I can’t deny – it was alll about the title with this one. Particularly as I’m aware – being a lefty – that sinister means left in Latin and the Romans regarded left-handedness as being unlucky. And of course, a book about magical booksellers has to be checked out…
BLURB: There is often trouble of a mythical sort in Bath. The booksellers who police the Old World keep a careful watch there, particularly on the entity who inhabits the ancient hot spring. Yet this time it is not from Sulis Minerva that trouble starts. It comes from the discovery of a sorcerous map, leading left-handed bookseller Merlin into great danger. A desperate rescue is attempted by his sister the right-handed bookseller Vivien and their friend, art student Susan Arkshaw, who is still struggling to deal with her own recently discovered magical heritage.
The map takes the trio to a place separated from this world, maintained by deadly sorcery performed by an Ancient Sovereign and guarded by monstrous living statues of Purbeck marble. But this is only the beginning, as the booksellers investigate centuries of disappearances and deaths and try to unravel the secrets of the murderous Lady of Stone, a serial killer of awesome powers.
If they do not stop her, she will soon kill again. And this time, her target is not an ordinary mortal.
REVIEW: Well, this is a heap of fun! I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Nix’s work before – and this is a delightful introduction to his writing. This fantasy adventure mines the rich history of Britain, reminding me a bit of Juliet E. McKenna’s outstanding Green Man series. There are a lot of similarities between Susan, Nix’s protagonist and Dan, who is McKenna’s half-dryad hero. They are both offspring of magical deities and finding that they don’t fully fit in either world.
But then, this book goes in a very different direction. For starters, there is an organised response to magical wrong-doing in Nix’s slightly alternate 1980s England in the form of the Booksellers. I enjoyed the evident tensions within the organisation – inevitable when you get a bunch of strong-minded and talented people together. Merlin is a delight, with his quirky fashion sense. And it reminded me that back in the early 1980s, even in relative backwaters like Bath, young men and women were far more in the habit of dressing extravagantly in the New Romantic fashion. It’s not overdone, but Nix regularly drops in period details that remind me just how much things have changed since then.
As for the story itself, I was hooked right from the start and zipped through this one far too fast. The enticing world, quirky and well depicted characterisation and gripping adventure added up to a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing read and finished too quickly. This one is marketed as a YA read – frankly, I’ve no idea why. Don’t let that deter you from picking this one up if you enjoy well-written, British-based fantasy with strong characters, touches of humour and a 1983 setting. While I obtained an arc of The Sinister Booksellers of Bath from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
I’m going to join in the chorus of – ‘Good grief, it’s April already, how come???’. But then I have a theory for that. I think Government cutbacks mean that days, weeks, months and years have been devalued. Back when I was knee-high to a hen, an hour was PROPERLY sixty minutes of distance run, not the modern rubbish that slips past when you’re not looking. Just saying…
We have had a very soggy March and first Himself went down with a shocking cold and then in an unfortunate burst of generosity, he gave it to me. So last week I was properly ill… temperature over 100° F, blood oxygen levels of 94%, sore throat, aching limbs and a runny nose. Which didn’t mean I could get out of overseeing Oscar’s home schooling programme – oh joy. Still, we got through it and I’m now recovered, except for a hacking cough that sounds like I’m a 40-a-day smoker (I’m not…).
I’ve had quite a busy week. Oscar had an orthodontic appointment in Hove, which fortunately Himself could take us to. It was the furthest I’ve travelled since I got sick with Covid in March 2021, so I found the journey fascinating to see all the changes that have happened. And in the evening, I was able to attend one of our Writers’ Group evenings. It was lovely catching up with everyone and I got some very useful feedback on the second book of my Picky Eaters series, Trouble With Dwarves.
On Friday evening, my lovely sister looked after the grandsons while my wonderful sister-in-law drove down from Coulsdon to take me to the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham to see Samantha Shannon talk about her writing process, particularly in relation to her new book A Day of Fallen Night, which I loved – see my review here. It was a fabulous evening – the big bonus being that she was interviewed by Juno Dawson, author of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – see my review here. It was an excellent interview, as the women clearly know and like each other and Dawson asked very good questions. I was immensely impressed by the book, anyway – but after hearing what Shannon had to say about the effort she made to name her characters and her worldbuilding process, my respect for her attention to detail has only increased. And both authors were inclusive and very friendly. I came out of the event walking on air – for such a long time, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever be well enough to attend such events again. So it was yet another lovely benchmark in my slow, steady return to normal life. And if you get a chance to see either author discuss their work – I highly recommend them as both intelligent and articulate speakers with attractive personalities.
