A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Loved it.  History and Ghosts

skinfulA Skinful of Shadows is my second Hardinge book and to date this is an author with a 100% track record because both this and Deeplight were excellent.  Without doubt I will be checking out more backlist books from this author and in fact have a copy of The Lie Tree already lined up.

A Skinful of Shadows is an excellent historical story of ghosts and possession set during the turbulent times of the English Civil War.  We make the acquaintance of Makepeace as she is but a child and learning some hard lessons from her mother which usually consist of enduring a night on her own in the local cemetery.  Makepeace’s mother is not the softest of women but she has her reasons and in spite of the harshness has Makepeace’s best interests at heart.

Makepeace and her mother live a quiet life in a small puritan village, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re in hiding as they keep a low profile and Makepeace knows nothing of her own father or other family members however tension is building, as Makepeace gets older she is less inclined to accept her mother’s lack of answers or punishing nighttime spooky training sessions.  The two argue and tragedy follows.  In fairly quick succession Makepeace finds herself alone, still searching for answers and vulnerable and this is when her troubles really begin.

I won’t say more about the story as part of the joy is discovering this strange tale without prior knowledge.

What really worked well for me in no particular order.

Makepeace is a great, sympathetic and easy to like narrator.  She’s clever and flexible, quick witted and generous, both in terms of the way she treats others but also with the information she shares with the reader.  It’s remarkably easy to get on board with her story and in fact I felt myself anxious to return at every opportunity, desperate in fact to see where Makepeace’s unusual story would take me next. In fact characters are something that Hardinge excels at and there is a superb cast here all replete with their own motivations.  One character in particular steals the show  and I wish I could say more but it would be such a spoiler so my lips are sealed.

The story itself is a wonderful combination of history and fantasy and the speculative elements are included with such a deft and subtle hand that the concept comes across as horribly plausible.  Set in turbulent times when the wrong decision could make or break a family’s reputation scheming runs rife, blackmail is not unheard of and ruthless people will be, well, ruthless.

I love the way Hardinge writes.  She is a wonderful storyteller with a way of spinning words that lure you in in the most deceptively easy way.  Here she manages to create tension at the same time as providing a convincing backdrop and she quite simply made me love the characters and care very much what happened to them.

I have to hand it to this author.  I’ve only read two of her books but they were so completely different that it leaves me thinking that Hardinge’s imagination knows no bounds.  What’s also really impressive is that she has a penchant for standalone novels which is such a breath of fresh air.

I bought an audible copy and highly recommend it – the narration was absolutely wonderful

I can’t wait to pick up my next Hardinge novel and I suggest if you enjoy speculative fiction this is an author you should read.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Friday Face Off : Spaceships and Explosions #VintageSciFi

FFO

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 (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – 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.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.  I’m currently linking up with Vintage Sci-Fi and if you also want to link up then please do so but this isn’t a requirement simply my way of highlighting events.  This week’s theme:

An Aerial encounter – spaceships and explosions

This week I’ve gone for another vintage sci-fi book and one that I read previously (I think for a previous Vintage sci fi event).  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein and here is a small selection of the covers:

My favourite.  I may have mentioned that I’m quite often a sucker for the SF Masterworks covers and this week is no exception.  I love the colours and this fits the bill so perfectly:

Harsh2

Do you have a favourite?  And have you read this book?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – An Alien Encounter – ‘we come in peace’ or maybe not.

2021

January

Vintage Sci-Fi month – if you’re taking part you could try and find some vintage style covers

22nd – An Alien Encounter – ‘we come in peace’ or maybe not.

29th – A favourite classic or vintage sci-fi

February

5th – A Book with a romance that you enjoyed

12th – Furry – a beast, something cuddly, or a fur covering

19th – Serpentine – could be a snake, could be a snake-like font, could be a snakeskin style cover

26th – A book with ‘Magic’ in the Title

March

5th – March is named for the Roman God of War – a Roman style cover or a cover with a God or Gods or simply a book about war

12th – Middle Grade – choose whatever pleases you

19th – Ruin or derelict, old and worn, could be the book itself, a building, a place

26th – A picture within a picture

April

2nd – A train or tram – travelling down the track, could be old style, futuristic, overhead, down below.

