I’ve been uploading photos of my garden on my Sunday Posts, which have been getting a lot of positive comments, so I have decided to feature the pics in their full size, so you can see some of the detail. Last Friday, we went for a walk along the seafront here in Littlehampton. It wasn’t raining, but it was blowing a hoolie – to the extent that the birds were struggling. The young starlings were all sheltering in the lee of Coastguard station and that seagull roosting on the top of the groin post is looking decidedly grumpy!
I was intrigued by the premise and deciding I needed a good murder mystery to leaven all the sci fi and fantasy goodness I’ve been immersed in recently, I requested it. It was a happy surprise to discover I’d been approved to read this one…
BLURB: Divorced single mom Mandy Meadows scrapes by working as a barista and receiving payments from her cousin, Ryan, who rents her basement apartment. At night, she and her teenage daughter Vellum run a successful home business creating journaling content on their popular social media channels. But Mandy’s carefully organized world is about to come crashing down. While filming their latest journaling tutorial, Mandy and Vellum hear a loud noise on the basement stairs, and Mandy is horrified by what she finds… I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which then goes on to disclose what I consider to be the first big plot
I really like the character of Mandy, who is in a hard place, through no fault of her own. She is a mother struggling to hold things together, after her shiftless husband has cheated on her, by holding down two jobs and caring for a teenage daughter, Vellum.
If you are looking for a no-holds-barred, action-filled adventure, then this one isn’t for you. After the first shocking discovery of the murder victim, this is a slow, steady accretion of clues and facts with a number of possible suspects being examined before being ruled out. However, if, like me, you really do like your whodunnit’s to be something of a mystery, then I do recommend this one. I obviously had guessed who the perpetrator was, before I discovered that I had got it completely wrong.
Apart from the well-handled murder mystery aspect, I was also engrossed in Mandy’s everyday life as a barista in a coffee shop at a local hospital, while also working on her online business. Redmond vividly depicts the struggle of so many people who are working in low-paid jobs with precious little security and a constant fear of losing their earnings. I was impressed that this wasn’t shown with any huge flourish or self pitying drama, but as a day-to-day struggle that needed to be endured – so much more realistic. Despite Mandy’s struggles, this isn’t a gloomy book. She is largely a strong, determined and optimistic character. However, I was glad to see that the victim’s death exacted a real toll on those around them. This isn’t a mystery where we really don’t care, and it was interesting to learn about the character after he’d died.
Any niggles? While I felt Mandy was very well portrayed and I loved the characterisation of nearly all the characters, I did feel that Vellum was just a little too good to be true as a fifteen-year-old with parents who had recently split up. But perhaps that was because she was also fully involved in her mother’s business with part of the responsibility of its success, which gave her a sense of agency, enabling her to behave in such a mature way.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and was impressed with the quality of the writing and the murder. I will be looking out for more books from this author. Highly recommended for fans of engrossing murder mysteries where there really is a real mystery. The ebook arc copy of Journaled to Death was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I’ve heard so many good things about this series, so decided to treat myself to the Audible version of this Alice Hoffman book.
BLURB: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.
This is such a cool premise and I particularly loved the blurb. I started listening, all set to be blown away by the intensity of the situation, as this skilled, adept writer pulled me right into the middle of this appealing story. And it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, two aspects of Hoffman’s writing really caused me a problem. I am a tad allergic to reams of exposition, where the author sees fit to tell me her version of what is happening, rather than allowing the characters to define the circumstances and explain it through their eyes. The other dealbreaker for me is head hopping and this is also part of Hoffman’s style. In adult fiction, I find it both jarring and irritating as it invariably knocks me out of the story while I work out why I am listening to two viewpoints within the same scene.
Once I realised these traits would continue throughout the book, I had to decide whether my aggravation with the style would result in this book being a DNF – and it is a testament to Hoffman’s writing skill that this didn’t happen. As the excellent narration by Laurence Bouvard gradually pulled me further into the story, I found I wanted to know what happened to Vincent, Franny and Jet. While my enjoyment of the characters was compromised, I cannot fault the worldbuilding and sense of otherness Hoffman manages to evoke with her stylish prose. I particularly liked her continual referencing of the smells around her characters and how they changed depending on what was happening or about to happen – in fact, the richness and sensuality of the writing in general was a huge plus throughout.
