Review #30: Norse Mythology

Happy New Year everyone!!!

I took a little break from reviewing for the holidays so I hope you didn’t mind and thank you for sticking around 🙂

What to expect for 2019: I am actually going back to uni next week so I will be busier than I have been, so reviews will probably be up every two or three weeks rather than weekly. I have also stopped taking on review requests for the moment and I have a long list of personal reading I want to get through this year, so it will be less Netgalley/author requests content and more personal finds.

Now to kick off 2019 we have a review of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Published on 6th March 2018

I bought this book for my one leisure reading.

The great Norse myths, which have inspired so much of modern fiction, are dazzlingly retold by Neil Gaiman. Tales of dwarfs and frost giants, of treasure and magic, and of Asgard, home to the gods: Odin the all-father, highest and oldest of the Aesir; his mighty son Thor, whose hammer Mjollnir makes the mountain giants tremble; Loki, wily and handsome, reliably unreliable in his lusts; and Freya, more beautiful than the sun or the moon, who spurns those who seek to control her. 

From the dawn of the world to the twilight of the gods, this is a thrilling, vivid retelling of the Norse myths from the award-winning, bestselling Neil Gaiman.

I have always loved mythology and folklore tales and even though I am familiar with the Greek and Egyptian mythologies, and the Celtic myths and legends, I hardly knew anything about Norse Mythology before reading this book (bar the names of some of the characters made famous by the Marvel movies, which I have not even seen).

There is something truly fascinating to me about plunging into a different culture and with these tales, it really felt like I was diving head first into Norse culture. Neil Gaiman tells tales as old as time and yet still manages to modernise them in a way that renders them timeless.

The book is divided into short stories which makes it easy to read and also to put down and pick up again. It follows a chronological order beginning with the creation of the gods and the different worlds and ending with Ragnarok: the final destiny of the gods, a sort of Norse version of the Apocalypse.

Neil’s writing is fluid and a total delight. I loved learning about all of these characters, who are very human-like with their qualities and flaws. These stories also reminded me of other worlds that I love such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. They have this fantastic quality to them as they feature characters such as giants and dwarves.

Overall it was a wonderful and informative read and I am quite surprised that I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman before! I will definitely make sure to check out some of his other works, and if you guys have any recommendations on which books of his to start with, let me know in the comments!

Review #25: The Invisible Investigation

The Invisible Investigation by Lionel Touzellier

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Published on 21 November 2017

I was contacted by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Joshua Mandley, a scientist specialised in nanotechnology gets assigned a very important and secret mission: to re-analyse all of the pieces of evidence from Kennedy’s assassination in order to discover, once and for all, who really killed the 35th US President. To aid him in his mission he gets the help of Dr Mei Wang, an academic and expert when it comes to Kennedy’s life and death. As secret as their assignment is, different organisations soon find out about it and Mandley and Wang will have to fight off super agents in order to cling onto their discoveries.

Lionel, the author, actually had to try quite a bit to convince me to read his book. Even though historical fiction is my favourite genre, I’m mostly drawn to the Middle Ages period or really anything before the 20th century, so at first, I didn’t feel drawn to this book at all.

Going into the story, when Joshua Mandley the nanoscientist is introduced I half expected the plot to have everything to do with scientific discoveries and turn into an episode of CSI. And while I really enjoy watching things such as Making a Murderer etc, I felt like in a book format it would bore me to death. Thankfully the investigation took a different route, almost turning into a treasure hunt where Mandley and Wang have to follow a trail of clues in order to discover the truth. I really enjoyed that and I think it served the story well, rather than being confined to the rigidness of science.

The fact that Mandley and Wang are closely watched and followed by different organisations also livens up the plot and it becomes an actual thriller with some very fast-paced scenes, rather than a simple crime novel. The thriller aspect of the book and the writing itself reminded me of French author Guillaume Musso, a master of the genre (and one of my favourites) and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lionel was inspired by him.

I didn’t know much at all about the JFK’s assassination beforehand so I actually learned a lot from reading this book AND it picked my curiosity enough that I found myself Googling details of the event after finishing the book so it is fair to say I got into the story a lot more than I originally thought I would.

