Year One by Nora Roberts

This is such a difficult and, frankly, strange book to review. The principal reason for this is because from the blurb and the first hundred or so pages, the novel sets up the reader and one set of genre expectations that are, out of the blue, overturned. Depending on what you think of the genre that dominates the novel from thereon in, responses to the book overall will vary. You see, it started very much like Stephen King’s The Stand, a terrific post-apocalyptic/eschatological novel and one of my favourites in the genre (along with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) before it suddenly morphs into an urban fantasy ala Karen Marie Moning’s Fever books, with a little bit of Harry Potter, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis thrown in along with a healthy dose of romance.   Basically, Year One by Nora Roberts, starts off as a dramatic apocalyptic story. The opening scenes take us to the Scottish Highlands where the McLeod family gather for their annual Christmas celebrations. Travelling from far and wide, they spend glorious days feasting, hunting, reminiscing and sharing. When the men shoot a pheasant and it lands in the middle of a cursed stone circle (as they do), it marks the beginning of the end as the men, somehow, become infected with a deadly sickness that, as they leave the Highlands and venture back to their homes in London, USA etc. (all via stopovers in other major centres) spreads and kills anyone infected. Fatalities rise and the sickness quickly becomes known as The Doom. The story quickly shifts to New York and the United States generally and, as is usual with these types of tales, we bear witness to the destruction of society and civility as we know it. Events are observed mainly...

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Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross

Sycamore Gap, the second book in the DCI Ryan Mysteries, takes place about six months after the events in Holy Island. Ryan and Dr Anna are all but living together in Durham when Ryan is called to Hadrian’s Wall where a body has been found stuffed in cavity. Just as the police discover the body is only a decade old and not, as the ambitious archaeologist hanging around the site hopes, ancient, another much fresher body turns up in the same place – a body with ritualistic markings similar to those who were murdered on Lindisfarne months ago. Once more, past and present collide for Ryan, his side-kick Phillips, and Anna as they work to uncover the killer or killers and seek connections to the brutal, sadistic Circle who caused so much havoc on Lindisfarne. But it’s when Ryan is forced to confront his sister’s killer that events take an even more sinister turn. There are those involved who have professions and stellar careers to protect and, if they’re at risk, then what have they got to lose, especially when there are more victims to claim? Fast-paced, the book nonetheless manages to delve slightly deeper into Ryan and Dr Anna’s relationship as well as the professional ones of Ryan, Phillips and their colleagues – as well as the case that almost broke Ryan. The dreaded Circle and its members are also fleshed out, though I confess there were times I found my disbelief stretched almost to breaking point. While the Mills and Boonish air of the first book has, thankfully, dissipated in this one, there is still the sense that everyone is so bloody beautiful, they’ve been cast by a US modelling firm. Only some of the villains seem to bear any ordinariness in their physical characteristics… I know...

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Oh. My. Where do I begin with this utterly original, completely heart-wrenching and beautiful story that kept me awake until the wee hours as I simply had to finish it? I have actually delayed writing a review because I am concerned I won’t do this magic novel justice. But I will try. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a debut novel by Gail Honeyman. It tells the tale of the socially inept, friendless, simple (as in uncomplicated) Eleanor, who’s worked at the same place for almost a decade, eaten the same things, drunk a couple of bottles of vodka every weekend, and followed, with minor aberrations, the same routine for years. This routine includes a weekly telephone call to her cruel institutionalised mother, who appears to have an unnatural and unhealthy hold over her daughter. When one of Eleanor’s co-workers accompanies Eleanor down the street after work one day and they witness an accident, their subsequent kindness leads to some extraordinary and slow alterations in Eleanor’s life. Suddenly, Eleanor is forced to face the fact her life might be “fine” but is it complete? What she finds when the answers start to come is something unexpected, thrilling and totally frightening. Beautifully written, sparse and yet, laden with meaning, it is both sweetness and light as well as darkness and horror all at once. Reading was akin to riding an emotional roller-coaster, but one I didn’t want to step from. Your heart aches for Eleanor and those who enter her sphere. As for the mystery that is her past, as it slowly unravels, you quake for Eleanor and what she must face. This is about inner strength and the demons that try to weaken even the bravest of souls. It’s about friendship, and unexpected and simple acts of kindness and...

