Book Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Name:  The Last
Author:  
Hanna Jameson
Number of Pages:
  392 (Hardback)
Published:
January 31st 2019 by Viking
Genre:  Mystery, Post-Apocalyptic

Goodreads

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington
Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead
Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm
Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.
Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.
Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

In The Last a nuclear attack has apparently bought about an end-of-the-world scenario. Communications fail, the internet is lost and it is unclear which areas if any have survived the devastation. In a hotel in Switzerland a group of strangers band together in the aftermath.
They’ve survived, in the short-term, but their continued existence means they will need to trust each other and work together as a team, which may prove difficult upon the discovery of at least one body, leading to the suspicion that a killer may be among the group.

The story is told through the diary entries (although he insists it isn’t a diary) of Jon Keller, a historian staying at the hotel for a conference who remained behind as his colleagues fled. He documents life in the days following the main event, and tells various tales, some of daily life around the hotel, some of the people he meets if they are willing to talk about their past lives.
We get glimpses of many lives, and some strange stories. There are missing relatives, possible hauntings, arguments, clashes and friendship.

The setting is really good; this huge hotel, isolated out in the wilderness would be atmospheric enough, but there’s the added danger of the end-of-the-world, and the threat that may come from unknown quarters. The hotel is so huge that it is suggested there may be people there of whom the original group have no knowledge, which in itself is creepy, and later more direct threats add to the air of tension. There is definitely something a little sinister about the place.

I thought the murder mystery element may be more central to the plot, whereas it went more down the line of day to day survival. Various scenarios involving conflicted groups of people throw up a number of questions, touching on ethical and moral issues.
Then there are more direct questions – Are there other survivors? Have they been into the hotel without the original group knowing? Are they a threat? And what will happen when supplies run out and the hotel is no longer a safe haven?

For all this the pacing felt quite slow at times, offering more character-based issues than big action scenes, although when people did venture out of the hotel to find out what if anything of the world remained I did enjoy those scenes.
While I enjoyed The Last it was a book that I had looked forward to for so long I thought I’d absolutely love it. You know that sometimes you get over-hyped? I think that may have happened for me with this one.

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Book Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Name:  The Familiars
Author:  
Stacey Halls
Number of Pages:
  400 (Hardback)
Published:
February 7th 2019 by Bonnier Zaffre
Genre:  Historical

Goodreads

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn¹t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
When she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife, Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.
When Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
As the two women’s lives become inextricably bound together, the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood¹s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Familiars is a historical novel with a compelling friendship at it’s heart.
Set in a time when people could be accused of being witches, which carried the ultimate penalty of death, it charts the course of a difficult pregnancy for young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, and her growing friendship and dependence on a young woman called Alice Gray, who serves as her midwife and becomes embroiled in the case of the Pendle witches, an actual real life event which inspires this fictional narrative.

When Alice’s life is threatened, Fleetwood remains undeterred by either her ever-closer confinement, or the rumours and tales being spun around this particular group of people, and she sets out to save the life of the woman she believes will help save her in turn.

Fleetwood is a character I warmed to very quickly. She’s so young, and yet has endured a great deal in that short life, from a ridiculously young first marriage, to several failed pregnancies. When we meet her she’s living with the belief that this next pregnancy will probably be the end of her life. Despite this, and other revelations as the story goes on, she remains determined and resolved to help Alice, and refuses to bow to the pressure of older, educated and equally determined men, who want to see these ‘witches’ punished.

The fear and suspicion surrounding supposed ‘witches’ is apparent throughout the novel, but the story of Alice and Fleetwood doesn’t really touch on anything you could deem witchcraft, and is instead grounded in the growing friendship between two young woman trying to thrive in difficult circumstances. Alice is a young woman who knows about herbs and natural medicines and healing.

I enjoyed The Familiars, although I think when I picked it up I may have hoped for a little more of the magic/witchcraft theme. Go into this one expecting an engaging historical tale and it’s well worth your reading time.