9th – Cartoonish or graphic

16th – I have to have it – a cover that gave you ‘grabby hands’

23rd – Your current read (if it has covers to compare) or any recent read

30th– A series that you love – highlight all the books in the series

May

Month of Wyrd and Wonder

7th – A Series where the cover changed midway through – which style do you prefer most

14th – The earliest fantasy you recall reading – or the first fantasy book you really loved, maybe the book that kickstarted your love of fantasy

21st – The Top Hat

28th – The Hood

June

4th – The nose boop – any animal, or human, with a close up shot.

11th – A cover that annoyed you and why

18th – Out of Perspective, or make you feel a bit dizzy

25th – Upside down, back to front or topsy turvy

July

2nd – A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

9th – A Wicked Grin

16th – Books with ‘book’ in the title

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Posted On 14 January 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 12 responses

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Didn’t Quite Work for Me

BetrayalsThe Betrayals is a book that I part read and part listened to and I will say before starting this review that I do love the way that Bridget Collins writes.  She has a way of instilling her works with so much atmosphere that even though the story wasn’t quite my ‘thing’ I still wanted to continue reading.

This is a novel with a historic feel although I’m not entirely sure the year in which this takes place.  We begin by making the acquaintance of Léo Martin, a disgraced politician.  Basically Léo had the temerity to disagree with one of the party lines and as a result finds himself demoted to a backsticks position that actually involves a return to his old school.  Montverre is an old school academy where bright young things pitch their wits against each other in an old fashioned game known as the Grand Jeu.  Léo left the school after a tragedy and his return now sets in train a strange unwinding of the past and some startling revelations along the way.

This is a story with a few POVs.  Obviously Léo.  Léo has become complacent over the years, used to his own importance and lulled, in fact, into thinking that his opinions matter much more than they do.  He’s forgotten to keep his head down and is now facing the outcome of his own overblown self importance.  In fairness to Léo he is actually making a stand against a party line that is very harsh and his removal from office gives him time to stand back and see just how extreme things have become.  The politics here are not particularly named but there is an almost fascist feel to the place as though things are on the brink of change, tolerance is low and there’s an underlying current of fear and suspicion.  We also have Léo’s pov from his days as a student told through the pages of a journal that he wrote at the time and so from this you would be right in thinking that the story does jump back and forth in order for us to discover what happened way back when.  The third pov is Magister Ludi – this is the highest office that can be held at Montverre and is currently held by a woman called Claire Dryden.  As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that this shocking admission of a female into a very male centred world and a much sought after position came about through some sleight of hand and it would be an understatement to say that not all the old bastions within the Academy are happy with the ways things have panned out.  Finally, a character known as the Rat – a very unusual perspective and one that I won’t elaborate on here for fear of spoilers.

So, what I liked about this first.  I loved the writing.  As I mentioned above Collins is really amazing at setting the tone and The Betrayals is brimming over with atmosphere.  On top of that I am a little bit of a sucker for any story that’s set within the walls of a school or other learning establishment and the one here is a grand old building with plenty of dusty corridors, dark spaces and secret histories.  There is also a lovely slow reveal of past secrets that went in a direction that was surprisingly and happily unexpected.

What didn’t work too well for me was a combination of wanting more clarity on the grand jeu and what the school was actually about and an overall feeling of not only missing something fundamental along the way but also that the plot didn’t really live up to it’s promise somehow.  I’m not really phrasing that very well but for me it felt like there was going to be a lot more substance to this than the actual outcome left me feeling. Again, I think this is probably down to me not picking up an underlying message or perhaps expecting there to be more to this than was actually intended.

Overall, although this one didn’t totally win me over I would still not hesitate to pick up more books by this author.  She has a style of writing that really works for me and so even though the content for this one didn’t work it’s magic I remain only too happy to read more books by her in the future.

