Monthly Roundup – November 2022

november

November has been somewhat frustrating as both husband and I have been suffering the lingering effects of a winter lurgy (no, not that one) that has sapped our energy. We had our final trip away of the year booked and paid for yet seriously considered whether we should go, if were up to the walking this would entail. I mean, what else does one do in the depths of Dartmoor? In the end we opted to travel and try to enjoy the fabulous location as best we could. For anyone interested, I reviewed the hotel we stayed in here and wrote of my teddy bear, Edward’s adventures here. We managed some lovely if shorter than usual walks – including in temperate rainforest (which I had been reading about, see below) – and the food was excellent.

Back home there were then periods of rest as we tried to recuperate. We continued to take part in Parkrun each week, with me running slowly and husband volunteering. By the end of the month I was going out during the week to pound our local tracks and lanes again, although at a glacial pace. We also returned to the gym for some lifting. Despite keeping things light – close to my normal warmup weights – muscles had obviously enjoyed their rest and complained about the return to working out. We persevere.

Student son has been affected by the university lecturer strikes and by some teaching moving online again. I do wonder what he is paying so much for. To be clear, I understand why the strikes are happening, but turning universities into businesses has had so many negative repercussions. It is hard to watch as a young person tries to learn in what is now a far from ideal environment. I am glad he still has his hockey and part-time job to get him out of the house on these dark days.

My other children keep themselves busy as ever, balancing jobs with attempts at a social life. Husband and I pulled out of plans to attend a friend’s birthday party due to our health issues, something I was quite relieved about but, being more sociable, he may have regretted. I have agreed to attend a Christmas work do with him and just hope I remember how to talk to people face to face.

I posted reviews for 10 books in November. Robyn had too much going on to write anything for the blog but hopes to contribute next month when she moves to a more predictable rotation.

As is customary in my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

Where I End  peckham experiment
Where I End by Sophie White, published by Tramp Press
The Peckham Experiment by Guy Ware, published by Salt

Sandstone City  malarkoi
The Sandstone City by Elaine Canning, published by Alderyn Press
Malarkoi by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar

disobedient womenDisobedient Women by Sangeeta Mulay, published by Fly on the Wall Press

Translated Fiction

Dislocations  Ruth
Dislocations by Sylvia Molloy (translated by Jennifer Croft), published by Charco Press
Ruth by Guillem Viladot (translated by P. Louise Johnson), published by Fum d’Estampa

Short Stories

Lunate vol 1
Lunate vol. 1, published by Lunate Journal

Non Fiction

Phobias and Manias  lost rainforests
The Book of Phobias and Manias by Kate Summerscale, published by Profile
The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole, published by William Collins

Sourcing the books

Robyn continues to order the special editions of books she one day hopes to read.

Robyn books november 22 spines  Robyn books november 22

I received a handful of titles to add to my review pile, some of which didn’t linger there.

Books received Jackie november

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that is still beautiful in our world and lives. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

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Monthly Roundup – October 2022

october

Happy Halloween to those who celebrate! I enjoy spooky season and have managed to read a few books this month that fit with the theme. Although we have, thus far, avoided turning the central heating on (aren’t outside temperatures high for late October?), thermal base layers and woolly jumpers have become a wardrobe staple. The duvets I keep on the sofas proved their worth when I settled down to read during the short lived cold snap. There is something particularly restorative about wrapping up and then curling up with a good book and a warming beverage.

Last month I wrote about the road trip husband and I took to visit friends and family in Ireland. As promised you may read my teddy bear’s account of this adventure in Edward Explores Belfast.

This month we took a shorter trip away, spending a mostly sunny weekend in beautiful North Devon. This inspired several posts:

At home I have taken to baking bread weekly – such a comforting food and a treat as we no longer buy loaves. We have also been harvesting the apples grown at the bottom of our garden. Many crumbles and cakes have been enjoyed by us and the neighbours I share this bounty with.

Parkruns have been attended at home and away, although husband has a damaged hamstring so was mostly volunteering rather than running. The second field used by our local course has returned to its winter mud due to heavy rain – timings have become less important than staying upright for the duration. Of course, Parkrun welcomes walkers as well as runners, something they have been promoting throughout October. I decided to join this initiative on Saturday just past, enabling me to view the event from a new perspective. I didn’t feel the same sense of accomplishment on finishing that a run provides but it was still good to be amongst the welcoming community.

