Audiobook: Shadowseer: London

Shadowseer: London by Morgan Rice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Shadowseer: London (Book One) tells the story of Kaia, 17, an orphan coming of age in the Victorian London of the 1850s. Kaia yearns to escape her horrific orphanage, to discover who her parents were, and to understand why she can sense shadows when others cannot. Yet the streets of London are as brutal as the orphanage, and for Kaia, there is no easy way out.

When Kaia, arrested, faces an even worse punishment, Detective Pinsley, 45, notices a strange marking on her arm and thinks she might be the key in solving a peculiar, mysterious case. Bodies are turning up dead in London, and Pinsley wonders whether it’s the work of a deranged serial killer, or of something….else. The methods of murder seem impossible, as does the murderer’s ability to escape death.

Kaia is given a choice: help solve the case, or be shipped off to Bedlam, the notorious insane asylum.

Unlikely partners, each mistrusting the other, Kaia and Pinsley embark to scour the dark corners and cobblestone streets of 19th century London in search of clues.

Yet what they find may shock and horrify even them.

My review: I was looking for another audiobook to listen to and this one was offered to me at a discounted price. I liked the blurb and the cover gave off a certain dark feel about it, so I decided to purchase it.

I haven’t regretted that decision.

The story is set in Victorian England. The setting was enough to allow me to feel that’s where I was while walking on my treadmill. It felt a little like I was actually walking the dirty streets. It was a bit eerie, to be honest.

Inspector Pinsley and Kaia make an unlikely team, but they fit well together for this murder mystery.

The inspector’s boss is looking for a reason to get rid of him, and Kaia has run away from an orphanage the day before she was going to be handed over to a male benefactor. A murder in a locked room at Bedlam brings the pair together. The inspector knows that the mark on Kaia’s arm associates her to the murder. And Kaia wants to find out why the dead woman has the same birthmark as her.

The storyline progresses smoothly along, giving little hints along the way. I felt the author captures the characters and the settings quite well. When we learn what is really happening, it’s not surprising, but continues to be written in a captivating manner.

I liked the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them. I enjoyed the telling of the story by the narrator, who had the perfect voice for this particular book. He was easy to listen to.

In fact, I enjoyed listening to this book so much that I instantly looked for Book 2 and was pleased to find the audiobook at a reasonable price and purchased it too.

Recommended.

Audiobook: Penguin Bloom

Penguin Bloom by Cameron Bloom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Penguin the Magpie is a global social media sensation. People the world over have fallen in love with the stunning and deeply personal images of this rescued bird and her human family. But there is far more to Penguin’s story than meets the eye. It begins with a shocking accident, in which Cameron’s wife, Sam, suffers a near fatal fall that leaves her paralysed and deeply depressed.

Into their lives comes Penguin, an injured magpie chick abandoned after she fell from her nest. Penguin’s rescue and the incredible joy and strength she gives Sam and all those who helped her survive demonstrates that, however bleak things seem, compassion, friendship and support can come from unexpected quarters, ensuring there are always better days ahead. This plucky little magpie reminds us all that, no matter how lost, fragile or damaged we feel, accepting the love of others and loving them in return will help to make us whole.

My review: I believe the book has photos, which in my opinion would cement this story into the reader’s mind quite firmly. However, I listened to the audiobook, so naturally I did not see the photos, but the words alone were magical.

Such a tragic story, yet inspiration and love shone through. The husband and father of the Bloom family wrote about their worst nightmare, sharing the details of his wife’s terrible accident and what followed. My heart went out to her, and to the rest of the family. And my heart swelled when Penguin came into their lives to help and be helped. It’s a marvelous story, but I wish they didn’t have to experience any of it.

I cannot know what Sam went through, and continues to experience. But this book shows that even in the worst circumstances, love and light and sheer will power can improve the situation. Truly, I’m lost for words and can only say that the book is worth your time. Be prepared for tears, and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when love conquers all.

Highly recommended.

