Tag Archives: historical adventure

Friday Faceoff – Nobody likes a clown at midnight…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is clowns. To be honest I’ve found this one a bit of a nightmare, but have finally tracked down this Alexandre Dumas, offering – Chicot the Jester.

 

chicotThis is the cover produced by Boomer Books in July 2008 and is my favourite. It is apparently taken from a painting and I love the grin, the sense this young man has been around, knows the score and enjoys his life.

 

chicot1This Latvian cover produced by Vārniene in 1993 also appears to refer to a classical painting. My ignorance of classical art means that I cannot tell if this is a book cover artist’s effort or the reproduction of an actual picture, but the sheen on the silk dress is lovely and eye-catching.

 

chicot2This edition is presumably the cover of the free classical edition available on Kindle and accounts for the drab, generic effort featuring a likeness of Dumas instead of trying to tempt the reader to pick this one off the shelf.

 

chicot3This Spanish edition, produced in June 2013 by Createspace features a young woman, presumably the woman of Monsoreau of the title. It’s a lovely portrait and I look at it and wonder who she was. Which cover is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Oranges and lemons…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s theme is fruit, so I have selected Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne.

 

 

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This is the cover produced by Pan Macmillan in August 2012. The apple sitting on top of the old manuscripts is both spot on in terms of relating back to the content and providing an intriguing cover. The italic styling on the title font also works well against the weathered wooden backdrop. There is a lot going on in this apparently simple cover which nevertheless conveys a sense of the historical content of this book. This is my favourite.

 

 

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This Dutch cover, published by Van Holkema & Warendorf, in October 2012 is also beautiful. The gold-etched detailing against the bright orange is beautiful and eye-catching. It certainly is an unusual design here and would have me reaching to examine it more closely – I don’t know if Dutch covers habitually use a single, bright colour in such a manner, but it is certainly effective.

 

 

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This Italian cover, produced in March 2013 is completely different to the others and refers more to the modern strand of the story, rather than the timeslip element. I’m not sure it works all that well. The story is set in York and the landscape with the wide starry sky and blurred lighted buildings as a backdrop doesn’t convey the city to me.

 

 

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However, this French cover is a far stronger offering. Again, apparently simple – the apple hidden behind the girl’s back gives a sense of secrecy and unease. It’s clever and arresting – my only grizzle is the uninspiring font with the jarring dark pink that looks as if its been just plonked there, which lets the cover down.
Which is your favourite?

Review of Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

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I love Wilson’s books. They helped my granddaughter come to terms with her parents’ breakup as she was able to read about other children facing the same devastating issue. We also started the awesome Hetty Feather books, set in Victorian England, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I pounced on it with glee…

clovermoonClover Moon’s imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage – and the chance – to break free? And could leaving her family be just what she needs to find a place that really feels like home?

I came to this book with high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. Clover is a spirited, tough little girl living in a Victorian slum, spending her days looking after her younger brothers and sisters and cooking and cleaning alongside her abusive step-mother, Mildred. Her character pings off the page as we learn of her daily life, busy entertaining the smaller children and her spirits and vivid imagination often getting her into a great deal of trouble. Back in Victorian times, that meant beatings. And Clover gets more than her fair share of those.

However, Wilson has perfectly judged the tone. Clover could so easily have become a victimised, downtrodden little waif, undernourished, poorly dressed and dirty as she is. But she’s as tough as nails, not averse to scrapping for what she needs and in her own words, regularly lies to avoid getting into trouble.

I picked up this book, intending to read a couple of chapters before putting it back down and then getting on with my work. Only I didn’t. It simply would not be put down – the story gripped me and wouldn’t let go until the end. Wilson takes me right into the heart of Victorian England and having studied history as part of my teaching degree, I would have become quickly irritated if the facts and depiction had jarred. They didn’t. Like the companion books about Hetty Feather, Wilson has clearly immersed herself in this period and every character bounced off the page and into my imagination.

I’m not the target audience for this book, being too old by far too many decades – but if you are ever looking for a book to make the Victorian era fully spring to life for children between the ages of nine and twelve, then I recommend Clover Moon. And for fans of Hetty Feather, she also makes a brief appearance in this page-turner, too. A useful, informative addition – at the back of the book are some facts about how children lived in Queen Victoria’s reign, a potted history of how child protection gradually became law and details of how children today can contact Childline. This book is highly recommended and the fact this arc was provided by the publisher via NetGalley has not affected my honest opinion of Clover Moon.
9/10

Sunday Post – 24th July

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Yippee! Summer finally blazed into being in our damp corner of the world… Finally I get to shed my winter weight clothes, wake up to sun streaming through the window and have the back door open while cooking.

