Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Notes Of A Naive Traveler by @JSAauthor #Travel #Nepal

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Notes From A Naive Traveler by Jennifer S Alderson


4 out of 5 stars

This is quite a short book, written in semi-diary format, partly in emails, about the author’s travels in 1999.  The then 26-year-old Jennifer plunges in at the deep end, living first with a Nepali family, trekking around the country, then teaching Nepali children, after which she hits the tourist trail in Thailand.

This book would be most useful as a guidebook for those hoping to travel to Nepal, as it certainly paints a realistic picture; any traveller with whimsical dreams of entering a spiritual heaven as soon as they get off the plane should read the account of Thamel, of the families who assume Westerners are fair game, and of the bloody temple sacrifices ~ the lunch of goat’s blood will stay with me, I think…

I grew to like Jennifer more and more as the book went on (important when reading a memoir!), especially when she described the father of one of her Nepali families as ‘kind of a schmuck’ and the son as a ‘little shit’ – I have a fondness for those who dare to tell it like it is!  Her youthful enthusiasm is charming – everything is ‘amazing’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘incredible’, etc, though now and again I felt I would have liked to read about the place as seen through more mature eyes.  The most interesting parts of the book, for me, were her observations about the day to day habits and culture of the Nepalis and just little incidents that happened.  Her ‘characters’ really jumped off the page.  

On to Thailand, and Jennifer experiences the westernised tourist route of the famous Khao San Road and rejects it for more of the ‘real’ Thailand, though she was disappointed that the hill tribes lived not in mud huts but in shacks with corrugated tin rooves, with motorbikes and trucks parked outside, and that the caves where the Buddhist monks worked were strewn with electric cables.  Generally, though, her time in Thailand sounded so wonderful it almost made me whimper with longing.

I’d say that anyone who is thinking of visiting these countries, Nepal in particular, should take time to read this warts-and-all account, especially if they’re signing up for the volunteer work that entails being placed with a family.  Jen comes across as a very open-minded and non-egotistical sort of person; maybe why she felt like a fish out of water in the working world of Seattle, and wanted to experience different lifestyles.  I’d definitely read more about her travels; I liked the conversational tone of this book very much.

There are pictures, too ~ always a plus, with a travel guide!

Book description

“I never thought I would have reason to say to someone, ‘Sorry I’m late, it took longer to dismember the goat than originally planned.'”

I was twenty-six years old, worked at a well-paid job, rented a fantastic apartment, and enjoyed a large circle of friends. I had everything, except I didn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing out on the experience of living.

Part guidebook on culture and travel, part journey of self-discovery, this travelogue takes you on a backpacking adventure through Nepal and Thailand and provides a firsthand account of one volunteer’s experience teaching in a Nepali school and living with a devout Brahmin family.

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of eastern Nepal, take a wild river-rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter a charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea-kayak the surreal waters of Krabi, and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Related subjects include: travel, adventure, memoirs, non-fiction, backpacking, volunteering, travelogue, travel writing, solo travel, culture, journals, cultural heritage, cultural travel, Asia, Nepal, Thailand.

About the author

Hi! I worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading my financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, I moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There I earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where I live with my Dutch husband and young son.

My travels and experiences color and inform my internationally-oriented fiction. Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both novels are part of an on-going yet stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment, another art-related travel thriller (working title: Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery) will be released in the January 2018.

My travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, is now available as paperback and eBook. A must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand.

Jennifer S. Alderson

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT @CathyRy reviews vintage #mystery A Clerical Error by @newwrites

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading A Clerical Error by J New


This is the third book in the cozy mystery series set in the 1930s, featuring
Ella Bridges and her ghost cat, Phantom. Ella’s life has taken a very unexpected turn. Having believed her husband, John, had died two years ago, she now knows that to be false after a telephone call out of the blue and a conversation with the Home Secretary. With the help of her Uncle Albert, Ella finally learns the truth about John and his activities. Her housekeeper, Mrs Shaw, also proves not to be who, or what, she had claimed. A visit with her Aunt Margaret goes someway to helping Ella to absorb the shocks, put her feelings of anger and distress in perspective and restore her composure.

