Tag Archives: historical

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?

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Rules of Magic – prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRulesofMagicbookreview

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I’ve heard so many good things about this series, so decided to treat myself to the Audible version of this Alice Hoffman book.

BLURB: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

This is such a cool premise and I particularly loved the blurb. I started listening, all set to be blown away by the intensity of the situation, as this skilled, adept writer pulled me right into the middle of this appealing story. And it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, two aspects of Hoffman’s writing really caused me a problem. I am a tad allergic to reams of exposition, where the author sees fit to tell me her version of what is happening, rather than allowing the characters to define the circumstances and explain it through their eyes. The other dealbreaker for me is head hopping and this is also part of Hoffman’s style. In adult fiction, I find it both jarring and irritating as it invariably knocks me out of the story while I work out why I am listening to two viewpoints within the same scene.

Once I realised these traits would continue throughout the book, I had to decide whether my aggravation with the style would result in this book being a DNF – and it is a testament to Hoffman’s writing skill that this didn’t happen. As the excellent narration by Laurence Bouvard gradually pulled me further into the story, I found I wanted to know what happened to Vincent, Franny and Jet. While my enjoyment of the characters was compromised, I cannot fault the worldbuilding and sense of otherness Hoffman manages to evoke with her stylish prose. I particularly liked her continual referencing of the smells around her characters and how they changed depending on what was happening or about to happen – in fact, the richness and sensuality of the writing in general was a huge plus throughout.

The other strength of this interesting book was the narrative arc for each character. As I wasn’t particularly emotionally involved, there were occasions when listening, I wondered if I would ultimately regret my decision to continue with it. Right now, I am not in the mood to listen to an unfurling tragedy, wherein each of these protagonists was going to endure a life of constant loss and grief, and there were times when I thought that would be the case. However, while there are certainly a number of shocking and sad events that take place within the story, it is ultimately an uplifting book and I felt the ending was very well handled. Overall, I am glad I persevered. There is much to admire in this book – I just wish I could have loved it more.
7/10

My First Reads of the Decade – Welcome 2020! #Brainfluffbookblog #MyFirstReadsoftheDecade

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These days I read two books simultaneously – one ebook and one audiobook. So the two books I’m starting this year with are both fantasy and both dealing with witchcraft, but so very different:-

KINDLE Ebook Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan
Created by the merging of witch and doppelganger, Mirei is a unique being. Her extraordinary magic makes her the most poweful witch alive—and a notorious social outcast. While Satomi, the leader of the witches’ ruling Primes, hails Mirei as a miracle, rival Primes proclaim that Mirei is an evil abomination… and that those who champion her must be destroyed.
I thoroughly enjoyed Warrior, the first book in this duology – but I’m finding this one even more engrossing. The fallout as Mirei’s very existence upends hundreds of years of custom is predictably hostile by certain factions. This gives an inventive, skilled author like Brennan all sorts of places to take this story – great fun! I will be reviewing both books in this duology in due course.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.
I’ll be honest – I don’t love this one as much as I thought I would. The prose is coolly elegant and each of the main protagonists are well drawn, but I feel rather distanced by the viewpoint and structure. There’s no risk of not finishing it, though – so hopefully I will reach a point when I suddenly find I’ve completely bonded with the world and the characters. Review to follow.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Fledgling – Book 2 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #Fledglingaudiobookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of Changeling – so was delighted when I saw this offering on Audible for a credit. Would I enjoy listening to this next book in the series as much?

BLURB: Days away from becoming completing her first year at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies, Changeling-born Sarah Smith might just get away with posing as an upper-class Guardian girl named Cassandra Reed. But strange visions of a Lightbourne destroyed by Miss Morton’s revenant army keep Sarah from enjoying her achievement. Plus, the Mother Book, Sarah’s one secret advantage and the ultimate entrée in Guardian society, suddenly stops revealing itself to her…putting her in a precarious position with the Guild.

On top of all that, her former lady’s maid left Miss Castwell’s, and the new hire is, well, taking some getting used to. If it weren’t for her two best friends, Alicia McCray and Ivy Cowel, who will do anything to protect her secret, Sarah doesn’t know if she’ll make it another year. When the three girls take summer holiday with Alicia’s family (chaperoned by an exacting and very disapproving Mrs. McCray), a relaxing vacation in Scotland is the last thing they’ll find…

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to reveal and if you’re intending to read the book, my advice would be to give it a miss. Another piece of advice – read Changeling first. Because of the nature and progression of the story, it simply won’t make sense, otherwise.

Once again, I enjoyed Sarah’s first person pov. I’m aware some reviewers have been critical of her mature attitude, but given her very tricky upbringing and the difficulties she is currently operating under, I think she would have to grow up very fast. Having spent time with children who have coped in testing conditions, I’m often struck at their maturity compared to their more carefree peers. Initially, I enjoyed the progression of the story and the ongoing threat of Sarah’s enemies, who resent her position as Translator of the Mother Book, an ancient tome of lost magic that chooses its own magical human to communicate with.

The mayhem caused during the dancing lesson was both gripping and enjoyable and settled in to listen to more of the same as the scholars from Miss Castwell’s headed off for the summer break. This is where the pacing went awry, particularly when the plot took a sudden left turn and I wasn’t wholly convinced by Sarah’s actions, or the reactions of those around her. While I don’t mind if the overall pace of a story speeds up, it cannot be at the expense of the characterisation or in apparent opposition to what has gone before. And suddenly Sarah’s actions had me wondering if she really was as two-faced and scheming as she appeared, or if she’d been magically influenced in some way.

Harper did resolve the issue, but it was still a glitch that interfered with my enjoyment and I do agree with other reviewers who feel the ending was rushed. However, overall I liked the story and I am not deterred from reading the next slice of Sarah’s adventures.

Highly recommended for fans of school-based fantasy with a historical twist.
7/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMysteriousHowlingbookreview

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This series was recommended to me by the Cap, of Captain’s Quarters, whose quirky book blogging site regularly uncovers true gems. It was Cap who pointed me in the direction of the glorious Lockwood & Co series, one of my all-time favourite reads of the decade, never mind the year, so when Cap suggested this offering, I scurried off to track it down…

BLURB: Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels. Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

As you can probably tell from the blurb, there are aspects of this book which are very much tongue in cheek, but as with all the best exponents of parody, that doesn’t prevent Wood from serving up a cracking story. I love Penelope Lumley, who epitomises all those undaunted, intelligent governesses who featured so markedly in 18th and 19th century literature.

As she travels to Ashton Place, filled with ideas of teaching the children Latin and geography, she instead discovers they are being housed in a barn, filthy and afraid. Never mind about Latin – they cannot speak at all. Questions about what exactly they are doing running wild in the woods surrounding Ashton Place have to be put on hold as Penelope tackles the business of getting them to eat and drink without making a mess, and teaching them the basic phrases all good mannered children need to know. I love the kindness and empathy she demonstrates – as well as the fact that she clearly loved her time at the Swanburne Academy of Poor Bright Females and very much misses the companionship of her fellow students and her beloved mentor.

I’ve seen comparisons with Lemony Snickett’s series, but there isn’t the sharp-edged darkness here that runs throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, unless the first book is very much a sheep in wolf’s clothing. As far as I’m concerned, this is another series that is too good to leave to the children, and I’m delighted to report that I’ve just got hold of the second book in the series. Highly recommended for children of all ages who appreciate both the enjoyable story and humour, most of which is clearly aimed at those of us considerably older than the nine-years-old and upwards this book has been written for.
9/10