Review of A Cruel Fate by Lindsay Davis – 5 Stars

A Cruel FateA Cruel Fate by Lindsey Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: Martin Watt’s is a bookseller who has never stepped foot out of line, is captured for being on the wrong side of a war he didn’t care much about. This short novel follows his story as a prisoner of war and the treatment and brutality received. The novel also contains the story of Jan Afton whose brother has also been captured during the turmoil. Jane being regarded as a spinster to her family is sent to find out what has happened to her brother and retrieve him.

I really enjoyed this short story and was pleased to find a historical fiction novel within the quick reads series. the “quick reads” collection which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This seems to be what has jarred other readers (the use of simpler language) but I didn’t find it detracted from the novel at all. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Men of humble birth will sometimes become officers, but Nat Afton will never be a captain. He will not aspire to it. He wants to lie low. It is a great surprise to Jane that he has even been taken prisoner.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this novel was that multiple viewpoints were captured in its short number of pages and all the characters were really engaging (you liked who you were supposed to like and hated who you were supposed to hate). Not an easy task I imagine with so few words. I particularly liked the ending.

This novel is set during the second English Civil War when Royalist and Roundhead butted heads, pikes, cavalry and cannon across the Country for supremacy. Mostly describing the situation inside Oxford Castle Prison. I think the author did a really good job of describing both this time period and the setting. The descriptions of the treatment of the Royalist prisoners (I suppose any prisoners from the time), has actually intrigued me and I would be interested in reading more about the period.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Review of Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn – 5 Stars

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne BoleynThe Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

I am very surprised by the number of low ratings this book received. Can an author provide a fresh approach to a part of history known by everyone and told to death? Actually yes, I think Dunn made a really good job of it. This book has several stories concealed within its pages all delicately woven together to make the reader turn the pages.

This story as you will probably already have gathered is a story of two halves. Strong-willed, stubborn Anne Boleyn prior to her imminent execution tells her story of her time at the court in the format of a letter to her daughter. The format of the story is quite fun and fiery and I think the author does a good job of getting the reader on Anne’s side. The author then turns the reader’s attention to the second storyline of that of the subtle subdued Lucy Cornwallis, confectionary chef to the king. Polar opposite of Anne, Lucy is quiet, humble and dedicated to her crafts.

The women’s stories are very loosely connected by their involvement with the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

I must say this is the first Suzannah Dunn book I have read and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. Her writing style is superb, it’s easy to read, not boringly over-descriptive like some historical fiction novels are (although it captures plenty of historical contexts) and it keeps the story moving at a great pace. Obviously, Anne’s story is the most exciting (which I think is to be expected).

The main reason others seem to be upset with this novel is the modern tone of language used. Granted there are probably some better wording or phrasing that the author could have used here (Henry telling courtiers to skedaddle) and there but overall I found the tone very readable and if it had been told in the language of the Tudor times this would ultimately have made it far less enjoyable for me. So, I guess it is something to be aware of but don’t let it put you off.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“My uncle never read a book, and he’s proud of the fact. Ruthlessness and efficiency; that’s what matters. He’ll clap you on the back, one day; stab you in it, the next. No hard feelings, just business as usual. Never trust a Howard, Elizabeth, not even if you are one. Look where it got me, sent here to the Tower by my own uncle.”

I think Dunn has done a great job of capturing the period, the courts, all the moving and touring, and of course the feasts. Fun and interesting concepts that make this book a delight to read.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Review of Blackout by Emily Barr – 5 Stars

BlackoutBlackout by Emily Barr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Sophie should have a perfect life. she has the perfect man, Rob, a hard-working school teacher, and now a new-born baby son called Arthur. When she wakes up in Paris, in a strange house, on her own and recognising no-one she panics. No passport, no money, she needs to get back to London back to her family and figure out what on earth has happened to her.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. Blackout is no exception, with a clear-cut and fast-paced plot it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book, there are quite a few action-focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

“It is Thursday. The day that should be Monday is actually Thursday. Even at my worst I never lost three whole days. Nobody loses three days. It is not possible. Days come one after the other, from the day you’re born until the day you die. If you stay in bed for a day, the day still happens. If you black out in a coma or something, you wake up in hospital. You do not wake up in a mysterious room in Paris.

I went back and forth on whether to give this book 4 or 5 stars but I settled on 5 as despite the books small size it captured quite a few themes; relationships, trusts, childhood memories, post-partum depression, estrangement (to name a few), and I think that is an amazement achievement for an author.

I also liked the character Sophie, she was an interesting mix of vulnerable and strong and I think she came across as very likeable.

I had never read any of Emily Barr’s work before, but I will certainly look forward to reading more of her works.

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Review of House of Shadows by Pamela Hartshorne – 5 Stars

House of ShadowsHouse of Shadows by Pamela Hartshorne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: When Kate Vavasour wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing about the family gathered around her bed, or of her life before the accident. The doctors diagnose post-traumatic amnesia, following a terrible fall from the roof of her home, Askerby Hall. The doctors say the memories should start returning. Which they do . . . but these memories are not her own. They belong to Isabel Vavasour, who lived and died at Askerby Hall over four hundred years earlier . . .

Returning to her supposed home, Kate finds herself in a house full of shadows and suspicions. Unable to recognise her family, her friends or even her small son, she struggles to piece together her life. However, the memories of Isabel fight their way to the surface and demand to be known. Was Kate’s fall really an accident? Can she trust her own mind? Can she trust those around her?

Kate as a character is fine. Not someone you instantly fall in love with but not someone too irritable either. I really liked Isabel as a character, fiery and insolent in a time period when woman were not allowed to be either.

