Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction MAHONEY by Andrew Joyce @huckfinn76

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Mahoney by Andrew Joyce

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4 out of 5 stars

I adore family sagas through the generations, and have a great interest in American history of the last two hundred years, so I leapt on this book when I saw it on the review team list.

The book is split into three sections: Devin, the 19 year old from Ireland eager to make his fortune in America, his son, Dillon, who sets out to travel west, and David, the privileged son of Dillon, whose fortunes take a different turn during the Depression.

I’ll start by saying that a great strength of this book is the dialogue, which never falters in its quality, and is the main reason why the characterisation is so good.  I was also most impressed by the research that had gone into the book; it is clear, throughout, that Mr Joyce has a great understanding of the peoples of each time and place in the novel.

I adored the first part, about Devin; I looked forward to getting back to it each time I had to put it down.  Devin’s route to America is depicted so colourfully that I was completely engrossed.  I was disappointed when his section ended; I wanted to carry on reading about him.  I liked the next part, about Dillon’s adventures in ‘Wild West’ Wyoming, but, although the book continued to be well-written, admirably researched, and flowed so well, I was less convinced by Dillon as a character.

My interested was piqued again by the start of David’s section – I loved reading about the spoilt, self-centred young man who cared nothing for his family or the struggles lived through by his father and grandfather.  His first experiences as the Depression hit kept me engrossed, too, but after he changed his way of thinking, I became less convinced by him.  I think what I was not so keen on was the way in which Dillon and David kept bumping into strangers, on the road and in bars, and everywhere else, who offered them the chance to change their lives for the better.  Devin’s life seemed more realistic, whereas Dillon and David appeared to fall into one piece of great luck after another.  I was also less keen on David’s section because so much of it was dialogue-led, which is not a preference of mine; this is not a criticism, just a personal preference.

Despite the aspects about which I wasn’t so sure, it’s a most entertaining book.  I think it has real value as a fictional history of America the period between 1846 – the 1930s, even if I felt some of it was rushed through; there is a lot of material for one novel.  Mr Joyce can certainly write; I have just downloaded another of his books, Resolution.  I was also impressed by how he wrote Devin and David in the third person, but Dillon in the first; this was absolutely the right choice, and a clever one.

I’d most certainly recommend this novel for lovers of family sagas through the ages, particularly if you have an interest in American history.

Book description

 

In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a story of determination and grit as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America. From the first page to the last, fans of Edward Rutherfurd and W. Michael Gear will enjoy this riveting, historically accurate tale of adventure, endurance, and hope.

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistFic New York 1609 by @AuthorHarald #FridayReads

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading New York 1609 by Harald Johnson

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5 out of 5 stars

A terrific novel, telling of the ‘discovery’ of Manhattan Island by Henry Hudson, and the beginning of the callous and careless ruination of the Native American way of life.  

The main character is the part-white Dancing Fish, who believes he is gifted with insight into the ways of the ‘visitors’ from the east. The story starts in 1609 and moves, through four parts, through to the 1640s, as gradually the Manahate and other tribes are pushed out of their land; the book tells, also, of how they begin to take on the ways of the white man, and become less self-sufficient, something that saddens Dancing Fish.

This is a long book, but at no time did it feel over-written or padded out. It seems like a foreshadowing of many years to come, as the greed and cunning of the ‘civilised’ treads into the ground and destroys a culture that had existed, successfully, for hundreds of years; indeed, it makes one question the meaning of the word ‘civilised’. Only once or twice did we see the Europeans’ respect for the natives’ affinity with the land, in Henry Hudson, in Boucher, an early explorer who was left behind by his party, and Marie, his daughter.

In the latter part of the story, the settlers’ treatment of the natives is unbelievably brutal, sickening and heart-breaking, made worse because you know that all this and more really happened. But the ending is not without hope; Johnson’s characters have a wisdom far beyond most of their enemies.

Johnson finishes with notes, in brief, about what happened afterwards, and explains which parts of his story have their grounding in fact. Highly recommended.

