That amazing cover caught my eye, as did the intriguing blurb. And as I’m a sucker for good space opera, I immediately requested this one.
BLURB:Murder forces unlikely allies
On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped. A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery.
REVIEW: The strapline for this book is: Golden Girls meets The Expanse with a side of Babylon Five… Hm – not sure about that one. The older women that feature in this sci-fi adventure thriller are far tougher and grimmer than the protagonists in Golden Girls. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they are women of a certain age. I liked both Noo Okereke and Meiko Ogawa very much – though it took me a while to nail the names. The author didn’t do his western readers any favours by insisting on giving us two unfamiliar surnames starting with the same consonant.
I did enjoy the social dynamic and the political setup. As this story is character-led, it took a while for the full scope of the world to unfold – but once things started really kicking off, the narrative moved forward at full pelt. It was difficult to put this one down, as the stakes just kept on piling up against our plucky protagonists. Appel writes the action really well – I liked the weaponry and tech toys, as well as the cultural differences between the factions which were well portrayed.
All in all, this is a cracking story, full of incident and tension that works well with a solidly depicted world and strong characters. My main concern is that the story leaves some dangling plotpoints that need to be cleared up – and there’s no indication that this is the first book in a series. I would be very sorry if this turns out to be a standalone. Highly recommended for space opera fans. While I obtained an arc of Assassin’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
A very happy Fourth of July to all my American friends – I hope you have a lovely day.
It’s been an odd week. On the plus side, we celebrated little Eliza’s birthday on Wednesday – I can’t quite believe that she is already three years old – where has the time gone? My daughter arranged for her to have a session at Outward Bound, where there is a huge soft play area. Her brothers crawled through tunnels with her, helped her up steps and ushered her down slides, while she duly bossed them around and generally had a wonderful time. I was able to drive myself there, as it is only ten minutes up the road from where I live. Now I have a walking stick, I was able to get out of the car and walk across the endless acreage of the car park without any help. Though it’s surprising how much BIGGER everywhere seems when you move at the speed of a dozing snail. It was lovely being able to see the birthday girl and give her a present and card (a batgirl dress in black and gold netting, with mask), and also see the rest of the family, who I really miss. The pics this week show Eliza and her brothers on their birthday outing, and more wilderness scenes from my overgrown garden.
The rest of the week, I’ve been watching Wimbledon and trying – and failing – to do more than move between the bed and the settee. I’m aware that I’ve so much to be grateful for – but this week, I’ve found it tough. My life is on hold and I’ve no idea when I will become well enough to resume my former busy schedule. Or if I will ever recover sufficiently to do so. I need to cling to the fact that I am able to occasionally write reviews and post them. Though depressingly my wordage for June didn’t even make 10,000 words, which is the lowest I’ve recorded since I started keeping track of my annual wordcount in 2013. When is a writer not a writer – when she doesn’t write!! Thank goodness for books. If I couldn’t regularly escape between the covers of a variety of lovely reads, I’d be a gibbering wreck by now.
Last week I read:
Patterns in the Dark – Book 4 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker Everyone knows dragons have been extinct for over a thousand years. Everyone is wrong. At least one dragon remains, and military scientists from the Cofah Empire are experimenting with its blood, using the magical substance to power deadly new weapons that could be used to bring the world to its knees.
That’s a concern for Zirkander, Cas, and the rest of the Iskandians, but all Tolemek wants is to find his missing sister. The last time he saw her, their father had locked her in an asylum because of a mental illness with no cure. Now the military has taken her. What use the Cofah have for her, Tolemek can only guess, but he is certain she is in danger. He must save her before it’s too late. But her fate is inexplicably tied to the dragon’s, and he must find it to find her. I’m working my way through this series far too fast! And that’s because it’s becoming addictive, as Buroker keeps on delivering books full of action, enjoyable characters and quirky humour. The big bonus in this one is that we finally come face to face with a dragon – yay! Unsurprisingly, Buroker is now one of my favourite authors – and I’m delighted to see that she’s written a LOT😊.
Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.
A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery. This was another enjoyable, action-packed read, full of incident and appealing characters. I loved the nuanced, political world. And I really loved that the main characters were of a certain age – though still willing and able to mix it up with the wrong-headed youngsters. Review to follow.
