19 Nov 2017

THE SACRED RIVER.

THE SACRED RIVER by WENDY WALLACE.


Harriet Heron's life is almost over before it has even begun. At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive. Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe. 

With her devoted mother, Louisa, her god-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live. But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa's long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter.

In this land where the air is tinged with rose and gold, all three women journey towards destinies that take them further than they could have ever imagined.
- Back Cover Blurb

'Oh Lord, what is that? 
- First Sentence, Chapter One

All boys, aged seven, eight, nine - it was hard to tell; so many had hardened, wizened faces on slight and childish bodies. Every last one of them appeared half-starved.
- Memorable Moment


SOURCE ... A charity shop buy.

READ FOR ... Book 18 of 24 read for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

MY THOUGHTS ... A lovely moody, Gothic cover that to me shouted of a hauntingly mystical novel. A synopsis that spoke of  a reclusive invalid, Victorian London fogs, spells inspired by the Book of The Dead, a dangerous friendship, a voyage to Alexandria - combine all these things and this should have been the perfect read for me and yet ....

An invalid, a severe asthmatic, a prisoner if you will in her own body. Main character Harriet's life 'over almost over before its begun'. As a fellow asthmatic I found myself wheezing alongside her as I longed not for a nebuliser that sees modern drugs administered straight into the lungs so much as the burning nitre paper that, having filled the room with smoke, sees her, an hour after her worst attack ever, wanting tea and toast. Hmm!

A story of self discovery, each of the three women (Harriet, her mother; Louisa and aunt; Yael) in their own way running from something but to what? Whilst each women brought something different to the story not only did I fail to find in any of them the really strong, feisty female character that I so enjoy (and was hoping for), I found myself unable to connect with any of them beyond the most superficial of levels. Their growth (to say nothing of the plot itself) largely predictable, I continuously found myself a step or two ahead of the actual developments .... Except in the case of Harriet and a young male artist whose relationship, rather frustratingly never adequately explained, I couldn't fathom.

Which brings me to the men.

Given that this is Victorian times, granted the so-called metrosexual male would look out of place, however .... 

The 'romantic' lead aside, from the man who rather than blame his father who seduces the young and powerless blames them for seducing him to the man who berates his wife for her becoming pregnant pre their wedding to the missionary for whom a bribe is the only way to secure help, it seems  chivalrous was non-existent.

 And yet for all that, a book I'd rate as an OK read. I can't quite put my finger on what it was - perhaps the spiritualism aspect that cropped up from time to time (how I wished there had been more of it), perhaps my desire to find if, away from the smog filled London, Harriet would be 'cured' - there was just something compelling about The Sacred River that kept me turning the pages.


16 Nov 2017

(DR HARRY KENT SERIES #1): THE HOLLOW MEN & HIDDEN FIGURES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HELPED WIN THE SPACE RACE.

Two reviews of two very different books, both of them read for my Reading Group. To view the synopsis of each book please click on the book's title. TT


THE HOLLOW MEN by ROB MCCARTHY.

The hearing is the last sense to go, and the first to come back.
- First Sentence 

He could feel the sweat under his arms, on his face. Lahiri's face was sallow, defeated, with the expression of horror you get when you realise someone else knows something they were never meant to. An expression of abject failure.
- Memorable Moment: Page 192

MY THOUGHTS ... Used to reading US Police Procedurals , it was refreshing to read one set in Southwark, England, and not just any Southwark, England ...

With its backdrop of inner city housing estates notorious for their gangland culture this is a gritty read in which Intensive Care Registrar, Harry Kent, gets caught up in an incident.

A strong debut novel. Whilst the medical terminology could be a bit dense, for the main part the author managed to walk the line that saw the jargon kept authentic and yet largely understandable to even those of us whose only knowledge of a pneumothorax  (that's a collapsed lung to you and me) is what we have gathered off any number of the medical dramas out there.

Character wise?

As with most protagonists of this genre Kent is not without his demons. His CID counterpart (and I dare bet love interest to be) Frances (Frankie) Noble, likewise with issues of her own. Both willing to go that extra mile, to bend the rules to get their man so to speak. Their humanity (and humility) make for interesting characters that I believe have a lot of mileage in them.


HIDDEN FIGURES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HELPED WIN THE SPACE RACE by MARGOT LEE SHETTERLY.


"Mrs Land worked as a computer out at Langley," my father said, taking a right turn out of the parking lot at First Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia.
- First Sentence, Prologue

.... it was difficult to object to good education and mild middle-class manners, even if they came wrapped in brown skin.
- Memorable Moment, page 87

MY THOUGHTS ... What could have been a fascinating read if it wasn't so, I hesitate to use the word, dull. I can't help wondering if all of the immense research that had obviously gone into the book; the amount of facts and figures (many of them repeated more than once) that I got lost in, the sheer amount of technical know-how that went over the top of my head, came at the cost of what should have been three fascinating female 'computers', computers being the name given to the mathematicians who played such a crucial roll in America's Space Programme.

Yes, without doubt a story worth telling however ... 

The highly skilled work these women were doing aside (like most people I know I wasn't aware of this), for me the most interesting aspect of the book was the social history that chronicled the conditions under which women like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson (the inspiration behind Hidden Figures) lived and worked. But alas, even then, for the most part facts like these 'Negro' women (not a term that sits comfortably with me but one that is sadly historically accurate) had a separate entrance to their 'White' colleagues came as nothing new.

Then there were the technical issues.  

To my mind, in need of a good edit. The repetitive way in which we were treat to fact and figures was bad enough, the chronological jumping to and fro downright confusing but, worst of all, rather than letting us, the reader, sit in awe of these women, there was a lot of unnecessary(?) adoration by the author.  

