I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?
BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.
Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.
I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.
This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…
The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.
The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.
Last week I read: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…
I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.
The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…
Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.
The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other. While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.
1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum… I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation… Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.
The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend. This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.
The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.
They didn’t tell him about the pixies. This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.
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 Roman warfare images. I’ve selected The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 of The Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe.
This edition was produced by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in September 1993. It has grown on me, as I like the artwork, which is clear and works well in thumbnail. My main grizzle is that eagle standard, which seems to be propped up against the main character’s shoulder in rather a peculiar way. I find it distracting. And I’m not all that keen on the highly stylised font, which says 1920s and 30s, rather than taking me back to Rome.
Published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), this looks to me to be a cover tie-in to the film. The protagonists look suitably grim and grubby and I like the epic sense of the battle going on in the background, rather than just a few chaps waving shields and pilums around. That is also a wonderfully threatening sky… However, I am disappointed in the choice of font, which blends far too well into the background to effectively stand out or draw the eye.
This edition, published by Oxford University Press in March 2000, has chosen to focus on the famous legion standard – the golden eagle. It looks fabulous, especially as it has been angled to catch the light and look suitably dramatic. So it’s a crying shame that all that impact and awesomeness is then promptly squandered by cluttering up the cover with that block of unnecessary chatter. WHY couldn’t the bit about the one million copies sold go on the back, under the blurb? This is so nearly my favourite…
This Dutch edition, produced by Clavis in 2003, also features the legion’s standard. This design has deliberately chosen to reproduce the sense of the 1950s – this book was first published in 1954 – with the textbox and artwork. While I’m not a fan of textboxes, I respect the care and thought that has gone into this one and it is so very nearly my favourite. I particularly like the red font, which pleasingly picks up the shade of tassels flying from the standard. It’s details like this that make a cover eye-catching.
This German edition, published by dtv in 1971, is my choice for this week. I love the vintage feel of the artwork and the clean, uncluttered look. Other than the author and title font, the only other detail is the publisher’s logo – what a lovely change to see the whole of the cover design unimpeded by blobs or chatter! I read this series when I was at school and while this isn’t the same cover as the copy I had – it’s not that different. Which is your favourite?
One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.
This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik “Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?
I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.
I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
At least it’s been a lot milder this week, but there has been a lot of wind and rain – so once again, I’ve stayed indoors. The major family issue that was hanging over us has finally been lifted, which is HUGE relief. I’m floating around a foot off the floor, now I’m no longer weighed down with the worry of it😊. It’s been a busy week – I’ve been editing Flame & Blame, the first novel in the Picky Eaters series, and completed the plot outline for Council of Dragons, which is the third book. During that process, I realised I still have lots of story to tell regarding dear old Castellan, so have also got plotpoints for the next trilogy in the series after that – Claws & Queens, Tumult in the Timescape and An Anarchy of Elves.
The photos this week are part of a walk we did this morning along the beach at very low tide. You can see views of the pier we’re normally walking along from below!
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?
This was one of my favourite Discworld novels when I first read it longer ago than I care to recall – and listening to it was pure joy. As ever, when hearing Pratchett’s writing read aloud, I’m struck by its quality and truth. Review to follow.
The King’s Evil – Book 3 in the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor London 1667. In the Court of Charles II, it’s a dangerous time to be alive – a wrong move may lead to disgrace, exile or death. The discovery of a body at Clarendon House, the palatial home of one of the highest courtiers in the land, could therefore have catastrophic consequences.
James Marwood, a traitor’s son, is ordered to cover up the murder. But the dead man is Edward Alderley, the cousin of one of Marwood’s acquaintances. Cat Lovett had every reason to want her cousin dead. Since his murder, she has vanished, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. I’ve now caught up with this classy, gripping series and just in time – for I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered the arc to the latest book in this series, which is coming out in April – The Royal Secret. As ever, this one held me throughout and I love the continued development of the two main protagonists and the tense atmosphere in the wake of the English Civil War. Review to follow.
Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox In The Heat Of Battle The hard-won cease-fire between the battling immortals doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, human surgeon Dr. Petra Robichaud is back on the frontlines, and starring in yet another of the oracle’s prophesies. As the only healer who can talk to the dead, Petra doesn’t have much choice about her role—even when her breathtaking ex-lover shows up at exactly the wrong time…
Once again, I fell into the trap of requesting the book without realising exactly where it is within the series – and found when it arrived that it was the third book in the series, not the second one. I decided to go for it and read and review it anyway. If I have time to go back and get hold of the second one I will. As it happened, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it did a good job of concluding this quirky, enjoyable series. Review to follow.
The Court of Mortals – Book 3 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster Marrying your fae prince shouldn’t be this hard. Hetta’s family now know Wyn’s true identity, but that doesn’t mean they approve of their relationship. Princes are all very well – but Wyn’s not human, for all he’s spent ten years pretending to be.
With gossip spreading like wildfire, Hetta and Wyn receive a royal summons. The Queen of Prydein has heard the rumours of fae intruders, and she’s not letting Wyn go until she’s satisfied he and his people aren’t a threat. Convincing her would be a lot easier if someone wasn’t trying to blacken Wyn’s name – and if his sister wasn’t trying to kill him.
For mortal politics aren’t the only problem the pair have to face. The Court of Ten Thousand Spires is still without a ruler, and the only way out may be for Wyn to assume the throne himself – meaning he and Hetta can never be together. I inhaled this one… This series has been one of the highlights of my reading year so far – and in August, the final book comes out. And I’ll be right there at the front of queue waiting for it. Review to follow.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.
Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…
Last week I read:
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars. Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…
Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today… This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos… The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.
Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest. This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut. While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other. This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.
The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.
The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.
At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret. A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.
NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.
Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace. When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.
