Review | Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Beautiful writing but lacking some pace and drama. 3.5/5.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint cover image

Thank you to Headline/Wildfire for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I’ve enjoyed many books in the current trend of telling mythological tales from often side-lined female characters’ perspectives. The high-water mark in this genre (or sub genre?) for me continues to be Circe by Madeline Miller.

In the case of Ariadne, I was particularly intrigued by the author’s choice of narrators because Theseus, like many of the male Greek heroes, didn’t treat the women he encountered all that well (intention understatement) and I thought it would be interesting to get the women’s point of view. And overall, I think the author’s creative depiction of Ariadne and Phaedra’s experiences is perceptive and the dual narration adds to the story and provides some interesting contrasts. The writing is beautiful and the descriptions are particularly evocative.

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Review | The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

Another twisty gothic tale that Purcell’s fans are sure to love. 4/5.

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell book cover image

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing/Raven Books for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I’ve read and enjoyed Laura Purcell’s previous three books: The Silent Companions, The Corset and Bone China. I’m pleased to report that with The Shape of Darkness she has produced another entertaining tale steeped in wall-to-wall gothic spookiness. Creating atmosphere is her forte and all her books are pervaded by a creeping menace, darkness and paranoia.

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Review | Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott

A suitably witty homage to one of the best writers of all time. 4/5.

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott book cover

Thank you to Random House UK/Cornerstone for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

I love P. G. Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster stories in particular. So I was immediately drawn to this new story but also went in with a sizeable concern: could it possibly live up to the beloved Wodehouse originals?

The answer is: nearly. I enjoyed Jeeves and the Leap of Faith very much. To be honest, I think the comic combination of Bertie and Jeeves is indestructible and, as with the originals, the story itself is pretty incidental. All the truly important elements are here: the small sly jokes, the witty turns of phrase, Jeeves’ jaw-dropping ability to always see 10 steps ahead, hideous aunts, preposterous friends…

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Review: A Wing and a Prayer (Broken Wings 1) by M. W. Arnold

An enjoyable cosy mystery in a great period setting.

A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold book cover

I’m delighted to be taking part in this tour. Thank you to the author for providing me with an e-copy of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources.

The blurb:

When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

My take:

I’m not a great reader of sagas, but I do love a cosy mystery. Besides, it’s been a good while since I’ve read a story set in World War II and I really enjoyed the period details in A Wing and a Prayer. The specific setting for the mystery is also intriguing: I had never heard of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) before and it was great to get an insider’s view of this civilian organisation which was a crucial part of the war effort. And it was even better to find out that the teams who repaired and transported planes around Britain included female pilots.

These brave women are the inspiration for Penny, Doris and Mary, three fictional pilots who are A Wing and a Prayer‘s core characters. They’re an interesting, trans-Atlantic bunch, each with their own strong motivations for joining the ATA and with strengths and weaknesses that complement each other. It was great to see the women bond and form a formidable team in their efforts to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Betty’s sister.

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Review | Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes

The less-discussed side of Greek myth. 4/5.

Pandora's Jar by Natalie Haynes book cover

Thank you to Picador/Pan Macmillan for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

My take:

Earlier this year I enjoyed and reviewed Natalie Hayne’s A Thousand Ships (she’s had a busy year!), her excellent retelling of events relating to the Trojan War from the point of view of the female characters. However, while that was a work of fiction, Pandora’s Jar is non-fiction and a more academic consideration of the women of Greek myth.

This is an entertaining look at 10 female mythical figures as Haynes continues to her work to make the classics accessible. She was a stand-up comedian for many years and her wit shines through in her writing, helping to make what could be quite dry subject matter amusing and relatable. The volume of research she’s done is also commendable, particularly when the primary material about women in Greek myth is often scant, especially when compared to what we know about the men from ancient sources.

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Review | The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Highly atmospheric and fiendishly clever, but missing something for me. 4/5 stars.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stu Turton book cover

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

The blurb:

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night.

And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board

My take:

I was incredibly impressed by Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, if for nothing more than the sheer amount of work that must have gone into keeping all the plot lines straight. So I was really looking forward to his new book and I’m sorry to say I didn’t find it quite as successful as Seven Deaths. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it at all, I just didn’t find it as pleasing. I’ve given both books 4 stars, but I think Seven Deaths was more 4.5 rounded down and The Devil and the Deep Water is more 3.5 rounded up (I’m aware this is a bit odd and possibly unfair, but I can’t review with hindsight!).

