Robyn Reviews: The Last Wish

‘The Last Wish’ is a collection of short stories that introduce Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer, and Dandilion – the key characters of the Witcher series. The stories jump around in time and place, with tales of Geralt doing his job as a Witcher – hunting down monsters – interspersed by an overarching story of Geralt recuperating at a temple. The stories are the basis for the first season of the ‘Witcher’ TV series and will likely be familiar to fans of the series or the games, although as someone who never watched beyond episode one of the TV show I appreciate how much more vocal Geralt is in the books than this on-screen equivalent.

The stories are an intriguing introduction to Geralt’s world. Loosely inspired by Medieval European, and more specifically Slavic and Polish, history, there are references to folk tales and many creatures of European myth. Sapkowski also chooses to set his stories at a time when Witchers are declining, their occupation frowned upon, which adds an interesting dynamic to each of Geralt’s interactions. There are also a number of ethical questions posed about the nature of monsters.

Geralt himself is a mostly likeable protagonist. ‘The Last Wish’ was originally published in Polish in 1993 and is typical of 1990s fantasy in its attitude towards women; Geralt mostly but not entirely escapes this misogyny. Nonetheless, he always tries to do the right thing and it’s obvious that he’s a good person at heart. Similarly, Dandilion – introduced halfway through, in the fifth of seven short stories – is a fairly stereotypical hapless companion, but a nice character and it’s clear he has a larger part to play in later books.

Yennefer, by contrast, appears in one story as the beautiful yet evil seductress. I hope her character is further developed later on, as from first impressions she seems a bit two-dimensional, especially as the series’ most important female character.

The format of this, with each tale relatively short, keeps it engaging, and whilst it’s definitely plot rather than character driven fantasy there’s plenty of room for character expansion later on. Its main issues are related to its age – at nearly thirty years old, it suffers from all the tropes and misogyny common to popular fantasy at the time. The fact that Geralt is slightly more progressive keeps this from being intolerable, and hopefully later books – especially those where Yennefer is more prominent – will suffer from this less.

Overall, this is a solid introduction to the major character of the Witcher series and an enjoyable collection of short stories. Recommended for fans of traditional fantasy and folklore-inspired stories.

Thanks to Books2Door for providing the entire box set of the Witcher series – this in no way affects the content of this review

Robyn Reviews: As the Shadow Rises

‘As the Shadow Rises’ is the second book in the Age of Darkness trilogy. The five main characters – Ephyra, Beru, Anton, Jude, and Hassan – are dealing with the aftermath of their first battle with the Hierophant and the revelations made. There’s less action than in book one, but this is still an intriguing, tightly plotted book packed with fascinating characters – and the climax is even better than book one’s.

Ephyra – the Graced assassin known as the Pale Hand – has been separated from her sister Beru. The only way to save her sister once and for all is to track down an ancient relic known as Eleazar’s Chalice – but everyone who’s ever gone looking for the Chalice has perished. Ephyra goes searching for the one man who might be able to help her – but the journey is perilous and will require her to put her trust in an old enemy. In many ways, Ephyra reminds me of Rin from The Poppy War – the darker side of morally grey, one step from falling into utter chaos. She’s a horrible person but with good intentions buried deep and a fascinating character to read about.

Beru, wracked with guilt over all the people her sister has killed to keep her alive, has run away to die. Trying to atone, she takes a job as a healer – but when an unexpected acquaintance stumbles across her hideout, with a secret of their own, she decides there might be a better way to assuage her guilt. Beru plays a much larger role in this book than in ‘There Will Come A Darkness’, and while she remains a less interesting personality than her sister she’s a far nicer person. Her ending is incredible and I can’t wait to see what happens to her in book three.

Hassan, the character with the largest role in book one, plays the smallest role here. Now known as the Deceiver, Hassan is disgraced – but as the heir to the throne, he’s still determined to take back his city. Much like in book one, Hassan makes increasingly terrible life choices, but – besides being incredibly cocky – isn’t a bad person.

