Category Archives: religion

Review of KINDLE Ebook Lent by Jo Walton #Brainfluffbookreview #Lentbookreview

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I saw this one was coming out and then had to shut my eyes and look away. Given we suddenly found we needed a new roof in June, costing £20,000, I’d no business buying new books – especially considering the state of my teetering TBR pile. Until Himself realised it was out and bought it for me. No wonder he’s a keeper…

BLURB: Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles. It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose… and, now, running Florence in all but name.
That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time.

I’ve knocked off the last line of the blurb, which inexplicably saw fit to give away the big plot twist that occurs about a quarter of the way through this compelling book, that suddenly changes the whole dynamic.

Anyone who has spent time here will know my views on Jo Walton’s writing – she’s a genius, possibly the greatest SFF writer of her generation. She is also difficult to put into any kind of pigeonhole, because the only thing I can safely say is that the next writing project she embarks upon will be completely different to its predecessor. And I’m delighted she has found a home with Tor.com who clearly appreciate her mighty talent and don’t seem to mind her lack of ‘author branding’.

So after her wonderful exploration of Plato’s Republic, in her Thessaly trilogy – see my review of The Just City; her reimagining of Victorian capitalism using dragons as her protagonists in Tooth and Claw; her award-winning evocation of an upbringing in a boarding school after losing a horrific duel in the remarkable book, Among Others; her glorious version of the Arthurian legend through her dauntless female knight in her Tiri Tanagiri duology – see my review of The King’s Peace; and her exploration of personal courage in the face of overwhelming odds in her Small Change trilogy examining an alternative history where Nazi Germany prevails against the UK – see my review of Farthing – I was intrigued to discover what Lent would offer in the way of Walton wonder.

It is the examination of the final years of Girolamo Savanarola, an extraordinary critic of the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church during the height of the Renaissance in Florence. He was a charismatic leader of an increasingly vocal faction who wanted the Church to change its ways, well known for the famous Bonfire of the Vanities. Walton’s unfussy prose painted this period, full of delightful details, with her customary vividness, which I enjoyed. And then the plot twist happened. I didn’t see it coming, so dropped my precious Kindle and said something equating to, ‘Goodness me, what a surprise!’ and couldn’t put the book down until I fell asleep with it in my arms.

At a stroke this book, vividly depicting character at a fascinating stage in Italian history, turned into something else – something more visceral and poignant. One of the hardest things for modern historians to capture is the desperate importance that religion played in the lives of our ancestors. Many fiction writers don’t even attempt it, while the better ones manage to give us a taste of the stakes, where Purgatory and Hell waited for the foolish, unwary and sinful with everlasting agony. Walton takes us right inside that dread and vividly recreates those terrors for us.

This isn’t an action-filled, foot-to-the-floor adventure, but if you enjoy being taken to a different time and place, where the rules are brutally different, then give this one a go. And whatever you do, don’t give up until you get to that plot twist…

Highly recommended. This is my book of the year, so far.
11/10

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Sunday Post – 6th October, 2019 #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.

It’s been a busy week, as on Tuesday, Netted, my post-apocalyptic thriller set in Maine and published by Kristell Ink, an imprint of Grimbold Publishing, was let loose on the world. I’m delighted that it already has two 5-star reviews. It was a lovely, sunny day which I spent in Brighton with my daughter and baby granddaughter, Eliza, who is now babbling away and starting to walk around the furniture.

I attended Pilates again on Wednesday and suffered for it on Friday, when I was packing as Himself and I had a belated weekend away to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We stayed at a lovely pub, The Horse and Groom on the outskirts of Chichester – I know… we didn’t go very far afield. But we love the countryside around here anyway (which is why we live here) and we didn’t see the point in driving for miles in Friday afternoon traffic for a relaxing break. We spent Saturday wandering around Chichester, including walking around the ancient walls and through the Bishop’s Gardens, which we’d done together as students way back in 1992 when we first met as part of our History course. And in the evening, we went to see a production of Macbeth at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which we enjoyed, despite some rather odd choices regarding the costumes and casting.

The other piece of marvellous news is that my sister’s offer for the home she wanted has been accepted. We’re thrilled for her and it means she will be even closer to us – a mere five minute drive and fifteen minute walk away😊.

Last week I read:
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness. When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And someone is hunting him.
I’d heard so many good things about this one – and was very glad that I got hold of it. I can certainly see why it created so much excitement.

Lent by Jo Walton
Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles. It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose… and, now, running Florence in all but name.