I’m now timelining The Sunblinded trilogy and have got halfway through Dying for Space as the next stage of the editing process. It’s been a busy week with a writing group meeting on Wednesday evening; the last lesson of the year with my autistic student; my son coming down for a few days; out celebrating a birthday with a friend and my one-day Summer Surgery writing course at Northbrook on Friday.northbrookcollege

It was lovely to meet up with a number of my regular students and welcome a talented young writer. We had a great day, catching up with students’ writing during the summer break and working on writing exercises – the bonus being the promised spectacular thunderstorms decided to stay away.

While I’m fitter and feeling better than I have for a decade – despite not losing any weight, my clothes are all noticeably looser – I have struggled with eczema around my eyes for a month, which has been steadily getting worse. So this week, I turned to Debbie Watkins, one of my writing buddies, who also specialises in health screening. I’ve changed my diet so radically in the last few months, I knew it would take me ages to work out which food I’m eating was causing the problem. Debbie nailed it, giving me some necessary supplements and a detox programme and now the eczema is beginning to ease down – thankfully the culprit turned out to be chickpeas, something I can easily avoid.

Yesterday, my mate Mhairi Simpson came over for the day and we completed on our tax returns online  and submitted them as a team effort. What would have been a daunting, miserable business alone, became far more of a semi-hilarious adventure when working through the form together. And they’re now done for a whole year – yessss!

This week I’ve managed to read:
Shift – by Em Bailey
Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.
shiftShe obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After “the incident,” Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past. But there’s no avoiding Miranda Vaile. As mousy Miranda edges her way into the popular group, right up to the side of queen bee Katie – and pushes the others right out – only Olive seems to notice that something strange is going on.

This YA read has some interesting twists and turns, giving an eerie twist on the intense teen relationships, while Miranda grapples to come to terms with a family upheaval. I shall be reviewing it in due course.

 

 

 

Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter by Steve Carroll and Jeff Anderson
Aeden is young man with no memory, adrift in a world of riddles. His only friend – a man hated for his Riddler's Fayrerace and creed, their only hope – a nun on the run for opposing the Holy Wars. Meanwhile a veteran of the Third Crusade is hunting Aeden, believing him to be the clue to discovering the greatest secret in alchemy – the identity of the First Matter.

Steve Carroll is a fellow tutor at Northbrook, a talented artist and a really great bloke – none of which would count if I didn’t also think his series of graphic novels set in the Middle Ages was something special. This first instalment has recently been re-released and I reviewed it during the week.

 

 

 

Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
solarexpressYou can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation. The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

This enjoyable sci fi adventure took me a while to get through, given it is reasonably densely written and littered with techie detail – all adding to the story, but meaning I couldn’t just burn through the prose at my normal reading speed. It was worth the effort, though – I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it here in due course.

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 17th July

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Woman of the House – Book 1 of the StoryWorld series by Jane Lythell

Teaser Tuesday – Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Review of Speak by Louisa Hall

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders

Friday Faceoff – Who’s at the Door? Featuring Overbite by Meg Cabot

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter by Steve Carroll and Jeff Anderson

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

Adventures in Science Fiction Art: Haunting Landscapes and Cityscapes: The 1970s Italian SF Art of Allison aka Mariella Anderlini
https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/adventures-in-science-fiction-art-haunting-landscapes-and-cityscapes-the-1970s-italian-sf-art-of-allison-a-k-a-mariella-anderlini/
This site is a goldmine if you enjoy perusing the extraordinary artwork that flowered during the ‘golden age’ of science fiction. Joachim Boaz also reviews a wide range of books written during that time. But this particular article features some really beautiful covers…

Another book cover feature – this week’s Friday Face-off was nailed by Lynn’s wonderful selection of covers for the children’s classic The Secret Garden
https://lynns-books.com/2016/07/22/i-am-the-keymaster-are-you-the-gatekeeper/
Check this out if you fancy a delightful stroll down memory lane.

