Category Archives: historical

Friday Faceoff – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffminimalistcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring MINIMALIST covers. I’ve selected The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Enhanced Classics, 2014

So who knew that such a classic would be a source of such minimalist covers? But this edition, released in September 2014 by Enhanced Classics is one of a number of pared back designs that trades on our abiding affection and knowledge of this quirky detective. I really like it – though I do wonder if the dog ought to feature on the cover, given the way the fear of the beast looms throughout this tense murder mystery.

Vintage Classics, 2008

Published in September 2008 by Vintage Classics, this is another simple design. Despite the apparent simplicity, there’s quite a lot going on here. I like the graduated colour fading to black at the outer edges, which essentially puts that magnifying glass and the title in the spotlight. It’s a clever move having the snarling muzzle of the dog within the magnifying glass. The cover projects tension and menace without a splash of blood, or any garish visual tricks regarding the title. My one grumble is that I think the title could do with being less Victorian and self-effacing.

Portuguese edition 2013

This Portuguese edition, published in 2013 by Zahar, is a real gem. Again, it has used the ubiquitous silhouette of Holmes to produce the heart of the design, before adding another layer that absolutely nails this one for me. Within the shadowed outline of Holmes is the ruined house where a certain character hid, thus thoroughly throwing dear old Watson right off the scent of the real villain. And then we have the cemetery and the dog, himself… I also absolutely love the way the smoke curls up from the pipe to give us the name of the author. This is my favourite.

Marathi edition, 2012

And this Marathi edition is another example of a simple outline featuring on the cover. Published in January 2012 by Diamond Publications, the almost cartoonish creature on the trail of his prey immediately draws the eye. Again, the background is effectively shaded, pulling our attention onto the snarling beast in the centre of the cover – while that hill than provides the text box for the title and author fonts. This one was so nearly my favourite – it was the wisping smoke turning into Conan Doyle’s name on the other other contender that edged for me.

Lithuanian edition, 2013

This Lithuanian edition, published in May 2013 by Baltos Iankos, is another effective and simple cover. The shaded background allows the black outline of the dog to stand out, so although he is running more or less towards us – a difficult angle when most of the details aren’t apparent – we can make him out with no difficulty. I like the fact the designer has taken the trouble to give him a shadow, thus anchoring him to the background, instead of just plonking him onto the top of it. I do think the title font could be a bit larger and punchier, but that is a personal preference. Which is your favourite?


Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 16th September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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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 – The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton -release date 1st October

#historical thriller #crime

BLURB: It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

I didn’t read his previous best-selling success, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle but I was in the mood for a change when I requested this one – and delighted to be approved for a Netgalley arc. Is anyone else reading this one soon?




Friday Faceoff – When snow falls, Nature listens… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffsnowcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting SNOW. I’ve selected Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

Bloomsbury, 2009

This offering, produced by Bloomsbury in 2009, is a strong image and was the reason why I chose this book. However the sense of chilly isolation is spoilt by all the chatter cluttering up the cover – and for once, I’m not a fan of the large author and title fonts as I think they overwhelm the image.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1994

Published in September 1994 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this is the default cover for the book, which is a real shame. The cedar forest on the side of the cliff is certainly atmospheric and it would be ideal with the title was MIST OVER CEDARS – but it’s not. The title mentions snow – and there isn’t any. Oops. But that didn’t stop a raft of other publishers adopting this cover, anyway. Worse, the title and author fonts are so small and underwhelming, so they disappear in thumbnail and aren’t all that visible when full size.

Portuguese edition, February 1998

This Portuguese edition, published in February 1998 by Relógio D’ Água, has taken a different path with a painting. It looks lovely, but I’m not a fan of the border that grows into a textbox across the top of the cover, though at least the title and author name are clearly visible.

German edition, February 2013

This German edition, published in February 2013 by Hoffmann und Campe and is clearly influenced by the default cover above, in that it is a close-up of cedar branches in the mist. At least the title and author fonts are more effective in this cover design and work well within the image, in addition to being clearly visible in thumbnail, as well as when full sized.

