Book Review: Aura of Magic: Unexpected Magic Book Four by Patricia Rice

Brighid Darrow, Countess of Carstairs, has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. Yet once she is widowed, the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft—vilifying her unique gift of reading auras. Released from past restraints, Bridey rebelliously embraces her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.
Having spent his life being all that is proper in hopes of earning a title in return for services to the crown, Aaron Pascoe-Ives, illegitimate son of a marquess, is ordered to Northridge to save the royal mines from rioters. Any hope of aid from the beautiful but aloof countess is dashed when his incorrigible twins endanger their young lives by following him, mystifyingly insisting that the Countess of Carstairs is their new mother.
Bridey and Pascoe face ghosts, assassins, and riots—but nothing as perilous as the irresistible attraction between them. With hard-fought goals at risk, they must make the ultimate choice between achieving dreams—or losing each other. 

Received from Librarything, in one of their Early Reviewer Batches. I’ve dipped into this series before, and I think the last attempt was a Did Not Finish (Whisper of Magic). However, even though this is now book 4 in the series, this was easier to read, in part because I’m now getting comfortable with the Malcolms, and all their illegitimate cousins, uncles etc.

Before this book starts, Brighid Darrow has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to the older Carstairs in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. When she is widowed (again, before this book has started), the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft – misunderstanding both her education provided by her Grandfather, as well as her gift of reading auras.  The new Carstairs, a week and cowardly man that is manipulated by his brother Oliver incites the hatred even more by claiming that all that has gone wrong on the estate is as a result to Bridey’s talents. With only her brother Fin still living in the area, Bridey looks to embrace her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.

Meanwhile, two of the Malcolm women are due to give birth any day now, and Bridey is staying at Wystan in order to provide midwifery support. It is here that she meets Pascoe, the King’s problem solver, when the latter is sent to deal with a mining and steel production issue in Northridge. Pascoe needs information but is saddled with two four year olds that keep disappearing and who seem to be in conversation with the spirit of their dead mother. He is hoping that he can offload the twins in the house and under the auspices of the extended family whilst he sorts out the issues with the Carstairs mine and furnace.

Wystan is traditionally used for confinement for the Malcolm women, and has its own secrets and traditions – one of which being that unmarried men are not allowed to be residing there when a child is born, as they have a tendency to get a girl pregnant and fall in love (in no particular order). This allows for Rice to allow for her main characters to have Sexy Time in many of her books and this book is no exception.

Back to the story: the miners and foundry workers are on the verge of rioting;Carstairs is blaming Bridey for witchcraft, especially when an axe falls on his head, almost killing him; Carstairs younger brother Oliver seems to have a deeper influence in the situation than anyone realises, and there’s a banshee in the chimneys that is a little more real than anyone gives credit for.  Ultimately, despite all the supernatural talents of the Ives and the Malcolm families, it is a far more “normal” answer to the problems, and one that everyone has to work together to securing a decent resolution.

Pascoe also finds a way of getting what he realises he wants from life – the girl he loves, a new mother to his children, and making her happy (even if it’s technically illegal).

An easier read than the previous book, and I was much happier in completing!

 

Book Review: Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, Divya Srinivasan

A talking tiger is the only one who may be able to get a princess to speak in this beautiful picture book set in a mythic India by Newbery Medal-winning and New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, illustrated in bold colors by Divya Srinivasan.

Previously available only as an audio book, Cinnamon has never been published in print before, and Divya Srinivasan’s lush artwork brings Neil Gaiman’s text to life.

This stunning picture book will transport readers to another time and place and will delight parents and children alike.

Picked up in Foyles, Grand Central, Birmingham.

I didnt know this was coming out until I saw it displayed prominantly as I came in – I know that at least one member of staff is a Gaiman fan like me, so I wasnt surprised it was out, front and centre.

The text for this was originally released in 1995, according to the copyright, but I understand this is the first time it’s been released in print. This is, in effect, a children’s picture book, much lighter in text and visual than the author’s The Sleeper and the Spindle (for instance). Therefore this is little character development (though the Rani’s aunt is annoying in only a few lines).

