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.