#TuesdayBookBlog

‘Night Service’ by @john_f_leonard #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Night Service’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Night Service

Amazon.co.uk

It’s been a great night, but it’s getting late. You need to make tracks and cash isn’t king.
No worries …all aboard the Night Service. It could be the last bus you ever catch.

Every journey is a journey into the unknown, but this trip is an eye-opener, unlike anything that Luke and Jessica have ever experienced. They’re going to learn a few important lessons. Being young and in love doesn’t grant immunity from the everyday awful …or the less ordinary evil that lurks in the shadows.
There’s no inoculation from the horror of the world – it’s real and it’s waiting to touch you.

Public transport tends to divide opinion. Some folks think it’s fantastic. They love rubbing shoulders with strangers, seeing life anew through condensation-clad windows. Others consider buses as nothing short of easy-on-the-pocket cattle trucks that the enviro-friendlies promote and never use.
There are drawbacks, that’s for sure.
A nagging distrust, an under the radar sense of unpredictability.
You never know who’s going to be in the seat next to you. You never know, with absolute certainty, if you’ll arrive where you need to be.
Especially on those rare darktime buses that run when the sensible folk have done their business and gone home. The last dance, last ditch, leftover choice. The get on or get walking option. They’re the worst.

All the night owls out there need to take care, buses after midnight are decidedly dodgy affairs. Unreliable and loaded with the potential for unpleasant.
That said, life doesn’t always leave you with very much choice. Love them or loathe them, sometimes you just have to climb aboard and hope for the best. How bad can it be?
Just jump on and enjoy!
Time to shut up and let someone else drive. You’re not in control when you travel in lowlife style.
No standing, there’s room on top.
No smoking and don’t distract the driver.
Don’t scream and don’t cuss.
Just get on the bus.

Night service is a wild ride. One you’ll never forget. It’s going to take you to places you’ve never been before.
Oh, one thing. Don’t expect to get off alive. And don’t expect to see another sunrise if you do. Happy endings can be elusive little devils.

Definitely a horror story. Part of the Scaeth Mythos and one of a number of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive. Some places, just like some objects, aren’t quite what they seem. Ordinary on the surface, but underneath crawling with incredible.
They’re scary. They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation.

I do love a good horror story, and this is definitely a good horror story.

Luke and Jessica take the bus home one night, and find themselves racing through the darkness straight into a nightmare world where Luke has to dodge the horrors around him as he struggles to come to terms with this new reality.

This is a creepy and clever story, with enough twists, turns and shocks to keep you guessing and turning the page. It’s really well-written too, with some wonderful turns of phrase and descriptions that making reading a (very scary) pleasure.

Two things did bother me though. In terms of the story, I wasn’t completely convinced by the final reveal. And in terms of the writing, the predominance of the subordinate clause did start to grate a little. These short clauses work really well to build tension, but they need to be used sparingly and here they seem to be an integral part of the author’s style – and I found it too much, to be honest. Which is a shame, because, on the whole, this is a cracking story, and one I really enjoyed.

4 stars

‘Sea Change’ by Sylvia Hehir #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #YA

sea change

Waterstones   Hive 

Sea Change is a cracking YA thriller that sees 16-year-old Alex struggling to look after his grieving mother and pay the bills. So he made some bad decisions in the summer not least of which was getting involved with Chuck, an unpredictable stranger who says he’s on the run.

Chuck was exciting, challenging Alex to take ever-increasing risks. But Chuck wasn’t supposed to turn up dead next to Alex’s fishing boat. Were Chuck’s paranoid stories about men hunting him actually true? And is Alex facing even greater danger? 

Disclaimer – I do know the author, as she was a fellow student on Glasgow’s MLitt. In Creative Writing. However, my review is honest and hasn’t been influenced in any way. She’s just a genuinely excellent writer!

‘Sea Change’ marries a page-turning plot with some absolutely beautiful, evocative writing that brings all the stark, desolate beauty of a small coastal town in Scotland to life.