Jude and Anton’s storyline is the best part of this book. Jude, the Keeper of the World and Captain of the Paladin Guard, is in turmoil. All his life he’s been raised to protect the Prophet – but a member of his Guard has deserted him, his Grace is gone, and he’s broken his own vows to put his duties before all else. Everything is complicated by his growing feelings for Anton. For his part, Anton’s entire world has been upended and he’s being forced to face his worst fears day in and day out. The only person he trusts is Jude – but Jude is hiding from him, keeping secrets, and not offering the same trust back. Their relationship throughout this book is beautifully written. Katy Rose doesn’t shy away from showing the impact of the trauma they’ve gone through – especially Jude, who doesn’t know his own identity without his Grace – but the little moments of happiness and hope she offers are balms in what is regularly a darker book.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot without spoiling book one, but there are adventures, assassination attempts, huge reveals about the magic system and theology, and quests across the country. It avoids all the pitfalls of sequels and manages to tell an engaging story that stands up on its own.

Overall, this is an excellent sequel to a trilogy I wish more people talked about. I can’t wait to see how everything is tied up in book three.

My review of the first book, There Will Come A Darkness, can be found here.

Thanks to Orbit for providing a copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 3rd September 2020

Robyn Reviews: There Will Come A Darkness

‘There Will Come a Darkness’ is a brilliant fantasy debut. The first book in the Age of Darkness trilogy, it introduces five main characters – Ephyra, Beru, Anton, Hassan, and Jude – each of whom are fighting to stay alive in a world prophesised to fall into ruin. There’s constant tension, a gorgeous Greco-Roman inspired setting, and excellent use of some classic fantasy tropes. This straddles the line between YA and adult – it appears to be marketed as adult in the UK but YA in the US – and would easily appeal to readers of either genre.

The story starts with Ephyra, a Graced assassin known as the Pale Hand. Ephyra uses her abilities to manipulate people’s life force to kill – but only so she can keep her sister, Beru, alive. I adored the complex sibling dynamic between Beru and Ephyra. Ephyra is the ultimate morally grey character, willing to do anything for her sister – but Beru has a good heart and hates what her sister is doing. Ephyra is one of my favourite characters, but not a particularly nice one. Beru’s chapters are in many ways the weakest of the book, but she provides an interesting counterpoint to Ephyra’s actions – a much-needed moral compass. I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Beru in book two, with further development of her character.

In many ways, however, Ephyra and Beru are side characters to what is primarily Hassan’s story. Hassan, the Prince of Herat, has fled his homeland to avoid the persecution his people are facing. Safely ensconced with his aunt, he begins to chafe at how little he’s doing to help his people. He starts to sneak out to a local refugee camp, befriending one of the leaders there – but his entire world is upended when the keepers of a secret prophecy arrive. Hassan is a sweet but incredibly naïve person. He makes mistakes trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and struggles to stand up for himself and what he truly believes. It’s difficult not to root for him – or for his developing relationship – but at the same time, it’s always clear that he’s getting himself and others into situations that could end in disaster.

The other two main characters, Anton and Jude, are at first opposite but in many ways very alike. Jude has been raised to be the next leader of the Paladin, tasked with keeping the last Prophet alive. His entire life has been about duty – but Jude has doubts, and he isn’t sure he’s cut out for this life. Anton, on the other hand, has always found his Grace to be more of a burden than a boon. He’s been on the run from his abusive brother for years and wouldn’t know duty if it stared him in the face – but when it comes down to it, both he and Jude are hardwired to protect others, even at the expense of themselves. Anton’s relationship with his brother is an intriguing counterpart to Ephyra and Beru’s; their interactions were always uncomfortable but made for interesting reading.

The fantasy system of the five Graces is reminiscent of many fantasy magic systems, but magic plays a relatively minor role. Instead, this is character-driven fantasy, focusing on the lives of the five protagonists in all their messy glory. Similarly, the persecution of the Graced by a religious sect known as the Witnesses – led by the mysterious Heirophant – is a fantasy cliché, but one that’s written well and matters less in a character-and-plot-focused novel. I’ll be interested to see if it goes in a more unique direction later in the trilogy, but the well-trodden material didn’t detract from the book’s enjoyment.

Overall, this is an excellent debut and introduction to an intriguing cast of characters. I can’t wait to pick up ‘As the Shadow Rises’ and find out what happens next. Recommended to all fans of YA and adult epic fantasy, especially character-driven fantasy.

Thanks to Orbit for providing me with a copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Paperback:
3rd September 2019. (The sequel, As the Shadow Rises, was published on the 3rd September 2020)

Robyn Reviews: Witch

‘Witch’ is a relatively short novel, coming in under 300 pages, with a simple narrative; Evey and Dill’s mother, the town witch, is murdered by witch-hunters, and Evey vows to enact revenge. The language used reflects the historical setting and Evey’s young age. Many will love this as a quaint, atmospheric tale – but I found myself irritated by Evey and put off by a narrative style which made the story feel very superficial.