Ella returns home feeling much more positive and looking forward to a return visit from her aunt. A near miss while out on a bicycle ride brings about an acquaintance with two ladies involved in raising funds for the church and Ella is soon persuaded to run a stall at the May Day Fete. Sergeant Baxter, the policeman Ella has worked with previously was attending the fete, along with the vicar, Father Michael, recently returned from a sabbatical. The fun was cut short drastically when a suspicious death occurred.

Another entertaining mystery, well written with a well crafted and twisty story line. As with the previous books the atmosphere of the era is brought to life perfectly, with suitable dialogue, lifestyle and descriptive prose. Realistic, developing characters and relationships add to the appeal. Despite Ella’s personal problems, she and Sergeant Baxter work together and follow the clues, some of which, understandably, take Ella a little longer to process this time round. It’s useful, however, having friends in high places who are only too willing to help.

There’s less of the paranormal in this story but I was glad Phantom made several appearances. A well thought through and interesting mystery, the reveal coming as a complete surprise. The threads running through the main story line were all wrapped up too, which was good. These are the perfect cozies; engaging characters, no sex or gratuitous violence and a very enjoyable story in a vintage setting.

Book description

When the crime scene is pure coincidence and there’s no evidence, how do you prove it was murder?

Ella Bridges faces her most challenging investigation so far when the vicar dies suddenly at the May Day Fete. But with evidence scarce and her personal life unravelling in ways she could never have imagined, she misses vital clues in the investigation.
Working alongside Sergeant Baxter of Scotland Yard, will Ella manage to unearth the clues needed to catch the killer before another life is lost? Or will personal shock cloud her mind and result in another tragedy?

‘A Clerical Error’ is set in 1930’s England, and is the third of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series.
‘Miss Marple meets The Ghost Whisperer’ – Perfect For Fans of Golden Age Murder Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Clean Reads and British Amateur Sleuths

About the author

J. New is the British author of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series. Set on the fictitious island of Linhay in the south of England during the 1930’s, they are an homage to the Golden Age mysteries but with a contemporary twist.

J. New

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Mystery The Maori Detective by by @crossmanDA

Today’s team review is from Karen O, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Karen has been reading The Maori Detective by D.A. Crossman


My Opinion

This book introduces you to Carlos Wallace and Virginia ‘Ginny’ Andrews, brought together to run Prince Investigations.

With The Maori Detective, D. A. Crossman has created a detective story combining several plot lines. It is at first on the slowish side, introducing the main characters and their pasts. After a few chapters, the story settles at a nice and steady pace. D. A. Crossman created a good suspense story with some twists, action, and interesting insights in the Maori culture. Focus is not on procedurals, rather on solving cases. I enjoyed the story, even if I could not get very close to it – I felt rather distant. It is a good read with believable characters, interesting turns, and a good flow.

This is a book for you if you like suspense with interesting turns and sidelines, believable characters, and if you appreciate the art of forgoing excessive details.

Book description

He’s lost his wife, his job, and his mana. So what now? A PI? He really couldn’t get used to it. Traipsing around after unfaithful wives and little old ladies’ lost dogs? Was this the future for Carlos Wallace? And what of the beautiful matakite? Wasn’t it a sin to fall in love with your cousin?

Carlos has spent thirteen years living in Australia, eight of them as a serving officer with the New South Wales Police. But when he kills a man in the line of duty, Carlos’ life begins to unravel. His wife is subsequently murdered in mysterious circumstances, and Carlos is dismissed from the force. A devastated Carlos returns home to his Christchurch whānau and takes up a job as a private detective.

When Carlos investigates the disappearance of a young French girl, missing since the February earthquake, the detective becomes embroiled in a sinister conspiracy. Carlos must solve the case, and pick up the pieces of his life among the ruins of a devastated city.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #WW2 naval #thriller JONAH by @CarlRackman

Today’s team review is from Georgia, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Georgia has been reading Jonah by Carl Rackman


I am a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team and chose to read Jonah after seeing some other reviews for it. I received a copy of the book from the author but this has not influenced the content of my review.

