Tag Archives: historical

Sunday Post – 19th May, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

Last week my sister and I spent the weekend at the Chewton Glen hotel having a series of spa treatments to celebrate her 60th birthday. And yes… it was every bit as fabulous as it sounds!

This week, I didn’t have much time to muse on my wonderful experience as Monday and Tuesday was taken up with teaching at Northbrook and catching up with admin, while on Tuesday night, writing buddy Mhairi made the five-hour drive up from Lincolnshire to stay over until Thursday. Once again, it was lovely seeing her and catching up on her writing progress – and I was pleased to be able to mention that so far this month I have written over 18,000 words towards Mantivore Prey and am now working on the penultimate chapter. The days flew by so that no sooner had I hugged her hello, then I seemed to be hugging her good-bye again. However, it is only temporary as she will soon be coming down again – and in July I will be travelling up to stay with her as we fill in our tax returns together.

I attended a funeral on Friday – a terribly sad affair where a sudden death out of the blue leaves two young sons without a father and a wife suddenly widowed. On Saturday, I was asked along as a number of my sister’s friends arranged a surprise birthday party for her. It was a lovely, relaxed affair, full of jokes, laughter and affection. I’m so glad and proud of her for battling through her serious illness and a long, unhappy relationship, to be able to get to this stage – she is a star!

I keep waiting for the boring middle age I was promised – surely Life is supposed to slow down and get more tedious as I get older, rather than ever more varied and demanding?

 

 

Last week I read:
Cleon Moon – Book 5 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Now that she’s retrieved the Staff of Lore, Captain Alisa Marchenko can finally dedicate herself and her ship to finding her kidnapped daughter. Her scant clues lead her to Cleon Moon. Unfortunately, since the fall of the empire, mafia clans have taken over the domed cities on the harsh moon, and exploring there isn’t easy. Even with the cyborg Leonidas at her side, Alisa struggles to survive vengeful mafia clans, rogue Starseers, and genetically engineered predators. If Alisa can’t navigate the moon’s chaos, she may lose her only chance to catch up with her daughter.
This is yet another entertaining episode in this enjoyable, action-packed space opera series. I’m looking forward to getting hold of the next book in the series… Review to follow.

 

Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn
It’s Christmas Day, 2067. Silent Night drifts across the ruins of a wrecked spaceship, listing helplessly in the black. A sole woman, May, stirs within – the last person left alive of a disastrous first manned mission to Europe, a moon of Saturn.There is only one person who can help her – her ex-husband Stephen, a NASA scientist who was heading up the mission back on Earth. Until, that is, she broke his heart and he left both her and the mission.
Rarely has a book reduced me to such fury – and yes, I completed it and have written a thoroughly ranty review as a result.

 

 

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd
Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.
In stark contrast to the previous book, this one turned out to be a delightful surprise – both at the quality of the writing and the effective way in which Rudd evokes the 70s and 80s. Review to follow.

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams

Friday Faceoff featuring The Red Knight – Book 1 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

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

Trees and Insecurity
https://chechewinnie.com/forests-and-insecurity/ This apparently innocuous title hides a gripping and shocking tale of survival because of trees – please read it. It will put your own problems into perspective…

Why Read Women Writers? An Interview with Bill Wolfe https://www.janefriedman.com/why-read-women-writers-bill-wolfe/ I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful review by the great Jane Friedman…

The Best Examples of Metaphysical Poetry in English Literature https://interestingliterature.com/2019/05/15/the-best-examples-of-metaphysical-poetry-in-english-literature/ Once more, this enjoyable information site delivers the goods…

The Power of Writerly Kindness https://writerunboxed.com/2019/05/15/the-power-of-writerly-kindness/ We so often hear of writers being envious of each other – it’s always a tonic to hear the other side of the story…

Top 5 Wednesday – BFFs in Fantasy (plus musings about intimacy, society expectations, and friendships in western vs eastern media) https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/top-5-wednedsay-bffs-in-fantasy-plus-musings-about-intimacy-societal-expectations-and-friendships-in-western-vs-eastern-media/ And yes… this excellent article is every bit as interesting as it sounds.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

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Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – She sells seashells on the sea shore… Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SEA CREATURES, so I’ve selected a book I read back in the dim and distant past – The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher.

 

This edition was produced by Gramercy Books in April 2004. It is really attractive with the deep blue background fading into a lovely warm orange, giving us a suggestion of the beach. The trumpet whelk in the foreground completes the design – but I can’t help thinking it would have been better off with something like a crimson queen scallop shell to provide more of a visual contrast. The lettering is too large and boring, I feel.