I was slightly disappointed by the end results of the investigation as I found it all a bit anticlimactic but the ride, for as long as it lasted, was enjoyable.

I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this part of history, but also to anyone who likes a good thriller and mystery novel.

*Author & Series Spotlight*

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Sheldon Friedman is the author of The Velvet Prison, The Satin Sash and The Silk Swan. All three books in his historical fiction series follow Travis Kane through his trials and tribulations of growing up in New York during the political implications of World War I, prohibition and rising tensions of World War II. His first instalment in the series was named a fiction award finalist by the Colorado Author’s League. Read more about the series here. Friedman was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, but has been a long-time resident in Denver, Colorado. He is a University of Denver graduate and also taught legal courses at the University of Colorado Law School, University of Denver Law School and Daniels School of Business at the University of Denver. In 2018, Friedman left his law practice and later joined a national mediation and arbitration firm.
In 2016, Friedman retired from law to pursue his passion for writing. Also an accomplished playwright, Friedman has a number of local readings and productions. His play The Long Goodbye was staged at Denver’s Crossroad’s Theatre in 2010.

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The Velvet Prison

Set against the pulsating back drop of New York City in social and economic change, young Travis Kane struggles with his passion to be an artist painter, and the conservative demands of his strict grandfather, Barclay Kane.
His mother, unable to come to terms with tragedy, has taken Travis’ infant sister and abandons him, leaving their house in Gramercy Park, and Travis to be raised by the grandfather he adores. Travis enters a New York speakeasy, with a unique idea that will change his life, leading him on an exciting journey, meeting Manhattan’s privileged and studying art in Paris, later finding his way to Broadway.
Meanwhile, Lindsay Wayne’s seamstress mother has a secret, and a passion. Her daughter will become a famous stage actress.
Lindsay and Travis’s worlds collide, and their lives will never be the same again.

Find it on Amazon

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The Satin Sash

After the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941, American lives change dramatically. The Satin Sash continues the breath-taking lives of Travis Kane, Lindsay Wayne and Jean-Paul Renault with all the inherent dangers of the French Resistance, President Roosevelt’s live or die missions, and death defying action when German spies secretly enter the US through its ports. A wedding reception and the lives of Travis Kane and his family are thrown into chaos as America enters World War II.
The Satin Sash takes readers on journey through New York, France, London and Ireland. Travis Kane becomes President Roosevelt’s tool in bringing one of the world’s most famous paintings to New York. Racial tensions surface. A famous black activist enters politics and an actress makes choices in the face of heart-breaking tragedy. A public enemy serves his country in wartime and a black artist becomes famous. When a baby is born the future shows promise.
With tension, suspense and surprising plot twists, we continue to follow the lives of the people we loved in The Velvet Prison.

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The Silk Swan

The Silk Swan continues the exciting adventures and lifestyles of Travis Kane, his family and friends following World War II. Friedman’s third instalment explores the coming of age issues of their children, heartbreaks, tragedies, passions, joys and what it is was like to live during the later part of The Cold War years.
Filled with romance, suspense, racial tensions, family dynamics, sexual tension and political intrigue, the Kane chronicles will remain in your memory long after you read the final pages.

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Find out more on Sheldon’s website

Review #21: Sun Shed

Sun Shed by Lee Thomas Ward

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Published on 14th December 2017

I was approached by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Sun Shed, we meet Alistair Dunn, an old man who’s been living in isolation in the middle of a prairie since the death of his wife. When a couple of youngsters break into his house and destroy his sun shed (a collection of prisms that his wife had hung in a shed), he is devastated but he certainly didn’t expect them to come back a few days later. This time around, he lets the boy go free but orders the girl, Liri, to help him rebuild the shed as a form of payment for the damages caused. As days go by, Alistair and Liri form an unusual friendship as Alistair recounts stories from his past, stories that Liri was completely unaware of but that hit home nonetheless.

Sun Shed transports the reader back to North America in the 1930s to a town of pioneers who settled there after chasing the last of the Indians out. In a town where there isn’t much to do, Arvin starts hanging out with the wrong crowd, out of boredom and as a means of making extra cash. That’s when he convinces his girlfriend Liri to break into an old man’s house and steal his savings. From there, Arvin’s character only goes downhill while Liri takes a liking to the old man and sees an opportunity to redeem herself.

