It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret … Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.
I looked forward to reading this debut novel by Jan Baynham for quite a while and I wasn’t disappointed. The author has an easy writing style that I really like, I love the story, which has a brilliant dramatic opening and, unusual for me, I read the book in one fairly long session.
Her Mother’s Secret is set against the background of the Greek island of Péfka during completely different eras; 1969 and 2011 .These two time frames are linked by the two main characters, Alexandra and her mother, Elin and are connected through time, by the diary that Alexandra has found after her mother’s death.
I don’t like giving spoilers in my reviews; I try to explain what I like about a book.
Both Elin and Alexandra are complex and well-rounded characters, and very much of their time. And, although they are never together in any scenes in the novel, the love they had for each other is threaded throughout Her Mother’s Secret. But there is one big difference in the two; Elin Morgan is following her dreams by becoming an art student at a summer painting school, run by a famous artist, on Péfka. Alexandra, still grieving, is on the islandseeking answers to the disclosures in her mother’s diary
And the author has ensured that the reader becomes engrossed in these characters by intertwining their stories with a cast of believable minor characters and the detailed and redolent descriptions of the Greek island, the harbour, the art school The portrayal of all the settings give an evocative sense of place.
The book moves at a good pace with a number of twists and turns that sometimes took me by surprise and sometimes gave me a feeling of ‘Ah-ha!; my suspicions, picked up through the foreshadowing the author has slipped into the story, coming to fruition is always satisfying to a reader.
There are many themes running through Her Mother’s Secret: of love, relationships, mystery, crime, secrets and friendships, all woven to give a good balance of romance with a believable darker side of life.
All in all, Her Mother’s Secret is a novel I would recommend to any reader who enjoys a story that is grounded in the Romance genre but reveals itself to be so much more.
About the author:
After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!
She soon went on to take a writing course at the local university and began to submit stories for publication to a wider audience. In October 2019, her first collection of short stories, ‘Smashing the Mask and Other Stories’ was published.
Following a novel writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters. Partly set in the last year of the 60s, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, takes you to sun-drenched Greece, her favourite holiday destination.
Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband.
I was given a copy of Season of Second Chances, as a member of Rosie Amber’s reviewing team.
Grace Sullivan flees Dublin with her two teenage children, returning to the sleepy West Cork village where she grew up. No one in Killrowan knows what Grace is running from – or that she’s even running. She’d like to keep it that way.
Taking over from her father, Des, as the village doctor offers a very real chance for Grace to begin again. But will she and the children adapt to life in a small rural community? Can she live up to the doctor her father was? And will she find the inner strength to face the past when it comes calling?
Season of Second Chances is Grace’s story. It’s also the story of a community that chooses the title “Young Doctor Sullivan” for her before she even arrives. It’s the story of Des, who served the villagers all his life and now feels a failure for developing Parkinson’s disease. And it’s the story of struggling teens, an intimidating receptionist, a handsome American novelist escaping his past, and a dog called Benji who needs a fresh start of his own.
I haven’t read anything from Aimee Alexander before but, as I love any story about the machinations and intricacies of families, when I saw Season of Second Chances on the #RBRT reading list, I decided to choose this book. It’s described as a novel about, ‘family, love and learning to be kind to yourself…A heart-warming story of friendship, love and finding the inner strength to face a future that may bring back the past.’
In a way it’s a predictable plot. But it’s so well written I don’t think that matters too much. And with a thoroughly rounded protagonist in Grace Sullivan, it’s easy to believe in her; to start cheering for her straight away in her secret quest to escape her life with an abusive husband. She is desperate to find her roots again in the village of Killrowan, in West Cork; where she grew up with her parents. But, having been away for years, and taking her father’s place in the GP practice following his retirement, she is initially treated with suspicion by most of his patients.So she is lucky to rediscover the support of two old friends.
In addition to the antipathy of some of the villagers she has two teenage children who have problems of their own; Jack, who utterly resents the move, and her daughter, Holly, who, though glad to have escaped from their father, is emotionally damaged. But both are protective of their mother.
I also liked the parallel plot of the change in Des, Grace’s father. Having retired and in poor health, her return with her family brings him out of his chosen isolation and gives him hope for the future.
I try not to give too much information about story-lines so I’ll leave it there.
Both the main characters and the minor supporting ones are well drawn, with dialogue that immediately identifies them and I could easily picture each one as they took their part in the story.
The settings are brilliantly described and give a good sense of place. I especially liked the sense of peace that is shown through Grace when she is by the sea. There are excellent descriptions here.
There is also a lovely, almost cameo piece, of a dog, Benji, coming into their lives.
Of necessity, in a story of domestic abuse, there are themes of cruelty, fear, lies, self-hatred and loneliness. But in Season of Second Chances, there is also hope, friendship and love. These are all well balanced throughout the book.
As I’ve said, it is a predictable plot in many ways but I loved the author’s style of writing. And, tantalisingly, there are also a couple of loose ends. These left me to suspect that there would be a sequel to Season of Second Chances.As, indee, the author states in the end notes.