Evey is, to be quite frank, not a very nice person. Much of this can be forgiven due to her young age and the shock of watching the death of her mother – but she spends the entire story either complaining or making horrifically rash decisions, and it gets quite tiring to read about. Her interactions with her sister, Dill, are believable – they fight like real siblings, with true sibling grievances – but the pettiness of it all isn’t fun to read. In a novel where everything else is kept deliberately light and whimsical, the protagonist needed to be a strong anchor – Evey isn’t that person.

Most of my grievances with this book say more about me than the novel itself. I prefer my magic systems explained, with clear rules and limitations – the witchcraft in this book is a mysterious thing with no clear rules, and is also far less prominent than the title might suggest. I like character-driven fantasy – this is definitely plot-driven, with Evey never developed as a character beyond her base motivations. I prefer difficult situations to be solved by brains rather than fortuitous coincidences – this book has nothing but fortuitous coincidences. My difficulties with this book almost exactly mirror my issues with another whimsical fantasy from earlier this year, Feathertide – so if you enjoyed that, you might find this up your street too.

I should mention that, while this is written in a very light style, it touches on some dark subject matter. Despite the child narrator, it’s definitely a more adult novel with adult themes.

What about the positives? This is a quick read, easy to consume in one sitting – but also easy to consume in small bites, the narrative simple enough that nothing will be forgotten. It’s also an interesting exploration of attitudes towards witchcraft – people decrying it in the daylight but turning to witches when things get tough. It’s enlightening peering back to a time when witch trials were commonplace; for most of the novel, the historical fiction is more prominent than the fantasy.

Overall, this wasn’t the book for me – but I’m sure plenty of others will enjoy the style it’s written in, and it’s nice delving into a shorter novel amidst the trend for increasingly long fantasy stories. Recommended for fans of atmospheric, whimsical books, historical fantasy, and child narrators.

Thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Head of Zeus
Hardback: 1st October 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Angel of the Crows

‘The Angel of the Crows’ is a very clever book, and enjoyable to read, but I’m not sure it quite diverges enough from its source material to stand up as a separate novel.

The premise is simple: a retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, still set in Victorian London, if the supernatural also walked the Earth. Angels, vampires, werewolves, hellhounds, clairvoyants, curses – these are all part of everyday life. Dr Doyle – this book’s Dr Watson, in clear homage – has just returned from Afghanistan having been grievously wounded by the Fallen, a band of fallen angels. Seeking somewhere quiet to live, he bumps into Stanford, an old friend from medical school, who happens to know of someone else seeking shared lodgings. Enter the angel Crow – somewhat ostracised by his fellow angels and looking for a flatmate for a certain 221b Baker Street. From here, the stories proceed as we know them, with the addition of supernatural elements.

The writing feels uncannily like Conan Doyle’s style, which is very clever of Addison – I reread A Study in Scarlet for a direct comparison. I completely believe that this is how Conan Doyle would have written had he chosen a fantasy version of his stories. Similarly, the characters of Dr Doyle and Crow are much like their counterparts in the originals – although Dr Doyle is noticeably smarter and more perceptive than Dr Watson, and Crow, ironically, much more human than Sherlock Holmes. There are cameos from several other notable characters from Conan Doyle’s stories, and they too feel mostly authentic – with one exception, who I hope is developed further should this ever get a sequel.

I love the supernatural element. The mythology of the angels is clever and well-explained, with tidbits dropped in throughout. Each new being is introduced subtly, without a great deal of explanation, but this helps to their presence seem entirely normal. I would have been interested to see how their presence changed the development of London – and, indeed, of the world – but that isn’t the intent of this novel, and it isn’t required. Several of the supernatural beings are discriminated against – mostly illogically – and this is explored well, adding an extra dimension to the society created.

My main issue with this book is the choice to use the first few Sherlock Holmes stories as the plot. They’re cleverly rendered, staying very close to their source material with just a few adaptations to give a supernatural spin – but these stories have been adapted so many times it makes the book predictable. The setting is exceptional with the scope for far more interesting, fresh mysteries in the supernatural sects of London. I wish that Addison had chosen to create new mysteries rather than relying on paths well-trodden. To be fair to her, she did include one new plot element – capturing Jack the Ripper – but this has also been extensively written about before. None of these issues affect the enjoyment of the book, but they do give it a strong fanfiction feel rather than that of a published work.

