The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I wasn’t sure what to expect reading The Testaments, especially after its prequel, The Handmaid’s Tale had such a profound impact on my life – as it did with so many others too (I couldn’t bring myself to watch the TV series, despite all the amazing reviews and awards, because I didn’t want the impression the book left to be diluted or, dare I say, translated in any way). It’s not incorrect to say that because of studying that book at university (and Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus), I underwent a career change becoming an academic for over 25 years. Over some of that time, I introduced others to the wonder, power and terrible vision of Offred and Gilead’s story, reliving and appreciating its formidable narrative every single time. So, what would the sequel a book, as Atwood herself said, 35 years in the making offer? Would it destroy the foundations laid so long ago or build upon them in a way that is as astonishing and frightening as the first book? The Testaments begins fifteen years after Offred disappeared from Gilead and readers heard her harrowing tale (and which we’d just borne witness to), interpreted through the lens of history and the dry rhetoric of an academic conference – a brilliant metaphor on its own. Told from three different points of view – that of one of the most influential and dreadful of the Aunts, a young Gileadian girl destined to become a Wife, and then from an outsider’s perspective – Gilead, the state that oppresses and subjugates in the name of God and specific interpretations of the Bible – is no less chilling and the themes and incidents no less prescient than they were in The Handmaid’s Tale. Once more, the reader is given insight into...

Read More...

Tags: , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Naturalist’s Daughter by Tea Cooper

This is a wonderful novel, set in Australia and England, about two extraordinary young women, a century apart, who are embroiled in the great scientific mystery of the Antipodes that was the platypus. In 1808, young Rose Winton adores working with her father, Charles, studying and creating detailed drawings of the platypus in its natural environment. Clever, quick-witted and resourceful, Rose is a wonderful foil and encouragement to her kind, studious father who is supported in his research, in part, by a meagre sum of money from none other than the great botanist and scientist, Joseph Banks in England. When an opportunity to present his findings to the Royal Society in London arrives, Charles Winton is thrilled – at last, all his hard work and dedication will reap the rewards and recognition he deserves. But when something happens that prevents him going, he sends Rose, equipped with his glorious and detailed sketchbook and findings, in his stead. Filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation, little does Rose know that her journey to the “mother-country” will be just that – a dangerous journey into a past that she had no knowledge of and which her mother, transported to the colonies years earlier, has tried hard to forget. At the newly established Mitchell library in Sydney 1908, Tamsin Alleyn has been tasked with proving the provenance of an old sketchbook that is going to be donated by a reclusive woman living in the Hunter Valley. Sent to see the old woman, Tamsin is thrown into the company of lawyer and wanna-be antiquarian book dealer, Shaw Everdene, and his clients, people with a vested interest in not only the sketch-book but discovering the origins and real owner as well. What Tamsin learns – about the book, but also about Shaw, herself and...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

Circe by Madeline Miller

I had been meaning to read this book ever since I first heard about it last year and I am kicking myself it’s taken so long, but then also glad I was able to delay the pleasure. Circe is a beautifully written and structured novel about the Titan nymph, Circe. Daughter of Helios, the sun-God, and related to all the powerful beings in the Titan universe who’ve been subjugated by the mighty Olympians, Circe is nonetheless best known from Homer’s Odyssey, as the witch who turned Odysseus’ men into swine, delaying his already long and arduous journey back to Ithaca further (not nearly as much as others – including his own crew’s foolhardiness and greed and his own amor – would subsequently do). Commencing while she’s still “young” (by immortal standards), the reader follows her story from a rather neglected and rejected junior member of a pantheon of almost-forgotten gods to a powerful wielder of magic in her own right years later. Barely noticed by her family, despite doggedly following her father around, one compassionate act separates her literally and metaphorically from the rest of her scions. Offering succour to the Titan Prometheus, who is about to be punished for daring to give fire to man, what Circe doesn’t expect when she confesses to her deed, is the way in which her world will be turned upside down. Exiled to a remote island, over time, Circe finds that being alone doesn’t necessarily equate with loneliness. Honing her powers, teaching herself new ways of conjuring magic, Circe begins to grow in strength. When visitors come to her island, she is able to not only put her new skills to the test, but ensure justice is served – on her terms. But it’s when the great trickster, Odysseus and his crew,...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers by Kerri Turner