 

Published in May 2015 by St Martin’s Griffin, I really like this one. Initially I was rather underwhelmed by the plain white cover, but the drawing of the scallop and top-shell along with the attractive lettering designed to complement and match the artwork has won me over. It may be simple, but it certainly draws the eye. It was so nearly my favourite…

 

Apparently, this ebook edition has been published, although Goodreads has gone all mysterious as to when and by who. But that’s a daft reason not to feature one of the better covers for the book, I decided. I love the warm colour of the golden sand, scattered with shells. I also very much like the italicised title font that works particularly well with the cover design.

 

Produced in 2003, this Portuguese edition features fish instead of shells. I love the attractive pattern these little fish make – what a shame there’s a thumping big text box plonked in the middle of it! Though at least someone has taken some trouble to give it a nifty border and a suitable colour.

 

This Italian edition, published by Mondadori in October 1996, is back to featuring shells – and what a lovely selection. I really like the way they have been placed against a sea-blue background and the design is completed by sumptuous gold lettering. Again, it’s been very cleverly handled – catching the light in a gleaming yellow for the author name and shadowed to give a darker shade with the italicised title. And although there is a blob AND far too much chatter scattered across the top of the design, this one is my favourite. What about you – which one do you prefer?

Friday Faceoff – This is the priest all shaven and shorn… Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a PRIEST OR MONK, so I’ve selected The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

 

This edition was produced by Harvest Books in September 1994. I think is a shocking cover, when you look at it really closely. The row of skulls in the black darkness are raining a stream of blood onto a wall, spattering the kneeling priests and almost obliterating the king seated on the throne. The title font is well executed with that bloody wall as a backdrop. I think it effectively represents this remarkable book which has stayed with me ever since I read it soon after it was published, though it isn’t my favourite.

 

Published in June 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (NYC), this cover has gone for a full-on medieval vibe. It is depicting some of what is going on within the confines of the abbey, where it should all be about praying and contemplating God. It is certainly colourful and eye-catching, though whether it gives a sense of the murder mystery at the heart of the book is debatable.

 

This edition, published by Vintage Books in April 2004 is my favourite. It is beautiful, with the star-studded sky, the gold author font jumping out from the black backdrop and the red-tinged abbey providing more than a hint of menace. I particularly love the lovely curling title font which finishes the effect.

 

Produced by Picador in October 1984, this one is a close contender for my favourite. It’s such a cleverly designed cover, using the medieval script to highlight the period and setting of the book. Not only is it featured in the title, which is beautifully linked to the drawing of the rose, but also used in the blurb to explain the book. And for once – this cover chatter which is always a pet peeve of mine – absolutely works. This so very nearly is my favourite…

 

This edition, published by Vintage in 2004 is another attractive, eye-catching offering. However I think the title font could have a bit more punch and their approach to the author font is plain odd. Who else wondered whether the author is called Vintage Eco when they read it? Such a shame to make such a fundamental, silly mistake, given the strong execution of that lovely rose illustration. Which is your favourite?

Review of INDIE Ebook Fifty-One by Chris Barnham #Brainfluffbookreview #Fifty-Onebookreview

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I met this author right at the beginning of the year, when I mentioned that I also reviewed books, so tucked the arc away in a safe place and promptly forgot about it. Really sorry, Chris!

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong – and from there events slide out of control. Will Jacob be able to ever return to his own time?

I’ve heavily edited the very chatty blurb – whatever you do, don’t read it. It gives away far too much of the plot, which is so well told that it was would a crying shame to already know in advance what is going to happen. Needless to say, the jump goes awry and Jacob isn’t retrieved quickly. Of course all operators are trained for this eventuality, but they are repeatedly assured that with their implant locators and a team of trained observers keeping a close eye on all sensitive timestrands – and WWII is a very sensitive strand – his rescue will only be a matter of a few days.

I wasn’t all that sure I liked Jacob very much. In fact, the crew from 2040 are all rather edgy and slightly unpleasant, with the exception of the newest recruit, Nancy. But that might be the result in living in a besieged London, where everyone is terrified of being blown up by a suicide bomber and parts of the city are cordoned off behind blast-proof walls. While other areas of London have simply gone feral. The infrastructure has badly suffered and the streets are dirty and littered – to the extent that Jacob finds himself preferring blitzed London and the comradeship he sees on a daily basis, although everyone is clearly suffering and the rationed food is dreadful.

Barnham manages to depict both versions of London very effectively without holding up the pace. Jacob grew on me as his character expanded while he learnt to live during WWII. He is brave, resourceful and thinks on his feet and discovers that he is capable of loving wholeheartedly – something he’d thought was beyond him. The other character I loved right from the word go is Amy, who is also tough and resourceful through sheer necessity. The generation who lived through the war were remarkable and Barnham gives us a sense of that without lapsing into sentimentality.

It would have been so easy to dip this book in a layer of treacle, but Barnham resists that temptation. While the romance does power a vital part of the storyline, this book isn’t primarily about the love story. It’s far more concerned about what happens if in the future we develop the means to travel back in time and alter the timeline. What is to stop terrorists or fundamentalists illegally travelling back and attempting to alter the timeline? And if that does happen a number of times – who decides which alteration stands?