Paladin’s Grace – Book 1 of The Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year…
Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters a fugitive named Grace in an alley and witnesses an assassination attempt gone wrong. Now the pair must navigate a web of treachery, beset on all sides by spies and poisoners, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind…
And yet, ANOTHER lovely, entertaining read – this one had me howling with laughter during some of the romance scenes. I love it when an author successfully highlights just how funny passion can be😊. And yet, there is also plenty of adventure and tension, too. And I’m delighted to note that there are two more books in this series, so I now know where some of my birthday money is going…
The Daydreamer Detective Opens a Tea Shop – Book 3 of the Miso Cosy Mystery series by Steph Gennaro Mei Yamagawa’s bad luck is almost at an end…
Her tea shop is a week away from opening, she and Yasahiro have planned a trip away, and the future is looking bright and hopeful. But when Yasahiro’s ex-fiancée, Amanda, shows up unexpectedly, demanding his time and presence, all of their plans dissolve… Annoyingly, it wasn’t until I’d nearly finished this one that I realised I’d read Books 2 and 3 out of sequence. However, that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this cosy contemporary murder mystery set in Japan. I really like Mei’s character – and I’ve edited the blurb somewhat, because I didn’t bother to read it before tucking into the book. And got a real shock when I discovered who exactly had been murdered… A charming, engrossing read that has me keen to return to this quirky and different world. Review to follow.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.
BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.
Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.
Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .
REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.
Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.
We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.
Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.
All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.
I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.
It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.
The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Nevil Shute’s books. Last week I featured A Town Like Alice on my Friday Face-off, which reminded me just how much I loved his books. I’ve gone for the older covers, though there are lots of options for each of these titles. I absolutely loved Requiem for Wren, which I cried buckets over, and In the Wet (published in 1953) which goes forward in time to 1983 – and had nightmares about On the Beach. But I loved all his books. What about you – have you read any of these and if so, which are your favourites?And which of these covers do you like best?
It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
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. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever. Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.
Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.
Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe. Just how much can one lone spaceship do? This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…
The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice? I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation. I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.
Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance. Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you. This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.
The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – The Relentless Moon is to follow.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We weren’t around last Sunday, hence my absence. It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday night we helped celebrate my grandson’s 11th birthday – I can’t quite believe it… Where has the time gone? My writing club had a Zoom get-together on Wednesday, where I read out my very lame lyrics of an imaginary 1980s pop song, and we chatted about our writing projects. And tried to recall what it was like when we used to sit around a real kitchen table, eating cake and downing mugs of tea. On Thursday, I gave a short presentation via Zoom, again, to the West Sussex Writers’ meeting on the results of the Non-Fiction Competition, which I’d been judging. It was lovely to see many familiar faces, including a number of former Creative Writing students. And on Friday, I went over to look after little Eliza while my daughter listened to a lecture on… you guessed it – Zoom! We brought the boys back here to stay overnight and took them back home yesterday.
I am loving Sci Fi Month – thank you so much to Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for hosting this marvellous event. On the writing front, I’m still working on Picky Eaters 2 – though it’s turning out to be rather too long to be a quick, easy read, so I’m probably going to be splitting up Castellan’s adventures.
My photos this week are from a rather soggy garden…
Last week I read:
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.
Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. This quirky fantasy with a difference was an engrossing, enjoyable read, while the story went off in unexpected directions.
Angel Six Echo by Robert Appleton Armed with a fabled combat suit left to her by a dying warrior race, Gabby Rojas enters the deadliest standoff of the war as a rogue sniper with one goal: to keep her husband alive at all costs. Dalton is a high school teacher, not a soldier, but he’s volunteered to fight for the good of the colonies, against her advice. Gabby, on the other hand, is a black-ops prodigy who turned her back on the military years ago. The consequences of re-entering the fray alone like this, wielding the power of her extraordinary armoured suit, could tip the balance of power in the galaxy. This military sci fi adventure, featuring a super-soldier wife who goes rogue to rescue her clever, geeky husband, who ill-advisedly joins up, is an entertaining, action-packed read. I just couldn’t figure out exactly why happily married Dalton wanted to join up in the first place… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Son of Neptune – Book 2 of The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan PERCY IS CONFUSED. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth.
HAZEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem—when the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wishes she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.
FRANK IS A KLUTZ. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery—although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely—enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.
Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven. This spinoff from the Percy Jackson series delivers the same witty, action-packed adventures that made the original series so much fun to listen to – and I’m delighted we’ve more Riordan goodness stored on my Kindle. Mini-review to follow.
I was very impressed by the quality of writing in Mascarenhas’s novel The Psychology of Time Travel – see my review. So when I saw this one and realised it was by the same author, I requested it.
BLURB: The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop. Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…
REVIEW: This book may be fantasy, rather than science fiction, but there were a couple of aspects of the writing that I recognised in common with The Psychology of Time Travel. The main protagonists were women and they weren’t innately likeable. However, that didn’t stop me bonding with both Hazel and, in particular, Persephone. Mostly because she has had a very raw deal.
Ironically, although the founders of the Kendricks famous doll-making business were all women, these days it is the men who get to be Sorcerers and take the key roles for themselves. Persephone is convinced that she is destined to become a doll-maker – including adding the vital magical ingredient that is denied all the women now working within the business, no matter how talented they are. However, she is only permitted to work in the shop and when she isn’t, it is taken for granted by the rest of the Family that she will, somehow, keep her embittered and drunken father, Briar, in check. The gamechanger is the sudden appearance of a handsome stranger, who claims to be the long-lost descendant of the sister who was thought to have died in childbirth.