Book description

Welcome to New York City, 1609.
When a Native American (Lenape) boy joins Henry Hudson’s expedition up the river that now bears his name, the fearless and visionary–and misunderstood–Dancing Fish doesn’t realize his entire world and way of life are in peril. Enthralled at first by these strangers, he begins to discover their dark and dangerous side, touching off a decades-long struggle against determined explorers, aggressive traders, land-hungry settlers, and ruthless officials. If his own people are to survive, the boy-turned-man must use his wits, build alliances, and draw on unique skills to block the rising tide of the white “salt people.”

Ambition and fear, love and loathing, mutual respect and open contempt bring Europeans and “savages” together in the untold story of the founding of New York City and the fabled island at its heart: Manhattan.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Horror #ShortStory The Bledbrooke Works by @john_f_leonard

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading The Bledbrooke Works by John F Leonard

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4.5 stars

I liked this story a lot—I’ve read an earlier novel and a shorter story by John F Leonard, and his writing has come on in leaps and bounds; this is a different class.

‘Back before the Domesday Book, the little spot known has Bledbrooke had started out smaller than small…During the Middle Ages, it shuddered into a village while no one was looking’

Bledbrooke is a strange town, in which electricity often fails and phone reception is almost non-existent.  Donald Hobdike is the Manager of Works; on the day in which the story takes place he must go down to the old, abandoned sewage works to fix a problem.  A young ex-con, Mikey, is assigned to help him.  And down they go…

The characterisation of the two men was a joy to read, with astute observations about each others’ generation, and their own lives; there are some highly descriptive turns of phrase that I so appreciated.  The chapters alternate been the points of view of Hobdike and Mikey—and another being; the one that lurks beneath.  It was this that took it to another level for me, as the presence beneath Bledbrooke contemplates its existence over millennia, and the nature of mankind.

‘The periods of slumber grew progressively shorter as it acclimatised and located fresh supplies of food.  Millennia or intertia became centuries of torpor and eventually decades of inactivitiy.  With each waking, evolution had shimmied and leapt down new paths, throwing up bewilderingly brittle lifeforms that lasted a celestial instant and were gone.’

It’s darker than dark, sinister and highly readable. Worth 99p of anyone’s money, or it’s available on Kindle Unlimited, too.

Book description

THE BLEDBROOKE WORKS is a tale of everyday unpleasantness and cosmic horror. A short novella of subterranean terror seen through the eyes of an ageing engineer and a young hoodlum. One a pillar of the local community, the other an outsider who wouldn’t know communal spirit if it ran up and bit him on the bottom.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Nostalgic #Fiction MONKEY TEMPLE by Peter Gelfan @ryderswriters

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Monkey Temple by Peter Gelfan

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4 out of 5 stars

An unusual and entertaining book, mostly based around a short period during the twilight years of protagonist Jules, his wife, Ritz, and their mixed bunch of ageing hippie friends from the old days—mostly the complicated and high-maintenance Ralston, who is determined not to see Jules go gently into that good, comfortable retirement.  Mostly, it’s about Jules’ relationship with Ralston.

Deciding that the time has come to leave New York, he and Ralston go on a road trip to look for a house for Jules and Ritz.  When they find a possibility, Ralston has plans for it other than simply being his friends’ last home.

Interspersed with present events are Jules’s memories of their past, chaotic life; the travelling, the experiences and the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 1960s and 70s.  For this reason I’d say it would be appreciated mostly by the over fifty-fives, those who have experienced the backpacking type of travelling or are familiar with, shall we say, a more erratic lifestyle; I think some of the references might go over the heads of anyone who ticks none of those boxes.  Maybe it’s a book about old hippies for old hippies.

Much of the narrative and dialogue is centred around the subject of the characters’ ageing processes, rubbish that is talked about ‘alternative’ philosophies, and also Jules’s observations about the writing world.  I found myself smiling a lot, and highlighting passages I agreed with or enjoyed.  Alas, I forgot to highlight many, but here are a few.

(about Jules’s client, who is writing novel based on her life)

‘Problem is,” I said, ‘her life’s not a story.’

…’Everyone’s life is a story.’

‘No it isn’t.  Things happen, but that doesn’t make it a story…A story is about something.  A particular struggle.  With a beginning and an end’.

‘You can learn something by studying its opposite.  Like, who the hell knows how to be happy?  So instead, think about what makes you unhappy, and avoid it.’

‘Doesn’t it ever occur to you that … when you don’t like someone, it’s because there’s something very wrong with them?’