The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.
Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?
Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with. Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.
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 CLASSIC SCI FI covers.
I’ve attempted to find an older science fiction book to feature that I particularly enjoyed – and discovered that I generally don’t read vintage stories, these days. So I finally settled upon To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis, one of the most magnificently funny and joyful books I’ve read in the past few years – see my review. Which isn’t a surprise when a lot of the inspiration of it comes from the wonderfully ageless Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.
This edition was produced by Spectra in January 1998. It’s busy and the scenes do relate directly to the content – but that’s all I can say in praise of it. You’d never guess that this is a humorous book with a strong Victorian inspiration, looking at this cover. And given that a cover should also give a sense of the overall tone, then it is doesn’t hit the mark.
Published in May 2013 by Gollanczs, this cover again successfully tackles much of the subject matter within the book. But that dark blue and distorted view of Coventry Cathedral evokes a sense of dread or foreboding – where is the glorious lazing along the river? The sheer joy of the farcical plot and the wonderfully eccentric characters? Nope, not getting a HINT of it here…
This edition, published by J’ai Lu in May 2000, has taken us onto the water. But while the sepia tones and the stiffly posed characters on the riverbank do give me a strong sense of the Victorian era – I’m expecting either a man-eating eel to suddenly erupt from the water, or some ghostly menace to creep from the head of one of those spooky-looking characters. Where is the joy and madcap chaos and sheer cleverness of this wonderful book? I know, I know… I’m sounding like a cracked record!
This edition, produced by Allen & Unwin in February 2012 has at least effectively evoked the correct tone – I don’t get the sense that an axe murderer is about to jump out from behind the bridge. And we also have the dog of the title. BUT anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I LOATHE textboxes and here is a ghastly example slap bang in the middle of the cover.
This Japanese edition, published by Hayakawa Shobō in April 2004, FINALLY hits the mark. Here we have the main characters punting down the river. I love the fact that the design has been slightly tweaked so there is an eastern flavour to it. But shame on alll those UK publishers who dismally failed to evoke the zany Englishness that Willis, a remarkably talented American author, so wonderfully wrote. Needless to say – this is my favourite! Have you read the book? Which cover do you prefer?
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
Now that I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’ve been delighted with the overall quality of the books I enjoyed throughout this car-crash of a year. Basically they kept my head straight. So who were the standout heroes of the year, who crept into my heart and won’t leave, even now it’s 2021? I’ll tell you…
Daniel Mackmain from the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?
A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles. I loved Daniel from the first book – such a clever blend of old folklore and modern life – and I really like how McKenna has developed his character. All three books – The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence – are worth reading, but whatever you do, read them in order.
Penric from The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold BLURB: When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance. Again, this is a character I’ve been following since the first novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods World, though you don’t have to have ever picked up any of the Chalion books to fall in love with this one. Penric is now a very different character from the inexperienced young man who accidentally ended up hosting an old, powerful demon, in the first book, Penric’s Demon. As a bonus, there was also Masquerade in Lodi, published in October 2020, as well. Read my review of The Physicians of Vilnoc.
Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel BLURB: England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? This fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.
Vish Puri from The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall BLURB: Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead… I first encountered Vish when I read the Netgalley arc for the fifth book and I was absolutely delighted by this shrewd, eccentric man, his passion for justice and his method of solving cases. Along the way, we are also treated to a slice of the vividness that is India into the bargain. I’ve read the first three books and am hoping that if I leave it long enough before diving into the fourth book, Tarquin Hall will have a sixth ready for me. Read my mini-review of The Case of the Missing Servant.
Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.
Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same? Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.
Al MacBharrais from Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearneine BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive. I’ve now reached a time in my life where I generally don’t expect to encounter protagonists in my age group. So it was a solid joy to find a protagonist who grumbled at times about his joints and isn’t necessarily the last thing in athletic fitness. I also found him amusing, clever and genuinely original. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al later this year. Read my review.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
A very Happy New Year to everyone! I’m conscious I’ve been AWOL over the Christmas break. We had planned to have a quiet Christmas with just Himself, my sister and me. But because of the introduction of the Tier system, my daughter and grandchildren were unable to spend the Christmas break with their other grandparents. And that meant we were buzzing around like blue-bottomed flies trying to organise a Christmas Day suitable for seven, with the youngest being two, instead of the low-key, relaxed affair we’d been expecting. We managed it and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is the important bit.
And we’ve also had the grandchildren to stay since then, this time around, it’s included little Eliza, who has never stayed overnight with us before. It is always full-on when there is a lively toddler in the house – but she is an absolute poppet, very even tempered and coped well without her mother.
Last week I read:
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones.
Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds… This multiverse adventure is great fun and while the narrative is fairly straightforward – what sets this apart is the sheer variety and originality of alll those worlds poor old Zax ends up visiting. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company. But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future… I’d seen a number of critical reviews for this one – but it turned out to be a delightful surprise, despite a couple of rather steamy sex scenes. However, I loved the character, the worldbuilding and the plotting. Review to follow.
Spirited by Julie Cohen Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her – and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye. . .
Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them – but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.
Faith. Courage. Love. What will they risk for freedom? This love story teeters on the edge of sentimentality – but there is an underlying core of grittiness that prevents it from descending into mush, thank goodness. That said, it is well written, the characters ping off the page and the ending worked well. Review to follow.
I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett It starts with whispers.
Then someone picks up a stone.
Finally, the fires begin.
When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .
Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.
But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her. This is an utter joy. I laughed and wept with this one, as I listened while rushing around getting the house toddler-proofed and cranking Christmas up several gears to give the grandchildren a worthwhile day to remember. Review to follow.
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, happy holiday – and whatever is going on in your life, let’s hope 2021 is MUCH better than 2020! Take care. x