Review | The Last Graduate (Scholomance 2) by Naomi Novik

The trilogy continues with a terrific second installment. 4/5 stars.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik The Scholomance 2 book cover

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

The blurb:

Th dark school of magic has always done its best to devour its students, but now that El has reached her final year — and somehow won herself a handful of allies along the way — it’s suddenly developed a very particular craving . . .

For her.

As the savagery of the school ramps up, El is determined that she will not give in; not to the mals, not to fate, and especially not to the Scholomance. But as the spectre of graduation looms — the deadly final ritual that leaves few students alive — if she and her allies are to make it out, El will need to realise that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules.

My take:

[Short summary for anyone short on time: if you read and enjoyed Book 1- particularly El’s first person narration – you’ll enjoy this. Get it now!]

I’ve been a fan of Naomi Novik’s books for a while. But with the first book in the Scholmance series, A Deadly Education, I was delighted to finally be able to give one of her books a 5-star rating when others have come very close.

And with the fantastic cliffhanger at the end of Book 1, I was really looking forward to Book 2, and I’m happy to say that The Last Graduate didn’t disappoint.

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Review | The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club 2) by Richard Osman

Another satisfying mystery which improves on the first installment in the series. 4/5 stars.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman book cover

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

The blurb:

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

My take:

[This will be a very short review to avoid any and all spoilers and because so many other people have reviewed this already. I don’t want to bore you.]

And … they’re back! Last year, I (along with most of the country!) read and enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club: Richard Osman’s first story about a group of sleuthing OAPs and the members of the local police unwittingly roped into their investigations. I liked the older protagonists, particularly Elizabeth, and am delighted they’re all back in this second installment in which Elizabeth gets even more to do and we find out about her past.

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Review: Wild Blue Yonder (Broken Wings 2) by M. W. Arnold @mick859 @rararesources

More WWII mystery and drama from our friends at the ATA.

Wild Blue Yonder Broken Wings 2 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:

Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.

Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.

In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.

My take:

Last year I read and reviewed the first installment in the Broken Wings series, A Wing and a Prayer. It had been ages since I’d read anything set in World War II and I really enjoyed all the period details.

So I was very pleased that the friends from the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) are back (with lots more terrifically-researched period detail, particularly when it comes to the planes) for more adventures in Wild Blue Yonder. Those of you who grew to love the characters in Book 1 will be pleased to hear that they all return and we get to find out a lot more about their personal and love lives. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, there’s some added Hollywood glamour this time with a few special guest appearances from none other than Mr Clark Gable, whose presence gives the ladies another mystery to solve (no spoilers!).
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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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