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 Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon #1) ~ Mel Starr

The Unquiet BonesHugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling—despite his lively faith—and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris, and then hanging his sign in Oxford.

Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith.

The young man she loved—whom she had provoked very publicly—is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. But this is just the beginning of the tale.

The story of Singleton’s adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first in a series, The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, and if this one is anything to judge the rest by it promises to be an intriguing and interesting set of books.

Unlike most cozy mysteries that are set in Bake Shops, Quilting Clubs or just centred around folks that enjoy unravelling a good mystery, this one is set in medieval England.  The main protagonist is a four son, and as befitting the times is having to make his own way in the world, with death of his three older brothers being the only way he will inherit. The way he finds is the path of the surgeon, although given the condition of 14th century medicine I feel that the title ‘surgeon’ should be loosely interpreted.  With a skillful hand the Author paints perfectly the lot of a younger son, and the reader is transported into the time period to suffer the cold and hunger that the main character experiences.  Despite all his hardships, this character is very likeable, and is very well aware of the holes in his knowledge and goes to great lengths to make sure that those around him understand his skills only go so far.  As the novel progresses so we see our main character grow and begin to find out who he really is; this is done with humility on the part of our ‘hero’ which only serves to endear him to the reader even more.

This is not a fast paced murder mystery but rather it ambles along at pace that reflects the era it was set in.  It is a simpler time, but this simpler time is laced with a darkness and cruelty that was redolent in the 14th century.  Although the story itself is simple, that is a good thing, the Authors descriptions are not weighed down with too much description, but not too little that the reader loses interest in what is happening.  The book does have a lot of references to Christianity and the Church, but this is not because it is a Christian fiction novelist, again this is just a reflection of a time when the Church played a very large role in the everyday lives of the people it touched.  Again this added to the overall feel of the novel, and did not detract from it in any way.  Through tight writing and keeping on track with the plot, this novel is more than just another medieval tale.

I would highly recommend reading this series, and those readers who enjoy a cozy mystery but are looking for something away from the normal setting might especially enjoy this along with lovers of historical fiction.  I will definitely be reading the remainder of the series as, and when they are published.

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Review: Blackout (All Clear #1) ~ Connie Willis

BlackoutOxford in 2060 is a chaotic place. Scores of time-traveling historians are being sent into the past, to destinations including the American Civil War and the attack on the World Trade Center. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser, Mr. Dunworthy, into letting her go to VE Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shop girl in the middle of London’s Blitz. And seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who has a major crush on Polly, is determined to go to the Crusades so that he can “catch up” to her in age.

But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments for no apparent reason and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

From the people sheltering in the tube stations of London to the retired sailors who set off across the Channel to rescue the stranded British Army from Dunkirk, from shopgirls to ambulance drivers, from spies to hospital nurses to Shakespearean actors, Blackout reveals a side of World War II seldom seen before: a dangerous, desperate world in which there are no civilians and in which everybody—from the Queen down to the lowliest barmaid—is determined to do their bit to help a beleaguered nation survive

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This book is actually the first half of the All Clear duo.  Together they come to some 1168 pages and, personally, I feel that they could have been published as one novel rather than splitting them in two.  Both books centre on time travel from Oxford 2060 back into the past to recover historical items, in this case for the rebuilding of a certain Cathedral.

The book is broken down into three episodic narratives, each from the point of one of the historians covered in the book, and it tends to jump from one narrative to another as it progresses.  This can become a little confusing at times if, as a reader you are not used to either this Authors writing style, or the jumping around from one scenario to the next.  However, I didn’t feel that this style of writing hurt the book in any way; after all it is a novel about time travel, which in its nature jumps around from one place to the next.

The three main protagonists are likeable enough characters, and they are instilled with humour, compassion and worry.  They worry if they will get home, they worry if their being in a particular timeline will alter their future, and most of all they care about and worry for those they come into contact with in World War II London.  This brings us to the remainder of the cast of characters, of which there seems to be thousands; there are Soldiers at Dunkirk, civilians in the Blitz and many, many more; but for however briefly they appear in the storyline, this Author manages to write into each one their own personality and traits.  It is a credit to the writing style of this Author that she is able to make these people from the past, not just some image in our mind, but actually come to life as living, breathing people that we care for and cheer on.

The story is long and at times slow-moving, it also has plenty of things that don’t make sense if you really stop to think about it; but the time the Author takes to describe the effect of the bombing of London, the way the population rallies round each family hit and their stoical remarks as one night of air raids runs into another, and another, make the slow-moving pages feel rather like a break from the horror of the bombings.  Regardless of the slower moving sections, the storyline was engaging and gripping enough to keep me reading on to the cliffhanger ending, and then make sure I read the second part of the story.

Despite the topic of the Blitz, the Author manages to capture the dark the wit and humour of that era, and add to it a little piece of mystery and a touch of romance.  The plot is extremely complex and the way in which the Author is able to take a multitude of disjointed plots and subplots and weave them into the cliffhanger ending of this book, makes this a very enjoyable read. The Author succeeds in taking the reader out of their own world for a while and into the Blitz of World War II; it is done in such a way that the serious and tragic nature of the subject matter is served up with enough humour to make it bearable – even uplifting.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy time travel genre, but are also open to satire and humour in their chosen reading material.  As there is nothing offensive in this book, I would also have no problem in recommending it as a YA read.

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