Category Archives: historical

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

Standard


I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
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?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
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 was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MexicanGothicbookreview

Standard


I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.


REVIEW: This one firmly nails its colours to the mast with the very title – Mexican Gothic. So, never mind about the quality of the writing… the characterisation… or even the ingenuity of the plotting – does this book hit all the genre conventions of a classic noir gothic novel? Oh yes – right down to the era, as this book is set in the 1950s. Comparisons have been made with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and, indeed there are some striking similarities, though equally important differences. We have a large, mouldering house miles away from anywhere and seemingly perpetually shrouded in mist with faded furniture and a musty smell under the fraying grandeur. We also have a hostile and rather creepy housekeeper, though this one is known as Florence, instead of Mrs Danvers. Though her disapproval of our feisty heroine, Noemí, is every bit as prune-faced and sneering. She particularly dislikes her smoking in her room – which back in the 50s was unusual, given that lots of people smoked as a matter of course. And Noemí is also an important difference. Because, let’s face it, the second Mrs de Winter was toe-curlingly wet and naïve. However, Noemí is quite a different proposition. A young debutante who moves amongst the smart set in Mexico City, she is sophisticated, tough-minded and a little spoilt – which in these circumstances is a very good thing…

I love Noemí, who is also intuitive and intelligent with a strong instinct for self preservation under that careless, thrill-seeking exterior. And as forces within the house stir at the prospect of fresh meat, she is confronted with things that would send a less feisty character shrieking into the night… The pacing is a joy. Because the gothic genre requires a slow build-up of tension as things begin to go wrong, steadily gathering momentum as the stakes continue getting higher – until the climax crackles with horror and a real sense that our heroine may well not prevail. This being Moreno-Garcia, I didn’t discount that option, either…

There are some really ugly issues dealt with in this book. The Doyles, an outwardly respectable English family, proud of their unsullied heritage, had to leave England as rumours about their activities became too persistent. They pitch up in this depressed settlement, free to continue their vile practises. Slavery, physical and sexual abuse, murder and the nastiest sort of racism all surface within this story, though there isn’t anything too graphic. But neither does Moreno-Garcia flinch from what goes on, either. Suffice to say there is one of the most magnificently vile antagonists in this book that I’ve encountered in a while. All in all, this is a wonderful example from an author at the top of her game and very highly recommended for fans of gothic horror. While I obtained an arc of Mexican Gothic from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10


Review of AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker #Brainfluffbookreview #Longbournbookreview

Standard

Like so many other folks, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and Pride and Prejudice was my go-to comfort read for several decades. So I was delighted to hear about this retelling from the viewpoint of the servants at Longbourn – and so decided to treat myself to the Audible version, narrated by the wonderful Emma Fielding.

BLURB: ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

This started so very well. I loved Sarah, the intelligent and lively young maid-of-all-work, hired from the Poor House when she was only six years old by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, after her family died of typhus. Now, as a teenager, she finds the drudgery and sheer monotony of the work, chafes her spirit. She longs for some adventure and a break from the routine of never-ending, back-breaking housework in the days when every cleaning product had to be made by hand and hardly any domestic aids to lighten the load existed. Baker depicts life below stairs so very well, and her characterisation of all the servants, Mrs Hill in particular, is nuanced and detailed.

But as the story wore on, I felt the pacing suffered in the face of all the domestic trivia. Baker had clearly done shedloads of historical research on the clothing, the food, the duties of the servants… Unfortunately, she also got very caught up in regaling her readers with far too much of said detail at the overall expense of the narrative, which meant the book dragged in places, which was a real shame.

Unlike some readers, I didn’t have a problem with Baker’s depiction of the Bennet family – of course Elizabeth wouldn’t come across as particularly lively to the servants, or even all that thoughtful. While she was often preoccupied and forgot a detail particularly important to Sarah, it must remembered that was right in the middle of a tumultuous period in her own life. She also never shouted, or threw things at Sarah, pinched or slapped her, which was also often the lot of a domestic servant. I also enjoyed the interlude right away from Longbourn, when we get a ringside seat at the horrors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. It gave us a bit of a break from the constant domestic round and a real insight into the brutality many working-class men endured, once they joined up.

