Category Archives: historical

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.
9/10

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Friday Faceoff – Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble…

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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 and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring a potion or perfume bottle, so I’ve stretched the idea of a potion a little further and selected Strong Poison – Book 6 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins Publishers in October 1987, is boring given the fabulous premise and what is at stake in this stunning book. Wimsey’s unexpected burst of passion for a desperate woman fighting for her life doesn’t remotely factor into this vanilla cover. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, other than its complete lack of excitement or connection with the gripping content.

 

This edition was produced by Open Road Media in July 2012 and looks as if it took all of 10 minutes using an off-the-shelf graphics program. This book deserves better.

 

Published in March 1995 by HarperTorch, this cover is deliberately harking back to the 1930s when this book first appeared. The large title font and relatively small area given over to the artwork may not be to my taste, but I can at least respect the care and attention that has gone into the drawing, which takes three crucial scenes from the book and illustrates them.

 

This HarperCollins offering, published in 1993, ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the punchy colours and strong art deco feel, along with the detailed depiction of the crucial medium scene in the book. This is my favourite – I even like the black edging, which is unusual for me. But this time around, it has the period styling and small details that turn it into part of the cover rather than a blank interruption of the artwork that so many of these solid blocks of colour and bordering tend to do.

 

Produced in October 2009, this pink and grey effort by Hodder & Stoughton will certainly draw the eye and is clearly designed to work as a thumbnail. The imagery is stark and crude in comparison to some of the earlier efforts and the colour garish, but I suppose it grabs the attention. However, it doesn’t do the book justice in my opinion. Which is your favourite?

ANNDDD…

Chuckles at Chuckles Book Cave is promoting both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space

ANNDDD…

Mello & June, It’s a Book Thang are featuring an except from Dying for Space

Teaser Tuesday – 5th December, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Fade Out by Patrick Tilley
56% When Connors arrived at the operations room, Allbright was already sitting in front of the double bank of screens. On the top left-hand screen was the picture of Friday looking at himself.
Connor sat down. “I wonder what he’s thinking.”
“Yes,” said Allbright. “This could be the first time Friday has seen himself. He may not know what he looks like – or even that he exists. I wonder how his data circuits will handle that discovery.”
“if he blew a fuse, it would save us a lot of trouble,” said Connors.

BLURB: Patrick Tilley’s brilliant bestselling thriller of humanity’s first contact with advanced alien intelligence is a high-tension tour-de-force that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

This is science fiction book was first published back in 1975 and is being rereleased. I am really enjoying it. It’s definitely one for those of you who enjoy hard sci fi – and it’s brought home to me how things have changed as no one in the team is female or ethnically diverse. However, the pacing and progression have me gripped and I’ve no idea exactly where this is going – or what is going to happen when it gets there…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of The Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

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My attention was snagged by this title and Lisa Tuttle is an author who is been on my radar for a while, so I requested it.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane. According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft. But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but while I have clearly missed a slice of the adventure, that didn’t hamper my understanding or enjoyment of this story. Tuttle doesn’t hang about – she tips us straight into the case which I appreciated. While this series has been compared with the Sherlock Holmes adventures, I don’t think that Miss Lane, the narrator of this case, is all that much like John Watson. She isn’t overly gushing about Jasper Jesperson’s detecting skills, for starters – indeed, there are times when she is quite sharp about him, which I enjoyed.

The other aspect that I hadn’t expected and very much liked – while both Jesperson and Lane are middle-class and reasonably comfortably off, that doesn’t prevent Tuttle from lifting the façade on apparent Victorian respectability by depicting a young serving girl’s plight after suffering a rape. The detective duo also uncover a shocking lack of respect towards women who have the temerity to refuse or thwart a couple of apparently eligible men, who portray themselves as perfectly reasonable, educated gentlemen. Miss Lane isn’t particularly happy about the state of affairs, but isn’t overly surprised. What it reinforced for me is how much women were simply not regarded as on a par with men. Not only did they not have the same protection in law, they were not felt to be capable of the same understanding or intellect as a man – so when a woman demonstrated any independence of spirit, she frequently incurred anger at her temerity – how dare she defy him!

That said, I don’t want you to go away thinking this entertaining, engrossing whodunit is focusing on the gender inequality of the time – it is a mere side issue in this adventure. An adventure full of twists and turns as Lane and Jesperson then find themselves desperately looking for a baby. And the resolution to that puzzle had my jaw dropping…

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will definitely be tracking down the first instalment in this series. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their historical crime series with a twist of fantasy.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – In the bleak midwinter…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a snowscape, so I’ve chosen Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

 

This is the cover produced by Reagan Arthur Books in February 2012 and frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking. It is pretty enough – indeed, looks appropriate for a cute childen’s tale. But this book is nothing of the sort – it is a wonderful portrait of survival in a hostile environment, of despair and gritted determination and a miracle. Or is it? So this cover is completely inappropriate.

 

This edition, produced by Headline Review in February 2012 is more like it. I love the simplicity of the deep blue with the outline of the girl and the fox in white. It is eye-catching and gives a far better sense of the book. While it isn’t my favourite, it is certainly a huge improvement on the previous effort.

 

Published in July 2012 by Polirom, this Romanian cover is an unfortunate throwback to the first cover. It looks far too juvenile for this remarkable book which covers very adult themes, even if the prose is at times ethereally beautiful.

 

Thank goodness this cover, produced in September 2014 by Tinder Press, is a much better effort. The snowscape is still beautiful. I love the looping font the footsteps leading away from it towards the smudge in the trees that may or may not be the child. Lovely and entirely in keeping with the content.

