Review: Paris at the End of the World: How the City of Lights Soared in Its Darkest Hour, 1914-1918 ~ John Baxter

Paris at the end of the worldA preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city’s history.

From 1914 through 1918 the terrifying sounds of World War I could be heard from inside the French capital. For four years, Paris lived under constant threat of destruction. And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. It’s taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received reinforcements from across the world; the grandest museums and cathedrals housed the wounded, and the Eiffel Tower hummed at all hours relaying messages to and from the front.

At night, Parisians lived with urgency and without inhibition. Artists like Pablo Picasso achieved new creative heights. And the war brought a wave of foreigners to the city for the first time, including Ernest Hemingway and Baxter’s own grandfather, Archie, whose diaries he used to reconstruct a soldier’s-eye view of the war years. A revelatory achievement, Paris at the End of the World shows how this extraordinary period was essential in forging the spirit of the city beloved today.

2 Thumbs-UpI was really looking forward to sitting down and reading this book, after all according to the title I would get an insight into what life was like for the French, in particular Parisians during World War One.  What I actually found between the pages was more a memoir written by the Author of his search for his Grandfather who was in Paris during the ‘war to end all wars’.

Questions I wanted to know such as the Parisians reaction to a war raging so close to their city was not covered and, although the journey of discovery the Author writes about was marginally interesting, not enough was in it to stop me asking myself what this had to do with not only Paris, but the way it reacted to the Great War.

This book turned out to be a huge disappointment as I was hoping for more of a social history of Paris, a city I greatly love and another perspective on the attitudes of the people who lived here and in this time.  Each time the reader comes close to Paris it seems as if the Author decides to take the left fork in the road instead of following the path into the city, some readers may not find this irritating but for me it was a major peeve, and was one of the reasons this book only receives a 2 thumbs rating.

If the is book had been listed as a memoir the disappointment I felt in it would not have been so great and, it would probably have received a higher rating; also if this book were re-categorized into the memoir genre, I feel it would reach a wider, more satisfied, reading audience than it possibly does under its current classification.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs, but I highly doubt I will read anything else by this Author.

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Review: The Devil’s Workshop (The Murder Squad #3) ~ Alex Grecian

The Devil's WorkshopThey thought he was gone, but they were wrong. Jack the Ripper is loose in London once more.

Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad faces the most shocking case of its existence, in the extraordinary new historical thriller from the author of the acclaimed national bestsellers The Yard and The Black Country.

London, 1890. A small group of the city’s elite, fed up with the murder rate, have made it their business to capture violent criminals and mete out their own terrible brand of retribution. Now they are taking it a step further: They have arranged for four murderers to escape from prison, and into the group’s hands.

But the plan goes wrong. The killers elude them, and now it is up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt the convicts down before they can resume their bloody spree. But the Murder Squad may already be too late. The killers have retribution in mind, and one of them is heading straight toward a member of the Murder Squad, and his family.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. During the escape, one of the killers has stumbled upon the location of another notorious murderer, one thought gone for good, but who is now prepared to join forces with them.

And Saucy Jack has learned some new tricks while he’s been away.

2 Thumbs-UpI thought this was going to be a gripping historical police procedure, but the only thing gripping about it were my hands on the cover to stop me throwing it across the room unfinished.  Yes, I was disappointed in this book, and have read far better thriller/mysteries from Authors who are releasing their works to the reading public for the first time.  However, this really isn’t just one book as there is the main story that centres around the Scotland Yard Murder Squad shortly after the Ripper killings, and then there is the secondary, and in my mind much more enjoyable story, about the criminals the squad are pursuing.

