The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

Just as this book is divided into two narratives (that aren’t quite halves), so too I felt divided when I first started reading it. On the one hand, I could appreciate the quality of the writing, but on the other, I didn’t think I liked the precocious protagonist, Augusta, nor the way nothing much seemed to happen. In many ways, I wondered where the story was going to go, if anywhere. How wrong I was. For, at some point, the story grabbed me by the head and heart and I was taken on an interior journey like no other and utterly captivated. This is a tale of a twin, Augusta, and her fierce intelligence and desire to understand everything, break it down into components she can grasp and link, despite living in a small English village and despite her parents and twin’s contentment with their home and village. Fascinated by words and the world around her, at a very young age, Augusta, the bane of the parents and teachers’ lives, picks the small African country of Burundi, just because of the sound the word makes, and decides to learn everything she can about this strife-torn place. But her increasing knowledge of Burundi, other places, words, and later languages, people and cultures, just increases her desire to escape her roots and discover where and if there is somewhere else she belongs. The novel doesn’t belong to Augusta alone, sharing it is young African, Parfait, who happens to live in Burundi but, like Augusta, feels a longing to shake off his origins and explore, find out if there is somewhere else he can feel truly at home. When terrible tragedy shakes both Parfait and Augusta’s lives, they’re forced to take stock and step out of their uncomfortable existence and set off...

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The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle

Having enjoyed The Long Winter series by A.G. Riddle, I went back to his earlier works, starting with his very first book, The Atlantis Gene. What is it about the very idea of “Atlantis” that it still manages to capture our imaginations? And how is that so many creative artists have positively exploited our fascination with a lost city, drawing upon it in a range of ways that are sometimes mind-boggling? Riddle joins a plethora of other writers who have also used the idea of Atlantis, this time using it to explore the idea of human evolution. The book opens with a young geneticist, Kate Warner, working with autistic children in Indonesia. When her co-workers are killed and two of the children kidnapped, and Kate herself is placed in grave danger, she is very confused. Why is her research, let alone her young, vulnerable subjects, of such interest to a covert group? A covert group who, it seems, not only employs a beloved guardian, but has a wide, global network that stretches back in time to the Nazis and into the future as well. Concurrent with Kate’s dilemma is that facing counter-terrorism agent, David Vale. A survivor of 9/11 and member of a top-secret anti-espionage group, David is shocked to learn that the people he’s working for are not what they seem. Flung together with Kate, David must uncover not only who’s behind the terrible destruction being wreaked upon his organisation but try and stop them doing the same to the world… before it’s too late. While I enjoyed this book, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I wanted to. I found it so implausible and a bit silly at times. The “science”, while trying to be grounded, stretched even this reader’s ability to suspend her disbelief....

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The Ties That Bound by Barbara A Hanawalt

I read this book a few years ago when I was undertaking research for an earlier novel, The Brewer’s Tale and remember being so impressed with it. Returning to it again (as I am also returning to the Middle Ages with my next book – only a slightly earlier period), I was once more struck not only by the lucidity and depth and breadth of research, but by the astute observations Hanawalt makes, observations always backed by evidence. Where there is little or none, Hanawalt also points this out and alerts her reader to the fact. But what makes this book so exceptional is its accessibility and readability. It is a joy to read and lose oneself in. Instead of focussing, as so much history has, on the nobility or royalty or even religious bodies and thus power-brokers of a particular country or culture (mainly because that’s about and for whom records were kept), The Ties That Bound chooses instead, as Hanawalt puts it, to “enter the doors of the peasant’s house” and give voice to those who didn’t have one. Choosing the family and its material environment as her foundation, Hanawalt investigates how, why and when families survived in the Middle Ages (she uses the fourteenth century as a rough framework), focussing on their working patterns (and so the medieval economy as centred around family, landholdings, agriculture and industry), marriage, childbirth, childhood, adolescence, godparents, household sizes, their structures – in terms of people as well as houses and land worked – sickness, death, neigbourhoods, manorial allegiance, gilds, village life, festivals, weather, war, and conflict and examines the impact all of these had on the day to day living of the average person in England over this period.  She also addresses the dramatic changes that occurred following the Black...

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The Book of Dreams by Nina George.

