Saturday, 4 December 2021

Review: Blue Running by Lori Ann Stephens

 In this universe, Texas has seceded from the United States. Texas is now an authoritarian country in its own right, with travel in and out strictly forbidden. Everyone is required, by law, to have a gun. 

Blue grew up with her father, her mother having fled Texas before the changes. Though her mother was desperate to leave as a family, her father kept Blue behind. 

Blue is no stranger to hardship in her life but things get worse when her friend is killed by a gun accident that gets blamed on Blue. Blue decides on the only thing she can do - she runs for the border. She meets a young woman on the way, called Jet, who is fleeing so she can seek an abortion. 

It’s eery that I read this book for review just as the six week abortion restriction was made legal in Texas. It’s also frightening how so many elements of this book weren’t so far away from the truth. While Lori Ann Stephens has written a fantastic YA novel in its own right, it’s almost as important to note the lessons within, that Texas seems on its way down the slippery slope to the world of this novel. The friendship that Blue and Jet have is founded on fear and mutual survival but develops into something much stronger. Though they face many obstacles, they find the strength they need in each other. 

Monday, 4 October 2021

Review: Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday.

 “Ryan Holiday’s Courage is Calling traces the history of courage and its many faces through

the ages and arrives at the present day with an urgent call to arms for each and all of us. As

we battle our enemies within and without, will we choose to rise up to the call of our courage

or blush and bow down to the whispers of our cowardice? Our answer to this question is

about more than our sense of duty, it’s about our freedom. It’s about more than wins and

losses, it’s about our survival. It’s on me, it’s on you, it’s on us. Take the dare we may.”

Matthew McConaughey, Academy Award Winning Actor and New York Times #1 best-

selling author

In this first part of a four part series, drawing on the 4 Stoic virtues, Ryan Holiday examines the virtue of courage - what it means, how we can apply it in our lives, and how we can be inspired by leaders and figures from the past. From Florence Nightingale, who defied Victorian upper-middle-class convention, to the famous stories of the Spartans who stared down the mighty Persian empire, Ryan Holiday emphasises the very much ordinary nature of these people in order to inspire us to make courageous decisions in our own lives. For example, Florence Nightingale didn't immediately rise from obscurity to become one of the world's most famous nurses. It was small decision by small decision, starting with having the courage to defy her family. 

In between each story, Ryan uses his own interpretation of Stoicism and writings on courage to create his own thesis about what modern-day courage looks like, and how it doesn't need to be huge acts to be noteworthy. It can be saying "no" to something you find immoral or unethical. It can be saying "yes" to something that takes you out of your comfort zone. And each courageous decision can accumulate to be life-changing. 

Find more of Ryan's work via @RyanHoliday and @DailyStoic on Twitter, or @ryanholiday and @dailystoic on Instagram. 

Friday, 24 September 2021

The Garfield Conspiracy by Owen Dwyer

 The protagonist of Dwyer’s excellent new novel - part mystery, part examination of a writer in mid life crisis - Richard has his life unwittingly turned upside down when a new research assistant, Jenny, arrives to “help” him finish his book. They both know, though they leave it unspoken, that she’s there on the publishers’ orders to coax him along. 

However, the work is quickly made less of a priority as sparks fly between the pair and they engage in an affair that results in Richard leaving his wife and moving in with Jenny. In the meantime, Richard has started having unwelcome visitations from long-dead American political figures in his bid to find out who killed President Garfield. 

The grounding of an examination of a writer struggling with his legacy and health, along with trying to restore his reputation by writing a novel that would be explosive, makes more absorbing and compelling reading. We want Richard and Jenny to succeed on their literary mission, but outside of this it is much less black and white. It’s well paced, pulls the various strands of the story together well, and reaches an ending that is as shocking as it necessary. 

An excellent voice, not just in Irish fiction, but fiction as a whole. 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Review: Codename Firefly by C. J. Daugherty

 The brilliant sequel to No. 10 sees Gray, the daughter of the Prime Minister, face new but equally intense challenges. Gray has survived an assassination attempt and is now at a highly secure boarding school, working through her trauma while trying to make new friends, and still keeping safe from would-be assassins. Normal teenager problems mixed with an extreme situation, such as knowing her mother’s would be killers are after her, give Gray nightly panic attacks. Unsurprising. 