Audiobook: Dark Tides

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: Midsummer Eve 1670. Two unexpected visitors arrive at a shabby warehouse on the south side of the River Thames. The first is a wealthy man hoping to find the lover he deserted twenty-one years before. James Avery has everything to offer, including the favour of the newly restored King Charles II, and he believes that the warehouse’s poor owner Alinor has the one thing his money cannot buy—his son and heir.

The second visitor is a beautiful widow from Venice in deepest mourning. She claims Alinor as her mother-in-law and has come to tell Alinor that her son Rob has drowned in the dark tides of the Venice lagoon.

Alinor writes to her brother Ned, newly arrived in faraway New England and trying to make a life between the worlds of the English newcomers and the American Indians as they move toward inevitable war. Alinor tells him that she knows—without doubt—that her son is alive and the widow is an imposter.

Set in the poverty and glamour of Restoration London, in the golden streets of Venice, and on the tensely contested frontier of early America, this is a novel of greed and desire: for love, for wealth, for a child, and for home.

My review: Dark Tides is book 2 in The Fairmile series. It commences 21 years after Tidelands finishes.

As a Philippa Gregory fan, I’m conflicted writing this review. I loved and enjoyed the book, but feel disappointed by it too. Is that even possible? I’ve given four stars because I feel the book could have been better.

Two decades after fleeing their home in Tidelands, Alinor and Alys are doing reasonably well living beside the Thames River in a London that is recovering from the dark days before the execution of King Charles I. Now ruled by King Charles II, the city is being restored and politics is less noticeable in this second book.

The first disappointment was that Ned, Alinor’s brother, had left England to make a new life for himself in frontier America; beside a river, operating the ferry. He is still a ferryman. But that part isn’t the disappointment. This second thread in the book felt displaced. It could have been totally discarded and would not have made a bit of difference to the storyline of Dark Tides. I find myself wondering if this thread is in preparation for a third book?

Back in London, we have a new character enter the story–Livia, Rob’s widow. I was horrified to learn that Rob would not be in the book. And although the author wrote Livia’s part extremely well, I didn’t like her from the start. And that statement is amusing because it was obvious from the start that Livia could not be trusted.

Life was no longer dark and depressing for Alinor and Alyse, but they still lived a hard, but respectable life. They made ends meet. They were as comfortable as they could be given the circumstances, i.e. women with no husbands. And by inviting Livia into their home, they brought lies, deceit, suspicion and heartache into their lives again.

Thing is, and here’s another disappointment, Alinor played a minor part in this book. Alyse had a larger part, but not large enough. The main character in this book, in my opinion, was Livia. The same story could have been written using Alinor and Alyse as the main characters. Yes, it would have been from a different point of view, but that would have been acceptable and preferable, I believe.

As I said, I enjoyed the book, but would have enjoyed it immensely if the main character position remained with Alinor. I hope there is a third book planned, and I hope we return to Alinor’s viewpoint to round off her life and that of her family.

Still highly recommended.

Audiobook: Tidelands

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

My review: Tidelands is the first book in a new series, The Fairmile. As Philippa Gregory is one of my favourite authors, I grabbed the audiobook when I saw it on special.

At first, I found the book to be quite dark and depressing and, in all honesty, I thought this might be the first book by this author that I would be marking as “unfinished” or giving just one star to in a review.

However, I’m glad I kept going as the dark and depressing feel was actually part of the storyline. It seriously showed how bad the main character’s life was. Remembering the book is set in 1648 when life would have been difficult for the poor and underprivileged, and if you were a woman, if was even worse so I gulped and rethought any fanciful wish to live in the period.

Once the setting was truly set and Alinor’s storyline became clear, I was captivated and could hardly wait to continue reading (or in my case, listening) at every opportunity.

Yes, there is a political thread, but it is not overbearing. The politics are required to set the mood, but the characters actions, reactions, and dire need are always the main focus of the book. Alinor, Alys and Rob are wonderful characters and we are taken on a journey where a single decision can change the course of all their lives. And they all make decisions that effect all of them, without the knowledge of other decisions being made around them.

The story is full of love, romance, desperation, rumours, suspicion, secrets, fear, judgement, and superstition. The emotions twist and turn along the way for all of them, for different reasons. But they all want one thing in the end, to feel secure and happy.