Despite the somewhat eclectic subjects I write about, this does remain primarily a book blog. I posted reviews for 7 books in October. Robyn added her review for the epic story that is Babel.

As is customary in my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

Don't Look At Me  bone flower
Don’t Look At Me by Charles Holdefer, published by Sagging Meniscus
The Bone Flower by Charles Lambert, published by Gallic

Short Stories and Poetry

spooky ambiguous  Eastmouth
Spooky Ambiguous, published by Crumps Barn Studio
Eastmouth and Other Stories by Alison Moore, published by Salt

the bygones
The Bygones by Jim Gibson, published by Tangerine Press

Non Fiction

brother do you love me  my mind to me
brother. do. you. love. me. by Manni Coe and Reuben Coe, published by Little Toller
My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is by Paul Stanbridge, published by Galley Beggar

Robyn Reviews

babel
Babel by R.F. Kuang, published by HarperVoyager

Sourcing the Books

Robyn added these fine titles to her extensive collection of special editions.

books received october robyn

My book post provided me with some enticing reading to look forward to – a couple of these I picked up straight away.

books received october jackie

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that is still beautiful in our world and lives. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: Babel (or, the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution)

‘Babel’ is one of the most ambitious novels I’ve ever read. It blurs fantasy, historical fiction, social commentary, and linguistics into a shining silver piece of alternate nineteenth century history. As a work of literature it’s a monumental achievement. This is a book to be read slowly and savoured, allowing time to sink into the world and admire the intricacies of each thread. As a story, unfortunately, a little is lost to the sheer scope of everything else going on – but that shouldn’t take away from what RF Kuang has achieved here.

In 1928, a boy is orphaned by cholera in Canton, China. This in itself is not unusual – but this boy, soon to be known as Robin Swift, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell and tutored extensively in Ancient Greek, Latin, and Chinese. The purpose? For Robin to enroll in the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation at Oxford – colloquially known as Babel. Babel is the crown jewel of the British Empire – the seat of translation, but more importantly silver-working, the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation to magical effect. Silver working has granted the British Empire unparalleled power and helped it colonise the globe. At Oxford, Robin has everything he ever dreamed of – but everything he does furthers colonialisation, betraying his Chinese homeland. Robin finds himself trapped between Babel and those who would work to bring it, and therefore the Empire, down. He must decide what he is willing to sacrifice – and what is required to truly engender revolution.

The research RF Kuang has done to bring this novel to life is exquisite. It’s full of pieces of real nineteenth century history and social and political commentary of the time, each with a slight overlay in the context of silver-working. The worldbuilding is exceptional, absolutely capturing the atmosphere of academia and Oxford, both from the perspective of the average white male student in the nineteenth century, and the foreign, non-white, and not always male students of Babel. Every aspect feels tangible and believable.

Silver-working, the fantasy spin, is a smaller part of the novel, simple but immensely effective. It isn’t explored to its fullest potential, but this is less a fantasy novel and more a novel exploring social and political commentary, so that’s to be expected.

The characters are wonderful. This is a single POV novel with the exception of three interludes towards the end, but Robin is strong enough to carry the story on his own. Robin loves language and loves to learn, but he struggles with his position at Oxford. He’s constantly grappling with issues of identity, of privilege, of Empire, and of what it is he actually wants. He loves his classmates – they’re the three people he’s closest to in the world – but he’s also, in many ways, very alone. Robin is a likeable and relatable protagonist, making many aspects of the book much more accessible. His development throughout is immense, and whilst his actions at the end may prove divisive, its easy to see why.

Robin’s classmates – Ramy, Victoire, and Letty – each add a new dimension to the story. Ramy, Robin’s roommate and a Muslim constantly referred to as Hindu by his Oxford contemporaries, is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and observant in a way Robin is not. Victoire, Haitian in origin from a family still wounded by the slave trade, is fiery and downright angry at times in a way Robin initially struggles to understand, but gradually comes to. Letty, an English rose, is vastly different to her contemporaries – kind and easy to love and absolutely determined to fit in, but always on a different course by consequence of her birth. The characters play off each other well, and each feels well-rounded.

