Category Archives: Victorian

Review of AUDIOBOOK Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #SherlockHolmesaudiobookreview

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After firing up my Kindle Fire and looking for new audiobooks, this one caught my attention – I’m so very glad it did. It has represented marvellous value as for the cost of only a single credit, I have had the pleasure of nearly seventy-two hours of Fry’s narration.

BLURB: Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.

It has been a joy. I found it fascinating to listen to the variety of methods Conan Doyle used to structure his novels and his stories. Some of them were slightly derivative of other work he’d produced earlier in his career, but given the span of years he was writing Holmes’ adventures, I was impressed at how rarely this occurred. The other striking aspect of this collection was just how much I found myself disliking Holmes. He’s cold, arrogant and condescending to a degree that even occasionally annoys dear old Watson – in fact, thoroughly unpleasant. Each time I revisited this collection, within a handful of minutes I’d remember all over again just how much I loathed him. But there’s dear old Watson, who is the beating heart of all these stories. It is his humanity, kindness and acceptance of people’s quirks that sings off the page and drew me into the stories.

Conan Doyle’s writing style is also very easy to listen to – his ability to draw a quick description of a character and their surroundings, as well as his pacing and story structure are mostly impressively good. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Fry is narrating these – the range of voices and accents is impressive, without at any stage feeling forced or OTT. I also enjoyed his forewords and what he had to say about the body of work, as ever insightful and informative. And the reason it has taken quite so long for me to get to the end is that I have stretched it out, by interspersing each folder with one or more other books. But all good things must come to an end, and I have finally reached the last story in the last folder…

Any niggles, then? The one distasteful aspect of this collection, which I must point out, is the racism, xenophobia and chauvinism running throughout. I managed mostly to roll my eyes at the dismissive descriptions of any woman over the age of forty and the way all the younger females were objectified according to their looks and attractiveness. While it graunched, I was able to mostly shrug it off – I still recall similar attitudes being prevalent in the 1960s and 70s.

However, the racism inherent throughout did leave a bad taste in my mouth. There are some truly horrible descriptions, to the extent that one story in particular was skipped. It was striking that many of the more brutal antagonists were foreigners, spoken of with breathtaking condescension. I was intrigued to note that those stories published in the runup to WWI had a particularly strong vein of xenophobia running through them towards other Europeans. No one was truly trustworthy unless they were English and of a certain class – and male, of course. I’m aware they are a product of their time, but I would warn you that if this sort of depiction is a major issue for you, then this probably won’t be a collection you could listen to with any real pleasure. I would have scored this collection a ten but for this aspect, which did dent my enjoyment at times.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th 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.

This has been a turbulent week weatherwise, with torrential downpours punctuated by bright spells of weather and over Thursday night and Friday, there were also a couple of thunderstorms. So it’s been hard to get washing dry outside, however the upside is that it is still mild for the time of year and we have also had some lovely rainbows.

I’ve been continuing with my Aerobics and Pilates classes and am gradually getting a bit fitter and less exhausted during and after the sessions. On Wednesday evening, I managed to make Writing Group which was lovely. I hadn’t been for a month and it was great to catch up with everyone and also get some valuable advice on the opening of Mantivore Warrior.

On Thursday, Sally came over and we started work on her second book. Editing is always such an intense business – I looked around twice and the day had gone, though I was absolutely shattered, to the extent that I spent part of Friday morning sleeping because when the alarm went off, I was just too tired to move. When I got up, I felt much better, but this week I must try to get to bed at a reasonable time as I’ve backslid badly. I needed to be sharp, as we collected the grandchildren on Friday after Oscar’s football practice – it was lovely to spend time with them again and catch up on their lives. Yesterday, we had a gathering of the clan at my sister’s flat. My parents and my sister’s sons and daughter-in-law travelled down to view her prospective new home and she also invited the four of us along. So ten of us, plus Darcy – Mum and Dad’s poodle – sat down to a delicious homemade curry lunch in with all the trimmings, while we provided the apple pudding in her compact flat. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone, who we hadn’t seen since David and Hannah’s wedding. For once the weather behaved and we were able to see my sister’s new home in brilliant sunshine and admire the views of Arundel Castle from her driveway.

