Book Review: Godsquad by Heide Goode, Iain M Grant

godsquadThe Team: 
Joan of Arc, the armour-plated teen saint of Orleans. 
Francis of Assisi, friend to all the animals whether they like it or not. 
St Christopher, the patron saint of travel who by papal decree has never existed – no matter how much he argues otherwise. 

The Mission:

An impossible prayer has been received by Heaven and it’s a prayer that only Mary, Mother of God, can answer. Unfortunately, Mary hasn’t been seen in decades and is off wandering the Earth somewhere. This elite team of Heavenly saints are sent down to Earth to find Mary before Armageddon is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. 
A breathless comedy road trip from Heaven to France and all points in-between featuring murderous butchers, a coachload of Welsh women, flying portaloos, nuclear missiles, giant rubber dragons, an army of dogs, a very rude balloon and way too much French wine.

Given to me by the authors in exchange for a review.  Published by Pigeon Park Press. Whilst the authors have previously written Clovenhoof and Pigeonwings, Godsquad is not exactly a sequel, just inhabiting the same universe.

Oh how to describe this book? Whirlwind? Madcap? Farce? Yes and certainly more.

Heaven has developed into a bureaucracy with the angels and saints obligated to do tasks relating to earth. There is a unit dedicated to Non Specific Prayers (Saint Christopher being one of the team and looking for a new challenge).  The unit get a rather difficult prayer directed to the Virgin Mary. There are two problems – Mary hasn’t been seen for centuries and the prayer is coming from someone *without a soul*, which is impossible.

Joan of Arc, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Christopher are sent down to Earth to not only find Mary, but to deliver her to Simon (the soulless one). It is then the madness starts. None of the Heavenly crew are prepared for Earth in the 21st century. Joan is a naive yet fearless leader, unwise in the ways of men (especially when she keeps running into a certain English Detective); Francis is gullible, likes his wine and food too much and he is missing his wolf, who in turn is causing mayhem across Europe; Christopher has a number of good traits – being the patron saint of travel means they generally get where they need to be – but one main fault: since the Western Church says he probably never existed, people on earth cant see him (apart from those from the Orthodox Church who havent written him off – yet).

When they find Mary (which they do), she’s no longer – if she ever was – the beautiful, serene, mother of God. She is a cynical, chain smoking, drinking, swearing, anarchist feminist trying to overthrow the patriarchy. Unfortunately this has lead to some bad decisions with some very bad consequences for all – and the group needs to fix it before the End Of Days hits.

As Mary feels the need to remind people, this is who she sees she is:

I am Mary, Daughter of Joachim. Wife of Joseph. I am Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn. I am the Star of the Sea. I am the untier of fucking Knots

So the rest of the book is a mad cap dash across France, with the dynamic of the team changing at various times, and allowing a multi character face off with Simon and the French military at the end (with full blown metaphysical religious debate about free will and pre-determinism near the end).

There was a nice split between male and female characters, and the conversations between Mary and Joan shows several problems with Feminism, in that showing how you can do things in a man’s world, when do you stop becoming a woman and start pretending to be a man?

Christopher grew on me, when he stopped doing his “I carried Christ you know” routine and started taking part in resolving the issues. I’m not sure I liked Francis in the end, but his trying to interact with the creatures in the forest was amusing. Nice to dispel the hype about Mary – it’s always been a question as to “what happened next” after the Assumption!

 

Book Review: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

The+Duchess+WarMiss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly—so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.

But that is precisely what she gets.

I picked this book up free, from the Kobo website.

Minnie is certainly a wallflower at the beginning, quiet and trying to hide in plain sight. It turns out she was betrayed very publicly and completely when she was much younger, to the point she has been trying to hide ever since, and has never let another man get close again.  Robert is also damaged, having inherited his title and his looks from a man he abhors, and he is constantly trying to prove that he is the opposite of his father. His half-brother and his cousin (who I take to be the other Men in the “Brothers Sinister” series), are the ones to know him best and it is his devotion to the men that bring the conflict later in the book.

It is the start of workers flexing their collective muscle, and demanding decent working conditions. The employers – many of whom are the landed gentry and so sit in the English Parliament – are not impressed and are prepared to do anything to prevent the strikes and rabble-rousing.  There are pamphlets going around, trying to pull the Workers together, but the employers are not impressed. They are hunting down the author, and someone decides that it is Minnie – without realising that it’s Robert. Unfortunately Minnie has secrets of her own – Minnie not being her real name to being with – and these secrets make people all the more suspicious and trying to bring her down.

Robert and Minnie enter into a pact (Minnie suspects he’s the author, he believes she cant prove it) and he is fascinated with her. Unfortunately her reputation is compromised, and the pair end up getting married, despite the objections of many. Then Robert is put into an impossible situation, which means he has to choose between Minnie and Oliver (his half brother, who was born after Robert’s father raped Oliver’s mother).

This is certainly not for those who like their historical romances to be accurate on all levels – there are certain situations that occur and words used (sexual in both situations) that are unexpected for this style of book. It’s a very modern take on an old style of romance and not everyone (is) will be happy.

