I’m a fan of Nash’s writing – see my review of A Spell of Rowans, which was the book that introduced me to her work. Then I was lucky enough to encounter this fantasy Gaslamp series – see my reviews of Delicious Death and Spirit Guide, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
BLURB:When the ghostly Gray Lady walks, a lover dies. Can Elinor stop destiny?
The young Coralie Floquet desires to marry but the spectral appearance of a Gray Lady portends that her end might be soon. Called in to help by Tristan Fontain, the Duke de Archambeau, Elinor plans to chase spirits and rumors at a country estate in a seaside town.
But as soon as she arrives, ill-will seems to swirl around her, along with tittle-tattle about her relationship with Tristan that has gossips talking. Though Elinor doesn’t care much about stolen government documents, her heart might be lost when the duke finally reveals the truth about his past and why he took Elinor home when he first met her.
REVIEW: I really enjoy Elinor as a protagonist. She is an experienced, rather cool character who, after a family tragedy, joined the Morpheus Society and has extended her natural talent for seeing ghosts by means of rigorous training. We start this latest adventure with Elinor at a very low ebb. She is still struggling with an injury she sustained in a previous escapade and she has lost her apprentice. And while she complained vigorously and at length about said apprentice’s shortcomings – she is badly missing her young charge. Not least because she’s seriously worried about what she’s being asked to do on behalf of the Morpheus Society, as Elinor’s faith in the organisation has been seriously undermined.
So being invited to investigate a gray lady – a particularly dangerous and persistent form of ghost, who has appeared over the years to young females, all of whom have ended up dying within the year – makes a welcome break from her melancholia. We finally see some progression on the very slow burn romance between Elinor and Tristan. I’m not sure whether I’m completely convinced by Elinor’s behaviour regarding their relationship – it strikes me as rather modern. But that’s probably the only quibble I have regarding the whole adventure.
As usual, the handling of the ghost mystery is written with plenty of pace, a nice number of suspects and the solution to this one worked particularly well. I loved the rather gossipy nature of the house party and how we were included in the machinations within a number of complex relationships that aren’t anything like their initial appearance. I tore through this one as the pages whipped by far too fast – and all too soon I realised I’d devoured the complete book, despite this one being longer. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits with a twist of ghostliness about them – but whatever you do, don’t start with this one, go back to the first book, Ghost Talker. This delightful series deserves to be read in the correct order. 9/10
I enjoy Byrd Nash’s writing – see my review of A Spell of Rowans. And since I became ill with Long Covid, I’ve been tucking into Gaslamp fantasy tales as I thoroughly enjoy the vibe and historical backdrop.
BLURB: Thwarting an assassination wasn’t on the menu. Elinor’s holiday is ruined when a poisoner targets a royal guest. What’s even more irritating? The duke thinks he can solve the case before she can.
In the southern town of Vouvant, Elinor’s goal was to eat rich food at the Winter Revels, but an attempt on the king’s life implicates her favorite chef. Between saving a young society lady and solving the problem of a widower who grieves too much, she has her hands full. Trained as a medium by the elite Morpheus Society, Elinor Chalamet uses her skills to aid the police while she hunts for her father’s killer.
The second of a six part gaslamp fantasy ghost mystery series featuring a strong female character in a slow burn romance.
REVIEW: I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series – indeed, I wasn’t aware that this was the second book until I opened it. But I decided to plunge in, anyway. And I got away with it, as at no stage was I foundering. I always enjoy reading tales featuring strong-minded, experienced protagonists who know what they’re doing – and Elinor Chalamet is just that. The era is sort of Regency and the setting is very loosely based upon Europe at that time, with the country an approximation of France. I liked the appendix at the back with the cast of characters and details of the world – it’s a growing trend that works well, particularly in shorter books where there often isn’t the length to add all those reminders throughout the story without coming across as repetitious.
There is plenty of humour within the story – in addition to some poignant moments, as befitting a tale where ghosts who cannot cross into the Afterlife are somehow stuck, often due to a trauma or unhealthy emotional tie. Nash’s smooth prose style kept the story barrelling along at a nice clip and the very slow-burn romance (my favourite sort!) simmered gently without impeding the mysteries – there’s more than one enigma to solve in this eventful tale. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable tale, well written and executed in a length that is technically challenging. And best of all – there are five other books to get hold of and enjoy in this entertaining series. Yippee! While I obtained an arc of Delicious Death from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
I did wonder if I was tempting Fate by writing about my experiences with Long Covid, given the up and down nature of the illness. But though I’d been feeling rather tired recently, I hadn’t had a proper relapse since August. Until this week, when I went to get out of bed on Thursday morning and the minute I put my foot to the floor, the world spun, my stomach roiled and I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere for the rest of the day except back to bed. And so it proved. I felt too ill to shower or change my clothes, though I did manage to stagger downstairs and have tea with the family. Meanwhile Himself was having to look after me, on top of doing the school run. Fortunately, it was his day off – but it wasn’t remotely restful. In the meantime, I dosed and slept. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading or listening to books, feeling too tired to watch TV. I woke up on Friday, feeling much the same – though as the day wore on, I did feel well enough to have a shower.