That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time.
Browsing through Jo Walton’s reads, I realised that this one had been released and somehow slipped under my radar. I love her writing… I think she is one of the greatest writing talents alive today – a genius. And this book just confirms it. Review to follow.

Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor
At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…
And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.
This spin-off series from Taylor’s best-selling series The Chronicles of St Mary’s doesn’t need you to have read any her previous work to appreciate her pacey, humorous writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this one – and it reminded me that there was more St Mary’s goodness out there I haven’t yet tucked into. Review to follow.

Trail of Lightning – Book 1 of The Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine. Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
I was thrilled when I realised this offering has finally been made available as a Kindle ebook – and that it was on Netgalley. I was even more thrilled when I was approved to read it. So I saved it for my weekend away… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Akin by Emma Donnoghue

Friday Faceoff featuring Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Kickass Divas in Sci Fi Book Funnel promotion

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor

Teaser Tuesday featuring Netted by S.J. Higbee

Review of The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

Sunday Post, 29th September 2019

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

Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/peter-jacksons-they-shall-not-grow-old-2/ Anne features this amazing film by famous film director Peter Jackson. Apparently Himself knows of it, but hasn’t yet seen it (Christmas pressie, perhaps???)

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Book Titles With Numbers
https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2019/10/01/top-ten-tuesday-book-titles-with-numbers/ The weekly TTT meme is always worth watching out for – but I was frankly amazed at just how many books have numbers in the title! How many have you read?

Head Over Heels https://yadadarcyyada.com/2019/09/18/head-over-heels/ Yes… I know this was posted a couple of weeks ago, but I somehow missed it and as I just love the sheer zany madcap energy of it, I needed to share it with you.

The Smiling Chipmunks of Riding Mountain https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/the-smiling-chipmunks-of-riding-mountain/ Charles French rightly reblogged this beautiful series of pics featuring these cute little chaps…

[MY BOOKISH OBSESSIONS] Quills + Parchments//LOVE LETTERS// https://thewitheringblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/my-bookish-obsessions-quills-parchments-love-letters/ I love it when I find a blogger pouring her soul out into an article, because she is that moved/excited/enthralled by something – and this is a lovely example.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Plague of Giants – Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearne

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I loved Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series – you can check out my review of Hounded. So when I heard that he had embarked on an epic fantasy, I was intrigued.

In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . . From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim – an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom’s only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world’s wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.

What do you do if you wish to portray your epic world through the eyes of eleven protagonists? Well… there is always the George R.R. Martin option, I suppose. But Hearne has gone for a different approach – he has a bard with a magical ability to take the shape and persona of the characters, who then tells their slice of the adventure to a city of refugees caught up in the war. It’s a nifty device to sidestep the problem of trying to get the reader to keep track of exactly who is doing what to whom – especially as at the start of each performance, the bard tells the audience who will be introducing the character who will be taking the stage.

Does Hearne succeed? I’ll be honest – A Plague of Giants took some time to grow on me. Himself immediately was drawn into the world and kept imploring me to keep going, not that I was tempted to DNF it – the writing is too good, for starters. But I was about 20% into the story before the world seeped into my bones and I was reaching for my Kindle with eagerness. Once I was familiar with the cast of characters and the narrative had taken root, I was won over. Because of the structure, this epic fantasy is completely character-driven and I’m a real sucker for character-driven plots.

As we drew closer to the climax, I was holding my breath because we already knew that the giants had very little wriggle-room – they couldn’t return to their homeland due to the volcanic eruption devastating their island. And because a significant number of the giants also wielded fire as their kenning (read magical talent) they were lethal. I also have to warn you that not all the eleven protagonists survive to the end of the story – I was shocked to discover who doesn’t make it and the manner of their death. Inevitably, the story is somewhat fragmented, given it is told piecemeal by a variety of characters – some of them not human. But I grew to really enjoy this world and the diversity of species who are caught up in the conflict caused by the giants’ invasion.

The ending was suitably dramatic and despite the book being 600+ pages, when I got to the end I was genuinely sorry this instalment of the tale was over. While I’m aware that there has been a mixed reception to this one, if you enjoy well-written epic fantasy that gives an insight into the political machinations as well as plenty of action, both military and magical, then go looking for this one. While I can’t guarantee you’ll love it – if it does tick your box, you’ll really, really thank me.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton

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This is the final book in this remarkable trilogy. Given the scope and ambition of these books – to explore Plato’s thoughts on what makes an ideal society in his book, The Republic – would Walton manage to conclude it satisfactorily?

necessityThe Cities, founded on the precepts laid down by in Plato’s The Republic by Pallas Athena, are flourishing. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Pytheas dies as a human, returning immediately as Apollo in his full glory. And there’s suddenly a ship approaching, wanting to make contact…

My first firm recommendation is DO NOT pick this one up without first at least reading one of the first two books, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, both of which I think you could read first without floundering too much. But not this one. For starters, there is a lot more discussion of what has gone before – as well as infilling the time-lag between The Philosopher Kings and Necessity and glancing allusions to events that mean a whole lot more if you know the now considerable backstory to all the main characters.