I am still in the throes of the first draft of Mantivore Warrior and will be writing about my decision to include an extended flashback in tomorrow’s blog post.

Last week I read:

The Hidden Gallery – Book 2 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees. Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance’s Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children’s–and Penelope’s own–mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways…
I really enjoyed reading this second book in this series, though perhaps not quite as much as the first one. However, I am looking forward to finding out some answers to the thicket of questions surrounding the children and where they came from…

 

Blue Angel – Book 2 of the Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Waking on an unfamiliar floor, Pax is faced with two hard truths. A murderous government agency wants her dead – and monsters really do exist. What’s more, her body’s going haywire, which she desperately hopes isn’t a side-effect of her encounters in the city’s tunnels. To survive, and protect Ordshaw, she’s got to expose who, or what, is behind the chaos – and she can’t do it alone. But with only the trigger-happy Fae to turn to, Pax’s allies might kill her before her enemies do…
This is the sequel to the quirky urban fantasy tale, Under Ordshaw and as Williams is releasing the third book in the series very shortly, I wanted to catch up before I fell further behind. Review to follow.

 

How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – AUDIOBOOK 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!
Very annoyingly, somehow I started listening to Book 11 in the series and switched into this, the final book without realising until near the end… Which was just amazing. I found it very emotional and uplifting – a truly epic fantasy written for children and yet also engrossing for hundreds of adult fans too. Review to follow.

 

First Flyght – Book 1 of The Flyght series by S.J. Pajonas
Vivian Kawabata can’t wait to claim her privileged destiny. But when the heir to the family agricultural empire finds her bank account empty while shopping for expensive shoes, she’s horrified to discover that her own brother has financially stabbed her in the back. To stand a chance of restoring her rightful place in the universe, the honest and rule-following Vivian may have to break a few intergalactic laws.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in a space opera adventure about a young woman struggling to earn enough to keep the family business after the betrayal of her shifty and shiftless brother. Vivian is an enjoyable heroine and I will be definitely reading more of her adventures. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Friday Faceoff featuring Alien by Alan Dean Foster

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

Reblog – Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles series

Sunday Post, 13th October 2019

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

Thursday Doors – Cottage Update https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/thursday-doors-cottage-update/ I followed the previous posts Jean published on the massive restoration of this cottage with interest – so these pics showing the completion of the project were a delight.

How to Train Your Editor Brain https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/18/how-to-train-your-editor-brain/ Anyone who has attempted to complete a major writing project will know that finishing the first draft is just the start – it’s the editing which makes the difference between a well written, polished read and a muddled mess…

What Counts as Reading? https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2019/10/what-counts-as-reading.html I thought this article was interesting in that it made me stop and consider my own assumptions on the subject. What do you think?

Waterford Walls 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/10/13/waterford-walls-2019/ And this is just a joy – what a wonderful way to bring art and beauty into an urban environment and why isn’t every town and city in the land also following this example?

Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/alvin-and-area-alert-to-literacy-efforts-monday-memories/ Yes… I know I also reblogged this during the week – something I hardly ever do, but I didn’t want anyone to miss this uplifting, amazing post…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #WithintheSanctuaryofWingsbookreview #2019TheBacklistReaderChallenge

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It’s been far too long since I finished the fourth book in this series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – and I realised that I had been putting off completing this series simply because I didn’t want all the fun to stop. However, all good things must come to an end…

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent–dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field. And yet–after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia–the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure–scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies–and what she discovered there, Within the Sanctuary of Wings.

The other issue, of course, is after whisking us around the world, where Lady Trent endured desert, biting cold and torrid jungle in her search for knowledge about the various species of dragons, would this latest adventure managed to measure up to the previous cracking reads? The answer is yes. Now at a stage in her career where her exploits have given her a worldwide reputation, Lady Trent still is not wholly accepted within the scientific circles of Scirland. So while she is constantly in touch with fellow academics, corresponding around the world on the subject of dragons and respected as a leading authority, she is also becoming increasingly restless. Those of you who have read any of these books won’t find it a huge surprise that when reports of the remains of a completely new species come to her attention, she quickly organises an expedition to travel to the inhospitable range of mountains where this frozen corpse was last seen.