Viv Tuffnell’s articles are some of the best written in the blogosphere – and this one is right up there – Lost books, libraries, L-space and the odour of bananas
https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/lost-books-l-space-libraries-and-the-odour-of-bananas/
She writes excellent books, too…

By contrast, this offering is short – The Meaning of Travel in 5 Quotes – https://memoirsonthemove.com/2016/07/17/the-meaning-of-travel-in-5-quotes/

The grandchildren will be arriving this coming week, so I have to get going and do some housework before they arrive. Let’s just hope the weather stays fine – this is a fabulous part of the world to spend a summer, so long as it isn’t wet and rainy! Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Graphic Novel Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter By Steve Carroll and Jeff Anderson

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I need to declare an interest – Steve is a fellow tutor at Northbrook College and a thoroughly nice chap. That said, I wouldn’t have volunteered to spread the word about Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter if I didn’t believe in the quality of the story. Steve and Jeff are delighted that Riddler’s Fayre is in the process of being re-released with a new publisher, with changes to more closely reflect the nuanced taleRiddler's Fayre they had originally envisaged.

Aeden is young man with no memory, adrift in a world of riddles. His only friend – a man hated for his race and creed, their only hope – a nun on the run for opposing the Holy Wars. Meanwhile a veteran of the Third Crusade is hunting Aeden, believing him to be the clue to discovering the greatest secret in alchemy – the identity of the First Matter.

As you may gather from the blurb, this is set in 1199 in the Middle Ages and there is a lovely map at the front of the book, along with a short prologue, giving us plenty of information about the period in order to appreciate the story. Aeden is a young man struggling to cope – and the only clue to his identity are a number of peculiar tattoos on his arm. Meanwhile, a returnee from the Crusades, Ludovic Parvell, is on a mission of his own. A mission that will ensure he will be on a collision course with Aeden and those looking out for him. The artwork is lovely – in graphic novels, the characterisation is achieved with the dialogue and the drawing. Facial expressions, gestures and their movements tell you as much about who they are and their role in the story as what is contained in the speech bubbles. In a good quality graphic novel, the drawings provide you with a rich seam of information, as each page adds another layer onto the story. Anderson has done a lovely job.

The mood in the castle is effectively portrayed as brooding and ominous by the dark colours and confined settings, with Parvell’s uncertain temper kicking off as he snaps out orders to his apprehensive underlings. I really like the story arc – if I have a grizzle, it was that I was just really getting into the story when it suddenly stopped to be continued in the next slice of the adventure.

But if you enjoy graphic novels, this beautifully drawn and engrossing tale of religious intolerance and growing distrust of strangers may be set in the distant past, but it also has something to say about our own turbulent times.
9/10

Review of The Captain’s Daughter by Leah Fleming

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The Titanic disaster has spawned a number of books, and this is one of them. But the difference is it takes that historic event, following a handful of characters snagged by the tragedy to see what happens next in their lives.

thecaptainsdaughterFor May Smith stepping aboard the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, destined to take her, along with her husband Joe and baby Ellen, from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: America. But when the unsinkable Titanic hits an iceberg, May’s dreams are shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship, May loses her grip on Joe’s hand. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat and under the wing of first-class passenger Celeste Parkes. Minutes later, Captain Smith himself swims to the lifeboat and hands May her baby. Celeste does everything she can to keep the pair safe whilst in horror they watch the death throes of the mighty ship. As dawn arrives and the two women are rescued, a friendship is forged, one which is destined to transcend their social differences to last a lifetime.

This is a fascinating take on the most famous shipwreck in history. From that fateful night in 1912, we follow Celeste and May after their lives are changed forever by what happened to them. May, as a poor widow with a tiny daughter to care for, faces an uncertain future, while Celeste’s future is all too plainly laid out in front of her as she returns to a bullying husband. But against all the odds, these two women maintain their friendship and end up each helping the other during various crises during their lives.

However, there are other characters whose lives have been touched and altered by the loss of the Titanic without their even knowing it – and this book also charts their lives. Fleming’s characterisation is strong and her writing vivid and uncluttered. Historic novels need to depict a sense of the period without holding up the narrative pace. Fleming succeeds in doing this, while making the necessary jumps across her long narrative timeline without jarring or defusing the immediacy of her characters – which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look.

As she takes us down the years following the sinking of the Titanic, we are given a ringside seat through both World Wars, witnessing the subsequent tragic loss of life, while relationships are forged and broken. The events and the way they impact on the lives of Celeste, May and those close to them are entirely believable. I was pulled into the book, reading far later than I should have to discover what befalls the main characters.

