Review | Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Sadly this left me as cold as Capote’s betrayal. 3/5 stars.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Thank you to Random House UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

My take:

Swan Song should have been fascinating. I knew Truman Capote rubbed shoulders with the upper crust but I had no idea of the extent of his connections. He was intimate friends with New York royalty, spending years holidaying and enjoying boozy lunches with them. This book gives an insiders’ view of the lives of the very rich members of US and, to a lesser extent, European society in the 60s and 70s, and then details the fall-out when Truman screwed them over by publishing their most shocking secrets as thinly-veiled fiction.

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Review | The Date by Louise Jensen

Another fast-moving page-turner with plenty of surprises. 4/5 stars.

The Date by Louise Jensen

Thank you to Bookouture and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book to read and review.

 

The blurb: Something bad has happened to Alison Taylor.

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future.

By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her. She can’t recognise her friends and family. And she can’t recognise the person who is trying to destroy her…

My take:

Apologies if this review seems vague, but I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers. As with most thrillers, the less you know before you go into this book, the better!

Having read and enjoyed Jensen’s three previous books, The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate, I went into The Date expecting a fast-moving page-turner. And that’s exactly what I got!

The Date is more of what Jensen does so well. She has her suspense formula down to a t. I think it’s probably the short chapters that make her books so hard to put down (“Just one more…”), but whatever the reason, this is another example of easy-to-read, pure book crack.

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Review | The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

This story has impressive elements but failed to grab me. 3/5 stars.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters – battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia – know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war – but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

My take:

When I saw the description of this book on NetGalley, it sounded like everything I could possibly want in a book. A fantasy retelling of King Lear which refocusses the story to follow Lear’s daughters? Yes, please!

(Side note: you may have noticed that everything I’m reading lately has a Shakespeare connection – this wasn’t a conscious move on my part but clearly shows my preferences!)

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Review | Mad Blood Stirring by Simon Mayo

Forgotten history revived. 4/5 stars.

Mad Blood Stirring

Thank you to Transworld and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb:

1815: The war is over but for the inmates at Dartmoor Prison, peace – like home – is still a long way away.

On the eve of the year 1815, the American sailors of the Eagle finally arrive at Dartmoor prison; bedraggled, exhausted but burning with hope. They’ve only had one thing to sustain them – a snatched whisper overheard along the way.

The war is over.

Joe Hill thought he’d left the war outside these walls but it’s quickly clear that there’s a different type of fight to be had within. The seven prison blocks surrounding him have been segregated; six white and one black. As his voice rings out across the courtyard, announcing the peace, the redcoat guards bristle and the inmates stir. The powder keg was already fixed to blow and Joe has just lit the fuse.

Elizabeth Shortland, wife of the Governor looks down at the swirling crowd from the window of her own personal prison. The peace means the end is near, that she needn’t be here for ever. But suddenly, she cannot bear the thought of leaving.

Inspired by a true story, Mad Blood Stirring tells of a few frantic months in the suffocating atmosphere of a prison awaiting liberation. It is a story of hope and freedom, of loss and suffering. It is a story about how sometimes, in our darkest hour, it can be the most unlikely of things that see us through.

My take:

Mad Blood Stirring is an example of what I love most about historical fiction: an entertaining and immersive way to learn more about a past event, place and people. The story picks up on a bit of “forgotten” history, or not forgotten in my case as the War of 1812 and the associated events at Dartmouth prison were all completely new to me!

The novel is incredibly well-researched and brings the past to life with vivid descriptions, conveying the horrors of confinement, particularly when disease and violence spreads throughout the jail. And, as is often the way with books “based on true events”, the most unbelievable details are precisely those which are true: the racial segregation of the prisoners, the smallpox outbreak, King Dick himself, and the prisoners putting on productions of Shakespeare.

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Review | Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

A brave, if not entirely successful adaptation. 3/5 stars.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Thank you to Random House UK and Netgalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: He’s the best cop they’ve got.

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past.

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach.

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

My take:

Last year I read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a reimagining of The Tempest. This was my introduction to the Hogarth Shakespeare project for which several well-known authors have been invited to write adaptations of some of  Shakespeare’s stories. When I saw Nesbø had written a version of Macbeth I thought it was a brilliant choice. He’s enjoyed great success writing dark stories and only an author good at wrangling darkness could successfully take on the Scottish play.

Like The Tempest, I also studied Macbeth at school, so I went into Nesbø’s adaption with fore-knowledge of what was going to happen. I’ll come back to whether this was a good thing or not later in my review.

There is a lot in Nesbø’s reimagining which is ingenious. How the characters and events of Shakepeare’s play are transposed into a 1970s’ police noir is clever and well thought-out. I was particularly impressed with how the author managed to incorporate the supernatural elements of the play into a realistic genre.

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Review | Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

 Oozing Hollywood drama. 4/5 stars.

Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

The blurb: Excited to be in glitzy, glamorous Hollywood, English author, Jane Jones, is thrilled by the prospect of seeing a scene from her novel being filmed. And not just any scene. It’s a bedroom one, starring screen heartthrob, Scott Flynn.

