Review of The Merciful Women by Federico Andahazi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover of The Merciful Women

I did make the mistake of taking this book out with me to a quiet Yorkshire town cafe and got a few strange looks.

📖 My first thought on completion of this book (and several times throughout reading) is “what a bizarre book”. I very much think it will be like marmite, you will either love it or hate it. I’m glad I read it as it is certainly intriguing and challenging to the books I would normally read but I’m not sure I’d revisit it.

The book was originally written in another language (Spanish?) and then translated to English. The story is obscure and dark. Most people are aware of the story of Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley’s trip from which the story of Frankenstein was born. This book is a retelling of that tale which includes the story of John Polidori, who is attributed to writing “The Vampyre”.

✍️ John finds himself in contact with an intriguing character who wants to share her story with him and will help him write the greatest story of all time, the vampyre. John, of course, eagerly agrees, but with everything, nothing in this world is free.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

I behave according to my primitive impulses. In this, Dr Polidori, we may find we share a common trait. I am inexhaustible and lascivious, and I never measure the consequences of seeking that which I desire – or rather, that which I need. I am nothing but one-third of a monster that no imagination, either human or divine, could have conceived.

👫 This book has everything you would want in a gothic horror; a dark re-telling, an isolated location, secret candlelight stories and a creature of the night.

💔 Any Negatives: This book is excessively erotic at times, often drifting into the more vulgar aspects.

💭 Overall View: Another reviewer wrote, reading this was like having a psychedelic dream and I feel that is probably one of the most accurate interpretations of this book. It is smart, dark and daring, yet sometimes too bizarre for my tastes.

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Review of The Other Side of You by Amanda Craig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime – Gangs – Fresh Start – Retellings – YA

Cover – The Other Side of You


📖 This book follows Will, a young man from a rough estate who seems perpetually down on his luck. When he returns to his home he finds his Aunt murdered by a local gang and knows he must escape or he is next. Through chance, Will escapes and discovers a place he can hide safely; a garden with a greenhouse. He soon realises the food grown round about him is edible and even figures out how to grow more.

✍️ Will meets Padma and through his distant awareness of her (and later friendship with her,) he begins to reform, he no longer wishes to cause fear but be kind and even understood. He wants the opportunity to start again but as with all fables, his past doesn’t allow that and soon catches up with him.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

How did the glasshouse stay warm? The glass helped but there was even electricity. I flicked the switch just to check, and almost jumped out of my skin. Someone was talking out of a dusty old radio. I turned it off, sweating. But nobody came to check. It was as if I had become invisible.

🗺 This book is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors (less than 100 pages). One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time.

💔 Any Negatives: Despite being quite fast-paced, I didn’t initially get into this novel at the beginning with all the gangs and running around. However, I am really pleased I stuck with it as the story is great once it gets going.

💭 Overall View: The author has written this contemporary fable with the primary focus on the capacity to change. The desire (and ability) to leave one’s old life behind and begin again. The tale is sweet and the characters grow on you as the story progresses.

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Review of The Fool’s Girl – 4 Stars

The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This story is a nod to the twelfth night and its characters and of course William Shakespeare.
Violetta the Duchessa (the equivalent of a young princess), has fled her home country to come to London in search of a holy relic taken from her home in Illyria so that she can restore it to her people. She has the companionship of Feste, her clown from childhood. When they meet playwright William Shakespeare, their fortunes finally seem to turn around.

I adore Celia Rees’s writing. She captures the past magnificently. Her descriptions are always rich and details. Pirates and Witch Child are phenomenal books, I would highly recommend both. However…

The fool’s Girl, I really struggled with. It just took me a long time to settle into the story. The characters and timeline jump back and forth (which is quite normal for both the historical fiction genre and Celia Rees’s writing) but on this occasion, it left me struggling to keep up and pinpoint what was going on.

Once I got into the story, I did enjoy it. The action was great, the love story was enjoyable as was the characters introduced. The historical landscape of London was really visibly brought to life and I was of course left really intrigued by Illyria.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

VIOLETTA
…Until the year when I was ten years old and everything changed. At the end of each summer, the palace was closed up and we went back to the city. I saw less of Stephano during the winter, but that year he did not appear at the summer palace at all.
‘Sebastian has claimed him,’ Lady Olivia said. ‘Made him his page. He wants to make a man of him.’ She laughed but there were tears in her eyes as she said it.
I missed him sorely, but I hid my sorrow in the way that children do. I always had Feste to teach me new tricks and laugh me out of my misery. He’s no child, but he can enter into a child’s world.