This absorbing book took me completely by surprise. Not only is it a skilfully told story of a time in Russian history (the final years of the decadent Romanovs, and the rising rebellion among the workers as dissatisfaction and real anger towards the ruling classes, economic instability, food shortages, dreadful working conditions and war, grew worse), using two ballet dancers employed by the elite Imperial Russian Ballet as foils, it’s also a tragic tale of class difference, and the lengths those who were born with nothing will go to in order to ensure they don’t lose what they’ve gained.  Luka Zhirkov is a young, up and coming dancer who has been given the chance of a lifetime when he’s asked to join the Imperial Ballet. For his father, a staunch member of the proletariat, who has already given one son to the civil war tearing Russia apart, Luka’s dancing career, where he mainly entertains capitalist elites, is a betrayal of class, family and country.  When one of the principal dancers, Valentina Yershova, a woman born into poverty and whose talent and dalliances with rich protectors has allowed her to climb the ballet ladder, spies Luka, even she recognises his talent. But Luka hasn’t yet learned the rules that govern the ballet dancers behind the scenes – how who you know and associate with and who you share your body with is almost as important as skill. Disgusted and confused by the careless wealth of some of the dancers and those they choose to align themselves with, as well as their wilful ignorance about deteriorating social conditions for those who cannot afford to change them, Luka is nonetheless drawn to Valentina and his feelings for her begin to grow. As great opportunities for both Luka and Valentina manifest, war and...

Read More...

Tags: ,

Comments: No Comments

Queens of the Sea (Blood and Gold #3) by Kim Wilkins

I have so enjoyed the first two books in the Blood and Gold trilogy by Kim Wilkins and felt ambivalent about reading the final one, Queens of the Sea, because I knew that on completion, my time with the amazing warrior queen, Bluebell and her dysfunctional and fascinating family must come to an end. But what a magnificent closure it has been. In this concluding novel, the simmering war between the followers of the old gods and those of the new, violent Trimartyr god, comes to a brutal and bloody conclusion. The time for “mad” Willow, one of Bluebell’s sisters and Ivy’s twin, to rise has arrived and she grasps her opportunity with wild and unforgiving hands, turning on those she once called her people and even her own kin in a murderous grab for power at all costs. Having lost her city through terrible deceit and betrayal, Bluebell and her remaining sisters, some of whom have their own personal demons and burdens to carry, must turn not only to the gods they know and love, but place their faith in what has always been believed to be myths and legends in order to even have a chance of defeating Willow and the Crow King, Hakon. But with Ash divested of her powers, and Rowan, Rose’s estranged daughter uncertain whether she should embrace hers or not, and Ivy struggling to find the strength to leave her abusive lover, and arguments and tensions erupting among remaining tribes, Bluebells allies are no longer as dependable as they should be. Forced to seek help across the seas, Bluebell’s voyage is not only fraught with personal risks, but with the very real chance she could lose her kingdom and, worse, the faith of her people, forever. As the Trimartyr’s unleash a reign of...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson

I adore Kate Atkinson’s writing, and I particularly love her Jackson Brodie series. Big Sky, the fifth book to include the exacerbating PI, finds him older, not necessarily wiser, and relocated to what he thinks is a sleepy seaside town. Waltzing in and out of his life is his former flame, the actor, Julia and their monosyllabic teenage and the lovable Labrador who, just like Jackson, is ageing – sometimes disagreeably. When the novel opens, Jackson is in the middle of a fairly standard case, investigating a suspected adulterer. But it’s when he has a confrontation with a man on a cliff, that Jackson stumbles into something both incredibly seedy and very dangerous, not just for him, but for an ever-widening circle of victims – some who don’t even know that’s what they are. Once more, Atkinson produces a marvellous, slow-burning and atmospheric work that not only deepens readers’ relationship with Brodie, but introduces us to a dizzying cast of characters. At first, I have to admit, I did wonder where the book was going, as so many other characters seemed to dominate the chapters and Brodie didn’t seem to get much of a chance to shine. Even so, I loved the way that, in a few words, she could capture the essence of a person – their flaws, foibles and strengths. The deceptions that seemingly decent people perpetrate on each other all while occupying high moral ground is explored and exposed. As the book continues, you become caught up in the lives and relationships of these other characters and the tangled web that is being weaved but – and this is to Atkinson’s credit – never so tangled that you can’t or don’t want to know how it’s going to unravel. About half to two-thirds of the way...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

Knife by Jo Nesbø

I’d heard some rumours about this book prior to its publication (about the direction the plot might take) and was both longing and dreading to read it as I have adored this series. As it was, my concerns regarding the plot were allayed (it’s excellent), but in some ways, for a good part of the book, I did feel ambivalent about the story-telling. Let me explain. For the first time ever in a Harry Hole/Nesbø novel, I found myself becoming bored with parts of writing and even confused. I was skimming bits and wondering if I’d missed something or what the reason for focussing on a particular person or another analepsis might be. I really struggled around the halfway mark. This was not my usual reading experience when it comes to this series and there were moments I felt quite disappointed. Then, suddenly, it all changed. Bits I thought mere distractions made sense, the epilogue resonates in an understated but nonetheless terrific way and the alcoholic detective we’ve come to know and love resurfaces with a vengeance. The ending is superb and there are some genuine WTF?! moments. So, what’s the novel about? Without giving any spoilers, the proper opening is a cracker and sets a very disturbing scene. Harry wakes up with a blistering hangover and covered in blood. But, he has no memory whatsoever of what has happened. When someone dear to him is found brutally murdered, all eyes, including Harry’s, turn to him. As the investigation proceeds, people from Harry’s past – criminals and friends – either take advantage of his fresh vulnerability or seek to help Harry solve this very personal crime no matter what it takes. The last parts of the book more than made up for some of the distractions and sluggishness of...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

