First a quick explanation!
Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.
In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.
That’s the plan anyway; and so far, so good…!
Title: All the Murmuring Bones
Author: A.G. Slatter
Publisher: Titan Books
Blurb: Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.
A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.
Review: This is more of a slow, heavy family drama than the Gothic fairy tale I was expecting from the cover and blurb.
Most of the story delves into the family history and mysteries of the O’Malleys and the importance of doing whatever it takes to boost the family fortunes and reputation. It is only once you are more than halfway through the story that any of the fantasy and mysthology elements really begin to come through, and even then, they aren’t really the main focus.
I really liked the O’Malley book of tales and the stories from it that were sprinkled throughout, and the hook of reneging on a ‘deal with the devil’. I also love any sea-folk mythology – kelpies, mer and so on – so that was a big draw for me, although it really only played a small part in the story.
I was interested enough in the mystery of Miren’s family bargain, and the bits of fantasy lore, to persevere to the end, but I did find the feminist messaging a little heavy-handed and the slow pace combined with the lack of a clear plot made the read rather hard going.
Purchase Link: All the Murmuring Bones on Amazon
Title: Cunning Women
Author: Elizabeth Lee
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone, Penguin
Blurb: When it is no longer safe to be a witch, they call themselves cunning.
Seventeenth-century Lancashire is a dark and mistrustful place. Ten years after the notorious Pendle witch trials saw ten accused witches hanged, young Sarah Haworth and her family live as outcasts in a ruined hamlet. The inhabitants of the nearby village despise ‘cunning folk’ like them, but their services – healing balms, herbal remedies – will always be in demand, and they have a way of coming to know all the village’s secrets.
A chance meeting sees Sarah become acquainted with Daniel, a young man from the village. In him, she sees a clever, caring man; in her, he sees not the strange, dirty outcast he knows he should, but rather the strong young woman coming into her own.
As they are drawn closer together, a new magistrate arrives in the area to investigate a spate of strange deaths befalling the villagers. Inevitably, his eye falls on Sarah’s family, and his hand carries a burning torch. In the face of persecution, something as fragile as love seems impossible…
Review: A typical tragic tale of narrow-minded or grudge-bearing rustic locals vs. a small family of outcasts, Cunning Women follows Sarah as she tries to protect her family from the suspicion of witchcraft and from the grinding poverty they endure.
The love story feels almost incidental, as the real focus is on issues of intolerance and disgust towards women, the poor, the different, and the way in which a woman’s natural anger and sorrow is labelled unnatural and devilish to suit these old-fashioned biases. There are some stronger scenes here, involving mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), rape, paedophilia and child-murder, so care should be taken if those subjects are triggering to you, as the author does not shy away from the bleak picture she is painting of Sarah’s lot.
While this is a well-written story, it felt that something was missing from the heart of it and I struggled to connect emotionally with the characters. As it was clear to me from the beginning where the story was inevitably leading, I found myself skimming in places, which was a shame as the subject matter of persecution and otherness is one that usually greatly interests me.
This is a slow burner, driven by the characters and their suffering, and an interesting addition to the canon of ‘witchy’ feminist stories of female hardships and feminine strength, just not quite for me.
Purchase Link: Cunning Women on Amazon
Author: Louise Nealon
Publisher: Bonnier Books UK, Manilla Press
Blurb: Debbie’s brain isn’t perfect. Debbie’s thoughts aren’t unique. Debbie’s dreams are all too real.
Debbie White lives on a dairy farm with her mother, Maeve, and her uncle, Billy. Billy sleeps out in a caravan in the garden with a bottle of whiskey and the stars overhead for company. Maeve spends her days recording her dreams, which she believes to be prophecies.
This world is Debbie’s normal, but she is about to step into life as a student at Trinity College Dublin. As she navigates between sophisticated new friends and the family bubble, things begin to unravel. Maeve’s eccentricity tilts into something darker, while Billy’s drinking gets worse. Debbie struggles to cope with the weirdest, most difficult parts of herself and her small life. But if the Whites are mad, they are also fiercely loving, and each other’s true place of safety.
Startling, fresh and utterly unique, Snowflake is a story of messy families, messier friendships and how new chapters often mean starting right back at the beginning.
Review: This coming-of-age story expertly captures the awkward angst of a naive, teenage girl from rural Ireland, reaching out to a life beyond her family, a way of shaping a new future for herself.
But instead of the reinvented, studenty self Debbie is hoping to spontaneously become on setting foot in Trinity College, she remains the same person, with the same problems, and has to find a way to accept who she is beneath the front she puts on before she can even begin to change.
Along with the journey of self-discovery, the story explores issues of mental illness, self-harm and suicide, addiction, anxiety, dreams and paranormal ‘gifts’ (or curses). The author leaves ambiguity in the precise depiction of some of these areas, allowing Debbie and the reader to decide whether they believe Debbie’s mother can dream another’s dreams, or whether she is struggling with the more mundane curse of mental illness.
