Tag Archives: Victorian London

Sunday Post – 28th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another busy week. On Tuesday I returned to Northbrook to start the last course I’ll be teaching there – even as I type the words, it doesn’t quite seem real… I was delighted to be able to run all three classes again and meet up with my lovely students.

My friend, Mhairi also drove down from Lincolnshire and came to stay, so after arriving when I returned from college at around 9.30 pm, we stayed up until about 3 am in the wee small hours of Wednesday to catch up. Much later on Wednesday morning, we went out for breakfast to Morrisons and she joined in our Pilates session in the afternoon. After hobbling away, we both agreed we needed to go more often! On Thursday, I resumed teaching Tim, though last week I accompanied him and his mother when we went to the music college that has offered him a place on their songwriting course – the same course attended by Tom Odell… There are still a few issues to address, but whether he actually goes or not – it’s a massive achievement to have been offered the place.

Yesterday I went shopping with my sister in Worthing. Her 60th birthday is looming and we’re off to an all-expenses paid spa break together so some serious shopping needed doing… We were shattered by the time we finished and decided that it’s something we need to do more often! I was doing the driving so once I took her home, I stayed and we had a takeaway Chinese – yum – before I returned home.

Last week I read:

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
It’s always something of a risk, plunging into the final book of a much-loved series and I won’t deny that I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have been – Caruso brought this outstanding series to a magnificent conclusion. This is one of my favourite series of the last few years…

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection – Collected Short Stories
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
If I don’t listen to anything else – ever, this gem has made my foray into the world of audiobooks worth it and represents fantastic value as it cost me all of one credit for 72 hours of fabulous listening. While I wouldn’t want to read through this – listening to it while cleaning the bathroom transforms a miserable chore into a wonderful pleasure. It has been split into six sections and I am prolonging the joy by listening to something else in between.

My posts last week:

Review of The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Teaser Tuesday featuring Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Friday Faceoff featuring A Hat Full of Sky – Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

I don’t believe in diabetes https://writerunboxed.com/2019/04/26/i-dont-believe-in-diabetes/ This thoughtful, passionate article on writers’ block is something I also feel strongly about, having taught a number of students whose writing mojo suddenly deserted them.

Monday Musing: Fangirling https://randombookmuses.com/2019/04/22/monday-musing-fangirling/ This moving article highlights just how important books and the imaginative worlds they create can become to readers…

The International Extinction Rebellion https://acstark.net/2019/04/19/the-international-extinction-rebellion/ I am increasingly dismayed at the tardy, inadequate response to the gathering catastrophic climatic changes around the world and ongoing struggles of our wildlife by all the leading governments – particularly ours which is currently paralysed.

Rainy Day Reads: Top Ten Tuesday https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/rainy-day-reads-top-ten-tuesday/ It’s always useful to have some solid recommendations and this selection particularly caught my eye…

How to Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey https://lorraineambers.com/2019/04/18/how-to-plan-your-protagonists-journey/ I really like the way Lorraine has approached this subject. Whether you are a planner or a pantzer, this can still be an invaluable aid to sorting out your thoughts before plunging into your w.i.p.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

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Friday Faceoff – It shuffles through the dry, dusty darkness…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is mummification,, so I’ve chosen The Osiris Ritual – Book 2 of the Newbury and Hobbs seriesby George Mann – see my review here.

 

This gorgeous cover, produced by Snow Books in September 2009, is my favourite. I love the colours, the vivid colouring and beautiful, apt detail. The balance of information against that eye-catching design is perfect – in short this is one of my all-time favourite covers and is certainly the best of this selection.

 

This edition, produced in August 2010 by Tor Books is also a great effort. The giant sphinx and dark, muted colours certainly give a sense of the threat and catch the eye. I also like the title and author fonts, but it does lack the wonderful detail and flair of the previous cover.

 

Published in February 2012 by Piper, this is yet another strong offering, with plenty going on that is particularly applicable to the content. I like the steampunk cogs decorating the frame – enjoyable as well as informative – while the bridge disappearing off into the distant London landscape works well, given what the Osiris ritual is all about.