I really like Barnham’s approach that slowly unspools throughout the story that became steadily more gripping. It is an intelligent, powerful take on time travel that is going to stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for fans of time travelling tales.
10/10

Review of LIBRARY book The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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This book was highly recommended by a number of my book blogging friends, so I was delighted to discover a copy at the local library…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

And that is as much as the rather chatty blurb as I’m willing to share, given it goes on to happily give away plotpoints that occur more than a quarter of the way through this hefty read. But the other main protagonist is Angelica Neal, a courtesan trying to find another protector to maintain her lifestyle, now that the duke who looked after her has died.

First, the good news – the writing is absolutely beautiful and the historical period brilliantly realised in a series of lovely scenes that leap off the page. Gowar can certainly write. The plotting is interesting and I enjoyed the fact that just when I thought the story was going in one particular direction, it suddenly took an unexpected turn. This happened a couple of times, especially during the first two-thirds of the story. The theme of the mermaid works well as a device that both powers the plot forward and also as a symbol for the restless striving after novelty and learning that characterised those turbulent times. Though don’t pick up this one because you love the idea of a mermaid character, because that isn’t what this book is about. The first two acts in particular, were full of incident and interest.

However, I wanted to love this one more than I did. For while Gowar is clearly talented and her portrayal of the period is masterful, I didn’t ever bond with any of the characters. The rather fractious nature of the conversations between every single one of the characters left me feeling rather distanced – I found myself wanting to shake them all until their teeth rattled at one stage or another. Angelica’s flighty attitude was off-putting and just when I was beginning to care about her, the events in the third act shut her right down, putting her on the edge of the action and beyond the scope of the main story.

The pacing is also odd – instead of steadily gathering momentum, it takes a while to get going and then during that last act, which is the weakest, it suddenly drops right away again. Hm. That third act – it seems as though Gowar had several main themes that she’d wanted to weave through the story and so bundled them all into that third section, thus bringing the narrative to a juddering halt and entirely disempowering her main protagonists. We have a couple of ugly scenes, presumably to demonstrate just what a nasty time it was for women – particularly if they were black or elderly. The only reason this one didn’t go flying across the room, was the quality of the writing and the fact that I hoped the ending would rescue the story.

In the event, the ending was better than I’d begun to fear, but I just wish a large part of that final act was either cut or rewritten as I think this could have been a great book, rather than a very promising effort by a highly talented writer.
7/10

Teaser Tuesday – 31st July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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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 Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

p. 103. ‘Do you think Mrs Neal is stooping?’ Polly Campbell muses.
‘Hmm?’ Elinor licks a fresh thread for her needle.
‘For she has not so much as seen the gentleman – if gentleman he may be called – and now she must escort him all evening? I had not expected her to capitulate so easy.’
Elinor shrugs. ‘She is not so different from us.’
‘Oh she is. Utterly so. She can disoblige any body she chooses.’
‘She’s not so well set in the world as you think. She still needs Mrs Chappell’s favour. And Mrs Chappell needs Mr Hancock’s favour, so you see Mrs Neal is quite trapped.’

BLURB: This voyage is special. It will change everything…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

And this is what I have against modern blurbs – I’m on page 103 and the next paragraph of the blurb then goes on to reveal the next plotpoint that I haven’t yet got around to reading! Clearly I’m not going to include it in this week’s teaser… So far, I’m enjoying this one but I don’t yet love it. There is no one I have yet really bonded with as the writing style, though very accomplished and fluent, is doing a lot of telling. However, there’s plenty of time as this is a fairly hefty read.

#Sunday Post – 29th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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

It’s been the first full week of the school holidays – and we travelled back to Brighton to pick up Frances on Tuesday from her last day at school. She was thrilled with the prospect of the summer break and to celebrate we stopped off at the local Haskins for a round of hand-made pizzas, which were very yummy. On Wednesday, Frances joined in my Pilates and Fitstep lessons during the morning in the sweltering village hall and in the afternoon, we met up with my sister and had a long, leisurely lunch – it was too hot to do anything else. On Thursday, we needed to shop for a few bits and pieces, when I discovered the delights of iced coffee and Frances sampled a hot chocolate scone, thinking she was getting a cookie…

On Friday, my writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and we spent some of the time formatting Running Out of Space in preparation for a paperback version – the rest of the time, we were busy closing down and unplugging the computers and router when several thunderstorms swept through. During the evening, we went beach to see if we could see the lunar eclipse but though we waited, hoping the cloud cover would thin, it didn’t. However, we were treated to an amazing display of blood-red lightning, presumably reflecting from the colour of the moon. It was supposed to be my friend’s birthday party on Saturday evening, but poor Sally was crippled with a bad back, so I helped her ring around the guests to postpone it until she feels better, while Frances walked to the beach with Tim. Today we are travelling to visit my mother and father who haven’t seen Frances since last year.