Those who enjoy Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the BBC’s Sherlock (or at least the first two seasons), Lucy Liu’s Elementary, or any other adaptation will likely enjoy this. Similarly, those who have never dived into the Sherlock universe but like a good urban mystery or urban fantasy will probably love this. It’s very well written and a strong addition to all the adaptations out there – I just feel like there’s potential for it to be more than that.

Thanks to NetGalley and Rebellion for providing both an eARC and a finished copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Rebellion
Hardback: 17th September 2020

Monthly Roundup – September 2020

Six months into lockdown and I remain amazed at how readily so many have adapted to imposed restrictions. September started with what looked to be a relaxation of mandated measures but ended with threats of hefty fines for non-compliance with stricter rules – rushed through laws applied without balanced debate. I have needed to be outside regularly to remind myself that the world is still a beautiful place.

With the passing of the autumn equinox the changing colours on the trees can be admired. I crunch through fallen acorns and horse chestnuts on many of the local trails I frequent. I have continued my thrice weekly gym visits for strength training – cycling to town and back whatever the weather. I was grateful for our Indian Summer, although the marked increase in car traffic suggested others were going further afield to enjoy the sunny days.

Daughter came home for a short visit at the beginning of the month, when we were still hopeful of a return to greater freedom. We ate out at the Prezzo in our local market town and had a pleasant evening, despite the restaurant greeter’s demand that we sanitise our hands on entering. At least there were no ‘masked bandits’, as my son refers to them. Food and service were good and we talked of returning. Our options have been reduced with business closures increasingly prevalent – and now, of course, only likely to accelerate. We will not be going out to eat while masks must be worn between door and table – I’m at a loss as to what that new rule is intended to achieve.

The promise of cooler weather made it clear that I needed a few additions to my wardrobe. Goods were ordered online with delivery to a town outlet – the only way to achieve free delivery and returns for the various sizes and styles I wished to try on before choosing what, if anything, to keep. Thus I had to enter a shop wearing my mask exemption lanyard – stressful, but the staff were lovely and I suffered none of the feared abuse from customers, who I ensured I distanced from.

Confidence boosted, I decided to shop for a new bookcase at a store owned by a local family – I like to support their business. Here the staff wore masks, which felt strange as I regularly pass them in our village. I still find these face coverings disturbing but, thankfully, I was able to choose what I needed quickly and leave. I am pleased with all my purchases but shopping has become an anxiety inducing activity and will remain limited.

I suffered a foot injury when I accidently bashed my toes into furniture mid month. This has made walking any distance painful – my stout boots press against the swollen digit. I continue to run, perhaps foolishly as the foot is not healing as quickly as expected. There seems little point seeking medical advice with current restrictions on contact. I’m not sure what we are expected to do if we require the expertise of doctor, dentist or optician – services previously taken for granted. I fear lockdown will be the catalyst for a significant increase in the privatisation of healthcare.

Younger son should have been preparing to leave for university but what they will want him to do remains uncertain. This lack of clarity means he has had to keep paying for the expensive accommodation he hasn’t used since March – alongside tuition fees for a course that may remain entirely online. With the current media tales of students confined to their tiny flats, unable to socialise or attend teaching, he would now prefer to stay home and access remote learning. What is needed is a decision for the academic year – and a get out clause if rental contracts are no longer needed through no fault of the students. I realise this is unlikely as landlords will want their income.

When not out exercising I am still reading, albeit slowly as I struggle to concentrate amidst so much uncertainty. I posted reviews for 6 books (2 novels, 1 short story collection, 1 poetry collection, 2 works of non fiction). Happily, all were good reads although I would say the weakest was my choice from the Booker longlist – so much for major literary prizes offering worthwhile recommendations. It is, however, pleasing to note that every book I reviewed this month was published by an independent press.