 

This cover, produced by Titan Books in November 2015, is another effective effort. The gold immediately sings out, drawing the eye and definitely setting it apart on the shelf – and again, I appreciate the icon that lets the reader know this is steampunk. It also sports the Newbury and Hobbes label – appropriate as this detective duo set in a steampunk version of Victorian London now has a solid fan following.

 

This edition was produced by Fahrenheitbooks in November 2014. This is the weakest effort, with a generic image that I don’t think works all that well with the font. Having said that, you would certainly notice it on a bookshelf. Which is your favourite?

Review of Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

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I love Wilson’s books. They helped my granddaughter come to terms with her parents’ breakup as she was able to read about other children facing the same devastating issue. We also started the awesome Hetty Feather books, set in Victorian England, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I pounced on it with glee…

clovermoonClover Moon’s imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage – and the chance – to break free? And could leaving her family be just what she needs to find a place that really feels like home?

I came to this book with high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. Clover is a spirited, tough little girl living in a Victorian slum, spending her days looking after her younger brothers and sisters and cooking and cleaning alongside her abusive step-mother, Mildred. Her character pings off the page as we learn of her daily life, busy entertaining the smaller children and her spirits and vivid imagination often getting her into a great deal of trouble. Back in Victorian times, that meant beatings. And Clover gets more than her fair share of those.

However, Wilson has perfectly judged the tone. Clover could so easily have become a victimised, downtrodden little waif, undernourished, poorly dressed and dirty as she is. But she’s as tough as nails, not averse to scrapping for what she needs and in her own words, regularly lies to avoid getting into trouble.

I picked up this book, intending to read a couple of chapters before putting it back down and then getting on with my work. Only I didn’t. It simply would not be put down – the story gripped me and wouldn’t let go until the end. Wilson takes me right into the heart of Victorian England and having studied history as part of my teaching degree, I would have become quickly irritated if the facts and depiction had jarred. They didn’t. Like the companion books about Hetty Feather, Wilson has clearly immersed herself in this period and every character bounced off the page and into my imagination.

I’m not the target audience for this book, being too old by far too many decades – but if you are ever looking for a book to make the Victorian era fully spring to life for children between the ages of nine and twelve, then I recommend Clover Moon. And for fans of Hetty Feather, she also makes a brief appearance in this page-turner, too. A useful, informative addition – at the back of the book are some facts about how children lived in Queen Victoria’s reign, a potted history of how child protection gradually became law and details of how children today can contact Childline. This book is highly recommended and the fact this arc was provided by the publisher via NetGalley has not affected my honest opinion of Clover Moon.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th November 2016

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This week has been a lot calmer, thank goodness. I cannot believe that there is only three more weeks to go before we break up for Christmas – where has this term gone? I received the news on Friday that both next term’s Creative Writing courses have now sufficient students to run, which is a lovely position to be at this stage in the term.

This week I resumed my Fitstep and Pilates classes after a two week break – and realised just how fast I’d lost ground in my efforts to keep fit… it was a struggle! On Thursday, my writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and we both got plenty of writing done, as well as putting the universe right. And on Friday morning, to celebrate Himself overcoming a miserable spell at work, we treated ourselves to an outing – we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at Chichester, then had lunch out together. I’ll be reviewing the film this coming week.

I’ve only read two books this week and one of those is a children’s book, but I’ve been working hard on my rewrite for Miranda’s Tempest and after having made a really strong start, I’ve hit the boggy mid-book bit. As I’m also making a major viewpoint change, it is slow going for the time being, until I hit the final few chapters, which I’m confident will be mostly as is.

This week I have read:
Synners by Pat Cadigan
In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the synnersexternal landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This award-winning cyberpunk adventure from 1992 is eerily prescient and well worth the effort of slowing my normal reading rate right down so I could fully appreciate the technical world-building. It took a while to get going, but is a satisfying, thought-provoking read and an apt reminder of why science fiction is my favourite genre.

 

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson
clovermoonClover Moon’s imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage – and the chance – to break free? And could leaving her family be just what she needs to find a place that really feels like home?

