Tag Archives: historical

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCaseoftheDragon-BoneEnginebookreview

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I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.

BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.

Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.

The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – If you want something in Life – reach out and grab it… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffgrabbycovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.

Henry Holt & Co, March 2021

This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.

Picador, May 2021

Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.

Fourth Estate, March 2020

This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.

HarperCollins, March 2020

This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.

Turkish edition, January 2021

This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 3rd January, 2021 #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.

A very Happy New Year to everyone! I’m conscious I’ve been AWOL over the Christmas break. We had planned to have a quiet Christmas with just Himself, my sister and me. But because of the introduction of the Tier system, my daughter and grandchildren were unable to spend the Christmas break with their other grandparents. And that meant we were buzzing around like blue-bottomed flies trying to organise a Christmas Day suitable for seven, with the youngest being two, instead of the low-key, relaxed affair we’d been expecting. We managed it and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is the important bit.

And we’ve also had the grandchildren to stay since then, this time around, it’s included little Eliza, who has never stayed overnight with us before. It is always full-on when there is a lively toddler in the house – but she is an absolute poppet, very even tempered and coped well without her mother.

Last week I read:

Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt
Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones.

Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds…
This multiverse adventure is great fun and while the narrative is fairly straightforward – what sets this apart is the sheer variety and originality of alll those worlds poor old Zax ends up visiting. Review to follow.

Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley
Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company. But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…
I’d seen a number of critical reviews for this one – but it turned out to be a delightful surprise, despite a couple of rather steamy sex scenes. However, I loved the character, the worldbuilding and the plotting. Review to follow.

Spirited by Julie Cohen
Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her – and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye. . .

Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them – but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.

Faith. Courage. Love. What will they risk for freedom?
This love story teeters on the edge of sentimentality – but there is an underlying core of grittiness that prevents it from descending into mush, thank goodness. That said, it is well written, the characters ping off the page and the ending worked well. Review to follow.

I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
It starts with whispers.

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.
This is an utter joy. I laughed and wept with this one, as I listened while rushing around getting the house toddler-proofed and cranking Christmas up several gears to give the grandchildren a worthwhile day to remember. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring The One by John Marrs

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review of AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer

Covet the Covers featuring Mary Robinette Kowal


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

Grateful for a New Year, One Writer Plots New Goals With Old Stories And Old Friends https://jeanleesworld.com/2021/01/01/grateful-for-a-newyear-one-writer-plots-newgoals-with-oldstories-and-oldfriends/ This post both inspired me and had me in tears…

Reading Bingo 2020 https://rathertoofondofbooks.com/2020/12/31/reading-bingo-2020/ I love this time of year when I get to see what books stood out for my fellow readers – and this is such an entertaining way of doing it. I was also delighted and surprised to see that a certain dragon made an appearance…

Writers – Feed Your Brain https://aurorajalexander.wordpress.com/2020/12/17/writers-feed-your-brain/ It’s not only writers whose brains need jump-starting at this time of the year – I think we all need to sharpen up a bit, after all the food and drink we’ve been consuming and quaffing…

Tuesday Teaser https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/tuesday-teaser-82/ My lovely reading buddy, Rae, summed up in this specific quote about happiness what made last year so uniquely horrible, worldwide…

Best Books of 2020 https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/12/29/best-books-of-2020/ Many book bloggers post articles highlighting their best reads of the year (I haven’t got around to mine, yet – but there will be one!). However, I’ve yet to read one that is as comprehensive…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, happy holiday – and whatever is going on in your life, let’s hope 2021 is MUCH better than 2020! Take care. x

Review of INDIE Ebook Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #EvenStrangerbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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There is just something about this author’s writing that gets right under my skin. I feel so miserable when I finish reading one of her books – that I’ve broken one of my rules. I’ve gone straight from this book onto reading the next one in the series – read my review of Relatively Strange. I’m linking this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020, as this quirky series is one of my reading highlights of the year and deserves to be FAR better known. And I want to spread the joy…

BLURB: With the swinging sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary abilities, it’s frustrating to find that something as simple as holding down a job, throws up unexpected hurdles. She’d be a darn sight better off if she could ditch the conviction she knows best which, together with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her more than once off the straight and narrow into the dodgy and dangerous. Plans for a safer future, include setting herself up in business, squashing her over-active conscience and steering clear of risky and unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can lead to the darkest places.