Philippa Gregory did it again. She wrote a book that is captivating, meaningful and paints a true picture of what it would have been like living in 1648. I loved this book.

Highly recommended.

eBook: Boom! Boom! Boom! The Upstairs Monster

Boom! Boom! Boom! The Upstairs Monster by S. Auyeung

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: What’s that mysterious noise upstairs? Take a magical journey through vivid illustrations and a heartwarming story that leads to a beautiful discovery of friendship.

My review: This is a picture book for younger children, who are starting to read by themselves or are enjoying some reading time with a parent, grandparent or guardian.

The author has produced a book of images and wording that fit together. The child in the story will encourage young readers to not fear the noises they hear from upstairs, or outside, and instead voice any concerns to a parent for investigation and reassurance.

I particularly liked how the mother in the story treated the child’s concern. She didn’t add to the child’s worry, but encouraged him to confront it and discover for himself what was happening whilst knowing his mum would be right there with him.

The book is a quick, easy read and could be read at any time without causing stress or fear to the reader. The images are large and colourful too. I believe the book would be well received by any child under the age of around 6 or 7 years of age.

I received a review copy of this book, and this is an honest review.

Decisions for 2022

Yes, I’m still around. Yet 2022 is proving to be difficult, different, tiring.

As we enter our third year of COVID-19, I can feel the exhaustion seeping into my bones and I can see anger and frustration on the faces of complete strangers as they pass by me. From my point of view, I believe a majority of people wanted to do the right thing and did. But now, as the weeks turn into years, people are starting to get irritated by the rules and the separation from their family and friends.

Honestly, my husband and I have lived a quiet, isolated life during this time. We shop online, we walk in a reserve where there are few people, our family gatherings (if they can be called that) are done by video calls or, on the odd occasion, meeting in an isolated place for a quick walk and chat. I feel as if I’m withdrawing from life and as I grow older, that frustrates me and scares me at the same time.

During all these months of being at home, not seeing people, or going places, you would think I would be writing like crazy and reading every book in sight. But… that is NOT the case! I can’t explain why, except to say that I feel unmotivated to do most things right now.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel. And this is the main problem for me. I can’t tell myself it’s only for a few more months, it’s only to the end of this year, it’s only until…?

In the future, will I be writing a post stating “we are entering our tenth year of COVID-19”? I hope not. I truly do. But it’s a possibility.

Anyway, I’ve decided that for now I will not accept any more books for review. I still have a couple and I feel torrents of guilt over the length of time it has taken me to read them so far. To those authors, I am truly sorry, my lack of motivation has nothing to do with your words, your characters, your stories. It is simply the world has been turned upside down and I’m struggling to find my place in it. I will read the books and I will write the reviews as promised. I assure you.

Having said that, I will accept audiobooks for review. On week days, I spend at least 20 minutes on the treadmill each day, and listen to audiobooks while I exercise. So, if you have an audio version of your book, then you are welcome to contact me. I have discovered that I will listen to genres that I listed as not acceptable on my book review page, i.e. thrillers, suspense, crime. Books I can’t read, I enjoy listening to.

I will update the book review page shortly.

As for writing, I make no promises. My latest project swirls in my mind often. I want to return to that world and complete what I started. I know exactly what needs to happen, so my lack of motivation has nothing to do with writer’s block.

Same goes for working on my family tree. Here’s something else that I’ve invested many, many hours (three decades) into, and just turned away from altogether. I have leads that I have ignored. People send me documents that I cannot make myself investigate.

This has to stop! I must start living life again … and soon. I don’t want to write that post in 10 years time saying I’ve wasted a decade of my life due to COVID-19. No, that cannot happen and steps must be taken now.

From 1 March, I believe we (in Australia) will put masks and QR codes aside and return to the office, and start living life around COVID. It’s a scary thought, and I know we will not return to how it used to be. But what the new normal will be like is uncertain, and I guess that’s part of my issue.

eBook: The City of Snow & Stars

The City of Snow & Stars by S.D. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: A gritty YA Christian Fantasy tackling difficult topics surrounding abuse, human trafficking, and the question “Why does God let bad things happen?”