The characters development in this book is very good. We’re back in the 1930s in a macho town and Liri is so used to being mistreated by the men in her life that when Alistair starts showing her attention, she assumes he only wants to have sex with her. Only once she realises it isn’t the case can she start to trust the old man and find a grandfather figure in him. As they spend time together, Alistair recounts how he first came by the prairie, and the timeline then jumps back to the 1870s when pioneers and Indians were battling for the land.

Most of the men in this book, apart from Alistair, are completely despicable especially in the way they think of and treat women. The author also managed to capture this sense of despair as they are stuck in a small town with no bright future in sight and seem to think that becoming a gangster is the only way to make some cash and make a life for themselves.

This is not usually the type of book that I read and I’m not even sure what genre it would fall into (possibly historical fiction, even though it isn’t set that far away in time) but I liked it. It is very realistic of a 1930s society, it is well written and it does transport you back in time.

Review #20: The Turn of Midnight

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

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Published on 4th October 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The year is 1349. The people of Develish have been living in quarantine under Lady Anne’s orders and have miraculously survived the plague that has been wiping the whole of England clean. However, while closing the town off permitted them to save their lives, it is now causing its own set of problems. Food supplies are running low, and unless someone is willing to venture into the outside world in search of food, the people of Develish now risk succumbing to starvation.

I will start off by saying that this is the second book in Minette Walters’ The Black Death series (the first one being called The Last Hours) and I obviously only realised that after starting to read this one (somehow, I have a knack for doing that). However there is an extensive description of the characters and their back stories at the beginning of the book which helped me get the gist of what was going on. So, it can be read as a stand-alone book, but I still feel like I would have enjoyed it more, had I read the first one beforehand.

This story for me was quite different to the historical fiction that I am used to read and it is, in part, because of Lady Anne’s character. Her husband Richard, Lord of Develish, succumbed to the pestilence so she took it upon herself to protect the rest of their people and quarantined the town in order to prevent the spreading of the disease. Lady Anne is a well educated and very compassionate woman. She is also a figure of authority and has earned her people’s respect and devotion after saving them from the plague.

The character of Thaddeus Thurkell is just as interesting. He was born a serf but gained his Lady’s admiration after proving his value to her (namely by venturing into the outside world with a group of young lads in search for food and news from neighbouring towns). He is a strong-willed, vigorous and kind character and the boys that surround him have naturally fallen under his authority. As a repayment for all he achieved for Develish, Lady Anne comes up with a plan of pretending that he is a distant relative to her and making him Lord of Athelstan, therefore raising him to the status of noble man. While the people of Develish are happy to accept this since they love and respect Thaddeus as much as they do Lady Anne, people from different towns will try and make Thaddeus out to be an impostor, mainly because he is “dark-skinned” (as described in the book) and they cannot accept that someone who isn’t white could be anything but a serf.

I’ve read some people say that Lady Anne’s beliefs and behaviours are too modern for a story set in 1349. I don’t agree with that. After all, it might be historical but it’s also a work of fiction so anything goes. I like Lady Anne, she has a lot of feminist qualities and it’s refreshing to see that portrayed in a Middle Ages society. Also, I’m sure that there were women with similar beliefs and behaviours in those days too, it’s just that they’ll have been squashed from the history books.

While I found a lot of criticism about Lady Anne in other people’s reviews, not many have mentionned Thaddeus Thurkell’s “dark skin”. It is clear from the book that Thaddeus isn’t white (though it isn’t clear what race he actually is) and that’s one of the main reason why people are so ready to accuse him of being a fraud. By raising him to the status of Lord, Lady Anne is being progressive for her time (once again, some people might argue that this is too modern to be realistic but I think it’s a nice touch, to me Minette Walters is giving representation to people of colour, who didn’t have any back in those days and it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the usual rigidness of historical fiction.)

Religion also constitutes a big part of the book as people wonder whether the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, and whether only sinners died from the pestilence. Differences of opinions between priests start to emerge and people can’t decide who to listen to anymore. While the people of Develish managed to survive the plague by maintaining standards of hygiene and steering clear from infected people; people from different towns believe that their fate is in God’s hands. Their devotion to God is so that they cannot fathom any other method of surviving and they will therefore label Lady Anne and her people as a bunch of heretics for daring to think differently.

