#AtoZChallenge : N is for Thursday Next #JasperFforde #BookCharacter

Thursday next   Eyre

Thursday Next is the heroine of an alternative twentieth century world. A bold, courageous woman, she has returned from a military career in the Crimean War to take up a post as a Literary Detective.  She has the ability to jump in and out of famous books and alarmingly, some of the characters can jump out of their novels, changing the plots.  In the first novel of this series Thursday changes the ending of Jane Eyre to the far superior conclusion we are familiar with.

At home in Swindon, Thursday lives with her pet Dodo, Pickwick, wondering what happened to her father, a special operative who may be trapped in another dimension.  George Formby is the first president of the English Republic, elected after successful liberation from the Nazis.  Thursday’s active life makes relationships hard to maintain but there is romance on the horizon.  Her story is full of humour, mishap, heroism and extraordinary situations which particularly appeal to a bookaholic.

Well     Lost

 

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The Heart Whisperer by Ella Griffin #TuesdayBookBlog #amreading

Heart

Claire Dillon still lives in the shadow of the past. On her thirty-third birthday, she gives herself a present. One year to change her future.

Claire Dillon’s mother had everything to live for. A husband, two children, a successful medical practice. Then, at thirty-three, she died in a tragic accident. And it was Claire’s fault.

Now Claire is the same age. A floundering actress with a broken heart, a collection of draft snakes, and a talent for self-sabotage. She is frittering her life away with the help of her oldest friend, the gorgeous ex-rock star, Ray Devine.
On her 33rd birthday she gives herself one last year to be more like her mother. But you should be careful what you wish for …

Her estranged brother Nick is back from America and keeping his distance from his clingy sister and his pathetic father while he reinvents himself as a daytime TV relationship guru. But Dublin is full of memories and Nick is already dreaming of escape. While his wife Kelly, has dreams of her own. Ones she isn’t telling him about.
What will happen when another accident throws the dysfunctional Dillons together? And the secrets they have kept from themselves and one another finally begin to emerge?

My Review

I’ve returned to writer Ella Griffin for another thought provoking, gripping story. Claire is wallowing in sadness and lack of motivation. Her childhood was tragic, and she seems unable to grow up. Her friend and housemate, Ray is in the same predicament but at least he has a successful past. Meanwhile Claire’s brother Nick is concealing his damaged youth in a “perfect lifestyle” and a blossoming career as a relationship guide. But they are all forced to face up to their past, Claire by the severe accident which befalls her father, Nick by a crisis in his perfect marriage to Kelly, and Ray when his past sins catch up with him.

Interwoven amongst these dramas are amusing incidents on a film set, and others with an angelic little girl and an enormous clumsy dog. Claire discovers a wonderful family she wants to be part of, Nick and Kelly fall apart, and Dog pulls at our heartstrings. This is a plot which captures your imagination and explores the way we deal with emotional crises. It kept me reading long into the night.

The Heart Whisperer on Amazon UK

My review of The Memory Shop

Passage from Nuala By Harriet Steel (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries Book 6) #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Passage

Inspector de Silva and Jane embark on a cruise to Egypt to visit the pyramids, excited at the prospect of two weeks of sun, sea and relaxation. With Nuala, and de Silva’s duties as a police officer, far behind them, what can possibly spoil their plans? Then a writer is found dead in his cabin, suffocated by newspaper thrust down his throat. Once again, de Silva must swing into action.

I always look forward to a new book about the investigations of Inspector de Silva and his English wife, Jane, but this time they have left their house and garden in Ceylon to take a holiday cruise to Egypt.  Having made the same voyage through the Suez canal in reverse back in the 1960s I was intrigued to read of their experiences.

The captive population of a ship at sea is ideal for a crime mystery and there are plenty of potential candidates for the murderer in this novel.  There are arrogant wealthy women, a mismatched pair recently engaged, an unhappily married couple, a flamboyant singer and a badly scarred vicar, all hiding secrets. Jane de Silva is a more active participant in this investigation, giving us a more intimate picture of her close relationship with her husband who is in great danger during the book’s thrilling conclusion.  This 6th volume could easily be read as a standalone or an introduction to this delightful mystery series.

