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 love the cover on this book and, craving something with plenty of humour, I requested it, hoping for mayhem and nonsense in amongst the whodunit…
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
REVIEW: The strapline for this one is: Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. And it’s spot on. Toni is a quirkier, younger version of Agatha, while the paranormal backdrop, though firmly set in rural England, is peopled with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. There is also a similar amount of heat in Grave Secrets as in Charlaine Harris’s books, which means that while it is considerably less explicit than the HBO True Blood series – it still contains several raunchy scenes. This isn’t usually an ingredient I look for in my reads, but it’s done well. Toni’s strong attraction to Oscar is convincingly portrayed – along with her ongoing concerns about his suitability, until she sees him again when once again, she’s swept off her feet.
But what really beguiled me is the strong first-person voice. A breezy, generally can-do attitude, combined with a sharp-edged Brit humour that had me sniggering throughout and a couple of times made me laugh aloud. The vampires are suitably arrogant and entitled, so no surprises there – though I also like the fact that they come in shades of nastiness and some make a real effort to be more caring of the humans in their coterie. I also really like Toni’s relationship with Peter, the other human who is in Oscar’s coterie. James has the ability to write her characters with warmth along with the snarky humour, so it didn’t descend into an adventure where poor put-upon Toni is ranged against all the powerful nasties without any help. To counter-balance the vile behaviour of the antagonists, there are also a number of people happy to assist Toni.
Another plus point – the fact that Toni is a necromancer, who has been raising the dead since a small child. They are normally portrayed as chilling creatures, whose repellent habits make them as unwholesome as the zombies they create – so Toni’s portrayal as a bubbly, impetuous young woman full of strong views on what is Right and Wrong comes as an enjoyable change. As you may have gathered – I was charmed by this one, so I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Grave Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10 10.8.20
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This week has been a lot cooler, with lots of rain, which Himself has found a huge relief. On Thursday, I spent the day with the grandchildren, looking after them during the afternoon while my daughter went to meet a friend. I took them to the swing park and spent the time running around after Eliza like a bothered hen. She’s just at the stage where she’s mobile enough to get into serious trouble and too young to understand any danger… However, the elder two are brilliant with her – she is so lucky to have such lovely brothers! It was a treat to be able to spend so much time with them.
On Saturday, my sister and I were all set to go shopping, but the aftermath of the storm on Friday night meant we still had gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Neither of us were in the mood to hustle through the wind and rain in sodden masks, so we postponed our outing and instead had a cuppa and a sticky bun together at my place. This morning Himself and I went for a walk along the beach, which where this week’s photos were taken – we were lucky enough to dodge the rain.
My website www.sjhigbee.com has had a makeover! Ian has done a wonderful job of making it a lot spiffier and easy to load – and tidied it up so that my growing number of books aren’t making it look too cluttered. I’ve started working on the video clips I’m producing in conjunction with my book How to Write Compelling Characters. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. But I must get back to writing, as I’m definitely getting a bit antsy and short-tempered…
Last week I read: A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court… This tense, political thriller is a joy – I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it and now I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the next book. The tight focus on the main character reminds me of C.J. Cherryh’s writing… Review to follow.
Afterland by Lauren Beukes They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back. She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible. It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son. I struggled with this one a bit – partly because of the subject matter. But mostly because I didn’t like Cole, or anyone else all that much – other than poor, manipulated Miles. Review to follow.
NOVELLA Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules… Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life. Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good. This was the perfect read after the intensity of Afterland, and thoroughly enjoyable, the only drawback being that the end came far too quickly. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction. Another stormingly good read – I absolutely loved Khai and Zariya, who both tried their hardest to be the best they could be, without coming across as unduly good or sickeningly perfect. Review to follow.