When you think about it, all about this book is progressive for the time period that it is set in: the place of women and people of colour in society and the turning away from God as being the be all and end all of everything; and that’s what makes it so interesting. As I said before, historical fiction can be quite rigid as it tries to mimick the customs of the time period it reflects, but this one offers different perspectives while still remaining believable.

I would give this book a four stars out of five, only because it was harder to follow without having read the first one, but otherwise this is a very impressive piece of work by Minette Walters!

Review #18: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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Published on 20th September 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

At work, Elodie Winslow stumbles upon a mysterious satchel containing a notebook and a photo from the 19th century. As an archivist, it is Elodie’s job to unravel where the satchel came from, who the notebook belonged to and who is the young woman on the picture. In addition to Elodie’s research, we hear from a young woman’s spirit (the mysterious woman in the photograph whose real name no one remembers) as she sheds light on her past life as a painter’s muse.

Ok, this is going to be a first on this blog (and it hasn’t happened many times before in my life) but I couldn’t finish this book. I didn’t even get halfway through and I had to stop. It’s a complex book, told from different characters’ perspectives and unlike the last few good books that I’ve read, I couldn’t follow this story. The characters are all very similar and I lost track of who was talking and when, it even took me a while to figure out that one of the narrators is the mysterious woman’s spirit reminiscing about her past; I thought we had jumped timelines, but no.

I can’t quite figure out what it is about this book that made me give up. God knows I like a complex book but this one is just confusing. It’s not badly written at all and I’m sure the author has put a lot of work into it, but it didn’t hook me in at all. I had a little sneak on Goodreads and was pleased to see that a few people felt the same as me. I’m usually the kind of person that will force herself to see a book through to the end, but someone on Goodreads said something along the lines of ‘Life’s too short to waste on a book you’re not enjoying’ and that resonated with me.

I’ve never read anything else by Kate Morton so I can’t judge the rest of her work, but I would definitely give this one a miss.

Review #17: The Corset

The Corset by Laura Purcell

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Publication date: 20 September 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dorothea is a young noble lady who spends most of her days studying phrenology (a study focused on measuring the human skull, that believes that certain areas of the skull have specific functions). She dreams of being able to prove that the shape of someone’s skull can determine whether a person is good or evil. To assist in those studies, she often visits women prisoners who will share their stories with her and agree to have their head measured. That’s where she will meet Ruth Butterham, a young girl of 16 who was imprisoned for murdering her mistress. Ruth insists that she can curse people through sewing and that she had already killed people accidentally before setting on murdering her mistress. By spending time with Ruth, Dorothea will have to figure out whether Ruth truly has supernatural powers or whether she’s making it all up.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the similarities to Atwood’s Alias Grace. In Alias Grace, a doctor visits Grace, a young lady awaiting trial for the murder of her master, and the story is told by Grace so as the book goes on both the doctor and the reader are taken through her memories of the events. The Corset is very similar on this point, as Ruth tells the story from her own point of view and we are taken through her memories too. Both books comprise very dark secrets being revealed. I was a bit put off at first by how similar the book was to Atwood’s (especially since Atwood is one of my all time favourite authors and there is no rivalling her) but then I let myself be transported by the story and I dare say it took me places I didn’t see coming.

I did not anticipate how dark and gruesome the story would get and I have to say that it sent chills down my spine and left me gasping a couple of times. If it wasn’t for this dark turn of events I probably would have gotten bored quite early on, so I believe this was what kept me entertained.

On the whole I would say that it was an enjoyable read. I didn’t feel particularly strongly about it but it was nicely written and entertaining.

I had heard good things about Laura Purcell after her bestseller The Silent Companions came out (which I own but am yet to read) and I also heard people say that The Corset wasn’t quite as good. I try not to let that put me off reading The Corset, as everyone’s tastes are different, but it does make me look forward to reading The Silent Companions.

The Corset is a perfect read for anyone who likes historical fiction, murder mysteries and horrors. I don’t think it classifies as a horror book but it definitely has some gruesome bits to it!

Have you read it? Or did you read The Silent Companions? What did you think?