Saturday, 1 February 2020

Review: Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

I was attracted to this book because of the beautiful cover - fantasy novels always have the best covers!

Feathertide is the story of Marea, who is born in a brothel and not allowed to leave - her mother worries that she will be made of fun of or stolen away. Marea, you see, is covered in golden feathers like a bird, although she cannot fly. When Marea reaches her seventeenth birthday she goes in search of her mysterious father in the City of Murmurs, a strange, half-flooded city of canals and little bridges (Venice?), where she meets a prophetess and a mermaid, and learns of the strange bird men who live on floating islands and only appear with the mist...

I'm not sure whether Feathertide is supposed to be a YA novel but I think it would appeal more to younger readers. Although clever and imaginative, it is a slow-burn story that I enjoyed more once I'd got past the halfway mark and Marea began to make friends in her new home. Feathertide has a touch of romance and a sprinkle of fairytale magic, and is a coming-of-age story - covering the pain of first love and of learning to accept who you are. 

Thank you to Beth Cartwright and Del Ray (Ebury) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Review: The Lantern Men (Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries #12) by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths is one of  my favourite crime writers and I was thrilled to receive an early copy of The Lantern Men - the latest in the author's popular Ruth Galloway series. You don't need to read these books in order but it is helpful if you do, because the same characters reappear.

In this story Ruth has moved away from her cottage on the Saltmarsh and is no longer Norfolk police's resident forensic archaeologist. Instead, she is living in Cambridge with her new partner. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson has learnt that charismatic murderer Ivor March has finally been found guilty of murdering two women. Before Harry can close the case, he needs Ivor to admit to two other murders and tell him where the bodies are buried, but Ivor says he will only confess if Ruth agrees to take charge of the dig...

Elly Griffiths writes exactly the kind of murder mysteries I love to read: fully rounded characters I really care about, combined with a fiendishly tricky mystery to solve. I thought I'd sussed out the murder's identity this time but no, I was wrong again! My favourite characters are Harry (he's such a dinosaur) and Cathbad the druid. I think I enjoy this series because the stories have a touch of warmth to them, missing in many crime novels. I also love the subtle humour! In this book, as a spooky bonus, the sinister legend of the Lantern Men has been woven into the story. The quirky forensic details are great too. I don't think I will ever look at nettles in the same way again!

The Lantern Men would suit fans of classic/traditional-style murder mysteries and authors who mix archaeology and crime, such as Kate Ellis. Although Elly has done a great job in explaining who-is-who and what-is-what in a very subtle way for new readers, to receive the most enjoyment I'd recommend at least starting with the first book in the series (The Crossing Places) before diving into this one.

Thank you to Elly Griffiths and Quercus for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Sunday, 12 January 2020

Review: The Slaughterman's Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits

I was attracted to this book because of the absolutely stunning cover but the story is darker than it suggests. The Slaughterman's Daughter is a historical adventure, set in the late 19th century in the Pale of Settlement (an area of Imperial Russia including Belarus and parts of Poland) where Jews were forced to live. The publishers have described the story as being a cross between Quentin Tarantino and Fiddler on the Roof, and that pretty much sums it up! If you're looking for a book that is a little bit different, this is the read for you.

In the isolated, godforsaken town of Motal husbands go missing on a regular basis (they've usually run off in search of a better life) but never wives and mothers. So when Fanny Keismann - devoted wife, mother of five, and celebrated cheese-maker - leaves her home in the middle of the night, the town is aghast. Rumours regarding her disappearance rapidly circulate, some of which even turn out to be true.

The Slaughterman's Daughter is basically Fanny's attempt to find her missing brother-in-law and persuade (force!) him to come home. As she sets off on her road trip, everything that could go wrong does, unwittingly involving all kinds of innocent (and not so innocent) people, until the highest powers become convinced the country is on the brink of revolution. It is a rollicking story that shows how the simplest actions and purest thoughts can quickly lead to disaster.

There is a serious message running through The Slaughterman's Daughter but there is also humour. I loved the titular character of Fanny, who hacks her way through the story in a very Tarantino way! (There is the occasional scene of mild gore.) The other characters are utterly believable and completely engaging; I even found myself sympathising with the the villains. There are multiple points of view and we learn every character's backstory. As fascinating as these tales-within-a-tale were, they did slow down the pace quite a lot. But if take-you-by-the-throat characters, seat-of-your-pants action, and oodles of authentic atmosphere are your thing, you will definitely love this. Personally, I'd love to see it made into a movie...

Thank you to Yaniv Iczkovits and MacLehose Press (Quercus) for  my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Review: Monster She Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson

Monster, She Wrote is an informative guide to female horror writers, and perfect for someone like me, who loves gothic and ghostly fiction, and finding new authors to read. There are over 35 authors listed, starting with Margaret Cavendish (The Blazing World), known as 'Mad Madge' for her wild fashion and loud behaviour, and ending with modern authors such as Helen Oyeyemi, Susan Hill, Sarah Waters and Angela Carter.