Overall View: I begrudgingly gave this a four-star but in reality, for me, it was a bit less, 3 and a half would be more accurate. A mixed bag, great writing, loved the historical aspects but just a lot of effort upfront to get to the good bits.

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The Fool’s Girl – Extract

Review of Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – 4 Stars

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Premise: A self-help book aimed at overcoming everyday burdens such as a tricky talk with your boss or facing up to a problem at home. It’s about controlling that fear and not allowing it to block you from progressing towards what you really want. With helpful exercises included.


I enjoyed this book, the size of it is brilliant and makes it so much less daunting than some of the larger textbooks on similar subjects. I have read a few of these books such as The Secret and The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michael. In reality, they all make sense in their own way and it depends upon your scenario’s and how you apply them. I found some of the tools from “The Tools” more effective than others, equally I found some of the approaches to Feel the Fear and do it anyway more realistic than others.

However, having recently had a baby and returning to work to a new boss and unknown scenario the book had enough motivational and straightforward content to give me what I needed from it at that point in time. So, I suspect if you yourself are going through a period of change, this book could be what you need.
I also quite liked that the offer told us of her own personal circumstances and period of change, such as the fact she was recently divorced and was applying her own methods. I think that made part of the book relatable.

Any negatives: I doubt anyone would be happy with losing money as the offer off-handedly suggests at one point.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

All you have to do to lessen your fear is to gain more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way!
I am repeating this point because it is so critical. From this moment on, every time you feel afraid, remind yourself that it is simply because you are not feeling good enough about yourself.

Overall View: Brilliant cost. Easily digestible. Very handy to dip in and out of/remind yourself of important passages when you need it, so useful to have on the shelf for future reference.

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Extract – Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

Review of The Mermaid’s Scream – 4 Stars

The Mermaid’s Scream by Kate Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Premise: This is book 21 in the DI Wesley Peterson Crime Series. This story centres around the mysterious figure of Wynn Staniland, an enigma of the literary world. After his wife’s unusual death Wynn stopped producing novels and retreated from the literary limelight, now many years later a biographer set to publish Wynn’s story disappears. Bodies begin to stack up in the area with their only commonality being a connection to Staniland.

In the historical timeline, Neil Watson of the County Archaeological Unit is dealing with his own mystery, the death of Mary Field and a gruesome retelling of her story from the nineteenth century which fascinated Victorian taste for grim tales.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Wesley recognised the object in her hand as a driving license.
‘Maybe he found it.’
‘There was money too.’
‘How much?’
‘Thirty pounds. I know he didn’t have that much. Look at the name on the licence: Zac Wilkinson. I went to that talk he gave last week. Remember? Didn’t you say he was missing?’
Wesley caught his breath as she handed him the license. The picture stared out at him. Wynn Staniland’s biographer; the man who’d failed to turn up at Neston Library.
‘I’d better have a word with Michael.’

Viewpoint: The story regularly changes perspectives from a host of characters and includes diary extracts from the nineteenth century. This makes the story feel fresh and fast-paced even during the more police procedural sections when the police are frustrated with a lack of progress/delays.

Character(s): Using the multi-viewpoint approach also allows the author to introduce us to a great breadth of characters. Some bringing more to the novel than others. There is a sub-story to this of a son navigating trials of being a teenager, a story of a long-lost daughter and the story of a sick wife. All these threads are woven together with great skill without too much distraction from the main plot.

Setting: This novel is mainly set in the region of Tradmouth which is, of course, loosely based on Dartmouth. This setting with small towns and remote locations really compliments the community feel of the novel but also highlights the isolation of the rural communities.

Any Negatives: I love this series, it’s one of my favourites. The author has such a talent for drawing me in quickly so that I am eager to turn the page. With this novel, there were a few things holding me back from going for the full five stars. The first was the random entries of Delia, the mother-in-law. I really don’t think it added anything to the main story or even contributed to the daughter’s cancer storyline. It may be the author setting the series up for a future book, but it didn’t seem to work for me in this book.

The main reason I didn’t give that 5 star is how the standalone book works. I appreciate it is incredibly difficult for any author to balance a book as both a series entry and a standalone and normally I haven’t noticed this as an issue at all. It’s been a number of years since I read the previous novels in this series and I was really struggling to recall details of past relationships etc. The author gave small snippets of info but it wasn’t really enough to clarify things for me e.g. Neil’s girlfriend is working away, Gerry’s relationship with Joyce, Gerry’s daughter Rosie is often spoken of as highly sensitive etc. I just felt like a little more detail or backstory to these would have helped this work better as a standalone, or for those of us whose memories are not as they once were – haha.