I love Lady Trent. She is the embodiment of a host of plucky Victorian ladies who ventured across the globe in long skirts and boned stays on a variety of scientific expeditions that subsequently were often erased from history. Brennan, by now knows her heroine very well, so we can relax into the adventure that befalls her – Lady T is something of a disaster magnet – which also takes the whole series into a completely different direction.

Does this final adventure adequately bring this whole series to a satisfactory conclusion? Oh yes – I thought this culmination of Lady T’s eventful life of scientific exploration was very well handled. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading this delightful series and enjoy the opportunity to read a different sort of book about dragonkind, then this one comes highly recommended. Whatever you do, though, don’t start with this book – go back to the beginning of the series and pick up A Natural History of Dragons see my review here. I only wish that I was also able to turn the page and experience the pleasure of the first book for the first time, again.
10/10

Sunday Post – 28th April, 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 another busy week. On Tuesday I returned to Northbrook to start the last course I’ll be teaching there – even as I type the words, it doesn’t quite seem real… I was delighted to be able to run all three classes again and meet up with my lovely students.

My friend, Mhairi also drove down from Lincolnshire and came to stay, so after arriving when I returned from college at around 9.30 pm, we stayed up until about 3 am in the wee small hours of Wednesday to catch up. Much later on Wednesday morning, we went out for breakfast to Morrisons and she joined in our Pilates session in the afternoon. After hobbling away, we both agreed we needed to go more often! On Thursday, I resumed teaching Tim, though last week I accompanied him and his mother when we went to the music college that has offered him a place on their songwriting course – the same course attended by Tom Odell… There are still a few issues to address, but whether he actually goes or not – it’s a massive achievement to have been offered the place.

Yesterday I went shopping with my sister in Worthing. Her 60th birthday is looming and we’re off to an all-expenses paid spa break together so some serious shopping needed doing… We were shattered by the time we finished and decided that it’s something we need to do more often! I was doing the driving so once I took her home, I stayed and we had a takeaway Chinese – yum – before I returned home.

Last week I read:

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
It’s always something of a risk, plunging into the final book of a much-loved series and I won’t deny that I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have been – Caruso brought this outstanding series to a magnificent conclusion. This is one of my favourite series of the last few years…

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection – Collected Short Stories
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
If I don’t listen to anything else – ever, this gem has made my foray into the world of audiobooks worth it and represents fantastic value as it cost me all of one credit for 72 hours of fabulous listening. While I wouldn’t want to read through this – listening to it while cleaning the bathroom transforms a miserable chore into a wonderful pleasure. It has been split into six sections and I am prolonging the joy by listening to something else in between.

My posts last week:

Review of The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Teaser Tuesday featuring Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Friday Faceoff featuring A Hat Full of Sky – Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

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

I don’t believe in diabetes https://writerunboxed.com/2019/04/26/i-dont-believe-in-diabetes/ This thoughtful, passionate article on writers’ block is something I also feel strongly about, having taught a number of students whose writing mojo suddenly deserted them.

Monday Musing: Fangirling https://randombookmuses.com/2019/04/22/monday-musing-fangirling/ This moving article highlights just how important books and the imaginative worlds they create can become to readers…

The International Extinction Rebellion https://acstark.net/2019/04/19/the-international-extinction-rebellion/ I am increasingly dismayed at the tardy, inadequate response to the gathering catastrophic climatic changes around the world and ongoing struggles of our wildlife by all the leading governments – particularly ours which is currently paralysed.

Rainy Day Reads: Top Ten Tuesday https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/rainy-day-reads-top-ten-tuesday/ It’s always useful to have some solid recommendations and this selection particularly caught my eye…

How to Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey https://lorraineambers.com/2019/04/18/how-to-plan-your-protagonists-journey/ I really like the way Lorraine has approached this subject. Whether you are a planner or a pantzer, this can still be an invaluable aid to sorting out your thoughts before plunging into your w.i.p.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Revenant Express by George Mann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRevenantExpressbookreview

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This is the long-awaited next book in this entertaining steampunk, gothic series featuring our two heroic crime fighters Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes.