This was a haunting and quite lovely book that, despite its strong focus on loss and healing, blends realism with the fantastical, creating a wonderful and poignant atmosphere that allows for sorrow but also great joy. The story starts when Henri, a middle-aged Frenchman, sets out to meet his estranged young son in London. On the way, he is involved in an accident, an accident made all the more shocking because of its context. Believing his father doesn’t care, Henri’s son, Sam, only learns the truth about his father’s failure to keep their meeting in the newspaper. Thus, his first encounter with his father occurs in a hospital where Sam is forced to share this man he doesn’t remember, with a variety of medical professionals and other people who meant something to Henri. Confused, and determined not to show how his father’s accident is impacting upon him, Sam tries to keep his hospital visits a secret from his mother and step-father, all while trying to overcome the visiting restrictions. Clever and sensitive, Sam also has a condition called synaesthesia, which means he sees emotions as colours. To call them auras is only partly right. While others believe Henri is in a deep coma and unable to communicate, Sam knows different. Before long, he finds himself unable to keep away and not just from his father. He may not be able to communicate with Henri in the usual fashion, but through his unusual insight, he is able to build a relationship with the man wandering in a dream-realm and help others to grow theirs and not only with Henri… A moving read that examines father-son relationships as well as a variety of others, including those between medical professionals and their patients. It also explores the impact injury and loss has...

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Where the Forest Meets the Stars Glendy Vanderah

It was the title that initially captivated me with this absolutely sublime novel of wonder, love, loss, grief, trust and the power of relationships to heal. I started reading it and, before I’d reached the end of the second page, I turned to a friend who was lost in her own book and declared, “I love this book already.” The love never died but, with each page, increased. This is the story of a young ornithologist, Joanna Teale who, recovering from more than her fair share of the kind of blows that life can throw, is conducting graduate research in a remote area, living alone, checking her bird nests and trying not to think too hard about her future apart from her recently neglected study. But when a young girl stumbles into the light of her campfire one night, dirty, poorly dressed and declaring she’s not of this world, Joanna is both captivated and alarmed. Calling herself Ursa, after the constellation, the girl is wondrous and clever but also clearly in need of help. Refusing to either seek aid from the authorities or “go home” until she has seen five miracles, Ursa soon becomes part of Joanna’s life in ways no-one could have foreseen, including bringing some interesting and broken people, counting the enigmatic Gabe from the property next door, into Joanna’s orbit. But as the summer draws to a close, Joanna understands she must make some difficult decisions about her future, those she’s met and, most importantly, the strange young girl for whom she’s come to care deeply.  I don’t want to say too much more except that this is such a magical, heart-swelling tale that’s written in beautiful and often aching prose. I stayed up far too late, smiling through tears and nods, clutching the book to...

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The Solar War (The Long Winter #2) A.G. Riddle

If anyone knows how to write a page-turner, it’s A.G. Riddle. The second book, The Solar War, in what’s turned out (frustratingly, as I thought I was coming to the end of the story at 2am only to discover that wasn’t the case!) to be a three-book series (there’s a third book, a novella, coming out in November which should conclude the tale), is thrilling, gripping and a very satisfying follow-up to the first book, Winter World. Commencing a short time after Winter World finished, The Solar War opens with our erstwhile heroes, James and Emma now parents, and while the earth they fought to save has gone, its geo-political boundaries and the power bases forever altered, and the decimated population packed into camps in order to survive, the war with the Grid isn’t over. Struggling with their altered reality and what it signifies for the future, the survivors search for others. But, it’s not until the discovery of three huge asteroids on a collision course for earth, that James, Emma and the team at Camp Seven understand that they’ll never be safe. The Grid and the entity draining power from the solar system won’t stop until humanity is utterly annihilated. Just when it looks as though they might have a chance for a different kind of future, an old threat returns which may yet prove greater than anything an alien species can throw at them. Once again, the writing in this eschatological narrative is taut and paced tightly. The themes of catastrophic climate change (even if induced by an outside force) resonate, as does the “enemy within” trope – how humanity can be its own worst enemy – and that there’s no accounting for what people will do to ensure their own survival, as well as love, loyalty...

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The Moor by L.J. Ross

I am so enjoying this series by L.J. Ross, featuring the dashing and dishy DCI Ryan (reminiscent of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley), his historian wife, sergeant Phillips and his partner, DI, Denise and their attempts to bring crime in Northumberland under control. It’s light, easy reading but without sacrificing good writing or steady plotting. Add to that the burgeoning attraction between Constables Lowerson and Yates and in this novel, a cold case which brings a circus and a young, cheeky waif into the gang’s sphere, and the stage – or Big Top – is set. When 10-year-old Samantha O’Neill turns up on DCI Ryan’s doorstep one Sunday afternoon, claiming she’s had a returned memory of her mother being murdered, Ryan and his people take her very, very seriously. When they find a cold case and an unidentified body matching the description Samantha has given them, they pull out all stops to help the child they’re fast developing great affection for. But someone else is aware that Sam’s repressed memory has returned and though she’s being kept in a safe house, they’re searching for her, intending that her memories of that fateful afternoon will never completely return. In many ways, this book (number 11 in the series) while a terrific addition to a fabulous series, felt like it’s main purpose was to introduce a new character to the regular cast and a potentially darker plotline that brings danger close to home – not that there’s anything wrong with that! Both were very well done and, certainly, the new character promises to be equal parts enchanting and frustrating while the other, more sinister storyline is sure to set hearts racing. My only concern there is why did have to be THAT character – especially when so much has already happened and...