I would recommend Season of Second Chances to any reader who enjoys a good story in which to escape.
“Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society. The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.”
The year: 2061. In the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make. Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine. One too many demerits? Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages.
Rae Farrer is the ultimate megacity girl – tech-loving, hard-working, law-abiding and content – until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.
On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever...
Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to ‘Hope’, the concluding book in the two-part Operation Galton series, and Terry Tyler’s twenty-first publication.
Brilliant plot that twists and turns, rounded, multi-layered characters, great dialogue, settings with an evocative sense of place. What else would a reader expect from Terry Tyler?.Ah yes, an excellent writing style. And it’s all here in Wasteland.
Once upon a time I wouldn’t have read any dystopian novel but, because I have long been an admirer of her work, when I heard Terry Tyler had published a book of this the genre I thought I would give it a go. This is my review from the first of Project Renova Book One; Tipping Point: http://bit.ly/2um9Fcq
The setting of Wasteland, Terry’s latest book; which one could easily think it eerily suggestive of the future for how we are living at the moment ( well I thought so), is the year 2061 in the UK. The country is divided into megacities,ruled by the Nutricorp organisation and a government headed by a corrupt ( yet also manipulated) female Prime Minister. This is the second book of “Operation Galton”. When I reviewed Hope, the first book of this series, I wrote, “The people in power, whether in business or politics, influence and control the everyday life of the public; through lies and machinations… the depiction of authority and dominance in this future life is blatant in the control over the masses”. In Wasteland there is no subtlety, and the people know it; they are ruled by threats and fear. Yet they are compliant: some because, having been brought up in Hope villages; in government run programmes; in the absence of their biological parents, they know no different life. Others because it is easier to accept the limitations of freedom in return for the sophistication of modern technology, the availability of cosmetic surgery and access to social media.
The protagonist, Rae, is one of these young people. But when she discovers the history of her family, and that they may still be alive even though they, like others, chose to live in the wastelands; to be free, she knows she has to try and find them.
She escapes the confines of the megacity she lives in and faces the truth of the wastelanders’ lives: of ruined villages and towns, of hunger and danger. But she also finds kindness; through the organisation of food banks and the compassionate help of small communities living off the land.
But does she find her family? And is the Nutricorp organisation and Government content to leave the Wastelanders alone?
I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, this latest book of Terry Tyler doesn’t disappoint and I can thoroughly recommend Wasteland to any reader who enjoys the genre… in fact, to any reader who wants to try this author’s work
‘Out of all the death and destruction has come the freedom to be who we really are.’
A hundred years after the world was devastated by the bat fever virus, the UK is a country of agricultural communities where motherhood is seen as the ideal state for a woman, new beliefs have taken over from old religions, and the city of Blackthorn casts a threatening shadow over the north of England. Legacy travels backwards in time to link up with the characters from Tipping Point, Lindisfarne and UK2.
Seventeen-year-old Bree feels stifled by the restrictions of her village community, but finds a kindred spirit in Silas, a lone traveller searching for his roots. She, too, is looking for answers: the truth behind the mysterious death, forty years earlier, of her grandmother.
In 2050, Phoenix Northam’s one wish is to follow in the footsteps of his father, a great leader respected by all who knew him…or so his mother tells him.
In 2029, on a Danish island, Lottie is homesick for Lindisfarne; two years earlier, Alex Verlander and the kingpins of the Renova group believe they have escaped the second outbreak of bat fever just in time…
Book 4 of the Project Renova series rebuilds a broken country with no central government or law, where life is dangerous and people can simply disappear…but the post-Fall world is also one of possibility, of freedom and hope for the future
“I need to say right from the start that a dystopian novel is one genre I have never read. And never intended to….”
That’s how I started my review of the first of the Project Renova Series:Tipping Point
And, being quite a wimp, if the author had been anyone else but one of my favourite writers I doubt I would ever would have.
However, for many years now I’ve enjoyed Terry Tyler’s books and so, with some trepidation, I read Tipping Point and was hooked. I waited with impatience for the second: Lindifarne… and then the third:UK21.
So when I realised there was a fourth book: Legacy I had no hesitation in buying it. And I have to say this is one of the best books I have read for a long time; an exceptional read.
As in all Terry Tyler’s novels the stories are character-led with convincing story-lines and evocative settings. And they are all written from various characters’ points of view, a method I love.
There is a skill in making a believable world from the appalling destruction of the world we live in now; that skill shines out in the whole of this series. But it is this final book, set in various time frames, that truly reveals how it could be possible to totally reinvent a new world. And it shows, both in the settings and in the characters, the good and the bad in human behaviour.
The book is populated with a great number of characters, all diverse, all rounded. There is not one character that I was ambivalent about; I either loved them ( it was wonderful to see Lottie again; even more feisty) or I hated them (I really did understand the fear that the character, Falcon North and some of his underlings could instil in others).
