Category Archives: romance

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 – I must go down to the sea, again…

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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 scene under the sea, so this week I have selected Goddess of the Sea – Book 1 of The Goddess Summoning series by P.C. Cast.

 

This cover, produced by Berkley Sensation, was published in October 2003. This is a lovely design, with the murky image of the mermaid overlaid with the classy title font. It is the most straightforward of the covers, but I especially love the warm richness of the colouring.

 

This edition was produced by Berkley in October 2008. It is an interesting cover, with its green tint suggesting we are underwater, but there is no fish tail. Instead, the girl is wearing fishnet stockings, with a trident design shining on her shoulder and the suggestion of scales in the backdrop. I like the clever visual clues that the girl facing away from us is a mermaid. However, what lets down the cover for me is the drearily ordinary font which is at complete odds with the visual hide and seek going on.

 

Published in 2011 by Ediçoes Asa, this Portuguese edition suggests the girl is underwater. Again, there are a few visual games – the hair decorations that look like air bubbles. I like this one – the play of lighting across her face is beautiful.

 

This German edition, published by Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag in May 2012 is the worst effort, in my opinion. It looks as though the marketing intern has been let loose with Photoshop. The moody girl with the heavy, gothic makeup peers knowingly at us, looking as if she is setting off for a nightclub, rather than transforming into a mermaid. While the backdrop looks more like black flock wallpaper…

 

This Polish edition, produced by Książnica in June 2011, is the best cover in my opinion. The classic mermaid pose, leaning clear of the water, is given depth and interest by the play of light and scattered water droplets. The bodice, dripping with strings of pearls and in the process of falling from her body, adds movement and interest to the image. While I think the font is too large, at least an attempt has been made to soften it. Which one is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Year One – Book 1 of the Chronicles of The One by Nora Roberts

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I’d seen this one around, before reading the glowing review by The Tattooed Book Geek which encouraged me to get hold of it. Would I enjoy it too?

It began on New Year’s Eve. The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated. Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.

My first piece of advice would be to avoid reading the rest of the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more plot than necessary. That said, this one doesn’t hang about, though the first section is grim as the world we know and enjoy falls apart. Amongst the swathe of characters that we meet only to watch them die, are a handful that keep going despite the odds. While Roberts doesn’t indulge in any gratuitous violence, there are inevitably some scenes where horrible things happen and as has been noted in other reviews, she doesn’t flinch from those events, either.

I particularly enjoyed the twist where a proportion of the survivors find they have a magical ability awakening. Max and Lana both have this ability and though Max has possessed a magical talent before the Doom strikes, his power becomes stronger. The storyline involving these two is the engine that powers the narrative arc forward as they are essentially the principle protagonists, although there are a few other characters in a supporting role. There is a price to pay – normal survivors are starting to turn on the Uncanny, as they are termed, and not without reason. Though there are many like Max and Lana who use their powers only to defend themselves and help others, there are others whose magical abilities are far darker. And without any law and order, they are running amok.

As might be expected by a storyteller with Roberts’ experience, the pacing and narrative are ably handled – I had more or less expected certain events to unspool in a particular way. But just when I was settling into the rhythm of what I thought would happen – Roberts throws a massive wrench into the story and it suddenly takes a left turn into a very different direction that left me scrambling to catch up – I love it when that happens. The ending is strong with Roberts tying up all the plotlines so the story arc has a satisfying conclusion, yet leaving a couple of dangling plot points waving in the wind so we want to return to discover what happens next. Which I certainly want to do as this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
9/10

 

ANNDDD…

The HufflepuffNerdette features an excerpt from Dying for Space and an article from me on my favourite space opera heroines

Friday Faceoff – If music be the food of love, play on

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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 musical instrument, so I’ve selected a real gem – The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff.

 

This cover, produced by Titan Books in November 2014 seems to be the default cover. I like it well enough – it’s classy with the gold on red. But it gives little hint of the naughty, sharp-edged fantasy story that lurks behind those thick red curtains…

 

This edition was produced by Daw in November 2014 and I far prefer it as it gives an idea of the story. Both the dragon and the musician feature heavily in the adventure and I think particularly like the fact we get to see only bits of the dragon – but what we do see lets us know that he is magnificent. There are only the two choices this week – which one is your favourite?

ANNDDD…

La libreria di Beppe is featuring Dying for Space as part of the blog tour

Review of Blue Shift – Book 1 of the Second Species series by Jane O’Reilly

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I picked this one up in Waterstones while spending some book tokens, beguiled by the helmeted girl on the cover.

