Category Archives: ancient Greece

Sunday Post – 11th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I was AWOL last week, recovering from a big family wedding. my sister and nephew came to lunch. It was wonderful seeing my nephew – formerly a confirmed bachelor – walk up the aisle with someone so well suited – their happiness shone through. I had the privilege of giving one of the readings at the lovely service at Bournemouth Town Hall, followed by an enjoyable reception in Christchurch, where catching up with family was the bonus to celebrating this fabulous couple’s happiness. The only downside was the car journey there and back which made it a long day. Then last Sunday I finally finished working on Sally’s book – it was a gruelling five-hour session, but we both felt on a high at the end. On Monday, my sister and my other nephew – who’d been best man at the wedding – came over for a meal with us. It was a wonderful treat as I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with Michael for some time and he is excellent company.

On Tuesday, Himself and I relaxed, after doing the main shop and treated ourselves to lunch out. It was another hot, sunny day and we were also able to enjoy sitting in the garden as I played hooky from work. On Thursday, Frankie came to stay – Oscar stayed behind as his dad managed to get tickets for the Everton match this Saturday. So Friday saw us shopping till we dropped, swinging by Hobbycraft for art supplies as Frankie draws and paints and generally catching up. It seems a long time since I’ve seen him.

Last night we attended a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Alexandra Theatre in Bognor, braving stormforce winds to do so. It was worth it, especially as Tim was appearing. We thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful performances, haunting music and impressive production standard. Today we are planning to go up to Forbidden Planet in London so Frankie can check out their selection of manga books.

Last week I read:

The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?
I thoroughly enjoyed this Netgalley arc – it’s always a joy when a book exceeds expectations and this one turned out to be an engrossing read unlike anything else I’ve read this year.

 

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures – Book 2 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology series
Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes. In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta – who was raised by bears – outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.
This enjoyable account of the Greek heroes who stepped up to rid the world of some of the monsters is a delight to listen to – every bit as good as Mythos

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun.
This short book covers a lot of ground and gives a heady insight into the vision of one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Review to follow…

 

My posts last week:

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones

Friday Faceoff featuring How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Kindle Unlimited Promotion

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Favourite Fives – My Favourite Five Agatha Christie mysteries https://iwishilivedinalibrary.blogspot.com/2019/08/friday-fives-my-five-favorite-agatha.html?spref=tw This is an enjoyable meme, but what caught my eye was that some of Katherine’s selection were stories that I hadn’t read – what about you?

…a Writer’s work is never done… thankfully!… https://seumasgallacher.com/2019/08/09/a-writers-work-is-never-done-thankfully/ Successful indie author demonstrates the work ethic that has made helped him self publish a string of gripping Jack Calder thrillers.

Short story review: FIRE IN THE BONE by Ray Nayler https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/short-story-review-fire-in-the-bone-by-ray-nayler/ There is a link to this story – and since I’ve read it, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head… what a treat.

#AuthorInterview: #SFF #writer #AdrianTchaikovskydiscusses #writing #openinglines, #worldbuilding, and other bits of #writinglife. Thanks @aptshadow! https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/08/authorinterview-sff-writer-adriantchaikovsky-discusses-writing-openinglines-worldbuilding-and-other-bits-of-the-writinglife-thanks-aptshadow/ Top-notch interviewer Jean Lee quizzes talented SFF author Adrian Tchaikovsky on all things writing…

Thursday Doors – Goodbye Dublin https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/08/08/thursday-doors-goodbye-dublin/ I just love this quirky series – how does Jean find such a variety of wonderful doors?

Science Fiction in Kindle Unlimited https://books.bookfunnel.com/scifi-in-ku/4tecpf2y60 This is a book funnel promo I’m part of – if you are considering some sci fi goodness this summer, why not check out this selection?