Overall View: As always a brilliant book by Kate Ellis. She is a truly fantastic writer. A great array of characters. A lot of fast-paced action. The fascinating historical aspects still pull me in and are so intriguing, I love how she intertwines these with the modern storyline.

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Extract from The Mermaid’s Scream

Review of Wrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick – 4 Stars

Wrong Time, Wrong PlaceWrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Ash and Guy are hiking in the Scottish Highlands with their couple friends who they are quickly becoming irritated with. The couples come across a girl. She is half-naked, has been badly beaten, and she can’t speak English. She is clearly running away from someone or something. The couples argue whether to leave her or help her when Ash makes the decision they should help her and they take her back to the holiday home they are renting. However, unbeknownst to them the girl is being followed and the follower is determined to cover their tracks at all costs.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I have began looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. Wrong Place, Wrong Time is no exception with a clear cut storyline and fast paced plot it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

The only downside to this (and the main reason I haven’t given it 5 stars) is that in this book particularly you aren’t really given the time to really like or hate any of the characters. Ash who seems to be the main character/hero of the book, I couldn’t remember the name of and I had to flick back through the book to find it out before writing this review. I have read a few books in the quick reads series now and others seem to manage this slightly better.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are quite a few action focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

 

The last thing she remembered was the current driving her into the shallows where she could feel the ground beneath her feet. Then, finally, everything went black.

This book takes place in the Scottish Highlands and I think the author manages to capture the sense of remoteness and isolation very well in this book.

I liked the ending of this book. It was not what I expected at all and I love when a book can still surprise me. All in all a pretty good read. A great introduction to this author and I look forward to reading more of his work.

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Review of The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez – 4 stars.

The Oxford MurdersThe Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Firstly, I am surprised this book I only 3 stars on Goodreads. There is very little to dislike about this book. It is a strange mix of mystery and mathematics which may seem a little heavy going at first (but stick with it people), you soon get loads of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way through which for me is the best bit about a mystery novel.

This story follows a young mathematician who having won a scholarship has relocated to Oxford. Soon after his arrival, his landlady ends up dead from a suspicious death. When he meets Arthur Seldom a mathematical hero who was a close family friend of the deceased he is immediately in awe and the two start to work out the murder as if it were a mathematical puzzle. When more murders happen close to Seldom it appears the killer may be targeting him, testing just how clever he is and testing if he can solve the murders before someone else dies.

sherlock

I do agree at times this book is a little maths heavy with multiple theories flying around. I didn’t dislike this and found it quite similar to Sherlock Holmes logic puzzle with Moriarty always one step ahead. Smart, questioning, quick-paced writing which makes this book irresistible to put down.

For what it is worth I absolutely loved the hospital Buzzati theory about the floors circling down to death. I have no idea if this is a real thing or made up for the book but it was very clever. If you go on to read the book I am sure this bit will stand out to you. The book is written with a rather formal writing style (possibly to exaggerate that the narrator is not English-born?), but the writing is still quick flowing.

 

 

“Now that the police have been informed? I don’t know. I suppose he’ll try to be more careful next time.’
‘You mean, another murder that no-one will see as a murder?’
‘That’s right,’ said Seldom, almost to himself. ‘Exactly. Murders that no one sees as murders. I think I’m starting to see now: imperceptible murders.’
We were silent for a moment.”

Overall this book is an intellectual thriller that will appeal to those who like logic puzzles. Fast-paced, clever narrative, interesting characters, all with the beautiful Oxford backdrop.
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Review of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – 4 Stars.

The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant, #5)The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is pretty much as the back cover describes. Inspector Alan Grant finds himself cooped up after suffering from a broken leg. When his friend Marta brings him a jumble of historical mysteries the portrait of Richard III immediately intrigues him. Soon the inspector is pulling every historical source he can find to determine the truth, did Richard the third truly murder the princes in the tower.

When I started this book it took me a really long time to adapt to the slow and methodical writing approach. It is deliberately done this way so that the reader gets caught up in Alan Grant’s viewpoint of ‘don’t believe everything written in the history books’, take things one step at a time. The author also has a good way of drip feeding bits of British History without it becoming a cumbersome read. However, as this novel was first published in the 1950s the writing is a little old-fashioned and takes a bit of time to get used to, for example;

 

“If anyone, looking into a crystal ball at that party, had told Cecily Nevill that in for years not only the York line but the whole Plantagenet dynasty would have gone forever, she would have held it either madness or treason.”