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How to Be Thin in A World of Chocolate by Michele Connolly

I have a confession to make. I have never read a diet book in my life. So, what made me read this one? Two things. One: I have just submitted my latest novel which involves a chocolate maker, so the title of this book (which I adore) piqued my interest. Secondly: it was recommended to me as not only a quick, tremendous read, but a potential Xmas present (though, I don’t know I’d want to give any of my friends a book on dieting…). Only, How to Be Thin in A World of Chocolate isn’t only a diet book. It’s really about how to feel good about oneself despite so many forces aimed at making you feel the complete opposite – especially those that come from within. Packed with common sense, written in a warm, engaging way, I laughed out loud, found myself nodding away, and felt like rather than reading a book about how to look and feel my very best, I was having a conversation with a really empathetic, wise and funny friend. One that doesn’t believe there is anything such as a non-Abba person – my kind of gal. The kind of book you can dip in an out of as well as read from cover to cover, I suspect it’s one many will return to again and again. Divided into sections around eating, moving and thinking, it offers little pearls, for example about exercise, reminding us of the sixteen rules of exercise we can completely ignore (eg. Exercise in the morning; do 30 minutes a day). There is only one rule we must follow (and when you read it, it’s obvious but I until it was in front of me, I couldn’t have identified it). I’m afraid you’ll have to read this little gem of...

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Holy Island by LJ Ross

I seem to be developing a real taste for UK crime books, especially those set on the magnificent islands that necklace the coast. When I discovered Holy Island by LJ Ross was set on Lindisfarne, I couldn’t wait to read it. Described as the first book in the DCI Ryan mysteries, Holy Island introduces readers to a brooding, incredibly handsome detective named Maxwell Ryan who is on sabbatical from a case that almost broke him. Seeking solace and restorative time on Lindisfarne, when a young girl is found brutally and ritualistically killed, he is recalled from his break (down) to head the investigation. Not one to suffer fools or unnecessary people being dragged into the investigation, when his boss invites historian, Dr Anna Taylor, a former local who left the island under a cloud, to aid Ryan, he is furious. But when more bodies, also bearing ritualistic signatures start to appear, he has no choice but to ask for the Dr’s help. Only, the Dr is also someone with buried memories and trauma and being back on the island, let alone dealing with a fractious, sexist cop isn’t her idea of work or play. But as the body count rises and Ryan and Dr Taylor are forced to work together, what they don’t realise is that danger, even on this once peaceful, tourist-laced isle, is closer than they think… In many ways, the book is formulaic – both in terms of romance and procedure, but that’s fine to a point when it is also readable and this first instalment is readable. I think that’s why I can forgive its flaws – from the old-style Mills and Boon attraction of the lead characters (which had me groaning with dismay sometimes as it was quite clichéd in parts), to the lack...

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Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Having loved Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series and setting my sights from an early age on wanting to be a mermaid when I grew up, I couldn’t wait to read Grant’s latest book, Into the Drowning Deep. When a ship, the Atargatis, destined to shoot a mockumentary in the mysterious Mariana Trench, intending to expose mythic deep-sea creatures – in other words, mermaids – as real, loses its entire crew in horrific circumstances, the whole affair is, basically, hushed up as a hoax. Nonetheless, there is shocking footage a few a privy to which tells a different and dramatic story, just as there are those who suspect that the crew stumbled upon something they shouldn’t have and paid the ultimate price. Fast-forward to seven years later and another ship and crew are assembled by the same entertainment company that launched the first. Only this time, the purpose is to find out once and for all what the real fate of the people on board the Atargatis might have been and if what those who have witnessed the footage believe could possibly exist. Tying up the rights to any discoveries, scientific, televisual and otherwise, there are audiences to be entertained and good ratings to drive as well as a great deal of money to be made should all go according to plan – whether or not mermaids are real is, to the powers that be, secondary in the scheme of things. Included among the assembled crew are colleagues of those who never returned the first time and the embittered sister of the entertainment company’s face of the previous doomed voyage, Victoria. Determined to find out once and for all what happened to her beloved sister, Victoria, now a scientist, is also hell-bent on revenge. The crew, scientists and others chosen to...

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A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver

Having never watched an entire episode of the sublime-voiced Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland (a situation I intend to remedy stat), I was really looking forward to reading his book about the same. Commencing his walk through time before the Big Bang (because, he explains, historians are often criticised for not going back far enough), Oliver takes the reader on a wild, breath-taking and heart-breaking ride through the mists and mountains of Scotland – the rugged Highlands, green-hilled lowlands and mirror-surfaced lochs; from the time of the earliest peoples to the Romans, Angles, Britons, Picts, Saxons, and all the others who laid claim to the magnificent and difficult land that came to be known as Scotland. From the first King (Kenneth) to the trials and tribulations of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, the claims of the “Pretenders” to the throne, the ambivalent relationship with England, its people and its crown, the butchery, bravery and stupidity of Culloden, to the advent of slavery, growth of wealth (for a few), loss of language and identity, woes and hardship of famine, Clearances, British indifference and paternalism, unionism, and the blight and triumph of war and political machinations, the damage of Thatcherism, immigration and so much more. Oliver crams it all into these 367 pages. Poetic, moving, exciting, heart-wrenching – much like the beautiful country and its amazing hardy people, this is a terrific book that reads more like a wonderful work of fiction half the time (or you wish it was), rather than the brutal, unapologetic reality it is. Never apologising, but always trying to contextualise and understand what made the Scots who they were and are today, the iconic people who played major roles in forming its social cultural and political landscape as well as the clans and workers who...

