Tag Archives: historical

Sunday Post – 23rd 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.

It’s been all about the grandchildren this last week, as they have been with us again. Unlike most of their recent stays, the weather has been grand – though the fly in the ointment has been poor little Oscar’s hacking cough and heavy cold. So instead of trips to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, along the beach and to the bluebell woods, we had to rein in our activities. We did manage a couple of trips to the cinema – the first to see Beauty and the Beast which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Oscar and I returned to see a truly dreadful Smurf film yesterday instead of the proposed trip to the climbing wall, which was vetoed by me because of his cough. We did manage a visit to Highdown Gardens on Thursday. It was a beautiful morning – bright sunshine without the easterly wind and I decided we all needed some fresh air and the added pick-me-up of a wonderful display of Spring flowers. As ever, it was lovely and the children had fun running around together.

 

This week I have read:

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
Once again, I loved being swept off to the steamy humidity of the jungle where Lady Trent finds herself confronted with a lot more than the savage swamp-wyrms. Brennon’s plucky adventuress leaps off the page with her frankness in how she defied social conventions to follow her passion to discover more about dragons.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.
This far-future murder mystery is a classy, accomplished noir whodunit set on a miserable planet with too much gravity and weather, as Rause returns to Magenta to confront unanswered questions about the bombing incident in which his wife died. And uncovers a whole lot more…

Goldfish From Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay
Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?
Well, this is a hoot! I love the premise that Joe’s magical amulet given to him by his archaeologist uncle means that undead animals look to him to solve their unresolved problems. Fizz the goldfish is definitely on the warpath after being flushed down the toilet and determined to discover who perpetrated the crime.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 16th April 2017

Top Ten Unique Reads…

Teaser Tuesday featuring From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

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

Seven of the Best Epic Poems by Female Poets https://interestingliterature.com/2017/04/19/seven-of-the-best-epic-poems-by-female-poets/ Once more this excellent site has come up trumps with another informative, interesting article.

How To Fail Dismally at Book Blogging http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/how-to-dismally-fail-at-book-blogging.html?spref=tw I loved this funny, helpful guide on how avoid some of the pitfalls that can stall your book blog.

Meeting Deadlines – Remember to Breathe! https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/meeting-deadlines-remember-to-breathe/ Fellow Grimmie author and all-round thoroughly nice person Sophie has had a real roller-coaster month – and a cautionary tale for freelance artists…

It’s a Dog’s Life https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/its-a-dogs-life/ I laughed out loud at this quirky, funny story – if you want some light relief swing by and enjoy this one.

Why Not More Love for the Brontë Sisters? https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/why-not-more-love-for-the-bronte-sisters/ Having been a fan of their writing for a very long time, it has often puzzled me why Charlotte, Emily and Anne are not a lot more popular, given the rise and rise of nostalgia for classic reads.

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

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

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

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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. Though he died unknown and poverty-stricken, Lovecraft is popularly regarded as the father of dark fantasy due to his vivid and disturbing world where creatures from another dimension inimical to humans are on the verge of breaking through to our world. Emrys manages to give us an insight in the life of one of the two survivors of the Government attack on Innsmouth in 1928, which is reported and written about in Lovecraft’s writing.

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. Of course, part of the power of this story is that that febrile fearstoked political atmosphere so well depicted in this thriller also uncomfortably reflects the same mindset pervading mainstream thinking now in the 21st century.

Aphra is a marvellous character and the first person viewpoint (I) gives the reader a ringside seat into her sense of isolation, her anger at the loss of all her family with the exception of her brother and her constant, prickling feeling of danger whenever in a new situation, given her odd appearance. This could have so easily descended into a bleak trudge – but her spiky determination not to be overwhelmed by her grim circumstances gives us a clue as to why she survived while so many others died.

