One of my targets for last year was to go back and resume following series that I’ve loved, but subsequently neglected in favour of the new and shiny. This is one of those series – I have formerly loved this series – as my review of Revelation makes clear. So I got hold of Lamentation to see if Matthew Shardlake’s adventures still had the power to enthrall…
BLURB – truncated: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr. Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal of this very chatty blurb that reveals far too many early plotpoints in the book.
REVIEW: Shardlake is older and during this period of religious tumult, continuing working as a lawyer and trying to keep his head down. For he no longer has the patronage of Thomas Cromwell and during some of his former adventures, managed to incur the wrath of some powerful men, especially Richard Rich. I very much liked how Shardlake is affected by his traumatic involvement in the sinking of the Mary Rose, which gives a nice ring of authenticity to his character. And I also enjoyed how he is unable to resist the draw of once more getting involved in matters concerning the highest in the land – even though such involvement comes at a very high cost.
He has loved Catherine Parr from afar for a long time – and there is no one in his own life to blunt the edges of his yawning loneliness, which seeps through his account. Often shunned and verbally abused for having a hunched back, he is nonetheless a highly intelligent, sensitive man with a brilliant mind. Sansom’s characterisation is pitch perfect – and I also love his descriptions of London, where a sudden crackdown leading to four public burnings, has left many feeling frightened and exposed. As for Shardlake, he now finds it difficult to gain any real comfort from praying to God – a response to an increasing sense of disgust at the lack of religious freedom. Despite the risk to himself, and to his long-time right-hand man, Jack Barack, Shardlake gets involved in one of the most dangerous cases of his life. With almost catastrophic consequences…
I whipped through this fairly hefty book (600+ pages) in just four days, because once I’d picked it up, it was very, very difficult to put down again. Once more Shardlake beautifully blends historic fact with gripping fiction – and this being the reign of Henry VIII – the fact is every bit as enthralling as the fiction. I’m so very glad I decided to make this the year where I went back and completed series I’d dropped – because Lamentation is one of my reading highlights of the year. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of this series and your taste runs to well-written historical fiction, then give yourself a Christmas present and get hold of the first book, Dissolution. 10/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erkine – release date 10th June, 2021
#historical cosy country house whodunit
BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.
Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.
I can’t lie – once again it was the cover that caught my attention. And then I read the blurb and I was sold. I’ve been reading a fair number of murder mysteries, particularly historical ones. And this one seems to have more than a nod to our ongoing pandemic, but with a slightly humorous overtone – which suits me down to the ground just now.
I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.
BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.
Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.
Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…
REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.
Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.
Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.
Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.
The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I saw the blurb for this one and decided I needed something a bit different to break up my usual diet of SFF, so requested it. I’m so very glad I was approved for this interesting read…
BLURB: 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart. 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter…
I’ve truncated the blurb here, as afterwards I think it gets far too chatty and it’s better if you read the next plot twist in the book.
REVIEW: Three young women, all remarkable in completely differing ways and from entirely different backgrounds, are brought together in the pressure cooker that is Bletchley Park during World War II. I recall the furore caused when news of what went on at Bletchley Park first leaked out for general consumption, back in 1974. Those involved were sworn to absolute secrecy and they abided by it, from the typists and secretarial support through to the code breakers. We are given a ringside seat to the activities of Bletchley through the perspective of three women – Osla, Mab and Beth. For the other remarkable aspect of Bletchley Park is that women were permitted to work alongside men. Admittedly, they didn’t get the same pay – but given that they proved to be every bit as brilliant and dedicated as the men, they very quickly were established within the oddball community that was Bletchley.
This gripping story, much of it based upon the lives of actual people who worked at Bletchley, charts the highs and lows of working in such a pressured environment, where everyone was scaldingly aware that their success in breaking crucial codes affected the course of the war. We get to see how working in conditions of absolute secrecy created extra twists of pressure – men working eighteen-hour shifts under difficult conditions, only to be spat at in the street for not being in uniform, or ostracised by family members for not fighting for King and Country, for instance. Even if they resigned, they were still forbidden to join the Armed Forces, just in case they were captured and gave up information about Bletchley.