French edition, 1996

This French edition, published in 1996 by France loisirs, at least features snow falling – a sleeting blizzard that makes me shiver just looking at it. I’ll forgive the lack of cedars to have some snow – and a suggestion of a river in full spate with snow-shrouded branches growing over it. Though whatever they are, they’re not evergreen cedars. I think this cover is the most successful in capturing the mood of the book, as well as evoking the title. Which is your favourite?


Review of AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #OutstandingAUDIOBOOKofthemonth #DeepRootsbookreview

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I absolutely loved Winter Tide, which is a gem of a book – see my review – and so impressed me that it made my 2017 Outstanding Reads List. Would Deep Roots be as compellingly good?

BLURB: Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. “Deep Roots” continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

REVIEW: This series is marvellous and deserves to be far better known. Aphra is desperately searching for more relatives, as far too many houses stand empty in Innsmouth after most of the town was wiped out by the Government years earlier. Such unused real estate is starting to draw unwelcome attention. If Aphra cannot find more of her own kind, they not only risk dying out, but she will no longer be able to meet up on the beaches of her childhood with her Grandfather and the other Deep Ones, who have now transformed and live below the waves. So she is in New York with her brother and a small band of friends, following up on reports of a cousin who has the same bulbous eyes and odd skull configuration as Aphra and her brother.

Gabra Zackman’s excellent narration helped weave the pervading sense of tension throughout this gripping fantasy, imbued with Lovecraftian monsters. I love Aphra’s character and was delighted that this book continues in her viewpoint. She is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents and community, but trying to move on and recreate a safe place for others like herself and her brother. This book is set in 1940s America, just as the Cold War with Russia is starting to gather pace – indeed there is a point in the book where there is an announcement that the USSR has detonated a nuclear device – and there is also increasing paranoia about anyone who looks are sounds different. Emrys has nailed the sense of time, just as she has also beautifully woven Lovecraft’s pantheon through this engrossing, well written fantasy.

I love books that creak with tension – but then the author has to deliver sufficient plot and action to merit the buildup, which Emrys does in spades. I loved the pacing, which works really well. At no stage was anything unduly hurried, yet the story clips along with plenty happening along the way and the reader fully aware of the consequences should it all go wrong. The supporting characters work well – there were several that I’d encountered in the first book and I was pleased to see that one in particular, who was badly injured, is still battling with the fallout from her encounter in this book, too. All in all, this is another accomplished, utterly engrossing read that left me longing for more in this world. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well crafted fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones – though whatever you do, start with Winter Tide.
10/10

Sunday Post – 23rd August, 2020 #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 has been a lot cooler, with lots of rain, which Himself has found a huge relief. On Thursday, I spent the day with the grandchildren, looking after them during the afternoon while my daughter went to meet a friend. I took them to the swing park and spent the time running around after Eliza like a bothered hen. She’s just at the stage where she’s mobile enough to get into serious trouble and too young to understand any danger… However, the elder two are brilliant with her – she is so lucky to have such lovely brothers! It was a treat to be able to spend so much time with them.

On Saturday, my sister and I were all set to go shopping, but the aftermath of the storm on Friday night meant we still had gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Neither of us were in the mood to hustle through the wind and rain in sodden masks, so we postponed our outing and instead had a cuppa and a sticky bun together at my place. This morning Himself and I went for a walk along the beach, which where this week’s photos were taken – we were lucky enough to dodge the rain.

My website www.sjhigbee.com has had a makeover! Ian has done a wonderful job of making it a lot spiffier and easy to load – and tidied it up so that my growing number of books aren’t making it look too cluttered. I’ve started working on the video clips I’m producing in conjunction with my book How to Write Compelling Characters. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. But I must get back to writing, as I’m definitely getting a bit antsy and short-tempered…

Last week I read:
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court…
This tense, political thriller is a joy – I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it and now I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the next book. The tight focus on the main character reminds me of C.J. Cherryh’s writing… Review to follow.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes
They’ll call her a bad mother.
Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back.
She’s setting him free.
Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible.
It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
I struggled with this one a bit – partly because of the subject matter. But mostly because I didn’t like Cole, or anyone else all that much – other than poor, manipulated Miles. Review to follow.

