Category Archives: Victorian

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #22

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over seventeen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.

Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.

I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.

While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!

I’ve recently read:-

Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.

Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down…
This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10

The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.

A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes
Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.

When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.

With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch.
Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #16

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fourteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.

After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!

Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.

So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!

The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!

This week I’ve read:-

Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper
The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.
I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.

Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace
Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.

Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.

Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be?
This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.
This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10

Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet
Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out.
If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson
When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.

At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.
But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…
I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10

AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan
It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.

The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…
What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings

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

50 Word Stories: Plain Bad

Friday Faceoff: Sunny and Bright – a cover that is predominantly yellow

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

Friday Faceoff – Old friends, like old swords, are still trusted best… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffclassic/vintagecovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring CLASSIC SCI FI covers.

I’ve attempted to find an older science fiction book to feature that I particularly enjoyed – and discovered that I generally don’t read vintage stories, these days. So I finally settled upon To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis, one of the most magnificently funny and joyful books I’ve read in the past few years – see my review. Which isn’t a surprise when a lot of the inspiration of it comes from the wonderfully ageless Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.

This edition was produced by Spectra in January 1998. It’s busy and the scenes do relate directly to the content – but that’s all I can say in praise of it. You’d never guess that this is a humorous book with a strong Victorian inspiration, looking at this cover. And given that a cover should also give a sense of the overall tone, then it is doesn’t hit the mark.

Published in May 2013 by Gollanczs, this cover again successfully tackles much of the subject matter within the book. But that dark blue and distorted view of Coventry Cathedral evokes a sense of dread or foreboding – where is the glorious lazing along the river? The sheer joy of the farcical plot and the wonderfully eccentric characters? Nope, not getting a HINT of it here…

This edition, published by J’ai Lu in May 2000, has taken us onto the water. But while the sepia tones and the stiffly posed characters on the riverbank do give me a strong sense of the Victorian era – I’m expecting either a man-eating eel to suddenly erupt from the water, or some ghostly menace to creep from the head of one of those spooky-looking characters. Where is the joy and madcap chaos and sheer cleverness of this wonderful book? I know, I know… I’m sounding like a cracked record!

This edition, produced by Allen & Unwin in February 2012 has at least effectively evoked the correct tone – I don’t get the sense that an axe murderer is about to jump out from behind the bridge. And we also have the dog of the title. BUT anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I LOATHE textboxes and here is a ghastly example slap bang in the middle of the cover.

This Japanese edition, published by Hayakawa Shobō in April 2004, FINALLY hits the mark. Here we have the main characters punting down the river. I love the fact that the design has been slightly tweaked so there is an eastern flavour to it. But shame on alll those UK publishers who dismally failed to evoke the zany Englishness that Willis, a remarkably talented American author, so wonderfully wrote. Needless to say – this is my favourite! Have you read the book? Which cover do you prefer?

Déjà vu Review of Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton #Brainfluffdéjàvubookreview # DéjàvuToothandClawbookreview

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This review was posted on 4th November 2013, and I’m reposting it in honour of Jo Walton, whose writing and book covers I’m celebrating today. Here are my thoughts about the first book of hers that I encountered… She continues to be one of my favourite authors. Tooth and Claw won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004.

BLURB: A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.
And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

REVIEW: If you thoroughly enjoy Fantasy, particularly depictions of dragons along the lines of Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobbs – but also like Victorian novels, especially those by Anthony Trollope, then Tooth and Claw is sheer delight. It could so easily been a tale of offbeat whimsy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Walton has given us a few extra twists. Dragons in her world are obsessed with social position in a strictly hierarchical society. But, in order to ‘get on’, you need to be able to defend your position. With force. So females need protection as they don’t possess claws or breathe fire, like large, powerful males. And it is all about size. Dragons are constantly comparing their size – and will devour sickly children, elderly servants that have outlived their usefulness, and the bodies of their parents. For nothing nourishes and increases a dragon’s size like dragon flesh. So servants – who have bound wings to stop them flying off and escaping – rarely grow beyond seven or eight feet long because they simply don’t have access to dragon flesh.