As for the overall plot – I thought the plotline charting Mrs Hill’s story was stunningly successful, from beginning to end, particularly the way in also encompassed poor Mrs Bennet’s life. If the book had chosen to feature Mrs Hill as the main protagonist, this would have been an outstanding read from me. But it wasn’t – Sarah was the main character featured throughout, until nearly at the end of the book, when she simply disappears, only to make a fleeting and highly unsatisfactory reappearance right at the very end.

I couldn’t believe it. I went back and replayed it, in case I missed a bunch of crucial details – but I hadn’t. I had no idea if she was happy with the life she ended up choosing. And that ending plain didn’t make sense, either. No one dared send any letters for fear of being traced – and then… suddenly that didn’t matter anymore! I can’t say more for fear of Spoilers, but I found the ending contrived and unconvincing. What a shame! There was so much that was well done, but I came away disappointed that this book didn’t fulfil its early promise.
6/10

Sunday Post – 24th May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

Again no rain, and on Wednesday and Thursday we were back to high summer temperatures and sitting outside. So Himself is trudging around with the watering can. The yarrow is now flowering and here is the first bloom on my elder. I don’t know what the dear little pink fluffy flowers are – I bought the plant because I love the leaves, but they work really well with the rest of the colour scheme in that bed. And the echium spires are now in full flower and have stopped growing – don’t they look fabulous? For reference, I am 5’5″.

I completed my How-To book this week and am really pleased with it. Himself is compiling the bibliography for me, but I’ve added the writing exercises – there are 50 – to help with characterisation, along with the quick check-list. I am now starting the edits to Mantivore Warrior.

Other than that, I had an editing session with my friend Sally, working on the second book about her experiences with Tim. We took our scooters for a run along the sea front. It was hard work scooting against the wind, but great fun and nice to get out. Sadly, I missed the family games evening last night as I had a rotten headache.


Last week I read:
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
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?
Something almost unheard of – I actually read the last two books in this series back to back. It was so much fun – but I am now pining for Stella and hoping that the author has nearly finished the next book! Review to follow.


The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
As I had the great good luck to get hold of an arc for The Empire of Gold, I wanted to read The City of Brass, the first book in this series. It was a cracking read that swept me up into this enjoyable Sand and Sorcery tale. Review to follow.


The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.
So… reading TWO series back to back?? I must have had a personality transplant! However, after reading the first book I decided I needed to put the second book into context, so reread it before starting the final book, so otherwise I felt I wouldn’t be giving it a fair go. It was also great fun – I’m a sucker for Sand and Sorcery tales…


AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
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.
This second book in this classy historical whodunit series took two sympathetic protagonists and wove a wonderful murder mystery around a fascinating time in English history that is oddly neglected in general fiction – the Great Fire of London and its aftermath. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over

Review of One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Book 2 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron

Sunday Post – 17th May 2020

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

Fiction Writing Contests Worth Your Time in Summer 2020 https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/22/fiction-writing-contests-worth-your-time-in-summer-2020/ For those of you who on the hunt for competitions – here are a selection…

Photo Prompt Friday: Ethereal https://leighhecking.com/2020/05/22/photo-prompt-friday-ethereal/ Also recommended for those of you who enjoy looking at wonderful photos…

10 of the Best Poems of Remembrance https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/remembrance-poems/ Another interesting, enjoyable list from this great site…

Senior Moments https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/20/senior-moments/ I can relate. I want an app that will tell me why I climbed the stairs – because I generally only remember once I’ve gone back down them again…

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Celebrating Fantasy Artwork https://onemore.org/2020/05/19/top-ten-fantasy-cover-art/ This is worth a visit to immerse yourself in some stunning covers – and make a note of some awesome reads along the way…

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

Sunday Post – 10th May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

Weatherwise, it was a week of two halves and I have once again been delighting in being able to take my tea and lunch breaks out in the garden during the last few days. The lilacs and weigelia are in full bloom right now, as is that lovely bronze flower (gazania, I think!), while my purple smoke tree is putting out vibrant purple leaves that sing in the sunshine.

