Sunday, July 27, 2014

Of Love and War by Paul Doherty

Of Love and War by Paul DohertyI was already reading three other books when I came across this Amazon freebie. It sounded like something I'd like so I downloaded it and immediately read the first chapter. (I always do this with freebies so I can see if they're worth taking up space on my kindle or should be deleted at once).

Anyway, in spite of other bookish commitments I got engrossed in this story and read it over two days, my other books put aside.

This is a really good story. Major Oscar Fairfax is an Inspector Javert-type person who's post war assignment (and his own personal vendetta) is to find war by-steppers, deserters, cowards, and other war "criminals" and bring them to justice. With this in mind he arrives in the small Durham town of Crouden with his briefcase and...evidence.

A lot can happen in a trench. With explosions, corpses, confusion and trauma, it is an easy thing to pop off one or two people you're fed up with and no one would know the difference. What happens in the trench, stays in the trench, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Take Billy, Jack and Kitty. Three pals from childhood. So close, people called them "the Trinity". When they grow to adulthood, both boys love Kitty with all their heart but only one can marry her. Billy marries Kitty and Jack mourns not only the loss of the love of his life but also the end of the three Musketeers. From now on, there won't be three pals. There will be two and one.

War is declared. Billy and Jack go off to fight. Billy is killed and Jack marries Kitty. All goes well until Major Oscar Fairfax comes on the scene planting doubts about Jack. It turns out Jack was the last person to see Billy alive and when Billy's body is found, there are two wounds. One shrapnel wound to the stomach and a bullet wound to the temple; a bullet fired from a British gun. Jack's helmet is lying nearby...

I found this book a gripping read. I thought that the insight into post war trauma was realistic and honest. I particularly felt for the character of Bob Daventry who was a grave digger during the war and while he returned home alive, he would never be a complete man again. We see him spending his days with a shovel over his shoulder or digging holes for all the dead "that won't stay in their graves like they should".

Recommended for readers who like a good mystery with fully formed characters, in a similar vein (but different) to Charles Todd.


SEX: One sexual attack. Not graphic.
VIOLENCE: War imagery. Accurate but not graphic or gratuitously gory.
PROFANITY: Moderate. (B's, A, S)


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson

The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson"Mill Girls" is a compilation of four separate memoirs before and during WW2. It's an interesting read, though not a riveting one. I thought it was noteworthy that in almost every story, all members of the households who were of age, worked. There were no Susie Homemakers here. There wasn't that luxury. And even with several wages coming in, life was stark.

The most memorable passage in here, to me, was in story one, where the woman talked about "making do" with liquid paraffin in place of butter since they were only rationed 2oz per week. That just floored me. But the author stated that with saccharin and a bit of jam it wasn't half bad. (!) I just can't get my mind around that...

Sometimes the stories ran together since they were all describing the same scene (although from different angles and personality) so at times it felt a little repetitive. But overall it's a quick enjoyable read.

MY RATING: PG (for mild profanity)

*I received a free ecopy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

O' The Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

O, The Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith3 1/2 Stars

I have a really hard time rating and classifying this. I think if it were written today it would be YA, since the main character starts out at age 7 (I think), stays around 10 years old for ages and finally in the last few pages reaches 14.

It's a good book but I'm not used to reading about such young characters. I think if I were of the YA age range I would have liked this a lot more than I did. Its a very sweet, gentle read but I kept wondering, "Where are we going with this?" and the answer was, "We're not. We're just enjoying the ride".

And for the most part you do enjoy it, although I couldn't help wondering why the author saw fit to kill off so many people. I think I counted nine deaths. That's quite a lot by any standards but pretty over the top for a book written for younger audiences. And yet I can't say it's morbid. Most of the characters that got killed off were pretty unmemorable cardboard-type figures, and I got the feeling that once they served their purpose the author was just as bored with them as we were so... POP goes the weasel.

The friendship/love between Ruan and David was probably one of the sweetest Ive read (although at one point I could have smacked him. I suppose he couldn't be completely perfect). The ending leaves you satisfied but wanting an epilogue.

Recommended for lovers of old fashioned, quaint, cozy reads. This is my second DES, and I have to say I enjoyed her book The Lovely Day a lot more.


