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.
Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.—Simone Signoret
In my last post here, I talked about why I could never do a generational family saga like the epic miniature tales and historical sweep of Judith Barrow’s Howarth family trilogy. But it wasn’t until I read the title of the prequel, 100 Tiny Threads, that I really started to understand what she was building wasn’t so much a generational epic, but an examination of the things that tie families together even as they drive them apart.
SERIES REVIEW: 5 out of 5 stars for Howarth Family Trilogy, Prequel, and Anthology
Mary is a nursing sister at Lancashire prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs. Life at work is difficult but fulfilling, life at home a constant round of arguments, until Frank Shuttleworth…
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.
This book was submitted to Rosie’s Book Review Team, #RBRT and, as a member of the team I was given a copy of The Yellow Bills in return for an honest review.
I gave The Yellow Bills 4* out of 5*
Mya loves planes and wants to be a pilot when she grows up. As luck would have it she comes across a flying school run by lieutenant Drake who awards his pupils splendid pilot hats when they graduate. Mya wants to join the class but there’s just one problem. She’s not a duck! Could Goose the little duckling with big flying ambitions be the key to Mya getting her pilot’s hat? Or will Mr Sour the teacher who never quite made the grade have other ideas…Inspired by authors such as Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, Michelle weaves a story with the humour and invention of Nick Ward’s ‘Charlie Small’ series meets Dick King Smith’s wonder of the animal world
This is a children’s book, suitable for around six to nine years. It’s a well written story of perseverance and friendship told with gentle humour, the text interspersed with lovely ink-drawn illustrations.
Mya is a strong well-rounded female protagonist with Goose as a great side-kick. Ill matched in appearance they may be, but bonded together with one aim, they make a good team.
The steadily-paced narrative is easy to follow, with just enough descriptive passages ,and the dialogue is straight-forward.
I really liked the author’s style of writing. I should imagine that many children will as well.
And I love the brightly coloured, comical cover.
The Yellow Bills is definitely one book I would recommend.
Two decades of social media had prepared them well for UK2.’
The pace steps up in this final instalment of the Project Renova trilogy, 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 walked through that grey afternoon, past fields that nobody had tended for nearly three years, past broken down, rusty old vehicles, buildings with smashed windows. I was walking alone at the end of the world, but I was a happy man. I was free, at last.’
Although this concludes the Project Renova trilogy, there will be more books in the series. A collection of five side stories is planned, and another novel, set far into the future.
i have long enjoyed Terry Tylers’ work and I have read almost everything she has written. However, when I heard she had changed genres and written an end of the world novel I hesitated. Only once had I read a dystopian book – and I hated it. What I forgot, at first, was that, not only does this author write a cracking good story, whatever the subject, she creates brilliantly rounded characters that take on a life of their own…and live, and grow and change as the plots progress. I took a chance and was hooked. I read the first of the trilogy Tipping Point (you can read my review here). Following the lives of the characters through desperate times was both fascinating and felt unbelievably real. The second of the trilogy, Lindisfarne; my review here, continues the story and, from my point of view, is equally riveting.
And so to this last book, UK2, the conclusion of the the story (at least for the time being – as we see in the book description, Terry Tyler has other ideas). But, for now the stories of each of these characters I have grown to know and understand have sailed off into the distance.
There are so many well-rounded characters I honestly wouldn’t know where to start (and would probably ramble on for pages!). Some of the characters are told by a third person omniscient narrator, which allows the reader to sit back and observe. But many characters tell whole chapters from their own points of view. It’s interesting to hear the internal voices of Lottie, Vicky and Doyle, with their opinions on the world they are living in; all developing in the way good characters should in a novel. I was well impressed the way one character, Flora, changed. Oh, and I should mention the appearance of two characters I instantly loved, Seren and Hawk.
The dialogue is, as usual, good; some of the voices of the characters with the intonations subtly changed as the characters go forward in their stories, some immediately recognisable.
The settings, whether of Lindisfarne, the devastated Britain of the past, UK Central (ruled over by the plastic ‘Hollywood-style governor Verlander’) or islands far away, give a brilliant sense of place.
I have to be honest, it is a complex book with plots and subplots intertwined and a whole plethora of characters; so I can only recommend that readers start with the first book of the trilogy. And, to be fair, this is what the author recommends.
But, having the last word (well, this is my review!), whatever your preferred genre, give this series a go…you’ll be hooked.
