Review: Left on the Edge (Woodmere #1) ~ Sarah Richards

left on the edgeJust after her seventeenth birthday during winter break, Autumn and her sister receive an announcement from their parents. They are moving back to the Midwest, to a Minnesota town not even large enough to earn a dot on the map. Woodmere is where people have grown up together for generations. It is a town full of gossips and busybodies making sure secrets don’t remain private for long. Memories from her stolen childhood are unlocked during what should have been a routine move. Autumn finds herself suddenly faced with a past she wishes could be forgotten again. A past filled with events she hasn’t told anyone. The man she fears is now only hours away. In an attempt to hide, Autumn becomes the person she didn’t know she could be. Finds the strength she didn’t know she had. In Woodmere, Autumn discovers she isn’t the only one with secrets.

Part of the ‘A Book from every State of the Union’ Reading Challenge – Minnesota.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author, and is the first in the Woodmere Trilogy

For a first book, the Author has done a wonderful job in developing their characters.  The main protagonist is a 17 year old girl, but unlike many of this age group that readers encounter in their literature, this teenager is anything but full of angst.  The situations that this character encounters, and the feelings these situations invoke in her are, by the use of a skilful hand brought to life on the page for the reader; many young women experience these same feelings and knowing this makes this character all the more three dimensional and believable.  As we follow the main character through the novel, the reader can only be impressed by the ability in which the Author is able to catch the essence of what is like to be this age, whether male or female there is something that either gender will find likeable in them.  Not limiting their writing skill to the development of the characters contained within this book’s pages, the Author extends these to the interactions between other characters and also into the mains family itself.  It is almost as if the book is a biography rather than a piece of fiction.

A downside to this book, I found, was that it was a little slow for my liking and I’m not sure if this was intended to be the case and leave the reader wanting more.  Locations were written well but, as I’ve not been to this part of the US yet, I can’t say whether or not they give a true reflection of life in this part of the country.  I’m sure other readers who choose to pick this up, and live in MN may be able to judge this area of the book in a better light than I can.

This was a very good first novel, and I would highly recommend it to those readers who enjoy the’ coming of age’ genre.  Not my favourite genre by any means, reading this book has made me want to read more in this Trilogy and by this Author.

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Review: Freezing Point ~ Karen Dionne

freezing point“Salvation and annihilation meet at one degree.One man’s dream of providing clean drinking water for millions, tapped from the polar ice, sparks a conflict of humanity, science, big business, and environmental extremism.But no one can foresee the true danger hidden deep within the ice – an enemy more deadly than any could imagine, and an apocalyptic horror mankind may not survive.”

 

2 Thumbs-UpI’m not entirely sure how this book came to be in reading stack, as I’ve not heard of this Author before now.  This is a different type of book insomuch as it is not only fiction but includes a lot of aspects of real world concerns within its pages.  If you like a book that will make you think and question things, then you might like to pick this up.  This is also a debut novel for this Author.

As much as I liked this book, I felt I could not rate it any higher than I did due to a number of things, one of these being the vast number of characters that appear in it.  Some just pop in then drop from sight; others are continued throughout the book.  Because of this it is hard to identify one main protagonist as each of the cast has an important role to play in the telling of this story.  Despite the difficulty in keeping track of this ‘cast of thousands’ if the reader manages to make it to the end their roles in what has been read before all comes together.

Another reason for the lower rating than it might have been given was all the extra details that the Author included in their novel.  These had a tendency to really slow the storyline down, and in order to keep the book moving along I felt that the development of the character was given a very low priority.  Combine these with too many clichés and some obvious, and not so obvious, research errors and what could have being an outstanding, well crafted and captivating thriller turned into just another, well just another book really.  I felt with the use of a really good editor this book could have been so much more.

I am going to recommend this book purely because of the fact that it makes the reader think and reassess the world they live in.

