Friday Face Off : Simply the Best – A top 10 read of 2021

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’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’ve added themes in below. For information, I’m trying out some new ideas so along with coming up with particular items for book covers I thought we could also look for certain elements contained within the book or that play a large part in the story – this really broadens things out because I have plenty of more ideas with this – I’ve gone for a few of the Tough Travel Themes (so a book with that theme – just choose any book – the theme isn’t necessarily on the cover, then compare covers), also, I’ve thrown in some genres and some colours.  Hopefully this will open things out a little and give us some more freedom to come up with new books.

This week’s theme:

Simply the Best – A top 10 read of 2021

Difficult choice this week because I like both covers, in fact as a rule I would normally be drawn to the red cover with all the little details – the colour is lovely and vibrant and I like the overall effect.  But, and maybe it’s due to familiarity, I find myself more drawn to the blue cover, it feels slightly ominous which is quite fitting for this story:

Ladies1

Do you have a favourite?

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  – As pure as the driven snow – a cover that is white

2022

Jan – Vintage Sci-Fi
14th As pure as the driven snow – a cover that is white
21st Like a fine wine – a sci fi book written on or before 1975 –
28th In space nobody can hear you scream – murder mystery in space
Feb The month of romance
4th  brooding and dull like a cloudy sky – a cover that is grey
11th Sealed with a kiss – lips, or the impression left by a kiss
18th Tough Travel Tropes – Hate to Love
25th Made for each other – interpret this any way you please
March
4th Genre – Gadgets and airships – a book that is ’steampunk
11th The most recent book you’ve read that has covers to compare
18th – Somewhere over the rainbow – a very colourful book cover
25th – A book of few words – a one word title
Apr
1st Spring forward – compare the covers for two books you’re excited about
8th – Fresh and Green – a cover that is predominantly green
15th Genre – a book or series that is urban fantasy
22nd – Tough Travel Tropes – unknown magical ability
29th – Long/pointed ears
May the Month of Wyrd and Wonder
6th All about the women – kickass moms, daughters, grans, etc
13th A favourite book to film
20th Sunny and bright  – a cover that is predominantly yellow
27th Books with ‘You’ in the title
Jun
3rd  Under the Sea – anything you like
10th Sparkling like the sea – a cover that is turquoise
17th So pretty – exactly what it says
24th Daddy Dearest – a book with a strong father role
Jul  
1st Genre – epic – any book that fits into the genre
8th Hazy and hot – a cover that is predominantly orange
15th Tough Travel Tropes – Snarky sidekick
22nd Off the TBR
29th Gigantic – monsters, giants, buildings,insects – anything at all
August
5th Tough Travel Tropes – out for summer – school or academic setting
12th Dark/sky/navy  – a cover that is blue
19th Scantily Dressed
26th Tough Travel Tropes – Vacation time – the quest
September RIP
2nd Fallen leaves – covers that are brown
9th Armour/Protection
16th Rage against the machine – anything, cogs, clockwork, AI
23rd Tough Travel Tropes – Coming of Age
30th Genre – horror
October – Horror/Dark
7th Guess who’s back?  – Vampires – popular again?
14th Witches vs warlocks
21st Tough Travel Tropes – Good vs evil
28th  Covers that are black
November – Scifi Month
4th Red skies at night – Covers that are red
11th Tough Travel Tropes – The gang
18th Genre – Swords and Sorcery
25th Genre – And they all lived happily ever after – fairy tales retold
December
2nd Tough Travel Tropes – Assassins
9th Tough Travel Tropes – Darklord
16th Genre – Grimdark (most recent/favourite, etc)
23rd Decadent and rich – a cover that is purple
30th Completions – a satisfying conclusion to a book or series

A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers

Posted On 14 December 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
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My Five Word TL:DR Review: I absolutely loved this book

AWiT

I’ve had A Witch in Time waiting to be read for a little while, a review book to boot – which makes me feel very bad for not reviewing it much sooner – but this year has been a tad strange for me and you know what they say about the best laid plans?  Anyhow, one of my blogger buddies recently left me a comment basically asking what I was waiting for so I thought – ‘what the heck, I’ll pick this up next’, and I’m pleased to say that this book bewitched me (so, many, many thanks to Tammy for the nudge).  Of course I’d read and loved The Ladies of the Secret Circus so I had an inkling this might work it’s magic and I’m happy to say I was totally gripped.

I’m not going to elaborate on the plot too much here.  The story revolves around a young girl in Belle Epoque France who embarks on a disastrous romance with an artist and is mistakenly cursed by her own mother.  The curse itself involves the two characters being reborn throughout eternity, fated to meet and fall in love over and over again but never to find happiness together.

The winning elements of this story are threefold.  I loved the time periods that the author chooses to bring each different iteration to life in, I really enjoyed the character’s individual stories and I thought the writing was beautiful.

