Can A Doll Replace A loved One? Terry reviews #Scifi The Doll by Laura Daleo, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading The Doll by Laura Daleo

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When I started to read this story and realised that it involved a man who couldn’t get over the death of his girlfriend and heard about a company who made synthetic humanoid replicas, I was immediately reminded of a TV programme I saw a couple of years back in which the same took place – I don’t think it was Black Mirror, but something similar.  It’s a basic idea that I’ve come across a few times, and it’s an interesting one.  
This was an easy-read, entertaining book and I did enjoy the middle third.  I had a few misgivings, though, mostly to do with the main character, Jeremy, in whose first person POV the story is related.  He is meant to be a rich, good-looking, hipster sort of guy who flips houses for millions of dollars, but I felt I was seeing inside the head of a rather nervous woman, not a confident, successful man.  He kept referring to his ‘man bun’ (do men who wear their hair this way actually call it that?), describing the clothes he put on in the way that women do, and coming across hesitant and rather gauche.  He just didn’t feel … masculine.

I think it’s got potential, but needs more thinking through, maybe with the help of a good professional developmental editor.  However, from an ‘is this a fun read or not’ point of view, it certainly ticks a box – if you’re not as picky as I am you may enjoy it a great deal!

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In the wake of Jenna Hess’ sudden death, Jeremy Dillon is devastated. His only hope of easing the pain lies in alcohol…until he meets The Dollmaker.
Meet CR1XY, the Dollmaker’s Elite doll, created especially for Jeremy. But is she?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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More Thoughts On Shorts. We have been helping students at University College Cork @UCC #CorkReviews @tspoetry @TerryTyler4

Yesterday I introduced a short story project which we have been helping with. You can read the first post here, which review team member Jenni and her English students at University College Cork have been completing.

Three authors kindly offered their short story collections to the students to help with this project. The books were:

The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Dead Boxes Archive by John F Leonard

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

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‘The Shivering Ground and Other Stories’ was a hypnotic read. A step away from existential horror, it veers into an otherworldly realm far away from whimsical fantasy. These stories span historical to futuristic, the points of view of a child to a mad scientist, first person to second person to third person. Sara Barkat has a multiplicity of writing instruments at her disposal, and she commits to use them all. Her ability to do so as artfully as she does is an impressive feat for a debut collection.

These stories first and foremost focus on people. Barkat uses myriad characters to voice her stories. Her skill in bringing life and purpose to such contrasting characters is impressive. In each story these characters and their relationships stay central, yet we see the edges of the elaborate worldbuilding Barkat has constructed. The hinting at the world surrounding these stories rather than lengthy exposition was something I particularly enjoyed about this collection. Barkat only brings in information when it is relevant and natural to do so. She manages to create a holistic experience where these sometimes implausible, worlds seem as real as the one we are living in. Throughout the collection there is an apocalyptic sense of doom woven into each world. This eerie sense of inevitability echoes hauntingly in each story. It is impossible to escape it no matter which of the wide variety of stories you jump into. The halting, off-kilter rhythm forces the reader to face the horror right in front of them, yet even with the pessimistic outcome of the world around them, these characters continue to exist, and their stories continue to be told. Barkat places importance on the strength and continuity of humanity. She picks up the threads of humanity and shows the reader how true empathy can remain even in violent and desolate landscapes.

The titular story, ‘The Shivering Ground,’ is exemplar of what to expect from Barkat’s other work. It is set in a fantastical universe devastated by war and violence. The focus is on a character weighed down by loneliness and the meaninglessness of their life. Differences between characters are overcome by an inherent human preference for empathy. Even in hopeless situations, human connection forms.

This collection is quiet in its writing. Everything is subdued, but not to the point of disappearing. Each story had a mysterious element, designed to provoke a perhaps unanswerable question. The vast majority of this collection delivers on that. However, in the occasional story, there was a point where the mystery faded into fogginess, where the fog became more disorientating than thought-provoking. Nonetheless, Sara Barkat’s descriptions are immersive to a point past vividness. The descriptions almost evoke synaesthesia at some points. Each sentence was a joy to read in its elaborate and artful construction. Overall, this collection was a delightful and eye-opening read.