REVIEW: I just love Stella. The depiction of this bossy, short-fused, and unwilling telepath is absolutely gripping, as well as being both funny and terrifying by turns. Messik has managed to produce one of the most compelling protagonists I’ve read in a long time and I can’t get enough of her. In addition, I find the prose absolutely addictive, which is a real shame because I am inhaling this series, far too fast. I want to know there are more books due to be published – because by the time I finished the next one in this series I am going to come down so hard, I’m liable to crack my reading glasses.

The writer in me is still scrambling to work out just why these books have got me in their thrall. No doubt the sparky, clever first person narrative has drawn me in; the series of hair raising adventures that teeter between farce and danger certainly kept me turning the pages right through into the early morning; and it’s also got to have something to do with the fact that the 1960s and 70s are portrayed with pin sharp accuracy. There is also a lovely group of supporting characters – it’s a pleasant change to find a character with such unusual powers surrounded by a very tight-knit, loving family and friends, who completely accept her for what she is, even if most of them aren’t aware of exactly what she is. No wonder she has such a strong sense of her own worth – and quite right too.

As ever, when confronted with such a wholly delightful reading experience, I’m conscious that anything I say here won’t fully convey the full measure of my emotional response. I’m not going to claim that these books are high literature – they aren’t. But they are a thumping good read that has completely transported me away from my own issues and into Stella’s world. Highly recommended.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – When snow falls, Nature listens… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffsnowcovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting SNOW. I’ve selected Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

Bloomsbury, 2009

This offering, produced by Bloomsbury in 2009, is a strong image and was the reason why I chose this book. However the sense of chilly isolation is spoilt by all the chatter cluttering up the cover – and for once, I’m not a fan of the large author and title fonts as I think they overwhelm the image.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1994

Published in September 1994 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this is the default cover for the book, which is a real shame. The cedar forest on the side of the cliff is certainly atmospheric and it would be ideal with the title was MIST OVER CEDARS – but it’s not. The title mentions snow – and there isn’t any. Oops. But that didn’t stop a raft of other publishers adopting this cover, anyway. Worse, the title and author fonts are so small and underwhelming, so they disappear in thumbnail and aren’t all that visible when full size.

Portuguese edition, February 1998

This Portuguese edition, published in February 1998 by Relógio D’ Água, has taken a different path with a painting. It looks lovely, but I’m not a fan of the border that grows into a textbox across the top of the cover, though at least the title and author name are clearly visible.

German edition, February 2013

This German edition, published in February 2013 by Hoffmann und Campe and is clearly influenced by the default cover above, in that it is a close-up of cedar branches in the mist. At least the title and author fonts are more effective in this cover design and work well within the image, in addition to being clearly visible in thumbnail, as well as when full sized.

French edition, 1996

This French edition, published in 1996 by France loisirs, at least features snow falling – a sleeting blizzard that makes me shiver just looking at it. I’ll forgive the lack of cedars to have some snow – and a suggestion of a river in full spate with snow-shrouded branches growing over it. Though whatever they are, they’re not evergreen cedars. I think this cover is the most successful in capturing the mood of the book, as well as evoking the title. Which is your favourite?


Review of AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMirrorandtheLightbookreview

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I had read the previous two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies back in 2014 and had this one on pre-order. And the reason why it has taken so long to get through it, is that it is some thirty-seven listening hours – and I play anything with a dense writing style at a slower speed.

BLURB: England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

Once again, we are in Cromwell’s head in present tense, third-person, deep point-of-view. Even though I had read the previous two books and was used to Mantel’s writing style, it still took a couple of paragraphs and reducing the listening speed before I was fully comfortable again in this unique viewpoint. Cromwell is now older and established as King Henry’s chief advisor. We are plunged in the middle of his efforts in ensuring Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour goes smoothly. For Henry is also older and bitter at Anne Bolyn’s betrayal and the ridicule he is sure he has been exposed to after her infidelities have been noised across Europe. Always a tricky personality, he becomes increasingly difficult to deal with as a leg injury begins to persistently bother him.