I finished the book, but cant say I was entirely pleased with it. It was a little too…modern for my tastes in historical fiction. Had it been set 100 years later I might have been pleased with it, and think it could have worked better (Robert as the CEO of a company, Minnie as his secretary/head of HR etc)…..

 About this author


Courtney Milan lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat. Courtney wishes she could say she has lived in numerous fabulous places. But aside from her husband, there is a distinct lack of fabulousness in her life. Instead, she is happy when standards in the Milan household hover above mediocrity. Her husband attempts not to kill people for a living. In exchange, Courtney attempts not to do the dishes.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney experimented with various occupations: computer programming, dog-training, scientificating… Having given up on being able to do any of those things, she’s taken to heart the axiom that those who can’t do, teach. When she’s not reading (lots), writing (lots), or sleeping (not enough), she can be found in the vicinity of a classroom.

Sunday Salon: 5 signs you are into your book

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Following on from the Barnes and Noble post about signs you are really into your book, here are my top 5….

  •  You almost miss your bus (or subway, or train, or trolley) stop because you’re so engrossed in your book.
  • When listening to an audiobook, you arrive at your destination and loiter outside for just a few more minutes because you can’t turn it off, not yet!
  • You realise you’ve left your book at the office – and go all the way back to get it, thereby stopping you from having to buy another copy cos you dont want to wait….
  • You wonder how your commute could have possibly been so short today. You JUST got on the train a minute ago and you’re already here?!  What stops did we miss out to get here so fast?
  • When you spot a stranger reading the same book in public, you have to stop yourself from lunging at them like an overexcited Labrador puppy and asking them what they think.

How do you know when you’re really into a book?

On “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I’m not one for reading books that end up as series on TV (Andrew Davies adaptations apart).  There has been a recent adaptation of Poldark which I didnt watch despite much baring of muscular chests.  I havent read the book either.

I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell back in 2009 and remembered that I rather enjoyed it – to the point where I brought a second copy, having given the first one away. Hearing that the BBC are releasing a TV adaptation, recently confirmed as 17th May 2015, I decided to look up my review which is as follows:

The (softback) edition I have comes in at just over 1000 pages, and this is one of the reasons that it has been sitting on my bookshelf for a number of years now, occasionally glaring at me and daring me to pick it up and read it.
 
 I am glad that I have read it, and it is not like any book I have read before. Excellent for a first book, there is humour, romance, history (some of which I hope is made up!), and most importantly of all magic, and lots of it. The footnotes are as important  as the main text, and all shows an attention to detail that I dont know if the author will ever achieve again, purely for the amount of time this book must have already taken from her.
 
 The only book I can realistically compare it to (in terms of length, scope etc) is “The Crimson Petal and the White”, [eta I didnt watch that either!] which I think is another debut novel. Have to admit that whilst I thought “Crimson” finished too soon, in a way I was glad that “Jonathan”  did, although I was satisfied with the openness of the ending and the potential of more.

Perhaps not my best review I admit, especially for a book of this size and complexity. Unfortunately I am unlikely to read this book and write a better review before the adaptation hits the screen.

Elsewhere, there are a number of articles on the program, some of them as follows:

Susanna Clarke on the TV Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: ‘My own characters were walking about!

Neil Gaiman on Why I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

So have you read the book? Will you be watching the adaptation (currently I’m undecided). Do you watch any book to tv adaptations?

Friday Salon: Raphael at the V&A

In late 2010 I was in the V&A checking out the Raphael Cartoons and Tapestry exhibit.  “Cartoon” had a very different meaning compared to today’s, and the exhibit has several of the real-size full colour paintings, plus their corresponding tapestries.  All are huge, and the resulting tapestries, often full of the difficult reds and blues and gold thread, are simply amazing (and, to some people’s surprise, the mirror opposite of the cartoon).

The exhibit was packed – thankfully met a school group coming out, which meant that there was a little more room! For once, standing well back was the only way to see the pictures as to go close lost all detail.  The Tapestries were designed for the Sistine Chapel to be placed at ground level, and are on loan from the Vatican for the exhibit. Raphael was of course, a contemporary of Michaelangelo, and it was the same Pope (Pope Leo X). A free handout guided you round all images and gave a brief description of each item.

I didnt take any photos – whilst the V&A is pretty good at allowing people to take photos of items in their collection (it is their collection after all!), they dont allow people to take photos of items on loan from elsewhere, which is only fair.

There is also a book – Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, by Claire Brown and Mark Evans, reasonably priced at £10. I raphaelhave yet to read it, but has details on all the cartoons, the tapestries, plenty of colour photographs of both, and what appears to be a reasonable amount of text to put things in context.

As well as seeing the Raphael, the girl I was with and I also went upstairs and went through the Textiles gallery. Some of the items in here are amazing (including some of the lacework, where you can simply appreciate the work that went into it, even if you dont do lace yourself). I found it fun and interesting that much of the work was pinned up on wooden boards, which you could then pull out of the stack and look at closely, especially useful if you are doing research.
A few days later, and I hijacked myself onto a private tour, which took us round even more of the textiles held in the museum, and stuff Sharon and I would not necessarily have found otherwise (who’d have thought to go downstairs to see embroidery when “textiles” is marked as upstairs?).  The guide had previously worked at the museum, clearly in the textiles department, as she was able to give us quite specific details about stitches used, how they were done etc – especially appropriate since it was a group of stitchers and knitters!