There are a few minor criticisms. At just over five hundred pages this isn’t the longest book in the world – especially for fantasy – but the first half is very slow, requiring concentration and patience as the worldbuilding and characters are established. Kuang does well at creating atmosphere and a sense of foreboding before things start to unravel, but the change of pace doesn’t quite work, and several points lack the emotional impact they should have. The ending itself is likely to divide opinion. I understand why Kuang did it, but it did feel a little like a cop out. This is definitely a book which prioritises the philosophy and social commentary over the story.

Overall, Babel is a monumental undertaking and Kuang almost carries it off. It’s a book with crossover appeal to fantasy, historical fiction, and literary fiction fans, and worth a read for anyone who enjoys social commentary, exquisite worldbuilding, British history, and the complexities of human psychology. There are many things to love and the impact lingers after the final page. A recommended read.

Published by HarperVoyager
Hardback: 23rd August 2022

RF Kuang is also the author of The Poppy War trilogy – I review the first book here.

Monthly Roundup – September 2022

september

September has been noteworthy in a number of ways. At a national level there were deaths – the Queen and Hilary Mantel to name two. Closer to home, husband and I made our long delayed trip to Ireland to collect some personal effects put aside for me and my children from my late parents’ house clearance. This proved a worthwhile distraction from the media’s sycophantic mourning for a woman I admired less than the fine author we lost too early.

The Ireland trip was always going to be an emotional journey. I last travelled to the isle in early 2020 for my mother’s 92nd birthday. We had therefore decided to make it rather more epic a holiday than usual. The need to bring a car across the Irish Sea to enable transport of inherited items inspired us to book a cabin on an overnight ferry – the closest we would ever wish to come to a cruise. The boat sailed from Liverpool, a city we had never visited. We therefore booked a couple of nights in a hotel there. Although interesting, the place did not require the amount of time allocated. We were glad to take part in the Birkenhead Parkrun. A morning in Chester also helped while away some time. My teddy bear, Edward, accompanied us. You may read of his Explores in Liverpool and its surrounds here.

The Belfast leg of the trip was filled with nostalgia. We revisited several of the towns and villages located on the northern coast of the Ards Peninsula that my parents had loved and regularly took me as a child (I rarely appreciated them then). We caught up with friends and family, who made us welcome in their homes as well as joining us for dinners in fine, local eateries. Husband and I climbed Divis and Black Mountain – a first for me as they are located west of the city in an area I would have feared travelling through when I lived in troubled Belfast. The spectacular views from the ridges warmed my heart for a place I often think of negatively.

The hotel we stayed in prides itself on its comforts and grandeur. Located on the coast at Cultra – a wealthy enclave below which runs a coastal path I walked often as a teenager – I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the area. You may read my review of the hotel and spa here. Edward’s Explore of Belfast will be posted next week.

We returned home via Scotland, with an overnight stop in Dumfries to enable us to take part in their Parkrun. Good memories were made on this lengthy trip and I am grateful to those who helped make it special.

The rest of the month also had highlights. Husband bought me a fine, new bicycle that I took out on a couple of longer rides. As well as Parkruns, I started attending a new, local running club – a rare and brave sociable endeavour for me. The group is made up of new runners, or those returning to the activity after a break of many years. For the first time ever I was regarded as fast! Husband laughed when I told him this. Such opinion will undoubtedly change as the others build on their endurance and stamina, but I’ll take my brief moment while it lasts.

My little family have also faced changes this month. Elder son started a new job that requires him to work on site rather than from home, prompting him to buy his first car. Younger son returned to university. Both can still live at home and commute so we remain a unit of five, for which I am grateful. They may create a mountain of dishes and laundry for me to deal with but I value the daily updates that they are doing okay given all going on in the wider world.

I posted reviews for 7 books in September. Robyn once again took over the blog while I was on holiday and added a further 3 reviews.

As is customary in my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

homesick  isaac and the egg
Homesick by Jennifer Croft, published by Charco Press
Isaac and the Egg by Bobby Palmer, published by Headline

odesa at dawn
Odesa at Dawn by Sally McGrane, published by V&Q Books

Short Stories

A Little Unsteadily
A Little Unsteadily Into Light – New Dementia-Inspired Fiction, published by New Island Books

Translated Short Stories

punishment
Punishment by Ferdinand von Shirach (translated by Katherine Hall), published by Baskerville

Poetry

Mathematics for ladies
Mathematics for Ladies by Jessy Randall, published by Goldsmiths Press

Non Fiction

Hysterical
Hysterical – Exploding the Myth of Gendered Emotions by Pragya Agarwal, published by Canongate

Robyn Reviews

stardust  feverking
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah, published by Orbit
The Fever King by Victoria Lee, published by Skyscape

truthwitchTruthwitch by Susan Dennard, published by Tor

Sourcing the books

Robyn couldn’t resist these beautiful editions of books she hopes one day to read.