The school staff reintroduce NIGHT SCHOOL, a self defence class for the highest priority students. Along with Gray is a young man called Dylan, who is surely hiding a secret…

The second in this series is as full of intrigue and suspense as the first. A closed setting packs no less of a punch, and indeed helps build up the tension even more. There are intriguing and interesting new characters to complement the existing ones, and finishes with a huge set piece that does justice to the pace set by the novel. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Review: The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein

What if Hitler faked his suicide and fled to Argentina like so many leading Nazis? 

That question, and its consequences, form the bedrock of this debut novel from Brian Klein, who Top Gear fans will know as its foremost director. 

2 separate timelines create this story until they converge. The first, being Hitler’s escape from Germany and his long term plan to build a fourth reich. The second is the aftermath of the biggest heist in Argentine history, where three unwitting thieves steal a box that precludes their bloody end. 

This novel is fast-paced, engaging, and cleverly interwoven between timelines, with plenty of clever surprises on the way. It also speaks a lot to where the real power lies, particularly in countries like the USA, and it’s not always with the government. Though the premise of this story is (thankfully) fiction, it still mirrors a sorrowful amount the interplay between politicians and big money, and the devastating consequences that can have. 

Monday, 19 July 2021

Review: KYIV by Graham Hurley

 Starting this review with a trigger warning: there is a very graphic rape scene in this book, so please take care if this affects you. I try not to reveal key points in my reviews unless necessary, but I felt it was important to put a warning in about this. 

Having read and reviewed “Last Flight To Stalingrad”, I was really pleased to have the chance to review Hurley’s latest novel. 

The grand outline of this novel is about Operation Barbarossa, in which Nazi Germany invaded the Ukraine in their larger bid to conquer the Soviet Union and destroy communism. 

But, as seen in Last Flight to Stalingrad, Hurley focuses as well on his characters and their part in the whole, as he does with the research that sets the stories in their place. 

Bella Menzies, previously MI5 but now a defector to the Soviets, on account of her inspiration of the communist ideals, finds herself in a dilemma. Instinct tells her not to go to Moscow, but instead hitch a ride into Kyiv, Ukraine. Very quickly she finds herself hunted by both sides, and discovers the Soviet plot to bomb Kyiv in seemingly random patterns over a period of time, to frustrate and demoralise the Nazis. 

Meanwhile, her lover, Tam Moncrieff, is still with the British intelligence services, knowing Bella’s situation and not giving up on her. He starts to investigate Kim Philby, one of the real-life Cambridge Spies. I’ll leave you to predict how that turns out.

Hurley writes with panache and confidence, thanks to the incredibly detailed research that has been done before putting own to paper. Between them, the cast of characters are charismatic, enigmatic, terrifying, naive, terribly clever, and sympathetic. It’s a novel about the Second World War, so you can make an educated guess about the ending, but the arcs for each character are well, if painfully, resolved. 

Hurley proves himself once again to be a master of historical fiction that enlightens, entertains, and shocks the reader in necessary ways, both from how he creates his characters and storylines, to the real life events and atrocities he weaves in that are essential for the reader to know (you’ll find out what I mean when you read it). 

A fantastic novel, and well worth picking up 

for fans of early 20th century historical fiction. 

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Review: Fresh Water For Flowers by Valérie Perrin

 This novel comes highly acclaimed, with over one million copies sold. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy for review. 

The main character, Violette Toussaint, is a caretaker for a cemetery in Bourgogne. She is as highly valued as the priest who conducts funerals, and is perhaps more valuable due to visitors constantly seeing her around, relying on her for gentle conversation, counsel, and a place at her kitchen table if they so need. 

One day, a police chief by the name of Julien Seul arrives, with instructions from his late mother's will to scatter her ashes on the grave of her lover, not her husband. As Violette's and Julien's friendship develops, she discovers not just an interesting story, but something that crosses with her own past. 

The novel weaves effortlessly between narratives - Violette's life as a caretaker, her past life with her fleeting husband and young daughter; Irene (Julien's mother) and Gabriel, and more. 

The novel packs more than one powerful punch. As well as the moving - and often heartbreaking - stories, we discover beyond the surface tragedies of Violette's life, and why she has become so comfortable in - and comforted by - the cemetery. She is a private, shy, and complex woman, a product of tough circumstances, and the circumstances that led to her place at the cemetery are as gutting as they are enigmatic. For part way through the novel, the story takes on the air of a not-quite murder mystery, as we find out there is more to Violette's relationship to her daughter than face value. 

I wish I could read in French so I could experience it in the original language. The English translation was beautiful, and I assume the original text is even more so. 

I'm so glad I got to read this book and I will be following Perrin's future works.