Meanwhile, day on day, Cromwell continues to do the work of ten normal men, increasing his efforts to shut down the monasteries, which he regards as corrupt, given his own beliefs that God needs no intermediaries in his daily dealings with his flock. The big problem that Mantel is confronted with in this book is that we all know the ending. This happens to be the period of history I know most about – and yet I found it a complete joy. Mantel’s style allows events to unfold completely from Cromwell’s viewpoint, so we see his interactions with Chapuy, the Spanish ambassador, his run-ins with Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of London, and his warm, affectionate relationship with his nephew, Richard and his own son, Gregory.

Any niggles? I suppose if I was going to be extremely picky, I would mention that the pace does flag slightly after Anne of Cleves comes on the scene – but I personally feel that might be a subconscious desire to back away from the inevitable downfall that ensues. In the event, it is beautifully handled and I came away from this book with a real sense of loss that I will no longer have Ben Miles’ outstanding narration accompanying me in my everyday chores, recounting the life of a remarkable man who rose and fell during the reign of probably the most charismatic king we have ever had. This outstanding book is highly recommended if you enjoy reading, or better still, listening to this particular slice of history. Though whatever you do, please start with Wolf Hall.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MexicanGothicbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.


REVIEW: This one firmly nails its colours to the mast with the very title – Mexican Gothic. So, never mind about the quality of the writing… the characterisation… or even the ingenuity of the plotting – does this book hit all the genre conventions of a classic noir gothic novel? Oh yes – right down to the era, as this book is set in the 1950s. Comparisons have been made with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and, indeed there are some striking similarities, though equally important differences. We have a large, mouldering house miles away from anywhere and seemingly perpetually shrouded in mist with faded furniture and a musty smell under the fraying grandeur. We also have a hostile and rather creepy housekeeper, though this one is known as Florence, instead of Mrs Danvers. Though her disapproval of our feisty heroine, Noemí, is every bit as prune-faced and sneering. She particularly dislikes her smoking in her room – which back in the 50s was unusual, given that lots of people smoked as a matter of course. And Noemí is also an important difference. Because, let’s face it, the second Mrs de Winter was toe-curlingly wet and naïve. However, Noemí is quite a different proposition. A young debutante who moves amongst the smart set in Mexico City, she is sophisticated, tough-minded and a little spoilt – which in these circumstances is a very good thing…

I love Noemí, who is also intuitive and intelligent with a strong instinct for self preservation under that careless, thrill-seeking exterior. And as forces within the house stir at the prospect of fresh meat, she is confronted with things that would send a less feisty character shrieking into the night… The pacing is a joy. Because the gothic genre requires a slow build-up of tension as things begin to go wrong, steadily gathering momentum as the stakes continue getting higher – until the climax crackles with horror and a real sense that our heroine may well not prevail. This being Moreno-Garcia, I didn’t discount that option, either…

There are some really ugly issues dealt with in this book. The Doyles, an outwardly respectable English family, proud of their unsullied heritage, had to leave England as rumours about their activities became too persistent. They pitch up in this depressed settlement, free to continue their vile practises. Slavery, physical and sexual abuse, murder and the nastiest sort of racism all surface within this story, though there isn’t anything too graphic. But neither does Moreno-Garcia flinch from what goes on, either. Suffice to say there is one of the most magnificently vile antagonists in this book that I’ve encountered in a while. All in all, this is a wonderful example from an author at the top of her game and very highly recommended for fans of gothic horror. While I obtained an arc of Mexican Gothic from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10


Review of AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker #Brainfluffbookreview #Longbournbookreview

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Like so many other folks, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and Pride and Prejudice was my go-to comfort read for several decades. So I was delighted to hear about this retelling from the viewpoint of the servants at Longbourn – and so decided to treat myself to the Audible version, narrated by the wonderful Emma Fielding.