Robyn books sept 22

Along with the restrained pile of books I claimed from my father’s library – for which, as you can see, no shelf space has yet been found – a generous quantity of review copies came through my door.

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that is still beautiful in our world and lives. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: Truthwitch

‘Truthwitch’ is the start of a high fantasy series right on the border between YA and adult. Its action packed with well fleshed out characters, strong relationships, immense worldbuilding, and generally everything you need for a superb fantasy novel. Like all fantasy stories, it takes a little while to adjust to the setting, but once you’re in it grips you tight and doesn’t let you go.

Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble – but after a clash with a powerful Guildmaster and terrifying Bloodwitch, their lives are upended. Forced to flee their Venaza City home, the Threadsisters find a reluctant ally in Prince Merik – who sees an opportunity to bring trade to his starving people once more. However, the Bloodwitch is hot on their heels – and Safiya, a rare and unregistered Truthwitch, must avoid capture at all costs, lest she be used in the age-old struggle between Empires. With war on the horizon, the friends will stop at nothing for their freedom – and to keep their power out of enemies hands.

The absolute highlight of this book is the friendship between Safiya and Iseult. These two young women are not related by blood, but they’re the most important people in each other’s lives, sacrificing everything for each other. In many ways, they’re quite different, but they compliment each other like two halves of a whole. Its lovely reading a fantasy that celebrates friendship, and paints deep emotional bonds without forcing them to be romantic.

There are four primary perspectives – Safiya, Iseult, Merik, and the Bloodwitch Aeduan – and each is engaging, bringing a new element to the story. The alternating is done well, with no leaps that throw the reader out of the story or distract from a sideplot – each furthers the narrative and gradually makes the worldbuilding more clear. Iseult and Aeduan have the most mystery, with clear potential for development in subsequent entries – but the ending twist also ensures a prominent role for Safiya and Merik.

The worldbuilding is excellently done. The reader is launched straight into the action, with no exposition or explanation. There’s a little initial confusion, but the basic concepts quickly become clear: three main Empires, coming to the end of a twenty-year Treaty which ended an ancient war (but greatly favoured one side), and each containing elemental witches. Witches powers can be specific (Voicewitches, which can send messages to each other over great distances) or broad (Waterwitches, with control over the element of water), and are more common in certain empires – Marstock has an affinity for fire, whilst Nubrevna has mastery over air. These powers are tied to ancient wells – one for each element – which currently lie dormant, waiting for the next Cahr Awen: a pair of matched witches which bring balance and harmony. The concepts are simple, and woven seamlessly into the narrative, allowing the reader to understand just enough as they go along whilst maintaining an immense sense of mystery.

The plot is clever, twisty, and with multiple elements of mystery that will likely only be explained in subsequent books. Dennard does brilliantly at sliding in hints, and whilst some are obvious to the seasoned fantasy reader, that doesn’t make the concept any less smart.

The romance is one of the weaker parts of the book. There’s a large element of insta-love – and whilst that somewhat fits with the concept of Threads between people that is central to the magic of the story, it isn’t the most satisfying to read. Admittedly, Dennard does brilliantly at creating chemistry and making the attraction believable, but it’s still a bit too fast to be fully convincing.

Overall, ‘Truthwitch’ is an excellent addition to the high fantasy genre, and fills the gap between YA and adult fantasy with aplomb. Recommended for all older YA fans and those looking for an entertaining fantasy story.

Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Paperback: 23rd February 2016

Robyn Reviews: The Fever King

‘The Fever King’ is an ambitious YA dystopia, a tonal response to the YA dystopian boom in the early 2010s (think The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner), but with greater diversity and scope. It’s a bit rough around the edges, with mild issues around pacing and engagement, but overall it’s a solid and worthwhile read.

