I’ve become a solid fan of this series – see my reviews ofThe Mystic’s Accomplice and Spirits and Smoke – so I was delighted when I saw this offering pop up on Netgalley. I’ve been reading a lot of historical murder mysteries recently – and this one encompasses one of my favourite eras – the 1920s.
BLURB: Summer, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore has been working for fraudulent spiritual medium Madame Carlotta for nearly a year – if ‘work’ you could call it. Investigating Carlotta’s clients, and attending seances as her shill, keeps Maddie and her young son Tommy fed and clothed, and she’s grown to love the kind, well-meaning spiritualist like family.
Still, Maddie – estranged from her abusive parents for over a decade – can’t help but wonder what fates befell her brothers and sisters. So when she lucks into two free tickets to a glamorous Chicago speakeasy and recognizes the star performer as her pretty little sister Sophie, she’s beyond delighted. But before Maddie can meet with Sophie again, the telephone rings. It’s Sophie’s husband, calling in a panic to tell her that his wife is locked in the Cook County jail, charged with first-degree murder . . .
REVIEW: I was thrilled to once more spend time with one of my favourite protagonists, Maddie Pastore. Widowed just weeks before giving birth to her son, Maddie has had a busy year keeping herself and baby Tommy from starving in 1920s Chicago at the height of Prohibition. She lives with spiritual medium Madam Carlotta and in return for bed and board, Maddie discovers details about Madam Carlotta’s clients before they attend her seances that she can use to convince them she’s the real deal. Endearingly, Madam Carlotta knows she is genuine and feels called to help the bereaved by relaying comforting messages from their dead departed – and very occasionally, those messages do seem to come from the other side. However, more often that isn’t the case, so Maddie and young Freddie resort to tricks to keep Madam Carlotta’s clientele happy.
Maddie isn’t particularly proud of what she does, but is fond of Madam Carlotta and grateful for having a place to stay where she and her baby are looked after and well fed. This being Chicago during a very violent time, it isn’t surprising that in her line of work, Maddie comes across occasional unsolved murders. And one that becomes her priority is a case in which her talented younger sister has been entangled. Far too many details don’t make sense – but the police aren’t willing to look any further when a young woman holding the murder weapon is conveniently placed at the murder scene.
This page-turning whodunit held me from the first page until the last, providing several satisfying surprises along the way. I certainly didn’t peg the murderer until all was revealed and once again, having gangsters like Al Capone make an appearance added extra tension to the story. I love Maddie’s can-do practicality and the way Miley also weaves real historical figures into her murder mysteries. While this is the third book in the series and I strongly recommend you read them all – they are far too good to pass up – you wouldn’t unduly flounder if you haven’t had the pleasure of tucking into the previous adventures. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries, particularly those set during the Prohibition era. While I obtained an arc of Deadly Spirits from the publishers 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 and blogs they have written.
We had the two older grandchildren staying over on Tuesday and Wednesday, while my daughter had a minor op. As ever, it was a treat to spend time with them – though there were some discussions about online lessons and the fact they still needed doing… We took them back on Wednesday evening, while Rebecca continued to recover. Fortunately, everything went smoothly for her.
It’s been a bitterly cold week with a vicious easterly scything through rather than around me as I step outside the door. So I’ve stayed indoors – I hate the cold and most of the week the temperature has been below freezing. At least it hasn’t been snowing here, thank goodness…
The photos this week are part of my beautiful spring flower bouquet from Himself – lovely sprays of scented narcissi – and then the hope of better days as the daffs in the garden have begun to emerge…
Last week I read:
SHORT STORY Lucky Thirteen – the Frontline series by Marko Kloos Rookie pilot Halley’s first drop ship command. A short story in the Terms of Enlistment universe. Although I enjoy reading short stories, these days I prefer longer fiction – but Himself strongly recommended this one. And since he’s got impeccable taste (after all, he fell in love with me…) this was a real treat.
AUDIOBOOK Troy – Book 3 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology by Stephen Fry The story of Troy speaks to all of us – the kidnapping of Helen, a queen celebrated for her beauty, sees the Greeks launch a thousand ships against the city of Troy, to which they will lay siege for ten whole years. It is a terrible war with casualties on all sides as well as strained relations between allies, whose consequences become tragedies.
In Troy you will find heroism and hatred, love and loss, revenge and regret, desire and despair. It is these human passions, written bloodily in the sands of a distant shore, that still speak to us today. I’ve loved this series – and listening to this latest retelling, narrated by Fry himself and largely based upon Homer’s Illiad, was a real treat. Though Fry’s not wrong about it being a terrible war…
Out of Nowhere – Book 1 of The Immortal Vagabond Healer series by Patrick LeClerc Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind army lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love. But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.
When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future. This fantasy was such an enjoyable ride. I particularly liked the fact that Sean is a paramedic and I’ll definitely be getting the second book in this intriguing and different adventure. Review to follow.
The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. This was another fantasy adventure with an engaging and different protagonist – this time a tough, streetwise teen living in a post-apocalyptic Edinburgh who can talk to ghosts finds herself trying to help a dead mother find her missing child. Review to follow.
Frozen Stiff Drink – Book 6 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney A winter blizzard barrels toward Wharton County with a vengeance. Madam Zenya predicted the raging storm would change the course of Kellan’s life, but the famed seer never could’ve prepared him for all the collateral damage.