It gives me great pleasure when an independent author has committed time, effort and money to ensure that when they publish their book it is the best that it can be, and that is the case here. Everything about Jonah’s presentation is professional which means no distracting typos or formatting errors during the read.

Mitch Kirkham, branded Lucky Kirkham, re-boards his ship, the Brownlee, after it has undergone repairs following a kamikaze strike. He just wants to get home but once out on the ocean a mysterious insanity starts to take over the crew and, amid an atmosphere of strange sightings that cause hysteria and suicide, he discovers the cause of the terror, and who’s behind it.

I know very little about naval warfare or the ins and outs of military ships and actually I have little interest in either but I was drawn into this story by the compelling characters Rackman creates and the setting in which he puts them.

I hadn’t read the blurb and knew nothing about the paranormal element and while this wouldn’t usually be my thing when it is incorporated into the storyline so naturally I completely accepted it without issue.  I also really enjoyed the flashbacks into various characters’ lives which gave the background to the visions that haunted them.

There is a fair amount of detail about the ship and crew and with many technical terms the author has provided a glossary at the back of the book. But who has time to go looking for that when this skilful writer manages to impart all the information in a way that makes it clear what is going on, doesn’t slow down the storyline, and provides chapters of a length that make you want to fit in one more before you go to sleep. Well-written and thoroughly enjoyable I have no hesitation in recommending Jonah.

Book description

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.

Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Mitch stumbles upon a possible explanation for the madness. But as the ship presses on alone, deeper into the vast Pacific Ocean and the grip of insanity, will anyone listen to him before his famous luck runs out for good?

Jonah is a searing, psychological suspense thriller, the latest from Carl Rackman, author of Irex and Voyager.

About the author

Hi! I’m Carl Rackman, a British former airline pilot turned author. I come from a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring.

I spent my working life travelling the world and this has given me a keen interest in other people and cultures. I’ve drawn on my many experiences for my writing.

I write suspense thrillers with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. I enjoy complex, absorbing storylines combined with rich, believable characters, so that’s the sort of fiction I write. I try to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story.

Carl Rackman

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #SciFi Intraterrestrial by @NicholasConley1

Today’s team review is from Sean, he blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Sean has been reading Intraterrestrial by Nicholas Conley


This book takes the reader on an interesting journey, based as it is on an intriguing premise.

It centres around 13-year-old Adam Helios , an adopted kid of Indian parentage, growing up in the US. The backstory leading up to the book is that he is the new kid in school, he is a tech geek, low on self-esteem and with confidence issues, his Indian heritage and lack of knowledge around his biological parents is problematic for him, and is being bullied physically and verbally by Joe Sanderson. He’s actually a nice kid, whose main interest is Space and his telescope, and fixing up bikes, and when he was younger “Jupiter Man”.

Oh – and he hears Voices, which he thinks come from the stars.

Adam eventually bites back, and batters holy hell out of said Joe, when Joe begins to harass Chandra, a girl Adam is beginning to like. Cue being brought to the office, where we encounter Adam’s adoptive parents. His mother is a termagant, and his dad the polar opposite.

They leave the office, and on the way home get involved in a car-crash that sets us on our way. His mother escapes without physical injury, but gains a new perspective on life as the book progresses, and she is faced with choices. His dad gets injured. Adam, however, ends up with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Adam “follows the light” while in a coma, and meets up with the owner of the Voice. He is entrusted with a high-risk, winner-takes-all mission to save the “spark’ of six aliens, while battling a powerful negative energy. At the same time, the aliens are actually saving him.

There are two main voyages of discovery, of Adam and separately but in parallel, his mother. Adam has an out-of-body experience journey, although he is trapped inside his skull. Camille, the mother, goes through a real metamorphosis of character. You find yourself rooting for these two, though at times the mother is a little too much, to the extent of being somewhat unbelievable/unacceptable in her approach to anyone outside her immediate family.