Sixteen-year-old Noam Alvaro is the son of undocumented immigrants in Carolinia, part of the former United States. He’s spent his life fighting for the rights of immigrant families and refugees fleeing outbreaks of a dangerous magical disease – one that grants 1% magical powers and kills the remaining 99%. However, his entire life is upended when he wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of a magical outbreak, and newly blessed with the rare power of technopathy. His ability draws the attention of the magical elite and he finds himself drawn into the very world he’s always hated. Stuck between two worlds, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go for the greater good.

Noam makes an excellent protagonist. Intelligent but emotional and often lead by his heart, he cares deeply and always wants to do the right thing, but struggles with what the right thing is. Rationalising his new identity as one of those he’s always despised is challenge, as is seeing the others around him as people rather than merely monsters. Noam tries to straddle two worlds, never feeling at home in either, and clings to things that remind him of the life he once had. At times, Noam is frustrating in those he trusts or the decisions he makes, but its always clear and believable why he’s done what he’s done, and his growth throughout the book is excellent. Books narrated by a single protagonist hinge on whether that protagonist convinces the reader, and Noam does.

As only Noam gets a POV, the secondary characters are more mysterious, but Dara and Calix Lehrer especially are intriguing and well fleshed-out. There’s strong potential for both to be developed in the sequel.

The setting is standard dystopia fare, a city in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event – in this case a virus that decimates most of the population. Where this goes further than most dystopias is exploring the issue of refugees from the virus and the dynamics of immigration. The parallels to contemporary refugee politics are clear, and this poses plenty to think on about current refugee policy. Lee does well at raising questions without pretending to have all the answers, and at pitching complex political debates at a level accessible to a YA audience.

The romance is unfortunately one of the weakest parts of the book. There’s very little initial chemistry, and the relationship is beset by communication issues – some believable in the context of immature teenage characters, but largely frustrating. Its great reading a YA dystopia with a male-male relationship, but it doesn’t come across as a healthy one.

Overall, ‘The Fever King’ is a late entry into a crowded genre, but a worthwhile addition with plenty of new material to explore. Recommended for all dystopia fans.

Published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s)
Paperback: 1st March 2019

Robyn Reviews: The Stardust Thief

‘The Stardust Thief’ is an enjoyable fantasy debut inspired by tales from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, but one that lacks a little sparkle. Many fans of action-driven fantasy will likely love it, but for those who appreciate more character connection it may fall slightly short.

Loulie Al-Nazari has crafted her reputation as the Midnight Merchant – a purveyor of illegal magical artifacts, aided by a mysterious bodyguard. However, when she breaks her routine to save the life of a simple civilian, he turns out to secretly be a prince – and now Loulie has drawn the attention of his father, the Sultan, who blackmails her into a dangerous quest to track down the most powerful of all magical artifacts – a magical lamp. Accompanied by the prince and one of his legendary Forty Thieves – and of course her bodyguard – Loulie sets off on a journey beset by vengeful jinn, killers from her mysterious past, ghouls, and deadly secrets. Loulie soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and she must decide who to become in this strange new reality.

The story alternates between three main perspectives – Loulie, Prince Mazen, and Aisha bint Louas of the Forty Thieves. Of these, Mazen is ultimately the most engaging. A kindhearted prince who much prefers telling stories to a crown, he is utterly out of place in his cutthroat family. His family despises him for his cowardice, and everyone is convinced he must have ulterior motives. Mazen struggles with identity, with marrying his desires with what he ultimately has to be as a royal, and with understanding how everyone else is using him for their own gain. His naivety can be challenging to read, but he has a huge amount of growth and is easy to sympathise with and care for. Seeing him in his element telling stories is one of thr strongest part of the novel, which at its heart is an ode to the tradition of storytelling.

Both Loulie and Aisha are strong, determined female protagonists, fighters at heart and convinced that their way of seeing the world is the right one. Their beliefs and loyalties are polar opposites, but in every other way they’re immensely similar. The main difference is that Loulie has someone she can trust – her bodyguard, Qadir – whereas Aisha has been burned too many times and trusts no-one. Their arcs thus run in inverse directions – Loulie’s trust in Qadir is shaken as illusions are stripped away and revelations come to light, and Aisha is forced to compromise and let others in in order to survive. The contrast is done well, although ultimately neither character’s psychology is delved into in the depths it could be.

