Tag Archives: historical adventure

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Blood Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

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For once, it wasn’t the cover that caught my eye with this one – it was the premise. I recall reading about these hospital ships with horror and reading a murder mystery that was based on one of these floating hulks seemed quirkily original.

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

Thomson does a marvellous job of vividly recreating the grim and effluvia of this stinking corner of London. At this point, the poor old Thames is little more than an open cesspit and London is generally draped in sooty smoke, with far more mists and fogs than you’d normally expect, caused by the runaway air pollution. Unsurprisingly, there is a high rate of illness, though The Blood specialises in the ailments brought into London from sailors and passengers who have returned from the Empire with all sorts of nasty complaints.

Jem Flockhart is an interesting protagonist – he is a young apothecary, continuing his father’s business and producing herbal remedies and medicines for the physicians coping with the high rate of illnesses. The team working on The Blood are mostly young medical practitioners without any money or support behind them, seeking to make a reputation by either publishing a brilliant paper on one of these new diseases, or catching the eye of an established medical man. However, the likes of Dr Proudlove, a black doctor whose mother ran a brothel, is highly unlikely to gain the reputation he wishes, despite being both clever and hard-working.
Jem teams up Will Quartermain, a young architect, when investigating this entangled case that lays open the seamiest side of London life, after they discover the body of a young woman in a derelict boatyard. While it’s evident she was drowned, the water in her lungs is clear, whereas she was discovered floating in a vile-smelling thick soup that could scarcely be described as water…

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jem is a wary character who despite his obvious youth, clearly knows his way around this lawless, blighted area – and has an almighty secret of his own. This means that he is relatively free of many of the prejudices of the time – which also rings true. While there is clearly a rich backstory to his and Will’s current relationship, I had no difficulty in working out exactly what was going on and this book works well as a standalone, despite being the third in the series.

As for the mystery itself, it is one of those very twisty affairs, where one apparently solitary murder triggers a string of other incidents so that more people die, pulling in a wider circle of potential suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and the vivid world unflinchingly on display – though I’m humbly grateful that I don’t live in that time and place. I’ve thought about this one a lot since I finished reading it and will be looking out for the other books in this series. Recommended for fans of vividly depicted historical fiction, especially Victorian noir.
9/10

 

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th March, 2018

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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 – The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

#historical #adventure #thriller #murder mystery

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

I picked this one up because I liked the look of the cover – and when I saw it was a murder mystery set around the Great Fire of London, then it was a no-brainer that I would request it. I’m really looking forward to reading this one over the Easter break!

Friday Faceoff – In the bleak midwinter…

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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 a snowscape, so I’ve chosen Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

 

This is the cover produced by Reagan Arthur Books in February 2012 and frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking. It is pretty enough – indeed, looks appropriate for a cute childen’s tale. But this book is nothing of the sort – it is a wonderful portrait of survival in a hostile environment, of despair and gritted determination and a miracle. Or is it? So this cover is completely inappropriate.

 

This edition, produced by Headline Review in February 2012 is more like it. I love the simplicity of the deep blue with the outline of the girl and the fox in white. It is eye-catching and gives a far better sense of the book. While it isn’t my favourite, it is certainly a huge improvement on the previous effort.

 

Published in July 2012 by Polirom, this Romanian cover is an unfortunate throwback to the first cover. It looks far too juvenile for this remarkable book which covers very adult themes, even if the prose is at times ethereally beautiful.

 

Thank goodness this cover, produced in September 2014 by Tinder Press, is a much better effort. The snowscape is still beautiful. I love the looping font the footsteps leading away from it towards the smudge in the trees that may or may not be the child. Lovely and entirely in keeping with the content.

 

However my favourite is this Serbian edition by Laguna, published in January 2013. I love the cool blue of the cover and the delicacy and detail of the frosting around the edge of the cover – how beautiful! And it isn’t the snow child portrayed on the cover, it is the heavier figure of the woman, searching for her… As you may have gathered, I’ve become a tad overwrought about these covers – but which is your favourite?

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book Review of KINDLE Ebook The Devil’s Cup – Book 17 of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare

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I selected this book on Netgalley as I enjoy well-told historical mysteries – and this one looked interesting.

