Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Naomi Novik’s covers, in honour of her recent release of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series. If you are interested in reading reviews of some of her books: – Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold – Book 7 of the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 of the Temeraire series, League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series, Uprooted, and Spinning Silver. Which ones do you particularly like?
I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series, so when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, which I have a real fondness for – we pre-ordered it…
BLURB: 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.
REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.
However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.
The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series.
I have a fondness for these types of books, where the protagonist is somehow caught up in a situation outside the norm – see my reviews of The Fifteen Lives of Harry August and one that this reminded me of – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North.
BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting SNOW. I’ve selected Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.
This offering, produced by Bloomsbury in 2009, is a strong image and was the reason why I chose this book. However the sense of chilly isolation is spoilt by all the chatter cluttering up the cover – and for once, I’m not a fan of the large author and title fonts as I think they overwhelm the image.
Published in September 1994 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this is the default cover for the book, which is a real shame. The cedar forest on the side of the cliff is certainly atmospheric and it would be ideal with the title was MIST OVER CEDARS – but it’s not. The title mentions snow – and there isn’t any. Oops. But that didn’t stop a raft of other publishers adopting this cover, anyway. Worse, the title and author fonts are so small and underwhelming, so they disappear in thumbnail and aren’t all that visible when full size.
This Portuguese edition, published in February 1998 by Relógio D’ Água, has taken a different path with a painting. It looks lovely, but I’m not a fan of the border that grows into a textbox across the top of the cover, though at least the title and author name are clearly visible.
This German edition, published in February 2013 by Hoffmann und Campe and is clearly influenced by the default cover above, in that it is a close-up of cedar branches in the mist. At least the title and author fonts are more effective in this cover design and work well within the image, in addition to being clearly visible in thumbnail, as well as when full sized.
This French edition, published in 1996 by France loisirs, at least features snow falling – a sleeting blizzard that makes me shiver just looking at it. I’ll forgive the lack of cedars to have some snow – and a suggestion of a river in full spate with snow-shrouded branches growing over it. Though whatever they are, they’re not evergreen cedars. I think this cover is the most successful in capturing the mood of the book, as well as evoking the title. Which is your favourite?
Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m displaying Juliet E McKenna’s covers in honour of her recent release of The Green Man’s Silence, which of course I snapped up. I have enjoyed reading her books for a while now – see my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe, Dangerous Waters, Darkening Skies, Irons in the Fire, Blood in the Water and Banners in the Wind. I also have read the awesome Aldabreshin Compass series, which absolutely rocks and the highly enjoyable The Tales of Einarinn series. Which ones do you particularly like?
I love the cover on this book and, craving something with plenty of humour, I requested it, hoping for mayhem and nonsense in amongst the whodunit…
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
REVIEW: The strapline for this one is: Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. And it’s spot on. Toni is a quirkier, younger version of Agatha, while the paranormal backdrop, though firmly set in rural England, is peopled with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. There is also a similar amount of heat in Grave Secrets as in Charlaine Harris’s books, which means that while it is considerably less explicit than the HBO True Blood series – it still contains several raunchy scenes. This isn’t usually an ingredient I look for in my reads, but it’s done well. Toni’s strong attraction to Oscar is convincingly portrayed – along with her ongoing concerns about his suitability, until she sees him again when once again, she’s swept off her feet.
But what really beguiled me is the strong first-person voice. A breezy, generally can-do attitude, combined with a sharp-edged Brit humour that had me sniggering throughout and a couple of times made me laugh aloud. The vampires are suitably arrogant and entitled, so no surprises there – though I also like the fact that they come in shades of nastiness and some make a real effort to be more caring of the humans in their coterie. I also really like Toni’s relationship with Peter, the other human who is in Oscar’s coterie. James has the ability to write her characters with warmth along with the snarky humour, so it didn’t descend into an adventure where poor put-upon Toni is ranged against all the powerful nasties without any help. To counter-balance the vile behaviour of the antagonists, there are also a number of people happy to assist Toni.
Another plus point – the fact that Toni is a necromancer, who has been raising the dead since a small child. They are normally portrayed as chilling creatures, whose repellent habits make them as unwholesome as the zombies they create – so Toni’s portrayal as a bubbly, impetuous young woman full of strong views on what is Right and Wrong comes as an enjoyable change. As you may have gathered – I was charmed by this one, so I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Grave Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This week has been a lot cooler, with lots of rain, which Himself has found a huge relief. On Thursday, I spent the day with the grandchildren, looking after them during the afternoon while my daughter went to meet a friend. I took them to the swing park and spent the time running around after Eliza like a bothered hen. She’s just at the stage where she’s mobile enough to get into serious trouble and too young to understand any danger… However, the elder two are brilliant with her – she is so lucky to have such lovely brothers! It was a treat to be able to spend so much time with them.