I did enjoy the story of this book but found the character Inspector Alan Grant to be a bit bland. However, I do confess when reading this I had no idea it was a series and had assumed it was a standalone (it was pleasantly readable as a standalone), so I do wonder if perhaps I had read the others in the series first I would have enjoyed this character more.

I really loved the concept of the book; trying to solve an old murder mystery from centuries before with just the materials you can lay your hands on at the time. I must say considering the novel is nearly seventy years old it has aged brilliantly and is still very readable. It is a quirky novel, well researched and an intriguing addition to the Richard III and the murder of the princes’ debate.

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Review of Marrying a Stranger by Anna Jacobs – 4 Stars

Marrying a StrangerMarrying a Stranger by Anna Jacobs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, the plot of this book is what drew me in, it is really intriguing. Megan was orphaned as a child and went to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin. Despite adoring her new family as an adult she decides to return to the area of her childhood. During her journeys, she accidentally ends up rescuing Ben from being pick-pocketed. In return, they end up spending a few days together and the attraction between them grows. When Ben unveils he has to move away to Australia she is heartbroken, but then he surprises her by asking her to marry him so that she can go with him. Megan agrees but the rocky road of marriage is long and complicated. What will her family think? What are Ben’s family like? How will she feel being provided for when she has always worked and paid her own way? All these questions and more provide Megan with plenty of turmoil, throw in Ben’s overbearing ex that is desperate to win him back and you just don’t quite know which way the story will go? Can the newlyweds really make their marriage work?

The writing style is a little old fashioned and the story a little slow at times. But, in saying this, there is nothing wrong with a bit of good wholesome romance now and again. The settings were quite quirky in this novel, however the author never let Megan stay anywhere for the reader to become too familiar with the setting (I’m not sure if this was deliberate or not to show Megan’s discomfort at being constantly moved) but it did mean that the reader has to read quite a lot of descriptions from quite a few places. The first hotel and then the house towards the end of the novel were both brilliant locations, particularly the house.

I think Megan is an interesting character, it feels a bit like she’s going through a mid-life crisis. She feels she has a boring job and is yearning for something more. The solution = marry a stranger and move to the other side of the world. Yet somehow as a reader, you do root for her. Ben is a lot more complicated character. He’s very distant and I think as a reader it takes a while to warm to him (and to understand why Megan is so enamoured) – think of a boring Mr Grey. Although the good thing about that is it means he develops later in the novel and you do end up liking him, I just felt as a reader it takes a little longer for you to start to like him. Apart from that, the other characters are pretty good especially Ben’s ex as soon as she appears you mistrust her, dislike her and are ready for her to get her comeuppance – haha!

Overall I really enjoyed this book. Very light, easy summer reading. This is the first Anna Jacobs book I have read and I have already ordered another from this author! For those that enjoy this type of novel, I would recommend Diary of a Whitby Girl by Jessica Stirling. It is historical fiction but a really enjoyable slower paced romance.

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Review of Uneasy Spirits by Louisa M Locke – 4 Stars

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery #2)Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this book by chance when it showed up rather cheaply on a Kindle titles sale and the outline sounded quirky and I must say I am very pleased with the find. I didn’t realise it is actually the second in the series and I’m quite glad as I think that would have put me off but actually, it was very easy to read without having read the first. You could quickly pick up who the characters are and each of their rough backgrounds, but you are also not swamped with information about them learning more as the book goes on.

This Victorian thriller is set in San Francisco, in the world of Annie Fuller (who doubles as clairvoyant Madam Sibyl). Annie actually doesn’t believe in any of the astrology or palmistry but as an intellectual woman, she uses it as a front to help give her clients business advice. When she is asked to investigate some mediums (the Framptons) who claim to be talking to deceased relatives of their clients Annie and her kitchen maid Kathleen soon step into a very dangerous world.

Discovering the truth about the Framptons may just expose Annie’s own secret that she is not really clairvoyant, can she take that risk to help her friend. The line between helping and deceiving suddenly becomes very blurred for Annie and she’s not too sure where she stands on it.

There is also an underlying love story between Annie and Nate, an up and coming lawyer who is desperate to break out of the shadows of his Uncle’s law firm. Their story is very sweet and Nate is a great character, but perhaps a little overshadowed in this story by Annie and Kathleen. I suspect he will be much more interesting in the other books as their storyline develops.

The historical descriptions are great in this book, and as some other reviewers have mentioned it’s actually set during Halloween so some of the details are really interesting.

This book can certainly be read as a standalone, but as more is revealed about the characters and their relationships develop as the series progresses, it might be best to start from the first book in the series, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery (which I am hoping to do). I certainly will return to read more books by this author in future.

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