I recommend this collection for those who want to experience a deep dive into otherworldly narratives focused on human nature. I can say for definite that I have not been able to stop thinking about this collection. Its haunting nature is one that sticks with you long after you close the book.

Rating: 4/5 By Grace K.

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One of the flat out coolest short story collections I’ve read in a long time, Terry Tyler’s Patient Zero lives somewhere in the cracks between novels, and yet doesn’t feel reliant on them. I’ve read short story one-offs, epilogues, and continuations of novels before, and more frequently than not, those stories are entirely reliant on the parent work. You cannot read those shorter forays into whichever world they live in without also being intimately familiar with the novels they surround, otherwise the reader ends up lost entirely.

Not so with Patient Zero. In a six sentence Introduction, Tyler sets up everything a reader needs to know about her Project Renova series, and then sends them forth to read Patient Zero’s short stories, unfettered by the weight of the novels. And it’s great!

Would the experience be heightened by actually reading the Project Renova novels? Probably. But is it necessary to understand and enjoy the stories of Patient Zero? Nope, not at all. An unstoppable virus is killing people by the truckload and here is a selection of people from all over England and all walks of life, and how they dealt with said virus – get on board and enjoy the ride.

Occasionally triumphant, sometimes ironic, always written with a voice entirely unique to the character narrating that particular story, Tyler’s Patient Zero spans the breadth of human experience in a desperate situation. From the moral dilemma of one of the lucky few vaccinated, to a woman’s search for redemption following a painful confession to a child’s take of apocalypse and a doomsday prepper’s vindication, it’s all here in sharp, fast little bites of stories.

Evocative throughout, though maybe a little closer to home than some people really want in the Year of Our Lord 2021, look out especially for the opening story “Jared: The Spare Vial”, the wit of “Aaron: #NewWorldProblems”, and the distinct, if drifting, voice of “Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife”.

5/5 (By JDB)

‘It’s healthy to have an enemy. It brings people together.’ @TerryTyler4 reviews #dystopia Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J Kirchner.

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J Kirchner.

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There are so many good dystopian books around now, and I love reading the many, wildly different versions of what might await us in decades to come. I enjoyed this, the debut novel by Gary J Kirchner.

In the future, the people are crowded together in cities and connected by the Hive mind; all thoughts are connected, all information just a micro-second away.  Tommy is a world famous athlete who finds himself lost in the ‘Fallowlands’ of Switzerland – and, worse than this, he has somehow become unconnected, as he discovers when he searches for the information he needs about where to go and what to do.  Eventually he meets up with members of the Ketchen: rebels who live outside the cities and the Hive mind.
The differences between life inside the Hive and the old world of the Ketchen give one a lot to think about, especially if one is of a certain age and grew up without the technology that exists now. The sinister truth about Tommy’s world unfolds gradually, and is no less shocking for being almost expected. Several times, one of the people who controls Tommy offers some depressing reflections of our real world:

‘…from the days of metal electronics and hand-held interfaces to skin graft technology and visual implants and finally to seamless thought communication, the same pattern was followed: technology is developed, a vanguard establishes its use, meek voices raise issues of privacy and ethics, which simply get swamped in the global rush to embrace this newest step…’
And about why the Ketchen are allowed to exist:

‘It’s healthy to have an enemy. It brings people together… the idea that ‘out there’ are outlaws, bad guys who want to do your side in. If the Ketchen didn’t exist, we’d probably invent them’.

Tommy is a likable character and, despite my feeling that some of the explanations could have been edited down to be more reader-friendly, the story held my interest throughout. The exciting events of the last ten per cent of the book, and the ultimate end, are particularly good. I’d definitely like to read more books set in this world.

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Before we were all connected, before we were The Hive, there was individualism, privacy, ‘personal space’ . . . so quaint, so unnecessary . . . so dangerous . . .

