Fantasy, fiction

Book of the Week: A Conjuring of Light

Another week, another BotW post. This time I’ve gone for VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, which is the final book in a trilogy, so it does break my rule about trying not to feature books that don’t stand-alone, but it also means that if you were to start the books now, you’re guaranteed a resolution. So swings and roundabouts really.

Anyway, this is the third (and final?!) book in this magical series in a universe where there are three different Londons in three parallel worlds that only a select few can travel between. In the first few books we see a lot of Grey London, where there is no magic (basically Regency Britain as we know it) and White London, where there is nothing but violence and magic. But this final book concentrates on the battle for Red London where magical and non-magical people exist side by side.

Red London is also where Kell is from, the traveler between worlds who we’ve been following since the start. Over the course of the books, Kell’s life has only got more complicated, but that also means he’s got more friends as well as more enemies. Friends like Delilah, the former thief who he teamed up with in the first book and her motley crew too. Everything that he and Delilah have learned over the course of their adventure comes to a climax in this.

And yes, I know that sounds like I’m avoiding talking about the actual plot. And that’s because I am, because saying much more will give away the plots of the other two books. And you really need to read this series in order or you’ll be lost. It’s been a couple of years since I read it and I felt a bit at sea at times and I know what happened and what the rules are. But there’s magic and pirates and peril and a big battle or two. And although it doesn’t quite reach Battle of Hogwarts levels of carnage and loss, it’s fair to say that not everyone comes out of it alive.

If you’ve read The Night Circus and The Children of Blood and Bone and thought that what you really need to read is a hybrid of the two, then try this. It wasn’t always 100% my cup of tea (I need less angst at the moment) but it’s pacey and well written and clever and really quite good.

My copy came from my library, but you should be able to lay your hands on this fairly easily on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual sources, including actual bookshops.  I do suggest you start at the start of the trilogy though or you’ll be totally lost. There’s also a graphic novel prequel series that’s just started but I think you need to have read the books for that. I’ll check it out and let you know…

Happy Reading.

book round-ups

Halloween recommendations 2018

It’s nearly Halloween and since I’m in the US where it is such a massive thing that it’s blowing my mind, I thought a round up of some spooky/halloween-themed reading might be in order.  I was aiming for it to be recent Halloween-y reading – but you know how these things go – you get a stack of likely books together, you read them – and then you don’t like some of them enough to recommend them.  And I’m always honest.  Which is why I’m telling you up front that there’s no horror here – because I’m too scared to read horror.  My brain is good enough at coming up with things to scare me without ready scary books.  Thrillers are about as much as I can deal with.  And some times I can’t even deal with that.  So expect my usual mix of mystery, romance and fantasy with a dash of classic thriller thrown in.

As I am away from my bookshelves, here’s a picture of a Halloween display in Texas last weekend.

The One with the sweet tooth

I read The Candy Corn Murder right after it came out three years ago and it sees a local reporter covering a Halloween Festival.  But when her husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she steps in to investigate.  This is the 22nd(!) in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone series – and there are other Halloween-themed installments among the other 24 (!!) books in the series if you like Lucy’s world and want to spend more time there.  I’ve read one, maybe two others and have my eye on a couple from the library to see how there series has evolved.

The one that’s a creepy classic

I’m slowly working my way through Daphne DuMaurier’s works – and there are several of hers that would be good for giving you chills on a dark night.  The obvious one is Rebecca, but Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also properly atmospheric and creepy.  Those two also have recent tv or film versions should you want to be a person who likes to watch the movie of the book and complain compare. I also have a massive softspot (if you can call it that for something so creepy) for the Charles Dance and Emily Fox TV version of Rebecca from the late 1990s.