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Review: To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War ~ Jeff Shaara

To the last manMoving on from the American Revolution and the Civil War, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, etc.) delivers an epic account of the American experience in WWI. As usual, he narrates from the perspective of actual historical figures, moving from the complexity of high-level politics and diplomacy to the romance of the air fight and the horrors of trench warfare. Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commands all American forces in France in 1917-1918 and must prepare his army for a new kind of war while resisting French and British efforts to absorb his troops into their depleted, worn-out units. Two aviators, American Raoul Lufbery and German Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) fly primitive aircraft in an air war that introduces new ways to die. And Pvt. Roscoe Temple, U.S. Marine Corps, fights with rifle and bayonet in the mud and blood of Belleau Wood and the Argonne Forest. These men and a supporting cast of other real-life characters provide a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the brutality and folly of total war.

4 Thumbs-UpThis Author is well-known for writing historical novels, and they have continued in that vein when writing this book which centres on the often forgotten war that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’.

Essentially this novel is two books in one, which can then be divided into three parts. The first 1/3 of the book focuses almost exclusively on the air war taking place at that time, with the main protagonist for this section being the notorious Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen and the French-born American ace, Raoul Lufberry. Both these characters are brought vividly to life allowing the reader to build on what knowledge they may already have of these larger than life fighter aces.  Through the Authors words we are given a look at what may have been the driving forces behind them being as successful as they were, and also at the same time brought to the realisation that, in the end they were just human like everyone else involved in this conflict.

The middle 1/3 of the book, the reader is introduced to Gen. Pershing and a young marine private named Roscoe Templer, which begins the second book where the first leaves off with the deaths of Richthofen and Lufberry. Through the eyes of the Private, the reader sees the horrors of trench warfare from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective; this resulted in me wondering why this truly hadn’t been a catalyst to end war.

The final 1/3 of the book focuses exclusively on the exploits and perils of the ground war.  Here the Author really comes into his own, showing his outstanding research skills and ability to translate history into a form many readers would find more palatable than actually doing the research themselves.  Through the Authors words the reader is transported to the water filled hovels that the ground troops called home; they can smell the death and decay that permeates the air and everything around these soldiers.  The reader is able to feel the sheer terror that they must have experienced when waiting for the whistle to blow that would signal them going over the top to an almost certain death.  But this descriptive skill is not just limited to those on the ground, the Author extends this to the flying aces in their flimsy fabric coated aeroplanes and the knowledge they also carried with them on a daily basis that this time might just be their last in the air.

Throughout this book, whether you are reading about the regular Soldiers and Pilots, or the Officers back in the rear you will be affected by this war in a way that may come a little way to the feelings of those who experienced it both at home and in France.

Whether you are a novice or a World War I aficionado, I would highly recommend this book, and if you have never read anything by this Author this is a great place to start.

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Review: Approach to Freetown (Lion Mountain) ~ Karan Henley Haugh

ApproachApproach to Freetown is the first volume of the completed tetralogy LION MOUNTAIN. It started out as a short story about an American woman who revamps her life in Africa and prepares to have a family without a husband. The protagonist Elizabeth Modra is an American artist from Lansing Michigan, who finishes her B. A. in Art in Boston and then goes to London with her boyfriend. There, he becomes very jealous of her success and becomes violent with her. At her first showing, she meets Peter Safford, a journalist, who becomes very fond of her and asks her to move in with him, which she does. Then when he takes her to cover a story in Sierra Leone, she refuses to leave. The land and people have gotten into her blood so that she wants to make this new country her home. She is determined to find out why these people are so happy and content and good to one another, even after the horrors which had befallen them during the recent Civil war.

4 Thumbs-UpIn this first of a complete tetralogy, and coming in at only 126 pages in length, explains the reason for my four thumbs rating; it just wasn’t long enough, this Author opens a whole new world to the reader in ways they could not possibly imagine

The main protagonist, a  female, is written in all her vulnerable and confused glory; so much so that any reader would be hard pressed not to want to reach out a helping hand to her, or just give her a cuddle to make her feel better.  As the reader travels with her through her trials and tribulations, the Author is able to make them experience keenly the pain and total destruction of self that this woman feels at times.  This is a character that the reader wants to be about to address and come to terms with her past, and will want to be there every step of the way to support her.  Other characters encountered are equally well written, and will produce a feeling of either like or indifference in the reader or, as in one particular character I just wanted to reach into the pages and slap them.