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

This is an action-packed read, given that it is only just over 250 pages long. Mann certainly manages to keep the tempo fast and furious as both Veronica Hobbes and Maurice Newbury are both attempting to tackle a terrible threat. Although I enjoyed the excellent action scenes, particularly on the train – I am a tad concerned about a major anomaly. We are told in the blurb that Veronica is close to death – so I actually reread the opening chapter in which she features, and at no time do we get a sense in her viewpoint that she’s anything other than a tad cold and miserable while standing in the pouring rain. While close to death, she happily goes off to get involved in a demanding case with Sir Charles Bainbridge and doesn’t mention feeling slightly unwell at any stage.

While in the ordinary run of things, this issues would be a dealbreaker, they aren’t this time around, simply because I like the world and the characters so much. It doesn’t hurt that this particular adventure is largely set on a train travelling across Europe, so a lot of the action doesn’t impact the wider story arc. The gruesome nature of the infection causing all sorts of havoc presents a real danger to our trusty protagonists – and has Mann has already demonstrated that he isn’t shy of killing off some main characters, I found myself paying real attention to the very dramatic fights.

That said, something clearly occurred that threw a major spanner in the works regarding Mann’s writing. I hope he is able to get back on track to write the next exciting instalment, but if he can’t or doesn’t – that’s okay, too. I do wince sometimes at the angry impatience of some readers while waiting for the next book. Everyone experiences major upsets in their lives – including authors in the middle of writing a popular series. In the meantime this series is recommended for fans of steampunk adventure with a gothic feel.

While I obtained an arc of The Revenant Express from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 10th February, 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.

Another week has slipped by – this time in a welter of wind and rain. I’ll take that over snow any day, but it has been wet and dreary for a chunk of time, making the drive into Northbrook and back miserable. I can’t quite believe that this week saw the halfway point of this term come and go… Wednesday evening I attended our writing group where the main discussion somehow morphed into various versions of ‘Lilac Wine’ – there were those of us who felt Nina Simone’s version aced it, while others preferred Elkie Brooks and Miley Cyrus – there’s no accounting for taste! On Thursday, I had a good lesson with Tim, who is working towards his Functional Skills Level 2 Reading exam.

On Friday, I met up with writing buddy Mhairi. We had lunch together at Haskins and browsed, when Mhairi spotted some amazing umbrellas on sale – the big old-fashioned kind, with a lovely pattern of a bee on lavender. Given that it was hammering down outside, I treated myself and it easily kept us both dry while we made our way to car. We had a lovely catch-up together, overshadowed by the fact that she’s moving away from the area very soon. She’s promised to come and stay regularly and I hope she does. I’m so sad that she’s going, though obviously I wish her all the luck in the world in her new home.

Last week I read:
Cyanide with Christie – Crime with the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde
Having finished transforming Windy Corner, the grand Victorian mansion she inherited from her great aunt, into a writers’ retreat, widowed literature professor Emily Cavanaugh is ready to receive her first set of guests. But her careful planning is thrown into disarray by the unexpected arrival of outrageous true-crime writer, Cruella Crime, whose unpardonably rude behaviour is causing great offence. As a ferocious ice storm rages outside, the guests entertain one another with a game of charades. But their revelries are brought to a sudden halt by the discovery of a body in one of the guest bedrooms. When it transpires the victim was poisoned, Emily decides to take a leaf out of the book of her favourite detective writer, Agatha Christie, and investigate. But as she pursues her enquiries, it becomes chillingly clear that she herself may have been the intended victim…
This is fun, particularly for those cosy whodunit fans yearning for the nostalgia of some of the old classics. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

The Revenant Express – Book 5 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.
This action-packed sequel to The Executioner’s Heart follows on more or less immediately from the climactic ending of the previous book, so if you haven’t read it then I’d advise that you do so before picking this one up. Review to follow this week.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd February 2019