The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. The parent race, the Yith, are also represented and there are some welcome shafts of humour in amongst the turmoil and danger. I read way longer than I should have done to find out what happens next and climactic scene on the beach when Aphra meets her grandfather fully displays Emrys’s impressive talent. When I finally finished, I was dazed and excited in equal measure. And I cannot stop thinking about this one… In short, another outstanding read that has me humming with pleasure and excitement. Ruthanna Emrys. Remember the name – she is a talent to be reckoned with and this is a series that shouldn’t be missed by science fiction and fantasy fans.

While I obtained the arc of Winter Tide from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – A Room Without Books Is Like a Body Without a Soul…

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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 books, so I’ve chosen The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

 

physicbookofdeliveranceThis is the offering produced by Hyperion Books in May 2009. It’s a beautiful, eye-catching cover, depicting the old fragile book that has been passed down through the family. This is my favourite cover.

 

physicbookofdeliverance1This cover produced by Voice in April 2010 takes several of the main elements from the original design, but has included the figure which I think makes it look rather cluttered and messy.

 

physicbookofdeliverance2This cover, produced by Penguin, also depicts a book with another title – I’m assuming it’s for the US market – but the tone is way off. The book isn’t horror, but it is certainly grittier and more hardhitting than this rather flowery, fanciful design conveys.

 

physicbookofdeliverance3Whereas this German edition, produced by Page & Turner in August 2009, has gone to the other extreme. This cover suggests severed goats heads and frantic virgins tethered to the altar, which isn’t what this book is about, either. If I’d picked it up thinking that’s what I was getting I’d be thoroughly fed up, so it isn’t doing its job.

Friday Faceoff – Our Four-Legged Friends

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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 I have decided to go for an animal theme, featuring one of my favourite authors. Megan Lindholm, aka Robin Hobb, wrote the cracking duology The Reindeer People – see my review here. These are some of the covers for the first book.

 

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This offering was published by Unwin in 1989. I think it is beautiful and accurately reflects the feel of Lindholm’s world.

 

reindeerpeople

This version was produced by in 2001, though I don’t know who the publisher is as Goodreads merely says it isn’t available. Whoever designed the cover did a really good job, in my opinion. Again, it gives a sense of what the book is about while being attractive and eye-catching.

 

reindeerpeople2

This is the latest edition of The Reindeer People, published in 2011 by Voyager. It is the starkest cover, with a very simple font and an ungarnished image of reindeer, doubtless in consideration of the thumbnail necessary for Kindle books. It is certainly adequate, but doesn’t have the detail or beauty of both of the earlier covers.

My favourite is the first one, which I think absolutely captures the book while also providing a beautiful cover – though I’m sure it would not reduce to a thumbnail particularly well. Which is your favourite?

Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…

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I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…

 

Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…

 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.

 

requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.

 

Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.

 

rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.

 

Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.

 

fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

Review of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of KINDLE ebook The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of the Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

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I was very impressed with A Kind of Vanishing – see my review here. Recommended by my mother, the book focussed on the disappearance of a little girl and was unlike anything else I’d ever read. I’d loaded this book onto my Kindle, and then got overtaken by all those old fashioned solid books stacked up by my bed – until Lesley came to talk to West Sussex Writers in an amazing interview. I recalled what a smart, original writer she was, and immediately turned to The Detective’s Daughter stacked in a dusty corner of my Kindle. Would I enjoy it as much as A Kind of Vanishing?

thedetectivesdaughterKate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes of celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.

As in A Kind of Vanishing, Thomson takes a major event – Kate’s murder – and in addition to presenting us with a whodunit, which is every bit as engrossing as any in this crowded genre, she adds an extra layer. The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful read which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it.

And if you’re a reader who appreciates complicated, quirky characters then you’re in for a treat. Stella, the detective’s daughter, is a sharp-edged young woman still trying to come to terms with her father’s decision to put the Kate Rokesmith’s case above his responsibilities towards his daughter and his wife. The other character struggling to cope with parental abandonment is Kate’s son, Jonathan, who was discovered near his murdered mother, aged four. We learn what happened to him once he grew up – another layer of loss woven into this murder that Terry Darnell didn’t manage to solve before he died.