Book Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Name:  The Hunting Party
Author:  
Lucy Foley
Number of Pages:
  400 (Hardback)
Published:
January 24th 2019 by HarperCollins
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller

Goodreads

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.
The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider
The victim.
Not an accident a murder among friends.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Hunting Party takes us to the isolated wilderness of the Scottish Highlands during winter for a New Year celebration that may become unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

It’s a whodunnit with a difference in that you don’t find out until almost the end of the novel who has actually been killed, so that makes it a bit difficult if, like me, you enjoy playing along and trying to work out the facts from the red herrings. With that in mind I just went along with it, rather than trying to work it out, although it’s not so hard to guess which of these mostly unlikeable characters will meet their demise.
So, I was a little surprised that in the end I actually settled on the right ‘who’, and I even picked up on the ‘why’ as well. I absolutely love it when a murder mystery sends me off in totally the wrong direction only to blind me with the simple truth that was there all along, but I didn’t get that with this book.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I kept finding myself thinking ‘just one more chapter…’ as I wanted to know what would happen next.
I don’t think I can remember the last time I read something with such a majority of unlikeable characters, but whereas sometimes that puts me off, in this case it didn’t, it kept reading because I wanted to know for certain who had met their demise.
And secrets? Not one of these people is simple or straight forward, they all have things to hide, or things alluded to in the past.
Even the members of the staff at the lodge appear to have interesting pasts too, and all these hidden things make for some interesting revelations as the story progresses.

I loved the setting of the Highland lodge with it’s mix of modern and old-style, and the vastness of the surrounding loch and woodland really came to life throughout. The isolation, lack of phone signal and wi-fi, accompanied by the real possibility of being cut off altogether should the weather turn bad, (and you just know that’s going to happen) made this a perfect book to snuggle down with, with the heating on and a cup of tea.

The Hunting Party was an entertaining, page-turning murder mystery.

Book Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Name:  The Winter of the Witch
Author:  
Katherine Arden
Number of Pages:
  384 (Hardback)
Published:
January 10th 2019 by Del Rey
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical

Goodreads

One girl can make a difference…
Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.
Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.
With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Winter of the Witch sets off at a great pace. Following immediately on from The Girl in the Tower we join Vasya in the aftermath of battle. A city desolated and burned, people terrified for their lives, and still the danger is not vanquished. An enemy defeated does not mean safety, for other old enemies still remain, and very quickly Vasya is hunted again as a witch, and finds her life in danger.

The pace and tension are there immediately with this final instalment of the excellent Winternight trilogy, and this book picked me up and carried me along in the wonderful, beautiful, dangerous and brutal world in which Vasya resides.

Vasya is such a good character. She’s a young woman determined, brave, and she knows her own mind. Through all her triumphs and losses she never gives up, even when the odds seem to be stacked against her.

I was devastated within a very few chapters of this book. Events shocking and incredibly sad left me on the edge of my seat, hoping for a different outcome.
And towards the end, well, there were certainly one or two scenes that really got to me, which I always think is the sign of a good story well told.

There’s a really beautiful fairytale, almost dreamlike quality to some of Vasya’s adventures as she discovers the magical lands of the chyerti, and finds out more about her own past, and I loved all the revelations and discoveries throughout the story. And venturing into these realms of magic gives the opportunity for some wonderful characters amongst the chyerti.

“You denied both the winter-king and his brother, didn’t you? You made yourself a third power in their war.”

I loved this dynamic, the great powers of the Bear and the Winter-King, and Vasya in between the two of them. Whoever would have imagined that you could end up sort-of liking a character like the Bear, and yet I definitely came to appreciate his unique brand of involvement in human affairs. The chaos-demon and the winter-king, twins, rivals, allies? It was everything I hoped it would be.

Reaching the end of Winternight has been a great reading experience. The blend of family ties, history, folklore and magic, and the inclusion of some of my now-favourite characters just leaves me wanting to go right back to the beginning and experience it all again. What a wonderful trilogy this is.

Book Review: Taken at the Flood (Poirot #28) by Agatha Christie

Name:  Taken at the Flood (Poirot #28)
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
  353 (Paperback)
Published:
2002 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd(Originally published March 1948)
Genre:  Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

A few weeks after marrying an attractive young widow, Gordon Cloade is tragically killed by a bomb blast in the London blitz. Overnight, the former Mrs Underhay finds herself in sole possession of the Cloade family fortune.
Shortly afterwards, Hercule Poirot receives a visit from the dead man’s sister-in-law who claims she has been warned by ‘spirits’ that Mrs Underhay’s first husband is still alive. Poirot has his suspicions when he is asked to find a missing person guided only by the spirit world. Yet what mystifies Poirot most is the woman’s true motive for approaching him…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

You know a Poirot story is doing it right when you suspect literally everyone at some point or another only to find that the actual person/persons was someone you never for a moment considered. That’s what happened in Taken at the Flood.

The tale begins with an ending, a death in the Cloade family. The recently married Gordon Cloade has died in an air raid, leaving everything to his new young wife, much to the consternation of various other members of the Cloade family, who always believed that Gordon would cover their living costs in life and after his death.

