Book Review: The Three

I bought a used copy of this book in hardback, following some very good reviews around the blogs. It has taken me some time to get through it, with 480 pages, and a weighty ‘real’ book to prop up at bedtime.

Thinking of this review, I am left wondering ‘where do I start?’

This is a book about writing a book. Publishing that book, and what happens after that. The bulk of it is presented as the research done by that author, alongside news reports, survivor’s testimony, and interviews with people who knew other characters. It uses whole chapters of ‘text speak’ to show teenagers conversing, and others that are transcribed from taped conversations. Although this adds a very complex structure, it is never once confusing, and everything is in context throughout. Here is an online synopsis.

They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to­­–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

So, is it a science fiction book? Sort of.
An investigative thriller? Sort of.
A doomsday scenario? Sort of.
A dystopian tale? Sort of.

It seems from reviews that it is each of these to some readers, and all of those to many too. With global action switching from Japan to South Africa, Britain to the United States, it is certainly an ambitious book, with immense scope. It feels meticulously researched, much like the way the character who is writing the book inside this novel researches her story. There are androids, spooky children, bitchy men and women, and Christian cults in America. The Biblical references are many, and the culture of modern-day Japan and South Africa is examined too.

Suffice to say, there is a lot going on. But it certainly held my attention.

It also has one really great last page.

But all the way through, I couldn’t help but feel there would never be any conclusion. I suspected a sequel was in the works, and possibly a dramatic adaptation too. That made it difficult for me to get completely immersed, as much as I would have liked to.

No surprise then to discover a sequel is available now, and that the BBC is adapting this book into a TV serial.

This is currently only 99p in the UK, for the Kindle version. (As opposed to £14.99 for the original hardback)
If it sounds like your thing, here are some links.

Tales from the Irish Garden – Serialisation – Winter: Christmas Under the Magnolia Tree by Sally Cronin

Here is your chance to read the serialisation of Sally’s lovely book!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Winter: Christmas Under the Magnolia Tree

By December, high in the mountains, the rain fell as snow and lay deep on the ground in the magic garden. Christmas was just two days away and beneath the roots of the old magnolia tree preparations were well in hand. The bees, that had been forced to hibernate in the special honey-chamber when the Winter Fairy brought early snow; hummed festively in the background.

Queen Filigree was very excited, not just because she adored Christmas, but because her favourite son, Prince Zachary, was coming home for the holidays. He had married a princess who lived in the gardens of a Royal Palace many miles to the north and she had not seen him for many years. They were due to arrive tomorrow and the ladies of the chamber were bustling around in the guest apartments, preparing the beds for the visiting royalty and…

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Book Review: The Dry

This murder mystery by Jane Harper won the Sunday Times Crime Book Of The Month in 2017, and it is easy to see why. It thrusts the reader straight to the heart of small-town life in Australia, during one of the longest droughts and heatwaves known in that country. And into a community that has been outraged by a terrible triple murder.

There is no slow build up, as Melbourne detective Aaron Falk returns to his old home town for the funeral of a friend, exposing old wounds from his past, and revisiting old enemies and friends alike. The arid heat of the outback literally glows off of the page, as we follow his investigation into the death of his former friend, and the unsolved mystery from his own teenage years too.

A family has been killed, and the regional police have written off the case as a murder/suicide, by a struggling farmer. But that local farmer was once Falk’s best friend, and with the help of the local country cop, he sets about investigating the background to the case, stirring up a hornet’s nest of resentment and bitter memories along the way. Falk is no swaggering hero, and he also has to overcome the prejudices of narrow-minded small town people as he tries to solve the case.

Much of the story is told in flashback, but it is never confusing to the reader. The descriptions of the characters and the harsh environment are so well done, I could almost picture myself walking around with Falk, as he views the dilapidation of the town he once called home. Lots of potential suspects are on offer, with the usual swings and roundabouts accompanying a murder investigation with witnesses unwilling to help, and scant evidence to go on. And with his efforts frustrated at every turn, Falk is tempted to abandon it all, and return to his police role in the big city.

But he doesn’t of course, and his doggedness eventually wins through.

This book is 381 pages long, and was remarkably cheap on Kindle when I bought it for just £1. I found myself staying up late to read it, and walking around with my Kindle during the day to occasionally catch another chapter. As a result, I finished it in two days, not bad going for me. So it is very good, make no mistake about that, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys crime thrillers and murder mysteries.

However, I did guess the identity of the killer, and before the halfway point too.

But maybe I have just watched too many films…

Here’s a link.

Book Review: The Story of the SS

This non-fiction book is something of a niche interest, to say the least. Most of us will know something about the German SS, whether the battlefield atrocities they committed, how they served in concentration camps, or the combat exploits of the Waffen SS. This long book (384 pages) examines the formation, background and organisation of the Nazi SS in great detail.

Starting shortly after the end of WW1, the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist Party is covered, as well as the creation of the SA, which led to the offshoot organisation, the SS. All the leading political figures of the day are examined, as well as many minor officials and their roles in the building of the controlling Nazi state that followed. The book goes on to discuss the roles that SS figures played before and during WW2, adding some photos and background details about the war in general, and specific events like the invasion of The Soviet Union, in 1941.

The use of SS units to execute prisoners, kill civilians, and fight partisans is contrasted by the political machinations of their members on the home front, and in the countries occupied by Germany. We also learn about the collaborators, the foreign volunteers, and the often brave and distinguished combat units that fought to the very end, in 1945. Then the author goes on to look at those who escaped justice, and those who faced trial for their involvement in the SS, and its actions.

Much of the book contains lists of units, with the German names translated for the benefit of non-German readers. Numerous individual characters are highlighted, from the top leaders of the organisation, down to some who were little more that murderers in uniform. Chilling totals of the deaths they were responsible for, and the crimes committed in both concentration camps, and after battles in the field.