The One with a creepy doll

Barbara Early’s new book, Death of a Russian Doll is mostly about the murder of the local police chief’s wife, but it’s also got a matroshyka doll that’s moving on its own to up the creep factor.  Your amateur sleuth is Liz, the owner of the vintage toy shop next door to the murder scene and the sort-of ex-girlfriend of the police chief (he didn’t tell her about his estranged wife) who’s retired cop father is called in to investigate the crime.  This came out this month and is the third book in the series, but it’s the first of them that I’ve read and I liked it enough that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.

The One with the Embarassing First Date

This is slightly tangentially Halloween-y because Carter and Evie, the hero and heroine of Christina Lauren’s Dating You, Hating You meet at a Halloween party being held by mutal friends.  From that awkward beginning, a promising relationship starts until their companies merge and the two of them find themselves in competiton for the same job.  I really liked Evie, but I had a few issues with Carter and I felt their prank war was just a little bit unprofessional.  However the dialogue is sparky and the chemistry is there so I’m still mentioning it here because I know that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes and I know a lot of people who really loved it and didn’t have the same issues!

The One with that’s spoofing a Vampire Craze

I couldn’t help but include this.  Lauren Willig’s the Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla sees Sally Fitzhugh investigating whether the Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire after a rumour takes hold in London in 1806.  He’s not of course, but he doesn’t mind the reputation that he’s got, that is until a woman is found with the blood drained from her throat and it looks like he’s going to get the blame.  This is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation series, which I would say to read in order to get the full force of the present-day story line (which runs through the whole series) but the nineteen century one is really the star here, so I think you could make an exception for Halloween.  And it’s got a stoat.  What more could you want?

The One with the Actual Vampires

If you haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series (aka True Blood), Halloween might be a good chance to start.  And now the series has been finished for a while if you like them you can glom your way through all thirteen of Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures.  Just remember not to get too invested in any one outcome for Sookie in particular – because there was a lot of upset when the last book came out about which of her beaux she ended up with. I won’t give anything away, but I think the clues were sort of there about what was going to happen – or at least I didn’t think the ending ruined the whole series for me (which a lot of people did!).  And if you like that world, there’s plenty of other Charlaine Harris novels, most of which are set in (what turns out to be) the same world of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures.

The One with the Haunted House.

You all know how much I love Meg Langslow because I keep writing about her, but Lord of the Wings, the 19th book in Donna Andrews’ long running series, is a Halloween one and I really liked it.  There’s a massive Halloween festival going on in Caerphilly when first the Haunted House burns down and then a body is discovered in the wreckage.  The usual Langslowian mayhem ensues – including Meg’s Grandad running a special exhibit at his Zoo – and then there’s the Goblin Patrol.  Probably best appreciated if you’ve read some of the others in the series, but this is still worth a look.

If you’ve got any Halloween recommendations for me – and remember that I don’t do horror because I’m a scaredy cat – then put them in the comments!

Happy Reading

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, new releases

Book of the Week: Early Riser

Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB.  I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning.  This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC.  Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm.  However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!

Front cover of Hardcover UK edition of Early Riser

Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years.  It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too.  I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this.  Anyway, to the plot:

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul.  Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather.  But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them.  To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers.  One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details.  And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying.  And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true.  Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on.  Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.

If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on.  In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story.  In Early Riser he does the same thing.  After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki.  And it only gets weirder.  This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in.  But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.

Shelf of Jasper Fforde books
Taking this photo has got me wondering who has my copy of Something Rotten. I’m hoping my dad has it…

And it is a rollicking good adventure.  There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming.  Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn.  I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive.  If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me.  But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him.  I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book.  I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it.  I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…

Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK.  I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily.  It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.

Happy Reading!

*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August.  I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays.  I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.

Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!

