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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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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...

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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!),...

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All That’s Dead by Stuart McBride

Each new addition to the Logan McRae series by Stuart McBride has become my “reward” book: that is, I set myself certain writing and research tasks and only once they’re finished do I permit myself to read the next installment in the life of Inspector Logan McRae and the motley band of loyal, hilarious, brave, foolhardy and often clever people who work with and, sometimes, against him. As a consequence, I relish the experience and then mourn when it’s over, knowing I have to wait at least a year until once more, I can be, albeit for a brief time, part of this madcap, dangerous world that is policing in Aberdeen, Scotland. In this book, Logan, Steele, Rennie and co have to pit their wits against some Alt-Right Scottish nationalists who go on a spree, committing terrible atrocities against those they believe have betrayed Scottish independence and fostered more than cordial relations with the Brits. The results are bloody and terrifying and the criminals, though identified early, hard to pin down. As a result, the media make scapegoats of the police, representing the law as buffoons who are about as much use (as one great phrase in the book puts it) as a plasticine bicycle. Against time and bad will, Logan and the team try to prevent another crime, another grisly death. But just when it seems they have all the answers, more questions surface which throw the entire investigation on its ear. Filled with fabulous, quirky characters, crackling dialogue (that has you alternately splitting your sides laughing or appreciating the emotional depths of a seemingly simple phrase) and written at a pace that will keep you reading well into the night, this is another splendid addition to one of my all-time favourite crime series. Cannot wait for the...

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Little, by Edward Carey

Little, by Edward Carey, is an unusual book in many regards. Not only is its subject matter, a fictionalized retelling of the life of the woman who would become Madame Tussaud, bleak, filled with quirky characters (not the least, the central one, Marie Grosholtz who is given the nickname, Little) and related against a backdrop of bloody unrest and civil war (the French Revolution), but the voice in which its relayed is very different as well.  Once you become accustomed to the style of the narration, it’s easy to be swept up into Little’s tale.  When young Marie, who lives in Berne, comes into the orbit of the eccentric and clever Dr Curtius, her universe is expanded and yet simultaneously contracted. Responsible for making moulds of various organs and body parts for the local hospital, the Dr finds in Marie a willing and very able assistant. Sharing his insatiable fascination for the human body, Marie slowly starts to find her place in the world. But, it seems, the world isn’t quite ready for Marie.  A move to Paris opens doors for Curtius and his peculiar talents but more or less closes them for Marie. It’s not until a twist of fate throws her in the path of royalty that her life undergoes a dramatic, but in many ways, bizarre change.  Based loosely on Madame Tussaud’s personal history, this is a story of familial relations, noble favour, longing, broken hearts, artistry and passion – the latter for humankind, but not in the way you might expect. Little is a strange protagonist that, like many who encounter her, you feel both drawn to and repelled by. She is honest, direct, humble and yet lit by an internal fire that somehow Carey manages to make burn through the pages. Told over decades,...

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The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Having recently finished The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle, I was really in the mood for another, fast-paced, escapist Atlantis-themed novel. Andy McDermott’s The Hunt for Atlantis, the first in what is a very long series featuring archaeologist, Nina Wilde and former British SAS soldier, Eddie Chase, appeared to fit the bill. Raised by parents obsessed with discovering the location of the lost city of Atlantis, it’s natural that after their sudden deaths in Tibet years earlier, Nina should continue with their work. Believing she’s found the location of the lost city, it’s not until her application for a university grant to test her theories is rejected and she is picked up by a philanthropic Norwegian billionaire Kristian Frost and his organisation, that Nina can begin her hunt in earnest. But there are others interested in what Nina has found and her search, so much so, Frost hires a bodyguard to keep her safe – the crude but courageous, Eddie Chase. And so the adventure really begins. From the snow-clad regions of Norway, to the heat of the Middle East, steaming jungles of Brazil, the dark depths of the Atlantic and dangerous streets of New York, the hunt to find Atlantis and the secrets the ancient civilisation has kept for millennia is on. Can Chase keep Nina and those in the Frost organisation keen to see her succeed safe from the deadly brotherhood determined to see her fail? Or will Atlantis remain hidden forever? This novel started well. The pace was break-neck, the premise (if you suspended your disbelief) fine and the characters were solid enough. The descriptions of car chases, plane crashes, shoot-outs, explosions, and so many near-death experiences were cinematic to say the least. But after a while, the whole run, shoot, run, shoot, get captured, freed,...

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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)