‘Of course…and then I try to distinguish the subjective from the objective’.

‘What a bunch of pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Nothing’s objective…it’s just a cop-out’

‘The truth hit me.  The journey to transcend ego is an ego trip’ 

Yes, I enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend.  My only criticisms are practical ones; at £6.13/$7.97 for the Kindle version it’s priced a bit high for the market, and the rather dull cover doesn’t do the book justice, or give any indication that this is a dryly amusing, entertaining and poignant story about artists, writers and other colourful people who have spent their lives living and thinking outside the box.  I’d have chosen a sunset streaked road with a back view of Jules and Ralston driving over the horizon, corny though that may be—or a few of them sitting on the dilapidated porch of the Monkey Temple.

Book description

Monkey Temple is a coming-of-old-age adventure about two longtime best friends and rivals who, determined to “not go gentle into that good night,” set off on a final road trip. Their efforts to face past failures and give meaning to their dwindling futures change their lives forever but not at all as they had envisioned. It’s a buddy story with strong female characters and plenty of dark humor.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Post War Fiction, An Empty Vessel by Vaughan Mason, Written by @JJMarsh1

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading An Empty Vessel by Vaughan Mason and written by J. J. Marsh

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5 out of 5 stars

My understanding is that this long novella is a book mentioned in a novel by JJ Marsh, a work written by one of her characters, Vaughan Mason.  Though not clear on the blurb, this is what Rosie told me she thought it was, when I chose the book to review.

An Empty Vessel is most interesting story that depicts the thoughts of Nancy Maidstone, a woman accused of murder 1958, the day before her execution, and her life from childhood up until that point.  Other chapters are from the point of view of her lawyers and others involved in the plot.

JJ Marsh has a highly readable and compelling writing style and has created characters that jump off the page, with excellent dialogue, both spoken and inner, from the thoughtful Doctor Waterhouse and his socially self-aware wife, to Nancy’s self-serving brother, Frank, to the women she worked with at the supermarket that led to the abrupt downturn in her life, to Nancy herself, for whom my sympathy increased the more I read. Every character story is a tale within itself, rather than just a part of the whole, and I was completely engrossed in each one.

The story gives a colourful picture of ordinary life in the 1950s, with all its social prejudices, accepted behaviour and sometimes almost charming innocence about the world.  Running through all the scenarios is the question of whether or not Nancy is guilty, and if so, why she would have committed such a crime, but there is so much more to enjoy than simply an amassing of clues.

An entertaining, heartbreaking and unusual story – I loved it.

Book description

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

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.

The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.

The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.

This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Tudor #Histfic JANE THE QUENE by Janet Wertman

Today’s team review comes from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Jane The Quene by Janet Wertman

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3.5 stars

A light piece of historical fiction that, on the whole, I liked.  I was tentative at first, being very much ‘Team Boleyn’ as far as the six wives are concerned, but I was pleased to note that Jane Seymour was not portrayed as the meek angel of many a historical novel or TV drama, but every bit as calculating as her predecessor in her mission to capture the heart of Henry VIII; she was used as a tool by her ambitious family in exactly the same way.

The book is written in alternative third person POVs: that of Jane herself, and Thomas Cromwell.  I liked that the author showed the downfall of Anne Boleyn to be a fiction carefully constructed by Cromwell, who knew that Henry needed to get rid of her so he could marry another who might give him a son, but that he could not afford to have another abandoned ex-wife who refused to disappear.  Thus, a story had to be concocted to justify the murder of Anne.  I also liked the explanation of the dissolution of the monasteries; it is clear, concise, and makes for a good understanding of the whys, hows and consequences.  Janet Wertman writes factual detail in a fashion that is both easy to read and entertaining; thus, this book would be an excellent choice for someone who doesn’t know much about the era; for instance, she even explains what a monarch’s yearly Progress is.  Now and again I was a little too aware of the research being translated into the narration, but on the whole it was executed well.