Then suddenly, at about 10.30 pm, I felt better. As if a huge muffling blanket had been lifted away from me. I’m writing this on Saturday, having got up, showered and dressed. I still feel a little groggy and I don’t have all that much stamina, but the nausea has gone. I think I need to face the fact that I will have to keep managing my energy for the foreseeable future. One of the issues is that I haven’t been getting enough sleep, as years of being an insomniac makes it difficult to wind down and go to bed at a reasonable time. And while I’m doing better than I used to – it’s still not good enough for my body’s needs. I average between five and six hours of sleep a night and I reckon that these days, I need more than that.
The boys have stepped up and helped out, as they always do when I’m ill. Both have had a busy week and today Ethan is out meeting up with friends, while Oscar is recovering from a very hectic football practice. Tomorrow (Sunday) we are meeting up with my parents, who are taking us out for a meal to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary. It’s actually a little early – their anniversary is near the end of next month, but Dad isn’t all that keen on doing the drive home in the dark, which it will be by then as the day length continues to shorten. I am so very excited – I haven’t seen Mum since September 2020 and I cannot recall when the boys last saw her. So it will be a very special reunion for us and my sister, who is joining us.
Last week I read:-
The First Binding – Book 1 of the Tales of Tremaine series by R.R. Virdi All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.
I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster. My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil. And if this blurb makes you think of The Name of the Wind, then you’re absolutely right – it definitely has a feel of that fantasy classic. It’s also a hefty size, being 800+ pages. That said, while it took me a while to get through it, at no time was I tempted to break off and read something else instead. Review to follow.
Unraveller by Frances Hardinge Kellen and Nettle live in a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, but only one person has the power to unravel them. But not everyone is happy he can do so and, suddenly, he’s in a race to save both himself and all those who have been touched by magic…
I love Hardinge’s writing – see my review of Deeplight. So I immediately requested this arc and was thrilled to receive a copy. And my instincts were spot on – it’s a cracking read. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – The Elf Tangent by Lindsay Buroker As a princess in the impoverished kingdom of Delantria, it’s Aldari’s job to look pretty, speak little, and marry a prince. Studying mathematics and writing papers on economic theory in an effort to fix her people’s financial woes? Her father has forbidden it. With war on the horizon, they must focus on the immediate threat.
Reluctantly, Aldari agrees to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom to secure an alliance her people desperately need. All is going to plan until the handsome elven mercenary captain hired to guard her marriage caravan turns into her kidnapper. His people are in trouble, and he believes she has the knowledge to help.
But with an invasion force approaching Delantria, Aldari’s own people need her. She must do everything in her power to escape the elves and make it to her wedding in time. Never mind that her kidnapper is witty, clever, and offers her a challenge that intrigues her mind even as his easy smile intrigues her heart… Aldari can’t let herself develop feelings for him. To fall in love and walk away from her wedding would mean the end of her kingdom and everyone she cares about. I’ve read the ebook, but when I had the opportunity to get hold of an audiobook of this engaging fantasy adventure with a splash of romance, I couldn’t resist it. I really enjoy Buroker’s characters and this particular story was lovely to listen to at a time when I needed an escapist read. 9/10
What Song the Sirens Sang – Book 3 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green You can find everything you’ve ever dreamed of in the strange, old magical shop known as Old Harry’s Place. The problem is, not all dreams are kind.
Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.
Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone. Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . . I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this entertaining fantasy heist series – and this next slice of the adventure manages to give yet another twist, without getting steadily darker, as so often happens in ongoing series. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – Murder by Other Means – Book 2 of The Dispatcher series by John Scalzi In the world of the Dispatchers, a natural or accidental death is an endpoint; a murder pushes the do-over button and 99.99% of the time the victim comes back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher who’s been taking shadier and shadier gigs in financial tough times, and after witnessing a crime gone wrong, he finds people around him permanently dying in a way that implicates him. He has to solve the mystery of these deaths to save the lives of others–and keep himself out of trouble with the law.
I loved Scalzi’s Lock In series – it’s one of the best sci fi murder mystery series I’ve read. So when I saw this Audible exclusive, I scooped up a copy and thoroughly enjoyed it. It isn’t all that long, but the pacing and voice are perfect and there are twists and action throughout. I will be looking out for more in The Dispatcher series for sure. 9/10
Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher Bryony and her sisters have come down in the world. Their merchant father died trying to reclaim his fortune and left them to eke out a living in a village far from their home in the city.
But when Bryony is caught in a snowstorm and takes refuge in an abandoned manor, she stumbles into a house full of dark enchantments. Is the Beast that lives there her captor, or a fellow prisoner? Is the house her enemy or her ally? And why are roses blooming out of season in the courtyard?
Armed only with gardening shears and her wits, Bryony must untangle the secrets of the house before she—or the Beast—are swallowed by them. This is an intriguing retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a tougher heroine than poor Beauty. Bryony is a gardener, who has already had a far too interesting life to date, which has made her resilient and resourceful. Which is just as well, because she’s up against a terrifying magical opponent. This is a cracking read that had me turning the pages until I came to the end. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Persuasion by Jane Austen At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.
This is one of my favourite Austen novels – and listening to the version produced by the partly dramatised Jane Austen Collection was a real treat. I love Austen’s take on Bath society and her depiction of Lyme Regis, somewhere I used to know very well. The second-chance romance is beautifully done and while Anne is clearly beset by an uncaring family, she manages not to be too victimised. 9/10
BLURB: 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.
Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.
Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance…
REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.
Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.
After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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