There is some Descartes-ian philosophy thrown in here too, and the medical scenarios seem to be plausible enough. The language may cause some parents to pause before giving it to kids, but for me it was perfectly acceptable for early teen 13 and on.

Overall, a four-star, because in spite of these limitations it IS a good read. Definitely one for the holiday bag, as it will entertain and amuse, as well as provoke a little thought about where do people with TBI go?

Book description

Adam Helios is a bully magnet without many friends. When he starts hearing a voice that claims to come from the stars, he fears he’s losing his mind, so he withdraws even further. On the way home from a meeting at the school, he and his parents are involved in a horrible car crash. With his skull cracked open, Adam’s consciousness is abducted by the alien who has been speaking to him for months.

After surviving the wreck with only minor scratches, Camille Helios must deal with her guilt over the accident that left her husband badly injured and her son in a coma. When the doctor suggests letting Adam go, Camille refuses to stop fighting for her son’s life.

Lost among galaxies, Adam must use his imagination to forge a path home before his body dies on the operating table. But even if he does return to Earth, he may end up locked inside a damaged brain forever.

About the author

Nicholas Conley is a novelist, world traveler, playwright, and coffee vigilante. His passion for storytelling began at an early age, prompted by a love of science fiction novels, comic books, and horror movies. His award-winning novel Pale Highway was influenced by his real life experience working with Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home, and his work in healthcare also inspired his essays for Vox and The Huffington Post, as well as his radio play Something in the Nothing, which was performed live on WSCA 106.1 FM in 2016.

Nicholas Conley

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #TrueLife Living In Italy by Stef Smulders @italie_verhalen

Today’s team review is from Jenny R

#RBRT Review Team

Jenny has been reading Living In Italy: The Real Deal by Stef Smulders


 3 Stars

I have often had fancy thoughts of buying a nice little B&B in Italy. I have travelled there before on a road trip and found it such a beautiful, stunning and friendly place. So when I saw the title of this book, it grabbed my attention straight away.

It is a good read and one that I would recommend if you were thinking of taking up a project such as this one. I like the way that the author takes us through the stresses and frustrations of the bureaucratic red tape and the fun that he and his partner Nico experienced.

We often hear or read about dodgy, lazy builders that like to slack off and never seem to get renovations finished either on time or within budget. This certainly proves those points. The builder, Torti and his workers are an absolute nightmare and how on earth the owners managed to put up with them till the end of the project is beyond me. You can see how Italian builders get such a bad reputation.

The description of the Oltrepo region has been written with feeling. I almost felt as though I was driving through the Italian countryside.

At first I was not sure about the way Stef (the author) included Italian words into the dialog, but after a while it began to make more sense and I could see what he was trying to achieve. By the end of the book I found my self thinking that these Italian words would be helpful to those readers that are thinking of going to Italy.

This is an easy and relaxing read. It made me curious to see the final result, so I took a sneaky peak at the B&B website. Maybe I will take another Italian trip and book my stay with Stef and Nico.

Book description

Would you dare to follow your dream and move or retire to Italy? Stef & Nico did, although their dog Sara had her doubts. Now from your comfortable armchair you can share in the hilarious & horrendous adventures they experienced when they moved to Italy to start a bed and breakfast.

For lovers of amusing travelogue memoirs who like a good laugh. And for those interested in practical advice on how to buy a house in Italy there is useful information along the way, pleasantly presented within the short stories.

Glossary of Italian words included! Learn the true meaning of Italian phrases and expressions like “non ci sono problemi”, “di fiducia”, “persone serie”, “tutto a norma” and many more. Learn a bit of the foreign language before going to Italy.

Stef Smulders

Dutchman who moved to Italy in 2008 to live the good life wih husband and dog, welcoming guests in their Villa I Due Padroni B&B in the beautiful wine region Oltrepò Pavese, south of Milan.

