This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with SPIDER WEBS. I’ve selected Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series and Book 35 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
This edition was produced by Corgi Childrens in July 2010. This is the cover that caused me to choose it for this theme, given that the scene is swathed in spider webs. I do have a soft spot for this cover as it is the one I have on my own copy of the book – and given that this story holds a special place in my heart, I have a real fondness for it. But it isn’t my favourite.
Published in October 2006 by HarperTempest, this is another strong contender. I really like it – the snowflakes make an attractive addition and the fact we don’t see Tiffany’s face gives it a sense of mystery and allows me to continue with my own imagined appearance for one of my favourite young protagonists. I’m also delighted that one of the Nac Mac Feegle makes an appearance. When my grandson was reading this series, ‘Crivens!’ became a favourite family exclamation…
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in September 2007, is my favourite. It encapsulates the style of the original Discworld covers – and again we have three of the main Nac Mac Feegle warriors – Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie and Big Yan. I love the font and overall design. And while I’m aware that Pratchett’s name doesn’t appear to be very visible – it is highly likely to be embossed, seeing as it is on all our covers.
This edition, produced by HarperCollins in September 2015 is the only one not featuring any of the colourful characters from the story. But nonetheless, it is an attractive cover. I love the three-D effect of the title font with the green leaves twining through it and the author font is nicely balanced. The deep blue shading into the black works well with the sense of chill and coldness evoked by the title. My only misgiving is that this title doesn’t convey the humour of this story – unlike all the other designs.
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in May 2017, is also a contender. I love this one. Lots of drama and movement, with a cool graphic novel treatment of Tiffany Aching on her broomstick, giving those Nac Mac Feegle a lift. The snowflakes, flowing cloak and antics of those naughty blue men provide sufficient appeal for the younger market – though this one is too good to just leave to the children. It was so nearly my favourite, but I did feel the title was just a bit too small. Which is your favourite?
BLURB:A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.
However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.
The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I am still struggling with my energy levels – it feels as though I’m wading through treacle. So it’s been a quiet week, other than a meeting on Friday with Sally and Tim to discuss his upcoming year. He has worked on an impressive number of projects since Lockdown started and it was lovely seeing him. I’m looking forward to teaching him again.
The photos this week are from our 25th Wedding Anniversary visit to the Ashdown Forest, when we got lost. I look that the bright sunshine with wistful yearning. The second half of the week has turned really chilly with a biting northerly blowing and I want the warm weather back!
Last week I read:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage… This is a cracking historical murder mystery and I particularly enjoyed the denouement, which was extremely well done. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Lies Sleeping – Book 7 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.
But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees. It’s been a while since I read any books in this series – but I loved the fabulous narration by Kobna Holbrook-Smith, who did a stunning job in bringing Peter Grant to life. Review to follow.
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war. I loved this one! Elliott’s gift for producing compelling characters and intriguing worlds worked really well. There are also a couple of cracking battle scenes, too… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island.
Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet . . . This is yet another gem from Frank’s Audible backlist – I absolutely loved it and was definitely in the mood for the quirky humour and series of mishaps that follow Harry and Uncle Tristram. Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Managing Expectations, One Book at a Time https://writerunboxed.com/2020/09/24/managing-expectations-one-book-at-a-time/While this is aimed at writers, I also think is something that is something that readers should consider. That famous second-book slump might also be partly caused by our feverish anticipation to be transported back to that surprising, new place we’d discovered – only to find the excited expectation leads to disappointment…
I put this one down feeling rather conflicted. It’s an ambitious book in its scope, as Stivers attempts to take the classic apocalyptic lethal plague scenario and give it an interesting twist.
BLURB: The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?
REVIEW: After I started reading this one, I discovered that Stivers is a scientist – which is evident by all the techy details she became engrossed in, which as far as I was concerned, slightly held up the pace. This book isn’t presented as a hard sci fi read – and the fact that a lot of the science surfaced at several crucial points, where the pacing should have been increasing didn’t help my bonding with the main characters. I think this book had the potential to be a truly great read – but Stivers hasn’t quite pulled it off and that is because the story can’t make up its mind what it’s trying to do. It could have been a quirky, hard sci fi adventure about how saving the species got messed up from the viewpoint of the key scientists as the survivors desperately try to outwit the lethal robots protecting them. Or it could have been a gritted survival adventure from the viewpoint of the children battling to stay alive in the desert, accompanied by their robotic mothers. But what Stivers tried to do was straddle both stories and the result is a bit of a hot mess, particularly by the end.
I found it a rather frustrating read, because just as I was starting to care about one of the characters, the viewpoint shifted yet again, which meant that I didn’t bond with anyone in the book, though I came close to caring about poor little Kai and James Said. It didn’t help that I’m not a fan of the apocalyptic scenario where there is a steady attrition of main characters, but in fairness to me – this one wasn’t marketed as that kind of book. It’s a shame, because Stivers isn’t a bad writer and if only she’d had an editor who had given her more clarity as to what she really wanted to do with this story, it could have been awesome. Apparently, Stephen Spielberg has bought the rights to the story, and I’ll be interested to see if he’ll tell the more interesting, quirkier story – or turn it into a Hollywood cliché.
