Tag Archives: reading

Review Wednesday – The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

9B7B0633-09DC-4705-B56A-C8C7420E9633Twelve year old Eddie and his mates are like any other group of kids; friends but with a healthy dollop of rivalry and leg-pulling thrown in. A much anticipated visit to the fairground is a chance for the friends to go out together without parents in tow, but the night ends badly and has a life-changing effect on them and Eddie in particular. 

When one of the group receives a bucket of chalks for his birthday the kids begin to use what was at first regarded as a naff present to leave one another secret, coded messages. It’s a great game, but leads to a gruesome discovery in the woods and once again the children’s lives are touched by tragedy. 

The story runs on two timelines, 1986 when the fairground incident occurred and present day when Eddie is forty two years old. The ramifications of what happened in 1986 have never been forgotten and when chalk figures begin to appear the past is brought back in a rush of memories and events that must be confronted. 

There are a lot of twists in this book but, for me, rather than make it more of a page turner, that was its downfall. It’s a good book and an absolutely intriguing premise but in an effort to keep the reader guessing, the author, I think, introduced too many plot lines. The result, for me, was that it stretched my belief too far, particularly the very last twist which seemed to serve no purpose at all. 

Having said that, there were some very good moments; when Eddie goes to see Mr Halloran for the last time, the results of his actions are clear and chilling. 

I enjoyed The Chalk Man but, in this case, a slightly more simplified plot may have been more effective. 

Review Wednesday – The Northwater by Ian McGuire

18A9F5FD-28DF-45AF-B057-90A58732DD24Having read the long and arduous, true-life tale of The Essex in the book The Heart of The Sea, I had put off reading The Northwater, despite the reviews and praise and despite it being a work of fiction. Although I am drawn to stories of survival in the cold and inhospitable corners of the world, I’d had enough of brutal descriptions of the whaling industry for the time being. Finally, I succumbed to the lure of this book and I say, Wow, I am so glad that I did. 

In some ways, although a work of fiction, The Northwater is even more tough and uncompromising in its descriptions and yet at the same time, for me, it so perfectly captured the place and the era. As the ship set sail in 1859, I felt that I had time-traveled to a world that I could hardly comprehend; rough and uncaring of man or beast. 

Into this world comes Drax, the worst of the worst, and Sumner a doctor with a history he would rather forget. They are thrown together with a rag tag crew to head north from The English port of Hull in search of whales. What neither man knows is that the captain has a very different agenda for the voyage. 

The story surprised me; yes, there are the descriptions of the despicable trade of whaling, and of the totally unfeeling treatment of any other creature the sailors happen upon, including their fellow man, but what made them interesting was the viewpoint, shown through the rough-hewn characters and morals of the time. It felt as believable as it was shocking.

As the story progresses the real purpose of the voyage is revealed along with the escalating crimes of the monster, Drax. Murder and rape are nothing to him and it will take a strong man to stop him. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale but beware, ultra-strong language and terminology make it not for the faint of heart.

I couldn’t end this review without a few words about the narrator of the Audible presentation,  John Keating. He was excellent; I couldn’t imagine any voice more perfect for the book. 

Blackwater – The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell

4C86D523-F1B9-4318-A4A1-662441A77DEBOh my goodness! Reading other reviews I see I am in a very small minority who found this story far too drawn out. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. As I came to the last chapter I was actually sorry, on one hand, to say goodbye to the Caskey family and yet, on the other, quite relieved! 

A saga, of course, is a saga and not a short story and I see that this was originally published in several parts. Perhaps, had I listened to the book in parts (an Audible book magnificently narrated by Matt Godfrey) instead of going straight through, I would have found it less daunting. 

About the story: It opens after a devastating flood has inundated the town of Perdido, Alabama. No one has completely escaped the fury, not even the wealthy Caskey family. During the aftermath, a woman, Elinor Dammert, is found stranded in a hotel room and is taken in by the family. 

And so the saga begins… 

It’s part family history, part horror, though, apart from a few key moments the horror is very low key. 

It quickly becomes clear that Elinor is not the stranded newcomer in need of shelter that she claims to be, and she does indeed prove to be the central figure in this complex cast of characters. Her motivations were less clear. The survival of her species? She certainly is also capable of very human traits like revenge. 

The Caskey’s unremitting wealth, despite many family members being either too disinterested or simply incapable of contributing to the business was, at times, hard to believe. The way in which certain actions and attitudes were explained also left me wide eyed. However, the sheer scale of the story was impressive and the characters finely drawn.

Although I did not know this author before, I see he wrote other well received works and I am tempted to try another in the future. 

New release – Born in a Treacherous Time by Jacqui Murray


I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity to read this new book from Jacqui Murray. I have read and enjoyed her work before but this is a very different read, something new to me and fascinating. I loved her approach, her telling of the human and emotional side of the story rather than simply the (very real) physical struggle of the era. It’s not sensational in any way, but the times are brutal and unforgiving of the slightest mistake. Murray shows this admirably.

Here is the author’s short description:-

Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive in the harsh reality of a world where nature rules, survival is a daily challenge, and a violent band threatens to destroy everything Lucy thinks she understands.

 If you like Man vs. Wild, you’ll love this book. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. It will bring that world to life in a way never seen before.

My Review of Born in a Treacherous Time

Born in a Treacherous time explores the world of Lucy, one of a group of Homo Habilis, tool-maker scavengers who follow the fierce carnivores of the day in their bid to keep themselves fed.

Of course, this is a brutal world. Not only must the group protect themselves from the very carnivores they rely on, they have to deal with the prospect of injury and sickness and the violent actions of the earth through the turmoil of volcanoes and earthquakes. Then there are the terrifying glimpses of other groups whose specialisms are different. Clashes can be a fatal. Almost everything can be fatal. 