Robyn continues to read voraciously and contributed 15 reviews. These included one for Mordew by Alex Pheby, a book I have previously posted my thoughts on but wished her to read as it is her favoured genre – fantasy fiction. I was interested in her views, and hope other readers will be too.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction


The Nacullians by Craig Jordan-Baker, published by époque press
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, published by OneWorld

 

Short stories


Postcard Stories 2 by Jan Carson, published by The Emma Press

 

Poetry


London Undercurrents by Joolz Sparks and Hilaire, published by Holland Park Press

 

Non fiction


Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees, published by Elliott and Thompson
Dead Girls by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott), published by Charco Press

 

Robyn Reviews


Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, published by Wednesday Books
Queen of Volts by Amanda Foody, published by HQ


A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington, published by Quercus
Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer, published by Quercus

 
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, published by Macmillan Children’s
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus, published by Transworld


The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, published by Orbit
Five Little Liars by Amanda K Morgan, published by Simon & Schuster


The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry, published by Titan Books
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, published by David Fickling Books


The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty, published by HarperVoyager
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, published by Bodley Head


The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, published by Gollancz
Mordew by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press


A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, published by Del Rey

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She also purchased or received a number of hard copies – including a surprise copy of a book she is now offering as a giveaway (do check her Twitter feed).

I also made several purchases to add to the review copies publishers kindly sent. These included another Booker Prize contender – will it be more impressive?

I was a guest on Shelf Absorption, a blog that enables readers to check out other people’s shelves. I reblogged the post here. The stack of books pictured on the floor now fills my newly purchased bookcase.

 

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their titles 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 as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

left

‘The Left-Handed Booksellers of London’ is a fun, light-hearted YA fantasy adventure perfect for anyone looking for easy entertainment. There’s little depth to the story or characters, but the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. With the current trend in fantasy for dark, gritty stories, it’s nice to see a more cheerful take on the genre.

The story follows Susan, a just-turned-eighteen-year-old from just outside Bath who’s moving to London to start an art course. She’s also hoping to use the opportunity to finally track down her dad – a subject her mum will never talk about. However, when Susan arrives in London and goes to meet one of her mum’s acquaintances, she finds herself being rescued by a mysterious maybe-wizard named Merlin – and from there, her time in London starts to go in a very different direction than she’d planned.

Susan is a likeable enough protagonist – very much a reluctant heroine who spends the majority of the book very confused. None of the characters are ever developed in depth, but Sarah serves her narrative purpose well. Merlin and Vivian are far more interesting characters, but while details are tossed out here and there neither is fully explored. I’d happily read an entire follow-up novel about Vivian and her life when Merlin isn’t dragging her around the country because everyone’s trying to kill his latest crush.

The concept of left and right-handed booksellers and their magic system is brilliant – quite unique, and who in the reading world doesn’t want the bookseller to be the hero of the story? Again, the pace means this isn’t explored, but it’s a great take on the secret-protectors-of-normal-people-from-secret-magic trope. The rest of the worldbuilding borrows heavily from general European mythology and folklore: Fenris from Norse mythology, a variation on vampires, goblins, the power of May Day. It’s a crude mash-up but works well, blending familiar elements into something new.

The plot is the main focus. I haven’t read any Garth Nix for years – I believe I once read Sabriel, but so long ago I can barely recall it – but if all his books are in this vein, I can see why he’s so popular with younger teenage readers. The plot is conventional, with relatively predictable twists and turns, but entertaining, with witty dialogue and a teenagers-uncover-adult-incompetence slant so popular with younger readers. There are sad and tense moments, but for the most part it’s upbeat and humorous. Given that the main character is eighteen, I’m not sure if the aim was to have an older target audience, but the light tone and superficiality make it read like a younger book.

Overall, this is a fun YA fantasy adventure great for light entertainment. Recommended as a holiday read or when you need a light pick-me-up – or for a more reluctant teenage reader.

Thanks to Netgalley and Gollancz for providing an e-ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orion
Hardback: 24th September 2020

Monthly Roundup – August 2020

August is my birthday month and we celebrated this year by eating out for the first time since lockdown began. It was a mixed experience. The female waiting staff wore masks although the males didn’t – I assume this was their choice. The tables were not set, cutlery being delivered with food. Hand sanitiser was reapplied by staff regularly and, although the place was full, tables appeared to be used only once throughout the evening. I find mask wearers unsettling but could mostly relax in the buzz and ambience of a busy restaurant. It is unfortunate that service was slow and food not particularly well cooked. In acknowledgement of these issues, husband and son were not charged for their puddings. I wonder how this, and all other imposed measures, effected the bottom line of a business that is doing its best amidst imposed restrictions.

