This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.
This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.
Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.
This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.
This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.
This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?
One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel 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?
This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.
This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik “Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?
I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.
I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?
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…
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
I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.
Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom? This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war. A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.
Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year 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. I love a great school story and have read one book from another cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.
Biggest Disappointment Q by Christina Dalcher Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back. Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.
Biggest Surprise You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far). Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.
Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother. This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.
Favourite New Author Marilyn Messik I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series!This is my review of Relatively Strange.
Newest Fictional Crush Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…
Newest Favourite Character Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.
Book That Made You Cry The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel 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? This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.
Book That Made You Happy The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.
The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too. A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.
Favourite Book to Film adaptation Sanditon by Jane Austen Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year Underland by Robert MacFarlane In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.” This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?
What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year? As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…
I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.
Reading I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:
Writing I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!
I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.
Blogging I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
While we needed the rain, I found it really hard to suddenly have to deal with the lower light levels and colder temperatures. Thank goodness I woke up yesterday to find bright sunshine pouring in through the window, so we went out into the garden to do some weeding and move some plants. The fresh, shiny leaves are bursting into life and they look fabulous. I am wrapping my head around the fact that during this terrible time, this has been the most beautiful Spring I can remember. Our echiums just go from strength to strength…
Non-gardening news: I sat in my sister’s garden last weekend more than 6 feet apart from her and caught up – I miss her so… She is still working flat-out at the chemists and returns home each night exhausted, as she finds wearing all the protective clothing hot and stifling – although she is very aware how important it is. Upsettingly, some customers have been incredibly rude. One man told her colleague that she looked ‘ugly and ridiculous in that get-up’ – as if it was some kind of fashion choice! Thank goodness people like that are in the minority…
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel 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? This has been a complete joy. My only sorrow is that my journey with this wonderfully realised, complex man is now over. Review to follow.
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest. The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn’t believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective’s earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India’s hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges. This has been another entertaining read in an excellent series that so far has delivered every time – but I think this one is my favourite so far…
Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving. From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know. This was fun! I loved the paranormal hi-jinks that Sandra was plunged into, the humour and real creepy tension was nicely balanced. Review to follow.
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest. I enjoyed this lush YA fantasy adventure, though I did feel that perhaps another character would have made a more effective protagonist. Review to follow.
After Seth by Caron Garrod At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world. •Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse. •Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience. •Imogen – obsessed and delusional. And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified? It was a wonderful treat to discover that one of my former writing students has released a novel she was working on when attending my class. I have read it to discover how it turned out – and I was so impressed! Review to follow.