Larkin is taken on, though treated with great suspicion by the current CEO of Kendricks, and is expected to work on more mundane tasks while he proves his worth. I love the accumulation of incidents and details – until a certain event crashes across this small, close-knit community with the force of a grenade. I was thoroughly caught up by the fallout and stayed up far too late to discover what happened next – and no… Whatever else this book is, it isn’t remotely predictable.
I loved the passion and ambition exhibited by the two main female protagonists. Persephone is socially awkward – the last person you’d want to be the face of Kendricks – but she is tenacious, clever and doggedly persistent. All the characters in this intriguing, different story ping off the page with their almost Dickensian vividness. I’m going to remember this one for a very long time – an accomplished story which went in an unexpected direction and took me to a surprising ending, that nonetheless was very satisfying. Highly recommended for fans of unusual fantasy tales in a contemporary setting. While I obtained an arc of The Thief on the Winged Horse from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I am a real fan of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series – her interesting, nuanced characters and strongly atmospheric settings have entertained me for years. So I was delighted to be approved to read this second book in her new series, featuring another spiky female protagonist. See my review of The Stranger Diaries, the first book in the series.
BLURB: PS: thanks for the murders. The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death. But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her… And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to… And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure… Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.
REVIEW: This book continues the strong literary theme that started in the first book, The Stranger Diaries. Peggy, an old lady who lived in sheltered accommodation in Shoreham-by-Sea, is involved with a number of crime writers. As Harbinder starts to investigate her death to try and clear up whether her death is natural, she finds herself dealing with the publishing industry. It is great fun to see what a successful writer (Griffiths) thinks of the industry that assists her in getting her books out to her readers – I very much enjoyed the crime writing conference set in Scotland.
However, it wouldn’t be much of a murder mystery if that was the high point of the story. What I loved with this one is the sheer puzzle that initial death poses and what happens subsequently. There is a fabulous cast of characters. Oddly, Harbinder very much takes a back seat during the investigation of this one, but I found that I didn’t mind. Natalka and the odd crew she gathers around her do a reasonably good job of tracking potential suspects. While Harbinder grits her teeth and gets on with trying to sort out the latest death that occurred in Shoreham, not having the freedom to go flitting off to Scotland after a tenuous lead.
I found it difficult to put down this quirky, entertaining murder mystery with an enjoyable denouement that managed to give those caught up in the investigation, an extra dimension to their lives that they had been lacking before the first murder. It’s a neat trick to pull off and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended for fans of well-crafted contemporary murder mysteries without too much gritty grimness or gore. While I obtained an arc of The Postscript Murders via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I loved the cover of this one – and the premise, which sounded great. However, I don’t think I’d appreciated just how gritty a read it would prove to be – but that’s down to me rather than Harrow. It’s not her fault that this book appeared at a time when all our lives are being twisted into something we can no longer call normal, with no end in sight. So I have put all those considerations into my back pocket as much as possible, because a book of this calibre deserves to be read mindfully.
BLURB: In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
REVIEW: This is an alternate history, of sorts. Because just imagine that instead of women being discriminated against because they are physically weaker and often objects of desire, often encumbered by helpless children – there is an extra twist of fear. That they are witches. And when they were witches, women were often in charge. Until the nexus of their power was burnt, along with every practitioner the witch-hunters could get hold of. But many women still have a few household charms that they whisper to their daughters, when no one is looking, with bits of advice on how to stay safe. Except for the Eastwood sisters, who’s mother died in childbirth, leaving them to the mercy of their brutal father – and a beloved grandmother, who lived in a tumbledown cottage in a forest. Theirs was an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – and from being a tight-knit unit, they were finally ripped apart in a welter of anger and betrayal.
And this is where the book starts… I found it initially a hard read. The setting is in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, where capitalism is red in tooth and claw and workers’ rights are simply not considered. Especially if those workers are women and children. The writing is beguiling – poetic and beautiful and each sister’s strength and weaknesses are portrayed with insightful compassion. I did worry that this was going to be one of those beautifully written books with an ultimately bleak ending. And I hope it won’t be regarded as a spoiler if I reveal that I was mightily relieved when it didn’t turn out to be the case.
I am also conscious that this review sounds as if there isn’t much going on – but this book is packed with intrigue, tension and sudden, violent bursts of action that had me reading far later than I’d wanted to. In short, it is a stunning portrayal of a lovely premise – I particularly enjoyed Harrow’s playing about with the wording of nursery rhymes. And I highly recommend this passionate, moving book to anyone who enjoys reading about witches. While I obtained an arc of The Once and Future Witches via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10