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Porpoise by Mark Haddon #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePorpoisebookreview

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Like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Haddon’s best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and when I had the opportunity of reading his latest book, I jumped at it…

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

Be warned – if you pick this one looking for more of the same regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, then you’ll be disappointed. This is nothing like it, particularly the immersive first-person viewpoint that made Christopher sing off the page. This book is told throughout in omniscient viewpoint – the storyteller’s point of view. While we do spend short periods in the head of various characters, they are not what powers this story – and we are regularly given information that they are not privy to. I’ll be honest, if the story hadn’t been very well told and one that I hadn’t known, then I don’t think I’d have got through it. This is my least favourite viewpoint and it is a tribute to Haddon’s skill that once I relaxed into the rhythm of the writing and the cadences of the story, not dissimilar to those ancient Greek legends upon which aspects of this is based, I enjoyed it.

This story is a dual narrative, covering two timelines separated by thousands of years. We start with a plane crash that leaves a motherless newborn baby to be brought up by her very wealthy, doting father. And here comes my next warning – this book covers incest and child abuse, and though there are no graphic scenes, Angelica’s plight would certainly be a trigger for anyone affected. As her initial chance for escape disappears and her would-be rescuer flees for his life, the story abruptly jumps back in time.

Is this Angelica’s imaginings taking her to a different place? Or a mirroring of the same plight through the prism of time? We are never told and it’s left for the reader to make up her mind. But the blurb nails it in the second paragraph – the rest of the book plunges us into an adventure full of lost love, storms, pirates and perilous escape, in sharp contrast to the slow passing of time for Angelica as she tries to escape her father’s attentions.

That ending is both shattering and unexpected and has had me musing on this one long after I finished reading it. I’ve come away from this book with mixed feelings – I found it a gripping, unexpected adventure, but also quite disturbing. It has certainly wormed itself inside my head – recommended for readers who enjoy unusual, challenging stories where the ending doesn’t necessarily leave everything neatly tied up.

The ebook arc copy of The Porpoise was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Oracle’s War – Book 2 of the Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #OraclesWarbookreview

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I loved Athena’s Champion which I reviewed last year. I have a really soft spot for Greek god retellings and this classy debut left me wanting more – so I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to get hold of Oracle’s War

When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honour, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.

The action starts a few months after the events in Athena’s Champion at the occasion of Odysseus’s sister’s wedding – which doesn’t go according to plan and sends him off on a quest to avenge a wrong. I am really fond of this clever young man, whose quick wits save him from death more than once in this fast-moving adventure, where gods are amoral beings, intent on widening their pool of worshippers by any means at their disposal. Being one of their champions isn’t the privileged position you might think, given their nasty habit of using their half-human offspring as disposable agents to influence or alter events to their advantage. We meet up once again with a number of the characters first featured in Athena’s Champion – most notably Bria, another of Athena’s champions, who accompanies Odysseus on this quest. She is inhabiting another body and her lusty, cynical attitude, along with her careless attitude to the body she has invaded, sets Odysseus’s teeth on edge.

I liked learning more of the young man’s rocky relationship with the man who brought him up as his father, King Laertes of Ithaca, in this next slice of the adventure. And I also very much enjoyed the worldbuilding which Hair and Mayo weave in amongst all the double-dealing, life-changing prophecies, sorcery and thrilling fights. They effectively set out the political situation where the rise of the eastern cities, particularly Troy, is destabilising the scattering of states and islands further to the west. Not only is their culture under attack – their gods are in the process of being altered or swallowed up by their eastern counterparts – their financial future is also in jeopardy as traders increasingly drop off their goods at Troy, whose added tariffs are making life increasingly difficult.

We are currently around five years before the Trojan War and a sudden new prophesy has caused a major upset. The young woman who has delivered it is in great demand – and not all those seeking her are wellwishers, so Odysseus finds himself looking after her after she has been snatched. While he is impressed with the grey-eyed young woman, his heart has been stolen by a Trojan princess. This next slice of Odysseus and his adventures is every bit as exciting and vital as the first book. Recommended for fans of well-told Greek myth retellings. The ebook arc copy of Oracle’s War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 7th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I have just returned from another wonderful few days away at Bexhill-on-Sea with my sister-in-law on a writing retreat. She is working on her PhD thesis and I managed to add over 11,000 words to Mantivore Prey. We were back in the flat she had previously rented with the fabulous turret room overlooking the seascape as we wrote – such an amazing experience! We were very lucky and mostly had sunny, bright weather – although Wednesday was stormy with dramatic seas, showers, strong winds and regular rainbows, which we were able to watch shimmer across the skies, before disappearing.

I was in rather desperate need of a break – and this was what I got. I had a fabulous time that not only helped recharge me emotionally, but was enormously beneficial creatively.

Last week I read:
Breaking the Lore – Book 1 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith
Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning. Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.
This is great fun! I thoroughly enjoyed Nick’s laconic humour and his struggle to get his head around all the magical creatures suddenly pitching up on his patch in a smart Manchester. Review to follow.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of the Olympus Trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo
When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honour, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.
I loved the first book in this series, Athena’s Champion, and this one triumphantly continues with the same panache and wonderful worldbuilding – this is fast becoming one of my alltime favourite series… Review to follow.

 

My post last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré series

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Sunday Post – 24th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This week was the last week of the Spring Term at Northbrook, so I am now on Easter holiday until 23rd April… The final sessions went well on Monday and Tuesday – it’s always a pleasure having a one-on-one tutorial with each student to discuss their writing progress. On Wednesday, Mhairi and I got together – they actually moved to Lincolnshire on Thursday, so we had lunch together in Haskins and spent the afternoon talking. She will be coming to stay next Tuesday, so it wasn’t too much of a wrench, thank goodness…

On Thursday and Friday, I got up late and pottered a bit – did some really pressing admin and answered urgent emails, etc. But other than doing a bit of tidying – nothing much, other than listening to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase which was gripping and fun. On Friday night, I had some amazing dreams and woke up fizzing with creative energy. So after posting my blog, I got down to work and wrote a couple of shorter pieces – one life writing article about our holiday in Venice, back in 2015; and a short story set on Mars and then tucked into the novel. It went reasonably slowly, but I’m pleased with what I wrote – and that’s the main thing.

After a week of gloomy, dank weather, today is glorious, so Himself is outside, painting the fence. Spring is finally here – thank goodness!

Last week I read:
Starseers – Book 3 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
The mysterious and powerful Starseers have Captain Alisa Marchenko’s daughter, and she will do whatever she must to get her back, even if it means traveling to their stronghold and confronting them personally. Unfortunately, her strongest ally, the cyborg Leonidas, may become a liability since the cyborgs and the Starseers have a long history of hating each other. It doesn’t help that Leonidas and Dr. Dominguez have a mission of their own, one that could jeopardize all that Alisa is fighting for.
I am thoroughly enjoying this series – I like the fact that the narrative powering the story is Alisa’s hunt for her lost daughter. There is plenty of action and snark in this entertaining space opera adventure and I look forward to read the next book very soon.

 

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…
This is a retelling of the tale of Pericles – I’m glad I didn’t know the original before I read this, because in many places it follows the story quite closely. Review to follow.

 

 

Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War by Timothy Zahn
Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy.
And that’s putting it mildly. It is the classic story of the underdog, where an outmatched outsider somehow has to prevail and put right a lot of injustices with insufficient information… I quickly got pulled into the story and really enjoyed it. I’m going to go back and get hold of the first book, Pawn.

 

AUDIOBOOK – The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood and Co series by Jonathan Stroud
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
This may be presented as a children’s book, but the writing and premise kept me gripped throughout – and it was quite creepy enough, thank you very much… I’m delighted that I already have the second book in this excellent series to tuck into. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h March 2019

Review of Satellite by Nick Lake

Review of Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper

Review of Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Friday Face-Off featuring Death of Kings – Book 6 of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwall

Review of Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The Art of the Book Event: 9 Tips https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/23/the-art-of-the-book-event-9-tips/ I’d like to think that authors take this on board – to avoid disappointing long-suffering book fans and so that they, too, enjoy these events…

Midspring https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/23/midspring/ And why wouldn’t we celebrate the coming back to life of the countryside with Inessa’s fabulous photos?

