Lady of the Sun: The Life and Times of Alice Perrers by F. George Kay

This was a fascinating book about a sometimes elusive historical figure – the much maligned mistress of Edward III, Alice Perrers. Perrers has been (mis)represented by history as a lower class, avaricious, grasping woman who had Edward III firmly wrapped in her serpentine coils, rising to impossible heights before falling in disgrace, stripped of her property, lands and dignity by powerful men who deeply resented the power she wielded and what she came to represent – a corrupt court. Yet, this apparently lowly-born woman rose from being one of Queen Phillippa’s maidens to become, not only the king’s lover and a mover and shaker of the times, but one of the wealthiest landowners in England at the time. Casting doubt on previous contemporary accounts of the much-loathed Perrers and applying logic to what is known about her through deeds, court transcripts and letters (among other things) Kay critiques the way history has painted her. Starting with the notion she was lowly born, he suggests she at least must have been of middle-class origins to be able to read, possibly write and speak other languages (just to communicate with the king, she must have had a good grasp of French), even if she wasn’t fluent in these skills. Considering French would have only been spoken among the middle and upper classes, this is one clue, as is her name and possible familial relations. Explaining where other historians have perhaps made incorrect assumptions about Perrers’ upbringing, Kay seeks to put this right – but without being dogmatic. Rather, he puts forward alternate ideas and evidence and lets the reader decide. Kay also points out that Perrers’ business acumen must have also been exceptional to have acquired the property she did, never mind the fact she had the respect and allegiance of...

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The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

Book Two in Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth, a trilogy that functions both as a prequel (Book One, La Belle Sauvage) and a sequel, is a deeply disturbing and at times very dark read that sees the main characters from La Belle – Lyra, Pan and Malcolm, thrown into personal and professional turmoil as their world and lives are threatened and, as a consequence, how they’re catapulted into life-altering journeys. Commencing with a murder that Pan bears witness to, it’s a while before the significance of the death becomes apparent. What’s of concern to the reader is not only the fact that Lyra and Pan can separate (those who’ve read The Amber Spyglass will recall the heart-wrenching circumstances that facilitated this ability), but that they’re at terrible odds with each other. Now twenty, Lyra is a student at Jordan College in Oxford and, despite what happened in her childhood, is filled with the new, rationalist and materialist philosophies of the latest academic and literary “celebrities”, notions which cast doubt on what Lyra has not only experienced, but sees around her on a daily basis. This makes Pan totally despondent as he tries to debate the futility and absurdity of these viewpoints. But whatever Pan says, it simply makes Lyra more determined than ever to try and adhere to them. Initially, the tension between the two is just disheartening to read, but when you begin to understand this isn’t simply a personal change in perspective for Lyra, but part of a much broader way of thinking and being – a kind of existential crisis – and which has strong links to the growing might of the Magisterium, then it’s apparent much darker forces are at play. When Lyra is ordered from her lodgings under a slim pretext and...

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Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. Sure, the writing was exquisite, the metaphors and similes original and evocative and the style was lovely and easy to read… but… then, whoompa! Something occurred about a third or even halfway through and I was hooked. In fact, I not only didn’t want to put the book down, but I never wanted to leave this marvellous world/s of possibilities Alix E. Harrow has created. This is the story of young, mostly abandoned (by her peripatetic father who worked collecting unusual antiquities for his patron, Mr Locke, who is also his daughter’s guardian) January Scaller – a girl who is not yet a woman, not quite white, but neither is she black. She is, however, coloured, and therefore perceived by the predominately white society she mixes in, as different. She is also curious, protected and, considering her differences, quite privileged. For this is a world very aware of place and position and that includes colour of one’s skin which, in January’s world, can only be overcome by connections – of which January is, to her great fortune, possessed. Aware that she leads a sheltered life, January likens her existence to that of the many wonderful artefacts Mr Locke collects – the very same ones her father is tasked with finding for him. They’re kept in rooms, cages, glass display cases and judged; a value is assigned which governs how they’re appreciated. But January longs for more – she especially longs for her father to return from those interminable voyages he’s always taking and from which the best he can do is scrawl a few lines to her to indicate she is not forgotten. Only, try telling that to January. Then, one...