The main character was not at all likeable, and in fact came across as a bit of a wimp at times.  The Author apparently wanted him to appear as a stalwart of Scotland Yard but in the end he appeared to be nothing more than a self-righteous man.  He was very much in awe of his mentor, even though this man had left the force under a cloud, he deferred to him at every turn even when he had made it clear it was not the right thing to do.  His indecisiveness was definitely at odds to the character I had expected in one of his importance when embarking on this book.  On the flip side, I found his ‘sidekick’ to be a lot more interesting and likeable, and found myself wanting to read more about him than his Inspector.  He was full of energy and stuck to a single course once his mind was made up, even if this meant going against the wishes of his superiors; the Author gifted this character will the kind of mind I had expected in the main protagonist and, rather than it being annoying to find in a secondary player, I found it one of two things that kept me reading to the end.  As to the villains their story made the hair on the back of my neck stand up in places.  Through a great deal of imagination and maybe some psychological research, the Author was able to bring these criminals to life in all their shocking and violent glory, while at the same time showing that you can never truly spot evil when it walks among us.  It was the tale of the criminals that produced the second reason I kept reading.

From a historical point of view there was obviously a great deal of research done into the time period in which the novel is set, although at times the descriptiveness of locations did have a tendency to take over the page and pull my attention away from what was actually happening.  I’m not sure if it is just me, and there may be readers out there who enjoy this, but I do like sentences in a novel to be more than a few words long, and flow in a manner that does not make me feel as if I were on a tiny boat on a choppy sea.  Not all the sentences were written in this way, and it was a relief to come across those that had a nice flow and rhythm to them; only to have this taken away shortly after and be back in my storm-tossed boat.

I now know this is the third book in the Murder Squad series, but to be quite honest that doesn’t really matter to me as I doubt that I will read anymore by this Author.  I’m also slightly hesitant in recommending this book to anyone, but if you do like a police procedural mixed in with some history you might want to take a look at this book.  If this novel had been written purely about the criminals, from their point of view of themselves and the world they walked through, this book would definitely have rated more thumbs than it did.

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Review: Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles #1) ~ Jeffrey Archer

Time will tellThe epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.” A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.

As he enters into adulthood, Harry finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question, was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his whole life on the docks, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line?

This introductory novel in Archer’s ambitious series The Clifton Chronicles includes a cast of colorful characters and takes us from the ravages of the Great War to the outbreak of the Second World War, when Harry must decide whether to take up a place at Oxford or join the navy and go to war with Hitler’s Germany. From the docks of working-class England to the bustling streets of 1940 New York City, Only Time Will Tell takes readers on a journey through to future volumes, which will bring to life one hundred years of recent history to reveal a family story that neither the reader nor Harry Clifton himself could ever have imagined.

2 Thumbs-UpThe problem with Authors as well-known as this one is that the reader expects a certain quality of writing, character development and top-notch editing and proof-reading.   In this novel which is the first in a series, he manages to reach those expectations, but falls horribly short in others.  I’ve never been an ardent fan of his works as a whole, but have found some to be fairly enjoyable to read, so I was not going into this with any preconceived notion as to which side of the fence this one would fall.

As always his characters are well-developed and thought out, even though, in some instances, a little insipid and naive for my tastes.  Covering varying families as it does, each one has their main protagonist telling the family story and this led to a feeling of the whole thing being a smidge disjointed in some areas.  As well as the characters were written, there were none that I felt I could really connect with and, over time I was just wanting something to happen that would wake them all up.  The saving grace in the character area was the writing of the mentorship between two of the males; it was written sensitively and with a real life feel about it, that actually made me smile a little when the fruit of all that time spent ripened.

The style of this book is very easy to read, but again not overly engrossing; it is definitely a book a reader could put down and walk away from for a few hours without feeling a sense of guild or loss at doing so.  If you are looking for a nice tidy ending, this is probably not the book you should be reading, as the twist in the story at the end is so distant from the start of the book that it can only lead the reader to the conclusion that this is just the beginning of a saga.

If you are looking for an easy to read book, that does not try the mint too much, or a saga to carry you through the summer then this is probably for you.  Unfortunately, for me, I feel that this will be the last time I read anything by this Author.