So, firstly, the settings.  We start the story with a modern setting where we meet Helen, a successful journalist, recently divorced and about to embark on a blind date.  Helen plays a main role throughout the course of the story, in fact she starts and concludes the book.  Helen is soon to discover that this is not her first time round, in fact she has three previous ‘versions’ of herself to catch up with – and this is where the fascinating settings come into play.  The youngest version is the young girl called Juliet, muse to artist Marchant.  Living in rural France, Juliet’s future has been mapped out already and it’s not one she likes the idea of.  Ultimately Juliet wants to see Paris and strangely enough her doomed relationship sets off a string of events that will eventually take her there.  I loved this setting, the descriptions of the apartment, the different areas and the way Sayers, almost casually, manages to capture the essence of the place and time.  From there we find ourselves travelling to New York, onwards to Hollywood, over to Los Angeles and New Mexico.  I loved all these settings and was totally caught up with each story.

This brings us to the characters.  Effectively there are three central characters.  The original artist Marchant, Juliet (his muse) and a character known as Luke Varner who is a demon roped into administrating the ‘curse’ (which basically means he helps bring the characters together and facilitates their different lifestyles).  Juliet is reborn a further three times. Nora, an aspiring actress in Hollywood during the 1920/30s. Sandra, a talented musician on the brink of success with her newly formed band and finally Helen who we met at the start.

Each time Juliet is reincarnated it takes time for her to become aware of her former life or lives and so we follow Helen’s story as she gradually becomes familiar with the three previous versions of herself.  Marchant is similarly reborn into each different period and the two are relentlessly drawn together (although he is more an unwitting player in each thread and never reminds his previous roles).  Luke, well, he waits around until he’s needed, never really changing, just ticking along waiting for his next gig. What I really enjoyed about this aspect is that each version of Juliet becomes stronger than the last. she eventually shares all their memories and experiences and with each rebirth learns something new about herself.  Interestingly each character seems to find a way of making their own mark – Juliet is forever immortalised in paint, Nora is a short lived but successful movie star permanently caught on camera, Sandra enjoys a brief moment of ‘almost’ fame when the band she plays with are given the opportunity to make an album which brings us to Helen.  She’s slightly different in that her talents lie more in the magic she is able to wield, the history of which will all be revealed during the read.

What I really admire here is that the author brings to us a very unusual love story which made for great reading.  I would point out though that this isn’t what I would typically define as the ‘romance genre.  What I also hadn’t really thought about until writing this review is that Sayers has included a love triangle.  So, here am I, I don’t like love stories and love triangles are one of my pet hates – and yet I loved this.  I raise my hat to the author and confess myself gobsmacked.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I mentioned above that this is unusual by which I mean it doesn’t follow the traditional course for a love story.  I would also point out that all of Juliet’s reincarnations suffer in some very dark ways and certain aspects will definitely be triggers so think about that before picking this up.  I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone based on those aspects but just wanted to be clear that this is sometimes a spattering of grim rather than a sprinkling of fairy dust.  Also, the actually, ‘witchy’ elements to the story are written with a very light touch.  The magic here is more the rebirths of the characters over and over and the way their stories collide and interlink.  There is a little magic but it’s more the power of suggestion (thank Obi Wan ‘these are not the droids…’ as oppose to broomsticks, wands and ‘hubble bubble’).

Slight criticisms aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this.  The writing is excellent, I loved the historical elements and the way that so many other aspects tied into each story.  It was compelling, interesting and incredibly entertaining.

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

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Sometimes a book just delivers

TheLadiesofI had high expectations for this book.  The cover and the description worked their magic for me and added to that my love of fiction that includes circuses, magical realism and anything diabolic – well, I was quite simply transported.

The story gets off to a great start.  We meet Lara on the eve of her wedding, literally making last minute adjustments to her dress through the use of magic and this captivating start sets the scene for the rest of the story.  Unfortunately, Lara’s husband-to-be, Todd, is a no-show, and his strange disappearance and abandoned car, at the same spot where 30 years ago someone else went missing, provokes Lara into an unusual magical adventure.

Told in three distinct sections that allow us to get to know Lara before she travels to Paris and then back again in search of answers, the world building and settings are beautifully depicted.  The secret circus itself is wonderfully described, fantastically creative and utterly fascinating.  Only visible to those who have been invited, guests step into the circus via a huge devilish mouth that sets the scene for what they can expect.  On top of that we step back in time to Paris of 1925.  A place of creativity and passion where artists and writers mix with the glamorous ladies of the circus sparking passion and jealousy along the way.

Fundamentally, this is a story of family, of family ties, history, curses, revenge and coming home told through a combination of current day accounts involving a murder mystery that takes us to a magical realm where nothing is what it seems.  I mean, yes, on the face of it, there is a lot going on here but it all works so incredibly well.  The pacing is excellent and the final denouement nothing short of breathtaking.

On top of this the characters were good.  Lara was easy to like and I really enjoyed the family backstory.  Enough so that I was worried about her safety at certain points.  Always a good sign that the author has worked their magic.

Overall, this was a great read for me.  The combination of fascinating family and mysterious murder mystery worked a treat and I could barely put this down.  I definitely want more from Constance Sayers and I will be checking out her backlist as well as looking forward with enthusiasm to whatever she pens in the future.

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

My rating 5 of 5 stars