I love Wilson’s gritty, tender writing and this Victorian adventure about a child born into a London slum was impossible to put down once I opened it up. And for those who enjoyed Wilson’s awesome Hetty Feather series, there is a wonderful scene where Clover meets up with the indomitable Hetty. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 13th November 2016

Review of Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Synners by Pat Cadigan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Empire Asunder – Book 2 of The Scourwind Legacy by Evan Currie

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Friday Faceoff – The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play… featuring Storm Front – Book 1 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Review of The Silver Tide – Book 3 of The Copper Cat series by Jen Williams

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

All the Gear and No Idea Guide to Maintaining Fitness in Wellington http://memoirsonthemove.com/maintaining-fitness-wellington/ In this enjoyable article, Jess charts her efforts to find a suitable pilates class after recently settling in New Zealand from the UK. But you don’t have to go around halfway around to world to pick up some sound practical tips if seeking a suitable exercise class.

These Words are Knives and Bridges https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/11/17/these-words-are-knives-bridges/ There are times when people who have undergone terrible experiences take the brave, generous decision to share them in all their raw messiness with rest of us. Jean is one such courageous person and I honour her for it. It doesn’t hurt that she also happens to write like an angel…

Five Fascinating Facts about John Skelton https://interestingliterature.com/2016/11/18/five-fascinating-facts-about-john-skelton/ This site is one of my favourites – and this particular article snagged my attention as John Skelton is an ancestor of mine.

That moment just before… https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/that-moment-just-before/ Another favourite site – and this beautiful pic says it all.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of The Executioner’s Heart – Book 4 of the Newbury and Hobbes Investigations by George Mann

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This is the fourth full-length novel in this entertaining series featuring the pair of Victorian sleuths battling all manner of evil-doers, with gothic overtones and all manner of intriguing steam-powered contraptions. I have really enjoyed the books up to now – see my reviews of The Osiris Ritual and The Immorality Engine – so will I enjoy this latest instalment?

theexecutionersheartWhen Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, is called to the scene of the third murder in quick succession where the victim’s chest has been cracked open and their heart torn out, he sends for supernatural specialist Sir Maurice Newbury and his determined assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes. The two detectives discover that the killings may be the work of a mercenary known as the Executioner. French, uncannily beautiful, her flesh covered in tattoos and inlaid with precious metals, the Executioner is famed throughout Europe. But her heart is damaged, leaving her an emotionless shell, inexplicably driven to collect her victims’ hearts as trophies.

This book immediately plunges us into a tension-filled scene where we witness a terrible event overtaking one of the main protagonists – and then the narrative timeline jumps backwards to the events leading up to it… We regularly see this device in the CSI franchise, but it occurs less often in books. It certainly works here. The character in questions happens to be my favourite, so I was gripped by the need to discover exactly what went on and ensure that this major character emerges from her terrible experience unscathed.

I also liked the fact that we were taken into the world of this shadowy assailant, learning of her tragic past and how she turned into this merciless, brutal killer. It is always a bonus when the main antagonist has a convincing backstory which gives us an insight as to how she becomes a heartless murderer.

Alongside this ongoing investigation, is the ongoing tension from the overarching narrative arc and the continuing shockwaves from the shocking denouement from the previous book, The Immorality Engine. All series deserve to be read in the correct order, and while you could crash into the middle of this one (for once, something I didn’t do…) because of the characters’ journey and development, it really pays to read these in sequence.

I enjoy this world – steampunk at its best can be great fun, and Mann has Queen Victoria hooked up to a steam-powered life support machine, growing ever more paranoid and lethal. As those tasked with keeping law and order in her capital city, Newbury and Hobbes are unavoidably caught up in her machinations. But the newly emerging Secret Service is also causing concern – are they a nest of traitors, colluding with the German agents plotting for the Kaiser to overthrow Victoria? She certainly thinks so.

This could all collapse into a real mess if not handled with skill. It doesn’t. The climax is every bit as shocking as the explosive finish to The Immorality Engine and leaves the book on something of a cliffhanger. I’m not going to say more, but I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment The Revenant Express, due out next year.