Passage from Nuala on Amazon UK

My review of the first book in the series, Trouble in Nuala

The Chess Men (Lewis Chronicle 3) by Peter May #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

“The shadow of a massive rock rose up ahead of him, and he felt his way around it to the leeward side where he was briefly out of the wind. He pressed himself back against the sheer face of this giant slab and stood there gasping for breath. He had never in his life felt so small, or so vulnerable. The scale and scope of the land and the power of the elements, dwarfed him into insignificance.

He found himself shivering now with the cold, teeth chattering. To stop would be fatal. He had to find shelter. As he turned again to face the black uncertainty that lay ahead of him, the sky lit up in a series of lightning flashes that cast their ghostly effulgence across the valley that fell away beneath him. It was startling and bleak in this unforgiving light, a landscape so alien and primordial that it would not have been out of place on the moon.”

Chess Men

This final book of the Lewis Trilogy finds ex policeman, Finn MacLeod starting work as a security officer on a large estate on the Isle of Lewis.  Looking out for poachers seems an odd choice for him, especially as one of the poachers is his old friend, Whistler.  When he and Whistler discover a plane at the bottom of a drained loch the author takes us back to the disappearance of Roddy, star of a Celtic pop group, 17 years earlier.  Both Fin and Whistler were teenage friends of Roddy and the other members of the group and that time is returning to haunt them.

After reading the earlier books in the trilogy I thought I knew everything about Fin’s youth but suddenly we meet several more old friends and many life-changing experiences not mentioned before.  The technique of moving from present to past and back again seems overworked and slightly annoying in this book and revealing the lies and secrets is a very slow process.  There is however far more action especially in the last few chapters but I wished Fin and Marsaili would sit down to talk about their future.

As I have begun to expect from Peter May the descriptive passages are spell-binding and the characterisation of young Anna Bhaeg, Whistler’s estranged daughter, is superb. Crime and coming of age are intermingled in this story but like Inspector Gunn I feel frustrated by Fin.  There could be 4th book one day!

The Chess Men on Amazon UK

My Reviews of The Black House and The Lewis Man

The Slave City: Book 3 of The Viper and the Urchin series by Celine Jeanjean #NewRelease #SteamPunk #TuesdayBookBlog

 A complicated mission.
A team of misfits that just don’t get along.
What could possibly go wrong?

slave city

Longinus
“Everything about Longinus was conspicuous, from the way he spoke to the way he dressed. He stuck out like a whore in a convent, with his teal silk shirt, burnt-orange trousers and hat with an elaborate teal-and-orange feather arrangement. He wore his hair almost down to his shoulders and it always looked as though he had just stepped out of the barber’s. With his thin moustache and elegant, jewel-encrusted sword at his hip, he looked as though he belonged in a bygone era.”

Rory
“She was so slight that she looked as though a breath of wind might knock her over. She had put some weight on since her days as a scrawny street urchin, but she didn’t seem to get any bigger. Her small frame looked all the smaller for the masses of hair that dwarfed her. It was matted and clumped in thick segments more like rope than hair, trailing down her back. But Rory’s eyes were blue. Damsians were a dark people- dark of skin, dark of eye and black of hair. She had the dark skin of a Damsian, and at a glance, she could pass for one. But her blue eyes marked her out as having foreign blood too.”

My Review

I was excited to hear of a new book in the story of former street urchin, Rory and her friend, Longinus the assassin. This time they leave Damsport to travel with Cruikshank, the Machinist, who has been sent on a covert mission to the city of Azyr. Believing they will help Raheeme, a Reformist, to bring slavery to an end and provide water for the poorest of the city, they set out on the smuggling ship of Adelma, a massive, powerful woman they will be glad to have on their side. But they soon discover they are pawns in a power struggle in a hot, dangerous city and Rory is glad to have brave Varanguard, Rafe, accompanying them, even though her feelings for him are still complicated.

The larger than life characters in the Viper and the Urchin series are vivid, extraordinary, yet so real. I cannot help feeling affection for Rory, and Longinus may be a peacock, but his heart is definitely in the right place. In contrast, The Slave City contains a worthy villain in the evil Seneschal who manipulates the obese Prelate, a mere figurehead. Rory and her companions must discover who is trustworthy and who will deceive them, while Cruikshank suffers greatly.