Cue a narrative of a country village into which arrives the young widow and her brother, a whole host of Cloades with definite motive to want this young woman out of the way (they would inherit the vast fortune were it not for this woman), and much plotting, scheming, misdirection and red herrings of every kind.

Poirot doesn’t really feature until the halfway point, by which time I’d suspected so many characters that of course via coincidence, prior knowledge and some assistance from those infamous little grey cells, Poirot was left to unravel the threads and present the actual solution in his own inimitable way, leaving me once again surprised.

The very last chapter though… No. Just no!

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Name:  The Girl in the Tower
Author:  
Katherine Arden
Number of Pages:
  346 (Paperback)
Published:
June 26th 2018 by Del Rey
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical

Goodreads

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I loved every moment of this tale of bravery, adventure, escape, mystery and scheming. Driven from her home following events of the first novel and rumours that she is a witch, we meet up once again with Vasya as she tries to make a new life in which she can be free. Disguising herself as a boy, Vasya heads out into the icy wilderness of the world, where all is not well as villages are being burned and people taken from their homes.

At the heart of this tale is Vasya. Brave Vasya, who refuses marriage, refuses the convent, stands against a frost-demon and insists she wants to see the world. She’s lost so much and yet she’s not broken. She wants to fight, to make a difference, and to help where she can, going into dangerous situations with her faithful stallion Solovey at her side.

How can one of my favourite interactions in a book still be between a spirited young woman and a talking, magical bay stallion? I can’t believe I’m even writing that, but it’s true. Solovey is such a character in his own right, and his loyalty to Vasya, and his observations and asides are just great.

The relentlessness and harshness of bitter frost, snow, and wind during winter in the forest was so vivid. Yes, it helped a little that the day I started reading this it started snowing, but this book is all atmosphere without the added weather effects in the real world.

And I have to mention Morozko and Vasya. I love the pair of them, separately and together – the whole ‘will they, won’t they, how can they fall in love when he’s an immortal frost-demon?’, and what exactly isn’t he telling her about the sapphire necklace and witches and horses by the sea? See, all these vague little suggestions just add to the mystery.
It’s utterly enchanting. He’s always there, making sure she’s okay as she ploughs forth into battles that should certainly be beyond her. As Vasya herself admits at one point, girls don’t handle weapons, and yet she’ll face down bandits and fight beside princes.

There are family reunions, political intrigue, plots, schemes, new monstrous villains and so much more to this great story. I’m so glad that I already have The winter of the Witch on request from the library, because I don’t want to leave this richly-created world and these fascinating characters behind just yet.

Book Review: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Name:  The Psychology of Time Travel
Author:  
Kate Mascarenhas
Number of Pages:
  372 (Kindle)
Published:
August 9th 2018 by Head of Zeus
Genre:  Science Fiction, Time Travel

Goodreads

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
1967
Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…
2017
Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…
2018
When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulphur. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Psychology of Time Travel is a really engaging read. Time travel as a theme can be a bit hit and miss for me. I sometimes find it overly confusing to the point that I lose interest but this story was one I think I (mostly) kept up with quite well. That said, trying to give you an overview of the plot is probably going to leave you far more confused than simply saying you should certainly give this book a try.

There’s the ultimate locked-room murder mystery, for how do you find a killer when it turns out they could be anywhere in time? And it doesn’t help matters when the victim cannot be identified either. It really opens up ‘means, motive, opportunity’ issues, because it could literally be anybody, from anywhere, at any time. It will take a very determined and committed person to sort that one out!

There’s also a lovely time travel romance which was an absolute pleasure to watch unfold, despite the many complications of loving someone from an entirely different era who has the capacity to disappear from day to day life at will and reappear again as an entirely different version of themselves. The way these particular characters came together made me want to go back and read their first meetings all over again.

There are characters you want the very best for, and those who seem to lose something of their humanity along the way as they strive to protect the reputation of the industry they built all those years ago. There’s a young woman determined to get to the bottom of the murder at the toy museum, to find out ‘why’ and answer the questions that play on her mind so she can be at peace.

I can’t say I’ve read that much time travel, but one thing I’ve never come across before which is used to great effect here is the idea that you can actually meet your younger (green) or older (silver) selves in the past and the future. You can in fact meet with them, converse with them, or wake up to find your older self preparing breakfast in the kitchen. The other selves can to some extent offer help or hints, and I really liked this idea.

The story weaves together and there are many strands and many secondary characters. At times it did get a little confusing and convoluted, especially when a character could be on their way to pick their child up from school only to end up meeting an adult version of said child, so you do need to pay attention, but in the end it all ties together and drives towards a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad I picked up this book for the originality, the mystery and the memorable characters.