Despite the – often uncomfortable – subject matter, there is plenty of subtle, understated humour here. In fact the humour is often the only dry thing around, as Debbie survives on a diet of alcohol and snogging!
Capturing Irish ‘culchie’ and townie life, and the distressing realistic dramatics of teenage emotional turmoil (which brought back some quite depressing and certainly embarrassing memories for me personally!), what this story is missing in plot, it makes up in character exploration, for an uneasy but authentic read.
Purchase Link: Snowflake on Amazon
Title: Death and Croissants
Author: Ian Moore
Publisher: Farrago Books
Blurb: THE FIRST NOVEL IN THE ENTHRALLING FOLLET VALLEY SERIES, BY TV/RADIO REGULAR IAN MOORE
Richard is a middle-aged Englishman who runs a B&B in the fictional Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. Nothing ever happens to Richard, and really that’s the way he likes it.
One day, however, one of his older guests disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. Another guest, the exotic Valérie, persuades a reluctant Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance.
Richard remains a dazed passenger in the case until things become really serious and someone murders Ava Gardner, one of his beloved hens… and you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens!
Unputdownable mystery set in rural France, by TV/radio regular and bestselling author Ian Moore – perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club
Review: Well, this was great fun!
A cross between a slapstick romp and a cosy mystery, the story follow ex-pat Richard as he runs a small B&B in France and is somewhat coerced into investigating the disappearance of an elderly guest and the vicious murder of Ava Gardner (the chicken).
I was reminded of an earthbound The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as poor hapless Richard (Arthur Dent) is chivvied around by the glamorous, strong-willed Valerie (a mixture of Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian) and the dour, pessimistic Madame Tablier (clearly Marvin).
Throw in swingers, starlets, spies, mafia, irate housekeepers and a small dog, and you have the recipe for a distinctly Franglais fish-out-of-water mystery caper; ideal for a quick, fun, holiday read.
Purchase Link: Death and Croissants on Amazon
Title: How to Break an Evil Curse
Author: Laura Morrison
Publisher: Black Spot Books
Blurb: Princess Julianna may be cursed to dwell in darkness, but she’s no damsel in distress.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE meets MONTY PYTHON in How to Break an Evil Curse, the first book in a fractured fairytale series about a princess who may be cursed to live in darkness, but refuses to let her curse define her life.
The King of the Land of Fritillary has incurred the wrath of his ex-bestie, the evil wizard Farland Phelps. Farland curses the King’s firstborn to die if touched by sunlight, and just like that, Julianna must spend her life in the depths of a castle dungeon (emptied of prisoners and redecorated in the latest fashion, of course). A young woman of infinite resourcefulness, all she needs is a serving spoon, a loose rock in the wall, and eight years of digging, and Julianna is free to explore the city—just not while the sun is out!
Warren Kensington is a member of a seafaring traveling theater troupe and the unwitting magical cure to the curse. When the pirate ship he’s sailing on is damaged in stormy seas, he goes ashore and bumps into Julianna on the streets of the capitol. The pair accidentally set in motion a chain of events that uncovers Farland’s plans to take over the throne. Julianna, Warren, and some friends they meet along the way are the only ones who can save the monarchy.
But the farther they go along their increasingly ludicrous journey, and the more citizens they meet, the more Julianna wonders whether her dad’s throne is worth saving. From an evil and greedy wizard? Well, sure. But from the people of Fritillary who are trying to spark a revolution? The people suffering in poverty, malnutrition, and other forms of medieval-esque peasant hardship? It doesn’t take Julianna long to find that the real world is far more complicated than a black-and-white fairytale.
Review: How to Break an Evil Curse is a clever, funny twist on the cursed and/or imprisoned princess fairytale trope.
I was reminded a little of Sir Terry Pratchett’s writing style, especially in the footnotes and the sarcastic, dry commentary from the narrator as events unfold.
The plot is very busy, with everything packed in from pirates and witches, ghosts and revolutions, to royal plots and women’s rights – it felt a little like an entire series worth of fairytale/fantasy ideas jostling for their place in this first novel. As a result, some promising story threads fell away after only a brief inclusion (ghosts, raven’s blood, Mortimer), but as this is the first book in a planned series, I assume further books might pick up some of the ideas left behind.
And the ending does lead perfectly towards a sequel, which I will definitely be looking out for.
A fun, light-hearted read, not to be taken too seriously. I look forward to more adventures from the Land of Fritillary, and hope that the worldbuilding and characters get more chance to breathe and develop as the series unfolds.
Purchase Link: How to Break an Evil Curse on Amazon
It’s been a while since I posted one of these catch-ups, as I have been struggling to focus through various seasonal bugs (including now the dreaded c-word one!) and regular bouts of home-learning with very resistant (although sadly not germ resistant!) children.
I’m so happy to be getting back into my review pile, and this is a nice varied selection to bring you today, including my favourite genres of fantasy, fairytale and mystery.
I hope you find something to enjoy, and that I will be able to bring you another batch of goodies very soon. Happy reading and good health to you all! 🙂