The locations of this enjoyable read are also beautifully written; the heat virtually rises off the pages in some areas and the inhabitants are written in such a way that they too make an impression on the reader.  It is very plain to anyone who reads this that the Author did careful research into the area she sets her work in and this adds to the authenticity of the storyline and helps carry it along in a very believable manner.

If this series of books is ever published together as a complete novel, I will definitely buy the print copy for my book shelves, and I would highly recommend this first instalment to all readers.  This is going to be a series that doesn’t deserve to be just read, it requires the time taken to savour and enjoy it as one would a fine wine or gourmet meal.

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‘What’s happening?’

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I’m just bringing everyone up to date what will be happening, or not, with the blog in the near future.  By posting this out there now, I’m hoping to avoid causing a disturbance in the force of whatever Universe you read this from; and wherever that is, I am truly grateful for the time you give over to read my ramblings.

Unfortunately, due to long term commitments, and the curve balls the Military likes to throw at us as a Family, there will be no postings on the following dates:

21st to 23rd February

28th February to the 3rd March

27th to 31st March

I will do my utmost to have something scheduled to post on these days but, in case my cunning plan falls through, by letting you know in advance you will not think that I am abandoning my book reviews and other tidbits I share with you.

Thank you, once again for the time you take to read the blog and the comments you frequently make.

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Review: Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) ~ Deborah Harkness

ShadowIT BEGAN WITH A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library,she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers.

2 Thumbs-UpAfter devouring A Discovery of Witches by this Author, I spent a long time waiting for the sequel… why did I bother.  For those of you who may be thinking of picking this up to read as a standalone book, I would strongly advise against it, as you will be even more confused at the end of this tome than you were at the beginning.

As far as the characters in this book are concerned, so much more could have been done with the slew of new ones that were introduced, but I will get back to that in a moment.  The two main protagonists are still the same pair the reader encountered in the first book in this series, and we pick up with them exactly where the previous book left them.  As to their development within this novel’s pages, it is sorely lacking and has a tendency to take any likability they invoked in the first book away from them in this.  In fact they come across as being rather flat and one-dimensional.  As with most books that feature actual historical characters, there is a myriad of resources available to the Author to build their characters upon, unfortunately this was not the case here and I felt the Author left it up to the reader’s knowledge of these persons to create their back-story. This left the characters, from a fictional point of view, being people I really didn’t care about or want to know better.  The dialogue between the characters is between the characters is bland and, at times, there is far too much of it which results in the storyline becoming bogged down and boring.

The Authors biggest downfall, in my opinion, was the depth in which she outlined the political intrigue of the time period of the novel.  It was apparent from this that they had done an extensive amount of research, but by including so much of it in this fictional piece of work I found myself drifting to other things and feeling as if I were reading a very dry and dusty history text-book.  Another irritant for me, and one of a multitude that led to the rating this book was given, was the flippant way in which the Author treated time travel; there was none of the tact or explanatory pieces that appear in works by Diana Gabaldon, or the humour used by Connie Willis to help the reader navigate around these segments of their work.

I’m hesitant to recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the first in the series, and doubt very much that I will be reading the conclusion.

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Ten Rules For Writing Fiction ~ Elmore Leonard

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Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns, then turned his talents to crime fiction. One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, he’s written about two dozen novels, most of them bestsellers, such as GlitzGet Shorty,Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch.  Unlike most genre writers, however, Leonard is taken seriously by the literary crowd.

What’s Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps you’ll find some clues in his 10 tricks for good writing, or in the words of the four Authors who share their ten (or less) rules  for writing fiction below.

RankinIan Rankin

1 Read lots.

2 Write lots.

3 Learn to be self-critical.

4 Learn what criticism to accept.

5 Be persistent.

6 Have a story worth telling.

7 Don’t give up.

8 Know the market.

9 Get lucky.

10 Stay lucky. 

AthillDiana Athill

1 Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).

2 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

3 You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

AtwoodMargaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work; or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the Holy Grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

photoPhilip Pullman

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.

 

This article was inspired by the book ‘10 Rules for Writing’ by Elmore Leonard and is, in part,courtesy of The Guardian newspaper.