TOMMY PIERRE ANTIKAGAMAC, a star quarterback, is the most followed player in the world’s most popular sport: American football. While off-season training in the unpopulated European Fallowlands, he abruptly finds himself detached from the Hive. Agonizingly alone in his head for the first time in his life, he panics, becomes hopelessly lost, and then is captured by a fringe group of anti-Hive saboteurs. The Freemen, as they call themselves, have concocted an audacious plan to “cataclysmically disrupt the brain of the Hive,” and Tommy may just be the key they need to make it successful.

But Tommy’s arrival among the Freemen is not as serendipitous as it may appear. Neither he nor his captors suspect that it is not the terrorists, but Tommy, who is the threat to the Hive. And the Hive has ways of protecting itself….

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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‘An action packed tale’. Terry reviews THE GRIFTER by Sean Campbell and Ali Gunn, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading The Grifter by Sean Campbell and Ali Gunn

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3.5 stars

An action packed tale about James, whose life was ruined by crooked financier Kent Bancroft, and his plans to retrieve his lost half a million pounds.  It’s also about Kent himself, and how the life of a rich man does not always run as smoothly as you might think.
What I liked about this book:

  • The structure – ever since reading Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel decades ago, I’ve adored alternate POV books, especially when, as with this, the lives are poles apart.
  • The pace – the book marches along with just the right amount of inner narrative versus events – there are no boring waffle bits, the characters are well-developed, and all the backstory is nicely woven in at just the right time.  This is something that you may not notice unless it isn’t right (like how you don’t notice if something is clean, but you do notice if it isn’t) – getting it spot on is an art.  
  • The writing style – flowing and so readable, so much so that I wasn’t tempted to skip-read even when I wasn’t too sure about the content itself.  
  • The quality of the research that had clearly taken place, about the financial detail, life as a homeless person, the art world and other aspects throughout the book.
  • The basic storyline, which appealed to me as soon as I read about it.

What I was not so sure about:

  • There were way too many errors that editor/proofreader should have picked up on, such as the phrase ‘the gig is up’ instead of ‘the jig is up’, Marlborough cigarettes instead of Marlboro, multiple instances of the word ‘invite’ that should have been ‘invitation’ (unlikely to occur at this level of society), numerous backwards apostrophes at the beginning of words. 
  • I wasn’t convinced that an exclusive gym patronised by the aristocracy would be called ‘MuscleBound’, which sounds more like an establishment owned by Phil Mitchell from EastEnders.  It’s only a small thing but it really stood out to me.
  • The story development, which I thought needed more thinking through; many developments/details seemed a tad unfeasible.  An example: a rich financier sharp enough to con thousands of people out of millions but doesn’t have an efficient alarm and CCTV system at his house.  

To sum up, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, it’s a jolly good, fun book that zips along, entertains and keeps you turning the pages, and for this I commend it; being able to tell a story that amuses and keeps the attention is indeed a talent worthy of note.  Everyone has different levels of belief suspension, and mine are particularly low; most of the reviews for this book are very positive indeed.

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One will rise. The other will fall.

Kent Bancroft’s rise to fame and fortune was nothing short of meteoric. Once a simple teacher in London’s East End, he’s now on course to become Britain’s youngest billionaire.

But his success has come on the back of those he’s trodden upon to get there. Among them is a man whose fall was as swift as Kent’s rise. He used to be a sparky until a freak accident robbed him of one leg.

And then Kent Bancroft robbed him of everything else.

Forget forgiveness. Forget turning the other cheek. And forget waiting for karma.

This is a victim who won’t stand idly by.

He wants revenge.

And he’s going to get it.