However, this is really a vehicle for  Srinivasan to perform some illustration. It’s laid out in what I take to be (near to) traditional Indian style, with large scale landscapes in fairly 2D format. Cinnamon is a blind princess who hasnt talked in her life – her parents offer incentives for the person who can teach her to speak – only for that “person” to be a tiger, which is the first one to be successful. Naturally, the parents are not pleased, especially when they find out what the tiger really wants in compensation…….

Book Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmener

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

 

 

I picked up the ARC for this at a Blogging event at a local bookstore back in January 2017. I’m not a huge YA fan, and only make occasional forays into this genre. I always have a fear that YA books will be too ernest and patronising.

Thankfully this wasnt the case here. It’s written in an interesting format, where POVs change between chapters, sometimes even during chapters. Letter and emails are exchanged, as well as IRL interactions between the main people and it’s always interesting. The stories are told from the POV of the youngsters involved – I was going to call them “Children” (patronising? moi? nah!) but that is perhaps the one thing that’s hard to bear in mind: The story is set in an American High School, and I found it hard to remember that the two main characters were both aged 17 – sometimes I thought they were perhaps 15 or 16.

Juilet’s mother – a war photographer – died several months previously in a hit and run accident on her way home from an assignment. Juilet has subsequently carried a certain level of guilt along with her grief, as she had requested her mother come home early and if she hadn’t, her mother wouldnt have been in the taxi that got hit.

Declan is doing community service, having gotten drunk at his mother’s second wedding and crashed the car – his father is in prison, having been drink driving and crashed the car that killed Declan’s younger sister – not only does he now have a record and a reputation, but is he following in his father’s footsteps as the drunk driver in the family? His stepdad is very strict, and Declan is angry with the rules that are being put in place, thinking them unfair and too harsh (and why should it be Alan imposing them and where is his mother in all this?).

Juilet and Declan muddle through a difficult year, their own issues and guilt, and somehow (through their letters and emails) help each other out, so that their year isnt as bad as it started out.

On the whole this was a strong book in the YA genre (with a little romance thrown in for good luck!).

 

About this author

Brigid Kemmerer is author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

WIP: Jeanne Ries Sampler

I’m not reading much at the minute so I thought I’d share what I AM working on at the minute.

This is known as the “Jeanne Ries” sampler (it can be brought from various places, including here).

On the right is an image of one of the chart panels (there are nine in all). For those who dont do cross stitch, or know how to read one of the charts, every dot on a chart represents a single cross stitch  to be stitched. Below (left) is a photo of my version of a part of the same page.

A couple of points about how I stitch items like this:

These items are HUGE (30 x 18 inches). There is a lot of stitching, and it is very easy to get lost, go wrong etc. Sometimes it doesnt matter, but sometimes, missing a stitch can be fatal in having things join up and look good. Therefore I often stitch the outline (i.e. half the stitch), make sure it lines up, and then fill in the rest of the stitching when I’m happy.

These items are HUGE. Therefore there is a lot of “Baggage” when stitching something like this – the 9 sheets of design, the needles, threads etc. It takes up space. If I’m going away for instance, and I know I will have stitching time, but it will be limited, I dont want to take the entire WIP bag with me. If I have done the ground work, I can just bring the piece, needles and enough thread to fill the time. I dont need to bring the design etc, with the potential risk of losing a sheet of the pattern. As you can see in the photo, I have also parked my needles in the wip itself – that way I dont have to bring needle cushion with me either.

On the right is the same area of the stitching mounted up on a frame. This frame is about 8 inches, and allows me to work on a specific area, keep it tight, and therefore allow for the stitches to have the same tension.

 

 

 

This is the back of my work. There are snobs out there who look at the back of sewing, then deride the stitcher if the back doesn’t look as good as the front. Well you know what? That’s unbelievably rude. I do this out of enjoyment; I give because I want to. I do none of this to have someone else come in to criticise me.  Once I have finished, I will go and cut extra threads away and do a general tidy up – I once forgot to do this, and the threads were visible once the item had been framed up – never again!

