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review 2018-02-12 13:33
If you enjoy well-researched international thrillers and love team-spirit, don’t miss this one.
The Violin Man's Legacy - Seumas Gallacher

I had read Gallacher’s Self-Publishing Steps to Successful Sales (you can check my review here) a while back and had several of his books waiting to be read but had not managed yet. But when his first novel, The Violin Man’s Legacy became available in audiobook format, I knew I had no excuse.

Although I tend to use the text-to-speech facility on my e-reader, I haven’t listened to many audiobooks (mostly my own) so I was intrigued by the experience. I found the narrator, C.C. Hogan, engaging, able to hold my attention, and very good at keeping the characters separate (and there are quite a few!) and individual. He is also very good at accents and managed the international locations and names without faltering. Unfortunately, my Kindle is quite old by now and could not accommodate the Whispersync option, that would have made it easier to check some things (like names and details), as I also had a copy of the Kindle version of the book.

I’m not a huge reader of spy novels, and although this book is classified within the crime and suspense thriller category, this international action-thriller reminded me in style of many spy/international conspiracy novel, although with a more European feel, and less frantic in pace than many American spy thrillers. There is plenty of action, and even some sex (and yes, the main character is incredibly skilled, can fight like the best of them, and outwit his opponents, although the brains behind the operation is his boss), but there are also slower moments when we learn the back story, not only of the main characters, like Jack and his teammates, but also of some of the people they collaborate with, and even some of their enemies. This allows us to get to know more about the players and to understand how they got to where they are. (The story behind the title and the way it relates to Jack’s past is particularly touching).

The book is narrated in the third person, from a variety of points of view. We mostly follow Jack Calder (as it should be, as this is his series), but we also are party to the thoughts of many other characters, although there is no confusing head-hopping, and even in the narrated version, it is clear which point of view we are being privy to at any given moment. This helps create a more complex story, with layers of information and to get a better grasp of what the different players have at stake. There are those who are only interested in money, others involved in power games and politics, and others for whom reputation and loyalty are the main objects.

The story takes us from London to Amsterdam, Hong-Kong, and South America, and the author is meticulous and well-informed, providing credible settings and a detailed exposition of the procedures and operations that brings to mind the best police procedural novels. But although we follow each detail of the investigations and the operations, there are always surprises to keep us on our toes.

Jack Calder, the central character, is a breath of fresh air in a genre where heroes are almost superhuman and can fight entire wars single-handedly. Although Jack, an ex-SAS captain, is indeed great at his job, he is traumatised by a family tragedy; he is self-deprecating and knows when to give credit where credit is due. He can follow orders and acknowledges his bosses’ superior planning skills. He is also a friend of his friends, and a loyal team-player and the novel highlights how important good relationships and contacts are in the world of international security firms and businesses.

I loved the fact that the characters talk like real people talk (yes, they use clichés sometimes, make bad jokes, and sometimes are lost for words), and, although there is violence and terrible things happen (justice and law are not always on the same side of the divide), there are also very funny moments.

The writing style is fluid and the pace ebbs and flows, with moments that are fast-paced and others that allow us to catch a breath and learn more about the ins and outs of the businesses and the characters involved. Readers need to remain alert, as there are many characters, locations, and plot threads, and, it is important to pay attention to the details.

I recommend this book to those who love spy and international intrigue thrillers, especially to readers who like complex situations and stories with plenty of twists and turns, but who don’t mind stopping to take a breath every so often. A great first book in the series and many great characters I hope to meet again.