I do know that I, for one, dont take advantage of the museums that are available, but then again, would never have seen this exhibit if I had never schlepped my way down to London.  I am always grateful for the fact that our Museums are still/currently! still free, but that was a £70 round trip and a night in a hotel – thankfully I had to do other things in Town too otherwise it would have been a very expensive trip to an exhibit!

And I was shocked and a little disappointed to find that someone I knew had never heard of the V&A, what it was for, and when I tried to explain what it displayed (including modern fashion, something I thought she might have gone for), she wasnt tempted. Sigh.  I knew about the V&A since I was a child, and never got the chance to go see it until recently – but at least I knew it was there and have a vague interest in what it displayed.

 

Book Review: Mayhem in Margaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane

mayhem in Margaux
It s summer in Bordeaux. There s a heat wave, the vineyards are suffering, vintners are on edge, and wine expert Benjamin Cooker s daughter is visiting. A tragic car accident draws the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile into a case where the stakes are very personal, and they uncover some dirty secrets hiding behind the robe of some of Bordeaux s finest grand cru classe wines from Margaux

Published by Le French Book.  I received an ebook off Netgalley in exchange for a review. More about the authors here.

This is number 6 in The Winemaker Detective series, and it’s working out to be a long hot summer. Benjamin is on edge, his daughter is over from the US, and has started hanging around with Antoine Rinetti, the new estate manager for Château Gayroud-Valrose.  After Margaux and Rinetti are injured in a car crash – the latter fatally – further digging by Benjamin and Inspector Barbaroux shows that Rinetti was a money man who had made himself indispensable to the Mob,  and has to lie low.  He has made no friends, having made many people on the Château out of work, resulting in at least one person committing suicide. It puts a different light on the crash, which was caused by tampered brake lines, and puts the focus on Rinetti rather than Benjamin as a target.

Meanwhile Benjamin and Virgile are making site visits to vineyards as consultants due to the weather, and (based on a badly spelt tip off) visit the Château and find a badly ill illegal worker on site. This allows for the authorities to go on site and it is a mix of investigations by the police, and luck on Benjamin’s side, that they work out who the killer is.

As a side story, Benjamin has taken the usual annual holiday home with his wife Elizabeth and several friends.  Whilst the previous book focussed more on Virgile, this allows us to see a different side of the detective – his family and friends are more visible, we get to see Elizabeth more, and this is the first time we’ve met Margaux. Crocker is still (over) protective of his “little” girl and is torn when she makes friends with Virgile after her accident – he’s a bit of a womaniser, but he makes her laugh and pulls her out of her depression.  Of course there are now the mandatory epic meals, with matching wines, to be savoured over.

A good addition to the series, and satisfying to see the characters are becoming more rounded as the series moves on.

 

Book Review: The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

witch of napoliItaly 1899: Fiery-tempered, erotic medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. The Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review. Published in early 2015 by Palladino Books

It is 1918, and Tomaso Labella, an Italian newspaper editor, has just returned from burying Alessandra. Both of them have had a long history together, after Tomaso (aged 16) was sent to photograph Alessandra in 1898 for the local paper. Married to a violent drunk, she has already established a name for performing at séances and talking to the dead.

The rest of the story is Tomaso telling about Alessandra and the next year or so, being investigated for her possibly fraudulent psychic talents. She travels much of Europe with Tomaso and Lombardi, and is tested by many magicians, doctors and scientists.  Much of the story concentrates on the seances that Alessandra performs for her guests, including the physical manifestation of a powerful mad priest from several centuries before. However it is the Englishman Huxley who gets under her skin and threatens everything, occasionally playing to her Neapolitan ego to provoke her into certain actions, with a final, fatal scene destroying everything.

This is a difficult book to try and describe any deeper without recreating the book itself. Much of the story is rather matter of fact, a fast paced physically demanding tour around Europe where Alessandra has to “perform” nearly every night she’s staying still in one city or another. Lombardi (and to an extent Tomaso) holds a torch for her, but her pride, her goals, and her violent husband back in Naples, makes it difficult to love back, even after Lombardi divorces his wife and risks his reputation for her several times. There is a sub plot about the Vatican investigation Alessandra’s history, that could have been expanded out a little more – it seems to have little purpose beyond the appearance of someone from Alessandra’s past just ahead of the final seance, but no more.

Despite the story starting with Alessandra’s death in 1918, the final chapters are unexpected enough to make it interesting, if not necessarily unexpected. Not having read anything else by this author, but knowing he’s an ex-newspaper-man, I dont know whether the writing style of this novel is his own, or deemed suitable for a fictionalised story of an Italian medium who was investigated during the late 19th, early 20th century.

The author can be found on Amazon here