Quinn weaves a story of love, loss and heartbreak in amongst the febrile atmosphere of the war, where the friendship between the three young women is smashed apart. I thought the dual timelines worked very well and that the romance between Osla and the dashing Prince Philip was particularly deftly handled – anyone who has seen pictures of him as a young man knows that he was every bit as handsome as Quinn describes him.
The gripping climax of this story made it difficult to put down and I really enjoyed the exciting denouement. I highly recommend that you also read the Appendix where Quinn describes how she wove details of actual people within her story and also provides a potted history of Bletchley House, itself. Highly recommended for fans of historical adventures set during WWII. While I obtained an arc of The Rose Code from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
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 Roman warfare images. I’ve selected The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 of The Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe.
This edition was produced by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in September 1993. It has grown on me, as I like the artwork, which is clear and works well in thumbnail. My main grizzle is that eagle standard, which seems to be propped up against the main character’s shoulder in rather a peculiar way. I find it distracting. And I’m not all that keen on the highly stylised font, which says 1920s and 30s, rather than taking me back to Rome.
Published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), this looks to me to be a cover tie-in to the film. The protagonists look suitably grim and grubby and I like the epic sense of the battle going on in the background, rather than just a few chaps waving shields and pilums around. That is also a wonderfully threatening sky… However, I am disappointed in the choice of font, which blends far too well into the background to effectively stand out or draw the eye.
This edition, published by Oxford University Press in March 2000, has chosen to focus on the famous legion standard – the golden eagle. It looks fabulous, especially as it has been angled to catch the light and look suitably dramatic. So it’s a crying shame that all that impact and awesomeness is then promptly squandered by cluttering up the cover with that block of unnecessary chatter. WHY couldn’t the bit about the one million copies sold go on the back, under the blurb? This is so nearly my favourite…
This Dutch edition, produced by Clavis in 2003, also features the legion’s standard. This design has deliberately chosen to reproduce the sense of the 1950s – this book was first published in 1954 – with the textbox and artwork. While I’m not a fan of textboxes, I respect the care and thought that has gone into this one and it is so very nearly my favourite. I particularly like the red font, which pleasingly picks up the shade of tassels flying from the standard. It’s details like this that make a cover eye-catching.
This German edition, published by dtv in 1971, is my choice for this week. I love the vintage feel of the artwork and the clean, uncluttered look. Other than the author and title font, the only other detail is the publisher’s logo – what a lovely change to see the whole of the cover design unimpeded by blobs or chatter! I read this series when I was at school and while this isn’t the same cover as the copy I had – it’s not that different. Which is your favourite?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
At least it’s been a lot milder this week, but there has been a lot of wind and rain – so once again, I’ve stayed indoors. The major family issue that was hanging over us has finally been lifted, which is HUGE relief. I’m floating around a foot off the floor, now I’m no longer weighed down with the worry of it😊. It’s been a busy week – I’ve been editing Flame & Blame, the first novel in the Picky Eaters series, and completed the plot outline for Council of Dragons, which is the third book. During that process, I realised I still have lots of story to tell regarding dear old Castellan, so have also got plotpoints for the next trilogy in the series after that – Claws & Queens, Tumult in the Timescape and An Anarchy of Elves.
The photos this week are part of a walk we did this morning along the beach at very low tide. You can see views of the pier we’re normally walking along from below!
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?
This was one of my favourite Discworld novels when I first read it longer ago than I care to recall – and listening to it was pure joy. As ever, when hearing Pratchett’s writing read aloud, I’m struck by its quality and truth. Review to follow.
The King’s Evil – Book 3 in the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor London 1667. In the Court of Charles II, it’s a dangerous time to be alive – a wrong move may lead to disgrace, exile or death. The discovery of a body at Clarendon House, the palatial home of one of the highest courtiers in the land, could therefore have catastrophic consequences.
James Marwood, a traitor’s son, is ordered to cover up the murder. But the dead man is Edward Alderley, the cousin of one of Marwood’s acquaintances. Cat Lovett had every reason to want her cousin dead. Since his murder, she has vanished, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. I’ve now caught up with this classy, gripping series and just in time – for I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered the arc to the latest book in this series, which is coming out in April – The Royal Secret. As ever, this one held me throughout and I love the continued development of the two main protagonists and the tense atmosphere in the wake of the English Civil War. Review to follow.
Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox In The Heat Of Battle The hard-won cease-fire between the battling immortals doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, human surgeon Dr. Petra Robichaud is back on the frontlines, and starring in yet another of the oracle’s prophesies. As the only healer who can talk to the dead, Petra doesn’t have much choice about her role—even when her breathtaking ex-lover shows up at exactly the wrong time…
Once again, I fell into the trap of requesting the book without realising exactly where it is within the series – and found when it arrived that it was the third book in the series, not the second one. I decided to go for it and read and review it anyway. If I have time to go back and get hold of the second one I will. As it happened, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it did a good job of concluding this quirky, enjoyable series. Review to follow.
The Court of Mortals – Book 3 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster Marrying your fae prince shouldn’t be this hard. Hetta’s family now know Wyn’s true identity, but that doesn’t mean they approve of their relationship. Princes are all very well – but Wyn’s not human, for all he’s spent ten years pretending to be.
With gossip spreading like wildfire, Hetta and Wyn receive a royal summons. The Queen of Prydein has heard the rumours of fae intruders, and she’s not letting Wyn go until she’s satisfied he and his people aren’t a threat. Convincing her would be a lot easier if someone wasn’t trying to blacken Wyn’s name – and if his sister wasn’t trying to kill him.
For mortal politics aren’t the only problem the pair have to face. The Court of Ten Thousand Spires is still without a ruler, and the only way out may be for Wyn to assume the throne himself – meaning he and Hetta can never be together. I inhaled this one… This series has been one of the highlights of my reading year so far – and in August, the final book comes out. And I’ll be right there at the front of queue waiting for it. Review to follow.
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?
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 ROMANCE covers. I’ve selected A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which I read as a girl and absolutely loved. I know it’s not a classic love story – but if the hero actually gets himself crucified for the love of his life, that’s got to be romantic, right?
This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 is one of the better ones, I think. I like the bright yellow which contrasts well with the black silhouette figures. The juxtaposition of Jean and Joe works really well and I think the Japanese guard in the background also gives a sense of threat. What I don’t like is the lack of contrast between the title font colour and the cover. The title disappears – in fact initially I thought the book was called Vintage Classics…
Published in August 1985 by Ballentine, this is an interesting cover. It looks as though the original was painted in watercolours, which gives an oddly insubstantial look to the hero and heroine. I did wonder if this was because the cover had faded over time, but there are several renditions of it on Goodreads, and they all have the same slightly transparent look to the figures. That said, I think it has a rather lovely charm all of its own.
This Kindle edition, published in January 2013 is my favourite. I’m guessing that it takes the image from an earlier publication – this book was originally published in 1950 and has been in print ever since – but I really like it. And yes – don’t faint, but I even like the textbox in this one, too. It doesn’t intrude on the powerful images of a very ragged Jean staring straight out at us, as if begging for help. With the terrible procession of women and children who were forced on a death march across Malaya in the background. The lettering really pops against the background and its styling gives a strong sense of the period in which the story is set.
Published by Pan in 1968, this cover is so very nearly my favourite. The strong yellow background immediately draws the eye, giving a sense of the heat. I love the grouping of the characters, with Jean hunched and clearly in distress and the Japanese guard scowling in the background. The lettering is bold and clearly shows the title, even in thumbnail. So why isn’t this one my favourite? Because there is something a bit stagey and contrived about the way the woman is sitting forward, ensuring we get a good view of her cleavage.
This Dutch edition, published in 1952 by Zuid-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, is a cover design inspired by the film of the book. And the Jean Paget looking anxiously over her shoulder is taken straight from the poster featuring Virginia McKenna. The problem with this one is that the textbox in this cover does rather squash the image. And the colours, given that this is set in a tropical country, are curiously cool, so don’t give a sense of the heat. So which one is your favourite?
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
I have dusted off this review – which I first posted back in October 2010, nearly ten years ago – in honour of Naomi Novik’s recent release, A Deadly Education. Her Temeraire series is a real joy – and is one of the few series that I have been seriously tempted to reread…
If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.
The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.
It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow… As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.
While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.
In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast, reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series. 9/10