Geared for an adult reader, this is a fun and entertaining imagining of the life and times of Captain Hook...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Geared for an adult reader, this is a fun and entertaining imagining of the life and times of Captain Hook before and after his ill-fated story with Peter Pan. And it has romance.
Description: Captain James Benjamin Hook has survived the attack from the mythical crocodile that purportedly ended his life, but he is consequently trapped in Neverland - a purgatory with endless battles against the boys of Neverland which serves as entertainment for the “Pan”.
But things aren’t as simple as they seem. Hook is not really the evil bad guy that the stories about Peter Pan have led readers to believe. He has a complicated past which has helped him to be caught in Neverland. And Peter Pan is not the sweet child that we all have learned to love. In this story Lisa Jensen writes from the debonair and educated perspective of the persecuted Hook.
Shellie’s thoughts: This was such a fun read. The best part was the excellent voice of Hook. Written in first person and spoken with an affluent old fashioned British accent (Jensen does a fabulous job with this as well as with the more working class accents of the pirates too), we get to hear the other side of his in-depth story.
And it feels authentic, like one is reading historical fiction although set in a make-believe setting which is a combination of realistic and fantastical. The book also has a map of Neverland which further adds to the book’s appeal and understanding of the story line.
In addition to the fantastical setting the reader gets romance, drama, violence, fairies, mermaids, Indians and the Lost Boys, all combined with realistic and fairytale elements. I like this so I would categorize the book as historical fantasy. We find out about how Captain Hook lost his hand, his hedonistic experiences during the late 1600s and early 1700s, why he is actually a protagonist that we should be rooting for – all with romance, drama, and violence; elements that help to create an intriguing story.
This is recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction and who love pirates, since you will get what feels like a realistic version of them. It doesn’t hurt that Lisa Jensen has historical knowledge and has written previously about the subject – and you can certainly tell that she is a veteran writer. It is highly recommended at 4 stars. A fabulous re-telling of Peter Pan, it eloquently captures a blend of historical fiction and fantasy.
The second in an atmospheric murder mystery set on the coast of rural Scotland. It has a strong female le...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
The second in an atmospheric murder mystery set on the coast of rural Scotland. It has a strong female lead and can be read as a standalone. I would, however, recommend reading the first in the series- Cold in the Earth, - since it adds character depth.
Shellie’s description: Set in a farming and seaside community in Scotland, Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming and her family have almost overcome the devastating foot and mouth incident which occurred in the first and previous novel of this series, Cold in the Earth. When the community's local rescue boat with its three volunteers crashes on the rocks during a messy storm, it takes all the lives on board. The community is once again devastated. Things become more complicated when another detective determines that the boat was perhaps led into the wrong harbor (a rocky and dangerous bay that is off limits to boats) determining that it may have been planned. It turns what was thought to be a horrible accident into a murder investigation.
Then another life is taken and it becomes apparent that a serial murderer is on the loose. With a variety of suspects it takes the entire local police team to figure out who the unlikely killer is.
Shellie’s thoughts: After reading this second in the series, I’ve decided that I liked this novel enough that I will attempt to read the other 5 books in the series. It has a variety of great elements that I think are entertaining - a strong female lead, excellent setting, a variety of interesting supporting characters, psychological insight into a criminal mind, a twisty plot, and intelligent writing that flows - excepting the Scottish colloquialisms, which can be interesting, charming, or impossible to understand for an American (not necessarily a bad thing!)
And even though the first book in the series was somewhat predictable, The Darkness and the Deep is not, which is important in a mystery. It does have the psychological profiling which was used in the first book, as well as its in-depth character development. My favorite part is it’s such a great setting for a vicarious trip to rural Scotland.
Like the first novel in the series, I dug right in and kept on reading until I was finished, which says a lot. Since this second book is an enjoyable page turner too, I will now consider the series a go-to book when looking for a guaranteed pleasurable read. And what a great deal. Witness Impulse is re-publishing this mystery series in ebook format for an amazing price of $2.99 - otherwise this series would not be available in the US. If you enjoy international crime fiction this is an excellent option. I’m rating the book 4 stars.(less)
Quick take: The story of Hughes’ rise to fame, descent into total drug addiction and eve...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought
2.5 stars actually
Quick take: The story of Hughes’ rise to fame, descent into total drug addiction and eventual recovery.