After the death of his father, Alex is trying to look after his mum, earn some extra money, and cope with school and exams. Chuck provided the opportunity to let off some steam during the summer holidays, but now the new school year has begun, Chuck has vanished, and Alex finds himself drawn into more trouble than he needs.

Alex is a wonderfully complex main character, struggling under far too much pressure, trying desperately to care for his mum. He’s just lovely and I was really rooting for him throughout this novel.

His best friend Daniel has his own issues to deal with, and he is as well-drawn and as fully realised as Alex. There are some fabulous side characters too, including Alex’s wonderful cousin Moth.

This is a YA novel that treats its readers with respect; it doesn’t patronise or preach, and acknowledges the sometimes difficult lives that teenagers have to face. It’s an honest book, with authentic characters and a novel (and author) that I highly recommend.

5 stars

 

 

‘UK2’ by @TerryTyler4 #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

UK2

Amazon.co.uk

‘Two decades of social media had prepared them well for UK2.’

The pace steps up in this penultimate book in the Project Renova series, as the survivors’ way of life comes under threat.

Two years after the viral outbreak, representatives from UK Central arrive at Lindisfarne to tell the islanders about the shiny new city being created down south.  UK2 governor Verlander’s plan is simple: all independent communities are to be dissolved, their inhabitants to reside in approved colonies.  Alas, those who relocate soon suspect that the promises of a bright tomorrow are nothing but smoke and mirrors, as great opportunities turn into broken dreams, and dangerous journeys provide the only hope of freedom.

Meanwhile, far away in the southern hemisphere, a new terror is gathering momentum…

I read the previous two novels in this series ages ago and thoroughly enjoyed them both, and this third in the series certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I was worried I wouldn’t remember the ins and outs of the story, but I was back in this fabulously crafted dystopian world within a few pages, catching up with lovely Lottie (such a well-drawn character), her mum Vicky, dastardly Dex, poor little princess Flora and a cast of other, equally strong characters.

What works really well here is the dawning realisation of each of the characters that things aren’t what they seem. After everything that’s happened, they’re still hanging on to the idea that someone in charge will make it all go away, that someone else will sort it out and make them feel safe. The way each of them deals with the truth is so compelling, and it’s also what makes this book such a delight to read – it’s not difficult at all to imagine this happening.

My favourite storyline was Flora’s. She is so annoying, but I have a lot of sympathy for her. I have a sneaking suspicion I’d be a terrible wimp in similar circumstances, and to see her character develop the way it does is one of the highlights of the story.

As always with Terry Tyler’s novels, you get a great, believable storyline, and well-crafted, compelling characters. This is essentially about people, and how they cope in dreadful circumstances – and it’s written with real skill. The author is a natural storyteller, and her books never disappoint.

I won’t be leaving it as long to read ‘Legacy’!

5 stars

 

 

‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ by L.M. Barrett #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

 

I read ‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

You

Amazon.co.uk

Declan’s a tad annoyed. Not only has the love of his life run off with ‘Superman’ but she’s also unwittingly caused his current hostage situation. 

This is the story between two childhood friends and the ‘stuff’ that always gets in the way of their relationship. Mostly the fact that Sarah is engaged to another man and Declan is being held prisoner.

Find out what Sarah did to cause Declan’s current situation and if Declan will ever forgive her. Can things ever go back to the way they were?

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this story and two potentially compelling characters. Sarah and Declan are childhood friends, growing up together and falling in and out of friendship.

They argue, they ignore each other, they look out for each other, but then Sarah really lets Declan down, and neither are sure if this is a situation they can come back from.

There’s romance here, and heartbreak and the awkwardness and anxieties of growing up and finding out about yourself – all the ingredients for a great story.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t really do the story justice. The structure, with Sarah telling her story to a man she meets in a bar, and Declan telling his to a fellow hostage, Lisa, doesn’t really work. And some of the situations don’t ring true. The hostage situation is treated very lightly (perhaps it’s not a suitable situation for this genre) and Declan is hardly affected by it at all. Secondary characters are treated horribly by the two main characters which makes it hard to root for them. And the writing itself does need some tidying up.

There’s a great idea here, but it needs a bit of a polish.