BLURB: ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

This started so very well. I loved Sarah, the intelligent and lively young maid-of-all-work, hired from the Poor House when she was only six years old by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, after her family died of typhus. Now, as a teenager, she finds the drudgery and sheer monotony of the work, chafes her spirit. She longs for some adventure and a break from the routine of never-ending, back-breaking housework in the days when every cleaning product had to be made by hand and hardly any domestic aids to lighten the load existed. Baker depicts life below stairs so very well, and her characterisation of all the servants, Mrs Hill in particular, is nuanced and detailed.

But as the story wore on, I felt the pacing suffered in the face of all the domestic trivia. Baker had clearly done shedloads of historical research on the clothing, the food, the duties of the servants… Unfortunately, she also got very caught up in regaling her readers with far too much of said detail at the overall expense of the narrative, which meant the book dragged in places, which was a real shame.

Unlike some readers, I didn’t have a problem with Baker’s depiction of the Bennet family – of course Elizabeth wouldn’t come across as particularly lively to the servants, or even all that thoughtful. While she was often preoccupied and forgot a detail particularly important to Sarah, it must remembered that was right in the middle of a tumultuous period in her own life. She also never shouted, or threw things at Sarah, pinched or slapped her, which was also often the lot of a domestic servant. I also enjoyed the interlude right away from Longbourn, when we get a ringside seat at the horrors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. It gave us a bit of a break from the constant domestic round and a real insight into the brutality many working-class men endured, once they joined up.

As for the overall plot – I thought the plotline charting Mrs Hill’s story was stunningly successful, from beginning to end, particularly the way in also encompassed poor Mrs Bennet’s life. If the book had chosen to feature Mrs Hill as the main protagonist, this would have been an outstanding read from me. But it wasn’t – Sarah was the main character featured throughout, until nearly at the end of the book, when she simply disappears, only to make a fleeting and highly unsatisfactory reappearance right at the very end.

I couldn’t believe it. I went back and replayed it, in case I missed a bunch of crucial details – but I hadn’t. I had no idea if she was happy with the life she ended up choosing. And that ending plain didn’t make sense, either. No one dared send any letters for fear of being traced – and then… suddenly that didn’t matter anymore! I can’t say more for fear of Spoilers, but I found the ending contrived and unconvincing. What a shame! There was so much that was well done, but I came away disappointed that this book didn’t fulfil its early promise.
6/10

Sunday Post – 15th March, 2020 #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.

It’s been an up and down week. I’m still not fully recovered, so didn’t feel up to any fitness regime. We treated ourselves to a smart TV, so have been tucking into Picard, The Crossing, The Expanse and Outlander – all of which I’m loving. It seems a very good time to binge-watch escapist adventures, given how terrifyingly interesting Real Life is becoming. My thoughts go out to everyone, hoping you are all remaining safe and well…

On Wednesday, Himself and I went out for lunch at Haskins, enjoying the swathes of daffodils growing on the roadside and on Friday I drove to Brighton to spend the day with my daughter. It was a lovely sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed watching my granddaughter having her swimming lesson – what a great age to become water confident. Only just walking, she is learning to enjoy putting her head under the water, splash about in the pool and hold onto the side. This morning, I met up with my sister and we had breakfast together at our favourite riverside café, putting the world to rights – which took some doing. I am making the most of getting out and about while I can and spending time with the people I love.

Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.
I’m a bit torn by this one. While the worldbuilding was brilliantly done and I very much appreciated seeing the Bennet family through the lens of the servants, the pacing was too slow in places – and that ending…! Review to follow.



On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
This was a reread, given I’ve started writing my own How-To book on Characterisation. It was just as enjoyably chatty and informative as I recalled, though some of the advice on how to get your work noticed is outdated.



Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron
My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
This is a spinoff from the amazing Heartstriker series – though you don’t need to read one to appreciate the other. Seeing as I’m loving the quirky world Aaron has forged, I was happy to dive into this offering. Review to follow.