As always in this author’s books, the dialogue, both internal and spoken is distinctive to each character.
Strong themes are threaded throughout, of power, love – both familial and romantic (with a bit of lust thrown in for good measure), hatred, alternative beliefs, nature and, obviously, survival.
And just to say, I love all the covers of this series; They all tell a story in themselves
I am a slow reader and it’s been quite a while since I read the first three books, so it was a great help that the author has put a synopsis of each story before Legacy begins. And these are a good reminder, both of the plot and the characters. But, to me, these give only a flavour and, even though Legacy is my favourite and, for me, the strongest of the four, each book has its own unique strengths and so I would recommend readers to start with Tipping Point.
About the author:
Terry Tyler is the author of eighteen books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Legacy’, the final book in her post apocalyptic series. She is currently at work on a new dystopian series, set the UK, approximately twelve years in the future. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 14th-17th century), and sociological/cultural/anthropological stuff, generally. She loves South Park, Netflix, autumn and winter, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.
I enjoyed Wendy Steele’s The Naked Witch. It is an undemanding read with an easy to follow but convincing plot-line which runs smoothly throughout the story. This is a cross genre book, a mixture of romance and mystery threaded through with magic and witchcraft. I was particularly fascinated by these latter themes and often stopped to re-read these sections; to ponder on them and the way the protagonist was epitomised by them. On the one hand Lizzie Martin is a woman who is trying to grapple with all that life throws at her: initially unexplained difficulties within her work life, complicated struggles with her ex-husband, anxieties for an ex, but still beloved, mother-in-law, worries for a teenage daughters growing maturity. All juxtaposed with an intriguing sub plot, the truth about her father’s death. The strength of this character lies with her beliefs in the goddess that guides her and in her ability to take and centre energy in herself from the earth.
And, just as Lizzie is rounded and multi-layered so are the supporting characters. I had empathy and liking for some and instant dislike for others; a true sign of strong characterisation for me.
The descriptions of the settings: Spain, Lizzie’s home, workplace, her Sanctuary give a good sense of place.
The dialogue is believable. It is clear who is speaking and, mostly, carries the story along. I say mostly because, occasionally, and only occasionally, I felt. It slowed things down by slight repetition. In much the same way that some of the descriptions of food did in parts. I did find myself, every now and again, skipping over the sections where meals were reported. And, in a couple of places the narrative moved a little too quickly from one scene to another.
But these are small grumbles. I loved the lovely conversational style of the author’s writing, the humour that lightens the tone, the interesting insight to white witchcraft and enchanting mystical happenings. Most of all I loved the story.
I recommend The Naked Witch; it’s a good read.
Lizzie Martin’s new boss has asked her to ‘bare all’ and become more corporate.
For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen.
She has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, monitor her fourteen year old daughter’s latest crush, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life.
There is hope though.
At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.
About the Author:
In 1972, Wendy Steele came home from the Tutankhamun exhibition and wrote about her experience, beginning a writing journey which she still travels. Since working in the City BC (Before Children), she has trained in alternative therapies, belly dance and writing. Wendy combines these three disciplines to give balance to her life.
Her first novel ‘Destiny of Angels’ was published in 2012, closely followed by two short story anthologies and a non-fiction book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles’, an inspirational guide, offering ideas, meditations and recipes to make every precious day, a happy one.
Moving to Wales, the fulfilment of a 15 year dream, inspired her to write the Standing Stone book series, set in Wales in the countryside she loves.
Writing workshops in Wales widened her writing perspective and the resulting short stories have been published online and in anthologies.
Wendy writes fantasy, with a dollop of magic, exploring the ‘what if…?’ the starting point for all her stories. She lives with her partner and cats, restoring her farmhouse and immersing herself in the natural world on her doorstep.
I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.
I gave this book 5*
Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.
Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.
As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.
There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:
“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”
How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.
The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.
I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.
The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters. Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.
Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.
Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.
The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.
What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas
I was given this novel by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.
I gave Connectedness 4* out of 5*
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
I enjoyed reading Connectedness. Although it is the second novel in the ‘Identity Detective’ series that features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption, it can be read as a standalone novel. In Connectedness the story revolves around the protagonist, successful artist, Justine King, who discovers her life is, and has been, a web of lies and secrets. She is vulnerable and haunted by incidents that happened in her younger days as a student. The suspenseful plot is revealed through a clever blend of her past and present and has a steadily growing pace after an intriguing prologue.
There are numerous layers to this book, details that are cleverly drip-fed throughout to reveal many themes: of sadness and distress, memories, anger, grief, familial love, discovery, loss and regret.
The characters are well rounded and portrayed to evoke sympathy and understanding in the reader. Both the internal and spoken dialogue add to their credibility.
It is obvious the author has researched the art world that is the basis of the story. Research that adds to the character of the protagonist who uses her emotions, her fears, her pain, both consciously and unwittingly, when producing her work. There is a wonderful sense of art being part of both the human condition and the environment around us,
The descriptions of the settings of contemporary Filey in Yorkshire, Malaga in Spain in the eighties and London are evocative through the use of all the five senses and give a wonderful sense of place. At times I felt I was travelling alongside the protagonist in her journey of discovery.