It was my son’s birthday on Thursday. It was lovely being able to chat to him and be reassured that in California he is keeping safe and well. It’s hard when all this is going on and he’s so far away…

On Friday and Saturday, I was part of a virtual writing retreat, which was very successful and I made plenty of progress on my How-To book on Characterisation. It is continuing today, but I’m not taking part as it is my sister’s birthday. A year ago, we were at the Chewton Glen Hotel together – where did the time go? And thank goodness it wasn’t this year we were due to be there… We are popping round this morning with her presents and a wrapped cake, all appropriately socially distanced, in readiness for a virtual birthday party this afternoon. And a shout out to all the mothers across the Pond at this difficult time – I recall only too well how hard it was back in March to not be able to spend family time on this special day. Take care and stay safe.x

Last week I read:
Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit by Christopher Fowler
One Sunday morning, the outspoken Speaker of the House of Commons steps out of his front door only to be crushed under a mountain of citrus fruit. Bizarre accident or something more sinister? The government needs to know because here’s a man whose knowledge of parliament’s biggest secret could put the future of the government at stake?

It should be the perfect case for Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit, but unfortunately one detective is in hospital, the other is missing and the staff have all been dismissed. It seems the PCU is no more. But events escalate: a series of brutal crimes seemingly linked to an old English folk-song threatens the very foundation of London society and suddenly the PCU is offered a reprieve and are back in (temporary) business!
This was a quirky read and no mistake. While I enjoyed the murder mystery and many of the characters, I did feel the sheer eccentricity of the writing compromised the pacing at times. Review to follow.


The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William.

William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.
Another remarkable book from this inventive and thought-provoking writer. One of the angriest books I’ve read in a while…


Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
Once Jenny Casey was somebody’s daughter. Once she was somebody’s enemy. Now the former Canadian special forces warrior lives on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062. Racked with pain, hiding from the government she served, running with a crime lord so she can save a life or two, Jenny is a month shy of fifty, and her artificially reconstructed body has started to unravel. But she is far from forgotten. A government scientist needs the perfect subject for a high-stakes project and has Jenny in his sights. Suddenly Jenny Casey is a pawn in a furious battle, waged in the corridors of the Internet, on the streets of battered cities, and in the complex wirings of her half-man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.
After reading Ancestral Night earlier this year, I was delighted to find another series by this talented author. I loved this complex, twisting tale and am very keen to read the next book in the series. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of After Seth by Caron Garrod

Friday Face-off featuring Requiem For a Wren by Nevil Shute

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Empire of Gold – Book 3 by the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Review of NETGALLEY arc Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik

Sunday Post – 10th May 2020

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

April Book Reviews https://mythsofthemirror.com/2020/04/30/april-book-reviews/ Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I saw Diana’s fabulous review of Running Out of Space!

Timeless Woodland Picture from the Time of Lockdown https://ailishsinclair.com/2020/05/timeless-woodland-pictures-from-the-time-of-lockdown/ The mist gives these pictures a sense of the fantastic…

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern https://bookforager.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/the-starless-sea-by-erin-morgenstern/ I don’t normally include book reviews in this roundup – but this one is different…

10 of the best poems about the future https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/future-poems-prophecies/ I think many of us are looking forward now – so this article might be of interest…

Giving Your Story the Time of Day https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/04/giving-your-story-the-time-of-day/ Some tips on ensuring your keep your narrative time straight…

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

Friday Faceoff – There’ll be blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffWWIIcovers

Standard



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 I am electing to play my FREEBIE card, as today is the 75th Anniversary of V.E. Day. There were to be widespread celebrations throughout the country today – but we all know what happened to those plans… Nonetheless, I want to mark it by featuring a book by one of my all-time favourite authors – Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute. It broke my heart when I first read this book as a teenager, and it still holds a special place in my soul.