England in the Age of Chaucer by William Woods

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while and finally had a great excuse to read it. Published in the 1970s, it’s an account of medieval England focussing mainly on the years between, roughly, 1320 and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Using the great Geoffrey Chaucer, his life and works as a broad lens through to which to examine the social and cultural changes that occurred, this is a wonderful and learned book that differs from more modern accounts in that it doesn’t shy away from being poetic itself or making some assumptions – something which I quite enjoyed. It also quotes extensively from Piers the Ploughman, Chaucer’s works and other poetry and treatises of the era to support various arguments and facts. Each chapter concentrates on either a different stratum of society – peasants, merchants, writers etc – or events, using these to explore the huge social changes that were occurring, prior to, but hastened by the advent of the Black Death and the enormous loss of life and thus workers, priests, administrators, and other social roles it facilitated. Giving rise to questions about class, purpose and even God (remembering this was the time of the great schism in the church and two Popes – one in Rome and the other in Avignon), commoners began to demand more rights, the merchant class began to rise swiftly as wealth changed from being exclusively in the hands of landholders to being in that of producers and distributors, and the status quo that had been extant for hundreds of years began to crumble. England was at endless war with France and other regions and while its sorties on land and at sea were at first successful, earning England its various nobles a mighty reputation, as the century wore on,...

Read More...

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

I love it when a writer whose work you love never lets you down. Michael Robotham is one of those and with the first book in his new series, Good Girl, Bad Girl, featuring psychologist Cyrus Haven (who makes an appearance in one of the Joe McLoughlin books), he even ups the ante in terms of suspense, a cracking plot and flawed, marvellous characters you champion the entire way. When a very troubled young woman, whose given the name Evie Cormac, applies to court to be released from the children’s home she’s been held in for the last six years after being discovered in a secret room in a house where a brutal murder happened, Cyrus is called in to assess her. Equal parts fascinated and wary of Evie who, it appears, possesses the uncanny ability to tell when a person is lying, Cyrus also knows he has to unlock her past in order to help her secure a future. But Evie, while tolerant of Cyrus, is not ready to talk about who she is or what she endured. Resilient yet vulnerable, damaged and damaging, clever and filled with self-loathing and yet a desire to be “normal”, Evie is not like anyone Cyrus (who has his own demons and tragic past) has met before. When a case Cyrus is working on and Evie’s present collide, danger for both of them rears its head, placing both their lives on the line. Cyrus and Evie must not only rely on all their innate and learned skills to survive, but more importantly each other. Thing is, can these two wary souls let down their defences long enough? Fast-paced, enthralling and at times, very suspenseful, and always clever, this is a great read. While at first I was disappointed it didn’t feature the...

Read More...

Tags: , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

I always look forward to a new Kate Forsyth book coming out, knowing I will be transported into the past and lose myself in a mesmerising story. The Blue Rose is no exception, taking the reader back, in the first instance, to revolutionary France where a young woman named Viviane lives in a deteriorating chateau with a mean and controlling Great Aunt and a small staff of retainers, one of whom is like a brother to her. But when a Welshman, David, is hired by her distant, dissolute father (who spends most of his time in Paris) to prepare the gardens according to current fashions so he might bring his new, young heiress wife to the country, Viviane finds in David a sincere and kind friend. What starts as friendship swiftly transforms into something more, but Viviane knows that should her father learn of her growing feelings for the Welsh gardener, a man well below her in terms of social standing, any dreams she has will not only be shattered, but David’s life will be in danger.  When Viviane’s father returns unexpectedly, not even Viviane could predict his reaction, and what subsequently unfolds. Whisked away to Paris, married and forced to comply with her father and husband’s every wish, Viviane believes David and what life with him promised her is lost forever. But as rebellion against the French monarchy and the aristocracy foments and political forces rise to crush the oppressors and anyone who stands in their way, Viviane learns that her father, let alone David’s fate, are the least of her worries… Without giving too much away (unlike the blurb on Goodreads which needs to come with a major spoiler alert. I only just read what is said and it gives away the entire plot of the book!),...

Read More...

Tags: ,

Comments: No Comments

Archives

Goodreads

Karen Brooks's books on Goodreads
TallowTallow (Curse of The Bond Riders, #1)
reviews: 29
ratings: 489 (avg rating 3.79)

VotiveVotive (Curse of the Bond Rider #2)
reviews: 10
ratings: 154 (avg rating 4.25)

The Gaze of the GorgonThe Gaze of the Gorgon (Cassandra Klein, #2)
reviews: 1
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.78)

The Kurs of AtlantisThe Kurs of Atlantis (Cassandra Klein, #4)
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.12)

Rifts Through QuentarisRifts Through Quentaris
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.56)