For those of you who are interested in such things, Brendan Bellacourt also writes under the name of Bradley Beaulieu. I loved his exciting Sand and Sorcery trilogy The Song of the Shattered Sands – see my reviews of Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand – so I was keen to get hold of this arc when I realised who the author is. Would I enjoy his science fiction writing as much as his fantasy?
BLURB: truncated: Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.
Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but his journey towards self-discovery hits a major roadbump, when he becomes a target for those who are determined to prevent him from learning who he is really is and what he can do.
REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the very chatty blurb and my advice is to give it a miss, as it gives away far too many of the main plotpoints of the story. This is an intriguing world, clearly still fractured and struggling after the terrible events of the Great War. In this alternate United States ended up fighting a desperate war against a coalition of Britain, France, Canada and Germany and only narrowly managed to win, thanks to the valiant intervention of the now-President De Pere. Their technology is far in advance of where we were in the 1920s, as huge strides have been made in the field of virology, so that people can undergo major transformations, both physically and mentally on being injected by serums.
I particularly enjoyed the opening sequences of this book, where we are firmly in Liam’s head and he reluctantly attends a public opening for a new train as a favour to his friend – and it is Liam’s journey that powers this narrative. Personally, I would have preferred it if the narrative had kept with Liam throughout, as there were times when we were with other characters and I was conscious that I was flipping the pages wanting to get back to him.
The fast-moving, twisty plot provides a number of surprises. The worldbuilding was especially well done, so that I was able to visualise the interesting blend of art deco and steampunk, with a helping of speakeasies and vintage cars to add to the richness. This is an ambitious novel that examines the theme of power – who has it, who wants it and what some people will do for it. None of the conclusions are particularly original or world-shattering. But I like the fact that Bellacourt ends up having power as a personification – and that the damage started when initially decent people decided that the means justified the ends when they were in desperate straits.
However, if you’d rather read it as a straightforward 1920s steampunk action adventure story – fans of this genre should find it an entertaining book. While I obtained an arc of Absynthe from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.
Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.
As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…
On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.
On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.
And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…
This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.
In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.
This week I’ve read:- The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.
Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target? I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10
Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.
Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?
A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending. I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10
Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon. Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.
But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity… This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10
Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds
A jarring homecoming. An uncertain fate. To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.
While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all. When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10
A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.
Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.
When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her. This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10
What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.
Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream? Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’sbeen done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…
BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.
The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.
REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocksand you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.
Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.
I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.
What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erkine – release date 10th June, 2021
#historical cosy country house whodunit
BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.
Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.
I can’t lie – once again it was the cover that caught my attention. And then I read the blurb and I was sold. I’ve been reading a fair number of murder mysteries, particularly historical ones. And this one seems to have more than a nod to our ongoing pandemic, but with a slightly humorous overtone – which suits me down to the ground just now.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We are still recovering from a nasty attack of Covid and it’s baby steps. I walked to my local supermarket yesterday – only the second time I’ve been out and about since the beginning of March. A journey there and back, including the shopping normally takes about half an hour, if it isn’t too busy. I took nearly an hour and only bought two items. By the time I staggered back through the kitchen door, I felt as if I’d run a marathon. However, it’s now four days since I needed to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Himself is back at work, but still battling with a horrible cough. We are both taking lots of supplements and ensuring that we are eating and drinking healthily.
The photos this week are of plants blooming in the garden. It hasn’t been warm enough to sit out, but one lovely sunny morning I couldn’t resist wandering around taking some pictures. Though the garden is in desperate need of TLC and neither of us feels up to tackling the weeds, so frankly it’s a disgrace.
Last week I read: The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.
Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.
Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life… I took a while to get invested in this dual narrative adventure, as initially I didn’t bond with any of the protagonists. But once things started to kick off, I was able to settle into this enjoyable space opera adventure and let the pages turn themselves. Review to follow.
The Russian Cage – Book 3 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire.
Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this entertaining alternate history series and appreciated learning more about the Holy Russian Empire and exactly how it became established. There is plenty of action and more of Lizbeth, which is always a bonus…
Railhead – Book 1 of the Railhead series by Philip Reeve Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor’s train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people – and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him.
This YA adventure, with its sentient trains that span galaxies, is great fun. Though poor Zen is plonked right in the middle of something far bigger and scarier than he initially realised. Review to follow.
The Eyes of Tamburah – Book 1 of the Archives of the Invisible Swords series by Maria V. Snyder Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed – an outcast, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess – she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artefacts, ancient maps and obscure historical documents.
Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestow great magic on their wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. But chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they’re found – and Shyla is blamed for the theft. I thoroughly enjoy the bouncy energy in Snyder’s writing – particularly now I’m feeling a tad embattled. So this cracking Sand and Sorcery adventure ticked all the boxes. Review to follow.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie The Hayden War has ended and now SOLCOM and the Alliance are face to face in talks, but neither side has the slightest idea what happened in the ultimate battle of the war. Amid political jockeying and diplomatic gamesmanship, Captain Sorilla Aida has been given an assignment : Find a weakness to exploit, buy SOLCOM time to learn just what the hell happened to Valkyrie, and make sure that the Alliance isn’t prepared to risk another conflict in the open.
Sorilla has problems of her own, however, and after losing so much in the war she isn’t as certain of her life choices as she used to be. Unfortunately for her, the Alliance, SOLCOM, and others don’t intend to let her have time to figure it out for herself. This offering is a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner with plenty of tension and action, despite the lack of full-on space battles that Currie tends to specialise in. Review to follow.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…
The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.
The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.
Last week I read: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…
I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.
The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…
Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.
The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other. While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.
1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum… I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation… Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.
The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend. This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.
The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.
They didn’t tell him about the pixies. This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.
BLURB:Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day. Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time. I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
REVIEW: One of the wonderful things about Tchaikovsky’s writing is that when I pick up one of his books, I never quite know what to expect. There is only one other author I can think of who is quite so magnificently versatile – Jo Walton – and she isn’t nearly so prolific.
Even so, this one was a complete surprise – especially the magnificently dark humour. I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person narrator of Tchaikovsky’s with such a persona, I both loved and loathed our hero’s insouciant bounciness as he works unceasingly to keep a very broken world fixed in his own unique fashion… It would be very easy to drop spoilers here that would blunt the reader’s ability to experience this book as the author intended, so I’m going to do my level best NOT to commit that sin. I was mindful that the blurb didn’t let the cat the out of the bag, so neither shall I.
But I will say that all is not what it first appears to be – I was both captivated and horrified by the unfolding events, which also left my brain aching at times. Timey-whimey stuff happens that has major consequences. But I devoured this compelling read in two sessions and surfaced after that ending, mulling over what I’d read. And wondering what I would do in similar circumstances. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of One Day All This Will Be Yours from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.
This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik “Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?
I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.
I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Nevil Shute’s books. Last week I featured A Town Like Alice on my Friday Face-off, which reminded me just how much I loved his books. I’ve gone for the older covers, though there are lots of options for each of these titles. I absolutely loved Requiem for Wren, which I cried buckets over, and In the Wet (published in 1953) which goes forward in time to 1983 – and had nightmares about On the Beach. But I loved all his books. What about you – have you read any of these and if so, which are your favourites?And which of these covers do you like best?
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…