Author of the Award winning book “Living in Italy: the Real Deal” with hilarious expat adventures.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Action #thriller Savage Isle by Beverley Scherberger

Today’s team review is from Shelley, she blogs at

#RBRT Review Team

Shelley has been reading Savage Isle by Beverley Scherberger


My Rating: 3 Stars

My Review:

As a child, I remember watching Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston and being totally hooked on the principle of monkeys being intelligent enough to rule and fight. In recent years the new Planet of the Apes franchise packs a punch with full on action and adventure which cemented my love for this genre. When I saw the cover for Beverley Scherberger’s Savage Isle I didn’t hesitate to find out more.

The blurb suggests a fast-paced read with plenty of thrills and horror, and the opening chapters don’t disappoint. I instantly connected to Laralee and felt her terror when the monkeys she was working with became the stuff of nightmares. The author opens with a graphic hook and then builds the tension so you can’t possibly put the book down.

Unfortunately, for me, the fabulous spark at the start of the book fizzled out once the scientists were shipwrecked. I was expecting the team to be picked off one at a time by the mutant monkeys. I had expectations of a do or die nature where we saw the survivors grow into their new roles and fight back against their own creations. Instead, the storyline follows the survivors pairing off, building houses, and having babies. We are rushed through years of ‘nothing’ until the characters I’d connected with at the start die and the story follows their offspring with more pairing off, building houses, and having babies. The savage monkeys who had been the hook for me appeared a handful of times and the lovely Orangutan’s we meet at the start are never heard from again. I was hoping they would pop up as a strong family unit to save the day.  

I kept reading in the hope that the fantastic build-up and thrills would return but I was disappointed. Not what I was expecting from such a gripping blurb and cover.

I received a copy of Savage Isle via Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team in exchange for an honest review.

Book description

Carl and Laralee and their team of scientists are hired by the Spanish government to develop a highly secret, revolutionary serum. Their goal—to create an army of carnivorous monkeys that would give Spain an indisputable advantage over its enemies. They succeed beyond their wildest dreams. However, greatly increased intelligence is an unexpected side effect that causes serious complications. The beasts are thinking, reasoning, and increasingly dangerous.

After one death and several serious attacks on workers, the scientific team is relieved to learn their request to move the facility to a larger island with more security and built-in safeguards is approved.

While awaiting news of a moving date, additional experiments with orangutans prove successful as well. James and Julie, the most advanced, skilled, and lovable of the facility’s apes, have mated. Will they produce the amazingly intelligent offspring the team expects?

During the facility’s relocation, a terrible storm wreaks havoc with their plans and the new island turns out to be anything but a safe haven. Carl and Laralee, Doc Gustav and Teresa, and the rest of the team battle for survival against their own nightmarish creations.

About the author

I was introduced to writing in the sixth grade when my English teacher told the class we’d be learning how to write short stories. I remember thinking, “Write a short story? I’m just a kid!” But I loved the experience and knew I wanted to keep on doing it.

Attending Miami University of Ohio at age 40 gave me the unique perspective of being older than most of the students and many of my professors. Not interested in who was dating who or what sorority was doing what, I concentrated on my studies and graduated summa cum laude.

After penning over 200 published non-fiction articles for various magazines and newspapers, I tried my hand at fiction and am now hooked. It’s what I enjoy reading and have found I enjoy writing it, too.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT family #memoir Castles In The Air by Alison Cubitt @lambertnagle

Today’s team review is from Judith, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Judith has been reading Castles In The Air by Alison R Cubitt

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 scant details through letters and journals.

Book description

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.A daughter is forced to confront the uncomfortable truth of her mother’s seemingly ordinary life. By trying to make sense of the past, will she feel able to move on with her future? Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, Castles in the Air is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams, in an era when women couldn’t have it all.

About the author

Alison was born in Malaysia and like many an expat child, was sent away to boarding school in England at a young age. At the age of eight she moved with her family to New Zealand, where she went to school and university.

Bitten by the travel bug, she moved to Australia, then to the United Kingdom where she landed a job in TV and film production, working for companies including the BBC and Walt Disney. But her passion has always been for writing.

She is an author, memoirist, novelist, and screenwriter and co-writes thrillers with Sean Cubitt, writing as Lambert Nagle. Sean’s day job is Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been published by leading academic publishers.

