New to me authors read in 2018

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic is:

New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

So, I went through my list of books for 2018 and I had a lot of good books and a lot of those books were written by authors I’d previously not read, in fact I think a good number of them were also impressive debuts.  I’ve narrowed it down as best I could – I’m still a little over the limit but here goes:

  1. Hazelwood by Melissa Albert
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Semiosis by Sue Burke
  4. Age of Assassins by RJ Barker
  5. Kin by Snorri Kristjansson
  6. Master Assassins by Robert V S Redick
  7. The Poppy War by R F Kuang
  8. The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence #1) by K.D. Edwards
  9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  10. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  11. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

 

 

 

 

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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

once1Once Upon a River was one of my most anticipated reads for 2019.  This is my third book by this author and frankly I find her a storyteller of unusual depth and charm.  Her books have an almost ‘old quality’ and I find myself reading them with a powerful sense of nostalgia that takes me back to a time when my gran used to tell me and my sister old tales, some seemed to come straight out of her own imagination, some would be familiar, but those were times that we both loved and still hanker after.  Once Upon a River has a beautiful fairytale feel that evokes times of old and tells the story of an ancient inn where people still come to share stories over a jug or two of beer.

As the story begins the regulars of the Swan Inn are exchanging yarns when the door bursts open and in steps a man carrying a child, the two of them drenched and clearly the victims of an accident of some sort.  At first appearance the drinkers, maybe due to the drink, mistake the child for a puppet, her skin is so pale and waxy, and they focus their attention on the injuries sustained by the man until the innkeeper’s son realises this isn’t a puppet at all but a little girl of maybe 4 years.  The local nurse is called for who, in no nonsense fashion, sets about attending to the man’s injuries.  Meanwhile the body of the little girl is placed out of the way – it’s too late to treat her injuries, no pulse, dilated pupils and waxy skin tell their own tale.  And yet, something bothers the nurse, a nagging doubt that drives her to check the little girl once again and discover that she isn’t dead after all.  Mistake or miracle – the story is about to begin and their will be plenty of hypothesising and embroidering along the way.

I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot in this review.  This is a mystery story with a historic feel that uses folklore, superstition and magical realism to drive the tale forwards.

There are quite a number of characters involved.  We have a young couple who have suffered a terrible loss and are unable to drag themselves out of the depths of despair, we have a young girl who lives a strange existence on a remote spit of land along the Thames, we have a charismatic farmer and his family who seem to live a charmed life but for their oldest son who seems to be going astray somewhat, and we have the nurse, who long ago decided not to marry and bear children, having seen only too often the price paid in childbirth, however, that was before she found herself with a would be suitor in the form of the local photographer (who coincidentally was the injured man from the start of the story who has become fixated with the nurse who tended him).  Finally, the young girl whose miraculous recovery sparked stories to spread like wildfire up and down the banks of the Thames.  Everyone seems to be drawn to this young girl, she is an enigma, she hasn’t spoken since her recovery and her melancholy air draws people to her like a flame draws the moth.  They want to look after her, make her smile, but she remains aloof, unhappy and desperately attracted to the river that almost took her life.

The setting has a period feel although I’m not sure if an actual year was mentioned.  References to Darwin are made and the story has a Dicken’s feel in terms of the style and feel.  At times, there is a romantic, meandering, almost lyrical feel.  The place evokes a bygone age of charm and simplicity and yet at other times this is countered by the darkness of human behaviour and the more seedy side of existence.  I also loved the role that the Thames plays – at times twinkling innocently in spite of it’s deep and perilous currents, at other times shrouded in mist and mystery.  It almost takes on the persona of another character, sometimes moody, sometimes playful but always a force to be reckoned with and never to be underestimated.

The writing is beautiful, the type of writing that you simply have to savour.  This is not a book to be raced through although it is certainly a page turner.  I was quite bewitched to be honest although at the same time I would say this is a slow burner and at times there was almost a point where I almost, almost, reached that stage where I wanted to move forward and stop dwelling on a certain point – thankfully the author always seemed to move on at just the right moment.  However, be aware that this book definitely has the feel of an old style classic both in terms of the gentle pace and old fashioned sensibilities.  Personally, it worked for me like a charm but I recognise that I have a love of tales of this nature where the setting and telling have less of a contemporary feel and more of a determination to spin a tale that lures you slowly and surely.

Overall, I loved this book and I don’t have any criticisms.  My only caution to perspective readers would be that if you’re expecting a headlong rush through a mystery novel then this might not be the book for you.  If you like the idea of a beautiful, adult fairytale, told in a desultory fashion that evokes bygone days where magic and miracles still seemed possible then what are you waiting for.  An adult fairytales that manages to blend, history, mystery, folklore, religion and science and with all those things in the mix leaves you feeling ‘what if’.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

Kingshold (The Wildfire Cycle #1) by D.P. Woolliscroft #SPFBO Review

KingsholdKingshold was one of the books that I chose to read completely and review for the first phase of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  It is, without doubt, an impressive debut and a strong foundation for the rest of the series and in fact was a very close contender for my finalist spot.