This week I have read:

White Silence – Book 1 of the Elizabeth Cage series by Jodi Taylor
Elizabeth Cage is a child when she discovers that there are things in this world that only she can see. But she doesn’t want to see them and she definitely doesn’t want them to see her.
What is a curse to Elizabeth is a gift to others – a very valuable gift they want to control.
This paranormal thriller has plenty of the energy and twists I’ve come to expect from Taylor’s writing in her very successful The Chronicles of St Mary’s series, though Elizabeth definitely isn’t the adrenaline-junkie that Max is… A highly entertaining roller-coaster read.

 

Like a Boss – Book 2 of thendswept series by Adam Rukunas
After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.
This sequel to the successful Windswept isn’t perhaps as sharp or well realised as the first book, but I was happy to go along with the adventure, given I’m very fond of Padma and love the world.

 

The Tea Master and the Detective – The Xuya Universe novella by Aliette de Bodard
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.
This is space-based whodunit nods to the Sherlock Holmes series, while adding important ingredients that can only exist in the far future. An intriguing, entertaining read.

 

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.
I loved this one. The writing is lyrical, the worldbuilding exceptional and the story full of unexpected twists. And that cover – ooo… Many thanks to my lovely mother for sending this one to me.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 22nd July 2018

Review of Removed – Book 1 of the Nogiku series by S.J. Pajonas

Teaser Tuesday featuring Like a Boss – Book 2 of the Windswept series by Adam Rakunas

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Immortal Creators by Jill Bowers

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Redemption’s Blade : After the War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Friday Face-off – Here we are trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why… featuring The Affinity Bridge – Book 1 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann

Review of The Tethered Mage – Book 1 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

 

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

Follow the Vikings https://inesemjphotography.com/2018/07/28/follow-the-vikings/ This talented photographer has perfectly captured the flavour of this amazing Follow the Vikings Roadshow when it came to Waterford in Ireland

Untitled https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/untitled-146/ I loved this one…

Jupiter’s New Moons https://earthianhivemind.net/2018/07/25/jupiters-new-moons/ I love the fact that we are constantly discovering new facts about our solar system – and this is one of those exciting facts.

Then and Now at RWA National Conferences http://writerunboxed.com/2018/07/25/all-the-things-at-rwa-national-in-denver/ Barbara O’Neal has written with affection and verve about her experiences with the Romance Writers’ Association. I loved this article…

10 of the best poems by English Romantic Poets https://interestingliterature.com/2018/07/25/10-of-the-best-poems-by-english-romantic-poets/ I may not wholly agree with all these choices – but that’s okay. There are a number here I love…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and have a great week.

Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview

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I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

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I requested this one after being attracted by the eye-catching cover and reading the premise, which was very intriguing.

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

So did this live up to my expectations? Oh yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to be expected with a story that starts in the middle of the Great Fire of London, this one starts with a bang. James Marwood watches the destruction of St Pauls Cathedral, with a vivid description of the heat and violence as the fire ripped through the interior and then destroyed the quantities of stationery and books that was stored in the crypt, in the belief that they would be safe.

Taylor has clearly done his research – there is a wealth of historical detail here woven into the everyday lives of the people caught up in the drama and terror. I was interested to learn that the official version – that there was a surprisingly small loss of life, given the ferocity and speed of the flames – is contradicted in this book. As the fire storms across tenements at a speed faster than a man can run, there is a general acceptance that whole families and communities were immolated. The reason why there is no official recognition of this loss of life is simply that the destruction was so thorough, nothing is left of the poor souls caught up in the conflagration but ashes.

That said, most of the action takes place in the days, weeks and months after the fire. I really liked this. That single event has caused havoc in the capital, which is nicely reflected in the political turbulence that is still being played out after the Civil War. Once Charles II regains his throne, one of his missions is to track down the handful of people responsible for executing his father. The young protagonist is caught up in this business – as are a number of other people in the story, even though they were either children or not yet born when the execution occurred.

I am conscious that I have managed to make this book sound as if it is some sort of historical account of the aftermath of both the Civil War and the great Fire of London, when of course, it’s nothing of the sort – it is a murder mystery adventure. That said, after the initial drama, the pace necessarily slows down. We are not in an era of fast car chases, or fast anything for that matter. This mystery reflects the fact that most people walk everywhere and the majority of tasks are still done by hand. So this mystery spools out over a period of time, which gives the denouement an extra kick as it takes place among the shattered remains of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were a number of intriguing twists, with one in particular I certainly didn’t see coming. I am delighted that this is the start of a series featuring James Marwell and I shall certainly be getting hold of the next book. Recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Ashes of London from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10