And the denouement is poignant and satisfying.
Just the one reservation, and I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like the title. If I hadn’t been intrigued by the book description and if I hadn’t loved the cover on first sight, I wouldn’t have chosen Connectedness. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Suffice it to say I’m glad I did choose this book.
This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Danby It won’t be the last. The idea of the story itself is intriguing and she has a sensitive yet powerful writing style that I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy contemporary and women’s’ fiction.
About the author:
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ and ‘Connectedness’, Sandra is not adopted.
I was given Finding Max by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.
I gave this book 4* out of 5*
Five-year-old Max is abducted from a playground on a hot summer day while his brother, Gary, has his back turned. Seventeen years later, Max returns to Gary’s life in a serendipitous twist with a disturbing tale to tell. As they learn to love and trust each other, they must outwit and outrun the nefarious Quinn, who seeks to re-abduct Max for his own evil purposes. Killing Gary and his new girlfriend, Jean, to get them out of his way is just part of his plan. Will they escape? And when all is said and done, will Max and Gary ever truly be freed from the shackles of guilt and pain from the past? Amid the gritty, harsh landscape of New York City, Finding Max explores those areas of society we seldom like to look at—homelessness, hunger and sexual abuse—with profound delicacy, brutal honesty and compassion. This thrilling novel will keep you reading long into the night
Finding Max is an intriguing and powerful novel; a cross genre of psychological thriller and mystery. It’s a dark plot that is threaded through with themes of violence, abandonment and sexual abuse but these are juxtaposed and balanced by themes of courage, loyalty and love. I liked the writing style of this author and it’s obvious there has been a great deal of research into the deep-seated trauma of childhood mistreatment and cruelty. Darren Jorgensen treads a fine line but it’s done with sensitivity and skill. The reader is taken into the inner lives of the two main characters, two brothers, Guy and Max and their past and present lives.
On the whole all the characters throughout are well-rounded and believable. Both Guy and Max are multi layered. They are portrayed, individually, as damaged by their history but in different ways, Max, by his abduction as a child, and Guy, by his belief that he failed his brother by his neglect and inability to stop the abduction. But, as in all good writing, both are also depicted to grow and change as the story progresses. This transformation is helped by the introduction of Jean, Guy’s new girlfriend. I wasn’t sure, at first, by this character but eventually realised her purpose to the plot; she is an emotional go-between – having a strong impact on both brothers in the short time span
The antagonist, Quinn, is interesting; a psychopathic murderer who is shown to have a disturbing, unnatural love for Max. He stalks him, desperate to reclaim him and dangerously bitter by his belief that Guy and Jean have taken Max away from him. It’s a strong, well written portrayal of an adversary.
I deliberated over some of the dialogue; I’m not convinced by it, especially that of Max. The inner dialogue, on the whole, is excellent, revealing the horror, the terror, the power of the mind and it gives understanding to some of Max’s irrational behaviour and need to hide, to run away. But the spoken dialogue he is given doesn’t always ring true; there is a sophistication there that feels wrong for this naive character. And, without the dialogue tags, it is occasionally difficult to discern who is speaking, Guy, portrayed as an educated and socially competent man, or Max.
The description of the settings: Guy’s office, the shelter where he is based as a social worker, and his apartment; the way homelessness on the streets is shown, give a brilliant sense of place. I could see the world the characters move around in.
Besides my thoughts on the dialogue, I had only a few reservations. Firstly, I felt that the pace of the plot was slowed down, in places, by the unnecessarily introduction of issues not particularly relevant to the story, Secondly, I was never quite sure about the coincidence of Max walking into the drop-in centre where Gary is based. But, for the sake of the plot, I accepted it as possible.
I think it also should be said that there are explicit details of child sexual abuse some readers may find upsetting.
Although Finding Max is a standalone novel it is open- ended and could lead to a sequel.
On the whole this is a powerful and absorbing read. One I would recommend in particular to readers who enjoy a dark physiological crime genre
It’s been quite a while since I read a book in one go but I couldn’t put this one down. Someone Close to Home sent me through a whole range of emotions; delight, sadness, anger, joy, frustration. And this is a debut novel! The writing style of Alex Craigie is sophisticated, emotive and empathetic.
The start of the story grabbed me straightaway: the image of the protagonist, Megan, watching “each minuscule judder of the hand (of the clock)”, her immobility and her thoughts on her childhood, especially of her selfish and destructive mother who Megan loathed – still loathes, is compulsive reading. There is one sentence that foreshadows all that happens as the story continues: ‘This is all down to my mother… she’s been dead for over thirty years now and still she’s poisoning my life.”