This offering was produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009. It has the advantage of at least being clear and with the styling, gives a flavour of the 1940s and as most of the action takes place in 1944, that is a plus. I also like the fact that her dog is featured on the cover. It isn’t my favourite, but it is at least a contender. There are some truly dreadful covers for this book, which I decided not to inflict upon you.

 

Published by William Morrow, this edition is listed under the US title The Breaking Wave. I’m guessing they changed the title, because it’s likely that Americans wouldn’t know that Wrens are the female branch of the Navy, though they didn’t get to serve on ships during combat alongside their male colleagues during WWII. This cover is my favourite. I love the styling and the artwork, which is spot on for the period – that duffle coat and hairstyle, for instance. And once again, we have Janet’s dog on the cover. This actually is taken from a scene in the book and is my favourite.

 

This edition, published in August 2010 by Vintage International, is a split cover, featuring a gun turret on a battleship (I think) in the upper half and a romantic moment between Janet and the love of her life, Bill, in the lower half. To be honest, I think this cover is a bit of a mess. I don’t know why the font had to be quite so large and blocky and blast across the artwork so intrusively – almost as if the designers are trying to cover it up.

 

This edition, published in June 2018 by Createspace, is a fairly typical self-published cover. It’s not dreadful, but it isn’t that brilliant either and that is clearly some random photo of the time, completely unrelated to the book. The font, in particular, lets it down as it all but disappears in thumbnail.

 

This edition, published by House of Stratus in July 2002, is another clumsy effort. I’m guessing in amongst the artful blurring and sparkles (goodness knows what that is supposed to represent) that Janet is in uniform and staring out to sea. I quite like the tones, but why on earth anyone thought it a good idea to use a wussy font like that to run right across the middle of the artwork, I can’t imagine. Needless to say, the title and Shute’s name are completely invisible in thumbnail. Has anyone else read this hauntingly beautiful book? And which cover is your favourite?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePursuitofWilliamAbbeybookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

Standard


I enjoy Claire North’s writing – see my reviews of The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. So I was delighted when I was approved to read this intriguing offering. I will be linking this review to the Wyrd and Wonder 2020 event, featuring all kinds of fantasy.

BLURB: South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.

Every book North has written under this current pen name – see my review for A Madness of Angels – Book 1 of The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin – has ostensibly been a standalone. However, there is a theme developing here. Individuals who, by luck or some kind of genetic predisposition, find themselves coping with an unusual trait that takes them beyond everyday life and into the realms of the paranormal. William is another of these unfortunates – having been cursed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and when his shadow approaches, he divines the truth of those around him. And as his shadow gets ever closer, he is forced to babble that truth aloud.

This adventure stretches from the 1880s, and ends in 1914 in a field hospital during World War I, so you won’t be surprised to discover that it isn’t long before William’s unique ability draws down attention from the British Empire intelligence services and their department Nineteen. In return for keeping William on the move, so that his shadow is never able to completely catch up with him, he goes where they send him and learns the truth from ambassadors, princelings, other agents all around the world. It gives North an ideal opportunity to chart some of the political shenanigans that goes on during that turbulent time, which she does in impressive detail.

This is, indeed, an impressive book. The prose is impassioned and elegant, the character caught up in a horrible situation so that he is so far out of his comfort zone, he is almost drowning. And yes, if you’re sensing a but, you’re right. I didn’t really like William all that much. I didn’t like anyone all that much. While I sympathised with him intellectually, I simply found him too annoyingly wet and steeped so deeply in his own self-loathing, that I was unable to truly bond with him. And that’s a real shame, because the book is a magnificent achievement. I don’t think I’ve encountered a more impassioned and literate critique of our social value system, both then and now.