NOVELLA Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules… Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life. Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
This was the perfect read after the intensity of Afterland, and thoroughly enjoyable, the only drawback being that the end came far too quickly. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.
Another stormingly good read – I absolutely loved Khai and Zariya, who both tried their hardest to be the best they could be, without coming across as unduly good or sickeningly perfect. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Musings

Review of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

A Déjà vu Review of A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Fearless by Allen Stroud

Tuesday Treasures – 9

Cover Love #1 featuring the covers of Marie Brennan’s books

Review of Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 16th August 2020

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

When will nineteenth-century Frenchman learn that hot air balloon duels are a BAD IDEA
https://twitter.com/DigiVictorian/status/1297202584520986624https://sjhigbee.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/sunday-post-16th-august-2020-brainfluffbookblog-sundaypost/ For sheer whackiness, this takes some beating – especially if you read the article…

In a world where you can be anything, be kind… https://twitter.com/DaviesWriter/status/1296217576436051969 I would add, looking at this clip, you also need to be knowledgeable about how to restrain such a powerful bird – and brave.

I Saw 5 How Many Faces Do You See? https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 For those among you who like puzzles. I saw 6 by the way…

Midsummer 2020 https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 I am so thrilled that Inese is back with her fabulous photos – even if I am a tad late with that realisation!

This is a good technique if you’re a complete psycho… https://twitter.com/AlisonMossCI/status/1295338698381418496 Poorly titled, I think. Because this is a LIFESAVER if you’re drowning in faaar too many plastic bags you daren’t throw away on account of not wanting to destroy the planet…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

A Deja Vu Review of KINDLE Ebook A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured Marie Brennan’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I thought I’d revisit my impressions of the first book in her wonderful Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I first published this review on 12th December, 2016…

Regular visitors to my blog will recall my attendance at Bristolcon this year, where I had one of the best evenings of my life, talking books with similarly passionate readers. One of these marvellous people – Kitvaria Sarene highly recommended this series as one of her favourite fantasy reads. When Himself hit a reading slump a few days later, I suggested he get hold of this one. Once he did so, he then bought the rest of the series. So would I also become a huge fan?

BLURB: Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

REVIEW: This is gem is a must-read for those smitten by dragons. It is set in the Victorian era in a parallel world where a high-spirited, intelligent girl makes a habit of sneaking into her father’s study to read his learned tomes deemed unsuitable for well born young ladies. And she encounters the book A Natural History of Dragons and falls in love with them. From then on, she is determined to try to learn more about them in any way and this story charts her efforts to do so.

What I would caution is that Brennan does couch the language in an approximation of 19th century prose – however, it is only an approximation. There is nothing like the pages of intense description or long, involved passages of exposition you’d find in a novel written by Dickens or Mrs Gaskell. Brennan takes the story forward in the form of a memoir written by Lady Trent as an elderly lady about the exploits that made her famous, which moves along at a fair clip.

I was utterly beguiled. This is a wonderful conceit brilliantly pulled off by Brennan. The plot rapidly corkscrews away in all sorts of directions I hadn’t anticipated and there is a really shocking outcome that left me winded at the ending, while leaving me keen to learn more.

I’m so glad Himself has bought the next three books in the series – and the great news for fans of this accomplished series is that the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is due out in February 2017. I’m very much looking forward to reading it – which also gives me an excellent excuse to tuck into the other three in the meantime. Happy Christmas me – and many, many thanks to Kivaria for her recommendation. She is spot on – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Guns of the Dawn By Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #GunsoftheDawnbookreview

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As any regular visitor of this site will know, I’m a huge fan of this author – see my reviews of Children of Time, Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series, The Tiger and the Wolf – Book 1 of the Echoes of the Fall series, The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series, The Hyena and the Hawk – Book 3 of the Echoes of the Fall series, Redemption’s Blade: After the War, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, Cage of Souls and Spiderlight. So it’s a puzzle to me and Himself as to why I haven’t tucked into this one sooner, as it’s been lurking on my TBR pile was some time now. I’m so glad I finally saw sense and picked it up.

BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . .
First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines…

REVIEW: This is a really interesting book and one I think will stay with me for quite a while to come. Emily’s family have fallen on hard times since her father’s abrupt suicide, caused by a ruthless business rival who set out to ruin him. As the eldest child, it has fallen to Emily to try and hold everything together in increasingly straitened circumstances while trying to keep up appearances. You won’t be surprised to learn the war only makes a bad situation a whole lot worse.

By the time Emily becomes involved in the fighting, we are already solidly on her side and know her to be courageous, intelligent and thoughtful. The opening section put me in mind of Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment without the sardonic humour, but once Emily arrives at the front that abruptly changes. Tchaikovsky is masterful at slowly developing a character who is under immense pressure without them coming across as unduly whiny or implausibly brave – it’s harder to do than he makes it look. Emily’s steady progress in a nightmarish situation makes absolutely gripping reading so that I burned through this 658-page tome far more quickly than usual.

Because that is Tchaikovsky’s other superpower – his ability to throw a curved ball right into the middle of a scenario, abruptly changing the whole dynamic of where you thought the plot was going, and turning it into something else completely. It’s one reason why I love reading him so much. He manages to do this on several occasions without ever making me feel that I am being unduly manipulated and the resultant story is a joy. And that ending… oh my goodness! I didn’t see THAT coming. Once again, Tchaikovsky delivers a thought-provoking yet thoroughly entertaining read that gripped me throughout and leaves me pondering it with a slight sinking feeling, because I’ve now finished it and am no longer in the world. Very highly recommended for fans of good action fantasy, featuring a likeable heroine.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andew Taylor #Brainfluffbookblog #TheFireCourtbookreview

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I have read the first book, The Ashes of London and then, when I got hold of the Netgalley arc, The Last Protector, I was shaken to see that it was the fourth book in the series – when did THAT happen? So I resolved to get hold of the intervening books, as this historical series starting with the Great Fire of London covers a fascinating period in English history.

BLURB: The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder …? Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death … and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Taylor’s handling of the initial murder and the cris-crossing of the circumstances around it was masterful. James Marwood, a rising young clerk whose employer’s patron is Lord Arlington, returns home to find his father babbling about a rook and a fallen woman after he disappeared. Poor Marwood senior has lost his wits during his imprisonment and lives in a world of his own. Lady Jemima is unhappy at having to host a dinner party on behalf of her husband, Philip, whose good friend Lucius Gromwell will be there, along with one of the Fire Court judges. And Cat Lovett, now posing as Jane Hakesby, is found shelter and some work as an assistant to reputable architect Mr Hakesby. All these characters have a major impact on this well executed murder mystery, ably narrated by Leighton Pugh.

Though I would mention that if your taste runs to foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action, then this one isn’t for you. While the forward momentum never lets up, it is one of those slow-burn stories, where a series of apparently unconnected circumstances finally all converge with the gripping denouement on London Bridge.

I really appreciated the clever characterisation and the way 17th century London is depicted in stunning detail, without unduly holding up the story. It is during an unprecedented time – only some eight months after the great Fire of London, so that swathes of the city are still ashy ruins and many people are living in makeshift shelters.

The Fire Court is a special sitting of judges whose task is to sort out competing claims from people who lost their homes and want to rebuild. Often it is boundary disputes and at other times, they have to sort out claims between freeholders and leaseholders – and such a case seems to lie at the heart of the murder of the woman found near Fetter Lane. I was shaken at times by what our two main protagonists, James Marwood and Cat Lovett, went through during this adventure and I am very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of well written historical whodunits.
9/10


Review of AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMirrorandtheLightbookreview

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I had read the previous two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies back in 2014 and had this one on pre-order. And the reason why it has taken so long to get through it, is that it is some thirty-seven listening hours – and I play anything with a dense writing style at a slower speed.

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?