I’m conscious that so far, I’ve managed to make this book sound as much fun as a dirge in dark – but there are shafts of humour running throughout the narrative. Stella, the main protagonist, runs a cleaning agency and has a slightly grumpy, enjoyably ironic take on humanity. She takes on Jack, who already has a night job driving trains but comes with his own dark reasons for needing to keep himself also occupied during the day. For reasons she can’t really fathom, she finds herself teaming up with Jack as she finds herself going back over her father’s notes regarding this one unsolved case that haunted him throughout the rest of his life. The case he was working on when he dropped dead of a heart attack…

In many ways, this is a classic whodunit, complete with an interesting pool of possible suspects, but what hooks me is the extra something else that Thomson brings. Her detailed, forensic examination of her cast of characters and the liberties she takes with viewpoint means there are short sections where I wasn’t sure whether we are in Stella’s memories, or in the mind of the dead detective, Terry Darnell – which breaks all the rules. However, I didn’t really care – because there are those writers who manage to make the Writing Rulebook redundant while they weave their own particular voodoo, and Thomson belongs in that exclusive club.

If you enjoy your crime fiction on the literary end of the genre, laced with interestingly different characters and an engrossing plot – I’ll guarantee you won’t see who did it until Thomson wants you to – then track it down. It’s worth it.
10/10

Review of EBOOK Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

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Himself recommended this book after I’d finally finished ranting about a very unsatisfactory dual narrative, historical thriller than didn’t thrill… Understandably, he was hoping to get me quietly engrossed in a really good book – but would I feel the same way about this novel?

Sometimes the past just won’t let go… York , 1575: Hawise Aske smiles at a stranger in the market, and sets in train a story of time's echoobsession and sibling jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Drowned as a witch, Hawise pays a high price for that smile, but for a girl like her in Elizabethan York, there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

Four and a half centuries later, Grace Trewe, who has travelled the world, is trying to outrun the memories of being caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami. Her stay in York is meant to be a brief one. But in York Grace discovers that time can twist and turn in ways she never imagined. Drawn inexorably into Hawise’s life, Grace finds that this time she cannot move on. Will she too be engulfed in the power of the past?

Given that we open this book with Hawise’s drowning, we need to be immediately pulled into Grace’s narrative, or I – for one – would be rapidly putting this onto the Reject pile. But Grace is a far more cagier, elusive character than her Tudor counterpart who very much plunges into situations without weighing up the consequences. She clearly has major issues connected to her experience with the 2004 tsunami and it was an interesting to have a duel narrative with two women who are so very different. Although Grace enjoys cooking for relaxation, she isn’t remotely domesticated, whereas Hawise doesn’t really have any choice. I really enjoyed Hawise and her impulsive warm-heartedness, but one of those decisions ultimately sets her on a course that affects the rest of her life. The timeslip scenes were excellently done, where Grace’s sense of self was constantly challenged and undermined. There was a real feeling of menace as she grapples with Hawise over control of her mind and gets sucked back into her life. Hartshorne is a trained historian and her depiction of York is absolutely wonderful, with the wealth of domestic detail in Hawise’s daily routine completely natural – which is a lot harder to pull off than Hartshorne makes it look.

Seeing both women juxtaposed brought home to me just how limited women’s lives were back in Tudor times. And how dangerous it could be when women stepped outside the perceived norms at that particular time in history, when an obsession with witchcraft was at its height.

After building up such a tense, disturbing atmosphere of creepy wrongness, did Hartshorne manage to create a sufficiently satisfactory ending? Yes. And it was a relief, because I already knew that Hawise’s plotline wasn’t going to end well and by that stage I really cared for her and strongly identified with her plight. But though the circumstances of her death were terrible, the worst bit was the emotional agony she underwent – and which Hartshorne graphically depicted. So, if you’re looking for a really enjoyable, effective timeslip tale full of historical details, then go and track down this book – you won’t be sorry.
9/10