Description: Glen Hughes joined the English rock band Deep Purple when they were at their peak. He was a highly talented singer, songwriter and bassist and had previously spent six years in the band Trapeze, but as part of Deep Purple he immediately achieved worldwide fame. After two years Deep Purple split up and Hughes then went on to make a lot of music with a string of bands and as a solo artist, in addition to being a session musician on a long list of recordings by other artists.
The book tells the story of Hughes musical career and his relationships with many people in the music industry, both famous and not so famous. It also describes in some detail the lurid lifestyles led by many successful people in the industry. But the main focus on the book is on his introduction to drugs, his subsequent addiction, his chaotic descent into a personal (and professional) hell, and his eventual return to sobriety and relative normality. He pulls no punches in describing what it is like to be a drug addict and the impact it had on himself and all those around him.
The book is liberally laced with quotes from a great range of people who have come into contact with Hughes throughout his life and career.
John’s thoughts: I loved (and still do love) a lot Deep Purple’s music, so I was a very happy camper when Shellie presented me with this book. I read with great interest the content relating to music, musicians and bands. It was interesting to read about who he interacted with and to find out more about some key people in the music scene.
What wasn’t so interesting was the drug-related content. I soon tired of reading about drug dealers, users, addicts and the impact of addiction. It is obviously important content, and telling that story is no doubt one of the big reasons why Hughes created this book, but reading about someone totally screwing up their lives and often being a jerk while doing it just isn’t a lot of fun. Plaudits to Hughes for finally getting his act together, getting clean and recreating his life, and I admire his brutal honesty in telling the tale. I just lost a bit of interest half way through the book.
It didn’t help that the autobiography wasn’t very well put together. It jumped around a lot and contained loads of snippets that just seemed to be patched together. Things didn’t really flow smoothly.
I’d recommend this book for any big fans of Deep Purple or Hughes’ other music, and it would also be a good read for anyone wanting to learn more about the perils of drug use and the travails of an addict. Unfortunately it left me a little cold. I’d rate this book 2.5 stars. (less)
An exciting young adult novel that has elements of horror, myth, and the paranormal.
Description: When fifteen year old Daniel finds a seemingly lifeless body on the shore of his island home, he feels that something is not right with the man John Dee (as the locals name him since he does not remember who he is). When the entire town appears to side with this newcomer and Daniel is treated as an acting-out teenager, things get a little sticky. Daniel decides it’s up to him save the town’s folk from this stranger - a man who is not as he appears to be.
With elements of horror and a mythological ending that’s a great surprise, this story will have readers sitting on the edge of their chair until the conclusion.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a terrific slowly escalating thriller that readers who love scary books will devour. I know I did. And it’s a perfect read to take in on one sitting. At 162 pages, for some readers it will only take a few hours. It’s a small and thin soft bound book with a cover that I think is exceptional and represents the story very well; which will also increase its appeal to younger readers. I would say that the author knows his craft, creating this “clean” literary thriller that will be just as great for teens as for adults.
It has a great setting that the reader will love – an island somewhere in the UK. It’s a small coastal town that helps create a feeling of being stranded, which is a key element in the story for Daniel as he is the only person to believe that the rainbow man is not who he leads everyone to believe.
Recommended for lovers of horror and books with paranormal or mythological twists. Also recommended to audio book listeners since it’s just as great of a book in its audio version, with its UK accented reader. Highly recommended at 4 stars. (less)
John’s quick take:An excellent, touching and hilarious coming-of-age story, set during the Troubles in No...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take:An excellent, touching and hilarious coming-of-age story, set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Also a “must read” for any ex-paperboys out there.
John’s description: In 1975, Macaulay was a twelve year old boy living in the Shankill Road in west Belfast. This was during the Troubles and the Shankill was a particular hotspot – a predominantly loyalist working class area, it was also the home of several loyalist paramilitary groups. Bombs were going off, mobs were clashing, shops and buses were being burnt out, paramilitaries were openly causing mayhem and an ever-expanding network of “peace walls” were going up to separate protestant and catholic communities. Against this backdrop, the young Macaulay gets a job delivering the local Belfast Telegraph newspaper each evening.