I love Fleming’s perspective – she could have written something cosier and far less thought-provoking. As it is, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read and if you have any weakness at all for historical novels, then track down this offering. It is so much more than yet another rehash of the sinking of a famous ship.
8/10

Review of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

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While it isn’t my favourite genre, I do enjoy a well written historical novel and when I saw this had won the Richard and July ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, I was curious to see if I agreed with the Madleys.

Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is taken in at nearby Hatville Court. But the masters and servants of the grand estate prove cold and unwelcoming. Amy’s only friend and ally is the sparkling young heiress Aurelia Vennaway. So when Aurelia dies young, Amy is devastated. But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift.

This is a really interesting book. Those of you who recall Cecelia Ahern’s book PS, I Love You will have a basic idea of the overarching plot. But there are some important differences. Amy is very dependent on Aurelia as everyone else at Hatville Court remains hostile towards her and once Aurelia dies, as well as being grief-stricken, Amy is vulnerable in a world where young women have very few opportunities for earning their own living.Amysnow

Because the book is in Amy’s viewpoint, apart from a couple of short interludes, the character at the centre of the book who drives the narrative action – Aurelia – is filtered through her eyes. So we get a fascinating portrait of a highly strung, vibrant and intelligent young woman facing an inevitable early death while also trying to break out of the confines of a society with rigid expectations of what she must do. It is a poignant glimpse at a life cut short. Rees could have allowed this to collapse into a sentimental mess whereby Aurelia is portrayed as a complete victim and everyone speaks of her with tears in their eyes. Which would have been okay, I suppose. But Amy is totally reliant on Aurelia for any crumb of affection in a household where she is otherwise barely tolerated, so when her benefactress disappears for an unexpectedly long time, leaving her stranded at Hatville Court as a young teenager, she feels angry and betrayed.

These feelings are inevitably complicated by the knowledge that Aurelia is dying, and once she has gone and Amy flees Hatville Court, she still has very mixed feelings about the lost year when Aurelia dropped out of her life. And when she finds herself following a trail of letters arranged by Aurelia for her before she died, Amy embarks on this quest still conflicted.

It makes for a fascinating read and while there is the inevitable romance accompanying her adventures, the boy-meets-girl isn’t the storyline that powers the novel. And once Amy’s story appears to be resolved, as far as it can go, there is an unexpected twist at the end, which I really enjoyed – as a reader it gave me answers I needed, as well as a sense of sadness that the person who really needed to know this information would never learn it. Nicely done.

If you like your historical heroines to be doing more than spending time fluttering their eyelashes at some eligible dandy over a fan, then track this down. It’s a memorable read for all the right reasons.
10/10

Review of The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

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I saw the cover and read the first page, liked what I read so scooped this offering off the shelves in an impulsive moment. Would I enjoy it?

museumofextraNew York City, 1911. Meet Coralie, circus girl, web-fingered mermaid, shy only daughter of Professor Sardie and raised in the bizarre surroundings of his Museum of Extraordinary Things. And meet Eddie Cohen, a handsome young immigrant who has run away from his painful past and his Orthodox family to become a photographer, documenting life on the teeming city streets. One night by the freezing waters of the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles across Eddie, who has become enmeshed in the case of a missing girl, and the fates of these two outcasts collide as they search for their own identities in tumultuous times.

And there you have the slightly tweaked blurb. This story is told in through the viewpoints, both first and third person, of the two main protagonists, Coralie and Eddie. Hoffman has certainly done her homework and there is plenty of dense description of the early days of New York City as she pulls away from the immediacy of the first person viewpoints and into more a more panoramic, diffuse overview of their lives and the lives of those around them. However, I have to say that I found this switch from first into third person point of view for the same characters rather jarring and would have far preferred the immediacy and punch of the story if it had remained within the heads of the two fascinating characters caught up in this gothic tale. Much of the initial creepiness and isolation was diluted by packing in quite so much of the historical detail in the third person viewpoint.

Nevertheless this wasn’t the dealbreaker I at first feared it would be, for the simple reason that the main story running through this book is engrossing and original. Coralie and Eddie are both snared by their past, though Coralie’s plight is more extreme, being a virtual prisoner and forced to become an exhibit in her father’s freakshow as a mermaid. The rampant exploitation of anyone disadvantaged or weak is a strong theme throughout the book – perhaps rather heavy-handedly emphasised, as there is nothing subtle about Hoffman’s approach. However, there are some lyrically beautiful passages describing the marshy wilderness and wildlife on the margins of the then city, nowadays completely buried beneath tons of paving and concrete of Manhattan.