I just wish there had been a few more shafts of light and humour, which I know North is capable of writing brilliantly – because by the time I was two-thirds of the way through this one, I was conscious that I’d become a bit numbed to the ceaseless acts of violence against the poor and powerless. That might just mean I’m a really shallow person, but my sense is that if that burning anger against the social injustice of the capitalist, elitist mindset had been just a bit less intense, then there would have been room for me to jump on board, too. I’m also not a fan of the ending.

I’m conscious this sounds like one long moan – but if someone offers me the chance to read her next book, I’ll take it like a shot. North is a remarkable talent, who sees the world in a particular way and although I often find the journey alongside her uncomfortable, there is too much to admire to want to miss it. Recommended for fans of magic realism adventures with a literary edge. The ebook arc copy of The Pursuit of William Abbey was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10


Sunday Post – 3rd May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

While we needed the rain, I found it really hard to suddenly have to deal with the lower light levels and colder temperatures. Thank goodness I woke up yesterday to find bright sunshine pouring in through the window, so we went out into the garden to do some weeding and move some plants. The fresh, shiny leaves are bursting into life and they look fabulous. I am wrapping my head around the fact that during this terrible time, this has been the most beautiful Spring I can remember. Our echiums just go from strength to strength…

Non-gardening news: I sat in my sister’s garden last weekend more than 6 feet apart from her and caught up – I miss her so… She is still working flat-out at the chemists and returns home each night exhausted, as she finds wearing all the protective clothing hot and stifling – although she is very aware how important it is. Upsettingly, some customers have been incredibly rude. One man told her colleague that she looked ‘ugly and ridiculous in that get-up’ – as if it was some kind of fashion choice! Thank goodness people like that are in the minority…

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK 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 has been a complete joy. My only sorrow is that my journey with this wonderfully realised, complex man is now over. Review to follow.


The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest. The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn’t believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective’s earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India’s hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges.
This has been another entertaining read in an excellent series that so far has delivered every time – but I think this one is my favourite so far…


Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik
For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving.
From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know.
This was fun! I loved the paranormal hi-jinks that Sandra was plunged into, the humour and real creepy tension was nicely balanced. Review to follow.


Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
I enjoyed this lush YA fantasy adventure, though I did feel that perhaps another character would have made a more effective protagonist. Review to follow.




After Seth by Caron Garrod
At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world.
•Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse.
•Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience.
•Imogen – obsessed and delusional.
And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified?
It was a wonderful treat to discover that one of my former writing students has released a novel she was working on when attending my class. I have read it to discover how it turned out – and I was so impressed! Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Friday Face-off featuring Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Q by Christina Dalcher

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Review of INDIE Ebook Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasick

Sunday Post – 26th April 2020

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

My crazy challenge to play and sing the whole Cats musical without words or music in one go https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agBiKQm5zbM&feature=youtu.be My student has been finding ways to occupy his musical talent during lockdown…

Wyrd and Wonder: adventurers wanted https://onemore.org/2020/03/01/wyrd-and-wonder-2020/ If you enjoy reading and reviewing or discussing fantasy books of any description – then check this out…

Taking care of others vs taking care of ourselves https://www.michellescrazybusylife.net/index.php/2020/04/28/taking-care-of-others-v-s-taking-care-of-ourselves/#.Xq6u4Jl7kaE Michelle raises an important point here…

The Wee Lassie’s Top Ten Foods that keep your Immune System Healthy https://weewritinglassie.home.blog/2020/04/26/the-wee-lassies-top-ten-foods-that-keep-your-immune-system-healthy/ It’s more important than ever, to keep yourself as fit as possible, given the new information about COVID-19…

The #parenting and #writing #lifeathome: #Music to #write by, #laugh by, and #hope by https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/04/27/the-parenting-and-writing-lifeathome-music-to-write-by-laugh-by-and-hope-by/ Writing buddy Jean suggests uplifting music when you hit that wall of misery…

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

Review of AUDIOBOOK Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations based upon the books by Agatha Christie #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #PoirotsFinestCasesbookreview

Standard

When browsing in Audible and wanting something completely different, this offering caught my eye. I’ve always enjoyed the dear old Beeb’s Radio 4 productions of Christie’s plays and thought this collection was excellent value for money.