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What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

Recommended to me by a dear friend, this time-slip novel about a young, grieving American woman, who journey’s to Ireland with her grandfather’s ashes only to find herself transported back into his history, is hauntingly lovely. The book starts in 2001, when Anne Gallagher, despondent and lost over the death of her beloved grandfather, Eoin, fulfils his final wishes by taking his ashes back to his home country to spread them over the lake he loved. Heart-sore, lonely, yet enchanted by this country she’d only ever known and loved through her grandfather’s stories, Anne is both mesmerised and lost. Knowing she is named after and resembles her grandfather’s mother strongly, she seeks solace in the few mementoes she has of her grandfather’s life, including a detailed journal written by the man who was like a father to her own grandfather, a doctor named Thomas Smith. Fittingly, while absorbed in the past and drifting through the present, Anne is wrenched back in time to 1921 and the height of the troubles in Ireland, when Michael Collins and those who believed in the future he saw are fighting for Irish independence – including Eoin’s father figure, Dr Thomas Smith. These are dangerous times and moreso because there are those who would see Anne Gallagher  – the past one and the modern one – dead. Over the next few months, as tensions increase and Ireland draws closer to war – civil and with Britain, Anne finds comfort in the new life and loves she is forging, a healing and simultaneous remembering and forgetting that is both painful and joyous. But Anne knows she is living on borrowed time. As a child of the future, does she have a right to this past or is it one she’s lived before? Or will any...

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Pilgrimages: The Great Adventure of the Middle Ages by John Ure

For anyone interested in why and how so many kings, nobles, adventurers, religious people and laypeople left the relative safety of home and hearth to go trooping across countryside and continents on pilgrimages to various shrines throughout the Middle Ages, then this is a book you will thoroughly enjoy. Taking each of the major shrines/destinations – from Santiago de Compostela, to Jerusalem, Walsingham, Canterbury, Lindisfarne and Cologne etc. – as well as some famous pilgrims (John of Gaunt, Canon Casola, the weeping and wailing Margery Kemp, the plagiariser, Sir John Mandeville and a few others), John Ure captures the essence of pilgrims and their journey, immersing readers in historic time and place. Creating a context for each place and individual, Ure explores the nature of a particular site and what drew followers there. Explaining the type of pilgrims who ventures forth – the penitent, the militant, the tourist (though that word didn’t exist then, of course!) and even the secular, he describes the landscape and culture through which they would have travelled and the ways in which spiritual expectations might have been met or confounded. Ure also doesn’t hesitate to describe the less pleasant aspects and dangers of pilgrimages in the Middle Ages – everything from bandits and cutthroats, to conmen and women ready to rip foreigners off, to racism, sexism, and the dangers of losing baggage, succumbing to sea-sickness, disease and even death. The trade in relics and how and why these were so important to these sites is also dealt with. He also discusses the religiously-led pilgrimages from the Crusades, to the horrific Albigensian Crusade (when thousands of Cathars were brutally killed), to the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace in England. I particular enjoyed his chapter on Margery Kempe, a figure I knew well from other reading. I...

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Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Pestilence is sweeping England, having arrived on its shores from Europe and sparing few. Camelot, a scarred and old medieval pedlar of relics, is doing a reasonable trade as the superstitious and religious seek any talisman they can to ward off fear and sickness. Against his better judgement, Camelot finds himself in the company of a group of strangers, all brought together through circumstance and forced to travel across England, doing everything in their power to avoid not only the judgment of the plague, but the deadly force that appears to be following them. Told from Camelot’s point of view, this tale, set during 1348, is gripping. Over a period of months and across the desolate and literally dying English landscape and villages, we’re introduced to a disparate group of people – from Zophiel, the sharp-tongued and angry magician and his curmudgeonly horse, to Cygnus, the one-armed story-teller, a pregnant woman and her painter husband, a pair of talented Italian musicians, a troubled midwife, and the silver-haired Narigorm whose reading of the runes and strange prophecies fill them all with foreboding. As the reader gets to know each character and the dreadful secrets each person carries, we’re also plunged into the terrible realities of pestilence-torn England and the impact all the deaths and the superstitions they arouse have on society. The historical details are masterfully woven through the tale; the belief systems – both Christian and pagan – are juxtaposed and their power to influence behaviour – good and bad – are sharply and terribly drawn. This was a marvellous book, beautifully written which draws you into this strangely claustrophobic world where friends are strangers, strangers potentially deadly and lies are safer than the truth… or are they? For lovers of terrific books, mysteries and well-written and researched history....

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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)