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review 2018-02-10 00:00
Private Hearts
Private Hearts - Grant C. Holland Private Hearts - Grant C. Holland This book is just perfection. The two MCs are just beautifully crafted, feel very real and you can't help rooting for them from page one. Each have their own faults and imperfections, but that just makes them that much move lovable. I love the small town setting of the book, the author truly makes it come alive and populates it with an amazing cast of supporting characters. I give the author major kudos for resisting the urge to create angst for angst sake which happens more than I like in many friends to lovers stories. Instead he gave us an incredible love story with a completely believable couple. This has to be one of the very best I have read!!! Now I just need to read through the rest of this great authors works!
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review 2018-01-15 15:12
The Old-But-Not-Dead Club strikes again. A truly inspiring read, whatever your age.
On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old - Hendrik Groen

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

A while back I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (check my review here) and loved it. I was on the lookout for the next one, and when I saw the next one was available for download at NetGalley I did not hesitate. It has now been published and I could not pass the chance to share my review.

Hendrik explains what has happened since his last diary (yes, he is older now) and decides to write his diary for another year, as a way to keep his brain going. He is now 85 and he needed some time to get over some of the sad events of the last book. But the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong, with new members and plans, including regularly exploring international cuisine (more or less), a short holiday abroad, and an attempt at local (extremely local) politics. Hendrik’s voice is as witty and observant as it was in the first book, although there is perhaps a grittier and darker note (he is feeling low, everything is getting tougher and unfortunately, life gets harder as the year goes along). But not all is doom and gloom and there are very funny moments, as well as some very sad ones. His comments about politics and world events, always seen from an elderly population’s perspective, are sharp and clear-sighted and will give readers pause. Some of them are local and I suspect I was not the only one who did not know who many of the people where or what anecdotes he referred to at times (I must admit that although I know a bit about Dutch painters, I know little about their politics or music, for example), but even if we cannot follow all the references in detail, unfortunately, they are easily translatable to social and political concerns we are likely to recognize, wherever we live. Funding cuts, social problems, concerns about health and social care, crime, terrorism, global warming feature prominently, although sometimes with a very peculiar twist.

The secondary characters are as wonderful and varied as in the previous book. Some of them have moved on (physically, mentally, or both), and we get to know better some of the ones that only briefly appeared in the previous volume. We also have new arrivals at the nursing home, and a more direct involvement in the home’s politics (with anxiety-provoking news present as well. Is the nursing home going to close?). I loved some of the proposed and adopted rules (a complaint-free zone to avoid wallowing in conversations about ailments and illnesses, a high-tea facilitated by the residents, an art exhibition, even if the artist is not the most sympathetic of characters…) and the sayings of the residents. Of course, life at a nursing home comes with its share of loss and although I don’t want to reveal too much, I can say the subject of death is treated in a realistic, respectful, and moving way.

I shed some of the quotes I highlighted, to give you a taster (although I recommend checking a sample and seeing what you think. And, although it is not necessary to read the first book first, I think it works better knowing the characters and their journey so far):

The idea of using care homes to look after the comfort, control and companionship of the elderly is fine in principle. It just fails in the execution. What old age homes actually stand for is infantilizing, dependence, and laziness.

One in four old people who break one or more hips die within the year. That number seems high to me, but it’s in the newspaper, so there is room for doubt.

It’s always astonished me to see the wide support clowns and crooks are able to muster. Watching old newsreels of that loudmouth Mussolini, you’d think now there’s a bloke only his mother could love. But no, millions of Italians loved him.(Yes, I’m sure this can make us all think of a few people).

Difficult new terms that tend to obscure rather than clarify, especially when uttered by policy-makers. It often has to do with hiding something —either a budget cut, or hot air, or both at once.

Managerial skills alone don’t make for better care, it only makes for cheaper one.

And, a great ending (and one we should all take up this year):

A new year —how you get through it is up to you, Groen; life doesn’t come with training wheels. Get this show on the road. As long as there’s life.

The tone of the book is bitter-sweet, and, as mentioned, it feels darker than the previous one, perhaps because Hendrik is even more aware of his limitations and those of his friends, and is increasingly faced with the problem of loneliness, and with thoughts about the future. But, overall, this is a book that makes us think about the zest for life, about living life to the full, and about making the best out of our capabilities. As I said on my previous review, I hope I can meet a Hendrik if I get to that age, and I’ll also make sure to join the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and be an agitator and enjoy life to the end. Don’t ever settle for the easy way out.