This is a story of two halves: the time that Megan is in the badly-run care home, which lasts around six months and is told in present tense, mainly through the internal dialogue of the protagonist, and the whole of her childhood and younger life.told in past tense as flashbacks. The latter leads the reader inexorably to the point where Megan is lying helpless after suffering a stroke. She is at the mercy of mostly inattentive carers, poorly paid and resentful. Their actions, the way they carry out their tasks on Megan is described simply by her; they are tasks done to her, sometimes carefully, sometimes without heed. And then there is the carer, Annie… I’ll say no more.
The description of of the protagonist’s days evoke the dreariness. The word, “waiting” is repeated so many times that I, as the reader, also waited with Megan, knowing, with some dread, that something awful will happen.
The main characters: Gideon (childhood friend and later the man she loves. Claire, her true friend in later life, Jordan, Megan’s husband, egotistical actor and a cruel man, Theo and Camilla, her greedy and selfish children), are many layered and well portrayed; their dialogue identifies them immediately. And, although there are many flat characters,, in the guise of the carers and the owner of the care home, the author also gives them distinguishable voices.
The descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place. The room Megan is lying in is told in meticulous but confined detail. We see the limited view she has, and only that. (it did give me a sense of claustrophobia, I must admit.). There is “the sturdy chest of drawers topped with shapes that will become a television and some framed photographs”as “the heavy grey light” “pushes into the room” after a long sleepless night”. We hear “the rattle of trolleys” that she knows is “laden with clean and soiled bedding”, the “insistent buzzing” of room bells, the “moans, shouts and cussing from room nearby punctuated by the chivying of staff”. We feel her pain through the roughness of the care, the threat of bed sores. And the details of the places in her childhood, the houses she lived in, countries she visited as a professional pianist, are full of evocative imagery.
It’s a plot that moves at an even pace but, ultimately, it’s also one that took me by surprise. Even closely following the actions of the characters in the story still didn’t prepare me for the ending.
Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie is a book I thoroughly recommend to any reader.
Talented pianist Megan Youngblood has it all – fame, fortune and Gideon.
But Gideon isn’t good enough for Megan’s ambitious, manipulative mother, whose meddling has devastating repercussions for Megan and for those close to her.
Now, trapped inside her own body, she is unable to communicate her needs or fears as she faces institutional neglect in an inadequate care home.
And she faces Annie. Sadistic Annie who has reason to hate her. Damaged Annie who shouldn’t work with vulnerable people.
Just how far will Annie go?
Born in Sunderland, in the north of England, Alex has wended her way south via Eccles, Bramhall, Histon, Cambridge, Leicester and Market Harborough before finally coming to rest thirty years ago in a peaceful village in Wales. She lives in an old, draughty house with stone walls 2’ thick that make any DIY a real challenge and she knows she’s really lucky to have all her children and grandchildren living close by. It’s often chaotic and noisy but these are her most treasured moments and she savours them – even if she’s reduced to an immovable heap after they’ve gone. When not writing, reading or simply enjoying the rural life, she’s in the garden waging a war of attrition against the brambles that she encourages in the hedges for birds to nest in, vicious nettles that support a variety of butterflies, and bindweed that looks lovely but doesn’t share nicely with the other plants.
Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library. Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.
Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair. I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh. She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead. I was lucky to grab some time with her.
Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie. They thought I was mad.
Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.
Jessie: I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff? Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting. I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.
We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library. The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat. Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith.
Jessie: Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.
Judith: We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth. We bought a half-built house and renovated it.
Jessie: Do you miss Yorkshire?
Judith: Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up. I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age. As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass. People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books. Lucky them!
Jessie: Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books. How did the writing start?
Judith: Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently. I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.
Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre. The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.
Judith: I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing. Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive. My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’
Jessie: What’s Pattern of Shadows about?
Judith: It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town. When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material. Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.
Jessie: I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a great read. The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads. I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant. I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds. For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.
Judith: Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes. I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then. People say my books are dark. Have you got to the gory bits?
Jessie: Well, there has been a murder.
Judith: No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait. Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background. I don’t know why Winifred married him.
Jessie: Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of? I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet. I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.
Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie. But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father. And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy. As I said, our lives shape us.
Jessie: I agree and people interest me too.
Judith: Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga. I can see it now. I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.
Jessie: I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research. I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into. Thanks for your advice.
Judith: No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!). Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home. It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books. I never stop watching and am always so busy.
Jessie: I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.
Judith: Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore. It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.
Jessie: What advice would you give to fledgling writers?
Judith: Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog. The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.
Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?
Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag. She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda.
Judith: As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing. I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!
Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her. Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line. I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun. Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue. She told me she is ‘living each day’. She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors. Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.
Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.
Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.
Love, music and secrets are woven together in this poignant, heart-warming narrative.
Set in a Welsh village, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships. The reader is invited to laugh and cry, with the characters, and find joy in the simple things in life. Listen to the music and enjoy the food, as you peek inside the world of the inhabitants of Delfryn.