Dormitorium postcard!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Classics, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Howl’s Moving Castle

Two children’s books in a row as BotW? This is totally within the normal range of what I do and what you expect from me. And this is another book that I started during my weekend at boo conference and then got distracted away from by the purchase of more books at said book conference and then by other books on the kindle. So sue me!

cover of Howls Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a teenage girl who is turned into an old lady by a witch while she is working in her family’s hat shop. One of the conditions of the curse is that she can’t tell people that she’s been cursed and Sophie doesn’t want her mother or sisters to see what’s happened to her, so she runs away to the hills, where she runs into the moving castle belonging to the Wizard Howl and makes it her new home in the hope that the curse can be lifted. Howl is a temperamental, vacillating young man who is on the run from something and only seems to do things that help himself but Calcifer, his fire demon promises to help her if she can help him with the curse that ties him to Howl. Also living in the castle is Michael, Howl’s apprentice, who, it turns out is in love with one of Sophie’s sisters. And so they move around the countryside, and Sophie tries to figure out how to get her old (young) body back.

That’s the short version of part of the story and doesn’t really do it justice. Before I read the story, I was actually worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I liked the film of the book which I saw in the cinema back in my high-cinema visiting university days. Now the two are the same basic story: about a teenager who is cursed to look like an old lady and who seeks help from the wizard with the moving castle, but beyond that there are a fair few differences. The movie has a design aesthetic that leads to some differences from the book and it is missing some of the subplots from the book, but it turns out I really liked them both.

I don’t often read the book after I’ve seen the movie, but this time it worked out really well. In fact, this is the opposite experience to what usually happens with me, books and movie adaptations – because quite often I really hate the movie versions of books I’ve loved, so maybe I need to do this more often?! There are a couple more books featuring Howl, which are now on my reading list – and I’m trying hard to work out if I read any Diana Wynne Jones books back when I was the right age for them because I really liked her writing and the style felt somewhat familiar to me.

I bought my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle on Kindle, but it’s also available on Kobo (and it’s 99p on both platforms at time of writing) and in paperback (from Amazon, Book Depository or places like Big Green Books) and audiobook. I think it should be easy enough to buy from a bookshop with a good sized children’s section (not a supermarket because it is no where near new) I suspect it will also be available at some libraries too. And if you haven’t seen the film, you really should watch it too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: Thornyhold

A short but sweet post today for BotW because it’s super busy here.  I also didn’t read as much as usual during the week, so I had trouble picking a book to write about before I headed off for my weekend of bookwormery at the book conference.  Anyway, the best of what I read before the weekend was Mary Stewart’s Thornyhold.

Cover of Thornyhold

Thornyhold tells the story of Gilly, who has a mysterious godmother figure who shows up at intervals throughout her childhood and who then leaves her a house, just as Gilly is most at need of it.  Thornyhold is deep in the woods, isolated and has the potential to be really creepy.  But Gilly never really feels scared by the house – although she’s not really sure about some of the people associated with the house.  But there’s something magical about Thornyhold – possibly literally – and soon she’s caught up in trying to figure out exactly what her aunt wanted her to do with her legacy.

This was my first Mary Stewart book and i understand that it’s not 100 percent typical of what she does.  I spent a lot of the book waiting for some big gothic tragedy to happen – because that’s what it felt like was bound to happen.  But actually it’s much more straightforward than I was expecting.  It is quite gothic – but ultimately it’s more of a romantic story and after the initial tragedies in Gilly’s stories, it’s working it’s way towards a happier resolution for her than I was expecting.  I don’t know why I was expecting disaster and it all to end badly, except that there’s a lot of tension in the writing and I’ve read so many books where things like this end badly, I couldn’t quite let myself hope that it was all going to be ok!  There is actual romance in this, and it comes in quite late on and doesn’t get quite as much time spent on it as I would have liked, but it was still fairly satisfyinging in the end.  As always with this sort of book I wanted a bit more of the “after” of all the resolutions – even another couple of pages would have helped, but I can’t complain too much.