The other strength of this interesting book was the narrative arc for each character. As I wasn’t particularly emotionally involved, there were occasions when listening, I wondered if I would ultimately regret my decision to continue with it. Right now, I am not in the mood to listen to an unfurling tragedy, wherein each of these protagonists was going to endure a life of constant loss and grief, and there were times when I thought that would be the case. However, while there are certainly a number of shocking and sad events that take place within the story, it is ultimately an uplifting book and I felt the ending was very well handled. Overall, I am glad I persevered. There is much to admire in this book – I just wish I could have loved it more.
I was feeling in the mood for a historical adventure, when this one caught my eye with that very pretty cover. So I was delighted when I was approved…
BLURB: My baptismal name may be Giovanna but here in my mother’s adopted country I have become plain Joan; I am not pink-cheeked and golden-haired like the beauties they admire. I have olive skin and dark features – black brows over ebony eyes and hair the colour of a raven’s wing…
When Joan Vaux is sent to live in the shadow of the Tower of London, she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of this new England under the Tudors. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, if Henry and his new dynasty are to prosper and thrive.
I very quickly bonded with this intelligent, sparky young woman, whose unfashionable looks didn’t bother her all that much, as she had developed a horror of marriage and childbirth. Through her eyes, in first person viewpoint, we get a real sense of her life as an attendant of Elizabeth of York, betrothed to Henry VII, the first Tudor king after years of savage fighting during the Wars of the Roses that tore apart the kingdom. I’d studied this period of history, so knew a lot about the events Hickson covers in the book – but it was a real joy having such a ringside seat to this fascinating time. Through Joan’s eyes, we see Elizabeth’s life unfold as the Yorkist princess, having to put aside her grief for her lost brothers (the princes in the Tower) and her dead father, as it is her place to found a new dynasty.
Hickson’s thorough research builds up a vivid sense of daily life, where Joan is at the beck and call of her royal mistress, learning of events that shake the kingdom through the people at the centre of it all. I knew that childbirth was a major issue for women up until medical advances made it safer, but this book brought home to me the sheer terror of facing such an ordeal with no effective painkillers and a high death toll from the likes of breech births and secondary infections. There was also the heartbreak of losing babies and children, who also were carried off by diseases and infections in very high numbers.
I’m aware that I’ve made this book sound a rather dreary round of catastrophes and death – and it’s nothing of the sort. Joan is a bright, engaging character with plenty of spirit and is strangely drawn to the ravens who roost around The Tower. She is aware of her good fortune, has a loving relationship with her mother and her benefactor, the Lady Margaret who looked after her while her mother was busy at court. It was interesting to see that Tudor working women had the same strains on their personal lives that we experience in modern life.
I’ve noticed that Hickson has written a number of other books centred on this period and I’m going to see if I can get my hands on them. Her deft, lively writing style and detailed knowledge that gave the book such a strong period feel without compromising the pace or narrative arc meant that I found this one difficult to put down. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical adventures set around the Tudor period. The ebook arc copy of Lady of the Ravens was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with RELIGIOUS ICONS/CHURCH OR TEMPLE. I’ve selected Dissolution – Book 1 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.
This edition was produced by Pan in 2004. While I like the idea and the overall design, I think the execution ultimately lets it down. For some reason, this cover looks very washed out. The font is the strongest aspect – that lovely olden-style font nicely pops against the darker background. However that chatter both detracts from the design by cluttering it up and is difficult to read, as it is white against a light background. Both visually annoying and unsuccessful, it really spoils this one for me.