Monster, She Wrote looks at how the original gothic fiction written by Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho) evolved, via authors such as Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), through the Victorian trend for ghost stories and into the science fiction of the 20th century. I found it fascinating to read about my favourite authors (Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier and Anne Rice) as well as authors I had heard of but not read: V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic).

In addition to a potted biography for each author, there is a suggested reading list and mention of their contemporaries - if you fancy trying something similar but different. The genres covered are gothic fiction, horror, ghost stories, science-fiction, domestic thrillers, psychological suspense, fantasy, paranormal and supernatural, and re-tellings of fairy stories. This book is perfect for either dipping into or reading from cover to cover. I really enjoyed it, I can definitely recommend it - and I've found lots of new authors to try too!

Thank you to Lisa Kroger, Melanie R. Anderson and Quirk Books for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Review: Brimstone by Justine Rosenberg (The Metals Trilogy #1)

I chose to read this book because of the beautiful cover and I always enjoy reading stories about gateways to other worlds.

Ava Sandrino is a knight fallen from grace, who now earns her living as a prostitute. When she shelters Sariel, an escaped vampire-like slave, he tells her of a gateway to another world - a place where anyone can make their fortune. In trouble for harbouring Sariel, and with an old enemy soon on her trail, Ava has no choice but to try to go on the run. But when she is parted from Sariel, how will she ever find her way back to him and this new world?

Brimstone is well-written and I particularly liked Ava as a character. However, there is very little world-building, meaning that either I couldn't work out what was going on or the story was slowed right down by having the characters explain who-was-who and what-was-what. The book is very short (166 pages, according to Amazon), making it novella-length, but as it finishes without resolving anything, it gives the unfortunate impression that it is a full-length book cut into three parts.

I should think fans of fantasy novels would enjoy Brimstone but be aware you would probably need to buy all three parts to fully appreciate the story. 

Thank you to Justine Rosenberg for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

The original hardback cover for this book was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen (a wishing well in a wood) but it implied the story was a re-telling of a fairy tale - which it isn't - and that's why the reviews are mixed. Gingerbread is one of those novels where the author leaves you wondering if this a tale of magic, or a modern fable (referencing Brexit, people trafficking and immigration), or entirely in the heroine's mind. Even after finishing it, I'm still not certain!

Gingerbread is a story within a story. Harriet Lee lives at the top of a London tower block (the tallest tower of fairy tales) with her teenage daughter Perdita. Harriet is hard-working, practical and kind. She tries very hard to be accepted by the Parents' Association at Perdita's school, even baking them her 'famous' gingerbread. But all her attempts - and her gingerbread - are rejected. Then Perdita is rushed to hospital. While Harriet waits for her daughter to recover, Perdita insists that Harriet tells her the true story of where they came from and who her father is - because Harriet's homeland, Druh├ístrana, does not appear on any map...

The best part of Gingerbread is the very clever writing. Other books may contain ten brilliant lines in all; in Gingerbread there are ten brilliant lines on almost every page. The story is a very slow burn. Every character, even the minor ones, have lengthy backstories and the story meanders about, but there is humour and a tiny bit of romance, and some parts are truly magical. I loved the description of Harriet's flat and Perdita's dolls. Another favourite bit was where Harriet went to live with the Kerchevals and met Perdita's father. wasn't so keen on the gingerbread theme park!

You have to be the kind of reader who enjoys long books with lots of detail, a clever turn of phrase, and the ability to enjoy a good story without thinking about the logic of it too much. You can think about that after you've finished it! The only book I can think of that's vaguely similar is Life of Pi - a fantastical story-within-a-story of one person's life. If you're looking for a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, you will be disappointed - even though there actually is a character called Gretel!

Thank you to Helen Oyeyemi and Picador (Pan Macmillan) for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A Midwinter Promise by Lulu Taylor

Lulu Taylor is one of my absolute favourite authors so I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of this book. The story is about the Pengelly family and has a dual timeline: 1970s/1980s combined with the run-up to Christmas in the present day.

In the past we see Julia grow from a troubled child into an adult. She believes she's put the tragedies of her past behind her and can now concentrate on her children and restoring the  beautiful family home, Tawray. In the present day, Julia's grown-up children try to solve the mystery of what happened to their mother, along with their own personal problems, before Tawray is lost to them forever. 

The cover for this book is absolutely gorgeous and, as the title suggests, this is more a winter-themed book than a Christmas one. Christmas is briefly mentioned at the start and end. This was one of my favourite parts of the book because Julia's daughter Alex has taken over the tradition of decorating Tawray with dried flowers and I loved the descriptions of the process, which reminded me of Cotehele.