SEX: None
PROFANITY: Very mild (Ds)
THEMATIC ELEMENTS: Death, family abandonment, unwed pregnancy vaguely hinted at


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sabrina by Madeleine A. Polland

Sabrina3 1/2 Stars

Sabrina is a girl torn between love and duty in pre WW1 Ireland. While Sabrina and her siblings have many dreams for their futures, it is "the Mama " who holds the cards and deals their hands, one for the land, one for a wife, two for the church etc etc.

I did like this but I didn't love it. I won't say its depressing exactly, but it is frustrating, so be warned. And yet I can see why a lot of people really love this story, the plot is excellent and really holds a lot of potential.

For those who care, yes, there is a HEA but it came at a point where I had been frustrated for so long I was like, "whatever. good. I don't care anymore."

In saying that, I think it would make a pretty good movie if it didn't dwell too much on the nunnery (which was probably the biggest "Nooooooo!!!"" of the book) and if it allowed us a few more tender moments. I think Sabrina and Gerrard had great chemistry and I wanted to see them together more.


SEX: None
PROFANITY: Religious cussing (G, JM,&J, J, JG etc)

MY RATING: PG (for profanity)

The Nigtingale Nurses by Donna Douglas

The Nightingale Nurses by Donna Douglas4 1/2 Stars

Another juicy episode in the melodramatic soap opera that is... "the Nightingale". :) Pure brain candy. There's happy moments, heart wrenching moments, "Oh no you didn't" moments, "Turn around!" moments..."Nooooooo!" moments...*sigh* I love this.

"Nightingale Nurses" is probably the most exciting book so far in the Nightingale series. The Blackshirt uprisings are well under way and Dora's brother has joined them. But no one can predict the far reaching consequences of those itching for change.

And Dora and Nick...Nick is now married to Ruby (through her scheming but its his own fault) and while his heart still belongs to Dora, he must be a man and make the best of a bad situation in his new life with Ruby. But when Nick's mentally disabled brother overhears Ruby and her mother Lettie spilling secrets and making plans across the garden path...well, things can get messy and anything can happen...

Donna Douglas is a great writer and so far I have loved this series. Well Recommended.


SEX: None (one "almost" rape, talk of past indiscretions)
VIOLENCE: some attacks as a result of the Blackshirt uprisings.
PROFANITY: Pretty mild. B,D, J
PARANORMAL ELEMENTS: One patient is a Romany and tells fortunes to any who will give her the time of day.


Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my free ecopy to review

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Far Cry by Emma Smith

The Far CryThis book was first published in 1949 and resurrected by Persephone books. Yay! It really is a little gem and I'm so glad its back in circulation.

In a nutshell, 14 year old Teresa is dragged off to India by her father so that his exwife can't have her ( though if the truth be known, neither of them want her anyway). At its crux, this is a story of a dysfunctional family and at times no character is very likeable, although we can understand why they act the way they do.

I cant say the novel is a cheerful one but its not a depressing read either. (for those who need a HEA you can rest assured that it does end with hope). Its largely character driven rather than plot driven and in this case India itself is one of the characters. I would call it slice of life.

The author was so observant of personality, foibles, mannerisms, culture and scenery (see my updates for examples of this) that I'm left feeling satisfied and slightly awed.

Why not 5 stars?
I would have liked just a little more sunshine in this child's life. Still, it's a story that stays with you long after the final pages are turned and so, for its masterful storytelling alone, I feel that it deserves at least 4 stars.

SEX: None
PROFANITY: Very mild


Black Roses by Francis Brett Young

Black Roses by Francis Brett Young2.5 Stars

If you're new to Francis Brett Young I wouldn't start with "Black Roses ". It is so different from his usual style and in my opinion, not his finest work. In fact, if I didnt know FBY wrote this, his name would never have crossed my mind.

The setting is Naples, before, during, and after the cholera epidemic in the 1880's that killed thousands. Our male protagonist is a struggling artist and his caddish friend, a doctor.

The female in the story is a tortured "kept" woman (not a prostitute, more of an imprisoned mistress) much older than Paolo who runs the boarding house. Their relationship is strange, and I'm not talking about the age difference (that means nothing to me); Its strange in that it's so unclear. Is it friendship? Is it pity? Is it respect? Love? What kind of love? Our hero is at times enraptured by Christina and just as frequently repelled by her. For my part, well, I never really warmed to her. She is clingy and frightened and possessive and overall trudged upon. One can pity her but I'm not feeling it.