On Saturday, my sister and I were all set to go shopping, but the aftermath of the storm on Friday night meant we still had gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Neither of us were in the mood to hustle through the wind and rain in sodden masks, so we postponed our outing and instead had a cuppa and a sticky bun together at my place. This morning Himself and I went for a walk along the beach, which where this week’s photos were taken – we were lucky enough to dodge the rain.
My website www.sjhigbee.com has had a makeover! Ian has done a wonderful job of making it a lot spiffier and easy to load – and tidied it up so that my growing number of books aren’t making it look too cluttered. I’ve started working on the video clips I’m producing in conjunction with my book How to Write Compelling Characters. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. But I must get back to writing, as I’m definitely getting a bit antsy and short-tempered…
Last week I read:
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court…
This tense, political thriller is a joy – I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it and now I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the next book. The tight focus on the main character reminds me of C.J. Cherryh’s writing… Review to follow.
Afterland by Lauren Beukes
They’ll call her a bad mother.
Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back.
She’s setting him free.
Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible.
It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
I struggled with this one a bit – partly because of the subject matter. But mostly because I didn’t like Cole, or anyone else all that much – other than poor, manipulated Miles. Review to follow.
NOVELLA Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules… Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life. Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
This was the perfect read after the intensity of Afterland, and thoroughly enjoyable, the only drawback being that the end came far too quickly. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.
Another stormingly good read – I absolutely loved Khai and Zariya, who both tried their hardest to be the best they could be, without coming across as unduly good or sickeningly perfect. Review to follow.
My posts last week:
Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Musings
Review of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
A Déjà vu Review of A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Friday Face-off featuring The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward
Review of AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Fearless by Allen Stroud
Tuesday Treasures – 9
Cover Love #1 featuring the covers of Marie Brennan’s books
Review of Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Sunday Post – 16th August 2020
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
When will nineteenth-century Frenchman learn that hot air balloon duels are a BAD IDEA
https://twitter.com/DigiVictorian/status/1297202584520986624https://sjhigbee.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/sunday-post-16th-august-2020-brainfluffbookblog-sundaypost/ For sheer whackiness, this takes some beating – especially if you read the article…
In a world where you can be anything, be kind… https://twitter.com/DaviesWriter/status/1296217576436051969 I would add, looking at this clip, you also need to be knowledgeable about how to restrain such a powerful bird – and brave.
I Saw 5 How Many Faces Do You See? https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 For those among you who like puzzles. I saw 6 by the way…
Midsummer 2020 https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 I am so thrilled that Inese is back with her fabulous photos – even if I am a tad late with that realisation!
This is a good technique if you’re a complete psycho… https://twitter.com/AlisonMossCI/status/1295338698381418496 Poorly titled, I think. Because this is a LIFESAVER if you’re drowning in faaar too many plastic bags you daren’t throw away on account of not wanting to destroy the planet…
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.
I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my review of Fortune’s Pawn under her penname Rachel Bach, as well my review of the first two book in this Heartstriker series – Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another and Garrison Girl, as part of the Attack on Titans! series. I always enjoy strong urban fantasy in an intriguing world – and this one has it all. A fascinating blend of near-future apocalypse leading to an infusion of magic into the world, along with a very dysfunctional dragon clan…
BLURB: When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place…
REVIEW: One of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series, so take my word for it when I say that if you pick this one up before you’ve read the first two books – put it right back on the shelf again and go hunting for Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another instead. This is more of a continual story sliced into book-sized episodes, rather than stand-alone narratives linked by the world and characters. That said, each story arc is brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of each action-filled adventure, though once again, I found there were more intriguing questions raised at the end of this one, to which I wanted answers. Thank goodness I have the next book on my Kindle, so that I won’t have to wait too long.
While I love the world, it’s the characters that keep me reading – dear Julius, a Nice Dragon, who has always been the runt of his clutch and as such, continually bullied by Bethseda, who should have some sort of award for being the worst mother in fiction. We’ve watched him develop over the last three books from being the under-dragon of all time, to gradually winning round far more powerful and influential dragons to start taking him seriously. Apart from anything else, in a genre that generally features powerful protagonists who use might, albeit sparingly and when there is no other choice – it is a refreshing change to come across a hero who refuses to resort to violence. And if he does, regards it as a defeat.