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An explanation (for the absence of reviews of late) and a new review: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The cover of my next novel, due out March 1st 2020. Set in Scotland in the early 1700s, it’s based on a true story. I’ve been a bit remiss with my book reviews of late – but not, thank goodness, my reading (I have devoured so many books – fiction and non-fiction – they are my solace, joy and inspiration). Nevertheless, reviewing has taken a back seat as the last two months have seen me immersed in my own writing (a novel due for release in 2021) and editing my next novel, The Darkest Shore (which I will blog about soon) and which is being released March 1st 2020 in Aus/NZ. As a consequence, I have a number of simply wonderful books I’ve been bursting to review, but have had to wait until I’ve had a bit of breathing space – oh, and my computer. You see, on top of everything else, my computer decided to go ballistic. It had a bit of help though. I decided I was going to store my documents on iCloud. Actually, I was persuaded by my husband who said I should have backup beyond a time machine (apologies to Dr Who) just in case someone breaks into my house and steals my computer. Fair enough, I thought, and bought iClould space and voila! My files not only disappeared, but those remaining became scattered into different hundreds of folders etc. A “geek” (his name for himself) called James was my saviour and, after saying he’s never seen anything like it, spent five days trying to rebuild my computer back to the way it was. Turns out, iCloud has eaten some of my files and we don’t think I’ll ever get them back :(. Overall, I have what I need, so I am trying to...

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Bruny by Heather Rose

I don’t know where to begin with this book. It was so wonderfully unexpected. A thrilling, outrageous and clever tale about family, politics, betrayal, deceit at the highest levels and the people who really pay for that – and all set in Tasmania. What’s not to love? The book opens when a bomb explodes, almost destroying a new and ridiculously expensive bridge that has been built by the Tasmanian government using federal and international funds and which connects the beautiful island of Bruny to the rest of Tasmania via a six-lane roadway. Overkill anyone? Heralded by the sitting government as an essential piece of infrastructure that will invite more tourists and thus money to Tasmania and advance the island fair, there are many who doubt the efficacy and legitimacy of the project. Vested interests, splinter groups both combine and implode as debates over the bridge – especially now it needs to be repaired – escalate. Enter Astrid Coleman, member of a famous political family currently working for the U.N., whose twin brother is not only the Premier of Tasmania, but her older half-sister is leader of the Opposition. An expert in conflict resolution, it’s believed Astrid will not only be able to pour oil over troubled waters by tempering the mood of those against the bridge, but prepare locals for the government’s solution (one backed by the Federal government) to ensure the bridge is repaired by the rapidly approaching opening date: by bringing in hundreds of Chinese workers. Astrid arrives home to find not only the island and, particularly Hobart and Bruny in turmoil, but her family as well. Her father is suffering from dementia and quoting only Shakespeare, her mother is dying of cancer and while the family can come together and give the appearance of unity in...

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The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Like so many others, I was thrilled when the new Juliet Marillier book, The Harp of Kings, landed on my Kindle. Instead of diving straight into it, which I was so tempted to do, I held out and made reading it my reward for completing work that had to be done. Finally, a few days ago, the task I’d set myself was finished and I was at last able to return to the world Juliet so lovingly and beautifully created in the Blackthorn and Grimm series. Even so, this book also works as a standalone as it shifts into the next generation of players in this fabulously crafted realm of fey folk, druids, kings, warriors, bards, healers, wise women and so much more. Told from three different points of view, Liobhan and Brocc’s, the children of Blackthorn and Grimm who are both superb singers and composers of music and training to be Swan Island warriors, and Dau, a chieftain’s son also training to be a warrior and with a dark and troubled past that he keeps firmly locked away, the reader is given insights into each character’s fears and strengths. We’re also given a greater depth of understanding about what makes these interesting young people tick and the choices they’ve made and are yet to have thrust upon them. When the three of them are chosen for a specific task – to find and restore the precious Harp of Kings so that a new ruler might ascend to the leadership of a distant kingdom – and given fresh identities to both aid them in its completion and protect them, they are forced to work together and subsume parts of their characters in ways they’d never foreseen. While Liobhan and Brocc have a strong and deep sibling bond, Dau was...

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Cold Storage by David Koepp.