As for my reading – it’s dropped off somewhat as I’m now in the zone with Problems With Power. Another milestone – this last week I managed to write over 3,000 words in a single sitting. The first time I’ve managed to do that since I was ill. Yay! That said, it was a fabulous week, quality-wise as I read two 10/10 books😊.
Last week I read:-
The Sinister Booksellers of Bath – Book 2 of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London series by Garth Nix There is often trouble of a mythical sort in Bath. The booksellers who police the Old World keep a careful watch there, particularly on the entity that inhabits the ancient hot spring.
This time trouble comes from the discovery of a sorcerous map, leading left-handed bookseller Merlin into great danger, requiring a desperate rescue attempt from his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, and art student Susan Arkshaw, who is still struggling to deal with her own recently discovered magical heritage.
The map takes the trio to a place separated from this world, maintained by deadly sorcery and guarded by monstrous living statues. But this is only the beginning. To unravel the secrets of a murderous Ancient Sovereign, the booksellers must investigate centuries of disappearances and deaths. If they do not stop her, she will soon kill again. And this time, her target is not an ordinary mortal. I haven’t read any books by Nix before – but I shall certainly be reading him again. I love fantasy that is rooted in the myths and legends of our very rich British history. And Nix weaves some of these stories within his excellent adventure, set in a slightly alternate 1983. Wonderful stuff! Review to follow. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK – Beyond – Book 1 of The Founding of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey Within the Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar rules a tiny, bucolic Duchy that focuses mostly on horse breeding. Anticipating the day when the Empire’s exploitative and militant leaders would not be content to leave them alone, Korda’s father set out to gather magicians in the hopes of one day finding a way to escape and protect the people of the Duchy from tyranny.
Kordas has lived his life looking over his shoulder. The signs in the Empire are increasingly dire. Under the direction of the Emperor, mages have begun to harness the power of dark magics, including blood magic, the powers of the Abyssal Planes, and the binding and milking of Elemental creatures. But then one of the Duchy’s mages has a breakthrough. There is a way to place a Gate at a distance so far from the Empire that it is unlikely the Emperor can find or follow them as they evacuate everyone that is willing to leave. But time is running out, and Kordas has been summoned to the Emperor’s Court.
Can his reputation as a country bumpkin and his acting skills buy him and his people the time they need to flee? Or will the Emperor lose patience, invade to strip Valdemar of everything of worth, and send its conscripted people into the front lines of the Imperial wars? I enjoyed Briarheart last year – and so when I saw this offering on Audible, I got hold of it. This is a classic, medieval-setting fantasy featuring a likeable protagonist beset by a host of difficulties, while trying to keep his family and those people in the Duchy safe. I shall certainly be listening to more of this entertaining series. 8/10
We Dream of Gods – Book 4 of the Reborn Empire by Devin Madson THERE ARE NO GODS. ONLY MEN.
Betrayed by her closest allies, Empress Miko Ts’ai is thrust from ruler to pawn. But she won’t suffer the whims of men. A string of dangerous gambles could win Miko her empire for good, but to take back the throne, she must become everything her ancestors failed to be.
Rah e’Torin leads a herd again. Now he seeks to honor a promise he made a lifetime ago-to safely bring his Swords home. Yet Rah’s loyalty to the past may be his ultimate undoing.
Cassandra Marius is lost. Ensnared by memories that aren’t her own, Cass must decide who she really is, but the answer lies beyond one final confrontation with Leo Villius.
And trapped in the heart of the Chiltaen army, Dishiva e’Jaroven is handed unexpected power. The dream of a new homeland is within her grasp – if she risks everything and trusts her former enemies. This is the climactic final book in this outstanding series. I loved Madson’s vivid writing and twisty plotting right from the start – and keeping up that energy throughout is no mean feat. Full review to follow. 10/10
This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over sixteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
I’ve always loved the heat and found the lack of light and warmth in English winters an ongoing challenge. But as with so many other things that have changed since I had covid last March, that apparently is no longer the case. I was a bit taken aback last winter when I kept having to turn down the heating – and now I’m finding the warm nights and hot days simply exhausting, whereas before, they used to fire me up and fill me full of energy. So I spent two days in bed last week, though I did manage to get up to see our boomerang boy off to school in the mornings without too much difficulty.