I have also grown fond of Chelsie, Justin, Ian and Bob – a few of his siblings who have also made the journey so far with him, more or less. At least a couple of the above have also made determined efforts to kill Julius, too. And then, there’s the mortal girl he’s teamed up with, Marci and her ghost cat called… Ghost. We’ve had the impression that Ghost is a bit more than he first seemed, particularly in the last book – and this is where we get a further glimpse of who he is and what the consequences are for Marci, as she continues as his friend and ally. Though there was a shock at the end of this book that had me reeling – I won’t be waiting all that long before I dive into the next one, A Dragon of a Different Color, as I am desperate to discover what happens next. As ever, Aaron’s characters have drawn me into this world and won’t let go. This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series for a very long time. Highly recommended.
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting POTIONS. I’ve selected The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward.
This offering was produced by Simon & Schuster in July 2015 and is the default cover. It certainly ticks all the boxes – the title is clear with a quirky font and the whole design is straightforward and gives a strong sense of the genre. But while I think it’s okay – I don’t love it, or even particularly like it. It just doesn’t speak to me.
Published in September 2015 by Simon & Schuster, this hardback edition – rather unhelpfully – has been renamed. My guess is that it is referring to the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply. As a design, I think it works really well. I love the rich pinks and purples of the potion-effect backdrop, which allows the thin, scratched-out effect of the design and lettering to really pop, even when in thumbnail. While I admire this offering, and think it’s clever and apt – this cover isn’t my favourite, though it comes mightily close.
This Spanish edition, published by Nocturna in March 2016, is using the classical idea of potent potions as the main reference. The hand, wreathed in ominous smoke and vivid lightning is dramatic and beautiful – but although the nails are wearing nail varnish, I’m still unsure if the tone of this cover gives a sufficiently modern vibe. That lettering looks far too like something from Arabian nights. That said, I’m aware it’s more of a niggle and this one is a close contender.
Cbj, the German publishers for this edition in July 2016 decided to go all out for the cute and feminine, hoping it would appeal to their YA readership. Could it be any pinker? Blossoms… a heart-shaped bottle – and just in case anyone didn’t get that it is aimed at a young, female audience, they also threw in some gold sparkles, too. I don’t think anyone told the designers that less is more… That said, it’s very pretty – but I’m guessing from the blurb, the book is a bit more edgy than this Disney-princess treatment might suggest.
This Czech cover is a far darker take on the story. Published in March 2018 by Talpress, this cover is clearly set in a laboratory. I love the details of other bottles and that tap in the background, while the trapped mermaid glowing in the glass is beautiful and eye-catching. Normally, I’m not a fan of textboxes, but given that this one is so clearly designed as a label to place on a bottle – it gets a pass. This is my favourite – I think it’s attractive, punchy and very well done. Which one do you prefer?
This one kept coming up on other book blogging sites – that it was a beast of a book… that it was a single-book epic fantasy adventure featuring dragons and pirates… that it was beautifully written… So I scooped it up to lighten those boring household chores I hate doing. I can’t deny the pull of that cover, either.
BLURB: A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
REVIEW: This is a hugely ambitious book and hats off to Shannon for even attempting it. In many ways, it follows many of the classic tropes within epic fantasy – political fragility at a time of increasing threat… historical accretion that messes with the people and objects destined to help deal with said threat… a handful of chosen heroes whose lives have been given over to step up and deal with this threat, when it finally emerges… So good, so familiar. But Shannon nicely shakes it up – I particularly enjoyed the storyline around Queen Sabran, which was the most successful narrative throughout the book, both in terms of coherence and pacing. I also liked how Shannon plays with reader expectations, and then upends them. The romance was particularly well developed, with a convincing depth of emotion – yet there were still edges as two powerful women specifically raised to fulfil entirely different roles grappled to try and come to terms with their responsibilities without also sacrificing their personal happiness. But I was also very relieved to see that Shannon didn’t push the facile trope that true lurve solves everything – the storyline of one of the main characters is a vivid demonstration of what happens when someone loves too hard and cannot let go.
The characterisation was the main strength of this wide-ranging story and certainly held me, when the pacing – the weakest aspect – either flagged, suddenly dropping away, or speeded up and rushed through a scene which had been given a big build-up. My other irritation is that Shannon clearly felt, or was told, some of her major supporting cast, should die. She also clearly hated doing it. This manifested itself in these deaths either occurring off-stage, or being glossed over. And while their nearest and dearest did mourn their going, there wasn’t really a sufficient sense of loss, which given how effective Shannon’s writing is in depicting her main characters’ emotions, I found rather frustrating.
However, neither of these niggles are dealbreakers. Nor is the fact that while Liyah Summers’ narration very ably depicted the wide cast of characters with an impressive range of different voices – she also misprounced the word bow throughout, along with one or two odd examples that momentarily yanked me out of the story. Overall, I loved the world and the complex, nuanced story Shannon laid out for me and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy, who appreciates reading the whole story in one large volume, rather than having it broken up into instalments spanning years.