Alex and her brother Johnnie were my favourite characters. Alex is a people-pleaser, whereas it is only just beginning to dawn on the rebellious Johnnie that he might be taking his wife (and happy family life) for granted - and that if he doesn't buck his ideas up, he'll lose both. Their step-mother Sally makes a splendid Dolores Umbridge style villain. I'm old enough to remember the 80s, so it was fun spotting all those references too. One of the characters works for Princess Diana. The behind-the-scenes glimpses into her life are fascinating. There are also a couple of great twists at the end. In addition, the story does cover darker subjects (which I probably shouldn't mention specifically because of spoilers) but this is done in a very sensitive way.

A Midwinter Promise is a brilliant book and I found it utterly addictive. Recommended, especially if you like historical timelines, big old houses, something a little bit different to your usual Christmas read, and authors such as Eve Chase (Black Rabbit Hall), Harriet Evans (The Garden of Lost and Found) and Kate Morton (The Forgotten Garden).

Thank you to Lulu Taylor and Pan Macmillan for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Review: The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

I've not read anything by Karen Swan before but I was attracted by the lovely Christmasy cover and I'm addicted to Christmas books at the moment. However, I was so glad I downloaded The Christmas Party because it is a lovely romantic story, with brilliant characters that leap off the page. If you're looking for the perfect book to read in the run-up to Christmas, this is it.

When Declan Lorne (the last remaining knight in Ireland) dies unexpectedly, his ancient title dies with him. But his ramshackle estate, including a decrepit castle, is to be divided between his three daughters - and that doesn't go quite the way everyone expects either. The story is told from the point of view of the three sisters, Ottie, Pip and Willow, who now have to make some tough decisions. Will letting go of the past be the only way to secure their future?

What I loved most about this book was the characters. I found it refreshing that these women are not perfect and throughout the book they seemed to take it turns to behave badly (especially Pip!). I was left thinking 'Why did you DO that?!!' But it just made me love them more - especially Pip! I loved the big old castle that was falling down around their ears and the pressure on poor Willow to sell or not to sell. I especially loved the idea of throwing a fabulous Christmas party in a kind of 'out with the old, in with the new' kind of way. And there were a couple of terrific twists towards the end.

The Christmas Party is one of my favourite reads this year. I've just bought another Karen Swan book and I shall be starting it very soon!

Thank you to Karen Swan and Pan for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

I loved Frances Hardinge's historical fantasy, The Lie Tree, and couldn't wait to read her new book, Deeplight. It combines fantasy with a terrific adventure story, reminiscent of Greek and Roman myths. Only in this story, the gods are monstrous beasts.

For centuries these gods terrorised the Myriad until one day, without warning, they turned on each other. Within a week all the gods were dead and an industry had sprung up salvaging scraps of the corpses. Hark and Jelt make a dishonest living scavenging this 'god ware'. Jelt is the unprincipled leader but Hark is the one who ends up in trouble. Hark's skill is that he usually talks his way out of it - until the day he's caught and finds himself indentured to a scientist obsessed with harvesting the magical powers of this god ware.

Frances Hardinge has the most amazing imagination - I am in awe! - and the incredibly detailed world she has created is a masterclass in world-building. The characters are flawed but thoroughly engaging. It was wonderful seeing them grow and change, especially Hark's heart-breaking realisation that Jelt only cares about himself. Or, as Selphin says, "You're not allowed to choose your friends any more." My favourite character was the pragmatic Selphin and her love/hate relationship with the sea. I became so immersed in the Deeplight world, that even several days after I'd finished the book, the story still stayed in my head.

Deeplight is a clever cross between Mary Shelley and Jules Verne. I have no hesitation in recommending Deeplight to fans of YA fantasy and anyone who loves a thrilling adventure story. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thank you to Frances Hardinge and Macmillan Children's Books for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Monday, 7 October 2019

A Wedding In December by Sarah Morgan

I've not read anything by Sarah Morgan before but I adore Christmas romances and could not resist downloading this one. The cover is gorgeous too!

This story is about the women of the White family and all the secrets they are keeping from each other - secrets that are sure to come out when they meet up for a glamorous wedding in Aspen. Maggie is married to Nick, an Egyptologist. They've been living apart for six months but Maggie hasn't been able to bring herself to tell their two grown-up daughters, Katie and Rosie. Katie is working all hours as a doctor, and is on the brink of a breakdown after a traumatic event. When her younger sister Rosie announces that she's getting married to someone she's only just met, Katie's sole intention is to stop it taking place. Rosie, meanwhile, has spent her life trying to prove to her family that she's a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions - but is the decision to marry so quickly the right one?

I loved A Wedding in December. It's chock-full of brilliant characters that I couldn't help rooting for. I loved 'Cactus Katie', her determination to protect her sister at all costs, even if that means stopping the wedding, and her prickliness towards poor Jordan. The part when she's trying to cross an icy bridge, determined not to ask for help, is priceless. Maggie is funny, Rosie is sweet - and so is poor Nick, who is not quite sure how he ended up on the wrong side of a divorce. 

A Wedding in December is perfect for anyone wanting an escapist, heart-warming, romantic festive read in the run-up to Christmas. One of my favourites this year.

Thank you to Sarah Morgan and HQ for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.