Terry Tyler is the author of seventeen books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘UK2’, the third book in her new post apocalyptic series. She is proud to be self-published, is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and loves history, winter, South Park and Netflix. She lives in the north east of England with her husband; she is still trying to learn Geordie.
I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team#RBRT in return for an honest review
I gave That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel 4*out of 5*
Mia Flanagan has never been told who her father is and aged ten, stopped asking. Haunted by this, she remains a dutiful daughter who would never do anything to bring scandal or shame on her beautiful and famously single mother. So when Archie Fitzgerald, one of Hollywood’s favourite actors, decides to leave Mia his Irish estate she asks herself – is he her father after all? That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel is a tale of passion, jealousy and betrayal – and the ghost of a secret love that binds this colourful cast yet still threatens, after all these years, to tear each of them apart.
I did enjoy That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel, I really did. Whether it was the actual story, the way the narrative flows, the many differing characters, the sense of place that is so evocative throughout by the descriptions… I’m not sure. The reason I’m hesitant to say why I enjoyed this book is that the narrative actually goes into all the characters’ heads; we hear all their points of view, even the minor characters, sometimes only for a sentence or two. It’s odd, this usually irritates me. But the way this story is written it fits somehow
It’s a well worn plot in many ways; girl let down by boyfriend, handsome stranger on the sidelines; love finds a way, despite so many obstacles. But there are numerous other threads woven throughout that add depth and intrigue (including one very large and intriguing mystery – see the hint in the book description; I’m not the one who will give away spoilers! )
There are some great rounded characters; quirky, poignant, funny, slightly wicked antagonists, and a great child character. Mostly I liked the way the protagonist grew in strength as the story progressed.
And each character is unmistakable in their dialogue; no dialogue tags needed a lot of the time, which, I think keeps the narrative moving well, especially at important section of the plot
There are wonderful descriptions of the scenery and the settings, although sometimes these (mostly of the sea and sky) were a little too drawn out and repetitive and took me out of the story
This was a different read for me. I usually enjoy novels where I can follow and empathise with one, maybe two, characters but, as I said before, this time it works (mostly).
There is one point where I would have liked to have more of a build up, more detail, more atmosphere. It’s a scene where one character threatens Mia. Already portrayed as obnoxious,yet not threatening, here he is menacing. Yet I felt that it didn’t quite work and the protagonist wasn’t shown to be really afraid. We are told she is but I didn’t really get any sense of real fear and the scene is quickly glossed over. Though it is actually a pivotal romantic point in the plot.
But, all in all this bookworked for me and I have no hesitation in recommending That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel to readers who enjoy contemporary women’s fiction with a hint or two of mystery.
Adrienne Vaughan has been making up stories since she could speak; primarily to entertain her sister Reta, who from a very early age never allowed a plot or character to be repeated – tough gig!
As soon as she could pick up a pen, she started writing them down. No surprise she wanted to be a journalist; ideally the editor of a glossy music and fashion magazine, so she could meet and marry a rock star – some of that came true! And in common with so many, she still holds the burning ambition to be a ‘Bond Girl
I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.
I gave Hiding 4*out of 5*
Keller Baye and Rebecca Brown live on different sides of the Atlantic. Until she falls in love with him, Rebecca knows nothing of Keller. But he’s known about her for a very long time, and now he wants to destroy her.
This is the story of two families. One living under the threat of execution in North Carolina. The other caught up in a dark mystery in the Scottish Highlands. The families’ paths are destined to cross. But why? And can anything save them when that happens?
(Jenny Morton Potts takes to the psychological thriller stage on an international canvass, and with a unique, bold voice.)
I enjoyed this book; Jenny Morton Potts has created a good psychological thriller; great plot, believable characters, good dialogue.
Hiding follows two main characters from different countries, both well-rounded and many layered: Rebecca, the protagonist, brought up in the Scottish Highlands with her siblings by her grandparents. It’s a bleak seemingly loveless household according to the narrative from Rebecca’s point of view. But there are many unanswered questions, especially about the death of here parents; killed in a car accident. And Keller Baye, the antagonist; an American youth, and son of a murderer. His narrative is revealed slowly and is, initially, more difficult to grasp. But what is obvious is the lack of love in his upbringing, and explains his total absence of empathy for anyone in his world. (I use the word ‘world’ on purpose, rather than his ‘life’; right from the start his character is portrayed as distanced from any other character in the story – he seemed to me to be more of a spectator). The most unsettling is his graphic, almost internal narration of his presence at his father’s execution.