The author is American and, alas, I did come across some American English in dialogue, along with historical inconsistency and modern phraseology.  Examples:

  • ‘Snuck’ – the British English past tense of the verb ‘sneak’ is ‘sneaked’.
  • ‘Snicker’ – British English is ‘snigger’.
  • ‘Gift’ used as a verb and ‘caring’ used as a general adjective to describe someone – these have only crept into British English in more recent years.
  • A reference to mashed potatoes – potatoes were not introduced into this country until some fifty years later, by Sir Walter Raleigh.
  • The phrase ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ – the first recorded use of this phrase was in a play, in the late 17th century.
  • ‘teenagers’ – not in use until the latter half of the 20th century.
  • Henry said, ‘You center me, Jane’.  So American and 21st century that it might as well have ‘Gee’ at the beginning and ‘lol’ at the end!

I also thought that, now and again, the dialogue between Kings, courtiers and Jane was too familiar, and doubted that Cromwell would have introduced the idea of Anne Boleyn’s treason to the King while both were in the presence of Jane Seymour.  I’m aware that writing historical fiction that takes place outside one’s own country must be an incredibly hard thing to do, and I always feel sorry for authors whose editors have let them down.  Google alone is a wonderful and easy-to-use tool.

Despite these ‘dodgy’ areas, though, I did enjoy reading it.  The writing flows, Ms Wertman tells a story in a compelling fashion, and I believed in the characters; these three factors alone are much of what this writing thing is about, after all.  With assistance from a more experienced editor (possibly an English one?) I imagine her work would get better and better.  To sum up, I would say this is light fiction for the newer reader of the genre; perhaps lovers of programmes like Showtime’s The Tudors series, or who enjoy an introduction to the period, rather than the serious history addict – avid readers of this genre are notoriously picky!

Book description

All Jane Seymour wants is a husband; but when she catches the eye of a volatile king, she is pulled deep into the Tudor court’s realm of plot and intrigue….

England. 1535. Jane Seymour is 27 years old and increasingly desperate for the marriage that will provide her a real place in the world. She gets the perfect opportunity to shine when the court visits Wolf Hall, the Seymour ancestral manor. With new poise born from this event, it seems certain that her efficiency and diligence will shine through and finally attract a suitor.

Meanwhile, King Henry VIII is 45 and increasingly desperate for a son to secure his legacy. He left his first wife, a princess of Spain, changing his country’s religion in the process, to marry Anne Boleyn — but she too has failed to deliver the promised heir. As Henry begins to fear he is cursed, Jane Seymour’s honesty and innocence conjure redemption. Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious clerk who has built a career on strategically satisfying the King’s desires, sees in Jane the perfect vehicle to calm the political unrest that threatens the country: he engineers the plot that ends with Jane becoming the King’s third wife.

Jane believes herself virtuous and her actions justified, but early miscarriages shake her confidence and hopes. How can a woman who has done nothing wrong herself deal with the guilt of how she unseated her predecessor?

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Psychological #Suspense Murder Undone by Robin Storey

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Murder Undone by Robin Storey

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3.5 stars

This book starts well, with main character Eva poisoning her cheating husband.  Fast forward twenty years: she’s married again, and living with the fall-out.  Except she can’t deal with it; she drinks too much, and goes into bars to pick up men for casual sex.  Then she is offered a chance to go back in time, still retaining her memories of her ‘real’ life, and not murder Cheating Charlie after all….

I found this author’s style pretty readable; I’d suddenly realise I’d galloped through 10 pages or so, without thinking about stopping to make notes, which is a good sign.  I was moderately drawn in when I first started to read, but as soon as Eva got a chance to go back in time, I thought, ah—now I’m interested!

The story continued to zip along in a readable fashion, but I did have some problems with it.  Eva’s character seemed more like a vehicle for the plot that the other way round; I never believed in her.  One minute she is the pampered, submissive wife of a millionaire businessman, the next she is daredevil sleuth, able to talk her way into any private location, and mixing with the criminal underworld without turning a hair, to the extent of having sex with them for information (and enjoying it despite the guy having had a knife to her throat, but I’m not even going to go there; the cocaine she’d taken, alone, would make her paranoid and agitated in this situation).

I was dubious about some dialogue (the way one of the female characters talks about sex would make Samantha from Sex and the City cringe) and unconvinced by some events; for instance, before she goes back in time, Eva is around 60 years old, but gets hit on/approached for casual sex every time she enters a bar to have a drink.  However glamorous and well-kept a woman of that age may be, I found this a little unlikely.