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

Mr Rating 3 of 5 stars

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne 

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is :The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne.  I have been waiting for a description and book cover so that I could display this book.  I am so excited for this book.  Literally, I want this book.  I really do.  Anyway, here goes:

ShadowSet in a brand-new, Norse-inspired world, and packed with myth, magic and bloody vengeance, The Shadow of the Gods begins an epic new fantasy saga from bestselling author John Gwynne.

After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.

All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

Expected publication : May 2021

Top Ten Tuesday : Hopes for 2021

ttt

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 :

Hopes for 2021

In keeping with the nature of this blog and my much loved hobby of reading I’m going to keep this centred on all things bookish (so, please take it for granted that I would also dearly love for a cure for the current pandemic, for everyone to have a fantastic year, for all our friends and families to remain safe and healthy and for 2021 to be a most excellent year), that being said, here are my ten ‘bookish-themed’ hopes:

  1. I would like all my book wishes to come true.  I know this is greedy and ridiculous and I also realise that I can’t possibly read ALL THE BOOKS, but, at the same time it really doesn’t help me from wanting them all.  I can’t help but hoping to have them all in my little grabby hands.  There.
  2. To become more organised.  I frequently see author interviews in which the question – ‘are you a planner or a pantser’ is asked.  I may not be a writer, and for the avoidance of doubt I will just confirm that I have no hopes or intentions whatsoever in that direction – I’m very much a reader.  But, writer or not, I am definitely a pantser.
  3. My blog needs updating.  I’ve become very lazy over the past few years and pay little regard to the set up or style.  I know that changing the style is probably more trouble than it’s worth but I would like to get on top of things like my A-Z of books (which is probably about 3 years out of date atm).
  4. I would very much like to catch up with some older outstanding review requests, this includes both traditionally and self published books.  I always take these things on board with the best intentions but sometimes I overwhelm myself.  Eyes too big for the belly as we like to say in the UK.  To all the authors or publishers who have gifted me books that I have not yet read my most sincere apologies.  I will try to do better.  Know this though, my biggest victim is probably myself, I can’t resist buying new books all the time and yet my own ‘bought’ books very rarely get read.
  5. It would be really good if I could get back into the habit of writing reviews as soon as I’ve finished a book.  This is how I used to operate.  I liked to put my thoughts down whilst the emotions were still rampaging around.  Once I leave things a few days it really affects me and I don’t feel I can quite capture those ‘just finished’ feelings.  I think the main reason my writing review habits changed is that quite often I will stay up late to finish a book and usually then just want to sleep.  What’s a girl to do?  Do I stay up and finish the book or leave it to the next day, finish it early and write the review?  Who am I kidding.
  6. To organise my kindle better.  This includes removing the books that are complete so that I can really see the wood for the trees.  That’s a downfall of the kindle – no stacks of books all over the house to make you feel guilty.  Once that book goes onto your e-reader it can’t make you feel bad any more.
  7. Completion.  I would seriously like to finish off some of my outstanding series before I start new ones.  I guess the real issue here is that when I see a new book that looks really awesome I fall into the trap of wanting it immediately (probably because nothing is more daunting than falling behind with a series).  I think I need to go back through my lists and lists and lists and maybe make yet one more list – it can’t hurt now – in which I make a note of my unfinished series and really try to tick some of those off.
  8. I would also like to be a bit more sociable and get back to chatting with everyone on a daily basis rather than leaving things for a few days and then commenting on a week’s worth of posts all at once.  I’ve definitely got into bad habits last year (what with one thing and another  *waves arms around crazily*) and it would be good if I could shake those habits this year.
  9. To reinstate my ‘weekly wrap up’ post or something of a similar nature – maybe to join in with the ‘What’s on my Plate’ meme.  I need something that I can check in with to keep me on track.  I mean, I don’t want to remove all the spontaneity or fun of picking up an unscheduled book and it would definitely be good to start reading some books on a whim – but the weekly wrap ups were very good for keeping me a bit more focused.
  10. Finally, I hope that 2021 treats us all well.
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