Walton mentions in the Acknowledgements that this is the hardest book she has written to date and I think it starts a little uncertainly – which is unusual, as her writing style normally has an easy fluidity I love. However once the narrative gets going, particularly after Sokrates bounces into the story the momentum picks up. There is a different feel to this one, though. For starters, there is a lot more discussion of the ideas thrown up by Plato – what makes a perfect society and how should people strive towards excellence; what makes gods so different from humans; how can society give justice to people, while recognising their different contributions to their community; what does equality for all mean. There is a particularly interesting discussion regarding slavery – Plato was very much against it, which these days may be regarded as a given, but when you consider that both Greek and Roman society only worked so smoothly because of the huge underclass of enslaved labour, this was regarded as a revolutionary, impractical and frankly dangerous idea at the time. Sadly, as I read the arguments reprised in the book, I was aware these now have a new relevance as this ugly form of exploitation seems to be resurfacing with renewed vigour in the 21st century.

I was intrigued to see how the huge plot twist at the end of The Philosopher Kings would work out in this book. I think the new environment works, along with visitors who decide to also adopt Plato’s precepts. I’m less convinced about the first contact with the approaching ship after the huge build-up in the first half of the book. But that isn’t a dealbreaker – after all, this isn’t a book about a clash of cultures, it’s a book exploring whether the ideals of an ancient philosopher have anything to say to us now.

As for the ending… I finished the book feeling enormously moved and excited. I can’t recall the last time I felt like that over any book. And all through the year, since reading The Just City I’ve found this series has stolen into my head and taken up thinking space, often when I should have been considering other things. That doesn’t happen all that often. It is the glory of reading – where marks on a page can transform, terrify or anger you. Or, in this case, have me pondering about why we are here, what is our purpose and what should we be striving for.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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Those of you who are regular visitors will know that I am a real fan of Hall’s writing – see my review of Spark and Carousel here. Would this latest offering also please?

thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.

I love Asta’s character. She is plunged into the middle of a horrific situation and copes brilliantly, without turning into a Mary Sue, which is a far harder balancing act than Hall makes it look. As she is pulled into the middle of the politics of two colliding societies she knows very little about, she has to exist on her wits to cope. Fortunately, Asta is intelligent and resourceful – and she also has her brother’s spirit to aid her. However, this proves to be a mixed blessing… One of the things I really enjoy about Hall’s writing is the sharp-edged reality to her writing. While this isn’t the type of grimdark where every other word is an expletive and the overall tone is sharply sarcastic and bleak, it doesn’t give any quarter. So Finn, Asta’s brother, has sibling issues that now have far greater resonance given that he’s inside her head and they regularly squabble. While sometimes there is affectionate humour in their exchanges which helps Asta cope, there are also occasions when their quarrels get in the way of her ability to deal with her situation.

As the adventure gallops forward and Asta is catapulted into the middle of a complicated political situation, I appreciated how Hall completely side-steps the inevitable info-dump. Asta discovers the nuances going on around her the hard way – if she gets it wrong, she’ll be beaten or worse, as we learn what is going on alongside her. It’s a nifty trick to pull off  successfully. Her search for her nephew takes her into some dangerous situations and we meet a cast of supporting characters who ping off the page with their vividness and varying attitudes. No one is portrayed as completely good, or all bad, as Asta also makes some major mistakes along the way, too. This nuanced approach particularly applies to the major antagonist, who I found myself pitying even while hoping Asta is able to escape his clutches.

During the fight scenes, I was holding my breath – for Hall isn’t afraid to kill off some of her more major characters and a couple of times the death of a character caught me unawares. So at no point could I predict what would happen next. The story held me right to the end, where it was tied up without being too neat. You don’t get the sense the survivors will live happily ever after in Hall’s world, as Life is too precarious and chancy for any such tidy ending. This story is standalone, although it does loosely connect with Hall’s  The Art of Forgetting duology. For me, this is the best book yet. I loved this adventure and it comes very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic Fantasy at its sizzling best.

My copy of The Summer Goddess was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
10/10