By the Pricking of Her Thumb – Book 2 of the Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts
Private Investigator Alma is caught up in another impossible murder. One of the world’s four richest people may be dead – but nobody is sure which one. Hired to discover the truth behind the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the ultra-rich, Alma must juggle treating her terminally ill lover with a case which may not have a victim.
Another gnarly case for the amazing Alma, set in a dystopian world. I loved the character and the mystery – but Roberts does drift away from the main plot to eulogise about Stanley Kubrick’s films and discuss theories on the role of money in society…

 




The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.
This book was part of my Valentine’s pressie from Himself – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hall’s depiction of contemporary India is vivid, unflinching, yet without being overly bleak or judgemental. I fell in love with Chubby when I read The Case of the Reincarnated Client and this book has cemented my affection for him.


My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring WWW: Wake Book 1 of the WWW series by Robert Sawyer

February 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Winterbourn Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder Your Darlings – Book 3 of the Francis Meadowes series by Mark McCrum

Sunday Post – 7th March 2020

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

How To Overcome Self Doubt as a Writer https://lorraineambers.com/2020/01/16/how-to-overcome-self-doubt-as-a-writer/ Having taught Creative Writing for 10 years, and written for more years than I care to recall – I’m aware just how crippling self doubt can be…

Women Building Art! https://platformnumber4.com/2020/03/07/women-building-art/ A lovely good news story about women achieving the highest accolade in a largely male-dominated industry…

Paul Brady, Arty McGlynn, Matt Molloy: Crazy Dreams (Hail St Patrick 2) https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2020/03/11/paul-brady-arty-mcglynn-matt-molloy-crazy-dreams-hail-st-patrick-2/ A fabulous article on Irish music from the awesome Thom Hickey

Thursday Doors – Cavan County Museum 5 https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/thursday-doors-cavan-county-museum-5/ Jean takes us back into the past…

Coronavirus and Parenting: What You Need to Know https://www.npr.org/2020/03/13/814615866/coronavirus-and-parenting-what-you-need-to-know-now?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social Given the nature of this unfolding emergency, arming our children with the knowledge to help them without overwhelming or terrifying them is a challenge. I thought this article was very helpful…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Friday Faceoff – The lion will lay down with the lamb, but every morning they’ll have to provide a new lamb… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofflioncovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with LIONS. I’ve selected The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay.

 

This edition was produced by Voyager in March 2012 and is an excellent effort. I love the embossed, highly stylised lion in gold against the lush red background. My main reason in not making this my favourite is that I think the author font is rather overbearing and unbalances the cover. I get that Kay’s name is the selling point on the cover, but I do feel the size and heft of it, in comparison to the title and design is too much.

 

Published in June 2005 by Harper Voyager, this cover is another attractive offering, with a pleasing feel of historical adventure. I really like the warm tones of this cover and I think the artwork and design is appropriate and eyecatching – that pattern works well. While the author font clearly denotes this is the reader magnet, I think the balance between the title and author name is far better than the previous cover. I could have done without the title textbox taking up nearly a third of the cover, though.

 

This edition, published by HarperCollins in May 1996 is also a strong contender. I like the strong nod to the Middle Ages in the artwork, which is striking and attractive and I particularly love the title font. And for once, I don’t mind the textboxes… In trying to work out why they don’t irritate me with this book design, I’ve come to the conclusion that the artwork is exactly the right dimension for the design and subject, therefore I don’t resent the fact it isn’t larger.

 

This edition, produced by Viking Canada, is the least effective of all the covers, which is a shame, because that artwork is absolutely beautiful. I love the fact the characters are all looking at something we can’t see. But this one doesn’t work all that well in thumbprint, as it is rather dark. And despite loving some of the detail of the font used in both the title and author font, it is too faint against the strong colours of the artwork.

 

This French edition, published by J’ai Lu in 2005 is my favourite. I love the whole design with that fabulous lion profile against the marvellous medieval Spanish building in the background, looking very like the Alhambra Palace in Granada. While the title and author fonts are a mess – not remotely suitable for the genre, or the right size and design – I’ll overlook that sin for once. Which is your favourite?