I never used to have any windows open at night, even in the warmest weather. And that was partly because I was never that hot, but also because the cooler weather would bring down the pollen and trigger my hay fever, which otherwise these days is very well behaved. We’ll have to go back to keeping those windows shut as I’m now in a position where I could take a role in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as Sneezy. And I’m here to tell you that sneezing 20+ times in a row leaves you wrung out. Thank goodness I wasn’t trying to drive the car! Today is supposed to be the start of the hottest spell we’ve ever endured in the UK – and I’m dreading it. I don’t like to think of the poor souls living in big cities, as at least we get the benefit of the onshore sea breeze most afternoons which helps a bit. We also live in a brick-built house, so it tends to keep warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. In common with almost everyone else in the UK, we don’t have aircon although we do use fans throughout the night.
I have been watching a bit more TV in this heat – Boomerang Boy and I are enjoying Stranger Things together and I’ve just finished watching The Midwich Cuckoos, which I thought was brilliantly updated and adapted for a contemporary audience.
This week I’ve read:-
AUDIOBOOK – Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – The Jane Austen Collection: an Audible original Pride and Prejudice – narrated by Claire Foy
Pride and Prejudice is centred around the Bennet family, their five unmarried daughters and their mother’s desperation for at least one of them to make a wealthy match to save the family from destitution. When Charles Bingley moves into Netherfield, a nearby estate, it seems that Jane, the eldest daughter, may have found her match, but it also introduces our heroine Elizabeth to Bingley’s friend, the aloof Mr Darcy.
Directed by Nicolette Chin. With Tarrick Benham, Nicole Davis, Barnaby Edwards, Billie Fulford-Brown, Rebecca Front, Emma Gregory, Ferdinand Kingsley, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Tim McInnerny, Heather Nicol, Sarah Ovens, Janet Prince, Jenny Rainsford, Jennifer Saayeng, Sam Stafford, Katy Sobey, Homer Todiwala, Patience Tomlinson and Simon Yadoo. I’ve already had the pleasure of listening to Sense and Sensibility and this offering is the next one in this excellent collection of Jane Austen novels to listen to. It’s a solid favourite and has been dramatised very well. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – A Free Man of Color – Book 1 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly It is 1833. In the midst of Mardi Gras, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d’Orleans when the evenings festivities are interrupted by murder.
Ravishing Angelique Crozat, a notorious octoroon who travels in the city’s finest company, has been strangled to death. With the authorities reluctant to become involved, Ben begins his own inquiry, which will take him through the seamy haunts of riverboatmen and into the huts of voodoo-worshipping slaves.
But soon the eyes of suspicion turn toward Ben for, black as the slave who fathered him, this free man of color is still the perfect scapegoat. . . . And this is why I’m such a huge fan of Netgalley. Not long ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Death and Hard Cider, which was the nineteenth book in the series. So I went hunting and discovered the audiobook of this, the first book. What an absolute treat! A cracking murder mystery in a decadent and luscious setting with a thoroughly likeable protagonist. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this series again. 10/10
Against All Gods – Book 1 of The Age of Bronze series by Miles Cameron The gods play their games, looking down on the mortal realm and moving men as pawns. Sacrificing lives, towns, even civilisations as they make moves against each other, oblivious to and uncaring of the suffering it causes.
They are above it all: worshipped, emulated and admired.
Yet there is one among them who exists to sow chaos, to challenge the way of things, and to stir up trouble. One who sees the gods growing indolent and contented and selfish . . . and who is ready to meddle in the world of men. Not as part of the immortal game, but because they believe it’s possible for men to challenge . . . and even topple . . . the gods themselves. I am a fan of Cameron’s writing – I thoroughly enjoyed The Traitor Son series and last year his space opera adventure Artifact Space was a reading highlight of the year. But this one was very bloody, despite being well written, which I found a tad difficult at times. I also would have liked at least one of the plotpoints to be tied up by the end, rather than the whole storyline left on a cliff-hanger. 8/10
Last Wish – Book 4 of the Highland Magic series by Helen Harper It’s not easy pretending to be dead – especially when it feels as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Between an unfulfilled prophecy, the demon-occupied Lowlands, the continuing power of murderous Aifric Moncrieffe – not to mention her constant yearnings for Byron – Integrity Adair has a lot to worry about.