Shiver Me Timbers! A Series Shake-Down – Part 1 https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/shiver-me-timbers-a-series-shake-down-part-one/ As the Cap gives a rundown on outstanding book series, I’m sure we can all relate. How do you handle it when you realise you have started faaar more series than you can ever complete?

A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Wild Nights! Wild Nights’ https://interestingliterature.com/2019/03/18/a-short-analysis-of-emily-dickinsons-wild-nights-wild-nights/ A poem I didn’t know from this accomplished poet…

Throwback Thursday: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett https://lynns-books.com/2019/03/21/throwback-thursday-the-secret-garden-by-frances-hodgson-burnett/ I really like the sound of this meme. We spend a lot of time discussing new books or more recent releases – I love the idea that we can now also highlight and celebrate gems we read years ago that someone else might also like…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Athena’s Champion – Book 1 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #Athena’sChampionbookreview

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One of my lovely blogging friends recommended this, though I’m really sorry I can’t remember who is was, or I would namecheck her as this is a real gem.

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death. Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

Odysseus staggers away from this rite of passage an outcast, when he was expecting it to be part of his preparation and training for ruling Ithaca, a small rocky island off the Greek mainland. So he is out of options when Athena appears and offers to provide him with sanctuary, in return for his service. I’ve always had a soft spot for poor old Odysseus, whose – like Heracles – pays a high price for serving the gods, becoming entangled in the Trojan War and then taking ten long years to return home, to the extent that his name has come to mean a long, important journey… odyssey.

This retelling, however, deals with the events that lead up to the Trojan War and explains why the Greeks were such a quarrelsome lot. Once Odysseus has sworn his allegiance to Athena, he is automatically regarded with enmity by other members of the Olympian family, given they spend much of their time plotting against each other, terrified they will lose influence and get swallowed up by competing deities with more worshippers.
In this dangerous, uncertain world, where young Odysseus no longer even has the safety of his own family, he is forced to spend far more time than he’d like with Athena’s other champion, the mighty Theseus. This depiction has the great warrior as a bullying drunken braggart, convinced he is irresistible to woman. I like the fact that the events leading up to the Trojan War are not just explained by the gods’ insecurities, but also by Troy’s growing power as a trading centre that threatens the economy of the Spartan kingdom and the surrounding states.

I am conscious that I haven’t conveyed the pace and drama of this retelling – in amongst the intriguing backstory and strong characterisation, there is a cracking action adventure, full of fights, plots, desperate schemes and dangerous situations. Odysseus, though strong and well trained, is also too short to be able to prevail against might of a gigantic warrior like Theseus in hand-to-hand combat. However, he is clever, quick-witted and able to spin a tale to get himself out of a tricky situation, which is just as well…

I loved this one. And if you have a fondness for well-told retellings of Greek gods and heroes, this comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Athena’s Champion from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 17th October, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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 – Athena’s Champion – Book 1 of the Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo

#Greek myth retelling #fantasy #magic #troubled hero

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

I’m a sucker for Greek retellings and this one, due out on 8th November, is a cracking version. Many thanks to the person on this site who recommended this book – sorry I can’t recall who it was!

Review of KINDLE Ebook No Time Like the Past – Book 5 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor #Brainfluffbookblog #BookreviewofNoTimeLikethePast

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This is one of those outstanding series that I keep revisiting and yet trying to spin it out as I don’t want to the fun to stop…

St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department. But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see. Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.

Max is one the historians, often described as disaster-magnets as they are generally prone to all sorts of mishaps occurring, as well as the day job being the insanely dangerous task of travelling back in time. It doesn’t help that there are also a group of renegade historians also cris-crossing the timeline equipped with one of their travelling pods who have sworn to see Max and her companions dead.