3-stars-out-of-5

My Ten Best Reads of 2019 #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

johnson-celebration-of-learning-Thinkstock

Well, that’s another year completely whizzed past – and a year of huge changes in the Williams’ household. We’ve moved from busy Basingstoke to a rural village in West Wales. I’ve turned 50 (yikes!), my daughter has turned 21 (big yikes), we’ve celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (big, big, yikes), and both children are at university and living in London. My editing and freelance writing business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve worked with some lovely authors.

It’s been such a busy year that I’ve not read nearly as much as I should have – and getting through my TBR list is definitely a resolution for 2020. But when I have managed to read, I’ve read some absolute crackers. These are my ten best of 2019 – click on the title to read my review.

Winter’ by Ali Smith

ali smith winter

Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

ailsa rae

Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.

She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .

Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point and she wants to find her father.
Have her friends left her behind?
And she’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. She barely knows where to start on her own.

Then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.

But her new heart is a bold heart. 

She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton

craftsman

Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson

kindness2

Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

‘An Empty Vessel’ by J J Marsh writing as Vaughan Mason

an-empty-vessel-3

Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield

The boy

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson

Lowborn

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today’s Britain.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor

lighthouse

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

Ministry.jpg

I’ve just finished this completely wonderful, beautiful book – review to follow very soon!

Happy holidays, everyone – and happy reading!

 

holidays

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

lighthouse

Hive   Waterstones

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

I remember learning about Grace Darling many years ago when I was at primary school, and for some reason he image of her rowing across the wild sea in the moonlight has stayed with me. I loved Hazel Gaynor’s ‘The Cottingley Secret’, another novel that mixes fiction with reality, and this novel further establishes her as one of my favourite authors.

This is a really gorgeous book, beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of Grace, living with her close-knit family in the lighthouse on Longstone, who helps her father in a dramatic and dangerous rescue one night, which leads to an unwanted celebrity. We also follow the story of Matilda, alone and scared, sent by her family across the sea in shame, to live with an aunt she doesn’t know – a lighthouse keeper. The two women’s stories are threaded together, the narrative moving from 1838 to 1938 effortlessly, with compelling and honest characters and a poignant, arresting storyline.

One of my bugbears with women portrayed in historical fiction is that they often act outside of what wold have been allowed without repercussions. Often they are ‘feisty’. Grace and Matilda are definitely ‘strong’ women, but their lives are controlled and defined by convention – the author portrays them as finding ways to live within that and be true to themselves rather than allowing them unrealistic happy endings.

I loved the portrayal of Grace especially. There’s a real warmth and respect that comes across very clearly, without Grace being perfect. The ramifications of her bravery and celebrity are shown honestly, and shed a whole new light on her story.

A really lovely book and definitely recommended.

5 stars

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Lowborn

Hive   Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

I bought this book because I read some of Kerry Hudson’s articles in The Pool and in The Guardian. She’s a fabulous writer, and I recognised in her writing some aspects of my own childhood (that could be me and my sisters on the cover!).

Reading some of the more negative reviews of this book actually shines a light on how those who have no idea of what it’s like to be poor continuously misrepresent and misunderstand poverty. There are plenty of reviews putting the blame resoundingly on Ms Hudson’s mother and her mental health issues. These reviewers completely miss the point that mental health issues are exacerbated by poverty. How much harder is it to cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, etc. when your life is so enclosed? When you are frustrated at every turn? When there is no help because of cuts? And inevitably there is the review that cites the poor families with their plasma screen TVs and consoles – because god forbid poor people should have any pleasure in life at all.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about poverty and childhood and inequality, but this is supposed to be a book review.

While difficult to read at times, this book has an enormous amount of warmth. While parts of Ms. Hudson’s life were harrowing, there are moments of joy too, and it’s so interesting to read about her feelings as she confronts her past and revisits those places where she grew up and that helped form her.

These stories need to be told because society wishes to look in the other direction, because we do not want to think of the children a few streets away who have eaten rubbish food and not nearly enough of it, in a house where the heat isn’t on and they don’t own a single book, in threadbare clothes that are too small for them, being cared for by a parent who desperately requires help themselves.