Still, how hard can it really be to save Scotland, maintain her morals, get the guy and keep her sense of humour? This is the last book in this delightfully quirky fantasy series. I suppose it’s urban fantasy as it hits many of the genre tropes – a feisty heroine, lots of snark, a few steamy interludes. But it’s set in a Scotland where the Lowlands, including Edinburgh, have been occupied by demons for the past 300 years. Integrity Adair is huge fun and this was one of those reads where I was torn between wanting to know what happens next – and wanting the book to go on for a long, long time, as I didn’t want to part company with Integrity. Or Bob the genie. Or Tipsy. Or May the demon… It takes skill and technique to successfully bring an entertaining series to a satisfying close, but then Harper never disappoints. She has become one of my go-to authors when I want a fun-filled read full of action and humour. 10/10
Half a Soul – Book 1 of the Regency Faerie Tales series by Olivia Atwater Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.
If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul. This was another enjoyable escapist read full of fun and tension. Dora is beautifully written – compromised protagonists take a lot of skill to get right and Atwater nails it. I loved the unfolding romance and the social reform aspect, which was very well depicted within the narrative. Review to follow. 9/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m 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 read Maddalena’s excellent review of this one at Space and Sorcery – and immediately nipped across and got hold of a copy. I really love the premise as I’m always a sucker for a good whodunit in an unusual setting.
BLURB: North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.
Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known. The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.
REVIEW: Yes… I do enjoy well-constructed thrillers, yes… I do appreciate complicated protagonists with a whole suite of luggage that skews their attitude towards the world. But for me, the highlight of this book – what makes it memorable and really stand out – is the setting. This is an alternate world, where the likes of Columbus and the hungry tide of conquistadors never landed on the shores of the Americas, so the indigenous people had the opportunity to develop on their own terms, with their own cultures largely intact. And while the inhabitants of the small village where the crimes occur still live in wigwams, this is a contemporary setting, so there are also mobile phones and high-speed trains. However, there is also a regard for the natural world that is woven alongside everyday life and I am delighted that Blanchard gives examples of how that works. I’d LOVE someone to make a film of this book – the twisty plot and anguished protagonist would work well on the big screen, but overwhelmingly, I think seeing Blanchard’s evocation of how modern life could work alongside Nature would be marvellous.
Getting back to the book, I did find it initially something of a challenge. Chibenashi, the main protagonist, isn’t someone I found easy to like – although learning of the terrible events that have destabilised his life did have me warming to him. Necessarily, the pacing at the start is a bit slow as the world also needs a lot of description. That said, I was never tempted to DNF it as the worldbuilding held me throughout.
Watching Chibenashi struggling to cope was also interesting – he isn’t a classic hero by any means and makes some really dodgy decisions – one in particular had me shaking my head at the time. I had guessed the murderer about two-thirds of the way through, but this time around that didn’t bother me all that much. In the event, the denouement was still shocking especially as the fallout was a bit heart-wrenching and messy, contributing towards making this one a very memorable read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where it goes next. Highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries with unusual settings. 8/10
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
I had hoped to continue to feel better after the uptick in my energy levels once I recovered from my cold at the beginning of January. But last week, it was a struggle to get out of bed before the middle of the afternoon and by the time I’d showered and dressed, it was often getting dark again. While I’m aware it’s important to get outside in the fresh air and whatever sunshine – there didn’t seem much point shuffling around the block in the frigid gloom of a mid-winter late afternoon. So I didn’t bother – for one thing, I can’t move fast enough to get the blood moving to combat the cold, so it’s an exercise in misery.
However this week, I woke up on Monday feeling hugely better. And so far, on Sunday, I’m still feeling better. Though I’m taking it cautiously. I still am dealing with the ongoing nasal drip, which I’m heartily sick of – both the disgusting taste and the resulting tinnitus. And my neck is still very swollen and tender, making it painful to turn my head quickly. But my energy levels, both physical and mental, are much improved. When I saw the Dr last week, he was very reassuring. My liver and kidney functions are normal and while my thyroid is swollen and has a number of nodules, which he thinks is a result of covid, it is also functioning normally. I’m due to have another scan in March to monitor any further changes. But I still don’t manage to get up much before midday and I still struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, even if I go to bed at the right time. Thank goodness for books – if I wasn’t able to put the light on and read in the wee small hours, Life would be a whole lot more challenging.