Kent Bancroft will never see him coming.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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‘It’s about Odin and his brothers, Vili and Vé, creating the world.’ @TerryTyler4 reviews #Humour novella CREATION by @bjornlarssen

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Creation by Bjørn Larssen

Creation: Humorous Norse Mythology Retelling (Why Odin Drinks Book 1) by [Bjørn Larssen]

I read Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel, Storytellers, which made some references to Norse gods and featured a certain subtle humour in places.  I also read his second novel, Children, which is about the children of Norse gods and contains far more funny bits. I’ve read many of his blog posts and follow him on Twitter; the conclusion I’ve come to is that Mr Larssen is a terrific comedic writer, first and foremost, so I’m delighted that he’s actually written A FUNNY BOOK!

Creation is a novella, a slim paperback (beautifully presented), is hilarious, and made me laugh out loud on several occasions, which books rarely do. It’s about Odin and his brothers, Vili and Vé, creating the world. Except they’re not very good at it and don’t really understand what they’re doing. They wonder how to get the food out of Audhumla the cow, why words like ‘anvil’ ‘laptop’ and ‘algebra’ keep popping into their heads, how the flying water happened and why the wolf bit off the peacock’s head. Odin discovers that, along with man and woman, he has created irony. 

I think it’s the sort of book you find screamingly funny or you don’t, depending on your sense of humour. I echo the words of Bjørn’s husband, when he finished reading it: ‘When can I get more?’

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In the beginning there was confusion.

Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Your brothers keep creating mosquitoes and celery and other, more threatening weapons. What can your ultimate answer be – the one that will make you THE All-Father and them, at best, the All-Those-Uncles-We-Don’t-Talk-About?

“FML! That answer’s why I drink!” – Odin

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Creation: Humorous Norse Mythology Retelling (Why Odin Drinks Book 1) by [Bjørn Larssen]

Set In Charleston during and after the American Civil War. @TerryTyler4 reviews I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George W B Scott.

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George W B Scott

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5 stars

Jonathan Vander is marooned in Charleston on his way back to his hometown of Boston, just as the Civil War is brewing.  Circumstances leave him with nothing but the shirt on his back, but he makes himself a life there.  He does not fight in the war; this is more of a social than a military history, showing how the war affected the people during and for many years after.  

The book is written as though a third hand true story; as an old man, Jonathan gives his account to his great-great nephew, who then gives it to the writer.  It is one of those novels that you’re aware of being a heck of an achievement, all the way through; the research that has gone into it is evident without one ever feeling that one is reading research.  It’s highly readable, and I loved the writing style; it was a delight to read an author who uses the language so well, and is acutely aware of the words and phrasing that would have been used in this period in history.

I particularly liked Jonathan’s observations about the futility of war; there is a good section about this in the chapter Laurels of Glory.  And I loved this:

‘Duty to an abstract government whose purpose was to use the heroic idealism of youth to forward the goals of the venal wealthy.  Is it not always so?’

The observations and accounts of the attitudes towards the slave trade and segregation were most interesting; I was surprised by some of them.  ‘Several fine hotels on Broad Street by St Michael’s Church were owned by free blacks, serving only whites.  Some freemen were themselves slaveowners, buying them to use as labourers’.  As always with historical events, though, you cannot judge them by the outlook and culture of today’s world.

I found the end of the book, about the aftermath, most emotive, not to mention the moment when the reader is told what the ‘I’ in the title means – it is not as I’d assumed.  Now and again I felt the story meandered a mite too much; it is a very long book and I felt it could have been edited down just a little. However, I could not give it anything less than five stars, and highly recommend it to anyone with a particular interest in the American Civil War, or historical fiction generally.

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First-time novelist George WB Scott debuts a novel that offers a thrilling glimpse of Civil War Charleston through the eyes of a newcomer from Boston.