I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my review of Fortune’s Pawnunder her penname Rachel Bach, as well my review of the first two book in this Heartstriker series – Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Anotherand Garrison Girl, as part of the Attack on Titans! series. I always enjoy strong urban fantasy in an intriguing world – and this one has it all. A fascinating blend of near-future apocalypse leading to an infusion of magic into the world, along with a very dysfunctional dragon clan…
BLURB: When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place…
REVIEW: One of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series, so take my word for it when I say that if you pick this one up before you’ve read the first two books – put it right back on the shelf again and go hunting for Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another instead. This is more of a continual story sliced into book-sized episodes, rather than stand-alone narratives linked by the world and characters. That said, each story arc is brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of each action-filled adventure, though once again, I found there were more intriguing questions raised at the end of this one, to which I wanted answers. Thank goodness I have the next book on my Kindle, so that I won’t have to wait too long.
While I love the world, it’s the characters that keep me reading – dear Julius, a Nice Dragon, who has always been the runt of his clutch and as such, continually bullied by Bethseda, who should have some sort of award for being the worst mother in fiction. We’ve watched him develop over the last three books from being the under-dragon of all time, to gradually winning round far more powerful and influential dragons to start taking him seriously. Apart from anything else, in a genre that generally features powerful protagonists who use might, albeit sparingly and when there is no other choice – it is a refreshing change to come across a hero who refuses to resort to violence. And if he does, regards it as a defeat.
I have also grown fond of Chelsie, Justin, Ian and Bob – a few of his siblings who have also made the journey so far with him, more or less. At least a couple of the above have also made determined efforts to kill Julius, too. And then, there’s the mortal girl he’s teamed up with, Marci and her ghost cat called… Ghost. We’ve had the impression that Ghost is a bit more than he first seemed, particularly in the last book – and this is where we get a further glimpse of who he is and what the consequences are for Marci, as she continues as his friend and ally. Though there was a shock at the end of this book that had me reeling – I won’t be waiting all that long before I dive into the next one, A Dragon of a Different Color, as I am desperate to discover what happens next. As ever, Aaron’s characters have drawn me into this world and won’t let go. This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series for a very long time. Highly recommended. 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 depicting POTIONS. I’ve selected The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward.
This offering was produced by Simon & Schuster in July 2015 and is the default cover. It certainly ticks all the boxes – the title is clear with a quirky font and the whole design is straightforward and gives a strong sense of the genre. But while I think it’s okay – I don’t love it, or even particularly like it. It just doesn’t speak to me.
Published in September 2015 by Simon & Schuster, this hardback edition – rather unhelpfully – has been renamed. My guess is that it is referring to the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply. As a design, I think it works really well. I love the rich pinks and purples of the potion-effect backdrop, which allows the thin, scratched-out effect of the design and lettering to really pop, even when in thumbnail. While I admire this offering, and think it’s clever and apt – this cover isn’t my favourite, though it comes mightily close.
This Spanish edition, published by Nocturna in March 2016, is using the classical idea of potent potions as the main reference. The hand, wreathed in ominous smoke and vivid lightning is dramatic and beautiful – but although the nails are wearing nail varnish, I’m still unsure if the tone of this cover gives a sufficiently modern vibe. That lettering looks far too like something from Arabian nights. That said, I’m aware it’s more of a niggle and this one is a close contender.
Cbj, the German publishers for this edition in July 2016 decided to go all out for the cute and feminine, hoping it would appeal to their YA readership. Could it be any pinker? Blossoms… a heart-shaped bottle – and just in case anyone didn’t get that it is aimed at a young, female audience, they also threw in some gold sparkles, too. I don’t think anyone told the designers that less is more… That said, it’s very pretty – but I’m guessing from the blurb, the book is a bit more edgy than this Disney-princess treatment might suggest.
This Czech cover is a far darker take on the story. Published in March 2018 by Talpress, this cover is clearly set in a laboratory. I love the details of other bottles and that tap in the background, while the trapped mermaid glowing in the glass is beautiful and eye-catching. Normally, I’m not a fan of textboxes, but given that this one is so clearly designed as a label to place on a bottle – it gets a pass. This is my favourite – I think it’s attractive, punchy and very well done. Which one do you prefer?