Serial expats, Lambert Nagle have also lived in Canada and although now based in Hampshire, travel back and forwards to New Zealand whenever they can.

Alison Ripley Cubitt

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Historical #Mystery The Likeness by @carver22 #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The Likeness by Bill Kirton


The Likeness is a sequel to the enormously popular book by this author: The Figurehead. In that book, the readers were introduced the port city of Aberdeen in the mid-19th century and to three of its citizens: the woodcarver John Grant; William Anderson, a rich merchant; and his headstrong daughter Elizabeth.

The Likeness begins with the discovery of the battered body of a young woman in the muck near the wharves where the Aberdeen fishermen bring in their catches. The body is painfully thin and is clothed in the rich garb of someone not normally found in that area.

Grant is doubtful that the town’s constable – who is short-sighted, lacks intelligence, and has a nasty personality — will ever discover what happened to her, and decides to take on the task of finding her killer. At the same time, he accepts a commission to create a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group, a commission paid for by a demanding patron.

The love that developed between John Grant and Helen Anderson in the previous book grows stronger and more evident in this one. Helen wishes to become an integral part of her father’s shipping business, an unheard-of thing in those times, and eventually her father acquiesces. This puts her in direct conflict with a merchant wishing to do business with her father — the patron who paid Grant’s commission and an insulting character.

The story weaves in and out of Helen’s challenges in a male-dominated society, Grant’s investigations, and their love story. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, as befits the times, and is filled with historic details of the theater and actors, the city, and most especially Aberdeen’s busy port. The descriptions of waterfront and the wharves, the ships, and the workers there were compelling, and I read some of them twice for enjoyment. The author has captured the sights, the smells, the city and the societal norms in vivid detail.

Helen as a character is quite unique to her age. I wonder if such women – running businesses and rejecting the restrictions of conventional courtship and marriage, especially the idea that a woman is the property of her husband –actually existed at that time. Certainly, her role is one that will appeal to feminists of all ages. I was particularly drawn to the description of her three-day journey on one of her father’s ships, designed to carry passengers to Canada. It gave further insight into Helen’s intelligence and the plight and strength of those immigrating to North America.

John Grant is kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and certainly amenable to all of Elizabeth’s modern ideas. As a man of his time, I would have liked him to be more resistant. The only tension between them is just a misunderstanding.

The mystery of the woman’s death is far more complex than at first view, and the twists and turns of Grant’s investigation left me puzzled to the very end.

All in all, a successful meshing of historical romance and mystery, with rich detail of a bygone era, by an author who knows how to weave a good story.

Book description

Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission – creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds.

His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband.

As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society.

The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.

About the author

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He’s won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards – ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’ was the overall winner of the Humor category and ‘The Darkness’ was runner up in the Mystery category. His historical mystery, ‘The Figurehead’, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.

He’s produced material in many different media. His radio plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His stage plays have been performed in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the USA and he’s been the visiting artist to the Theatre Department of the University of Rhode Island on four separate occasions. There, he directed stage plays, gave classes on creative writing and theatre, performed in revues and translated three plays by Molière for public performance, one of which won a BCLA prize. Material from his Edinburgh Festival revues was broadcast on the BBC, ITV and French television.

He’s also been a TV presenter and a voice-over artist and his scripts for corporate and educational DVDs and videos have won awards in the UK and USA. He’s been a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the universities of Dundee and St Andrews.

Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. ‘Material Evidence’, ‘Rough Justice’, the award-winning ‘The Darkness’, ‘Shadow Selves’ and ‘Unsafe Acts’ all feature DCI Jack Carston. ‘The Figurehead’ is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The award-winning ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, ‘Alternative Dimension’ satirises online role-playing games.

His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers’ Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. IN 2010, one was also chosen for the ‘Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7’ anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski.

His non-fiction output includes ‘Brilliant Study Skills’, ‘Brilliant Essay’, ‘Brilliant Dissertation’, ‘Brilliant Workplace Skills’ and ‘Brilliant Academic Writing. He also co-wrote ‘Just Write’ with Kathleen McMillan.