The story tells of a two-year period of his young life during which he delivers the newspapers without fail, despite all of the barriers and problems. It is a funny and touching tale. He cannot for the life of him understand what the Troubles are all about and sees madness and hypocrisy on a daily basis, but he remains cheerful and focused on things that are really important to a near-teenage boy – girls, pop music, clothes and trying to fit in at school.
We are introduced to a big cast of family, friends, adversaries, teachers and customers, most of them talking in a thick Belfast accent and many of them possessing slightly odd views of life. He becomes a star paperboy but remains fearful of his boss – Oul’ Mac. “Oul’ Mac smoked and said ‘f**k’ a lot. Of course, most men smoked and said ‘f**k’ a lot, but Oul’ Mac did both, simultaneously and ceaselessly ….. I never saw him smile, but sometimes his eyes twinkled and I couldn’t work out whether he was coughing or laughing”.
Macaulay and his friends got into endless pranks and scrapes, but through it all he remains determined to deliver his newspapers, polish his reputation and remain “the only pacifist paperboy in Belfast”.
John’s thoughts: This is a funny and a delightful book. It is also a clever read – while it remains light hearted it pulls no punches in skewering some of the idiocy (and idiots) of the Troubles. When Macaulay finally meets some catholic boys he surprisingly finds them just the same as his protestant neighbors and remains slightly bewildered at what the fuss is all about.
The story also resonated with me a lot on a personal level. I too spent my pre-teen and teen years in the 1970s delivering newspapers each day, albeit in England and not Ireland, so a lot of the cultural and historical references really hit home – though I didn’t have to dodge “wee hoods” that were regularly trying to rob me and I certainly didn’t have to worry about bombs and blocked off streets.
I found the Belfast humor hilarious, though I will warn that some readers might find the accents and some of the vernacular slightly tough to penetrate. I managed ok and actually found that rather than being a barrier it added to the enjoyment of the read.
I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, but particularly to those who were growing up in the 1970s, anyone who enjoys light-hearted coming of age stories and anyone who wants to learn more about the Troubles. And of course this should be a compulsory read for the paperboy fraternity! I’d rate this four stars. (less)
Shellie’s quick take:The first in a contemporary murder mystery series set in the Scottish countryside....moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take:The first in a contemporary murder mystery series set in the Scottish countryside. It’s a dark atmospheric thriller that has a family-oriented and strong female lead, a psychopath, and a psychologist as the main characters.
Shellie’s description: Detective Marjory Fleming lives with her husband and two children on a farm in the Scottish countryside - where the green hills are dotted with sheep, the weather is harsh, everyone knows each other, and the local population’s loyalties to each other run deep. She also works with a volatile yet handsome detective whose family has raised prize-winning bulls for generations and who has connections with bull running in Spain, which is a key theme for the book.
When a case of foot and mouth disease is diagnosed in a nearby farm, the connected villages are in an uproar since entire herds of animals may be destroyed, potentially devastating the locals – both economically and emotionally. Things get even more complex when a body is found in the field of a prize-winning and killer bull, and Marjory is faced with her first murder investigation.
Shellie’s thoughts: Originally published in the UK in 2005 and just released in the US this year, I read the book in its unedited North American version. I found that there was a large number of colloquialisms peculiar to Scotland and the UK which may be edited out for American readers. Not knowing how much has been changed, it’s probably safe to say that this may cause a slight bit of a reading flow issue for those of us who are not familiar with the language of the Scottish. However, it’s interesting and entertaining and I think this adds to its appeal – giving the reader a mini-trip (albeit in wintertime) to the UK countryside.
The characters are well developed and I particularly appreciated the story including two interesting characters other than Marjory Fleming - one a psychologist and the other a psychopath. With these two characters the story leads the reader into some in-depth psychological examinations creating a more complex and entertaining plot. In the end the only negative thing I can say about the book is that the story line was ever-so-slightly predictable.