I can’t lie – it was the beautiful cover that caught my eye – and then that quirky blurb nailed it, as I was looking for more science fiction goodness with a bit of a difference. And I got that, alright…
BLURB:Reasons Cara has died: – The emperor of the wasteland wanted to make an example of her mother and started with her – One of her mother’s boyfriends wanted to cover up what he did to her – She was born addicted and her lungs didn’t develop – She was left alone, and a stranger came along – The runners came for a neighbour and she was in the way – The runners came for her mother and she was in the way – The runners came for her boyfriend and she was in the way – The runners came for no one, serving nothing but chaos and fear, and she was what they found – Her mother left her alone in a shed while she worked or got high and she fell asleep alone and hungry and forever Reasons Cara has lived: – She doesn’t know but there are 8. The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara. Of the 382 realities that have been unlocked, Cara is dead in all but eight But on this earth, she survived. Born in the wastelands where if a basic lack of resources didn’t kill you, violence would, Cara is happy to reap the benefits of a job and a safe place in the city to call home. But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined – and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.
REVIEW: I loved Cara, who is a gutsy survivor with a grim past which defines her and makes her valuable, giving her a lifestyle she couldn’t have dreamt of. She travels to parallel worlds where there isn’t her equivalent, because that would kill her, so she regularly visits other Earths where there are characters she grew up with – in some of them she has a surviving family – as well as those where her murderer thrives. Having been the victim of violent, abusive behaviour and regularly gone hungry and thirsty, she is keen to stay employed by the Eldridge Corporation. However, she becomes increasingly unhappy in the direction that the company is going. It doesn’t help that the role of traversers – people like her, who travel to parallel worlds – is steadily being pared down to a handful of operatives and the rumour is that in a few months, their job will be automated.
The worldbuilding is well done. I liked the premise and while there isn’t shedloads of science, the explanations offered are all cohesive and make sense. Cara can only travel to 372 of the possible 380 worlds available – and there aren’t more available, as those that become too misaligned from Earth Zero, the original world where the found of the Eldridge company made his breakthrough, they disappear and are no longer reachable. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is far too wide between Ashtown and Wiley City. Climate refugees and the descendants of the people end up in Ashtown, scrabbling to survive. Inevitably they are black and horribly poor, so are kept out of Wiley City by ferocious security. While there is trading between the two communities, it is limited and access to clean water and decent food in Ashtown depends on who you know and how strong you are.
The dystopian world was plausible and well depicted, though not overly original – that was left to the plot, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The dynamic Johnson sets up, where Cara’s traversing uncovers some unexpected surprises that forces her to re-examine her priorities, works well. I thought Cara’s harsh past was very well handled – it could have so easily tipped into victimhood and it didn’t, though do be warned, this book does deal with violent relationship abuse, in amongst the general murder and mayhem. I also liked the hopeless longing that portrays Cara’s romantic yearnings throughout most of the book, too.
The denouement is effectively handled, with plenty of tension as the stakes continue to grow – until the climactic ending, where all the plotpoints are satisfactorily tied up. Overall, this is a really strong debut novel and Micaiah Johnson is certainly One To Watch. Recommended for fans of multiverse science fiction in a near-future era. While I obtained an arc of The Space Between Worlds from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I was lucky enough to be approved for the second book in this space opera adventure, Chaos Vector, so wanted to get hold of this one in order to fully understand the story.
BLURB: Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens to find the unthinkable has happened…
REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the blurb to avoid a major spoiler that would ruin that amazing opening scene – and my firm advice is to avoid the wretched blurb before tucking into this one. That opening scene is one of the best I read in a long time and blew me away. I loved the situation Sanda finds herself in and was riveted by the ongoing dilemma and how it was going to play out.