September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?

This was an impressive blunder even by my standards – to find myself reviewing the final instalment in a seventeen-book series – and it is to Clare’s credit that I was able to crash into this world without any undue floundering whatsoever. While I am sure I would have better appreciated the characters and their final outcomes had I read the previous books, there was no stage where I felt unduly adrift. Indeed, the strength of the book for me are the characters and the worldbuilding, which is excellent. Clare manages to evoke the uncertainty of times and I very much enjoyed the way we get an insight into both sides of this conflict. I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of King John, who has always seemed to be an interesting character full of contradictions. The famous scene at The Wash was described with suitable drama and pulled me into the story – I only wish that we had spent more time following the King, rather than other aspects of this tale.

It is also a treat to read a story where religion and its impact on everyday life is fully acknowledged – I get a tad fed up with stories set in these times when it is all about the swordplay and lack of modern amenities, yet somehow omitting how much people prayed and looked to God for guidance throughout the day.

The protagonists in this unfolding story are all well depicted and cover a range of ages – another plus for me, as I rarely get to see my own age group represented as a main character in this type of story. However, one of my misgivings is the huge amount of freedom the main female characters seem to have. Helewise is able to retreat to a small cottage in a wood – despite being the wife of a landowner. She would be responsible for running the house and trammelled by a host of tasks that modern women would not have to consider, even if she had a number of servants performing chores for her – especially if she had a number of servants. Likewise Meggie is also able to wander off on an adventure, leaving the Forge and adjoining home shut up and idle. It simply wasn’t an option. Most households had a pig and chickens, along with a piece of land that would need tending to keep producing food for the table. The Queen’s experience would be the lot of most women of the time – and while she may well have felt frustrated at being so confined, it would not be unusual for high-born women to be kept tucked away in fortified homes and castles, given the custom of kidnapping noble family members and holding them as surety or ransom.

However, the one issue with this book that did compromise my enjoyment of the story is the lack of narrative tension. Due to the title and cover art – the reader already has a very good idea what the cursed object is, while Clare writes the story as if this is part of the mystery. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, as there was much else to enjoy about this tale – but a shame that this fundamental issue wasn’t addressed at some stage during the book’s production process. However, I will be looking out for more books in this series and am pleased to have discovered another talented author.

While I obtained the arc of The Devil’s Cup from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

Teaser Tuesday – 4th July, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

p. 64 I turn, expecting to see the old crystal in the ruins of Derrick’s city, the crystal Lonnrach wanted so badly that he’d destroyed the pixie city to find it. What’s there instead makes me suck in a shocked breath.
Where the bloody hell did that come from?

BLURB: Aileana Kameron, resurrected by ancient fae magic, returns to the world she once knew with no memory of her past and with dangerous powers she struggles to control. Desperate to break the curse that pits two factions of the fae against each other in a struggle that will decide the fate of the human and fae worlds, her only hope is hidden in an ancient book guarded by the legendary Morrigan, a faery of immense power and cruelty. To save the world and the people she loves, Aileana must learn to harness her dark new powers even as they are slowly destroying her.

I loved the first two books in this gripping trilogy – see my review of The Falconer – and so have been waiting impatiently for this final slice of the adventure. And so far, it has started with a bang and continued building the tension. I have no idea where May is taking the story, but I’ve settled in for the ride…

Sunday Post – 9th April 2017

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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.

May you live in interesting times… It’s an old Chinese curse, apparently. Well, right now Life is waaay too interesting. We noticed a puddle of water in the paved area just outside out back door in a straight line to the outbuilding where we house our washing machine – and realised the mains water pipe under the ground must be leaking. It was. And when the specialist plumbers came to mend the leak, it took them three goes. As soon as they fixed one leak and turned the water back on, the pipe immediately gave way somewhere else… They said our 65-year-old pipes had essentially given up – confronting us with the scenario of the pipes running through the footings of the house starting to leak *shudders at the thought*. So yesterday, we had the firm back to run a completely new waterpipe network down the side of the house and around to the back where they connected it to the cold water system using an underground boring machine. There were 5 holes dug altogether where they fed in the new piping using a nifty underground mechanical mole and tomorrow they are returning to concrete over the holes and box in the new pipework where it goes into the outbuilding and the house. But as you can imagine, this hasn’t been cheap…