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Endgames – Book 12 of the Imagers Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt Jr

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Knife Children – NOVELLA in The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-Off featuring Tongues of Serpents – Book 5 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

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

Quotations on integrity https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/quotations-on-integrity-4/ Given that baldfaced lying is rapidly becoming an acceptable political tool all over the planet, let’s consider those whose expectations were a whole lot higher…

Let’s talk trigger warnings https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/lets-talk-trigger-warnings-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers-blogpost/ This is an interesting subject for any blogger – those who do and those who don’t…

It’s Been a Wonderful Five Years… https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/02/09/it-has-been-five-wonderful-years/ She’s absolutely right! This enormously talented photographer has been one of my go-to blogs as I find her photos both inspirational and a huge comfort when the world isn’t being fair…

Will We Read On? Or Put the Book Down? Sometimes It’s The Little Things https://writerunboxed.com/2019/02/09/will-we-read-on-or-put-down-the-book-sometimes-its-the-little-things/ I’m always intrigued to discover what makes other readers DNF a book…

And The Big Secret Project Is… Heart of the Story Editorial & Coaching Services! https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2019/02/09/heart-of-the-story-editorial-coaching-services/ Sara has been a writing buddy for a long time, with a great track record of providing detailed advice for writers. She also did a wonderful job as a beta reader for me on one of my manuscripts! I wish her loads of luck with this project.

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful week!

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Watchmaker’s Daughter – Book 1 of the Glass and Steele series by C.J. Archer #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWatchmaker’sDaughterbookreview

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This is one of those books that popped up my Kindle a while ago, thanks to Himself’s Amazon shopping spree.

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch…

This is as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m prepared to share, as the rest intrudes far too much into the storyline. But this book possesses a marvellous opening – one of the best I’ve read in a long while, which immediately hooked me, making me care for the protagonist at her most angry and desperate.

I really liked India. I found her spiky intelligence and refusal to buckle to the social conventions of the time very endearing. I was rather disappointed to learn later in the book that rather being the very plain, and unattractive person she believes herself to be, she is actually the classically beautiful damsel in distress. At the heart of this book is a life-threatening puzzle that India has to unravel in order to secure her future and save the life of another main character. Running right alongside this puzzle, is a romance.

It is a moot point whether it is the puzzle or the romance that powers the narrative, but because the romance heavily features in this fantasy adventure, the book inevitably falls into certain rhythms and plotpoints. That said, this is a well written, romantic adventure, peopled throughout by strong, well depicted characters into a detailed vivid world. I liked the fact that India is no simpering victim who falls back on her looks in order to establish a future for herself. The story behind the watches is an intriguing one and pulled me along, despite the fact I figured out who had done what to whom fairly early on. In the event, I was completely wrong. Highly recommended for fans of historical romantic fantasy.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week the theme to feature on any of our covers is steampunk. I’ve selected The Affinity Bridge – Book 1 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann, a cracking whodunit set in an alternate Victorian London…

 

This edition was produced by Snow Books in 2008 and is my favourite. I love all the detail and the bright colours. It’s beautiful, full of lovely little touches, like the London cityscape, the little steampunk flourishes and that fabulous airship, which is the template for nearly all the other versions of this book’s covers. While I’ll accept that it probably doesn’t stand out when in thumbnail, I’ll forgive that – who wouldn’t want to expand this cover into glorious full size to capture the full effect?

 

Published in April 2010 by Tor Books, this is another attractive, well-designed offering. The airship is now grungier and less shiny, though every bit as eye-catching. I love the border and the attention to detail, again. I just wish there was less chatter across the cover.

 

This edition, published by Titan Books in July 2015, is certainly bright. The airship is still there and this cover provides lots of detail, but in silhouette. I think the overall effect is successful and eye-catching and I’d probably love it more if I hadn’t already given my heart to the Snow Books effort.