Trinia’s Gift is the ability to duplicate herself perfectly in mind and body yet, every time she uses it, she feels like she loses another piece of her soul. Her abusive and power-hungry father, Caderyn, wishes to exploit her gift to create an army that obeys his command and rebuild the Airgíd Empire that fell a thousand years before.

Going on the run, Trinia seeks out the aid of the kingdoms that destroyed her people. When things don’t go as planned, she’s forced into trusting a failed mage, a man of legend with a vendetta, and a talking wolf to help her reach her goal by making a promise she isn’t sure she can keep.

As she wrestles with the ghosts of her past trauma and new ones that keep piling up, Trinia begins to wonder where the justice is in it all, and whether she has what it takes to stop her father and save her people.

How far would you run to escape your future?

My review: This book was offered to me by the author for an honest review. I read the blurb “…tackling difficult topics surrounding abuse, human trafficking…” and was unsure if I would be able to handle graphic scenes of this type, but decided to give it a read anyway.

First up, let me say one thing to make it perfectly clear…

There are no graphic scenes in this book that might keep you awake at night or upset you in any way. I have to say that although the message comes across, it is done in a gentle way to raise awareness but not traumatise the reader. The author has done an awesome job in this regard.

The book is a Christian Fantasy story and apart from the abuse and human trafficking themes, there is (of course) the religious theme as well. I was impressed by how the author tackled this theme too. It was subtle. I did not feel preached at, not even once, yet the messages were clear and concise. And because the words were part of the story flow, I heard them. One in particular stayed with me all day because it was something I needed to hear at that time.

The five main characters are diverse and fit well together. There are moments that you can’t help but smile, while at other places you feel the tension or the hurt or the confusion. You know what I mean. The emotions of everyday life. Their backstories are explored and we get a good idea where they are all coming from. At present, my favourite character is Jayden. I think he’s going to have a tough ride through the series, but he has a good heart despite his mischievous ways.

The world is vast and well described. I don’t think I have a good grasp on the world itself yet, but this is the first book, so it is setting up for what is going to come.

Fantasy readers will enjoy this book. It has all the ingredients for an exciting storyline over several books. I love fantasy and have read many series over the years that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and this book did not let me down. The characters drew me back. I wanted to know what would happen to them next in the book. But I also want to know what will happen in the next book, so I guess that confirms I would definitely read more from this author.

Recommended.

I received a review copy of this book, and this is an honest review.

Audiobook: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: 14th February 1900. St Valentine’s Day in rural Australia. Nineteen girls and their two school-mistresses from exclusive Appleyard College leave for a picnic at the brooding, hanging rock. Some of the group fail to return. Murder? Accident? Supernatural happenings? What is the explanation for these bizarre disappearances?

My review: I watched the movie in the 1980s and was captivated by the mysterious music and scenes. When I saw the audiobook in my local library, I was quick to grab it. There are always big differences between books and movies, in my opinion. But while the movie version of Picnic at Hanging Rock dropped the side themes, it stayed true to the book for the most part.

The book (or audiobook, in this case) had that same mysterious feel about it. It’s difficult to explain because the story is a mystery, so it should be mysterious. But that’s not what I mean. There’s a feeling, a strange eeriness, a haunting feeling that radiates from the pages. It’s in the flow of words, in the movements of the characters, in every chapter, on every page.

The author describes everything, even the ants scurrying to safety. I usually don’t like this amount of description, however Picnic at Hanging Rock is built around the descriptions and feelings of the location and characters. That’s what made it a success, I believe.

During the telling of the story, we get a good indication how strict the rules were and we get a taste of “class” in 1900. Here’s another story that shows us how lucky we are now and hard it would have been then.

The characters are whimsical and laid back to begin with, but as the story progresses we see the darker side of the characters coming out. What happened to the missing girls and their teacher? Who was involved? They storyline shows how the trauma from what happened on that fateful day can change people, changing their lives forever.

I enjoyed the movie and I enjoyed the book. Again, I believe the book is better as those side themes give a deeper telling and if you allow yourself to be swept away, you’ll find yourself totally engrossed in the mystery of Hanging Rock.

Recommended.