Published in April 2004 by Penguin Books, I think this image of a praying monk is a great improvement. Ideally, I would have liked the image to be just a little less gloomy – Sansom’s Tudor thriller is full of vivid description and tension, while his protagonist pings off the page. This cover doesn’t give an inkling of that – other than that ghastly bright red sticker they’ve plonked onto the artwork, which is a dealbreaker for me…
This edition, published by Macmillan in June 2003 is the best effort so far. I prefer the lighter colour palette and find that scene of the monks processing through the hall pulls me into the scene. The ornate title works well and while I’m not thrilled about the chatter near the bottom of the cover, at least it isn’t too intrusive. This is a real contender – I so nearly went for this one…
This edition, produced by Penguin in 2004, has gone for the split design. This rarely works well in thumbnail and I don’t think this example is all that effective when full sized, either. It feels as if two designers couldn’t make up their minds as to which image to go for – so decided to add both. I find the top image annoying anyway. The monastery buildings were generally repurposed during and after the Dissolution and only ended up looking like that a great deal later – so it isn’t even historically accurate.
This Dutch edition, published by De Fontein in November 2011 is my favourite. I love the ruddy light reflected off the monastery wall – there is clearly a fire nearby. And that sounds all too plausible, judging by accounts of how the monasteries were looted once Cromwell’s men got to work. And in the foreground, an elderly monk is praying… Though I’m dismayed to see even the Dutch insist on plastering their covers with chatter that by rights should be on the back cover. Which is your favourite?
I’ve only ever heard good things about this author, so was delighted when I saw this arc available on Netgalley – and even more delighted to be approved to read it. I am also linking this one to @SciFiMonth2019.
BLURB: In this version of London, there is a small, private clinic. Behind its layers of security, procedures are taking place on poor, robust teenagers from northern Estates in exchange for thousands of pounds – procedures that will bring the wealthy dead back to life in these young supple bodies for fourteen days. It’s an opportunity for wrongs to be righted, for fathers to meet grandsons, for scientists to see their work completed. Old wine in new bottles. But at what cost?
This story is told in multiple viewpoints, as we are introduced to a number of characters who become involved in this experiment. Inevitably, there are some who stick in the mind more than others. Paula is stranded on one of the thousand estates where the working class forced into unemployment as their jobs are now automated, are housed. Many retreat into VR worlds as an escape, while existing on sub-standard food, sub-standard education and sub-standard opportunities. She uses the money she gets for renting out her body to open a dance studio for the youngsters who don’t want to live in a virtual world and inevitably, it is her students – unusually fit and healthy – who are targeted for Luke’s experimental process. I loved her struggles, both practically and ethically, to live the life she wants against a background of poverty and deprivation.
I also enjoyed the storyline of Elsa and Lindy, another memorable subplot that particularly chimed with me, as I’m also a teacher. I felt their story was poignantly portrayed and the passages when they were able to fully express their love for one another were beautiful. There is also the tale of Richard K, successful pop musician who made it after his dad died and now he’s well into his middle age, would like to have the chance to reconnect with his father again.
Rogers could so easily have made this a far more polemic read, but I liked the fact that this wasn’t a completely dark tale of the haves preying on the have-nots – until it suddenly was… That ending packed a real punch and was all the more devastating because it seemed all too plausible – although thankfully, I think the actual science behind this premise is a very long way down the line.
This very readable story is both engrossing and thought provoking – I always love it when science fiction does that. And while the overall premise isn’t a particularly original one, I thoroughly enjoyed Rogers’ treatment. Highly recommended for readers who might like to sample a strong science fiction read, but are nervous of the techie bits.
The ebook arc copy of Body Tourists was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
I loved Room – and when I saw this one available at Netgalley, I immediately requested it, delighted to be approved to read it…
BLURB: Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip…
I immediately found myself bonding with dear old Noah, who still regularly spoke to his dead wife and heard her answers in his head, as he is confronted with this spiky eleven-year-old reeling from the loss of the grandmother who was looking after him, while his mother is in jail. I understood and sympathised with Noah’s reluctance to get involved – he’d broken his heart over the boy’s father, the beautiful nephew Victor, who had taken gifts from his doting aunt and uncle and sold them for drugs. Why would he want to get tangled up in this mess? And the answer comes back that at seventy-nine years old, he is the only relative willing to take the boy on and keep him out of the state childcare system – and all that entails.