Once again, we are in Cromwell’s head in present tense, third-person, deep point-of-view. Even though I had read the previous two books and was used to Mantel’s writing style, it still took a couple of paragraphs and reducing the listening speed before I was fully comfortable again in this unique viewpoint. Cromwell is now older and established as King Henry’s chief advisor. We are plunged in the middle of his efforts in ensuring Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour goes smoothly. For Henry is also older and bitter at Anne Bolyn’s betrayal and the ridicule he is sure he has been exposed to after her infidelities have been noised across Europe. Always a tricky personality, he becomes increasingly difficult to deal with as a leg injury begins to persistently bother him.

Meanwhile, day on day, Cromwell continues to do the work of ten normal men, increasing his efforts to shut down the monasteries, which he regards as corrupt, given his own beliefs that God needs no intermediaries in his daily dealings with his flock. The big problem that Mantel is confronted with in this book is that we all know the ending. This happens to be the period of history I know most about – and yet I found it a complete joy. Mantel’s style allows events to unfold completely from Cromwell’s viewpoint, so we see his interactions with Chapuy, the Spanish ambassador, his run-ins with Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of London, and his warm, affectionate relationship with his nephew, Richard and his own son, Gregory.

Any niggles? I suppose if I was going to be extremely picky, I would mention that the pace does flag slightly after Anne of Cleves comes on the scene – but I personally feel that might be a subconscious desire to back away from the inevitable downfall that ensues. In the event, it is beautifully handled and I came away from this book with a real sense of loss that I will no longer have Ben Miles’ outstanding narration accompanying me in my everyday chores, recounting the life of a remarkable man who rose and fell during the reign of probably the most charismatic king we have ever had. This outstanding book is highly recommended if you enjoy reading, or better still, listening to this particular slice of history. Though whatever you do, please start with Wolf Hall.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffholidinganobjectcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting someone HOLDING AN OBJECT – and of course what could be better than holding a book? I’ve selected The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…

Alfred A. Knopf 2006

This edition was produced by Alfred A. Knopf in March 2006 and is the first US hardcover edition. You’re right – it hasn’t got anyone holding anything, but someone is about to knock over the line of dominoes. I don’t much like this cover, which is a shame as it is one of the default covers. The symbol is very generic and rather a cliché, which shortchanges such a remarkable book. Neither do I like the textbox across the top of the cover. It’s not a terrible cover, but it isn’t great, either.

Bodley Head 2007

Published in 2007 by Bodley Head, this cover is quite a different proposition. What an arresting image – a girl reading a book while apparently lying in a crypt, or is it an attic? The rich curtains framing that image being the only splash of colour is a stroke of genius, essentially drawing us into the monochrome picture of young Liesel engrossed in her book. I love how her ankles are crossed, showing she is relaxed while lost within the covers of the story. This one is my favourite.

RAO 2014

This Romanian edition, published by RAO in February 2014, is another version of Liesel, this time staring straight out at us. She is clearly older in this depiction and improbably pretty, clutching a book to her as if it is her only hope as the world explodes behind her. It’s another powerful image and again, is one of the default images for this best-selling book that, according to Goodreads, runs to 331 editions. I like this one more than most of the other offerings – because although she is older, she is still terribly vulnerable and her hair and clothing is right for the period. Reminding me that hundreds and thousands of youngsters of her age must have been equally helpless and frightened as their world got twisted or swept away as Word War II hammered across their lives. This cover is certainly a contender.

Definitions (Young Adult) 2008

This edition, produced by Definitions (Young Adult) in January 2008, has changed the dynamic. The young Liesel reading has been drawn, with Death looming in the background. This is the cover I very, nearly went for. I love the border of flames apparently licking the paper and the uncluttered look. What finally decided me against choosing this one, is the scale. I think Liesel is too small for the size of the cover – and I know it’s probably to underline her vulnerability, but I do think she could have been made just a bit bigger without losing that feeling.

Pocket Jeunesse 2019

This French edition, published by Pocket Jeunesse in March 2019, pares the image right back to the basics. Therefore the details of Liesel’s striped dress, her hairband, her hand on her chin as she eats up the words of the book in her hand really stand out against the coffee-coloured flames with the bombers circling overhead. While I think this image has been very effectively crafted, its apparent cosiness makes me uncomfortable. Though I do love the title font, so reminiscent of the 1930s, and I think the design is successful. Which is your favourite?