There is loads of great stuff to like in The Devil and the Deep Water. What I enjoyed most was the brilliant atmosphere. The ship is a great claustrophobic setting for mysterious shennanigans and felt really creepy and threatening at times.

I also liked the female characters who didn’t sit on their backsides and wait for anyone to save them. I’m not quite sure how historically accurate women having this much agency in the early 17th century – particularly onboard a ship – would have been, but I was happy to suspend my disbelief.

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Review | Home Stretch by Graham Norton

An involving tale of shame, secrets and acceptance. 4/5 stars.

Home Stretch by Graham Norton book cover

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony a group of young friends, including bride and groom, drive out to the beach. There is an accident. Three survive, but three are killed.

The lives of the families are shattered and the rifts between them are felt throughout the small town. Connor is one of the survivors. But staying among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as living with the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him. Travelling first to Liverpool, then London, he makes a home – of sorts – for himself in New York. The city provides shelter and possibility for the displaced, somewhere Connor can forget his past and forge a new life.

But the secrets, the unspoken longings and regrets that have come to haunt those left behind will not be silenced. And before long, Connor will have to confront his past.

My take:

This is Graham Norton’s third novel and I was really pleased to get approved for an eARC after having read and enjoyed his previous two books: Holding and A Keeper.

As in his first two books, the action in Home Stretch mostly revolves around a small community in Ireland. However this time Norton has been more ambitious as the characters’ stories grow to span over 30 years and 2 continents.

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Review | A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Loved it. Can’t wait for the next installment. 5/5 stars.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik book cover

Thank you to Random House UK for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

My take:

I’ve previously read and thoroughly enjoyed both Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and gave them both 4 stars. But with A Deadly Education she’s finally done it and pushed me to a rare 5-star review!

The Scholomance – the setting for A Deadly Education and arguably its biggest character – is a magic school/school of magic that does its best to kill the students trapped inside. Staying alive is their incentive to learn. There are no teachers, no adults at all in fact, just a load of kids getting along in a life and death struggle until the survivors “graduate”, which involves running a final gauntlet to the school exit through a tunnel of horrific monsters.

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Review | Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford

A promising murder mystery overwhelmed by character study. 3.5/5 stars.

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford book cover

Thank you to Allison & Busby for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Unassuming Yorkshireman, Arthur Skelton, is one of the most celebrated and recognisable barristers in the land. His success in the high-profile Dryden case – ‘the scandal of 1929’ – catapulted him to the front pages of the national newspapers. His services are now much in demand and, after careful consideration, he agrees to defend Mary Dutton.

Dubbed ‘The Collingford Poisoner’ by the press, Mary is accused of poisoning her husband after years of abuse. Together with his trusted assistant, Skelton digs deeper and discovers that secrets and lies run deep in the Dutton family and all is not as it appears.

My take:

I enjoyed this story, especially its varied and colourful range of characters, the often witty dialogue, and the way it dealt with the intricacies of the intersection of law and politics. I also liked that it wasn’t entirely London-based and the period details were terrific, you can tell there’s a lot of careful research behind the writing.

However, from the first couple of chapters I thought I was in for a thrilling investigative mystery, but that isn’t really what the book turns out to be. While Skelton’s detective work does take us down a few dead ends and yields some revelations, I felt that the book becomes more a character study than murder mystery.

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Review | What Are Friends For? by Lizzie O’Hagan

A modern take on Cyrano. 3.5/5 stars.

What Are Friends For by Lizzie O'Hagan book cover

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

The blurb:

Eve doesn’t have time for dating, but having watched her best friend and flatmate have her heart broken one too many times, she reluctantly volunteers to play her Cupid.

Max is too much of a hopeless romantic to find the algorithms of online dating anything other than clinical, but he lives with his romantically-challenged best friend who desperately needs his advice.

And after all, what are friends for?

As Eve and Max become more involved in their best friends’ relationship, they quickly realise there is a fine line between instruction and imitation, especially when they find they can’t stop thinking about their best friend’s date…

My take:

The premise of this book is great. It’s a modern-day take on Cyrano de Bergerac, and the use of text exchanges between the lovers is engaging and lively. The settings for the dates were well-described, and there was a pub that I – and probably most book-lovers – would love to visit. Aside from the romantic relationships, I particularly enjoyed the friendships, especially seeing a close friendship between two men (Max and Tom) depicted in first person.

However, I would warn those looking for a rom com, this is really more a story about friendship and dealing with loneliness, self-doubt and grief than a light love story.

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