One other point is something the author might want to consider for future work of this genre.  Later in the book, Eva is caught driving under the influence of cocaine.  There was a detailed chapter about her court appearance, ending with the news report about it on TV.  Why not just cut the whole court thing, and start the chapter with the news report, ending with a paragraph or two about how she felt, watching it broadcast to the world?  That would have given all the information the reader needed, and let them get on with the more juicy stuff, like infidelity, deteriorating marriage and underworld dealings …

… because it is a rip-roaring tale, and not badly put together at all, generally.  The basic idea is great, though I didn’t feel enough use was made of the fact that she was living her life over again; I expected more references to the past, and perhaps the steering of other events, too.  It’s a bit like a watered-down Jackie Collins (that’s a compliment, by the way!), but, alas, I need to be convinced by and become totally involved with the characters in order to really enjoy a book, and Eva never came alive to me.

To sum up: the author has much of the skill and writing style for this genre, but it still needs a bit of fine tuning!

Book description

Wealthy socialite Eva Dennehy murdered her first husband Charlie because he was planning to leave her for his mistress. Even her marriage to kind-hearted Edgar can’t blot out her remorse or fill the gap Charlie has left in her life.

When Eva is offered the opportunity to travel back in time and undo her crime as penance, she accepts – what does she have to lose? Back in her old life with Charlie, her passion for him surpassed only by her torment at his infidelity, she is more determined than ever to prevent him from leaving her.

But Eva discovers a sinister side to Charlie she never knew before, and her plan plunges her into a world of crime and depravity. She soon realizes she has even more to lose this time around.

If you love complex, flawed characters, simmering tension and suspense with a twist of noir, you’ll love Robin Storey’s novel of jealousy and betrayal.

Scroll up and click the Buy Button now to immerse yourself in this story of the dark side of love.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Icelandic #Histfic #Mystery STORYTELLERS by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen

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5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book – it was a delight to read, an unusual debut novel by a writer with much talent.

The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his ‘medicine’ (alcohol).  One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again.  From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.

Meanwhile, Gunnar’s life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways.  I loved these women – the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read.  The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, subtly and amusingly executed as it is.

This is actually a story within a story – the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime.  Threaded through Gunnar’s own tale is a another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers.  Both stories are so compelling.

As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.

The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing.  The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered.  In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a ‘page-turner’, was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.

The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*.  I was, at first, going to knock off half a star because of some editorial errors that may not concern many readers – a few Americanisms, the odd word used incorrectly, and phrases/words too modern for the time.  However, English is not the author’s first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don’t want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders, and which I believe will be remedied soon.

This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.

Book description

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember his existence – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even that wicked elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, mentally living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Histfic The Wire Recorders by Thomas A Levitt @ryderswriters

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading The Wire Recorder by Thomas A Levitt

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4 stars

I was attracted to this book because of the great title, the great cover, and the blurb that spoke of the 1951 campaign to root out communists in the US film industry, something that interests me greatly.  Mr Levitt writes well, and the book flowed along nicely.  I did like much of it, hence the 4 stars, although it was not the book I expected.

The anti-communist witch-hunt is dealt with in a brief fashion in the first ten per cent, after which the novel is about the life of Sophie Hearn, the daughter of Larry, who suffered under the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) campaign.  Running alongside Sophie’s story is that of Steve, whose parents were also involved; I found his early development one of the most compelling parts of the book, especially as it took place in a time when developmental disorders went unrecognised.

Mr Levitt creates the atmosphere of 1960s California so well, I would imagine from personal experience, and many of the incidental characters come alive immediately, particularly in their dialogue.

The reason I didn’t enjoy the book quite as much as I had hoped is that there was not much actual plot; it is more of a biographical account of Sophie’s life, with chapters dedicated to the social issues of the time.  Throughout, I kept waiting for some real conflict, or suspense; opportunities for drama were missed, with any problems (one character’s excessive use of marijuana, and, later, the logistics of a mixed race marriage) being resolved quickly and easily, within a page or two, almost as if the author had a checklist of issues to be mentioned.