A great book for those interested in the subject of growing old, in great characters, and in an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It has plenty of adventures and events (even trips abroad and international cuisine), although it is not a book I’d recommend to people who love fast action and high-octane thrillers. If you enjoy first-person narrations, love older characters, and don’t mind thinking about the long-term (ish) future, I recommend this very inspiring book.

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review 2018-01-12 08:37
Both beautiful and terrifying, this is a standout in the crowded YA fantasy genre
Everless - Sara Holland

'Everless' took me totally by surprise. There are quite a lot of young adult fantasy novels being released with beautiful cover designs to draw you in (even though I want to get my hands on the UK cover in this case, over the US one), so I think it's starting to get harder to stand out in this genre, at least on the bookshelf. But I dove into 'Everless' without too many preconceptions and once I started the book, I barely came up for air.

In the land of Sempera, time is money, and blood is currency, meaning blood-iron can be sold and turned into coins for the very things that people need to survive: rent and food. It is all-consuming and cause for corruption - the wealthy just drop coins into their tea to look younger, and people go to get their blood drawn to satisfy their debts, as well as having their blood taken from them as punishment or stolen.

This whole concept aside (which initially seemed confusing to me but then made total sense!), the main character who drives the tale is Jules, and I gravitated towards her from the beginning. I already feel like I'm saying too much, but she must leave her beloved father to go back to work and live at 'Everless' where the Gerlings, the Sempera royalty, reside, to understand the secrets that reside within, and to try and support her dying father, against his wishes. I don't dare say any more about the plot, but I will say that this book just flows because of Holland's great writing, her fairytale world filed with fascinating characters, and I couldn't put the book down.

Sara Holland has created a world so enthralling, as beautiful as it is terrifying, and it's hard not be absorbed in this tale filled with secrets, danger, and adventure. Read this book!
*I can't believe I'm going to have to wait for her to write the next one now!! The ending really left us with a cliffhanger!

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review 2018-01-11 15:02
a slow percolator....but worth the Time...tee hee
Everless - Sara Holland

I am extremely conflicted about what to rate this. I don't mind admitting it...my name is Beth and I suffer from Old Lady Syndrome at times. In order to combat my memory lapses I take notes periodically with the hope of remembering to put into words everything I felt along the way. At first I was disheartened with the pacing. Then there was the lack of character development and to be completely honest, the plot as a whole was flailing. Yes the writing was very good. Yes the premise was unique BUT it felt very much like a setup book where there is very little going on definitively...no meat, no potatoes, just me starving for a decent plot, skimming and flitting about all the while stewing in resentment- waiting for book #2 to come out so that things can finally start in earnest. Around 64% there was still nothing major going on. The MC suffered from the doldrums and nothing was holding my attention fully. The identity of Jules's parents and the reasoning behind why the queen was so feared were the most interesting questions posed and even those inquiries did not compel me to keep turning pages. Only the preorder price and my own stubbornness kept me going. All of these factors usually amount to a surefire recipe for disaster BUT I am elated to report that I persisted! Not only did I persist but the last 30% was redemption incarnate!! And that ending...oh boy that ending left me fiending for more. I ended up loving someone I initially loathed (as we were often led to do) and detesting someone that I had eventually warmed up to (although done so with a healthy amount of well earned trepidation). The main twist blindsided me. The way in which it unraveled, though laborered in the beginning, was skilfully crafted. As it approached the finish line it commanded my attention and I ate it up in record time. Now now, I know some of you can inhale books at an inhuman rate (and I'm more jealous about that than I care to admit) BUT here I reference my own (oft times sluggish) pace so please take the previous statement with a grain of salt.


In the end I found myself caring for the characters which was a wonderous feat in and of itself because I would have balked at that claim around the halfway mark.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book and if you find yourself hung up, dejected and thinking of putting it in the DNF pile then I hope you persevere as well because the ending is not only twisty and turny but it also sets up high expectations for the next book in the series. Happy reading!

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