This is not a book for everyone of course. But given the current world political situation, it serves to remind us just what ‘ordinary’ men can be capable of.
As an historical record, it has great value.

Here is an Amazon link.

Book Review: Race Against Time

Remember when the world was supposed to end, in 2012? It didn’t of course, and this novel by fellow blogger Jack Eason offers a fascinating theory about why there was no Mayan Apocalypse.

Combining archaeology with adventure, then adding a touch of science fiction, this enjoyable roller-coaster of a story packs in a host of fascinating characters too. From eminent academics, to the Russian Mafia, Vatican cardinals, and even a beautiful female alien, everyone in this book is wonderfully described, until you can picture them all on their hazardous quest.

Using a theory of how Earth was once populated, and protected from natural disaster, we are taken on a world tour of interesting ancient archaeological sites. Each one holds part of the key that will save mankind from destruction, and our heroes must combat not only a secret organisation, but also the ancient demon it serves. This is not ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’, but it has equally exciting elements, and a tension that endures right to the last of its 158 pages.

The author undoubtedly knows his stuff, and compliments that knowledge with detailed research, convincing geographical detail, and a wide understanding of travel by sea and by road. And he also knows when to insert the required action, so that no chapter is ever dry, or feels dull to read.
I finished it in just two sessions, keen to discover the fate of the characters that I had readily invested in.

This is ‘old-school’ adventure, in a very good way, brought up to date by ecological issues, and a theory that is all too easy to believe.

Here are some links to the book on Amazon.

And here is a link to Jack’s own blog.

Book Review: The Summer of Madness

This book by fellow blogger Alex Raphael caught my eye, and I bought a Kindle copy recently. It is hard to think of it as a novel though, as at just 41 pages, it felt more like reading an elongated short story. In many respects, it also felt like the introduction to a much longer book, and could perhaps still serve as that in the future. But don’t concern yourself with the length of this book, instead consider the freshness of the idea, the clever execution, fluid writing style, and interesting characters.

Because this has all of those, betraying an underlying talent for the modern-day fairy tale that makes for a simply delightful read.

Kurt is typical of so many young men in the twenty-first century. Consumed by his passion for video games, and hanging out with his friends, he fails to notice that the best thing in his life, his girlfriend, is being sidelined into obscurity by his behaviour. One day, she has reached the end of her tether, and leaves him. Of course he is shocked, and divises a plan to win her back.

That plan is the strength of this book. It is a great idea, and easily pictured by the reader. Knowing that Wuthering Heights is her favourite book, Kurt takes himself off to the train station in the town, and sits on a chair, reading the novel aloud. Placards nearby tell everyone why he is doing this, and that he will continue to do it every day, until he gets her back, or she comes to tell him it is really over.

I loved that, perhaps because it is also one of my favourite books, but mainly because as a plot device, it just works so well. Kurt interacts with the growing crowd who have become interested in his actions, attracts the attention of the Press, and keeps reading the book, extracts of which appear in the text. I am not going to even suggest the outcome, or it would spoil the ending. But I read this in one sitting, and wanted more when it finished.

Here are some links to buy a copy, or find out more. Amazon US and UK sites are both there.

And here is a link to Alexander’s blog.

Book Review: The Survivors

Anyone who uses Amazon Kindle will know how they ‘suggest’ things you might like, based on what you have bought, or reviewed.

That is how I came to buy my copy of this well-received novel by Kate Furnivall, for just £0.99. It has a similar theme to ‘Ludwika’, the last book I read and reviewed, and is set in the same countries, and the same time period too. This gave me an opportunity to compare the two books very closely, both fresh in my mind.

At 448 pages, it is a long read, and feels like a saga, despite covering a relatively short period immediately after WW2. The reason for this is that much of the story is told in flashback, looking at how past events during the German occupation of Poland changed the lives of some of the main characters in the book.

We begin by following the harassed Klara, as she flees the Soviets who have taken control of her country. As a former resistance fighter, she fears for her safety under the new regime, and accompanied by her 10 year-old daughter, she is making the arduous trek West, hoping to eventually get to distant relatives in England. The journey is fraught with danger, as roving bands of displaced people are prepared to kill anyone for valuables, or food. But Klara has learned her lessons well in adversity, and manages to get her and her daughter to the safety of a displaced persons camp in West Germany, run by a sympathetic British commander.

After that, we read of her life in the camp, managing to survive against the odds, making friends, stealing and conniving, and always looking to get permission to head for England, and the home of her relative. Everything leading up to that point is told in flashback. How she was caught working for the Polish Resistance, tortured, and eventually handed over to a high-ranking SS officer, to be his sexual plaything. With her daughter removed to a convent, Klara never gives up hope of reuniting with her, and does what she has to do, to keep on the side of her German oppressors.

The arrival in the camp of an old German adversary threatens to expose her past, and Klara has to learn to deal with his threats, recruiting some kindly camp inmates to help her, and using the small group of feral children she has accumulated too. After this point, the novel turns into a thriller, as we wonder if she will outsmart the man, and manage to achieve her dream of a new life in England with her daughter.

Descriptions of the camp life, the privations endured, and the catastrophic damage to the surrounding German towns and cities give us some idea of the difficulties faced by our characters. Details feel authentic, and the various people in the life of Klara are brought to life by good writing that allows us to imagine their scenes. But some of those encountered do feel stereotypical at times, especially the ruthless former SS commander, and the ‘kindly’ British Camp overseer.

And for me, the ending was too neat. Too ‘nice’, and felt wrapped up like a parcel to satisfy the reader.

Otherwise, it is a very competent historical novel, with characters you want to follow, and situations that are convincing and believable.