Told alternately from each of the two main characters’ point of view, the plot lines are related both in the present and in flashbacks, (a device I like as a reader; to me this always adds so many more layers).
But it wasn’t only these two characters that came alive for me; most of the minor characters are many layered as well; some I liked, some I didn’t – which, is, undoubtedly, as the author intended
And both the internal and spoken dialogue expands on all the characters and there is never any doubt who is speaking.
The descriptions of the settings give a great sense of place; it’s easy to envisage each scene. From the descriptions of the isolated chilly mansion in Highlands of Scotland to the cramped unloving house that was Keller Baye’s home with his aunt in the USA, to the external scenes when each character is telling their own narrative and on to the scenes where they are eventually together.
As I said earlier it’s a great plot; seemingly separate tales with no connection, both well told, until a sudden realisation that there is an inevitable link.
Initially there is an even pace to the two separate narratives but then the suspense builds up as threads of the parallel stories intertwine and connect.A gripping read.
And right up to the last chapter I would have given Hiding five stars. So many small twists and turns, so many suspenseful moments joining up all the past narrative. But then, for me, it ended too abruptly. I won’t say how, and no doubt other readers will have their own opinions. But the gradual deepening of the plot and the lead up towards the end worked so well – and then…it was over; a sudden and unsatisfying denouement.
A last point; I love the cover; the silhouette of the woman looking outwards as though searching, the grim image of the man’s face as though watching; the contrast of light and dark. Wonderful!
Despite my reservations of the ending (and I leave that point for other readers to decide), I would certainly recommend Hiding. Jenny Morton Potts has a great style of writing.
Jenny writes contemporary novels and plays. Her new psychological thriller ‘Hiding’ was published in February. Her sceenplay for ‘Piano from a 4th Storey Window’ was filmed recently in Sussex. The editor’s first draft is available to watch on Jenny’s website (above). She lives with her partner and son in Thaxted.
I received this book from the author in return for an honest review
IS YOUR GIRLFRIEND PREGNANT?
How ready are you for that?
How would you deal with becoming a parent before you’ve left school?
One thing’s for sure, you can’t unmake babies. A fact that’s borne in on Peter Knight and Samantha Smithson, sixth formers at the South East Comprehensive in Deptford, living at a time when many parents are still of the old school and pregnancy outside marriage carries a stigma. Having to face their parents, their school friends, teachers and gossip is only the beginning. Pete’s plans for university are scotched as he must seek work and accommodation suitable for a young family. And all the time he still wants to have fun, with ‘friends’ quite happy to tempt him to do it.
As for Samantha, abortion is no easy option. Yet as her health and her faith in Peter goes up and down, she may have to think the unthinkable
If Only I’d Listened is a family saga and has a good sense of the era; the sixties. It’s obvious the author has researched well from the details of the background to the lives of the characters; the attitudes, the class, the morals. And there is also a great sense of place so I could imagine the characters moving around the area.
Compared with the nostalgia for the ‘Swinging Sixties’ the book reflects the confinements of family life, the expectations of parents, the tentative pushing against the boundaries of the teenage characters in the story.
It’s an age-old plot: boy gets girl pregnant, parents from different classes disapprove, boy, realising his planned future is in jeopardy, panics and distances himself from girl. Girl left holding the baby… or is she?
A good story-line but I won’t give away spoilers.
The characters are all fairly rounded and evolve as the book progresses in their own way.
The dialogue differentiates the characters well.
As I said it’s an age-old plot that never goes stale. And it’s an easy read, I quite liked the author’s style of writing.
The pace of the story was a problem for me. There is a lot of time spent in parts of the story, to the point where it felt rather laboured and where I wanted it to move on so I could read what happened next. And then the conclusion felt rushed.
But there is a lot of potential in this debut novel. Perhaps it needs just one more edit to tighten up the text
I was born in Devon during the second world war. Aged six I moved with my parents to Buckinghamshire where I lived until I left home aged nineteen to train as a nurse. For the last ten years I have been writing articles for the national magazines on different subjects including hand spinning. In 2011 I was commissioned to write my first book – Hand Spinning and Natural Dyeing. If Only I’d Listened is my debut novel, it took three years to write. The novel is based in London during the 60’s. Pete a seventeen year old school boy gets Samantha aged sixteen, pregnant. Samantha spends the nine months in and out of hospital while Pete is encouraged by his friends to go out and about and have have fun which he does, in between having upsets with his parents.