I enjoyed reading Steve and Sophie’s experience at their student parties (and the ridiculous dialogue of the hippie idealists was extremely well done), but few of the scenarios tied together, events happening in isolation.  I wonder if there was perhaps too much material for one book; the author has dealt with not only the HUAC campaign, but also the newly permissive 1960s, sexism, drugs, the women’s lib movement, living in a commune, new teaching methods, racism, the difficulties of mixed race marriages, employment problems—all this is crammed into one medium-length novel, whereas any one of those subjects would make a great basis for a story all on its own.  This is a debut novel, and I know it can be a temptation to play all your cards straight away!

The bulk of the book is about Sophie running an experimental school, and her subsequent difficulties in finding a post in a ‘public’ school.  Sadly, I never got a sense of who Sophie was, though Steve was a rounded, three-dimensional character.

What kept me turning the pages was the writing style, which is extremely readable, the entertaining snapshots of particular aspects of the era, the fact that the author clearly knew his subject matter so well, and the excellent dialogue in the portraits of incidental characters.  In the last fifteen per cent, too, there is more of a coming together of Sophie and Steve’s lives, a little more suspense, and an explanation of why and how they were affected by what happened to their parents at the beginning of the book.

To sum up: as a fictional account of the sociological history of the era, this is a most fascinating book; for those who are looking for a plot-driven novel about the HUAC campaign and its affects, though, not so much.

Book description

Sophie Hearn grows up hearing about the House Un-American Activities Committee’s 1951 campaign to root out Communists in the film industry. Her father’s impassioned testimony in defense of the First Amendment—and his refusal to answer questions about his political associations—leave him blacklisted for years, destroying his promising screenwriting career and putting his family on the edge of financial ruin. Unsurprisingly, his daughter becomes politically aware at an early age.

The shadow of the blacklist follows Sophie to college and then into adulthood, affecting her politics, her career ambitions and her relationships. But it’s not until she reunites with Steve Elwood, a long-lost childhood friend, that she’s forced to face the full impact of her family’s past.

A powerful story about coming of age in California in the mid-twentieth century, The Wire Recorder explores how political paranoia, when allowed to spiral out of control, can leave a toxic residue that lasts for generations.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Thriller NOT HERE by Genevieve Nocovo

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Not Here by Genevieve Nocovo

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3 out of 5 stars

Dina Ostica, a 23 year old podcaster living alone in San Francisco, has a troubled background after escaping a difficult relationship. The mystery begins when her friend, an old hippie who is her go-to source for material for her podcasts about life in and the history of the city, disappears.

I thought the atmosphere of the city came across as most authentic; it is clear that the author has a fine knowledge of the place. I liked that the subject matter; Dina’s story was very ‘current’, with issues raised so relevant to this part of the 21st century. The problem I had with the book as a whole, though, was that it felt rather flat. There were too many irrelevancies that were not woven into the story, like what people wore and what they ate, intricate detail about gym sessions and mundane conversational exchanges. Dina is written in the third person, in such a way that we never experience her inner thoughts; we are told how she feels, or what she thinks about something, but I felt I was being supplied with information rather than getting to know a character.

The plot is well put together (aside from the fact that I couldn’t work out how Dina hoped to make enough money to live on from podcasting), the ideas are interesting and the book is professionally presented, but the writing itself needs some work if this series is to become memorable. The information was all there, such as what a place looked like and how someone felt, or what happened after what had happened previously, but I never felt involved.

I believe this is the author’s debut novel. It is competent and the basics are there, with some excellent plotting and slow build of suspense; she just needs to work on really getting inside the head of her characters, seeking ways to make her storytelling more captivating, and her dialogue more realistic, character revealing and interesting.

Book description

Would you surrender your free will to save your life? 
A city in turmoil. A neighbor disappears. When her concerns are written off, Dina investigates on her own — and becomes a target, at the mercy of those in control…
In San Francisco, where the poor are systematically displaced by well-off yuppies, Dina Ostica is part of the problem. The damaged, determined twenty-three-year-old scrambles to make a name for herself in the burgeoning world of podcasting, with the city as her muse. She is hell-bent on professional success, thinking it will mend her broken spirit.
But when her go-to source on local history disappears without warning, she begins to uncover an uncanny pattern that hits too close to home, getting her tied up in the city’s underbelly.
What follows is a gritty tale of exploitation, betrayal, and the strength one needs to survive the whims of those in power.
Will Dina escape or fall victim to the injustice chewing up the city?

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