Let Sophie show you that no one can go it alone. Who knows, you may find some friends with big hearts…
I really liked You Can’t Go It Alone, there are so many familiar ‘human life’ threads running throughout the relationships of the characters And there are a lot of up and down real life moments throughout, some poignant, some sad, some joyous, some humorous, some unexpected. All thought provoking. There is one sentence that foreshadows the troubles and upsets that will affect them;”The sun was trying to make an appearance but the clouds were dancing in the sky as if they intended to win the dual.”
The characters are well drawn and multi layered. From the protagonist, Sophie who, with her husband, Jack, has recently moved to the village in the hope of a new life (in more ways than one), to the owners of the cafe, Rosa, the ever optimist, and Matteo, a quick tempered, jealous husband and their daughter, the talented Olivia. And then there is the delightful young Daisy.
The dialogue is exceptional; the personalities of the characters were instantly revealed to me, as the reader, through both the internal and the spoken speech.
It’s the Olive Tree Café is where most of the action occurs and there is a strong sense of the cafe’s ambience. Indeed, all of the settings have a good sense of place and it’s almost as if the Delfryn itself is personified as a character in the story, with the interweaving, individual lives it holds at its centre.
Initially the story appears to be a lighthearted look at life in a Welsh village but it is soon revealed that, as the book description says, this really is anexploration of “the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women”.
Jessie Cahalin has a lovely light touch with her poetic prose; there are numerous sections which immediately evoke wonderful images and emotions and many sentences that made me stop to reread them just for the sheer beauty of the language.
I recommendJessie Cahalin’s debut novel; You Can’t Go It Alone is an interesting and thoughtful story
Jessie is a bookish blogger, word warrior and intrepid virtual explorer. She loves to entertain with stories, and is never seen without: her camera, phone, notebook and handbag. Fellow authors have deemed her ‘creative and quirky’ and she wears these words like a blogging badge of honour.
Having overcome her fear of self-publishing, she is now living the dream of introducing the characters who have been hassling her for decades. Her debut novel, ‘You Can’t Go It Alone’, is a heart-warming tale about the challenges women still face in society. The novel has light-hearted moments and presents hope. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ Connecting with authors via her Books in my Handbag Blog is a blast. She showcases authors’ books in the popular Handbag Gallery and has fun meeting authors in her virtual world. Communicating with her authors, still gives Jessie a creative buzz.
Jessie Cahalin hails from Yorkshire, but as a book blogger, she has realised that her country of origin is probably The World. She loves to travel the world and collects cultural gems like a magpie. She searches for happy endings, where possible, and needs great coffee, food and music to give her inspiration.
I was given this book by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.
I gaveThe Usurper King 4* out of 5*
The Usurper King takes place in an alternate universe where the serial killer Ted Bundy was never apprehended and is now running for president in 2016.
Jim, a sufferer of a hybrid computer-biological virus that causes premature aging, tries to pay for his treatments by winning money on the game show ‘Guts!’, which has contestants competitively predict the future by reading animal entrails.
As Jim begins to find omens in the entrails of Bundy’s victory, and details of Bundy’s murderous past are uncovered, Jim and another contestant take it upon themselves to stop his ascent to power before it’s too late
For once I’m stuck on how to review a book. Not only because I’m not sure how to describe the genre; The Usurper King crosses both fantasy, humour and political thriller; all mixed up together with some humour that more than borders on satire. The author has a quirky writing style that I admired and there are some brilliant observations on the human condition. Yet parts of the story did make me cringe and skip small sections; those parts were the descriptions on extispicy: (the practice of predicting the future or reading omens by reading the entrails and liver of animals. And yes, it did exist; I looked it up. And yes, I do know I’m a wimp.
But here I’m reviewing the book itself so I’ll break it down. As I said Zeb Haradon can write, it’s a fascinating, slightly convoluted plot told in the protagonists’s first person point of view, Jim Galesh; a forty year old, divorced alcoholic who has contracted a disease called TAP: Technologically Acquired Progeria, that is ageing him quicker than normal. This character jumps off the page, he is so rounded and believable, in what is otherwise a fantastical scenario. And, generally, the other characters are multi layered as well.
The dialogue is good and more than fills out the protagonist’s character.There is a good sense of place throughout. And I found the ending clever and a total surprise,
A couple of problems that occurred in places: the pacing of the plot was slightly erratic, and there are punctuation and syntax errors throughout.
But, to end on a positive note and to emphasise comments I made earlier; Zeb Haradon is an author to watch out for. I recommend The Usurper King for its originality, its sardonic observations of life and a great writing style
Llys y Garn is a rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion with vestiges of older glories.
It lies in the isolated parish of Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire. It is the house of the parish, even in its decline, deeply conscious of its importance, its pedigree and its permanence. It stubbornly remains though the lives of former inhabitants have long since passed away. Only the rooks are left to bear witness to the often desperate march of history.
Throne Moore’s Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn comprises a trio of historical novellas that let us into secrets known only to these melancholy birds.