These books are very episodic, as each one covers a number of major time-travelling projects interleaved with life at St Mary’s, which is rarely peaceful. There is also a fair amount of emotional turmoil in Max’s life as her past has left scars that creates problems when she wants a relationship. Max’s hilarious first-person narrative often has me laughing aloud and nudging Himself in the ribs to read out a particular humorous gem, but what sets these books apart is that when highly dangerous, risky expeditions into the past are undertaken, often people don’t come back in one piece. Or at all… Taylor isn’t afraid of killing off characters we have grown very fond of, to the extent that I don’t get through one of these books without also weeping – and I don’t do that very often these days. Consequently, this series is always a roller-coaster read with lots of humour and heartbreak in amongst the action. Taylor’s writing is vivid and quirky and I love the fact that she always lulls me into a false sense of security by setting up a situation or scene, which suddenly changes into something quite different.

While I think you could quite easily pick up one of these books without having read any of the others and work out what is going on, it would be a real shame to do so with such an unusual and exciting series. I haven’t encountered anything quite like Taylor’s writing before, and I don’t expect to do so again. And if you, too, would like to experience the whirlwind that is St Mary’s and the madcap team of historians, then don’t track this one down, instead go looking for the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Highly recommended for fans of time-travelling adventures with a difference.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The king is dead, long live the king…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a cover featuring Greek myths, so I’ve selected The King Must Die – Book 1 of the Theseus series by Mary Renault.

 

This cover, produced by Virago in March 2015, is my favourite. I really like the simplicity of this image – the white against the golden colour is very effective. I also like the fact that background is shaded and slightly patterned with that classic Hellenic design. My one grizzle is all that chatter on the cover seems unnecessary. Ah well – you can’t have it all. Apparently…

 

This Serbian edition was produced by Laguna in November 2012 and is also a reasonable effort, although that border pattern seems to hark back more to my great grandmother’s antimacassars than anything remotely Grecian. It’s a shame, because that apparently small anomaly really jars with me.

 

Published in 1990 by Hodder and Stoughton, this is a strong contender for being my favourite. I love the design – that statue of the minotaur with the blood-tipped curving horns makes for an arresting image. The frieze in the background is also well designed. I think, though, that the top cover just edges it.

 

This Portuguese edition, published by Círculo do Livro in 1985 is the least successful, in my opinion. While I love the striking, orange backdrop the figures are looking stilted and a bit peculiar. I think this would have been far more effective if Theseus and the minotaur were in silhouette.

 

This edition, produced by Vintage Books USA is another blast from the past as it was produced in 1988. I very much like the overall effect of this one – but the one drawback is that I cannot work out what that shape is. Is it a map of Greece? Not exactly, as far as I can gather. So I find it frustrating as neither can I make an outline of an aurochs or a Greek warrior. I’m probably being an idiot and missing something really obvious, here – I’m looking forward to someone telling me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

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I enjoyed Angelmaker and loved The Gone-Away World, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.

I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.

It might have been tempting to have accelerated through it if I hadn’t been enjoying the experience so much. Harkaway is a remarkable writer and this is him at the peak of his capabilities. For all the depth and complexity, I found the book highly readable and engrossing. It would have been a real shame to have thrown away the experience by trying to skim through it. The writing is immersive and each character has their own flavour so that after a while, it only took a couple of lines to realise whose head I was in. Essentially, it is a thriller. But the puzzle is far more of the slow-burn variety, which doesn’t stop there being some jaw-dropping twists near the end.

For all their quirkiness, I was fond of all the characters, though my favourites remained dogged, persistent Inspector Mielikki Neith whose investigation of the untimely death of Diana Hunter in custody triggers the whole chain of events – and fierce, beautiful Athenais, once-mistress to Saint Augustine, before he decided to become so saintly. The characterisation is masterly and as I’m a sucker for character-led stories, it was their vividness and sheer oddness that sucked me in and kept me reading.

I also feel a similar anger that sparks through the book – the apathy of too many of us, the blind belief that if we put in place a whole raft of cameras and electronic surveillance, it will somehow be alright, no matter who ends up at the helm and in charge. This is a remarkable, brave book, deliberately constructed and written on an epic scale. Does it work? Oh yes. I loved it, but my firm advice would be – don’t rush it. If you try reading this one in a hurry, you’ll end up throwing it out of the window – and given its size, it may cause serious injury if it hits someone…

While I obtained the arc of Gnomon from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10