The story begins with the murder of the King and Queen by none other than their own wizard, Jyuth.  It seems Jyuth had finally had enough of their wicked ways and decided to take drastic action to remove them from further rule of Edland.  Jyuth, tired of the scheming nobility decrees that the monarchy be abolished and replaced instead with a democracy.  Of course this sounds like it could be ideal, an elected Lord Protector, chosen by the majority vote.  The reality is somewhat different.  Few people are eligible to stand as candidates and even fewer people can afford to vote – certainly the unwashed masses could not afford to whisper their favoured candidate into a pixie ear.  But, there is strength in numbers and with that in mind a small band of unlikely friends come together to promote their own champion and rally the masses. What could possibly go wrong?  Well, in a city that has its own guild of assassins I leave you to reach your own conclusion.

The book contains a number of characters and it’s easy to find favourites.  Jyuth is an ancient wizard.  He seems to be incredibly powerful, a bit curmudgeonly and has a dreadful reputation for not suffering fools.  I found myself liking Jyuth immediately but I liked his daughter, Neenahwi, even more.  We meet Neenahwi as she is undertaking a dangerous quest involving a demon and a search for a powerful gem.  She’s a very easy to like character.  Resourceful, calm and intelligent.  She’s not very happy with Jyuth, not only for throwing the City into a turmoil with the deaths of the monarchs and the introduction of a new democracy but also because he plans to slope off into retirement leaving her smack bang in the middle of all the mess.  Alana is a young woman who takes a position at the palace only to find herself being allocated to serve Jyuth.  This actually turns out in her favour.  Alana is keen to learn and Jyuth enjoys teaching a lively young mind keen for information. Mareth is a bard.  He’s a bit of a drunk and a womaniser to boot but his songs seem to hold power over people and when his talents for charming the crowds are spotted by others he’s enlisted to help one of the candidates.  The plan goes somewhat askew as candidates start to be picked off one by one.  The other players are Hoskins, who acts as a type of administrator and stand-in Lord Protector at the palace and a trio of mercenaries in search of their next job.

At first, it felt like there were quite a few characters to come to terms with but they pretty soon all slotted into place and eventually they come together as their storylines intersect.  Obviously, everyone will have their own favourites but thankfully I didn’t dislike any of the povs and in fact thought the secondary characters were also easy to like.

The story, whilst it revolves primarily around the election and the candidates rush to curry favour and accumulate votes (not to mention desperately trying to stay alive) also takes a couple of side tracks – a diversion involving dwarves and a threat of invasion.  The pacing felt a little slow at the beginning whilst I became familiar with everyone but it pretty quickly gathered momentum.  I think, to be honest, this could probably be trimmed a little to make it a little more punchy but in fairness, I really didn’t struggle at all and I never experienced the dreaded ‘not wanting to pick the book back up after stopping reading’ which sometimes happens.

In terms of setting the majority of the story takes place in Edland.  This is a mediaeval type city that is fairly easy to imagine.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking here but it feels easily recognisable and quite well drawn without the need for weighty descriptions. I guess you could say it has a comfortable feel.

I don’t really have any major criticisms.  I think this is a very well executed book.  The writing is good, the concept pretty unique and the characters come together in a pleasing way.  Personally, I didn’t love Mareth as much as I felt I should.  In his favour, his character really does make some positive changes but I remain on the fence about him for the time being.  The other thing that puzzled me when I read it and in fact still puzzles me now writing this review is the invasion/pirate scene.  I don’t want to give away spoilers so my comments are necessarily vague but, firstly, I didn’t see that coming – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but, secondly, I’m not quite sure what it brought to the story and I feel like I’ve missed something important somehow – however, I put that down to myself, clearly I’ve overlooked something fundamental.

All told, this is a great start to a series that I look forward to continuing.  I have to say that going into this read I had my doubts.  I figured that reading a fantasy story centred around an election process would probably be a little dry.  As it turned out this was a fun read with some well placed humour, the election is more a backdrop and a catalyst for change in a story that becomes more about taking up a cause and doing the right thing in order to succeed, well, that and all the scurrying around trying to stay alive.

I received a copy of the book courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating – 4 of 5 stars

 

Friday Face Off : ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king’

Posted On 11 January 2019

Filed under Book Reviews
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Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – the list has been updated to help out those of you who like to plan ahead – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme. This week’s theme:

‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king’ – A cover that depicts a novel set in the Tudor period

I couldn’t find too many books on my shelves that fitted the theme, well, I could have picked a purely historical novel but I was trying to find something with fantasy elements and so chose Midnight Never Come (The Onyx Court #1) by Marie Brennan:

The covers:

The first cover looks quite sinister to me and more like a vampire type novel than one in which a fae underworld exists.  I’m not absolutely in love with any of the covers this week although the one I’ve chosen is good in terms of being a bit more representative of the story.