The Good Servant is the story of Nelly Skeel, loveless housekeeper at Llys y Garn at the end of the 19th century, whose only focus of affection is her master’s despised nephew. But for Cyril Lawson she will do anything, whatever the cost.
The Witch tells of Elizabeth Powell, born as Charles II is restored to the English throne, in a world of changing political allegiances, where religious bigotry and superstition linger on. Her love is not for her family, her duty, her God or her future husband, but for the house where she was born. For that she would sell her soul.
The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad ferch Owain in the early decades of the 14th century. Angharad is an expendable asset in her father’s machinations to recover old rights and narrow claims, but she dreams of bigger things and a world without the roaring of men. A world that might spare her from the seemingly inevitable fate of all women.
In these three tales the rooks of Llys y Garn have watched centuries of human tribulation – but just how much has really changed? If you enjoyed the kaleidoscopic sweep of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas you will appreciate Long Shadows.
I have long been an admirer of Thorne Moore’s work and have not been disappointed with these three novellas in Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn
Thefirst, The Good Servant is told from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Skeel; the protagonist, living at the end of the nineteenth century. Well rounded and well portrayed in her actions, there is a vulnerability about this character; as the reader I found myself both can empathising and sympathising with her and yet being exasperated. Yet should I? She is of her time and of a certain status in her world.
And, so, on to The Witch. This story, set in the seventeenth century, takes the reader through the early years of Elizabeth Powell to her adult life. Told mainly from the protagonist’s point of view with the occasional insight to one or two of the other characters from a third person narrator, the emphasis is on the restrictions of the religion at that time. and the class struggles; land versus money. I liked Elizabeth, which is something I cannot say about Anthony, her brother. Always there is hope that all will be well but there is an all encompassing darkness to her story…
The Dragon Slayer is the story of Angharad ferch Owain, living during the fourteenth century. Also told from the protagonist’s point of view we read of her fear of her father, of her future. This protagonist I liked the most. The ending is satisfying. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. As with the first two novellas, this tale is dark with themes of the women being mere chattels to be bargained with, used for the progression in society of their families.
I enjoyed the way the women were portrayed as having a strength and internal rebellion. But yet there was always the conflicts of status and money, of land and possessions, of greed and thwarted love. Of patriarchy.
In all three novellas, both the internal and spoken dialogue the author has the tone and subtle dialect that I imagine Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire to have been in those eras.
And, in all, the descriptions of the buildings, of Llys y Garn and of the ever-changing Welsh countryside are evocative and easily imagined.
Just a comment about the style of the book:
The intriguing Prelude, giving the history of the “rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion” that is Llys y Garn, is fascinating. And I loved the short explanations of the after-years of novella. And then we have the Interludes; told in a conversational tone these are filled both with historical details and those pertinent to the story,. Finally, the Epilogue, giving the continuing, ever-evolving history of Llys y Garn through the following centuries.
It is apparent that the author has researched thoroughly for each of these stories; the themes of Welsh legends, myths, superstitions and tales are woven throughout the history of the decades.
Watch out for the ravens
This is a collection of novellas I can thoroughly recommend to any reader, especially those who enjoys historical literature.
Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister but now spends her time writing and making miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton. She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” and her first novel, A Time For Silence, was published by Honno in 2012. Motherlove and The Unravelling followed, also published by Honno. She has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. Her last novel, Shadows, was published by Endeavour in 2017. She’s a member of the Crime Writers Association.
Praise for Thorne Moore and her novels:
“Thorne Moore is a huge talent. Her writing is intensely unsettling and memorable” – SALLY SPEDDING, AUTHOR
“Totally had me hooked from page one… Highly recommended if you love a good psychological thriller” – BROOK COTTAGE BOOKS
“I devoured this book. Beautifully written, frighteningly real” – CHILL WITH A BOOK
“A compelling blend of mystery and family drama with a gothic twist… The author’s ability to create an atmosphere is exceptional” – JUDITH BARROW, AUTHOR
“Beautifully told, this really did have me captivated” – CLEOPATRA LOVES BOOKS
“Moore has created a figure who reaches out across the decades and grabs our sympathy… Her character transforms the novel” – BOOKERTALK
I gave The List: Volume 1 (A Jonah Greene Thriller) 5*
D.S. Jonah Greene’s police career is at a dead end. Following three months of stress-related sick leave, he is sidelined from his C.I.D. team and transferred to the Coroner’s Office. His first body is that of a homeless man who froze to death.
What should be a straightforward case takes an unexpected turn when Greene is handed a list, containing seven names, in the dead man’s handwriting. Greene investigates the names and discovers a tale of greed and murder which stretches back to the mid-1990s.
His career, his marriage, and his life may be threatened, but he will not give up until he has found the truth and brought the guilty to justice.
I’m getting hooked on crime thrillers and The List is no exception. The author presents a complex and, for me, a baffling plot that kept me guessing right up the end. Wonderful!! The reader learns very early on that the protagonist, Jonah Greene, has many problems, both with his career and in his marriage, And the character is so rounded, so multi- layered that it’s impossible not to empathise with him.