Recommended for fans who enjoy their apocalyptic adventures with a dollop of hard sci fi. The ebook arc copy of The Mother Code was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 7/10
I have been listening to this series throughout 2019 and thoroughly enjoying this modern take on the Greek myths from the perspective of a dyslexic demi-god, who is aged twelve when the series starts with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
BLURB: All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of a victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.
REVIEW: If you’re thinking there seems to be some striking similarities to Harry Potter, another magical youngster, you’d be right – there are. But there are also some important differences. Riordan’s stitching of Percy’s rather fractured family life and learning difficulties onto the ancient Greek myths is the vital ingredient that lifts this series into something really special. I think it’s been done very well, so that now Percy is approaching his sixteenth birthday, which is surrounded by a particularly doom-laden prophesy, just as the gods and titans are set for a bloody rematch of their first apocalyptic battle – you’ll realise the stakes couldn’t be higher. Whatever you do, don’t plunge into this book without reading at least the previous two first, although ideally you’d go back to the beginning, as there is a linked narrative running across the books. While each story encapsulates a single adventure, there is an ongoing progression all leading towards this, the final book.
This means the scene-setting and battles all have to be sufficiently climactic and engrossing to satisfy the reader’s raised expectations, or this series will end with a whimper, rather than a bang. Riordan triumphantly achieves this by writing a series of fabulous battles in Manhattan, not just featuring Percy, but also satisfactorily concluding the narrative arcs of all the main cast that have accompanied Percy on his journey. In amongst the mayhem and desperate fighting, with inevitable losses and heartbreak, there are a steady stream of sardonic asides that provide welcome shafts of humour throughout.
As this falls somewhere between a children’s and YA read, there is also a bit of romance, which has been bubbling away in the background through the previous two books, in particular. There were two girls Percy was attracted to – not that he did all that much about it, so thank goodness we have no dreaded love triangle. I find it endearing that our skilled swordsman turns into a clammy mess in the presence of the girls in his life… Needless to say, that strand is also wrapped up. Overall, this is a really strong conclusion to an entertaining series that also teaches a fair bit about the ancient Greek gods along the way. Highly recommended for children of all ages. 9/10
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 hot and sunny – particularly the last few days. I love it, but Himself is suffering, as he far prefers the cold. We had the grandchildren stay over on Wednesday and Thursday this week – a treat as Himself was also off. So we took them to the big wheel in the middle of Worthing on Wednesday morning. It was a perfect day to be right up high, with sea views on one side and a clear view of the town on the other. We then went shopping at our local Waterstones, before heading back home. On Thursday, we visited the Wetland and Wildlife Trust in Arundel, one of our favourite places – though this was the first time we’d been since before the lockdown.
It was blisteringly hot on Thursday, but we found it magical with far less people than normal during the summer holidays. The reedbeds in particular were beautiful and peacefu – and we also watched a swarm of bees starting to congregate in the Butterfly garden. We also enjoyed an ice cream sitting in the shade – yay for vegan Magnums! Other than the wheel – this is where the pics were taken.
In the meantime, I’ve been getting Mantivore Warrior fit to face the world, as I’m releasing the book on 31st August. While it is the third book in The Arcadian Chronicles, it is also a good place to jump in, as it features a protagonist whose experiences are utterly different from those of the beleaguered young woman who was at the heart of the story in Mantivore Dreams and Mantivore Prey. If anyone is interested in getting hold of an arc, do drop me a line…
Last week I read: The Mother Code by Carol Stivers The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known? I enjoyed this one – but it could have been so much better, if Stivers had been a bit more focused on exactly whose story she wanted to tell, rather than trying to do it all… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail. I love this author’s writing – and this shapeshifting adventure didn’t disappoint. Very highly recommended for youngsters between the ages of 9-12. Review to follow.
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over. She’s wrong. A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions. Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for. If I’d known that Wellington wrote horror, then I probably would have given this one a miss – which would have been a shame, because it was a real treat. He manages to deliver after the long, tense build-up, producing aliens that are genuinely different and terrifying. And the ending is brilliantly handled. Review to follow.
Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison Florida journalism undergrad Rebecca Sorley is like any other college student. She tries to keep up with her studies, her friends, and her hot-tempered roommate, Ellie, who regularly courts trouble with the law. When a male student’s remains are found in alligator-infested waters, the university warns students to stay away from the reptiles. But then a second body shows up, and the link is undeniable. Both men belonged to the same fraternity and had a reputation for preying on and hurting women. Ellie has previously threatened to kill men who don’t take no for an answer. Rebecca and her friends thought Ellie was kidding. But now a vigilante killer is roaming campus—someone who knows how to dispose of rapists. Someone determined to save female students from horrible crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, where the rising body count wasn’t a stack of attractive young women – but young men who were sexual predators. The plotting is well done and this one was a memorable page-turner. Review to follow.