I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) in return for an honest review.
I gave Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day 5* out of 5*
Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.
Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?
Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.
I think the book description, with all the open questions, reveals all that is needed to say about the story to draw any reader in.
I loved this novella. Although inspired by letters written by the author’s Great Uncle Fred, and written from a third person point of view, it’s Sandy Day’s light touch in her writing style that brings out the poignancy of what is essentially a ghost story.
I actually found it strangely frustrating that Fred Sadler is unable to make his relatives understand that it was his experiences in the First World War that permanently damaged him and led to his erratic lifestyle afterwards .
And it reminded me that ultimately we are all seen by others from their own perspectives. Bearing in mind that this is essentially a true story, (and not knowing if Viola’s viewpoint of him has, in truth, been gleaned from those letters of his) this disturbed and upset me for Fred.
Which, I suppose, shows how strong is the portrayal of the protagonist – ghost or not.
The juxtaposition of memories and present day actions, recollections and interpretations of Fred’s life through the contents of his battered old suitcase ,as the family study and comment over them, saddened me.
This is a reflective and insightful story that will stay with me for quite a while.
And, my goodness, the cover! The young soldier, veiled by the handwriting, standing upright and proud in his uniform, as yet unaware of what faced him. Powerful image.
And what I would give to be able to read those letters.
I realise this is quite a short review for me but I hope it’s enough to show how strongly I recommend Fred’s Funeral to any readers. A novella not to be missed.
Sandy Day is the author of Fred’s Funeral and Chatterbox, Poems. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.
I reviewed the book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review
I gave Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss 3* out of 5*
A highly readable story about a remarkable life Rosemary S, librarian, NetGalley
Great story about a daughter trying to find her path after she uncovers her mother’s life and secrets, Strongly recommends, CLJ Reviewer, NetGalley
An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same.
After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?
Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.
The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past. But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life?
As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future?
Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams. We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love. A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones. A 2016 B.RA.G. medallion honoree
Castles in the Air is a form of an epistolary memoir, written by the daughter of Molly Ripley. that, through diary journals belonging to the author’s father, Don, and letters sent by Molly to a family friend, Steve, traces her mother’s life through childhood in wartime and later through her education and work. From the tone of the letters it seems her attraction to Steve lasts well into adulthood. I wondered why his letters were not kept.
The story begins when Molly’ is eleven in 1937. Her letters date from when she and her parents were about to leave England to go to the Far East where her father has important work. These are minutely detailed and, I’m afraid to say, laborious letters of life on the ship, shopping trips, parties, friendships. I would have loved some setting, some information of the world around Molly at this time but, of course, it needs to be kept in mind that this was a child writing. The father’s journals are really sparse notes also.
I found the second half of the story more interesting; the accounts of the family’s struggles, financially and emotionally, from the author’s point of view as she sees her parents from a distance. There is both sadness and poignancy threaded throughout the text after Molly’s marriage, the move to Malaysia, to a rubber plantation,back to England, and then on to New Zealand. there is also the interesting/curious continuing friendship with Steve (seemingly resented by Molly’s husband?) And copious accounts of Molly’s drug addiction.
Time and again throughout Castles in the Air it occurred to me that it would have been fascinating to use all of Molly’s letter and journals as research for a fictitious story. But I am aware that this is a memoir; lovingly and obviously sometimes painfully written by Alison Ripley Cubitt.
The Book Description is so enticing I was eager to read this memoir but I have to say I was disappointed overall. It is a good family memoir which is surely fascinating to and for the author’s family. I think what I wanted more of, was a greater sense of place and more rounded characters. I realise this is probably impossible to glean from the scantdetails through letters and journals.
After writing this review I have looked for Castles in the Air on Amazon. There are some good five star reviews there; it may be this was just not the style of memoir I enjoy.
Alison Ripley Cubitt is an author, memoirist, novelist and screenwriter. Her most recent piece for The Telegraph was a story on the filming location of the hit tv series Indian Summers. She wrote a screenwriting column for Writing Magazine for nine years.
Other books by this author: Buying a House in New Zealand: Find Your Perfect Home (2nd edition) Mosaics 2: A Collection of Independent Women Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss Buying a House in New Zealand (first edition) Retiring to Australia and New Zealand (with Deborah Penrith)
She co-writes thrillers with Sean Cubitt as Lambert Nagle. Their books and short stories include: Capital Crimes Revolution Earth Fractured (short story)