Unlike some of the other characters! Well written, equally rounded, but with motives and actions that there is little to empathise with. Still fascinating though.
The action moves from the story’s present to the past, with sections interspersed and told from the four antagonist’s viewpoint, and the rest from Jonah Greene’ s point of view.
Both the internal and spoken dialogue is first-rate; there is no doubt who is speaking at any time, even without dialogue tags.
And the settings, both domestic and those of the crimes, described well, using all the senses so evocatively it is easy to imagine being right in the scene, which isn’t always comfortable. Just the reaction a crime thriller should have, in my opinion.
I have thought long and hard about the star rating with The List;=Normally, if there are errors with punctuation, words incorrect or missing, grammar, I tend to mark lower. And all these are present in this book; it really does need another proofread. But I enjoyed the story so much I decided to ignore these and just give a heads-up to the author for reference, So hence the five stars.
This us a book I can thoroughly recommend to all readers who enjoy a good crime thriller
Graham H Miller has been writing since his teenage years when he had a scenario printed in a role playing magazine. Since then he’s written articles, guest posts and a book on pagan subjects. His brain is always at work, with more ideas than time. He is a house-husband proudly perpetuating the stereotype by writing books while his three boys are at school. He has two blogs that are erratically updated – one about life as father to three special boys and the other covering his thoughts on writing and the publishing process. His interests include prehistory, classic cars, anything Viking and learning Welsh. Fascinated by everything, he lives in South Wales and is older than he thinks he is!
As a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT I was given The Black Orchestra by the author in return for an honest review.
I gave The Black Orchestra 3* out of 5*.
WW2 Germany. The German war machine has invaded Poland and is advancing west toward France. In Berlin Kurt Muller, an Abwehr signalman, discovers a colleague lying dead at his radio receiver. The criminal police dismiss the death as suicide, but Kurt is not convinced. Kurt follows a trail of mysteries, witnessing several atrocities that expose the Nazi regime for what it truly is. When the trail leads him to the German resistance, he faces the most difficult choices of his life. He must choose between his duty and his conscience, between his country and his family, between love and death.
I have to say I struggled with this book and it took a long time to read, mainly because the beginning is convoluted and littered with so many characters that each time I picked it up again, I needed to go back to see who was who, what rank they held and and where they fitted into the Nazi regime.
However, around three quarters through, the book became easier to read and was interesting.
After reading the first part of the book, and to be fair to the author, I knew I needed to make notes on what was working for me and what didn’t. (it’s the first time I’ve done this) So here are my thoughts:
I know little about the intricacies of the Nazi regime during WW2 so I had to take the military rankings, the way the regime worked and the historical details within the book at face value Though some of the scenes did seem a little far fetched.
I felt that many of the characters deserved more ‘fleshing out’ because of the part they play in the story. The protagonist, Kurt Müller, grows more rounded as the story unfolds and becomes easier to empathise with. The female characters, Gudren, Liesal and Tania are well portrayed but I felt that some of the sections they were each in could have been given more depth. The descent of Kurt’s friend, Alex, is well written and reflects the breakdown of the society at the time. I would have liked more to be shown of the character of main antagonist, Uncle Reinhard; his function in the plot is enormous but, for me, he wasn’t layered enough.
The dialogue was more difficult to judge as, of course, it’s necessary to believe most of the characters are speaking in German. It became more realistic in the parts where the protagonist is in Ireland. I did like the passages between him and his mother; the dialogue is good and the love between them is palpable.
There is a good sense of place, both in Germany and in Ireland. The tension that is in some segments of the story is reflected in the descriptions of these backgrounds.
The general plot-line is thought-provoking because it gives the story from the angle of Germany at that time. But quite a lot of the scenes are rushed and told rather than shown. And I felt somewhat disappointed with the denouement; it appears to be hastily written and a little unbelievable. I’m not sure if my dissatisfaction was because of the way the characters, Kurt and Gudren were shown in this part or through the action in the story itself.
I think, overallThe Black Orchestra could be viewed as a cross genre book, rather than a thriller. There is the capacity for it to be an intriguing spy novel, to fit into the historical genre and also for romantic fiction. But as it stands it seems, to me anyway, that it doesn’t quite make it in any.
Note: After I’d written my review I searched for the book on Amazon. The Black Orchestra has quite a few reviews and there are some good comments. Being fascinated by the era, I’d hoped to enjoy the story more, but maybe it just wasn’t for me.
My background is in Mathematics and computing. After 35 years developing computer systems all over Europe, I dropped out and began writing. I’ve been writing full time since 2007 and have amassed countless short stories and 5 novels, 4 of which have been published as eBooks for the kindle. The two WW2 historical novels, ‘The Black Orchestra’ and its sequel ‘The Wings of the Eagle’ are my most successful so far. ‘The Black Orchestra’ is also available as a POD.
I live in Ireland, but a significant fraction of my extended family lives in Australia.