Readers join the main character of “I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion” on his journey as a young man, marooned in a strange city just as the Civil War begins. His relationships with working men and women, slaves, merchants, planters, spies, inventors, soldiers, sweethearts and musicians tell the story of a dynamic culture undergoing its greatest challenge. Scott’s novel shows the arguments and trials of a wealthy cosmopolitan community preparing to fight a nation superior in manpower and arms.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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‘It was so tragic, so shocking’. @TerryTyler4 reviews #LiteraryFiction Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by @Annecdotist

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

4.5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which is both entertaining and incredibly sad.  It is set mostly in 1989/90, with flashbacks to the 1930s, and Matty Osborne, also known as Matilda Windsor, has been a resident in psychiatric hospitals for fifty years – since she was around twenty.  The reason given at the time was ‘moral turpitude’ – in other words, becoming pregnant without being married.  I remember seeing something on television once, a long time ago, about how, in the first half of this century, young girls who were committed to asylums for getting pregnant, and were never let out again.  In this circumstance, Matty eventually lost her mind; her path to this state is not revealed until the end of the book.

She believes that she is in her own stately home – sometimes during the Great War, at other times during World War II – that the other residents are her guests, and the carers are her staff.  The story weaves between three points of view: Matty, a young carer called Janice, and Matty’s younger half-brother Henry who doesn’t know where she is or why she left home.  The staff of Tuke House have no idea whatsoever what goes on in Matty’s head, or probably within the head of any of the residents.  Janice is likable and fun, and I enjoyed the portrayals of the people she worked with, most of them ghastly, grey jobsworths with limited imagination.  She is very much a young woman of the Thatcher years with anti-Thatcher ideals; I felt such a sense of going back over 3 decades when I read about her.

I guessed early on what had led to Matty’s dreadful fate, but it’s not obvious, and I did change my mind a few times; either way, the fact that we don’t know ‘how, who and why’ adds to the page-turning quality of the book.  When I got to the end of her 1930s story, I could have cried at how alone she was, how there was no-one, anywhere, who would listen to and believe her.  It was so tragic, so shocking, made even more so because you know that this sort of thing happened to so many girls, never mind the stories of some of her friends in the unmarried mothers’ home. 

Another element that adds to the suspense is Henry’s search for the long lost sister he hardly remembers, and all the near misses when he could have found her but didn’t.  They’re frustrating; each time I though, oh, they’re going to find each other!

I found this book particularly interesting because I’ve worked at a psychiatric hospital in the past, and because I was reminded of my late mother, who had Alzheimer’s for eleven years and lived in a care home for the last seven or so years of her life.  I visited her often; I remember her being under the impression that the place was a hotel, and the carers were waitresses.

Although this story has a certain amount of resolution, I gather there is to be a sequel.  I admit to being a little disappointed as I expected to get to the end and have everything nicely wrapped up – but life isn’t like that, and the stories of Matty, Janice and Henry will continue.  I look forward to reading the next book when it appears!

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In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.

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‘All citizens have their ‘departure’ date tattooed on their arm.’ Terry reviews #Ya #Dystopia Departures by @EJWenstrom

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terty has been reading Departures by E. J. Wenstrom

4 out of 5 stars

I adored the premise of this book – it is set way into the future, after devastating wars, in a part of the world ruled by the ‘Directorate’.  Here, citizens live in environmentally safe domes called Quads, where every aspect of their lives is observed, every move they make controlled by their governors.  

To an extent, I saw this situation as a clever take on a world that could be waiting for us: the mildest physical or mental ill health is to be feared, free speech is not an option and the primary objective is safety for all.  No risk taking, no individuality, no strong ideals to make a stand for.  In the Quads, extremes of emotion are not allowed, and grief is treated with medication – which brings me to the title of the book.  All citizens have their ‘departure’ (death) date tattooed on their arm.  Many will live for over a century, but others are allowed far less time on this earth. Evie doesn’t know why she is to die at aged seventeen, but, as with every other custom in the Quads, the ‘departure’ procedure is presented as a kindness; the Directorate wishes to spare the individual any pain or discomfort.

Full compliance is essential; any diversion from the official line, from the prescribed behaviour, is not tolerated.  

‘The Directorate would do whatever was necessary to placate its citizens.  There would be an explanation.  A distraction.  And then life would move forward.  A few might question it all for a bit, but the tug of a content, easy life would ultimately lull them back into line.  Because, I realise, here’s the kicker: what most people want is not to trust their government.  It’s not to build a better world.  All they want is to be comfortable … and with a sickening twist to my stomach, I realise that I am one of them.’

The problem with Evie’s Departure ceremony is not only that she doesn’t know why she must die when her life has hardly begun. Her departure doesn’t happen as it should. She lives. She is one of the few for whom the euthanasia medication doesn’t work.

The book alternates between the points of view of Evie, as she finds herself outside the Quads in a strange world that isn’t supposed to exist, and her sister Gracelynn, who is confused, hurting over the loss of her sister, and beginning to wonder if their lives are based on lies.  The writing itself is clear and effective, and the compelling plot line flows along.  Evie and Gracelynn’s discoveries come to light gradually, with truths unravelling at just the right pace.  

For the first half of the book, Evie and Gracelynn’s personalities were well-defined, very different, but as the action ramps up they become more alike.  This novel is YA, not usually my genre of choice as I have not been a young adult for decades, but I couldn’t resist the plot.  I felt this was right for the younger end of the YA range; I can imagine liking it when I was about fourteen but finding it a bit too simplistic when older.

I would have liked some sort of explanation about where in the world this was supposed to take place; as this is a couple of hundred years or more into the future, it could be that the author envisions a world in which the countries as we know them no longer exist – fair enough.  There is a little background information, but I would have liked more, and to know how large an area the Quads are supposed to cover, as well as how big they are – I couldn’t imagine them.  The only other problems I had with it were a) overuse of the word ‘goofy’,  and b) the malfunctioning euthanasia process – even now, there exists the means to put people to death quickly and effectively, so it seems unlikely that in a couple of centuries’ time they would still be making errors.  However, any books of this genre require some belief suspension here and there, and this didn’t bother me too much.  Not as much as all the goofy grins, anyway, or ‘Jeeze’ being spelled ‘Geez’ (as an expression of annoyance, it’s short for ‘Jesus’) – repetitions and misspellings are something we all do, but these should have been picked up by the editor.

Departures is a stand-alone, though I imagine there is more to come; I liked the rather uncertain ending (no spoilers!), particularly Gracelynn’s outcome.  E J Wenstrom has created a spookily plausible future world, and I’d certainly be interested in seeing what happens next.

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Tonight, seventeen-year-old Evalee is scheduled to die.

She’s planned her celebration for weeks, and other than leaving her sister Gracelyn behind, she’s ready. The Directorate says this is how it should be, and she trusts them, as all its citizens do. So tonight she dresses up, she has a party, and she dances. Then she goes to sleep for the last time … except, the next morning, Evalee wakes up.

Gracelyn is a model Directorate citizen with a prodigious future ahead. If she could only stop thinking about the shuffling from Evalee’s room on her departure morning. Even wondering if something went wrong is treasonous enough to ruin her. If she pulls at the thread, the entire careful life the Directorate set for her could unravel into chaos.

Swept away by rebels, Evalee must navigate a future she didn’t count on in a new, untidy world. As the Directorate’s lies are stripped away, she becomes determined to break Gracelyn free from its grasp—before Gracelyn’s search for the truth proves her to be more unruly than she’s worth to the Directorate.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Set in early 20th Century Ukraine, @TerryTyler4 reviews #HistoricalFiction Sunflowers Under Fire by @DianaStevan, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Sunflowers Under Fire by Diana Stevans

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Even before I began to read this, I was so impressed by what Diana Stevan has done – this is the first part of a partially fictionalised biography of her grandmother, Lukia Mazurets, who Stevan knew as a young child.  In the notes at the back, she writes that her mother told her the story of their lives, and she pieced the rest together by extensive research of the history of that place and time.  The research is evident throughout, without seeming intrusive; the customs and daily toils of such resilient peoples’ lives were fascinating to read about.  Also most interesting was the effect of the political situation, from WW1 to 1929, and how little the peasants actually knew; all news about events elsewhere in the country came via word of mouth.  Aside from this, the nature of Lukia’s incredibly hard life, with so much tragedy, meant that events happening thousands of miles away were not her immediate concern. 
The novel begins in 1915, with her husband going off to fight for the Tsar just as Lukia has given birth to a sixth child – Stevan’s mother.  The story is simply written, very readable, and I flew through the first half.  During the last third, I sometimes felt that events were whizzed through too fast, and the storytelling became a little too simplistic, as if she was racing to the end. Now and again I would have liked a little more depth and detail, and did consider that there might be an excess of material for one novel.  

In itself this is a marvellous book to have written, and I imagine it is greatly treasured by Stevan’s family, but it also stands up as a commendable piece of historical fiction about the lives of the common people of a country about which I knew little.  I have the sequel, and look forward to finding out what happens next.

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In this family saga and Great War story, love and loss are bound together by a country always at war. A heartbreakingly intimate novel about one courageous woman.

In 1915, Lukia Mazurets, a Ukrainian farmwife, delivers her eighth child while her husband is serving in the Tsar’s army. Soon after, she and her children are forced to flee the invading Germans. Over the next fourteen years, Lukia must rely on her wits and faith to survive life in a refugee camp, the ravages of a typhus epidemic, the Bolshevik revolution, unimaginable losses, and one daughter’s forbidden love.

Based on the true stories of her grandmother’s ordeals, author Diana Stevan captures the voices of those who had little say in a country that is still being fought over.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #SouthAfrica Drama The Wilderness Between Us by @PennyHaw

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading The Wilderness Between us by Penny Haw

The Wilderness Between Us by [Penny Haw]

4 stars

A close-knit group of friends set off on a hike in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. Three couples, one father and his daughter. From the beginning there are problems; one person falls ill, and another takes no notice of the rangers’ weather warnings, leaving them stranded in various locations.

This interesting and highly readable drama centres around Clare, the daughter, who has anorexia, and Faye, the wife of Derek, whose own insecurities manifest themselves in the psychological abuse he bestows on Faye; he uses a version of the ‘gaslighting’ technique, lying to her about things she has said and done in order to make her doubt her own emotional stability. Although I understood the situation, I did find it frustrating that she was such a complete doormat and appeared never to have stood up for herself about anything in her entire married life.

Clare’s story was most compelling; how the anorexia began, the reasons behind it, the way in which it took hold and the repercussions. Clare’s self-awareness made her likable, and I thought the whole subject was dealt with sensitively and intelligently, while still making for a good story in which I was totally engrossed.

I liked that this was set in South Africa, not a part of the world I know much about, and I enjoyed the occasional South African/Afrikaans word, even when I wasn’t sure what it meant. I thought there could have been more of a sense of desperation, fear and hunger, considering the precarious situation everyone was in, but the intricate emotional dynamics kind of made up for this, from a reader’s point of view. I particularly liked Faye’s feeling of connection with her environment, near the end.

I had a few issues with some of the content (such as a few instances of the word ‘convince’ that should have been ‘persuade’ – it’s one of my pet peeves!), but nothing major. I enjoyed this book; it’s a thoroughly good read – and the cover is gorgeous!

Desc 1

Faye Mackenzie and her friends’ anorexic daughter, Clare are thrown together when a flood separates them from their hiking group in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. With Clare critically injured, Faye is compelled to overcome her self-doubt and fear of the wild to take care of the younger woman, who opens her heart to Faye.

As their new friendship takes the women on an unexpected journey of discovery, the rest of the group wrestles with the harrowing aftermath of their own near tragedy. When the hiking party is reunited, their number is reduced by one.

Juxtaposing physical and psychological suspense, The Wilderness Between Us is a tale of two fragile women who unexpectedly find clarity, independence and renewed purpose as they fight to survive. It is a vivid, moving story about family, friendship, adventure and the healing power of nature and compassion. It also expounds the author’s love for animals and the outdoors.

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The Wilderness Between Us by [Penny Haw]