The rest of the month was largely a repeat of the life we have been required to get used to. With liberties removed and mask wearing enforced I have remained mostly at home, exercising in my local area. Many acquaintances are posting pictures of the holidays they are taking. Some are even flying abroad, accepting quarantine on their return. Until husband and I can be sure that facilities such as restaurants and museums are opening without restrictions, we will not be going away on our usual short breaks in the UK. A neighbour reported on an afternoon spent in our nearest city – Bath – last week, telling us the mask wearing and social distancing made shopping unpleasant and she would not be returning if she could help it. Saddened though I will be if previously bustling businesses cannot keep trading, the stress of being treated as a potential killer keeps me away.

The small, local gym I have been a member of for years announced it would be reopening with rules and restrictions on use that remove the pleasure I had always gained from attending. I do not wish to be tied to a booking system and would wish to use the swimming pool – currently available only to small numbers of hotel guests. I therefore decided to join a town centre 24/7 gym that operates on a much more relaxed basis. I am glad to be back to strength training. I cycle to and from the place – a 22km round trip – so do not feel the need to use their cardio machines for now. With my regular runs and daily walks, my fitness routine continues to help keep my stress levels mostly balanced.

I wrote a post about taking up running which you may read here.

I am still struggling to settle into reading although most of this month’s titles impressed. I posted reviews for 6 books this month: 3 novels, 1 short story collection, 1 poetry collection and an astonishing work of autofiction. Robyn contributed 13 reviews, mostly from her favoured genre of fantasy fiction but also a few thrillers and big name releases.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction


Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir, published by Headline
Mordew by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press


V for Victory by Lissa Evans, published by Doubleday

Short Stories


Foxfire, Wolfskin and other stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie, published by September Publishing

Autofiction


A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, published by Tramp Press

Poetry


How to Make Curry Goat by Louise McStravick, published by Fly on the Wall Press

 

Following on from my review last month of their latest release, The Blackbird, I posted a Q&A with Henningham Family Press in which they discuss creating their beautiful books as works of art.

 

Robyn Reviews

Fiction


The First Sister by Linden Lewis, published by Hodder & Stoughton
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, published by Vintage


We Are All The Same In The Dark by Julia Heaberlin, published by Michael Joseph
All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, published by Titan Books


Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, published by Bloomsbury
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, published by Canongate


Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, published by Walker Books
Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam, published by Orion


Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, published by Tor
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (tr Neil Smith), published by Michael Joseph


The Killings at Kingfisher Hall by Sophie Hannah, published by Harper Collins
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi, published by Michael Joseph


Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall, published by Orion

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She has also acquired an impressive stack of hard copies this month – it is lucky she purchased a bookcase when she moved into her latest flat share in London.

I also received a bumper number of books, three of which were birthday presents from family.


Review copies


Gifts and purchases (one to give away)

 

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their titles 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 as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – July 2020

July has had its highs and lows. The early part of the month brought with it some welcome client work, thereby adding a structure to our weeks that has been missed. Work is still entirely from home, for the time being, but is a step in the right direction.

Elder son changed jobs, moving to a trainee position in his profession of choice, a year after graduating. In the interim he has worked in a local factory and then a supermarket – real life experience that will, I hope, result in greater appreciation of how privileged he is in so many ways. Daughter passed her end of year exams and has now returned to London to complete her final year at medical school. Our little household will remain at four as younger son’s university informed him learning will be online until at least January. His expensive student accommodation lies empty but must still be paid for.

It had begun to feel that we were moving forward after the stasis of the lockdown months. We watched as shops, pubs and restaurants started to reopen, albeit with restrictions. A lovely hairdresser visited our home, cutting my and daughter’s hair while wearing rather offputting PPE. News that gyms and swimming pools were to grant access to their facilities was welcomed.

And then came the announcement that mask wearing was to be made mandatory in shops as well as on public transport. The polarisation of opinion this created caused a massive spike in my stress levels that has still to abate. I wrote about my reaction in a personal post: Mask wearing and other plague related issues. I will now be avoiding enclosed public spaces for the foreseeable future: On not wearing a face mask.

I continue to try to manage my anxiety with exercise – long walks and bike rides in the still beautiful countryside, plus regular runs that push me to my physical limits. I miss the strength training gym membership offered and await news on restrictions these establishments will be forced to work to. Elder son returned to training on opening day and I may join his town centre gym. The little local facility I have been a member of for years cannot yet know when it will be permitted to open fully and freely.