He writes books for children. ‘Rory the Dragon and Princess Daisy’ was published as a tribute to his great niece, Daisy Warn, who lived for just 16 weeks. Proceeds from its sales go to a children’s hospice in South-West England. ‘The Loch Ewe Mystery’ is a stand-alone novel for children aged 7-12 and he’s preparing a series about a grumpy male fairy called Stanley who lives under a cold, dripping tap in his bedroom.

Bill Kirton

Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #WW1 Fred’s Funeral by @sandeetweets #SundayBlogShare

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day


My review:

I am writing this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie and the author for providing me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a short book, but it punches well above its weight. The book, written mostly from the point of view of Fred Sadler, a Canadian veteran of WWI who never quite recovered from the war and spent years in and out of mental institutions (such as they were at the time), takes its readers on a journey through Fred’s memories (he has just died, so I guess I should say his ghost’s memories, but, in many ways, Fred had been a ghost of his former self for many years already) and those of the relatives who attend his funeral. We have brief hints at times of what other characters are thinking or feeling (as Fred’s consciousness becomes all-encompassing), but mostly we remain with Fred. We share in his opinions and his own remembrances of the facts his family members (mostly his sister-in-law, Viola, who is the only one left with first-hand-knowledge of his circumstances, at least some of them) are discussing.

Fred’s story — based on the life of a relative of the author and on documents and letters he left behind— will be familiar to readers interested in the history of the period, and in the terrible consequences the war had on the lives and mental health of many of the young men who fought and suffered in the war. Shell-shock (now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD) was little understood at the time and psychiatry (that is not a hard science at its best) was pretty limited in its resources at the time. Even nowadays, delayed onset PTSD is rarely diagnosed and not well-understood, and the condition results sometimes in permanent changes in the personality of the sufferer, who might end up with all kinds of other diagnoses and are often misunderstood and mistreated.

Sandy Day’s beautifully descriptive and, at times, lyrical writing —the author had previously published a poetry book— captures both strands of the story: the terrible disintegration of the life of such a promising young man, and the changes in his family and the society around him, which he was only a spectator of (and was never allowed to take an active role in). His brother married and had children, his parents died; the family property, so dear to him, was split up and eventually sold, and he was only the weird uncle nobody knew much about.

The novel (as it is a fictionalization of the events) succeeds in giving Fred a voice, in bringing forth the fear, the thrashed hopes, the puzzlement, the resignation, the confusion, of this man who put his life on the line and got only pain in return. It is a poignant and beautiful memorial to the lives of many soldiers whose trauma was misunderstood and whose lives were destroyed. The writing is compelling and gets the readers inside of Fred’s head, making us share in his horrifying experiences. The book can be hard to read at times, not so much because of graphic content (although the few descriptions are vivid), but because it is impossible not to empathise and imagine what he must have gone through. But there is also a hopeful note in the interest of the new generations and the fact of the book itself.

There are time-shifts, and some changes in point of view (because Fred’s ghost can at times become the equivalent of an omniscient narrator), but past events follow a chronological order and are clearly demarcated and easy to follow, and the device of the funeral helps anchor the story and provide a frame and a background that give it a more personal and intimate dimension. The Canadian landscape and setting also add a touch of realism and singularity to the story.

Although the book is very short, I could not resist sharing at least a tiny sample of the beautiful writing with you:

He looks down half-blindly as his old Canadian Expeditionary Force Uniform dissolves into a constellation of colourful snowflakes, twirling away from him in a trail. Beneath the uniform he is nothing. He has no name or age. He is at once as old as a flickering blue base at the wick of a candle and as young as a flame surging into brilliance.

This is a poignant and lovingly written ode to a man who returned from WWI (at least in body) but was as lost as many of the men who never came back. A story about an unsung hero that should be cherished and its lessons learnt. I cannot recommend it enough.

Book description

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.

About the author

Sandy Day is the author of Poems from the Chatterbox and Fred’s Funeral. 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.

Sandy Day

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