I’m fairly sure I’ll be reading some more Mary Stewart – but given the state of the to-read bookshelf at the moment, it may be some time.  This one had been sitting waiting for me for a while and the pile has only grown since I bought it! My copy of Thornyhold was a secondhand paperback, but there’s a shiny new paperback edition should you feel so inclined and it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo for £1.99 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Books to read while the football is on

The World Cup is well underway and although I do like football, I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom two or three matches a day is far too many and will be heartily fed up of the tv schedules being disrupted for 22 men running around after a ball.  And so to help out I’ve got a selection of books for you to read while you’re avoiding the football (or sat on the couch with it on in the background).

I’m going to start off with a sports romance because just because you don’t like football doesn’t mean you don’t like all sports and sometimes you need a sporty hero or heroine can really hit the spot.  I read a lot of winter-sport themed romances in the run up to the Winter Olympics in the hope of writing a post about them, but there weren’t enough that I liked enough to recommend and so it’s the other type of football that I’m going for here.  You may remember that I went on a Susan Elizabeth Philips kick last year and her Chicago Stars series, about an American Football franchise are a lot of fun.  Depending on what your romance genre favourites are, the best fit in the series will be different, but I think mine is Natural Born Charmer which starts with a feisty artist encountering a star quarterback while she’s dressed in a beaver costume.  It’s fun, sparky and flirty.  And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, try Match Me If You Can, which was a BotW last summer.

Hardback edition of The Gender Games

Fed up with laddy banter and jocks?  Try reading Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games to get some facts in your arsenal about toxic masculinity and how everyone – not just transgender people – are having a number done on them by gender.  You might remember that her latest novel Clean was a BotW a few weeks back, but this is nonfiction – part memoir of her own journey to realising who she is and part examination of our society today and its attitude towards gender and gender roles.  I learnt a lot from it and I know I’m going to be lending it and recommending it to people who want to expand the voices and viewpoints they’re hearing – but while the World Cup is on, it’ll also provide you with some handy ammunition next time someone on twitter moans about women commentators or pundits having no place at the tournament…

Cover of Murder in the Telephone Exchange

Want to get completely away from sports?  I can do that for you too. Perhaps some old-school crime fiction might be the thing.  I read June Wright’s Murder in the Telephone Exchange a few weeks back and was absolutely swept up in the world the phone operators in late 1940s Australia.  When Maggie finds one of her unpopular colleagues with her head smashed in, she finds herself drawn into the mystery – not just because she was the person who found the body, but because she’s not sure that the police are on the right track. But soon the danger is increasing and someone else turns up dead.  If you like Phryne Fisher, then this might scratch that itch while you wait for a new book (and we’ve been waiting a while now) or the much promised feature film.  This was a best seller in Australia when it first came out in 1948 and I can totally see why.  I was astonished – and annoyed – that it hadn’t come my way sooner.

The cover of Richardsons First Case

Or you could pick a new series to glom on.  I’m currently working my way through Colin Watson’s Flaxborough series – which are the sort of gentle murder mystery books that these days would be called cozies.  They were written from the late 1950s through to the 1970s, have been a bit forgotten and are in the process of being republished.  The first one – Coffin, Scarcely Used – is only 99p on Kindle at the moment, so that’s got to be worth a punt.  Or I read the first in the Inspector Richardson series a couple of weeks back.  Published in the 1930s, their author, Basil Thomson, was the head of CID at New Scotland Yard for eight years, so the insight into police life may be assumed to be fairly accurate!  The first one – the imaginatively named Richardson’s First Case is also 99p on Kindle at the moment – and so are the rest of the series.  I have book two cued up and ready to go.

