Hill in Northampton, for instance; I used to live on Hunsbury, a residential area now built on that site.   Also, the mention of King Henry IV being cared for in Delapre Abbey, nearby ~ I was there last year with my father, taking a look at the renovations.  
 
I wonder if Warwick trod the same paths on Hunsbury as I used to?

The Wars of the Roses is such a massive subject for any novelist to take on, and Tony Riches has, once again, dealt with it very well.  There were some parts of Warwick's history with which I was not familiar, and I didn't find them too confusing!  Definitely worth the read, for anyone who wants to know more about this intriguing character.  Oh, and you'll be as interested as I was to see who a famous descendent of Warwick was, in the Author's Note at the back :)

The Eleanor Cross in Northampton, near Delapre Abbey

OWEN by Tony Riches reviewed HERE

  JASPER by Tony Riches reviewed HERE