These were a joy. I listened to them back to back, though perhaps in hindsight, I would have appreciated them even more if I’d thought to break them up as I did the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was something of a departure for me, as it was the first time I’d bought a full dramatization, rather than a straight narration. However, I needn’t have worried – after all, this is the Beeb and the pulling power they have to acquire the very best actors cannot be overstated.

Indeed, the cast list reads like a Who’s Who of British acting talent of the time – many now departed and sorely missed – John Moffat, Simon Williams, Jill Balcon, Philip Jackson, Hilda Schroder, George Cole, Gemma Saunders, Rosemary Leach, Donald Sinden, Stratford Johns, Sylvia Syms, Sian Phillips, Francesca Anna, Frank Windsor, Peter Polycarpu, and Joss Ackland… All the performances were marvellous – I particularly enjoyed John Moffat’s masterful portrayal of Poirot, which I think is every bit as good as David Suchet.

Listening to these dramatisations reminded me all over again why Christie is regarded so highly and has lived on in popularity as the mistress of the whodunit. The plotting is spot on and in the hands of the very capable cast, the characterisation pulled me into the story so that there were times when I was genuinely surprised. While I knew most of the stories, I did not know or remember the plot of Three Act Tragedy and found the denouement quite a shock.

With the stories that I did know, I was able to listen and appreciate the overall excellence of the production, the acting and the storytelling. Highly recommended for fans of Christie at her best.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #ASeasonsofSpellsbookreview

Standard


I’d read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series, The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick, so was pleased to see this third one was available – I love the depth of this enchanting world, where Christianity didn’t sweep through and wipe out all the pagan religions, which now exist in this Regency era alternate history.

BLURB: Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison…

And that’s as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to include. I firmly advise you to read the previous two books in this series before attempting this one. The world where the UK and France are still fractured into a number of states, where the Roman and pagan gods exist side by side, which provides a complex backdrop to the action.

Things have moved on for Sophie and Gray and in this book, there is far more in the viewpoint of Joanna, Sophie’s feisty younger sister and her very close friend and the love of her life, Gwendolyn. I really liked their relationship, which is sparky as they also have to negotiate the social norms of the time, which does not approve of, or acknowledge their love.

What worked really well for me was how Lucia and Roland’s relationship had to unfold. It’s an arranged marriage, providing peace, stability and more prosperity for the population of two kingdoms and it’s unthinkable that it won’t go ahead. But when they meet, Roland in particular, is underwhelmed at Lucia’s attitude. Reading how they had to negotiate this issue, I was aware that it isn’t often an arranged union is looked upon as anything other than a bad thing in fantasy novels. I also was delighted just to once more sink into this unique world Hunter has created and which I really love, given the care and detail she provides in her magic-making and the political strains that a fractured kingdom causes – nicely done.

Any niggles? I’ll own to being a tad frustrated that poor old Gray and Sophie were once more wrenched apart – I do enjoy seeing them together. Though it did underline just what danger everyone is facing when the threat from the continent becomes clear, that he is sent on such a hazardous mission. I also found the pacing towards the end of the story a tad uneven, in that the build-up was brimful of tension and the denouement did wrap everything up rather rapidly. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. And if Hunter decides to turn this trilogy into a quartet, I’ll happily read the next one, too. I just love the world she has created. Recommended for those who enjoy interesting alternate historical settings with their fantasy adventures.
8/10