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Review: The Demon Hunter Saga (Demon Hunter #1-3) ~ Cynthia Vespia

Demon HunterThe acclaimed fantasy series comes together in one epic saga. Do you know what horrors lie beyond these pages? Costa Calabrese has just uncovered the truth about his past. Some truths should never be revealed. When you learn you’re the son of the worlds foremost and feared hunter of demons, life’s rules inevitably change. Now Costa has been chosen to walk in his famed father’s footsteps and take up the role his bloodline demands of him…whether he wants to or not. He is a killer of killers, laying waste to the scourge of evil that threatens the existence of mankind. He is the chosen one. He is the DEMON HUNTER.

2 Thumbs-UpUsually the best thing an Author can do, in my mind, is publish a trilogy they have written all together in one edition.  Not only does this save space on my groaning bookcases, but it also means that, should I really get into the trilogy I’m not running all over trying to track down the remaining books; unfortunately this was not the case here.

To start with the entire book is only 393 pages long, to me that is not a trilogy in the true sense of the word, it is just three short stories containing the same characters published together.  Those characters to me were very one-dimensional and it seemed as if the Author were trying to breathe life into something they played when they were younger.  The main protagonist was just unbearable and I couldn’t connect with him at, and because of the constant mood swings and changing of his loyalties, I actually began to wonder if maybe there was a long running typo of the leading ‘s’ not being printed in the book whenever he was mentioned.  It was as if the Author intended him to be male, but then lost their way and gave him too many of the irritating traits we women have; add to that the teenage angst and he was the most unlikable main character I have read in a while.  Even the villains were really not villains; they were easily dispatched back to wherever they came from showing no real threat to anyone in particular.

The storylines in all of the books were predictable and, any reader who enjoys fantasy as their usual fare will be able to figure out what is going on way before the Author lets us in on the plot. I felt an element of surprise and a bit more care taken when drafting this storyline would have elevated it to a different level.

The main reason though that this trilogy received a 2 thumbs review rating is brought to you courtesy of bad editing.  There were so many typos and inconsistencies throughout all three books, that in places they actually changed the meaning of the passage being read, or made that particular part of the plot laughable.  A good proof-reader and editor could have pointed this out to the Author, which in turn would have resulted in a book that was more plausible.

I so wanted to really like this trilogy but, unfortunately, in the end it just wasn’t for me.  If you’re at a loose end and want to take a look at this I’m not going to recommend otherwise, but be warned it may not be as good as you think.  I may try reading something else by this Author to see if the errors in this one were just that their skills had not been honed yet, so I’m not entirely giving up on them.

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Review: Look Again ~ Lisa Scottoline

Look AgainWhen reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops—the child in the photo is identical to her adopted son, Will. Her every instinct tells her to deny the similarity between the boys, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she’s a journalist and won’t be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up? She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her own life—and that of the son she loves.

2 Thumbs-UpThis is the first book I have read that was written by this Author, and my understanding is that they are not new to the published works scene; I’m sorry, and apologize now to the Author, but that was not the impression I received from reading this book.

From a character stand point they were written in such a way that really did not make me empathise, connect or want to get to know them more deeply.  The main protagonist is one that will have every single Mother that reads this book, painting placards and marching on the Author’s house, and scenes involving her became long and drawn out with her angst and a look at some rather dull side stories.  I felt when reading this character the Author could have made her so much more.  As a single mother the reader was left to figure out why she was motivated to do the things she did and not just rely on the ‘Mother Bear’ cliché.

From reading the synopsis this novel had all the makings of a great and thrilling read, but in the end the way in which it was executed was so disappointing to me that I was glad when I turned the final page.  There were several editing errors that normally I would have dismissed, but in this case the plot line was not that strong to begin with, and I found these to be very distracting.

If you are a fan of this Author you may enjoy this book, but otherwise it would make a great beach or poolside read, and be the kind of book you won’t mind leaving behind when your vacation is over.  I doubt that I will be reading anymore by this Author.