A great read if you enjoy mysteries set within another country (especially Scotland) and also for those who enjoy strong female main characters, antagonists who have no conscience, and in-depth psychological insight. I would rate it 3.5 stars and will definitely be looking forward to reading the other books in this series.(less)
John’s quick take:A fascinating book for anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take:A fascinating book for anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also a terrific read for anyone who likes a good adventure story. This history book is full of both intriguing historical details and breathtakingly dangerous human exploits.
John’s description: As Hitler’s Germany prepared for war, it was determined to match the might of the British Navy. One result of this was the building of a huge battleship that was bigger, faster, better armed and more advanced than anything the world had seen. The Tirpitz, named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz who was the architect of the German Imperial Navy, was supposedly unsinkable.
As the war developed, the main role of the ship was to cause havoc with the Atlantic convoys that were both the lifeline of besieged Britain and an important source of allied arms being supplied to Russia. The Germans based Tirpitz on the Norwegian coast, so it could also serve as a deterrent to a possible allied invasion of that country. Hitler had something close to paranoia about the threat of the allies rescuing Norway from its German occupiers.
As it turned out, by far the biggest impact that the Tirpitz had on the war was the threat of what it might do, rather than anything it actually did do. The allied forces were terrified of the ship’s capabilities and went to enormous lengths to protect their convoys and to avoid a direct confrontation, thereby tying up enormous amounts of military assets; meanwhile the Germans, and Hitler in particular, were terrified of losing the ship and were amazingly cautious about using it in anger, despite its reputed invincibility. But Hitler was not the only wartime leader who played a major personal role in the Tirpitz story; Churchill was almost obsessed with the Tirpitz, and relentlessly pushed his forces to attack the ship, even after it should have become obvious that its threat was overstated.
The result was that over a three-year period the British launched no less than 36 operations designed specifically to sink the ship. As Tirpitz was moored in well-protected Norwegian fjords, beyond the range of traditional British-based bombers, many of the British operations were innovative or desperately risky, bordering on suicidal. Among other things the British tried to use human torpedoes, midget submarines, aircraft carrier-based dive bombers, and specially designed mines. Some of the operations used special services groups, supported by undercover agents in Norway, and much of the intelligence about the ship’s movements and plans was the result of the British decrypting top-secret German Enigma communications.
The operation involving newly designed midget submarines was particularly unusual and daring. After perilous training and a fraught journey across the North Sea, just three of the ten craft made it beyond the ship’s defenses, one of which was then sunk by gunfire and depth charges. But two of the tiny submarines did manage to lay mines which did quite a bit of damage to Tirpitz, and put it out of action for almost six months. However, the ship was repaired and once again became a thorn in the sides of the British.
Eventually the job of sinking Tirpitz was handed over to the Royal Air Force, which now had access to Lancaster bombers which had just about enough range to reach the Tirpitz. The attacks by the bombers stretched the limits of both human endurance and available technology, and the losses were high. But using highly innovative and terrifying new “earthquake bombs”, the RAF finally scored two direct hits on the ship causing it to capsize within minutes; of the 1,700 sailors on board at the time of the bombing, it is estimated that almost 1,000 died as a result of the attack.
John’s thoughts: I found this a tremendously interesting read. It could have been just a dry, historical account of events, but throughout the book, Bishop uses personal diaries, memoirs and interviews with families of survivors to bring the history to life. In large parts the story is told through the eyes of people who were involved.
And what a story this is. If a Hollywood movie had used a plot like this, many would accuse it of being far-fetched and unbelievable. In here we have arms races, technology being pushed to the absolute limits, powerful nations battling for survival, spies, decrypted secret messages, audacious plans and quite stunning acts of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. It is the latter which I found most amazing. Throughout the book there are seemingly normal people that are willing to volunteer for missions or to do things which are absurdly dangerous. Heroes indeed.