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The Good People by Hannah Kent

After reading and being so impressed with Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into her next one, The Good People. Like its predecessor, it is impeccably researched, this time immersing the reader in late 1800s Ireland within a small community that, when an orphaned child with serious incapacities is given to his grandparents to raise, finds itself beset with misfortune and death. Focusing on three primary female characters and taking a true story for inspiration, Kent does a marvellous job of recreating the superstitions of a community clinging to pagan beliefs while trying to embrace modernity and the rule of the Catholic Church. For three women, the grieving grandmother, Nora, the young maid she hires to help her look after her grandson, Mary, and the “handy woman” and local healer, “Nance” the collision between old worlds and new, between faith in one set of beliefs and another, and the drive to nurture and protect is very real and painful. Evoking the terrible poverty, lack of literacy and struggles of the small village in which these women dwell, the intimacy it creates – which is both blessing and curse – and the stark reality of their daily lives as they try to eke out an existence, Kent also manages to expose the beauty in their almost wilful ignorance; the way they embrace the magic of nature and the intrusion of culture (all while negotiating the villainy or good intentions of others), attributing that which they don’t or won’t understand to the “good people” or fairy folk. Convenient scapegoats as well as explanations for the inconceivable and painful, the “good people” are as much a part of their lives as their neighbours and the landscape from which they attempt to draw a living and...

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The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Goodness… where do I begin? The debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan is beyond delightful. It is a ray of sunlight, filled words you want to savour, rainbows, sweet memories, glistening tears, all perfuming the room/glade with the scent of caramel and freshly baked bread. It is magical in every sense and then some. So, what is this lexical treasure about? Anthony Peardew, is a writer who, for his entire life, has collected an assortment of things people have left behind or lost in order to compensate for something precious he once misplaced. When he dies and leaves his enormous legacy to his personal assistant, the lovely but slightly lost herself, Laura, the purpose of the objects (and his bequest) becomes apparent. Populated with charming, whimsical and at least one outright nasty character, as well as such endearing animals, I deliberately slowed my reading down to savour this story, putting it aside when I really didn’t want to because I just didn’t want it to end. The style in which the book is written is a joy. I read that some reviewers on Goodreads found it confusing; others, like me, relished the way the main third person narrative switches to tell a short story about a particular object. I found this added such richness and depth to the tale and made Anthony’s obsession with collecting even more meaningful as we learn what a particular thing meant, the context in which it functioned and why it was lost in the first place. I also read that one reviewer said the treatment of Down’s Syndrome and Alzheimer’s in the novel was insensitive. Having members of my family with both, I completely disagree. I found it not only sensitively handled, but with erudition and insight into the emotional...

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Last Rituals by Ysra Sigurdardottir

Continuing my love affair with Nordic Noir, I picked up this book, Last Rituals, by an author I hadn’t yet read, Ysra Sigurdardottir. Commencing with a suitably grisly discovery, when a young German student’s body is found on a university campus, sans eyes and with eerie markings inscribed on his body, the reader is introduced to Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer who is hired by the family of the young man to investigate his death. While a suspect has been placed in custody, the family don’t believe he’s the culprit. Teaming up with a man sent from Germany to support her investigation, the blunt and seemingly humourless, Matthew Reich, Thora and her new partner uncover not only fascinating aspects of Iceland’s history, but the victim’s enthrallment with the occult. From ancient caves and supernatural and other traditions, burial rights, superstitions and precious documents worth a fortune and which could change history, Thora and Matthew become immersed in a deadly game of hide and seek, power, lies and deception, all tinged with witchcraft and dark magic. Can they break the spell hanging over this case or will they too fall victim to the forces arraigned against them? What I really enjoy about Nordic Noir is the emphasis on character as much as plot and this book is no exception. As the investigation continues and clues and dead-ends are explored, the reader is invited to get to know single-mother, Thora, and her children and familial life better as well as the professional and slow-burning personal relationship she builds with Max. History and the wild and majestic Icelandic landscape become as much characters in this book as the murder investigation, adding richness and depth to the sometimes staccato scene changes and otherwise excellent dialogue. Slow but rewarding, I look forward to more in...

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Karen Brooks's books on Goodreads
TallowTallow (Curse of The Bond Riders, #1)
reviews: 29
ratings: 489 (avg rating 3.79)

VotiveVotive (Curse of the Bond Rider #2)
reviews: 10
ratings: 154 (avg rating 4.25)

The Gaze of the GorgonThe Gaze of the Gorgon (Cassandra Klein, #2)
reviews: 1
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.78)

The Kurs of AtlantisThe Kurs of Atlantis (Cassandra Klein, #4)
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.12)

Rifts Through QuentarisRifts Through Quentaris
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.56)