The plot is fast paced, with regular twists and turns. Those familar with ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ will appreciate the number of references and story elements blended in, but there’s also political scheming, betrayal, and other fresh elements to keep this a unique story.

The primary weakness is a superficiality to the writing. Abdullah has created a strong world, intriguing characters, and a solid plot, but at no point do the reader and characters feel fully connected, lessening the impact of everything that happens to them. This slightly detached prose is common in older myths and fairytales and may be a deliberate choice, but it doesn’t quite work here. Fans of plot driven rather than character driven fantasy will probably engage much more with it as a story.

Overall, ‘The Stardust Thief’ is a solid debut with plenty of potential, but one that lacks the character connection to fully convince fans of character-driven fantasy. Recommended for fans of Arabic-inspired stories, action-packed fantasy, and strong female characters.

Thanks to Orbit Books for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Hardback: 17th May 2022

Monthly Roundup – August 2022

august

August has been a mostly good month for my little household. Husband booked a couple of weeks off work – the longest break he has had this year – and we drove down to Exmoor for a walking holiday. I wrote about the hotel we stayed in here and about my teddy bear, Edward’s adventures here. While we were away I left my blog in Robyn’s capable hands and she managed to post three reviews of recently read books. It’s good to have her back as a contributor even if this is likely to be sporadic given her demanding job.

Husband and I opted to return home in time to celebrate my birthday with the whole family. The day started with a Parkrun and finished with a meal at our local pub. In between much cake was consumed and a bottle of champagne imbibed. It was a lovely day.

After our vacation, we enjoyed a staycation. This included an epic walk locally, covering 26k across the beautiful Marlborough Downs. The family all came together again for a bank holiday weekend barbeque. We have been very lucky with the weather during our time off work – the heatwave broke and we managed to avoid being outside during the much needed rain showers.

My usual activities have continued – regular runs, strength training and swims. Our hens have been released from their coop to enjoy free ranging again, but only when someone is around to deter potential predators. I wrote an article on hen keeping for The Vixen magazine (September 2022 edition) which may be downloaded from here.

It has also been a good reading month. I posted reviews for seven books – an eclectic range that I am glad to have read.

As is customary in my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

Fiction

after sappho  operation moonlight
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz, published by Galley Beggar
Operation Moonlight by Louise Moorish, published by Century

constellations  blue hour cover
Constellations of Eve by Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood, published by Platypus Press
blue hour by Sarah Schmidt, published by Tinder Press

knock knock manThe Knock-Knock Man by Russell Mardell, published by RedDoor Press

Translated Fiction

wild horses
Wild Horses by Jordi Cussà (translated by Tiago Miller), published by Fum d’Estampa

Non Fiction

never mind comrade
Never Mind, Comrade by Claudia Bierschenk, published by Tangerine Press

Robyn Reviews

psalmcover  gallantcover
A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, published by TorDotCom
Gallant by V.E. Schwab, published by Titan Books

boncoverBook of Night by Holly Black, published by Del Rey

Sourcing the books

Robyn has cut down on the number of books she buys but couldn’t resist these beautiful editions.

robyn received august

My book post has been very special this month. The top three titles were birthday presents from my sister, the remainder are review copies.

books received jackie august 22

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your continuing support is always much appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that is still beautiful in our world and lives. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: Book of Night

Holly Black, best known for the ‘Folk of the Air’ trilogy but a prolific author of YA fantasy, makes her adult fantasy debut with ‘Book of Night’ – an urban fantasy about con artists, power, and messy characters living messier lives. In much the vein of ‘Ninth House‘ – another adult debut by a popular YA author – it’s a darker book, almost to emphasise that this is Definitely Not Aimed At Children. (There’s probably an entire debate to be had there about why female YA authors feel the need to do this, but I digress). In short, ‘Book of Night’ is a solid and enjoyable dark urban fantasy, but probably not a book that will appeal to many fans of Holly Black’s other work.

Charlie is a (mostly) retired con artist, working as a bartender and trying to distance herself from her previous life of crime. She’s got a steady, boring boyfriend and a steady income – if not enough of one to save up for her younger sister to go to college. However, when Charlie accidentally witnesses a murder on her way home from work, she finds herself thrown back into her old life of shadow crime – with her life potentially on the line. Never one to make a good decision when she could make a worse one, she throws herself wholeheartedly back into a world of secrets, power, and murder.