9/10

Review of Bronze Gods – Book 1 of the Apparatus Infernum series by A.A. Aguirre

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I’ve loved Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series – see my review of Grimspace here. So I was excited to spot this steampunk crime offering, which is a joint effort between herself and her husband Andre. Would I enjoy it as much as her punchy space opera series?

bronzegodsJanus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko work all hours in the Criminal Investigation Division, keeping the citizens of Dorstaad safe. He’s a charming rogue with Fae blood and an uncanny sixth sense; she’s all logic – and the first female inspector. Between them they collar more criminals than any other partnership in the CID. Then they’re assigned a potentially volatile case where one misstep could end their careers. The daughter of one of the great houses is found murdered – her body charred to cinders by an intricate and deadly device. A ruthless killer is stalking the gaslit streets, weaving blood and magic in a lethal ritual that could mean the end of everything they hold dear…

The worldbuilding is dealt with in the prologue – I really like the mash-up of classic steampunk with strong fantasy elements, like a diminished Fae race. And it means that some of the more unpleasant prejudices embedded in the classic Victorian steampunk genre are deftly sidestepped – though a tendency to keep women firmly in the home is still a major feature.

But in order for this novel to succeed, the partnership between Janus and Celeste must work – and it certainly does. I very much enjoyed the dual level at which they function, with Celeste dealing with suspects or persons of interest on a human level, with Janus extending his Fae sensibilities to assist in working out who is lying. It is nicely done. Their relationship is also shifting, as their former romantic attachments now are no longer attached. Yep. I know it all sounds something of a cliché – but the strong characterisation and enjoyable twists and turns are engrossing and very readable.

I turned to this offering when smitten with a heavy cold, and it certainly took my mind off my physical miseries. The murder mystery is well handled – I generally don’t bother to expend too much energy trying to figure out whodunit, but I did have my own theories as to who did what to whom, which all turned out to be completely wrong. Always the mark of a well-plotted mystery.

The final denouement was suitably exciting, producing a handful of major gamechangers and one major dangling plot thread that will be dealt with in the next book, Silver Mirrors, which I am definitely tracking down.
8/10

Review of The Yard Book 1 of The Murder Squad by Alex Grecian

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Last term, my Creative Writing students nominated and brought in examples of writing by their favourite author. One of my students presented the opening pages of this book and I was sufficiently impressed to track the book down.

theyard1889. One year on from Jack the Ripper, a new killer stalks London’s streets… But he has not reckoned on Scotland Yard’s newly formed Murder Squad and the team of new-recruit Walter Day and the world first forensic pathologist, Dr Kingsley…

This isn’t Sherlock Holmes’s London, though. This is a far more visceral and frightening view of London from those bumping along the lower layers of the very rigid social strata – and it’s a great deal less cosy if you don’t have a bed for the night, or the money to get one. Grecian has clearly done his homework. With an unprecedented jump in the population of Great Britain and the industrial revolution in full swing, people were flocking to all the major cities. Provision for fresh water and sewerage were inadequate and housing insufficient making all the cities breeding places for disease and crime, which mostly went unchecked. And I’m not taking Grecian’s word for this – I happened to study this period in history for my degree and some of the grim statistics I’d gaped at then, now have become flesh and blood characters in this gritty read.

There are some familiar elements in this crime thriller. We have an idealistic newbie starting work with an overburdened, harried team whose new boss is causing concern because he’s taking far too much notice of what is happening in his department for the comfort of some of the more experienced detectives. There is a deranged killer with an innocent victim in his clutches, who regards Saucy Jack – the Ripper – as a role model. And a sullen, angry populace who feel let down because in their daily lives they don’t get protection from whatever the local villains feel like dishing out.

There are also flashes of dark humour in this twisting, adrenaline-fuelled story that help leaven the grim backdrop. My favourite character is Dr Kingsley, the hospital surgeon who encounters the stinking hole that went by the name of the City Morgue when looking for his dead wife – and single-handedly takes over the running of it. He is the one who starts examining bodies for clues and reads up on the latest papers, so begins to use shredded charcoal to take fingerprints to help identify potential murderers. I love his unshakeable faith in the power of science to put right the wrongs he sees around him and it certainly encapsulates the can-do spirit of the Victorian educated man.

The climax of the book is deftly handled, giving an entirely satisfactory ending to the various plotpoints weaving through the story, while leaving a couple of openings for the sequel. So will I be tracking down The Black Country? Oh yes – Alex Grecian’s historical crime series is a riveting, enjoyable read.
8/10