There was a great deal of hype surrounding this book, Cold Storage by David Koepp, which kept popping up in my email and all my book-related social media. I always enjoy a good sci-fi thriller and apocalyptic-type narrative, so thought I would give it a go. Koepp comes with good credentials having written the screenplays to some very successful blockbusters. I was ready for an edge-of-your-seat, high-octane ride. And, I did get that in parts. What should have probably sent some warning bells my way was the fact many critics mentioned how funny the book was. While laughter is often the natural response to danger or being frightened, I am not entirely certain the end of the world should be that hilarious. But I reserved my judgement. This is story that begins 30 odd years before the main events. We read about a team of scientists who travel to a remote community in Western Australia where a fungus has wiped out an entire community. The scientists retrieve the fungus and manage to return it to the US where they put it in a storage facility deep underground where a constant freezing temperature should keep the deadly organism dormant. Should. Fast forward to now and two security guards at a storage facility are puzzled when an alarm sounds and they discover a hidden vault deep underground which has thermal controls that are malfunctioning. When they realise just how catastrophic this is and infected people and creatures start to run amok, they are forced to put their own lives in danger to save the world. But, they’re not alone. Called to take control is retired scientist cum operative, Roberto Diaz. Older, wiser and with a lot less to lose, he makes the hard decisions, decisions that may yet cost more lives...

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The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

How fabulous is this, hey? Anne Cleeves has started a new series and while I am disappointed I won’t get to read any more about Vera Stanhope or Jimmy Perez (the lead characters from her other respective series), it’s been exciting to get to know a new character. In The Long Call, the first book in the Two Rivers series, this lead character and detective is the rather gentle and self-effacing Matthew Venn. A man with an interesting and troubled past, having been raised and then rejected by an evangelical community, Matthew has a tendency to empathise with most people he encounters, even the criminal kind. The hard-bitten, gum-shoe detective he ain’t. The book opens with Matthew as an outsider at his father’s funeral, a position to which Matthew is, sadly, sort of accustomed, as much as he’s tried to compensate for this as well. When he takes on his first major case in the Two Rivers area, Matthew has to both learn the strengths and weaknesses of his team as well as the area he and his beloved partner have moved into. But just when Matthew thought he could forge ahead personally and professionally, put his difficult past behind him, the killer lurking in the region has other ideas… This book, like the first book in any good series, is a slow-burn. Beautifully written and constructed, the reader is taken into not only the crime that rocks a community, but the lives of those seeking to solve it, in particular, Matthew and his team. We’re given insights into the personal foibles and ambitions of all involved and it’s so typical of Cleeves that she says so much with so few words. Likewise, the area is brought to life with a few choice phrases, and it leaps off the...

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The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Ever since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson was released, I have adored this series featuring one of the most original and feisty, bad-ass women in crime/thriller fiction, Lisbeth Salander. When David Lagercrantz took over writing the series in the wake of Larson’s death, like many, I was worried about how another writer could replicate and progress Larson’s characters, let alone his vision. Well, Lagercrantz has done a stellar job and his books are page-turners and thrillers par excellence. Up until this book, I also thought that Lagercrantz had kept Larson’s Lisbeth alive and kicking. However, in this latest instalment, there’s a sense in which she’s diminished. No, possibly that’s not the right word. There’s a sense in which her brilliance, her capacity to embrace both her dark and light sides, has weakened and thus this book doesn’t twinkle as brightly in the Salander/Blomkvist universe. However, it is very plot-drive – for better and worse – and it is still a well, written and mostly gripping read. The novel opens with Lisbeth hiding in Moscow. There to enact vengeance, when push comes to shove, or gun to trigger, she finds herself unable to perform and is forced into the type of hiding on Lisbeth can pull off. Concerned for Lisbeth’s welfare, back in Stockholm, Mikael Blomkvist is caught up in the death of a homeless man. Sadly not unusual in itself, a persistent coroner has cause to believe the man was murdered and asks Blomkvist to look into his background. Knowing Salander will be unable to resist, Mikael asks for assistance as well. What unfolds is a story of corporate greed, political machinations, ‘fake-news”, Russian cyber “troll-factories,” cover-ups, betrayal and murder. There were parts of this book I raced through, eagerly anticipating how something was going...

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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...

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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)