Too bad she is accompanied by the cynical Jack Clancy, the screenwriter who has – in her opinion – ruined her story, and seems totally unrepentant.

Dazzled by Scott’s film-star presence, Jane swoons at his feet. At least, that’s according to Scott, who immediately comes to her rescue. And so does Jack.

But do they both have ulterior motives? Is Jane a mere pawn in a game between two fierce rivals?

In the bubble of La La Land’s glittering parties, hovering paparazzi, and powerful movie tycoons, Jane begins to feel adrift. She must quickly learn who can be trusted…and who can’t.

My take:

From the title, readers of Love in La La Land will probably be hoping for a tale with plenty of glitz and glamour, oodles of drama, attractive people and beautiful locations… and they won’t be disappointed! This story is a getaway, a rare chance for us “normals” to mingle with the rich and famous, just as it is for the female main character, Jane, who is an earthy Yorkshire lass out of her element in the luxurious but shark-infested waters of Hollywood.

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Review | Circe by Madeline Miller

Utterly enchanting. 5 stars.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born. 

Yet after her sister Pasiphae marries King Midas of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril. 

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

My take:

I give very few books 5 stars. For me, a 4-star book is very very good, but a 5-star book has an indescribable something extra and I want to rave about it to everyone.

Back in 2016, Miller’s previous book, The Song of Achilles, was one of 3 books I gave a top rating. So you could say I was the ideal customer for this book. But I also went in with very high expectations which could easily have been disappointed. So I’m thrilled to say that Miller has done it again: Circe is sublime.

The world Miller creates is so captivating if I’d had the chance I’d have read Circe straight through without taking my eyes from the page. I suspect this is largely due to the wonderful first-person voice of Circe. Her tone is clear and direct but also contains a convincing tint of other-worldiness appropriate to a goddess, although her story is more human than you might imagine.

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Review | The Fire Court (Ashes of London 2) by Andrew Taylor

More slow-moving intrigue in Restoration London. 3.5/5 stars.

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor (Ashes of London 2)

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…

The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.

James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?

Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

My take:

I read the first installment in this historical mystery series – The Ashes of London – right before moving onto this book. And while I’m sure you could read and enjoy The Fire Court without having to read book 1 – it is a new mystery which introduces a group of new characters – I would recommend seeking out The Ashes of London first. A lot of my enjoyment in reading book 2 came from seeing how established characters and their relationships developed under the pressures of this plot, and in this regard there certainly is a great deal going on. I can only praise the author for giving us high stakes: he isn’t afraid to put his main characters in true peril and let them get hurt. I lost count of the number of times Cat had call to use or threaten to use her knife in self-defence!

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Review | Eureka! by Peter Jones

Does what it says on the cover! 4/5 stars.

Eureka Everything you ever wanted to know about the ancient greeks but were afraid to ask

The blurb: The Ancient Greeks gave us our alphabet and much of our scientific, medical and cultural language; they invented democracy, atomic theory and the rules of logic and geometry; established artistic and architectural canons visible to this day on all our high streets; laid the foundations of philosophy, history, tragedy and comedy and debated everything from the good life and the role of women, to making sense of foreigners and the best form of government, all in the most sophisticated terms.

In Eureka! Peter Jones, author of Veni, Vedi, Vici, tackles the gamut of Ancient Greece from the Trojan War to the advent of the Romans. Along the way he introduces the major figures of the age, including Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Euclid and Archimedes. Exploring Greek myths he provides a glimpse of everyday life in ancient times and shows us the very foundations of Western culture.

My take:

This post may be more about me and my relationship with non-fiction than this specific book and for that I can only apologise.

I try to read at least 2 non-fiction books a year. I’m aware that 2 is a low number, but I tend to struggle with non-fiction. I find my attention wanders, mostly because I read far slower than I read fiction.

Firstly, all credit for me having found and read this book must go to my local library. Their display stands of interesting non-fiction books are the main reason I ever pick up non-fiction.

In a nutshell, my review of Eureka! would be: if you have any interest in knowing about the Ancient Greeks, and would like the information in an easy-to-digest format, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

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Review | The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

A great backdrop filled with vivid historical detail. 3.5/5 stars.

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

A CITY IN FLAMES
London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.

A WOMAN ON THE RUN
The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman, who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.

A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE
When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…

My take:

The second book in this series – The Fire Court – is coming out on 5th April and was available on NetGalley. It sounded interesting but, being a completist, I took the opportunity to go back and request the first book in the series. Always best to start at the beginning!

I haven’t read any historical fiction for a while and I’ve never read anything set in this specific period. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that apart from knowing that the Great Fire happened in 1666, I know little else about it. In fact I don’t know much about the history of the Restoration at all, another reason why I was keen to read this series. And, in that regard I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The historical details, both in the descriptions of London and how the main characters have been affected by the execution of Charles I and the return of his son, Charles II, to the throne, are fascinating.

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