So he does… There isn’t so much a generation gap as a yawning chasm between the two of them. Add in the mix of whisking the boy off to Nice, on a long-planned holiday to explore the city of Noah’s birth and further investigate the life of his mother and famous photographer grandfather – and the result is a chaotic negotiation of rules in amongst unfamiliar surroundings and a different time-zone. Noah constantly is brought up short at Michael’s laconic, sharp-edged responses to places he has been raised to revere.
What I loved about Noah, is that it would have been all too easy for him to have become aggravated and hostile to Michael’s constant button-pressing and pushing for boundaries. But he tries to take into account the boy’s trauma as he copes with his foul-mouthed responses and wall of insolence as the child retreats into games and screens. Every so often he snaps and there are fireworks, which I felt were very convincing. But Donoghue manages to portray the shifting dynamic within their relationship as Noah tries to accommodate Michael’s needs, while the boy gets used to having to cope with yet another adult in his life, who is only a temporary haven anyway.
Unspooling in the middle of this relationship, are Noah’s discoveries about his mother. I’ll be honest, there seemed to be an awful lot of joining the dots with some very flimsy evidence regarding this small handful of photographs his mother had taken in Nice during the war years. But I’ll give her a pass on this one, as I think Donoghue did manage to make it work – just about. All in all, this was a delightful, poignant read, interlaced with some very funny moments. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading family dramas in quirky settings. The ebook arc copy of Akin was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
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 meme is now being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we have been given the chance to feature whatever we like. I’ve gone for a wonderful science fiction read about an autistic young man set in the future called The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon…
This edition was produced by Del Rey in June 2005 and is a real contender. I love the image of the haunted-looking young man – the blurring effect of the light and the quirky positioning of the title. My main grizzle is the chatter in the bottom left of the cover which I think compromises the design, though at least it has been positioned with some thought.
Published in May 2004 by Ballantine Books, this Tenth Anniversary edition is another effective cover. The interlocking pieces making up the whole image, which is still off-centre creates an eye-catching, arresting effect. However, the title font is underpowered and boring, while that ugly textbox is completely out of place, especially given the strong colour draws the eye away from the otherwise muted design palette.
This offering, published by Ballentine Books in March 2004, is the least successful effort. The child’s windmill is evidently supposed to look as if it’s spinning at speed, but ends up looking like a poorly executed blur. This effect is emphasised in thumbnail, where the binary sequencing manages to make the whole cover look out of focus. I don’t like the limp title and author fonts, or the chatter cluttering up the design, either. A book this awesome deserves a far better cover.
This next cover was released in December 2010 by Hachette. I love the drama of the splinters of light flying off across the cover, while the dark purple corona against the black background looks beautiful. This cover certainly stands out from the others with the sheer visual drama. For once, both the title and author fonts are substantial enough to stand out from the design to be easily read, which surely ought to be their purpose, anyhow. This is my favourite.
This Polish hardback edition, released in May 2005 by ISA, is also a contender. I love the purple image of the young man with the silvered eyes, while the play of light in the background is beautiful and eye-catching. This one was so very nearly my favourite – which is yours?
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 has been a week of two halves. I started it in Bexhill, where I’ve spent nine glorious days with my sister-in-law at our writing retreat in a turreted flat overlooking the sea. It’s been wonderful. The weather was fabulous – bright sunshine and warm temperatures so we had the joy of wonderful sunsets every day turning the whole sky gold and pink. Typical that because I was travelling by train with two heavy cases I left my cameras behind this time around… Last Sunday, as a special belated birthday treat, Celia took me to see Eddie Izzard’s Wunderbar Tour at the iconic art deco building that dominates the lovely sea front. It was a wonderful evening as I roared with laughter at his madcap, surrealist humour – he is an amazing, clever person and I’m so heartened that he is planning to go into politics.