 

However my favourite is this Serbian edition by Laguna, published in January 2013. I love the cool blue of the cover and the delicacy and detail of the frosting around the edge of the cover – how beautiful! And it isn’t the snow child portrayed on the cover, it is the heavier figure of the woman, searching for her… As you may have gathered, I’ve become a tad overwrought about these covers – but which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Snap!

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a mirror image or reflection, so I’ve chosen The Dark Mirror – Book 1 of The Bridei Chronicles by Juliet Marillier.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Books in June 2006, is my least favourite. While the hint of a reflection and the gnarled tree behind the seated girl does give a sense of the otherworldly tone that pervades this outstanding historical fantasy series, it doesn’t do it justice. I also think the lettering is clunky and unsuited to the genre and content.

 

This edition was produced by Tor books in March 2006 and is far more appropriate. The lone tree, reflected in the water in a wild landscape beautifully evokes the mood of the book and would immediately have me wanting to pick it up. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in 2007 by Bertrand Editora, this Portuguese edition has also manages to capture the magical sense of the book, though I’m not quite sure what that fraying piece of lace at the top is all about… But those brooding trees reflected in the lake are very effective.

 

This Australian edition, published in November 2007 by Pan Australia, is also effective and haunting. I particularly like the title font, which fits the period without being too fussy or taking away from that stunning landscape – this is a very close second for me. Which is your favourite?

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Yes… I’ve done it again. Seen a lovely cover, crooned over it and then requested the book.

In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be. Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip. Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.

This is far more a romance than a paranormal novel. While there is a strand of strangeness woven within this tale of love, betrayal and deceit, it isn’t the engine that powers the story forward. What we have here is Hector, who is consumed by passion for a woman he had hoped to make his wife – the stunningly beautiful Valérie. Now established in society and made wealthy by his mastery of his telekinetic powers, Hector can visit Valérie… be in her presence… talk to her… so long as he appears to be courting her husband’s young niece, Nina.

I really enjoyed this one. Moreno-Garcia paints a vivid picture of the belle epoch, when the rich could have it all. Women have never been so beautifully attired, men had the freedom to buy it all – so long as they were rich. Further down the greasy pole, of course, life was a lot less glittering. I thoroughly enjoyed the story – and yet it isn’t one that I expected to like. Hector is behaving appallingly and the fact that I understood and accepted the situation without throwing my Kindle across the room or irritably deleting it, says a lot for the depth of the characterisation.

Nina, the charming, clumsy and intelligent girl with an unexpectedly strong sense of herself, again was very well drawn and while I was reading, she was the character I sympathised with. But since I finished this book and whenever I thought about it – it isn’t either of these two characters that I find myself pondering – it is Valérie. The beautiful, spiky woman who is dying inside by slow degrees because she has married a man for his money. Because she was forced to marry a man for his money. And while her husband is kindly and thoughtful, she simply doesn’t love him – indeed, his little habits and annoying penchant for actually consulting Nina about her wishes regarding her courtship, has Valérie grinding her teeth.

I generally don’t read romance stories, yet this one really held me as somehow Moreno-Garcia managed to depict all three of the main characters, warts and all, with a degree of compassion and understanding that gave me an insight into how they all ticked. It made a very enjoyable change from my usual fare at a time when I was struggling with flu and if you do enjoy a well-written, character-led romance, this one comes recommended. While I obtained the arc of The Beautiful Ones from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

 

ANNDDD…

Lovely Paranormal Books is taking part in the blog tour for Running Out of Space – and Rose asked me to list the pros and cons of living in space for my protagonist…

Friday Faceoff – You have nice manners for a thief, and a LIAR!

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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 the one we prefer. This week the theme is dragons, so I’ve chosen Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Fantasy in December 2004, is a rather splendid dragon. Definitely eye-catching and I like the fact that he is clearly expecting to be served. If I’m going to be picky, the backdrop looks like a generic fantasy landscape – and this book is set in an alternate Victorian England where dragons are vying with each other for power and influence after the style of Trollop. So the backdrop doesn’t line up very well with the content. Other than that, I think it’s a solidly good cover.

 

This offering was produced by Orb Books in January 2006. I have to say my first instinct is ‘how boring’. A WHITE cover… really? And that very generic dragon didn’t really take a lot of effort. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, but when I consider just what an awesomely sharp, funny and memorable book this is – the cover simply doesn’t measure up.

 

This cover from Corsair was published in February 2013 and is far more like it! The deep rich crimson and embossed gold lettering and wheeling dragon is both classy and eyecatching. This is the edition that I read, so that also may affect my reaction to it – but the reason I picked it up off the shelf was because the cover caught my eye…

 

Produced in September 2017, this French edition by Denoël also features gold lettering and decoration. The background is darker, but I suppose they are going for a classic Victorian feel. I also like the visual impact of this one, though I doubt it gives the reader much idea about the story or genre of this very quirky, entertaining book.

 

This edition, published in 2006 by Triton is my favourite. I love the wonderfully detailed illustration. The power and menace emanating from that dragon is palpable, while the lettering looks beautiful. And the fact this dragon is engrossed in a book gives a major clue about the story. What about you? Which one of these do you prefer?

 

AAAND… some of you may know that my debut novel, Running Out of Space was published this week. Today I am featuring in a guest blog at Second Run Reviews talking about growing up during the space race – and how I felt when it all came to a halt.