Perhaps it’s easier, though, because if we did look at what was really happening, surely we wouldn’t be able to live with that?

Reading this though, and some of the reviews, and the comments on Twitter whenever anyone mentions poverty or foodbanks or people on benefits, I wonder if it’s less that people don’t want to acknowledge the reality of society in 2019, or that they really just don’t care. Books like this are so important, because people need to know – you can’t keep turning away from children like Kerry.

5 stars

 

 

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The boy

Hive    Waterstones

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

There are a huge amount of books being published at the moment based on the stories of those who suffered in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. And while I strongly believe that these stories must be told, must be kept alive, there are problems with what seems to be a bit of a ‘trend’.

I think it’s important to always remember that these terrible things happened to real people. These stories are not fiction; these things actually happened, and, as such those involved should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Their stories shouldn’t be used for their shock factor or as material for that rather horrible human trait that has people slowing down when they see an accident on the motorway. I do sometimes have the decidedly uncomfortable feeling that this is sometimes the case.

There is a very popular book out at the moment that is ‘based’ on a true story but has caused a great deal of pain to the relatives of the people involved. I’m not sure that anyone should be writing a story based on a real victim of the holocaust without the permission of their family. It leaves a rather nasty taste.

So I chose to read this book because it used the actual words and experiences of Gustav and Fritz and was written with the full permission of and in collaboration with the family.

And it is a book that should be read by everyone. It doesn’t hold back in detailing the cruelty of the regime, and neither should it. But this is, more than anything, a story of the extraordinary strength of human beings, their resilience, their ability to survive in the most dreadful of circumstances. We talk a lot about heroes these days, and it sometimes seems that not a lot is involved to become a hero, but in this book you’ll find multiple examples of people helping each other at great risk to themselves – real heroes.

It’s beautifully written too. There’s no sentimentality here, just crisp, clear, honest writing. The dialogue and excerpts from Gustav’s record of events means you become really involved in their story, and you never forget these were real people.

There’s a real rise in nasty politics at the moment, and the resurgence of the far right is particularly terrifying. Books like this serve as a reminder of how easy it is for things to turn ugly, and very quickly too. Gustav, Fritz and their family and friends didn’t realise how badly things were going until it was too late. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

5 stars

‘Falling Short’ by Lex Coulton #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

falling short

Hive Waterstones

Frances Pilgrim’s father went missing when she was five, and ever since all sorts of things have been going astray: car keys, promotions, a series of underwhelming and unsuitable boyfriends … Now here she is, thirty-bloody-nine, teaching Shakespeare to rowdy sixth formers and still losing things. 

But she has a much more pressing problem. Her mother, whose odd behaviour Frances has long put down to eccentricity, is slowly yielding to Alzheimer’s, leaving Frances with some disturbing questions about her father’s disappearance, and the family history she’s always believed in. Frances could really do with someone to talk to. Ideally Jackson: fellow teacher, dedicated hedonist, erstwhile best friend. Only they haven’t spoken since that night last summer when things got complicated . . . 

As the new school year begins, and her mother’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Frances realises that she might just have a chance to find something for once. But will it be what she’s looking for?

Frances has to be one of my favourite female characters in a novel so far this year. She’s funny, intelligent, self-sufficient to an extent, but also flawed and vulnerable. Her past and her strained relationship with her mother make coping with her mother’s illness all the more difficult. She begins to realise that the stories she’s held on to all these years aren’t what they seem, and her history and sense of who she is begins to crumble.

Jackson, on the other hand, I found very hard to like. He seems selfish and lacks real self-awareness, and I couldn’t feel any sympathy for him at all. I also felt that his back story was a little glossed over and glamorised – he behaved appallingly but it felt as though the reader was supposed to feel sorry for him. This made it difficult to appreciate his story and to root for him at all.

So this was a mixed bag for me – I loved Frances and her story, but loathed Jackson.

The writing is strong though and the author is a skilful storyteller. There is an honesty in this novel that is refreshing.

And there’s a lovely dog!

But Jackson is too problematic for me to really recommend this novel.

three stars