The fact remains that I finished reading this book several days ago and it still keeps popping into my head at odd moments. The intensity of the characters and gothic tone have woven a spell that won’t quite leave me alone, despite the book’s obvious flaws. I recommend it as an interesting, unusual read set in New York’s early years about two characters dealing with a bizarre situation that even today, would make headlines in all the newspapers.
7/10

Review of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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It was the title that prompted me to scoop this offering off the shelf – and the fact that the book cover looks entertaining. Would I enjoy it?

the100yearoldmanSitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not. Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals; several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.

Humour is such a very individual thing, isn’t it? The blurb on the book jacket used words like hilarious and incredibly funny and while I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be rolling around the bed in paroxysms of laughter, I was assuming I’d crack the odd smile. I didn’t. The book simply didn’t tweak my sense of humour.

However, that didn’t mean I disliked the book – it is a quirky, entertaining read. Allan is a likeable scamp, whose laid-back approach to life and constant thirst for vodka creates all sorts of mad-cap adventures. As his attempt to escape from his birthday party pitchforks him into a surreal series of mishaps when he encounters a young man with an attitude, and a large, heavy suitcase. Interleaving this farcical narrative, are flashbacks into Allan’s earlier life, charting his regular brushes with history.

It’s an entertaining take on the grimmer aspects of 20th century history. Allan finds himself right at the forefront of the race to make the first atom bomb, which draws down a lot of interest on him that isn’t particularly benign. Not that Allan is aware of it – his absolute disinterest in all things political means that the consequences of what is happening around him often bypasses him. He isn’t exactly stupid – he is just magnificently unaware… Yes – you are definitely required to suspend your belief. I could manage that for the sheer unpredictability of what would happen next – and the fact that the whole story moves along at a fair clip.

What I did find a bit more difficult, was the fact the narrative was largely in ‘tell’ mode. As a reader of a lot of genre fiction, I found this particular viewpoint increasingly grated on me – whether the original book is told in this manner is impossible for me to judge of course. It could simply be a by-product of a rather unsympathetic translation. And perhaps it could also explain why I didn’t find the book as rib-crackingly funny as the blurb claims. If the translation is in tell mode, it would sacrifice a lot of the immediacy and punchiness that I feel this book could have so nearly achieved, and didn’t.

Even so, it is an engaging book and if you are in search of something a little different, then give it a try – but don’t bank on howling with laughter throughout…
7/10

Review for The Witch’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Shadow Chronicles by Paula Brackston

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I picked up a copy of The Winter Witch at Fantasycon and was impressed with the quality of the writing – see my review here. So would I enjoy this earlier offering as much?

witch's daughterIn present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life for herself. She has spent the centuries in solitude, moving from place to place, surviving plagues, wars and the heartbreak that comes from immortality. Her loneliness comes to an abrupt end when she is befriended by a teenage girl called Tegan. Against her better judgement, Elizabeth opens her heart to Tegan and begins teaching her the ways of the Hedge Witch. But all this time she has been running – and this time around, she has someone else she needs to protect…

I really enjoyed this one. I’m a sucker for a well-told historical tale, and Brackston adroitly weaves the present day with the flashbacks into earlier episodes of Beth’s life. At no time is there any confusion and the periods described by Beth when she retells slices of her long life are both entertaining and vivid. She is an intriguing and layered personality – I found her completely believable, really enjoying her wariness and drive to atone for what initially happened to her. Brackston also handles the narrative tension extremely well – it would have been all too easy to get bogged down in a forest of historical detail as each scene is different.

Tegan is a refreshing contrast. Typical teenager, she is impressed with the skills Beth chooses to show her and yet initially is also resistant to being told what to do. They have a tussle of wills – a classical scenario between a young girl and an older woman. Brackston is very good at quickly developing nuanced, interesting relationships between her characters without unduly holding up the pace. Given that I read her two books the wrong way around – this is the first book, while The Winter Witch is the second book in the series – I think it is the stronger of the two.

The ending to this book was magnificent – I thought I saw it coming, but I didn’t. And afterwards, when I’d scraped my jaw off the floor, I realised that it made absolute sense and completely tied up the story arc. While I enjoyed The Winter Witch, I loved The Witch’s Daughter. And if your taste runs to well-written paranormal books with some gripping historical flashbacks added to the spell, then go looking for this one – it’s worth it.
9/10