On the bright side, our car has now been fixed after the minor accident when someone swung into the passenger door – and their insurance accepted the liability. And our grandson came to stay again from Tuesday through to Friday. Having him in the house, travelling back and forth to college on the train, with his bubbling enthusiasm for his college course is a real tonic. So I’m delighted that his staying with us is going to become a regular fortnightly event. Now he is 17, I’m not worried about having to look after him if I’m too ill to get out of bed and he is happy to help around the house.
This week I’ve read:- The Red King – Book 1 of the Wilde Justice series by Jenn Stark As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.
Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice–permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well. This was a gripping read – and it didn’t hurt that Stark’s vivid evocation of Venice reminded me of a wonderful family holiday in what seems another life. Sara is a sympathetic protagonist, there were plenty of plot twists that kept the pages turning and I’m delighted to discover there are plenty of books in this spinoff series. 9/10
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel. I’ve included the complete very wordy blurb as it does a good job of setting out the narrative imperative behind this intriguing book. While I’m notcompletely familiar with the political landscape of the time, Sittenfeld has done a thorough job of depicting it. But what I think is masterly is her evocation of the unthinking sexism and racism running throughout the spheres of influence that not just impacts Hillary, but other women around her. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot since I finished reading this one, and the main reason why it hasn’t garnered a 10 from me is the unevenness of the pacing in places. 9/10
Immortal in Death – Book 3 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb When Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates the murder of a top model, she is putting her career on the line, because the prime suspect is her best friend. Eve’s investigations lead her into the glamorous world of high fashion.
Himself has bought all these books, so I’m starting to work my way through them. Set in the near future, the writing is pacy with plenty of romance as Norah Roberts in the guise of J.D. Robb serves up a number of brutal murders for our feisty protagonist to contend with. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK – Kingdoms at War – Book 1 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker For centuries, wizard kings have ruled the world from their elite sky cities, battling each other to add to their wealth and power, while using normal human beings as pawns. Those without magic struggle to feed their families and live in constant fear of bringing down the wrath of their tyrannical masters. Something must change.
As a cartography student, Jak has always dreamed of finding the lost dragon gate and exploring and mapping distant worlds. Developing magical powers and becoming a powerful wizard? Not a chance. Wizards are cruel and inhumane, warring with each other from their great sky cities and keeping most of humanity enslaved. Jak wants nothing to do with them. But when he and his archaeologist mother unearth the gate, they attract the attention of the very wizards they sought to avoid. Even more troubling, Jak starts developing magical powers of his own, powers that could rival those of the great rulers. Fate may have given him the opportunity to change the world. But the wizard rulers don’t like change, and when they detect threats, they send their elite assassins to eliminate them. And if the above blurb sounds like an intriguing situation – you’re absolutely right. I love Buroker’s vivid, three-dimensional worlds. Her settings are always detailed and politically sophisticated and once again, I’ve lost my heart to the main protagonists, Jak and his clever, studious mother. I’m thrilled to discover yet another gripping series by this accomplished author to dive into – Buroker has been one of my major lifelines during my illness! 9/10
The Cruel Stars – Book 1 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.
The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying. This military space opera adventure is full of action and conflict, as well as a number of punchy, well-written protagonists. One of the best written is the terrified child caught up in the middle of a waking nightmare by dint of her birth – Birmingham’s depiction of Alessia is one of the highlights in this enjoyable book. 8/10
Baking Bad – Book 1 of the Beaufort Scales Mysteries by Kim M. Watt A tranquil village. A poisoned cupcake. A murdered vicar. A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.
Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again. Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved. This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions. A cosy murder mystery set in a small English village, accompanied by quantities of tea, cake and dragons… This one sounds almost to be too good to be true. So I was delighted to discover that as well as being genuinely funny with a cast of enjoyable, believable characters – the dragons are also intriguingly different from the general run of scaly monsters we’re used to seeing in our fiction. I will definitely be reading more of this series. 9/10
The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…
This Netgalley arc is the second book in this military space opera adventure. Once again our plucky group of misfits are faced with dealing with a lethal and committed enemy. Review to follow.
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.
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.