The Earth is cold, dead and divided. The rich hide away from reality while the rest will do anything to survive. Humanity have only one hope: reaching a habitable planet. But getting there means travelling in large numbers through alien-held space, something that’s politically nearly impossible. Yet for some, fighting their way through space is just a way of life . . .

Jinnifer Blue is a rich girl on the run. An expert pilot, she apprehends criminals on behalf of the government and keeps her illegal genetic modifications a closely guarded secret. But when a particularly dangerous job goes south, leaving her stranded on a prison ship with one of the most ruthless criminals in the galaxy, Jinn realises that the rich and the powerful are hiding more than she’d ever guessed. Now she must decide if she can trust her co-prisoner – because once they discover what the prison ship is hiding, she definitely can’t trust anyone else . . .

I really like the premise that as Earth is increasingly inhabitable, humanity now has no choice but to head for the stars – only the aliens surrounding us aren’t all that impressed. Though some species have specific uses for some of us – and not in a good way… However I do feel O’Reilly missed a bit of a trick, here. Given the desperate straits Earth is in, the decisions taken at the highest level could be justifiable if you look at the numbers involved. For me, there was a problem with the antagonist – I just wish she wasn’t so unremittingly unpleasant as I think there is a real moral dilemma that O’Reilly has closed down by providing a wholly evil antagonist to represent the hard choice that may need to be made. However, this is the first book in the series and perhaps this aspect of the story is more thoroughly explored in the sequel – I do hope so.

I enjoyed Jinn, who is an appealing protagonist with a tricky past. This gives her edges and a certain toughness, which I liked. I found the grimness of an existence where everyone has to work to pay off their modifications nicely realistic, given it is clearly capitalism that has powered humanity’s existence in space. O’Reilly writes action well, although I did find a couple of the jumps in narrative time at the start of the book a little jarring and wondered whether it would have been more satisfactory if we had started the book in 2207, leaving the main characters to fill in what happened twenty years earlier.

However, once the book got going, I stayed up way later than I’d intended to discover what happens next – O’Reilly is certainly good at writing a page-turner. There was plenty of action, alongside the political manoeuvring and this detailed world was effectively depicted without loss of pace. The romance worked well, helping to power the story along although it wasn’t the main element. Do be warned, though, there are a couple of explicit sex scenes.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I’m hoping to be able to get hold of the second book when it comes out as this dark, difficult problem facing Earth and its hapless inhabitants has got me wondering what will happen next… Recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this delightful urban fantasy set in York, Vampire State of Mind – see my review here – so was delighted to see the sequel was languishing on my TBR pile.

Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.

This is great fun, if decidedly darker than the first book. While the humour and gags are all still there, Jessica and her loyal underpaid and overworked assistant, Liam, are bantering with a slightly desperate edge. The situation has gone from difficult to grim and it doesn’t help that the local newspaper is definitely gunning for Jessica, while the Council are as much help to their put-upon staff as a lead balloon.

I really enjoyed the sense that things have moved on since the first adventure – and that has left its mark on Jessica. I get a tad fed up when protagonists in series deal with knee-buckling events only for them to spring back to action in the next book as if nothing has happened. While obviously, the author needs to take into account that some readers (like me) regularly crash midway into a series, there should also be a payoff for the loyal followers who read all the books in the correct order. Lovering achieves this. We also get an insight in Liam’s growing problems with the long hours and poor pay – he is frankly unable to afford to keep working in the job as he is now supporting a baby daughter. It is refreshing to have a shaft of realism penetrate this essentially escapist adventure – because far too many people in this country are in exactly the same situation.

As Sil struggles to put together the holes in his memory, I was completely caught up in the story and found the plot progression worked well – I certainly didn’t see the plot twist coming or the major change in their fortunes at the end.

I notice on Goodreads that these are the only two books in this series – a shame. I do hope Lovering considers writing more. Recommended for anyone who enjoys quirky urban fantasy with a Brit twist of humour.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

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This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Prisoner of Limnos – Book 6 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Himself was thrilled when he realised that another slice of Penric goodness was coming our way – quite right too as this series has not only been consistently excellent, it also is very good value, given that each novella is modestly priced. So would this next slice of the adventure measure up to the very high standard already set?