At least the weather was good while they were doing all this – in fact it’s been absolutely fantastic – just a shame we couldn’t get out in the garden…

This week I have read:

Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy series by Ruthanna Emrys
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.
For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist.
I fell in love with this spare, gripping tale within a couple of pages – the character and premise immediately pulled me into the story where a paranoid and jittery US Government are seeing threats from anyone who looks different, back in 1949.

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer
Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!
Dyer also serves up a fair dollop of humour along with the chaos and excitement. I love the depiction of the Queen – whether or not it’s correct, I thought it was a delight. Overall, this is a charming, enjoyable book that delivers an engrossing magical adventure with some hefty family issues wrapped up in the story that will speak to the many fatherless children out there. Recommended for independent readers between eight and eleven years old, depending on maturity.

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden
Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…
I had forgotten just how punchy and enjoyable Rudden’s writing is – while the world is tense and gothic with plenty of thrills and spills and some genuinely exciting action. I love Denizen as a character and am looking forward seeing where this one goes next. I will be reviewing this one tomorrow.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 2nd April 2017

Review of Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Magic in the City by Heather Dyer

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

Friday Face-off – Send in the clowns… featuring The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – March Roundup

 

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

G is for Grief  https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/g-is-for-grief/ Viv is a wonderfully talented writer – but don’t take my word for it. Read her blog. This moving, thought provoking article is typical of her output…

Tales of 100 hearts  https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/04/06/tales-of-100-hearts/ A quirky, original slice of Jean’s life – this one left me with a lump in my throat as I still keep wondering who had already learnt that SAFETY matters so much…

Discoveries, Engineering Progress and Science Fiction  https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/discoveries-engineering-progress-and-science-fiction/#comment-2161 Rosie has a science background and she is very interested in exploring some of the more cutting-edge issues in her fiction. Meantime, once more, she has provided a great roundup of what is going on in the scientific community this week…

The Inconsistency of Truth  https://ginnibites.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/the-inconsistency-of-truth/ Ginni nails it, again… Insomniacs everywhere will recognise this scenario.

5 New Science Fiction Books to Watch Out For  https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/5-new-science-fiction-books-to-watch-out-for/ This award-winning library site does a cracking job in featuring books the staff think their reading public may enjoy – obviously this one appealed to me.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Friday Faceoff – Send in the clowns…

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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 circus, so I’ve chosen The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

 

This is the offering produced by Scribner February 2014. It is eye-catching and disturbing – the luminous image of a mermaid bounces out of the black border and accurately captures the mood of the book. That said, I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if it had been wearing this cover, as it looks too creepy.

 

This cover was produced by Scribner for the paperback edition in September 2014. The beautiful girl off-centre with the scarf around her head looks vulnerable and the muted colour palette gives it a sense of menace. This is a lovely cover and, again, does reflect the mood of the book.

 

I’m intrigued to see that this far more circus-oriented cover is also produced by Scribner in April 2014. I love this one – it is eye-catching and colourful. But with the reflections in the dark water, there is also a sense that there is something darker behind the bright, pretty lights. This is my favourite cover – I love the detail and in particular, the way the title has been threaded through the artwork.

 

This is the cover design, produced by Simon & Schuster in March 2015, that tempted me to pluck this book off the shelves and read it. I was attracted by the title and the carnival feel that nevertheless felt slightly off… and the fact I thought it was very pretty.

 

This Hungarian edition, produced in June 2015 by Maxim, has gone for the horror vibe. And I think it has done it very well. That said, while there are genuinely shocking elements in this book, it isn’t horror or particularly scary so while I think the cover is a lovely, disturbing piece of artwork, it isn’t an accurate reflection of the book. I’m guessing there were a number of really annoyed Hungarian readers who picked this offering up thinking they were in for a fear-fest they didn’t get.

What about you – which is your favourite cover?

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?