Apparently FBY wrote this story based on the memories a friend who experienced the cholera plague first hand. That I think is what makes this novel ever so slightly miss the mark. It never felt like his own and therefore just didn't quite speak to me in the way his other stories had.

But I'm glad I read it. It was unusual.


SEX: alluded to but not shown
VIOLENCE: Not an issue


The Nightingale Sisters by Donna Douglas

The Nightingale Sisters by Donna DouglasThis is the second book in the Nightgale series and in some ways I enjoyed it even more than the first. By the second book we already know the characters and their pasts, secrets, fears, family situations etc so this book could carry on at full speed.

We don't hear as much from Helen this time, instead her spot is "replaced" (although she is still there) with Night Nurse Violet Tanner; a woman with a secret past ready to catch her out and catapult her and her son into danger.

As with book one, book two's story is gripping and moves quickly. The way the chapters switch POV with each main character really works here and kept me interested, much like a TV series keeps you loading the next episode even after your eyes are bugged out. You just have to know what happens next.

I'm looking forward to book three: "The Nightingale Nurses".

*I received an ebook from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion


SEX: There are some racy scenes and off screen sex. SPOILER: [ One character seduces another in her effort to "keep him". She undresses in front of him and then the scene fades to black. Another character has premarital sex and another character nearly dies from a botched back street abortion ]
VIOLENCE: Domestic abuse (the violence is not shown to reader but the results are)


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

This Little World by Francis Brett Young

This is a lovely story very reminiscent in style to R.F. Delderfield, and in theme to Dorothy Evelyn Smith's The Lovely Day and Margaret Kennedy's The Feast. It's a "slice of life" tale set in a small village in the Midlands some years after WW1. The village is picking up the pieces, sadly depleted of it's fine men, and people's lives and businesses are topsy turvy. Those who were wealthy gentry before the war find themselves struggling to pay their bills, and conversely, some everyday Joe Shmoes are rolling in money as a result of businesses (such as munitions) which thrived during the war.

As with many 'slice of life' books, no one character is given more attention to others, in fact its difficult to find a main character at all, but in this book you can almost do it in the form of Miles Ombersley who has just inherited his father's ancestral estate...complete with debt.

It's a story of everyday people and how life changes them from the inside out. You will see how some are ruined through bad choices (otherwise termed "bad luck") and become less likeable, while others actually mature and flourish under tests of character.

FBY's descriptions are a delight to the senses.They make you step back and say, Now why didn't I think of that! I'll give you an example:

One character, while driving into town on business, notices the growth of traffic on the roads and muses to himself how the brightly painted motor vehicles glide slowly and smoothly like newly hatched butterflies in every color, making his Silver Ghost seem so old fashioned by comparison...

I also liked his tongue in cheek humor. For instance when an old woman is lying prone, dying, the doctor calls for her next of kin and privately begs the good lady to brace herself for the shock in her sister's appearance. "Oh,Laura was never a beauty", she replied blandly.

 Or when said old lady recovers, she is told how the doctor saved her life her response was "his charges were certainly moderate. His bill for the whole of my illness was less than three pounds..."

I just love that!

One other thing I enjoyed near the beginning of the book was the minister complaining to the doctor about how difficult it was to rouse the village to camaraderie. He says,"It isn't that I want to improve them, I want them to enjoy themselves without being self conscious, I want to give them more fun!"

"Merry England and all that? No, Vicar, that hobby won't gallop. You see, England isn't merry by nature, and I doubt if it ever was. We have no abandon. We're stiff Northerners, self conscious and reserved. You can't make us unbutton...We English people are such individualists. Our homes are our castles; we're always on the defensive. Five hundred years ago we jolly well had to be. Then our lives, though you'd hardly believe it, are tremendously full and as different from another as -what shall I say- our cottage gardens. We hate what you call "being organized"- unless we're convinced that it's absolutely necessary for some specific reason. A war, for instance...and even then, though we take it like lambs, we like to pretend that our organization is voluntary...."

It's been too long since Ive read Francis Brett Young. His books are so well worthwhile. If you dislike Hardyesque descriptions you probably wont have the patience for this but I drank in every word. It's brilliant!

SEX: None (past indiscretions of town characters mentioned)
VIOLENCE: Mild (a car crash)