 

This edition, produced by Piper in 2011, takes the original design and makes it their own. It is far more stripped back and I think it is extremely effective – I love the background colour and clever use of the clouds to provide a suitably dramatic backdrop for that magnificent airship. The border is also nicely handled and in thumbnail, this one really pops. This is my second favourite, mostly because I just love that colour…

 

This French cover, published in June 2011, takes a completely different approach. This is the foggy London where Jack the Ripper lurks along with other desperate villains and only the likes of Newbury and Hobbes can get justice done… We see the two protagonists featured on the cover. I do like this effort, though not as much as the others. What about you – which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Where there’s fire there’s…

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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 cover featuring smoke, so I’ve selected Smoke – see my review here – by Dan Vyleta.

 

This edition was produced by Doubleday in May 2016. The impressionistic view of the Houses of Parliament with the Thames in the foreground is beautiful, though feels more like fog than the sooty, unpleasant excretion caused by wicked, impure thoughts of the novel. While it is attractive, with plenty of eye appeal, I’m not sure it adequately portrays the novel.

 

Published in July 2016 by W & N, this cover is extremely effective. The black cover contrasts nicely with the wisping threads of smoke rising off the stylised S and its very simplicity sets it apart. I really like this one.

 

This edition, published by Anchor Books in June 2017, is really disturbing. The person seems to be consumed by the thick, black smoke pouring off him, leaving only his feet uncovered. This one is my favourite – another elegant and simple design, I think the image is both compelling and eerie.

 

This paperback edition, produced by W & N Books in April 2017, is a variation on the second cover, and the extra touch of colour makes it even more attractive. I like the grey cover and the deep blue curls of smoke, which look both beautiful and menacing. This cover is a very close second, to the extent that I nearly rolled a dice to see which would be my favourite this week.

 

This Swedish cover, published in September 2016 by Albert Bonniers Förlag, has taken the story as the cover’s reference. A Victorian street scene is enveloped in thick, choking smoke and the sepia tones complete the period feel, which gives the cover an extra sense of authenticity. Once more, this is a well designed, attractive cover. Quite often, I’m reasonably certain that I’ll know which cover will turn out to be the favourite – however, today I haven’t a clue. Which is your favourite? I’m very much looking forward to finding out!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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I wanted to read and review more YA and children’s books this year, so when this one caught my eye due to the interesting premise, I requested it and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a delight…

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, things don’t go as planned…

This steampunk adventure is huge fun that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. Emmeline is brought up a solitary child in a creepy house infested with all sorts of dangerous creatures and is more or less left to get on with it as her scientist parents have to do a lot of travelling. Until a fateful day when everything goes wrong… Do try to avoid reading the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more of the plot than is necessary. That said, there is plenty of plot in this action-packed story brimful of interesting, likeable characters. Generally I am not a huge fan of stories where yet another set of new characters pop up in each scene, but somehow O’Hart manages to pull it off. Other than Emmeline, whose gritty self-assurance gets her through all sorts of tight spots, my favourite character has to be Thing, the vagabond boy she encounters on the liner. But there are plenty of other enjoyable, strong-minded characters to choose from as steampunk tends to roll along with lots of action and relatively little angst. It was when Thing had a wobble about his grim childhood that I bonded with him and felt that vulnerability gave him more reader-appeal.

There is also a pleasing number of unpleasant villains ranged against Emmeline and the people trying to prevent the impending apocalypse – my favourite is Doctor Siegfried Bauer as he is so magnificently horrible, especially to poor Emmeline. But the North Witch is also a thoroughly nasty character who poses all sorts of problems. Once the action really takes off, we have the two main protagonists, Emmeline and Thing alternating in telling the story, occasionally interspersed by other members of the supporting cast. O’Hart’s strong writing and deft handling of the rising tension makes this a really gripping read that didn’t want to let me go when I should have been up and about instead of finishing the book.

The denouement has to deliver after so much energy and tension has been expended during the rising action and in this case, it does, while all the dangling plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied up. I’m very much hoping that this book does well, because although I cannot see any sign of this being the first in a series, I’d love to read more about Emmeline and her family in another madcap adventure. Recommended for precocious readers from 10/11 years old onwards.
9/10