The magic system in this book is simple but effective. Everyone starts off with a shadow – but some people develop the power to alter them, using them to alter appearances, increase power, or even as weapons. Shadows can be traded and even stolen, leaving one shadowless – a lesser in society. The shadow trade is at its depths a dark and ugly thing, but to the populace at large, shadow alterations are seen as glamorous accessories. The choice of magic system adds to the darkness of the book in a quite literal way, but it’s cleverely done, and Holly Black weaves explanation into the story well, avoiding long passages of exposition.

Charlie, the protagonist, is a highly relatable Millennial-type character, the sort of person who keeps screwing up and whose life seems fated to go wrong in a hundred different ways – partially because Charlie herself can’t keep her nose out of trouble. She’s creative, curious, and kind-hearted, but also headstrong and reckless. Her relationship with her younger sister is intriguing, and one of the parts of the book I wish was explored further.

The plot is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns, with just about the right balance between foreshadowing and surprise. Most revelations can be predicted with enough mental gymnastics, but it’s satisfying having deductions proven right and there are still shocks along the way. Naturally, the book uses some genre tropes, but there’s plenty to make it feel original. The ending provides a satisfying conclusion that fits with the tone of the rest of the book, whilst leaving the door open for a potential spinoff or sequel.

For an adult fantasy this is on the shorter side, and there could have been more exploration of the world and characters, but overall this is a solid, entertaining adult debut. Recommended for fans of Ninth House and fast-paced darker fantasy.

Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 3rd May 2022

Robyn Reviews: Gallant

VE Schwab is a prolific writer of fantasy across age groups and subgenres. Her adult fantasy The Invisible Life of Addie Larue remains one of my all-time favourites, and her City of Ghosts trilogy is a wonderful fantasy adventure for the 8-14 age group. Her latest offering, Gallant, is targeted at a teenage or YA audience, but makes a great easy read for adults too. It’s an atmospheric, slow build read with elements of Neil Gaiman. The ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I might have liked, but otherwise this is another solid entry to Schwab’s shelves that any fan of fantasy mysteries or the haunted house genre should enjoy.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior can barely remember a time when she wasn’t alone. Her parents have vanished, and almost no-one at Merilance School for Orphaned Girls has bothered to learn how to communicate with a girl with no voice. When she receives a mysterious letter from an uncle she’s never met, inviting her to join him at his estate of Gallant, it seems like a dream come true, aside from one thing: A note in her mother’s old journal, the only piece of her she has left. ‘You will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant’. Her options few, Olivia arrives at Gallant – but her welcome isn’t what she expected, and she soon finds herself surrounded by a family secret that might just spell her end.

The biggest strength of the book is Schwab’s writing. Atmospheric and haunting, it paints lingering images of Merilance, of Gallant, and of its inhabitants – both living and dead. It’s perhaps pitched a little young – Olivia is sixteen, but this is probably aimed at the 12+ age group, and she reads younger than she is – but nonetheless, the writing effectively builds tension without ever being age inappropriate.

Gallant pitches itself as ‘The Secret Garden’ meets ‘Stardust’, and certainly much of the imagery is clearly Gaiman inspired. However, even with the clear inspiration from other works and use of fantasy tropes, Gallant still stands out as its own work without feeling too reliant on or too similar to predecessors. It helps that Olivia feels very much like a Schwab protagonist – a feisty, adventurous girl fond of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and leaping into action before thinking about the consequences.

I liked the disability representation in the form of Olivia’s mutism, although a disabled reviewed would be better placed to vouch as to its accuracy.

The plot starts slowly, letting us get to know and sympathise with Olivia, revealing more and more secrets and unspooling at a greater and greater pace. The ending is fast-paced and almost over too quickly, with one final twist which is very clever but a certain lack of satisfaction. It would be helped by an extra thirty to fifty pages allowing the finale more time and impact – it almost feels like there’s a page limit as this is a YA not adult novel. Still, there’s enough there to hold it together and make it feel like a complete and enjoyable story. There is one trope in the ending which personally felt unncessary, but that’s a personal quibble that others may disagree with.

Overall, Gallant is an atmospheric YA fantasy novel perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, haunted house stories, and family secrets.

Published by Titan Books
Hardback: 8th March 2022