However, that isn’t the only major plotline in this book. While I also enjoyed Biran’s storyline, there was another ongoing narrative which I struggled not to skim. It was about a scrappy girl from a poor background who pulls a job which goes badly, which simply couldn’t compete, when compared with the events facing Sanda and Biran, whose unfolding stories just went on getting ever better.
And then, Sanda’s storyline also became a bit more ordinary, turning more into a typical action-packed space opera adventure, rather than the fantastic tension-filled tightrope I’d inhaled in the earlier part of the book. That said, I don’t want anyone to think this is a bad or disappointing story. It is well crafted, with strong characters, vivid backdrop and convincing world. The problem was – it didn’t quite fulfil the promise of that amazing opening, howeverI am certainly looking forward to Chaos Vector with great anticipation. Recommended for fans of well-told space opera adventure. 8/10
Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger duology 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. Now the different witch factions engage in a bloody war with magic, treachery, and murder. But both sides may be fighting for nothing. For the power that the rebel Primes fear, the magic that Mirei alone possesses, is killing her.
Thoroughly enjoyed this one. This is a series that deserves to be better known.
Bone Silence – Book 3 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds Two sisters ran away from home to join the crew of a spaceship. They took on pirates, faced down monsters and survived massacres . . . and now they’re in charge. Captaining a fearsome ship of their own, adventures are theirs for the taking. But Captain Bosa’s fearsome reputation still dogs their heels, and they’re about to discover that, out in space, no one forgives, and no one forgets . . .
This was quite a gritty, creepy read that took some of the established tropes for this sub-genre – and twisted them into something completely different. Enjoyable and unpredictable.
Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebatien de Castell Kellen and Reichis are settling into their new lives as protectors of the young queen and dealing with the constantly shifting threats to her reign and to her life. For the first time in his life, Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury. But what seems to be a simple card game between Kellen and an old man is soon revealed to be a deadly game of wits in which a powerful mage has trapped the queen’s spellslinger in order to kill him.
I really enjoyed this series. Kellen is an engaging protagonist and his relationship with the savage little squirrel cat, Reichis, prevented the tone getting too darkly dismal, despite the stakes being raised ever higher.
Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair & Cath Mayo Prince Odysseus and the daemon Bria must penetrate the haunted caverns beneath Dodona, seeking a way to save their doomed nation, Achaea, from the might of Troy. The startling revelation that follows will set Odysseus on his most daunting mission yet, as he seeks to reunite the divided Achaean kingdoms before the rapacious Trojans strike. His journey will pit him against wrathful gods and legendary heroes, in a deadly contest for the hand of Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus, upon whose choice the fate of Achaea rests…
I am a real sucker for Greek myth retellings and 2019 was an outstanding year for this genre, what with this series and Madeline Miller’s wonderful tales. So it was a real treat to revisit this world to complete the series, which is highly recommended for fans of this sub-genre.
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?
I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual space opera adventure – but I did find the ending jarring. And as time goes by, my feeling about it haven’t grown any less raw, which is unusual. I’m not going to claim that Scalzi short-changed his readers, because I don’t think he did – but he came mightily close…
The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
I’ve such a soft spot for sand and sorcery books – and this series is outstanding. I loved each book and despite the fact that I found Dara’s actions shocking, Chakraborty managed to make me really care for him.
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.
This was so much fun! I loved that the dynamic with this entertaining space opera adventure was a desperate mother looking for her kidnapped daughter. But while that may sound rather bleak – this was nothing of the sort. Full of battles and all sorts of exciting action, including blowing up illegal laboratories and hunting savage dinosaurs – I completed this one with a real sense of loss.
It was one of my targets for 2020 to roll up my sleeves and complete more of the ongoing series I’ve been reading. Though I rather lost my head and requested faaar too many new shiny arcs during March and April, which derailed my good intentions, somewhat. However, I’m reasonably happy that I’ve managed to finish seven series so far. Have you read any of these?
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
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