Nana D disappears after visiting a patient at Willow Trees, leaving behind a trail of confusion. When the patient turns up dead, and second body is discovered beneath the snowbanks, Kellan must face his worst fears. What tragedy has befallen his beloved grandmother? I’ve been following this enjoyable contemporary cosy murder mystery series. And once again, hapless Kellan trips over another body in upsetting circumstances. This time, not even the weather is behaving itself. Cudney is very good at producing an endless supply of plausible suspects and I stayed up way later than I should to discover what happened next. Review to follow.
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
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
BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I haven’t been around this last couple of weeks, as I’ve been away on a writing retreat with my sister-in-law in Bexhill in a lovely flat overlooking the sea. That’s where the photos are from. My sister-in-law is on the last lap of her thesis on looking at how the issue of despair was discussed within monastic circles during the Middle Ages. As for me, I took along Picky Eaters Part 2 and managed to write 27,000 words, charting the further adventures of Castellan the Black, in between watching storms and sunshine sweep across the bay. We have been working hard – only watching The Great British Bakeoff and writing into the night, hence the significant lack of books I managed to get through. Though what I lacked in in quantity, I made up for in quality…
Apologies for my lack of interaction, particularly visiting other blogs, but my laptop has major memory issues at present, so I had to disconnect from the internet, which I was only accessing with my phone. Hopefully I’ll be able to start catching up during the coming week!
Last fortnight I have read:
The Invisible Lives of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. I absolutely loved this one. Accomplished and unputdownable – this is a tour de force from a writer at the height of her powers. Review to follow.
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. Another stormingly good read – though in case you’re wondering… Hogwarts it ain’t. No teachers – the students are instructed via the magical school and manage to keep safe from the constant threat of deadly monsters drawn by their magical abilities by forming allies and learning a raft of defensive spells. Gripping and highly readable. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.
Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers… This is a solid delight. I was attracted by the promise of a murder mystery after the style of Agatha Christie, within a contemporary setting with modern characters. And that is what I got. The audiobook works especially well and this one is highly recommended for those who enjoy gripping characters and nicely twisty plots with plenty of suspects. Review to follow.
Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – Book 2 of Fallen Princeborn series by Jean Lee Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.
Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.
The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart. This book continues the story directly from the ending of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – and immediately scoops the reader up into the high-stakes action, that just goes on growing, as Charlotte battles for Liam and his followers. Highly recommended for fantasy fans looking for sharp contemporary writing and a vivid fantasy setting. Review to follow.
NOVELLA Silver in the Wood – Book 1 of The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh BLURB: There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.
When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.
This is a lovely, otherworldly read with a strong poetic cadence that chimes well with the magical protagonist, Tobias. I loved his persona and the slow unwinding of the story – though I’m still torn, as I would have preferred to have read a fuller account, which would have probably been a novel, about the events leading up to the instant that we are first plunged into this tale. Highly recommended for fans who enjoy magical, woodland tales. 8/10
SHORT STORY The Hedgeway by Vivian Tuffnell BLURB: Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet. A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window. Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared? Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not. (This is a longer short story of around 17,000 words)
I was immediately drawn into this atmospheric short story, which is a poignant ghost story with a tragic backstory. The main characters are engaging and with the vivid, accomplished writing, I was in the neglected, rambling old house alongside the young people as they attempted to rescue it from becoming a ruin and turning it back into a home. I read this one in a single sitting and emerged blinking and slightly disorientated – as you do when you’ve been immersed in a world. A short satisfying read that isn’t too creepy or horrific, but with a definite tingle factor. 9/10
I picked this up when it was free, after one of my book blogging buddies recommended it – through I can’t recall who! Grovelly apologies and if you know you recently featured this one, nudge my elbow and I’ll namecheck you!
BLURB: For Jack Shepherd, tiger shape-shifter and former soldier, life is heading for a dead end. Dead End, Florida, to be exact. When he learns that he inherited a combination pawn shop/private investigation agency from his favorite uncle, Jack’s first job is to solve his uncle’s murder. Because sometimes it takes a tiger’s eye to see the truth.
REVIEW: This is a spinoff series – something I didn’t gather until well into the story – and it didn’t remotely impact on my enjoyment, as Day does a solidly good job of providing bonding moments with the main protagonist. As you may have gathered, this is a paranormal urban fantasy whodunit, though the shapeshifter isn’t the main protagonist featured in the blurb, instead, it’s a sparky young woman called Tess. Like many people in Dead End, she isn’t exactly normal, either, but she does her best to overcome her issues by not touching people if she can avoid it.
I really like Tess, who comes across as warm-hearted and amusing – there are a number of laugh-aloud moments in this book, despite it being a murder mystery. While the investigation is the engine that powers this narrative, there is a lot more going on in the story. Jack’s homecoming is a major feature, for starters. And Tess’s reaction to him… It probably won’t hugely shock you if I mention there is a powerful physical attraction between them, which helps them become a solid team when trying to figure out who is the killer.
To be honest, the murder mystery didn’t take much unravelling. There weren’t all that many suspects and I’d more or less figured out who the main miscreants were just as Tess and Jack got there. But while there are stories where that would be a dealbreaker, this wasn’t one of them. Day writes with a warmth and energy that drew me into this small isolated community, so that I enjoyed the days when the tour bus visited the pawn shop, just as much as Jack facing down the creepy bloke stalking Tess in the middle of the night. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal fantasy. 8/10
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
I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.
The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.
I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended. 10/10