We also went to a meditation session on Monday night, and walked every day along the seafront. And in amongst that, we had the joy of sitting down to write in this lovely turret. I managed to complete another editing pass for Mantivore Prey, write the character arcs for all the main protagonists in Mantivore Warrior, which meant I was ready to make a start on the novel. I got the first two chapters written and am halfway through the third one, feeling very happy with the way its going.
Returning on Thursday was a bit of a wrench – we both felt that we were really hitting our stride and could have done with another week – but the massive upside is that I got to see Himself again. Yesterday we had breakfast together at a café in Littlehampton with my sister, before scoping out another flat for her and hopefully, she will be joining us for roast dinner tonight.
Last week I read:
Circe by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
This is one that’s been on my TBR list since forever, and I was delighted that it was worth the wait. A wonderful, engrossing read with an ending that brought a lump to my throat.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes
Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically. The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.
What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes a classic drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. Though they face all kinds of dangers, they’re committed to their job–bringing books to people who have never had any, sharing the gift of learning that will change their lives.
This one caught my eye on Netgalley – I read the start of the blurb and was sold… It was a delightful read, full of incident and drama in a wonderful setting – and based on a real scheme to bring books into the lives of poverty-stricken households living way off the beaten track.
My posts last week:
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:
#writersproblems: finding help writing that d*** #bookblurb with #inspiration from #tvthemes https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/09/19/writerproblems-finding-help-writing-that-d-bookblurb-with-inspiration-from-tvthemes/ And no… it wasn’t just because I was namechecked in this one 😊. It is also because I feel PASSIONATELY about this issue as anyone whose ploughed through a handful of my reviews will know…
Attack every moment of every day with that attitude of a pet https://chechewinnie.com/attack-every-moment-of-every-day-with-that-attitude-of-a-pet/ One of those pieces of advice that’s far harder to achieve, but nonetheless is worth attempting… Besides, he’s just soooo cute!
The Story of Romana https://jenniefitzkee.com/2019/09/18/the-story-of-romana/ This one brought a lump to my throat as I watched the video of these lovely children… I hope it all works out for them! Thank goodness they’ve had Jennie in their lives.
Quotations on Fantasy Literature https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/09/19/quotations-on-fantasy-literature/ I felt Tolkien’s quote has a sense of trying to justify the genre, which simply isn’t the case these days.
Teleportation https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2019/09/20/teleportation/ This fascinating article on the subject is a must-read for any hard sci-fi reader or writer…
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…
I found this a really, really uncomfortable read – and have been thinking about it a lot since I finished this one. Those of us who have increasingly got into the habit of shopping online in the comfort of our own homes need to think long and hard about the ongoing consequences on not just our local High Street – but the power we are ceding to powerful multi-national companies. This cautionary tale brought that home to me…
Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering. Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.
In this dystopian world, there has been a widespread collapse of the economy, taking all Government services and a lot of jobs with it. Cloud is still thriving, however – so its employees are hugely grateful for the accommodation, medical services and meals that go with the job. Surely working hard in return makes it a reasonable bargain…
Hart uses three protagonists to demonstrate just how the system works – Paxton, whose own small firm was squeezed out of existence by Cloud, who also took over his own nifty invention for a pittance; Zinnia, who has been employed as an undercover agent; and Gibson, founder and figurehead of Cloud, who has his own reasons for reflecting upon his life’s work.
As I continued to read, I felt a chilly recognition. I happen to be a historian by training and one of my study areas had been the early Industrial Revolution when runaway capitalism stripped workers of any rights and turned them into foundry-fodder. It took years of grinding poverty and degradation before workers in this country were able to band together and win back the dignity of a fair day’s wage in return for a fair day’s work.
Without any kind of political spin or widening the scope of this story, Hart skilfully depicts what happens when there aren’t any checks and balances on any large conglomerate where the profit margin is the sole goal. I couldn’t put this one down as the plausible chain of events led to a state of affairs that seems unstoppably to be just over the horizon. And neither can I forget it. I find myself less enthusiastic about online shopping, these days. The ebook arc copy of The Warehouse was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.