Apart from all of that, I also found it an educational book. I’m old enough that World War II was very real to my parents and grandparents, and I’ve always been fascinated by the period. I learnt a lot from this read and it wasn’t just about the facts and the stories immediately surrounding the Tirpitz. It was also an education to find out more about the people – from how the personalities of Hitler and Churchill had a direct impact on events, to the stories of the daring pilots and sailors who undertook the raids, to the impact of German occupation on Norwegians, to the lives of the sailors on board the Tirpitz. Something else gave me great pause for thought. The Tirpitz never did attack allied ships and essentially the only time it caused any damage was when it was defending itself against attack; yet it had a major influence on events during the war. The threat of a weapon turned out to be much more damaging than the weapon itself. Intriguing, and you can’t help but draw some parallels with the cold war that followed World War II.
I’d rate this book four stars and thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also to anyone who enjoys reading about real-life adventure. (less)
John’s quick take:The Great Famine in Ireland is one of the most shameful episodes in the last...moreOriginal review by John is posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take:The Great Famine in Ireland is one of the most shameful episodes in the last 200 years of Western history. All Standing is an accurate retelling of the story of the legendary Jeanie Johnston famine ship, interwoven with a vivid history of the famine and the tale of one family who emigrated to America aboard the Jeanie Johnston to avoid the catastrophe.
John’s description: On the surface, the Great Famine was caused by potato blight that destroyed the crop that a huge proportion of the Irish relied upon – but the underlying causes went much deeper. With an impoverished economy, a booming population, predatory landlords, an enormous number of subsistence farmers with virtually no rights, and an over reliance on a single crop, the famine was a disaster waiting to happen. But the sheer scale and callousness of the disaster are hard to take in.
Before the famine Ireland had a population of around eight million people. Over the seven year years that the famine lasted it is estimated that a million died from starvation or related diseases and another million emigrated, mostly in a desperate bid to escape the horrors at home. Ireland’s population plummeted by some 25%. Unfortunately for the emigrants, conditions aboard the famine ships were often a lot worse than what they were escaping from. Emigrants were treated like cargo and crammed into ships’ holds with hardly any food and no sanitation, and diseases ran rampant. Over a hundred thousand emigrants died on the so-called coffin ships; on many voyages mortality rates were much worse than on slave ships. When the starved and sickly Irish arrived at their destination, they usually had to once again fight abject poverty, not to mention uncaring authorities and rampant racism.
But amidst the horrors one ship became legendary for not losing a single passenger during 16 cross-Atlantic voyages from Ireland to Canada or America. The Jeanie Johnston, based out of Tralee in Ireland, was built by a Scottish craftsman working in Canada, and captained by a professional sailor who carefully picked his crew and cared for his passengers. Unusually this ship had a ship’s doctor – and a very good one at that. Still the voyages were dangerous and the Jeanie Johnson had to rely on its fair share of luck.
On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, a farmer’s wife by the name of Margaret Reilly gave birth to a baby boy, who the parents named after the ship’s owner, doctor and crew – resulting in the boy having no less than seventeen middle names! Nicholas Johnston Reilly (that’s his short name) and his parents survived the voyage, arrived in Quebec, crossed into America and eventually moved via Indiana and Michigan before settling down in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
John’s thoughts: Through painstaking research Miles has created a vivid picture of mid-nineteenth century Ireland, the famine, national politics and politicians, local characters involved with the Jeanie Johnston, the ship’s voyages, an emigrant’s life in Canada or America, and the Reilly family story.
While the bare facts are fascinating (not to mention truly horrific), this could so easily have become a dry, documentary history tome, but Miles has avoided that fate and created a really interesting book that is easy to read. In large part she has achieved that by focusing a lot on real people and their stories, which brings the history to life. Cleary that required an awful lot of research and hard work on her part.
Personally I’m still incredulous that the famine was allowed to become as catastrophic as it was – so much could have been prevented or alleviated if it wasn’t for greed, bigotry, inhumanity and neglect. I learnt an awful lot reading this book. Can you believe that in the middle of the famine when a huge portion of the Irish population was starving to death, large amounts of food were still being exported out of the country? Stunning.
It was also interesting to hear about the plight of immigrants arriving in North America, and in particular the racial discrimination that they faced. That’s the second book I’ve read this year which has touched on this theme – the first one being The Spy Lover which told the story of a Chinese immigrant.