In this sequel novella to Mira’s Last Dance, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news…

And the answer is yes – this book is a joy to read and difficult to put down. However, I do feel quite strongly that although each book is designed to be read as a standalone, in order to gain the maximum enjoyment from this particular adventure, you at least need to read Mira’s Last Dance. As this narrative continues from the ending of that story, there are too many allusions to previous storylines – and besides, why not double the reading pleasure?

One of the delights of this series is charting the growth in Penric’s confidence and maturity since his first fateful encounter with the demon he has named Desdemona. Initially, he had a lot of adjusting to do, given that he wasn’t Temple-trained and his hosting of Desdemona was a complete accident. We don’t get so many tussles between them and neither does Desdemona bait him so much – instead, a strong bond is evident and interestingly, at one stage, it is Desdemona who is panicked and overcome in this adventure, with Penric providing the necessary reassurance to get them out of yet another tricky situation.

In amongst all the tension and excitement, we are also treated to Bujold’s hallmark humour, which is every bit as quirky as her characters. While the stakes are undoubtedly high, I found myself sniggering once Penric manages to successfully get into the prison complex, when someone wholly unexpected pops up… Their indignant exchange was a nice bit of light relief in amongst all the tension and danger.

I found this one almost physically painful to put down and when I finally finished it with a sigh – it was part happiness at having had such an enjoyable read, along with the inevitable pang of regret that it was all over. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this book – and the series – is recommended for anyone who enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan books or loves reading well-written fantasy with appealing characters and plenty of adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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My mother is a solid fan of this prolific author and when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Emotionally hurt in the past, a job in a large country house seems to be Emma’s best option for staying single and safe…

When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?

I’ll be honest – when I first requested this one, for some reason that escapes me, I hadn’t appreciated it was a contemporary romance. You don’t have to spend much time on this blog to appreciate that isn’t one of my go-to genres – however, the mistake is entirely mine and there was a period, longer ago than I care to recall, when I regularly read and liked these books. So I summoned up the Ghost of Higbee Past to read this one with unjaundiced eyes – and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Fortunately, this novel isn’t just about the relationship between Emma and Gavin, or the obstacles that seem to loom between them in the way of miscommunication that tends to cause such havoc in romance novels. There is also a far more sinister aspect to this book and once that plotline kicks off, the whole book nocks up a gear. However even before all that, I found this book had won me over as Harrod-Eagles writes with verve and an enthusiasm for her protagonist that is catching. Emma is fun to be alongside with her dry, often funny observations on her own life and those around her.

This meant that when she is put in danger, I really cared. The head injury she suffered actually properly incapacitated her – a pleasant change in book-based adventures where severe concussion is often shrugged off after a couple of hours’ rest. Having looked after someone in that state, I can testify the effects can linger for weeks and months and no one is in a fit state to continue rampaging around just a day after being struck hard on the head.

The climax to this story had me staying up later than I should to find out what happens next – and although I won’t pretend it was a huge shock, this turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining, well written book that I recommend to fans of romance fans who like a twist of adventure. While I obtained the arc of The Hostage Heart from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

My 1,500th post… Friday Faceoff – Much as I love you, I cannot permit you to maul this particular coat…

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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 the Regency era, so I’ve chosen Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

 

This is the cover produced by Arrow in August 1992. It is a charming cover with a strong period feel with also an appropriate font, while it isn’t my favourite cover I do like it very much.

 

This edition was produced by Sourcebooks Casablanca in January 2009. This is another eye-catching cover. I like the sense of movement and the colours. But the pink band through the cover is simply awful. It sticks out like a… pink band and jars with the rest of the cover design and mood.

 

Published in February 2011 by Cornerstone Digital, I love this one. The cover design is simple yet striking and the black and green against the black is both attractive and distinctive. The period feel is successful evoked by the chandelier and the dresses of the girls. This is my favourite.

 

Produced in 1965 by The Bodley Head, this is the original hardback edition. Again, I think this is a charming, effective cover that relates directly to the content. The only grumble I have is that rather ugly black text box, but at least it is reasonably small and the font is attractive.

 

This edition, published in December 1973, is the one I managed to pick up secondhand a lifetime ago when I already knew I enjoyed reading Heyer’s books as light relief from my schoolwork. I still think it’s a good cover and love the golden glow that bathes the scene and is a close contender. Which is your favourite?

And today’s post happens to be my 1,500th. Thank you everyone, who has taken the time to read, like or comment any of my posts. It has been a joy to meet up with so many lovely folks from around the world – I find it miraculous that I can chat about my favourite books with someone from the US. Happy blogging!