The City of Azyr with its magnificent palace atop a steep hill and dust-covered, ramshackle huts for the poor at the lowest level spells out the structure of society so different to the mishmash of ethnicity and wealth in Damsport. Like a story from the Arabian Nights the vision of Palanquins and mechanised elephants, with richly dressed people served by slaves, is beautifully described, as is the horrific scene in the bloodstained arena. This is a thrilling, frightening adventure.

You can find Slave City on Amazon.com  and Amazon.co.uk

My Review of The Bloodless Assassin

celine

Celine Jeanjean

Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.

Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.

You can get a free novella by signing up to her mailing list here: http://celinejeanjean.com/the-pickpocket-free/

Transcription by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

transcription

 Transcription opens in 1981 when Juliet Armstrong is involved in an accident. As she lies on the ground, injured, her mind goes back to 1940 when she started work in the offices of MI5 and then to 1950 when she was a BBC schools programmes producer. A witty but unemotional protagonist she seems to be recounting events as they happened, but there are omissions, and can we really trust her testimony?

I loved this book, much preferring it to Life After Life. The story of how MI5 monitored Nazi sympathisers and the account of  the amoral social life of 1940 are fascinating. Juliet’s observations on a woman’s role, always making the tea but also sent out to risk her life on potentially dangerous missions without any training, reflect reality. At times, this novel made me laugh out loud, at others, it is tense and thrilling and always slightly puzzling. There are so many intriguing characters, from Peregrine Gibbons, so dapper but resisting her charms (Juliet’s naivety is believable) to Godfrey Talbot, the likeable double agent, via delightful Cyril, her hard-working companion in Dolphin Square and the tactless Daisy who is supposed to assist Juliet at the BBC.

As Juliet listens in to meetings between Godfrey and a group of fascist sympathisers her transcriptions are sketchy. Words are missing when the dog barks and we don’t have a complete picture of what is happening. This reflects Juliet’s story. She has the ability to lie easily, making her an effective spy and yet she cares deeply about the fate of a young maid who briefly helps her and who, like Juliet, is an orphan.

This is a deep novel with a light tone. It is interesting to read from the context of today’s politics and society. And if you are wondering, the flamingo on the cover is explained towards the end of the story. There has been criticism by some reviewers of the denouement in which we are told in a rapid summary how threads in the story linked and we learn more about Juliet’s motivation, but I am on the fence on this. It satisfied my queries but possibly could have been revealed more subtly. However, the texture and quality of the writing is so delightful I could happily read it all over again next week.

 Transcription is available atAmazon UK

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty By Mimi Matthews #TuesdayBookBlog

Victorian

Book Description 

What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history.

Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter.

As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences.

Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

My Review

Having read many of Mimi’s online blog articles I know she has a prodigious knowledge of 19th century customs, art and fashion so I looked forward to learning a great deal from this book.  Well annotated and sourced, the first part takes the reader through each decade from the 1840s to the 1890s. Looking at clothing, underwear, millinery and jewellery, Miss Matthews describes the changing female silhouette, illustrated with beautiful plates of the particular decade. But in no way is this a pedestrian account; the vocabulary of Victorian fashion; spoon busks, crinolettes, paletots etc are intriguingly poetic and yet we also read of the tragic death of a Regent Street seamstress, who worked from 6.30 in the morning till 11 pm plus occasionally working all night to complete a commission.

The section on fashion etiquette describes how clothing for specific circumstances, such as mourning, were strictly dictated. Middle and upper class ladies needed to change their dress several times a day, from a comfortable morning dress, to a walking dress and then a splendid evening dress.  Other activities, such as sport, riding and visiting the seaside required different styles just as today. Finally the section on beauty, hair care and cosmetics is particularly fascinating. I love the suggestion that to avoid wrinkles one should, “endeavour to acquire plumpness.” This is a superb book to peruse during the festive season.

You can purchase A Victorian Guide to Fashion and Beauty at Amazon UK

My review of A Holiday by Gaslight, a Christmas novella by Mimi Matthews