A book about which I've heard said 'read the final three chapters and you have the film'. I can't help wondering if this is one of those rare cases in which the film will indeed prove better than the book.



14 Nov 2017

JACK FORTUNE AND THE SEARCH FOR THE HIDDEN VALLEY.

JACK FORTUNE AND THE SEARCH FOR THE HIDDEN VALLEY by SUE PURKISS.


An orphan child full of mischief, Jack lives with his crotchety widow aunt in eighteenth-century England. His naughtiness knows no limits, and when one day he goes a step too far, Aunt Constance decides that she s had enough: from now on, his bachelor uncle can take care of him. Uncle Edmund is in no way prepared for a boy with boundless energy and an impish streak and anyway, he s off to the Himalayas to search for rare plants! But Aunt Constance is absolutely determined, and Jack s uncle has no choice he will have to take the boy with him.

What follows is a terrific adventure that will see Jack and his uncle the most unlikely of all expedition teams sail to India, cross the jungle and reach their mountainous destination, before returning to London to present their findings to the Royal Society. Along the way, Jack will finally come to terms with the great loss that has blighted his childhood years and discover, quite unexpectedly, that he and his late father have much in common.
- Back Cover Blurb

Jack Fortune was in a filthy temper.
- First Sentence, Chapter One: The Final Straw

The heavy canvas bags had been torn apart, and their contents were scattered. Rice, vegetables and meal had been ground into the earth. Torn plant papers and petals drifted about the clearing, and carefully labelled boxes which contained precious seed had been smashed. Notebooks lay open, their pages muddy and torn.
- Memorable Moment, Page 122/3

SOURCE ... Received for review with thanks to Alma Books.

READ FOR ... No applicable

MY THOUGHTS ... What my grandad would describe as a rollicking good read for the bairns. 

Marketed at those aged nine to eleven years, Jack Fortune And The Search For The Hidden Valley has a wonderful Boys Own adventure story vibe about it. Reading it I felt wonderfully nostalgic for the stories of my childhood.

Inspired by Sir Roger Banks and the 'plant hunters' (details of which are to be found in a short but interesting Afterword), adventurers who as the title suggests journeyed the world in search of rare plants. 

A delightfully 'old fashioned' story with some amazingly memorable characters, many of whom are quintessentially British like Colonel Kidd whose Indian home 'looked exactly like an English one.' Why? You might well ask (Jack certainly did). Well, as Uncle Edmund explains "We're English. Of course the Colonel would want to live as he would at home."

Asked by many of my friends if I can suggest any books for their sons of this age. Jack Fortune is certainly one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. In many ways a 'boy's boy', we first get to meet him digging up a dead rat he and his best friend, Will Puddy, had buried days previously, his Aunt Constance despairs of him, his Uncle Edmund, off on another journey into unknown territory, reluctantly takes him along. What is really nice about the story is how his character develops as he identifies skills he didn't know he had, growing as he comes to know of the customs of people very different to himself, learning about their beliefs and customs, oh! and the mythological metoh- kangmi, the guardian of a hidden valley, something the author impressively and seamlessly adds into the mix.

With a sub-title of 'And The Search For The Hidden Valley', fingers crossed there will be another adventure, perhaps another culture (and who knows, maybe even another mythological creature) to learn about, in a second outing for Jack and his Uncle.

9 Nov 2017

(A MAX BROWN NOVEL #4): HOW EXISTENTIALISM ALMOST KILLED ME.

HOW EXISTENTIALISM ALMOST KILLED ME by MICHAEL BERNHART.


Fourteen years after their (mis)adventures in the US Max and Sally are comfortably ensconced in Geneva and both wondering if their lives of comfort and privilege don’t require they make a contribution. They find token employment with the CIA. This converts to an assignment to uncover the source of counterfeit drugs in Southeast Asia that are killing thousands.

 Unprepared, and overly zealous, their every effort seems to result in the death of a friend or acquaintance. The trail leads to remnants of the Khmers Rouges – the quintessence of evil – in western Cambodia. The battle is waged on elephant back, in a Thai brothel, in Cambodian minefields, and in Khmers Rouges strongholds. Sally is wounded and Max is forced to carry on alone.

Obsessed with the existence of evil since childhood, Max discovers an unwelcome source of barbarity: within himself.
- Back Cover Blurb (Contains what some may consider spoilers, scroll over text to reveal the full synopsis if you so desire. TT)

Do you read spy novels?
- First sentence, Chapter 1: Revelation

I backed into the bathroom and peered around the corner of the door. One man turned; he was holding a pistol. The second turned; another pistol. I was armed with a toothbrush.
- Memorable Moment, page 126

SOURCE ... Received from the author with thanks.

READ FOR ... Not applicable.

MY THOUGHTS ... With characters with names like So Phat and events like that in my Memorable Moment you have to give it to the author, his tongue-in-cheek style of writing is spot on. 

But don't be misled ....

A wonderful husband and wife duo, action and adventure, some very modern evils (drug counterfeiting, genocide, corruption, anyone?) - to say nothing of an elephant - this isn't a madcap read without substance. 

A book that pulls you in and won't let you go until the very last page. Max and Sally that bit older ... and wiser? Hmm! M&M (aka the twins, Margaret and Mary) off to college. My only small gripe with this, the last outing for Max and co (or is it? I certainly hope not), I didn't take the secondary characters to heart in quite the the same way as I had those in book three, How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive.

Yes, How Existentialism Almost Killed Me is book four in the series. Easily read as a stand-alone novel but why miss out on the previous adventures of the intrepid duo (and their resourceful off-spring) when you can read books one, two and three?

A talented writer, what could be implausible somehow plausible in his capable hands. Whether or not this is the last we see of the Brown's - who knows we could  see M&M take over (now there's a thought) - fingers crossed it won't be the last we'll see of Michael Bernhart.