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Review: The Very Thought of You ~ Rosie Alison

The very thought of youEngland, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unhappy relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with tragic consequences. A story of love, loss and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation.

2 Thumbs-UpThis book was given to me to read by a co-worker, and as our reading tastes are usually similar I looked forward to reading this debut novel from this Author.  I will come straight out now and say the only reason this book received the two thumbs it did is because it is located in my home county of Yorkshire, England.

However, if you like books with multiple characters, each with their own separate plot and agenda, this may be the book for you.  I found the profusion of characters and plots became rather confusing after a while, and this nearly resulted in my consigning it to my empty ‘did not finish’ pile.  The reason it did not end up there was the hope I held that when I turned the next page the development of the main protagonist would start and the storyline proper would then get underway.  Unfortunately this was not to be the case and I’m not sure if it is the sheer number of characters that prevented this, or sympathy for the Author that they may have been a little unsure of themselves in this area of their writing.  I feel that if the Author had pared down the amount of characters in the novel, and concentrated some of that energy into the development of the key ones, this would have become a much better, if not compelling, read.

What a disappointment, I was expecting a book based around the evacuees from the London Blitz and the way it affected them both mentally and physically; I was expecting maybe something more along the lines of ‘Good Night, Mr. Tom’, but received a rehashing of parts of ‘The Go-Between’ and ‘Atonement’  without any of the plot development or characters that would truly make it worth the time I invested in reading this.  I feel that an outstanding editor would have been able to point out these issues to the Author, and with gentle guidance been able to help them turn this into a fresh perspective on love and happiness.

The ending of this book was the final nail in the coffin for me; most of the novel takes place during World War II, and when I say most it is probably about 75% of the book, then in the final 25% the Author suddenly felt the need to cram sixty years into about 50 pages; no explanation or tie in to the rest of the book, just ‘here it is’.  In this particular case this is one of those books that would have been better off left with an open-ending without the Author feeling the need to tie everything up neatly.

Unfortunately I don’t feel I could recommend this book to any one group of readers, but it may be something that book clubs would enjoy dissecting at their meetings.

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Review: The Returned (The Returned #1) ~ Jason Mott

ReturnedJacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time … Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

2 Thumbs-UpWhat could present a better storyline than this, people who have actually experienced whether or not there is something beyond death?  From a first glance at the title the reader may be mistaken in thinking that this is the usual undead meal served on a different plate, but they would be wrong.  This Author took a different angle to this now well-worn and tired out old scenario, and then failed to bring it to its full glory.

What could have been a novel full of intriguing characters and an even better storyline that would have kept me turning pages was instead, a novel full of characters I really couldn’t care less about and a plot that left me with more questions than answers.  The main protagonists in this novel are almost mechanical like in their personalities and nature, but rather than making the reader wonder what about their current situation makes them this way they are left feeling they are reading about flat one-dimensional non people.  Even the main “returned” character is boring, and that was the biggest disappointment for me in this novel; instead of filling him with insight and revelations on what lay beyond, the Author took the complete opposite tack and had this character say nothing at all about death and the afterlife.

The plot line moves along at a slow and plodding pace and, even though I don’t expect everything I read to be fast-paced and full of action, in a book with this topic as the plot I was expecting places that would make me think and wonder; and not about whether I would make it to the end or not.  The redeeming factor for me that kept me going to the end was the interspersing of stories told of the other “returned”.  These snippets gave more of an insight into the effect of their coming back, not only on their families but on society as a whole.  They were moving and emotional, and from an interest point of view knocked the socks off the main plot line.  In my opinion, after reading this and seeing how well the Author tackled the shorts, I feel they would fare better by writing short stories than attempting to breathe life into a series that hasn’t even made it out of the gates for this reader.  I doubt I will be reading any of the subsequent books.

I will recommend this book to a certain reader who may enjoy this, but I’m not entirely sure who that reader would be as I felt I definitely was not in the targeted audience.

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