I did like the way that Miles weaved in the story of the Reilly family, which served to personalize the big historic picture - though I would say resulted in the narrative jumping around a bit. Regardless, I’d rate this book four stars and recommend it to anyone with an interest in Irish history, immigration into North America, or nineteenth century history generally. For anyone with even a drop of Irish blood in them, this is thoroughly recommended. (less)
Shellie’s quick take:A sweet and “bookish” story about a house that helps lost but tal...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
2.5 stars actually.
Shellie’s quick take:A sweet and “bookish” story about a house that helps lost but talented women find themselves. It’s magical realism for female bibliophiles.
Shellie’s description: There is a special house near London located on a street called Hope. It calls to exceptional women to live in its walls when they are in crisis. What’s unusual about the house is that you cannot see it unless you have been chosen by it. In fact many famous women have arrived and received its help over its 200-year life and their pictures cover the walls.
As the story alternates between a handful of characters that are in need of assistance, we slowly get a picture of why the current set of women are there. They are then magically given what they require so that they can move on in their lives.
Shellie’s thoughts: On the plus side it’s an easy-to-hold and physically small book with some cute ideas. It has an eclectic group of gifted main characters including one that is over 60 and another that is LGBT. There is also an impressive list of the long-deceased prior inhabitants, whose ghosts visit its current residents with their advice and insight. With the dead’s accomplished mini bios at the end for reference, the book has a slight feminist perspective highlighting the women that have paved the way both for the current residents and for women in general.
However, even though it has chocolate, ghosts, fashion, romance and advice, it was a bit trite for my tastes. And sadly, though the story line gave me the desire to want to know what was going to happen to the characters, the writing did not pull me into the text and consequently I felt the desire to skip parts of it.
Do not let my slightly negative thoughts deter you; I am seeing positive reviews from a variety of readers. I did think the book was okay, but would not put in on my favorite list for magical realism. I would recommended it for literary-minded romance readers who want everything tied up neat and sweet in the end and who like a bit of magic in their reads. 2.5 stars for this debut novel.(less)
A historical novel set in England and Alaska during Victorian times. It has Native Ala...more3.5 stars actually. Original review posted at Layers of Thought.
A historical novel set in England and Alaska during Victorian times. It has Native Alaskan mythology with a bit from the British Isles woven through it.
About: Marie is a young woman who has grown up without her mum. Living with her wealthy father in England, the household’s cook tells Marie stories that lead her to believe that her mum was a selkie – a mythological creature that is seal in the ocean and human on land. It becomes a key belief for Marie and draws her to the sea.
When Marie’s father, decides to marry Marie off to a much older and overweight widow, Marie barely escapes by pretending to want to help in the efforts to Christianize the native population at a small mission in Alaska. It is after all close to the sea. Full of hope and wishing to connect with her selkie heritage, she arrives in Alaska to live with a very devout woman, who controls her every move and her kind husband who has an understanding for the Native Alaskan culture.
As the outpost’s teacher, Marie is asked to help the local children learn and become Christian with strict bible quoting lessons. However Marie has other ideas about how to teach the Natives and finds that she feels connected more to them than with her own people.
Thoughts: This was an engrossing historical novel that has mythology from two cultures embedded in it. I truly enjoy stories that contain myth, and with this particular novel one can almost consider it as having a slight speculative edge. Apparently the author has done some in-depth research into Native Alaskan heritage, so the novel has given a glimpse into a not very well know culture and created an intriguing subject mater to learn about.
Set during in the late 1800’s, when women had very little say about what they could do with their lives and were required to live within strict rules of conduct, our main character had to use indirect manipulations to evade things like her planned marriage. She goes even further to violate the cultural mores of the time but I will not spoil this dramatic story for you. But because Marie is a heroine who dares to go against these required behaviors, with consequences, it gives the story a feminist flavor.
I enjoyed Selkie Dreams with its romance, mythological core and its absolute drop-off-a-cliff shocker of an ending. I was completely blown away. It’s a 3.5 stars in my opinion and recommended for those who like strong female leads, reading about different cultures, stories set in Victorian times, and historical fiction with a touch of romance.(less)