I hurt for the small businesses that will not survive mandated restrictions, the employees facing redundancy and the stress this brings. It feels to me at times that a section of society is so concerned with not dying that they have forgotten how to live. Risk exists in many chosen activities.

In amongst all else that has been happening, I still turn to my books. Reading cannot offer the relaxation and escapism I crave in these times of uncertainty – I struggle to concentrate for long periods – but I still gain pleasure from appreciation of fine writing.

I reviewed 9 titles in July: 7 fiction (1 translated) and 2 non fiction. In addition, Robyn contributed 9 reviews.

You may click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction

 
Patience by Toby Litt, published by Galley Beggar Press
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, published by Doubleday

 
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, published by William Heinemann
The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath, published by Headline Accent

 
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, published by Picador
The Blackbird by Claire Allen, published by Henningham Family Press

I am running a Twitter giveaway of The Blackbird that will close at 5pm on 31/7/2020. Do consider entering for the chance to win a copy of this truly beautifully bound and illustrated book – it is well worth reading.

 

Translated Fiction


A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti (translated by Fionn Petch), published by Charco Press

 

Non fiction

 
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, published by Quercus
Not Far From The Junction by Will Ashon, published by Open Pen

 

Robyn Reviews

 
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Jo Fletcher Books
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 
The Story of Silence by Alex Myers, published by Harper Voyager
The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, published by Hodder & Stoughton

 
The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, published by Harper Collins
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi, published by Mantle

 
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
The Year of Witching by Alexis Henderson, published by Bantam Press


Circe by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She received her first physical ARC this month as well as making a couple of hefty purchases.

     I

I took delivery of some intriguing sounding books, many of which I couldn’t help but read immediately.

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their titles 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, speedy recovery from any illness, and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – June 2020

We have now survived over three months of lockdown and the world of man has become a strange place. Talk of easing restrictions is shadowed by measures put in place that make our limited social contact less enjoyable: keep your distance, wear a mask, don’t go out unless necessary. The wider impact of the various rules imposed is becoming more obvious: other health issues ignored and therefore exacerbated (mental and physical), long term economic hardship likely for a great many, disruptions to education affecting the prospects of young people.

With no client work available this month, husband and I continue to fill our days with walks, runs and bike rides in the surrounding countryside. I beat my personal 5k running time – finally getting it to below 30 minutes – and completed my second, lonely half marathon. I am also trying yoga at home, coached by Adrienne via YouTube.

Our children finished their on line exams and we celebrated with a little family party. A few days later we ordered a takeaway for younger son’s birthday. It feels important to create highlights in days that are merging and can quickly grow stale.

On the henkeeping front, we gave a new forever home to four ex-farm rescue chickens who are settling in well. As is always the case, our existing flock has yet to come to terms with this invasion of their enclosure – it is clear where the terms henpecked and pecking order originate.

I reviewed 8 books in June – 6 fiction (1 translated), 1 poetry, 1 non fiction. My reading rate has been affected by lockdown and associated concerns. To counter this I took on an intern, explaining my reasons in my first post of the month – Something is changing on the blog. I hope readers have enjoyed Robyn’s reviews. This month they included 3 fantasy fiction books and 1 non fiction. I have offered her additional slots on the blog over the coming months.

Click on the title below to read the review, and on the cover to find out more about each book.

 

Fiction

 
Death & Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor, published by Black Swan
The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves, published by Century

 
Broken Angels by Beth Webb and Mark Hutchinson (soon to be available from the abbey bookshop)
Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch, published by Sagging Miniscus

 

For Bookmunch – and my book of the month


The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, published by Oneworld

 

Translated fiction


Holiday Heart by Margarita García Robayo (translated by Charlotte Coombe), published by Charco Press

 

Poetry


Depth Charge by Chris Emery (limited edition, privately published)

 

Non fiction


Into the Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian, published by Elliott & Thompson

 

Robyn Reviews

Fantasy Fiction

 
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, published by Orbit
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, published by Gollancz


We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, published by Orbit

 

Non fiction


Sway by Pragya Agarwal, published by Bloomsbury

 

Sourcing the books

Robyn is on Netgalley and is grateful for all approvals of titles requested. She is also an avid collector of eye-catching fantasy fiction and has recently been receiving as much book post as me.

Happily, I have taken delivery of a greater number of books this month than has been typical during these lockdown months.

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their titles 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, speedy recovery from any illness, and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx