Over 550 book reviews with full author links

25 July 2015

Mary-Anne O'Connor: Gallipoli Street

Another saga about WWI
With centenary celebrations this year of Gallipoli and WWI battles I have been reading quite a few books about those battles. Gallipoli Street is Mary-Anne O'Connor's debut novel and is a wide ranging saga of war and family, romance and friendship both in WWI and WWII. It not only covers Gallipoli but also spans Australian forces in the desert of Egypt, the bloody trenches of the Somme and eventually the steamy world of the Kokoda Trail.

I enjoyed the book overall but the scope of the book across several battlefronts and more than one war made it difficult to follow all of the story.

This review was posted by MonicaD

Jodi Daynard: The Midwife's Revolt

A compelling, captivating, and compulsive historical novel
The Midwife's Revolt is one of the most compelling, captivating, and compulsive historical novels that I have read for some time. It is set in Braintree, Massachusetts near Boston from 1775 onwards during the American Revolutionary War. It brought to life a period of history that I, as an Aussie, knew little about.

While the "heroine" is Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolyston, a strong and independent woman, the story is in part a biography of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams who played a major role, albeit indirectly, in the founding of the United States. John Adams, a country lawyer, was a key figure in the creation of a the new nation and went on to become Vice President to George Washington and eventually the second President of the USA.

Lizzie was an unconventional woman for her time. As a self-trained midwife she was in constant demand from the very poor local community and mostly paid in kind with linen, food etc. Fearing for her husband fighting for the revolution in a nearby battle with English troops she rides astride (unthinkable for a woman at that time) to find him dead by a single bayonet thrust. Lizzie is only 21.

With the help of a couple of servants, one a well educated young girl who becomes her confidant and trainee midwife, Lizzie works from dawn to dusk to run her farm and keep them alive during the hard winters. From time to time she plays her part in the revolution by spying on local Tories who sympathise with the English, even disguising herself by dressing as a youthful male messenger and riding astride wearing her late husband's breeches.

One of the most compelling factors in the book is Lizzie's friendship with Abigail which gives the reader an understanding of the life of key players during the revolutionary war. Daynard gives a great and apparently authentic fictional account of the tough conditions at the time and immersed me in a time and place of which I had little knowledge.

I listened to the audiobook version which was brilliantly narrated by actress Julia Whelan which further brought the period to life for me. I cannot recommend this book too highly to those who like serious and authentic historical fiction. It is already in my list of top reads of 2015.

19 July 2015

Barbara Taylor Bradford:The Cavendon Women

Not one of her best
I have read and enjoyed several books by Barbara Taylor Bradford but this one certainly wasn't as good as the others and I have to admit that I nearly gave up about three-quarters through the pretty lengthy book.

The main problem from my viewpoint was there were so many characters and the book went from one character to the other leaving me confused and frustrated. The story became a meaningless waffle from one family to another.

Like most successful authors Barbara Taylor Bradford writes to a formula which is getting a bit stale for me. I hope she does better in her next book as the best rating I could give it, even knowing that others love everything she writes, is 2.5 stars.

This review was posted by MonicaD.

Melissa F Miller: A Mingled Yarn: A Sasha McCandless Novella Book 7.5

Always expect the unexpected with Sasha
This is a short novella for followers of Sasha McCandless and Leo Connelly as a bridge between her many adventures as a legal trouble magnet. In her last novella Melissa F Miller covered their marriage, an very eventful affair. This time she covers the last days of Sasha's pregnancy, so what could go wrong there?

Sasha is a little cranky at her size and the effect on her very small body - someone even suggests that her shoe size will increase after the birth and make her vast wardrobe of stilettos (a necessary thing for such a small woman) useless. Connelly is becoming increasingly anxious for her safety and tries to get her OK to bring a handgun into the new house to protect her. Sasha is at a very intense stage and when she believes that she may be in danger again even calls on her Krav Maga self defence trainer to allow her to practice her skills, even in her very pregnant state.

The last thing that Sasha believes is that her life will change irrevocably when the birth is over - of course Sasha is in for big surprises.

What I really like about this novella is that it isn't too closely packaged with promotions for the next full book. This is a short, simple and interesting interlude to bring readers who have read earlier books up to date on another milestone in Sasha's life. It is not a starting point for the series.

14 July 2015

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

Regency story of Much Ado About Nothing
This is one of the most famous and memorable historical romantic novels ever written. In essence it is a story of Much Ado about Nothing set in the slow moving world of intricate manners in eighteenth century Regency-Georgian society.  Jane Austen's superb clear prose gives you a ringside seat of that society and how "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

I have seen multiple movie and TV versions of this story but have never read the book. Austen's prose brings alive a range of fascinating characters notably Mrs Bennett, a pea brain whose main aim in life is to get her five daughters well married and Mr Bennett, who retreats to his Library to avoid excessive contact with his irascible wife. I especially loved the character of Mr Collins, an obsequious and greasy clergyman under the influence of the powerful and manipulative Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who also happened to be Mr Darcy's Aunt. Then there are the various "lovers". Mr Bingley and lovely Jane Bennett and the scoundrel Mr Wickham and headstrong Lydia Bennett.

The main protagonists are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. While Darcy is one of the richest and most eligible men in the kingdom, at first Elizabeth finds him arrogant and rude and builds up an intense dislike of him. The story is about how these initial reactions change as both of them get to know more about the other. Of course, to the surprise of everyone, including the couple themselves, the romance has the inevitable happy ending.

Throughout the book I constantly thought about how the various relationships would have developed in a modern environment. Most certainly Elizabeth would have told Darcy directly that she found him arrogant and boring and they wouldn't have had any further contact.

In this case I didn't read the book but had it read to me as an audiobook by a professional narrator, English actress Carolyn Seymour, who used her acting skills to bring the book to life with a range of different voices for the key characters in appropriate English accents. This transformed what would might have been a bit of a tedious reading experience to someone used to page-turning thrillers into a brilliant historical adventure. I wonder if I would have really appreciated all the finer points of the writing and the characters without the help of this marvellous narrator.

13 July 2015

Honey Brown: Six Degrees

Six degrees of sexual desire
This is a big change of direction for Honey Brown who usually writes perceptive and exciting psychological thrillers. It is a collection of six loosely interconnected stories about the impact of sexual attraction in everyday life. While some of the scenes are somewhat sexually explicit the stories are a world apart from the FSOG type of erotic nonsense that is so popular these days.

Each of the six short stories has a theme and the major players have some form of connection to make the collection of stories bind together:

~ Threesome - an unusual threesome brings together a long-standing twosome.
~ Two women - an exploration of a brief sapphic encounter.
~ Older - a fishing adventure with an older man.
~Younger - a short fantasy with a younger man before reality kicks in.
~ Two men - a quick loving connection between two men.
~ First time - the last connection is a first connection.

Honey Brown has written six  loosely connected stories that explore human relations through sexual attraction. This is top quality writing with meaning which shows how everyday life may be affected by such attraction. It is serious stuff, not erotica - I have read more explicit and steamy scenes in Nora Roberts bestsellers.

These stories showcase Honey Brown's excellent writing abilities. While I applaud this change of direction I hope it is not a long term thing and look forward to reading more of her excellent psychological thrillers.

My thanks to The Reading Room and Ventura Press for a copy of this book for review.

Philip Kerr: The Lady from Zagreb

Josef Goebbels wants a favour 
I recently completed reading Philip Kerr's masterly trilogy "Berlin Noir" about Bernie Gunther, a hard-boiled detective in Berlin during the rise and rule of the Nazis. The trilogy was really outstanding because Kerr wrote heavily-plotted, hard-boiled and frequently violent crime novels seamlessly set against a fascinating background of Germany before and after the war.

This book is set in 1942 when Josef Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister was planning his next film. He is having problems persuading his favourite actress Dalia Dresdel (the only person to call him Joey) to return from Switzerland to star in that film. Goebbels asks a personal favour of Bernie because that is the only way she will agree to return - find Dalia's father in Yugoslavia and give him a letter.

There is no way in Nazi Germany for someone to refuse such a personal favour and keep their life, but Bernie soon finds out that his life may be just a much in danger in the killing fields of Ustashe-controlled Croatia.

In 1956 Bernie reflects that while Dalia still burnt an unforgettable hole in his heart there was always a small part of her that was a wolf. What happens in Switzerland and Croatia is only a small part of the story. For those of you who read #3 A German Requiem this book tells us, in a cameo event, how Bernie married Kirsten, also as a favour to Goebbels.

Bernie Gunther is one of the most fascinating characters in historical crime fiction. He was never a Nazi or a war criminal but went along with them because opposing what was happening was too painful to contemplate. He is not averse to some brutality where necessary in his work, has a tough and rough sense of humour, is constantly cynical but while he is sometimes morally-compromised he has a pragmatic sense of right and wrong. He is also a dedicated ladies man.

One of the greatest things about the series is Kerr's almost insider knowledge of Nazi Germany and the war and his ability to place Gunther within that environment, with personal contact with some of the worst Nazi criminals.

After writing the first 3 books in the series Kerr took 15 years to write another book, and The Lady from Zagreb, #11 in the series, was  written nearly 25 years after the first book. The wonderful thing is that this book is as fresh as the early ones and, while the initial trilogy would help to background Gunther's character, this book could also easily be read and enjoyed by new readers.

I will certainly be going back to other books in this remarkable series.

Victor Methos: The Neon Lawyer

The initiation of a rookie trial lawyer
Victor Methos brings us an interesting insight into the world of a rookie US trial lawyer who has to endure many obstacles in seeking justice for his clients. Methos does this through the eyes of a newly admitted to the bar attorney Brigham Theodore who has to battle the Judge, the district attorneys and even the prison system to protect the rights of a woman at the end of her emotional and legal tether.

Brigham made his way through college on a shoestring by working as a school janitor. After unsuccessfully doing the rounds of all of the large law firms in Salt Lake City he is just about to retire back into his janitor role when he spots a neon sign for a legal firm in a seedy part of town. After so many knockbacks he is stunned to be offered a place in the firm by the Russian emigre owner with mob connections who believes that he will make a good lawyer. The rewards are not high but he has his foot in the door to practice law. This is not as easy as he thinks because the first cases he is handed are as a trial lawyer, one of them a sensitive and headline grabbing capital murder.

Brigham's client is Amanda Pierce, an emotionally exhausted woman whose six year old daughter was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered. At the height of her emotional despair she has gunned down the man who has been indicted for the murder while he was being escorted from the justice building by police. She can't eat, or sleep and her only hope to keep her life is Brigham, a "rookie" trial lawyer who has little experience of the courts.

I found this to be a very disturbing tale as Brigham ran the gauntlet of the system, especially the Judge and the arrogant District Attorney, to protect and support his client in what seems to be an impossible case. This is not a tale where the attorney delivers miracles because he finds out the truth during the investigation - it is a tale of an inexperienced but basically competent and confident young man who takes on the system because he believes that there must be some form of justice for his client.

I read this as an audiobook and the narrator brought much of the drama of the courtroom to life through his depiction of the characters, especially the Judge, the prosecutor and the emotionally shattered defendant.

Methos has written a very good courtroom drama/legal thriller about a search for justice in a case that seems indefensible. His experience as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney shines through in this story. I was disappointed that so far Methos doesn't appear to have written any other books featuring Brigham Theodore as there seemed to be a lot of scope to explore and develop his character.  I will certainly look out for other books by this author.