The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news… I’m really enjoying this series – as much for the unfolding stories of the supporting cast, as for the actual crime dramas that are featured. Ruth’s growing confidence and watching her struggles as a single mother holding down a demanding job gives these books extra readability. Mini-review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
The Green Man’s Silence – where did these particular ideas come from? http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=3208I’ve loved the unique blend of urban fantasy and old English folk tales in this particular series – so I’m fascinated by how McKenna mixes up the influences…
I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.
Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom? This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war. A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.
Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. I love a great school story and have read one book from another cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.
Biggest Disappointment Q by Christina Dalcher Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back. Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.
Biggest Surprise You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far). Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.
Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother. This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.
Favourite New Author Marilyn Messik I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series!This is my review of Relatively Strange.
Newest Fictional Crush Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…
Newest Favourite Character Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.
Book That Made You Cry The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.
Book That Made You Happy The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.
The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too. A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.
Favourite Book to Film adaptation Sanditon by Jane Austen Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year Underland by Robert MacFarlane In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.” This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?
What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year? As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…
This book arrived in the post from my lovely sister-in-law, who took me to Bexhill last year for a writing retreat, while she got on with her thesis on medieval attitudes to depression and depressive illness.
BLURB: A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.
This is a solid delight. It is an apparently very simple book. The drawings are apparently very basic – but it takes real skill to turn a dozen or so squiggly lines into a vulnerable-looking little boy, a small mole, an alert little fox and a horse… Hm – that horse. Such a hard creature to draw really well. If I’d any doubts as to Macksey’s real talent as an artist, it is the drawing of the horse – especially when we come to the climax of the book and the drawings stop being squiggly lines and turn into something awesome and magical that brought tears to my eyes…
So we have lovely pictures on each page, but it’s the prose that turns this book from being a winsome little gem into a book with sufficient heft to want it close to me throughout the day, so I can open it when I’m feeling wobbly. The conversations the boy has with the mole, and the horse, in particular, have given me so much comfort with their truth. The one that has stayed with me the most is this quote:
“What is the bravest thing you ever said?” asked the boy. “Help,” said the horse.
There is so much profound truth in those two lines. How often do we reach the end of our tether, completely in despair – simply because we lack the resources to help ourselves and paralysed with fear to ask others for help? I could have saved myself such misery as a young woman if I’d taken on board that life lesson…
There are profound things about the role of cake in our lives, too, that mole shares with us… It took about ten minutes to read the book from cover to cover and in the space of that time I laughed aloud and I wept – I’m finding myself a tad more emotional, these days. But I stand by the fact that any book which can make me do both in such a short timespan is remarkable. There is no preaching or judgement – just kindness, acceptance in a chat between a small boy and his animal companions.
And this book is right by my side for the duration. Very highly recommended for anyone who feels a tad overwhelmed or frightened right now… 10/10
I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.
The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.
I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero – Book 11 of the How To Train Your Dragon series BLURB:High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow — but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?
Again, it is something of a shock to realise how much darker this penultimate book is when comparing it to the first two or three in the series. Hiccup and his companions are in a very hard place, and the world they knew has been flamed flat and turned into ruins. Cowell doesn’t pull her punches when depicting the war-torn ravaged remains of the Viking tribes as they struggle to prevail against the might of the Dragon Furious and the Dragon Rebellion.
For all that, there are still shafts of humour, chiefly courtesy of Toothless and the other small dragon that Hiccup has acquired called Hogfly and David Tennent’s fabulous narration ensured both the tension and comedy were brilliantly evoked. As ever, the pacing is perfect and it was difficult to tear myself away as the adventure went on gathering momentum. This book ends on a mighty cliffhanger and whatever you do, don’t pick it up if you haven’t read at least the previous three or four books in the series as it simply won’t make sense. A gripping, enthralling read for Viking fans of all ages. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK The Lost Plot – Book 4 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman BLURB: In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.
Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life…
I was really entertained by this slice of Prohibition New York, when Irene and Kai find themselves trying to track down a rogue Librarian and a lost book in a world where dragons are playing powergames. The premise is clever, the characters enjoyable – I really love the fact that Irene is a cool, self-contained character who always performs at her best when in a really tight spot. And she spends a great deal of time in those really tight spots…
This was huge fun with gangster molls, hardboiled cops and lethally ambitious dragons trying to foil our plucky duo in their vital mission. The one slightly annoying factor for me was the very dry, low-key narration by Susan Duerdan which didn’t line up all that well with set-piece action scenes. I got AWFULLY fed up with that dropping cadence… However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker as Cogman’s vivid scene-setting, clever plotting and deft characterisation managed to rise above the rather monotonous delivery. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novik
BLURB:“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I’ve gone back to read my original review – and realised that I gobbled this one up in two greedy gulps and now, listening to it again some four years later, I’m rather horrified at just how much I’d forgotten. It generally stands up very well to hearing the story unfold and I fell in love with Agnieszka all over again. But I was a bit startled when a very graphic sex scene suddenly appeared right in the middle of all the magical mayhem and seemed very out of place. I’ve discovered it’s a bit more of a hassle to fast-forward through bits you don’t want to hear, than it is when reading them…
Other than that, I loved the narrative drive, the story structure and the ending – though why anyone thought this was a suitable YA read frankly astounds me. 9/10