Another interesting kink in this tale, is that female dragons are carefully protected because if they get too close to a male, they turn a bridal pink. If the proprieties have all been observed, this is fine – but if a male manages to corner a young female against her will and she flushes pink, she is ruined if he doesn’t marry her. So we have an interesting parallel with the Victorian obsession of keeping unmarried girls pure – and how fragile their reputations are if they encounter an unscrupulous male.

There is also a fascinating sub-plot about religion, where a more socially acceptable version has superseded an older and a more troubling account of how dragonkind managed to prevail against a race that sounds uncannily like humans. Pockets of high-born dragons still worship the older sect, but have to do so in secret and risk social disgrace, even though theoretically, there is no religious discrimination… It’s all very well done.

By adopting the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, and providing details of each character’s social class and standing, Walton manages to give us the same cosy feel-good atmosphere we get from Austen and Trollope’s books. Which reads very enjoyably when set against the inevitable explosions of visceral violence that underpins dragon society…

Of course, Walton is not just discussing dragon priorities – Trollope’s books are all about power and ambition. Who has it, who wants it and how far they are prepared to go to achieve it. And how the romantic heroine will cope in a world where her appearance and wit are all she has to offer, when respectable employment is out of the question. Walton could have so very easily made a real mess of this conceit – but in handling all her characters with such humour and adroitness, she presents us with another mirror to our own natures – one red in tooth and claw.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Fledgling – Book 2 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #Fledglingaudiobookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of Changeling – so was delighted when I saw this offering on Audible for a credit. Would I enjoy listening to this next book in the series as much?

BLURB: Days away from becoming completing her first year at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies, Changeling-born Sarah Smith might just get away with posing as an upper-class Guardian girl named Cassandra Reed. But strange visions of a Lightbourne destroyed by Miss Morton’s revenant army keep Sarah from enjoying her achievement. Plus, the Mother Book, Sarah’s one secret advantage and the ultimate entrée in Guardian society, suddenly stops revealing itself to her…putting her in a precarious position with the Guild.

On top of all that, her former lady’s maid left Miss Castwell’s, and the new hire is, well, taking some getting used to. If it weren’t for her two best friends, Alicia McCray and Ivy Cowel, who will do anything to protect her secret, Sarah doesn’t know if she’ll make it another year. When the three girls take summer holiday with Alicia’s family (chaperoned by an exacting and very disapproving Mrs. McCray), a relaxing vacation in Scotland is the last thing they’ll find…

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to reveal and if you’re intending to read the book, my advice would be to give it a miss. Another piece of advice – read Changeling first. Because of the nature and progression of the story, it simply won’t make sense, otherwise.

Once again, I enjoyed Sarah’s first person pov. I’m aware some reviewers have been critical of her mature attitude, but given her very tricky upbringing and the difficulties she is currently operating under, I think she would have to grow up very fast. Having spent time with children who have coped in testing conditions, I’m often struck at their maturity compared to their more carefree peers. Initially, I enjoyed the progression of the story and the ongoing threat of Sarah’s enemies, who resent her position as Translator of the Mother Book, an ancient tome of lost magic that chooses its own magical human to communicate with.

The mayhem caused during the dancing lesson was both gripping and enjoyable and settled in to listen to more of the same as the scholars from Miss Castwell’s headed off for the summer break. This is where the pacing went awry, particularly when the plot took a sudden left turn and I wasn’t wholly convinced by Sarah’s actions, or the reactions of those around her. While I don’t mind if the overall pace of a story speeds up, it cannot be at the expense of the characterisation or in apparent opposition to what has gone before. And suddenly Sarah’s actions had me wondering if she really was as two-faced and scheming as she appeared, or if she’d been magically influenced in some way.

Harper did resolve the issue, but it was still a glitch that interfered with my enjoyment and I do agree with other reviewers who feel the ending was rushed. However, overall I liked the story and I am not deterred from reading the next slice of Sarah’s adventures.

Highly recommended for fans of school-based fantasy with a historical twist.
7/10

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