A few reviewers have commented on the fact the author does little in the way to disguise who the “bad guy” is (for want of a better term). I think this is a deliberate move by the author and don’t really think it detracts from the story. If anything, it gives Isabel a vulnerability in her otherwise strong-willed nature. If she didn’t have this, I think as a reader you would potentially find her too arrogant. What I am trying to get at is, in some ways, this story is predictable, but for me, that didn’t stop it being a really enjoyable story.

The settings of this book are primarily around York/ remote villages of Yorkshire. The author really does a great job to capture the slower paced country lifestyle, the visitors to a grand country hall and weave cleverly into the storyline how formidable that home could be to someone not born into the family.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. I think in historical fiction this is particularly helpful to get an understanding of the language tone the author has chosen to write in.

I don’t recognize either of them.
My eyes dart back to the nurse. I want to say, They’re not my family, but I can’t speak past the tube in my throat.
‘Hello, Kate,’ says the man, trying a jovial smile that doesn’t quite work. ‘What a fright you gave us!’

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Review of Clouded Vision by Linwood Barclay – 4 Stars

Clouded VisionClouded Vision by Linwood Barclay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Keisha Ceylon is a fraudulent psychic who passes herself off as possessing real powers in order to extort money from vulnerable families with missing family members, in return fpr psychic predictions regarding their disappearance. When Keisha spots Wendell Garfield on tv pleading for information regarding his wife’s disappearance she decides to pay him a visit. However, the man might not be quite as innocent as he looked on camera.

I am a Linwood Barclay fan. His books are all quite similar and if you have read one of the books, the others are quite predictable. That said I do enjoy his style of writing, easy to read, quick-paced and not overly gory. This book is part of the “quick reads” collection, which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This shorter novel suits Linwood Barclay’s writing style.

The only downside to this book (and I realise it is a personal taste thing) but this is one of the reasons I haven’t given it 5 stars, is that in this book there are actually no likeable characters. Keisha who seems to be the main character/hero of the book, you are told from the outset is a fraud and is there to pray on vulnerable people. The grieving husband is covering something so already you like and distrust him, even the vanished wife is a constant nag and in some ways, you think the family are better without her.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are quite a few action focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

You started off vaguely, with something like, ‘I see a house… a white house with a fence out front…’
And they’d say, ‘A White house? Wait, wait, didn’t Aunt Gwen live in a white house?’
Someone else would say, ‘That’s right, she did!’
Then picking up the past tense, you said, ‘And this Aunt Gwen, I’m sensing… I’m sensing she’s passed on.’
And they said, ‘Oh my god, that’s right, she has!’

I did enjoy this book. As I said, it was predictable especially if you are familiar with Barclay’s previous work but it was still a good read.
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Review of Wrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick – 4 Stars

Wrong Time, Wrong PlaceWrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Ash and Guy are hiking in the Scottish Highlands with their couple friends who they are quickly becoming irritated with. The couples come across a girl. She is half-naked, has been badly beaten, and she can’t speak English. She is clearly running away from someone or something. The couples argue whether to leave her or help her when Ash makes the decision they should help her and they take her back to the holiday home they are renting. However, unbeknownst to them the girl is being followed and the follower is determined to cover their tracks at all costs.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I have began looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. Wrong Place, Wrong Time is no exception with a clear cut storyline and fast paced plot it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

The only downside to this (and the main reason I haven’t given it 5 stars) is that in this book particularly you aren’t really given the time to really like or hate any of the characters. Ash who seems to be the main character/hero of the book, I couldn’t remember the name of and I had to flick back through the book to find it out before writing this review. I have read a few books in the quick reads series now and others seem to manage this slightly better.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are quite a few action focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

 

The last thing she remembered was the current driving her into the shallows where she could feel the ground beneath her feet. Then, finally, everything went black.

This book takes place in the Scottish Highlands and I think the author manages to capture the sense of remoteness and isolation very well in this book.

I liked the ending of this book. It was not what I expected at all and I love when a book can still surprise me. All in all a pretty good read. A great introduction to this author and I look forward to reading more of his work.

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Review of the Vanishment by Jonathan Aycliffe – 5 Stars

The VanishmentThe Vanishment by Jonathan Aycliffe

Genre: Horror

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my to-read pile for a long time and I don’t know what kept making me select others over it but boy do I regret that decision now. This book is brilliant. Such an enjoyable proper ghost story. Without all the gory bells and whistles that often fills this genre.

I had previously been advised to read “The Matrix” by Jonathan Aycliffe which was very good (dark, brooding, creepy) but “The Vanishment”, I think, is better.

The Vanishment tells the secret tales of two families. The story centres around the disturbing past of Petherick House and it’s the owners (past and present). Peter Clare, is the main character of the book who recounts his experience, he is a writer by profession which makes the book all the more intriguing as you question whether the events are the truth or a bit of writers flare. Peter Clare and his wife, Sarah, rent Petherick House for a couple of months to work on their writing and art, and to rebuild their strained marriage following a personal tragedy. After his wife Sarah disappears, and the police believe Peter is the culprit, Peter becomes consumed with trying to unravel the secrets of the house.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are loads of great bits to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as it captures a bit of the creepy brooding that appears throughout the book:

 

“That night I dreamed a very strange dream. I dreamed I was in the hallway, looking up the stairs. For some reason, I was afraid. There was something at the top of the stairs, something I did not want to see or meet. And the upper half of the staircase was in darkness. In spite of my fear, I felt myself being drawn, step by reluctant step, along the hall to the foot of the stairs.” …”

One of the things I loved about this book was the multi-timeline element. Parts of this story could be a dark historical fiction novel, Aycliffe does such a brilliant job of bringing that Victorian era through the pages.

I have been trying to think of a modern writer whose writing is similar to this, and the only one that really springs to mind is Sarah Rayne. Traditional mystery and macabre type of writing with a historic undertone. It also has a touch of Susan Hill about it.

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