My favourite this week is:

midnight2

Like last week I’ve added a Mr Linky here so that you can leave a link if you wish or please leave me a link in the comments so I can visit and check out your covers.  Thanks

Next week – A cover featuring an Amulet 

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ of one of your favourite covers)

2019

18th January – A cover featuring an Amulet – either in the cover or title

25th January – ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’ – A cover featuring a monk/priest/person of the cloth

1st February – A comedy cover

8th February – ‘Hi little cub. Oh no, don’t be ssscared.’ – A cover with snakes

15th February – A heart – for Valentine’s day past

22nd February – “Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death and death will have his day.” – A cover with abandoned building/s

1st March – ‘who will buy this wonderful morning’ – A cover featuring a shop or market

8th March – ‘Two little fishes and a momma fishy too’ – A cover featuring a fish/fishes or other sea creatures

15th March – ‘Beware the moon, lads.’ – A cover with a shapeshifter

22nd March – ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ – A cover featuring a king

29th March – “I thought unicorns were more . . . Fluffy.”  – A cover featuring a unicorn

5th April – ‘nomad is an island’ – A cover featuring a desert landscape

12th April – ‘Odin, Odin, send the wind to turn the tide – A cover featuring a longboat

19th April – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – A cover featuring a school

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

Winter1The Winter of the Witch brings to a conclusion Katherine Arden’s stunning Winternight trilogy.  The complete series is positively a tour de force and a love letter to Russia from the author, who clearly writes from her heart and with a strong foundation of knowledge.  I will start out by saying this is not a book to read as a standalone.  I can’t conceive anybody wishing to jump in at this point as there is such a wealth of story building that would be missed as a result. Also, if you haven’t read the previous books this review may contain spoilers.

As with all the best trilogies, for me, this is a story of three different parts brought together with beautiful writing and wonderful creativity.  We start with the hook, the first story – The Bear and the Nightingale.  Immersed in wonderful folklore, glorious with detail that positively makes the characters and place jump off the page and also brings to us the strange and compelling relationship between a young woman, out of sync with the time in which she’s been born, and a frost demon.  The second story, The Girl in the Tower, is jam packed with dramatic adventure, risks and reveals and culminates in a dramatic and fiery ending.  The third book picks up immediately where the second left off.  Moscow is reeling from fire and death and Vasya is the target for the fear and hate being whipped up into a frenzy by a religious fanatic.  On top of this a further threat looms in the shape of a gathering army approaching Moscow.

This book brings to us all the characters that we’ve come to love (and not love).  Vasya comes into her own, she finds out about her family and her abilities and discovers much more about the fantastical and unseen world in which she lives.  Her sister Olga and her brother Sasha both play roles and Morozko, after commiting a huge sacrifice also plays a further role as the relationship between himself and Vasya takes real form.  More than all of that is the creatures that take part in the story, not just the chyerti and the domovoi, but also Baba Yaga, her servant the mistress of midnight, legendary horses and the undead, the upyr.  The final character, who really plays a huge role here is Morozko’s twin brother – the Bear of chaos.  This is a fascinating character, he creates fear and panic wherever he treads.  There are more characters of course but I’m not going to try to name them all here.

In terms of the setting.  The whole book has a much darker feel this time round.  We start off with Moscow, deep in the throes of chaos itself after the damaging fires from Book 2.  People are half crazy with the desire for revenge and the tension is so thick you can almost taste it.  Couple this with the very real threat of war, the need to gather armies and the ever present sense of the clock ticking and time marching onwards and it really is enough to create a crazy place.  We spend a good deal of time in ‘Midnight’- a place which feels particularly fae where time almost stands still and travelling many leagues with ease can be achieved easily.  It’s also an easy place to become lost and definitely a place of tricks and lies.

In terms of criticisms, well, not really a criticism but there is plenty going on here and sometimes there really is a palpable sense of chaos – which is quite fitting when you consider the Bear – but, at the same time some of the threads almost become tangled at points.  I felt almost that there was such a lot taking place that it became a bit overwhelming.  Personally, I think that this is deliberate on the part of the author and in terms of reading with your heart in your throat it undoubtedly works.

As I mentioned above this book has a much darker feel.  Loss, bloodshed, betrayal, mistrust, torture and struggles and death are rife – which you might expect at such a hectic time.  Not only are the humans fighting amongst themselves but the creatures are also torn, they’re desperate to remain in a world that is increasingly forgetting their presence and they don’t know who to pin their hopes upon.  Here is a strange young woman, a woman who sees them, who challenges conventionality and isn’t afraid to stand up for the downtrodden.  She makes mistakes and sometimes she needs help but, at the end of the day, when what she really desires is to be swept off her feet and taken away from all the troubles she instead strides forth and champions the underdogs.

If you were to ask me which book is my favourite I think it would change by the week depending on my mood. All three instalments have a different feel and there are different elements that I love about each.  What I can safely say is that this is one of the best trilogies I’ve read for a long time and Katherine Arden is an author that I will watch with eager interest. I have that bittersweet feeling of having reached the finish line of something wonderful and the glow that comes along with it but at the same time that slightly gut wrenching feeling of simply not wanting it all to end.  Ah well.  That’s the way it crumbles.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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