The cover of The Wedding Date

How about a non-sports romance? How does a fake relationship that might actually turn into the real thing sound?  In Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Drew and Alexa meet when they’re trapped in a lift together during a power cut.  He needs a date for his ex’s wedding and she agrees to do it.  But when that actually turns out to be a fun weekend they wonder if they should carry on seeing each other.  The only trouble is, his job is in LA and her job is in Berkley.  Alexa is a feisty heroine with a great career, that she’s passionate about and Drew is a caring hero, who is also passionate about his job. AND they get to find romance without compromising who they are in themselves. I liked this so much I’ve already got Guillory’s next book preordered.  This one is £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Paperback copy of Children of Blood and Bone

If you really want a change of scene, how about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.  This is the first in a YA trilogy (I think) and the film is already in development by the people who brought you Twilight and Maze Runner.  Set in a west-African inspired world where magic seems to have been destroyed, it follows a teenage girl who has the chance to bring it back and the crown prince who is determined to stop her.  It’s fast, furious and so, so filled with terror that I found it really hard to read.  This is not my genre and I had to take a lot of breaks because it’s so filled with peril.  But if you want to get swept away to another world, this lives up to all the hype.  But – be warned – if you love it, you’re going to have to wait until next year for the sequel – and until 2020 for the conclusion…

And finally if you do want something football-y but not quite – you could join me as I reread Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals.  I don’t think I’ve read this since it came out, so I’m planning to borrow the copy from dad so I can revisit the world of the Ankh-Morpork football.  I may even treat myself to the audiobook so that I can listen to Stephen Briggs do all the voices as I trot around the park.  Luckily the hardback version of this with the lovely illustrated cloth covers doesn’t seem to be out yet, because I am valiantly resisting starting buying them as we all know that once I get one, I’ll end up with the lot…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical

Book of the Week: Sorcerer to the Crown

After that run of (excellent) murder mysteries a few weeks back, I’m trying to make sure there’s a bit of variety in the BotW posts – obviously reading material permitting – and this week we have some magical historical fiction action for a change, with Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which you may have spotted on the Week in Books lists just a few times.  This was mostly because I started reading it and then it got buried in a pile and a bit forgotten about because I didn’t want to make it all battered by putting it in my work bag.  But as you can see, in the end I found a way of dealing with it and it made it to work and back a couple of times while I read it and is still in fairly pristine nick…

Copy of Sorcerer to the Crown
It’s been a while since we had a Reading-on-the-Train photo…

Sorcerer to the Crown is the story of Zacharias, the new Sorcerer to the British king and his new apprentice, Prunella.  Now women are only allowed to be witches, and grudgingly at that, but Prunella seems to have more magic at her untrained fingertips than she knows what to do with and Zacharias thinks she might be able to help him work out what has happened to England’s supply of magic, and at the same time help him reform English Magick in general.  Prunella has other plans though.  She’s trying to find out where she came from and what the mysterious gift is that her father seems to have left her.  On top of all that, Zacharias is a freed slave and despite the fact that he was the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, his skin colour means that the other magicians are disinclined to follow his lead – especially given the rumours surrounding the circumstances of the death of his predecessor.  That plus an impulsive and impetuous young girl makes for a fairly explosive combination.

I found the story is a little slow to get going, but once it does there is plenty of adventure and action.  I wanted to know a more about the world that we were and how it worked sooner, but a lot of information is held back from the reader for a long time.  This makes it very hard for you to get a sense of where you are and to get your bearings early on.  Prunella is a great character, full of derring-do and get up and go, but I didn’t find her very likeable.  Zacharias is more promising, but because he’s so caught up in rules and problems and on top of that is a bit wet, so I found it a bit hard to find some one to like and root for.  But he was definitely on the side of right, and Prunella probably was, so that helped!

I had heard a lot of talk about Sorcerer to the Crown and lots of recommendations from bookish people, but in the end I liked rather that loved it.  A sequel is coming I believe and I’ll probably look for that at the library rather than buying it outright.  That said, this was still the best book that I read last week, and so for that reason it’s a merited BotW.  It’s also inspired me to write a post about magical worlds, so you can expect to see that at some point in the near future, once I’ve done a little bit more reading!

My copy of Sorcerer to the Crown came from Big Green Bookshop, but you should be able get from any good bookshop with a reasonable fiction section.  Or you can get it online from Amazon or in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!