The character of Lucy was cleverly introduced through an earlier novel, a thriller, by the same author. In To Hunt a Sub,  (click to see my review) which really couldn’t be more different, with the hi-jacking of a nuclear submarine as the storyline, Kali Delemagente, a brilliant student, has developed a programme to track early man, namely Lucy and her group, as they progress beyond their African origins. This programme is recognised as a potentially powerful tool for reasons both good and bad and it’s very existence puts Kali in danger. ( a very good read). To Hunt a Sub is followed by 24 Days

However,  in Born in a Treacherous Time we are taken away from technology and intrigue and back to the primitive world where our ancestors began to make their mark. 

What I liked about Born in a Treacherous Time was the way the author portrayed the many aspects of that early life. Sure, there was the fight to the death with sabre toothed cat, the danger of the mammoth herds, not to mention the geological mayhem, however, the story was finely balanced with the other concerns of an intelligent species. Lucy is a healer, she collects plants along the way and has learned which will help with various ailments. She has foresight and understanding of the pain of others. She feels kinship and responsibility and has fears and flaws just like all the members of the group. 

When a member of another group is observed using a spear to attack rather than waiting to scavenge, Lucy is fascinated by this newly observed skill and eager to learn. 

By exploring human failings and qualities the author very ably told a tale of long -ago characters that were recognisable and relatable and so my first foray into early-man fiction (should I call it early-person?) was an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience. 

Many thanks to the author for an advanced copy of this book. I was not obliged to review or comment. 

About the Author


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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How Many Stars – How Do You Rate A Book?

img_1986When I post a review here on my blog I don’t give the book a star rating but when I share the reviews with Amazon and Goodreads I do.

Of course without star ratings on a huge site like Amazon it would be very difficult (or next to impossible)  for readers who are browsing for their next book to find something quickly. Without being able to see the general consensus through star ratings they would have to trawl through thousands of reviews. Clearly that couldn’t work.

Yet I am still a little at odds with myself over the awarding of stars. Quite often I have seen a book with great reviews get a one star for reasons that, to me at least, are unreasonable. Sometimes it seems to have been a technical difficulty with the download or, just as bad, because the reader didn’t agree with the outcome. Whilst, as a reader, I have a dislike of what I would judge as unlikely or rushed endings, and would make that point within a review I would never mark a review down because the main character dies in the end or doesn’t get the girl even if I personally  thought that would have been a better conclusion. After all it’s the author’s story and as long it is well executed, that is how the ending is, as far as I’m concerned. Their decision.

So, here is the thing I am getting to. I read a book last week that I thought img_1985was perfectly written, good characterisation, a clever plot and a satisfying, clever and unexpected conclusion but, guess what? I really didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t the ending, it wasn’t the middle, it was all of it.  (I should add here that a quick scan of reviews shows I am vastly in the minority)

Although I do try to read widely, I am wary of some genres, foe example, Science Fiction as there is a good chance the book won’t appeal to me, (although The Martian was one of my top reads last year). But when I picked up a book on Audible I thought I was onto a  sure thing. A small town, lots of secrets, a disagreement that leads to murder. Perfect.

I don’t want to actually review the book here, that will come later, but I do want to say that the story revolves around a nursery school, the children, the mother’s and the minutiae of their lives. There are important issues, domestic violence, broken families but there are also outfits, shoes, money and the absolutely endless  politics surrounding school life. I couldn’t bear these characters,  their self importance and their duplicity anymore than I could in real life.

Now I ask myself, what is a fair star rating for this book as far as my reading experience of it goes? I have no doubt at all of the author’s talent. The book has a strong storyline and fast, witty dialogue. I know other readers loved this book.

I am giving it a three. I couldn’t give it less because the book doesn’t deserve it and I can’t give it more because I couldn’t enjoy it.

Is that fair?


Making Good Things Happen

Image source - Pixabay

Image source – Pixabay

This time last year I was determined the New Year would be a better one. An ongoing, family-health situation meant that the whole year had been swallowed up by it. When I say the whole year, I don’t mean that nothing was done at all but what I am talking about is creative energy and time to laugh and have fun.

Nothing changed at the beginning of this year and around April time it seemed like this situation might go on forever. And then I saw a way to make things happen. I finally realised that while I could not change things around me I could change me: my attitude, my outlook, my way of dealing with things.

Writing and, of course that essential partner, reading, have always been a part of me and what Individual Me really wants to do most. I am not talking here about Wife Me or Mother Me or even Grandma Me;  those roles are also vital to my wellbeing, but when something goes beyond your control you have to protect all the Me’s in order to protect the whole.

That’s why somewhere back before the summer started I decided that I needed to get back to writing and reading. I had never really left; it was just whenever I did those things there was no real focus. No matter whether I was reading it or writing it I was never lost in a book the way I used to be.

I’ve been trying to make up for lost time. I am writing almost every day and I have re-read books  that I didn’t give enough attention to first time around. A little while ago I promised myself I would not fail my Goodreads Challenge this year. I am still not too sure if I will make it but I am giving it a good try.

This week I will be posting reviews every day, if I can, as well as my usual Wednesday slot, as I still have quite a few to do if I am going to cross the finishing line in time. Twenty two reviews to go!

Christmas is coming, the season of good cheer. If there is some huge issue clouding your life I want to say, hard as it is, try to compartmentalise, try to give a little time to each and every part of your life that is important to you. I hope you can reap the benefits of that little bit of control, I know I have.

Image source - Pixabay

Image source – Pixabay