 

 

 

Inspector Montalbano: Equal Time, Collection 3, Episode 2

This is based on another short story, and therefore not based on a complete book.     

The episode starts with two men pulling up in a car, with one getting out and approaching a young blond girl on a moped. Scared, she throws her helmet at him and rides off, with the men giving chase. She nearly loses them a couple of times in the narrow backstreets, but decides to ditch the moped once out in the countryside. The men fire at her as she runs across the fields, missing her, but letting her go.

Caterella is at a quarry where a dead body has been found, Mimi’s baby has been born so he’s on leave, Fazio is on patrol, so Caterella calls Salvo. There is some great shots of the quarry, with huge gaps where the stone has been carved out.

The victim, Angelou Bonpensiero, was shot in the face mafia execution style and is known to be one of the Cuffaro family.  Married to Mariccia, the only daughter of the head of the Cuffaros, he rapidly became the right hand man to the father

Salvo and Fazio go to the church to see who goes to the funeral. We get introduced to the big hitters in the Cuffaro family, plus the fact that one of the Sinagra boys go to offer his condolences.

Fazio and Salvo discuss the murder and how Salvo doesn’t think it’s a mafia execution…..there are too many unanswered questions

We see Caterella out picking snails before he goes to work when he comes across the abandoned moped. Rather than calling it in, he pushes the bike away to go to the garage

Salvo gets devastating news…Calogero is closing the restaurant on health grounds and Salvo has no idea what he’s going to do for his lunch. It’s when he’s discussing his options with Mimi, that Fazio tells him that the Cuffaro have retaliated with the death of Michele Zummo, a Sinagra man.

Salvo visits Don Sinagra, who assures him that the Sinagras didn’t start this, and the head of the Cuffaro said wouldn’t have killed his Son In Law, even to blame the Sinagras. There is no one to follow the aging head, and the daughter is apparently not very bright. She comes into the station to be interviewed, is not upset at her husband’s death. She reports that he went out late the evening of his death, and she knows that he was killed by the Sinagras.

Fazio and Salvo go to visit Mr Scozzese who is too old and infirm to go to station. He’s reporting the disappearance of young Eva who rides a scooter and has been missing 3 days.

There’s a 3rd murder, this of Fichera, married to a Cuffaro. Salvo gets called to see the superintendent, who tells him the case has been handed over to Trupiano, the head of the flying squad. Feeling down, Salvo goes to Calogero, who despite being closed, feeds him anyway.

Afterwards, Salvo goes to docks to talk to some Russian girls esp.  Anja and Alina who were the last people to see Eva 4 days previously. Back at the station, Anja recognises the moped that Caterella brought in as Eva’s.

Caterella takes Fazio and Salvo to where he found the moped, and they find a nearby house, but the inhabitant, Biagio, is not very bright. He refuses to recognise Eva, despite her jewellery being in her house. He makes reference to “The puppeteer” who took the girl and threatened Biagio

Sinagra calls Salvo, annoyed that his son has been arrested for ordering the death of two Cuffaro men. Sinagra says only one death was ordered and it wasn’t Bonpensiero.  Meanwhile, two men are massacred whilst driving through a tunnel with roadworks.  Bonpensiero’s widow is seen at the hospital visiting Zaccaria.

The police are searching Bagio Cocuzzo’s land for bodies….he was questioned over the disappearance of another girl previously….waiting in the lane, Caterella spots there are too many sheep droppings for the number of sheep Cocuzzo’s keeps. How and why are they there?

Salvo uses Anja to try and get Biagio to say the name of his boss, but all he admits to is a man comes to visit, stays the night and goes with his sheep.

Salvo explains his theory to the team that he  believes Eva stumbled across Biagio at his house and goes in, thinking she will be safe, not knowing what she’s getting herself into.

The team narrow down the shepherds to one Alfaro Selia and pay him a call. Caterella, needing the toilet, stays behind as the others search the farm, which means he gets to save the day when Selia starts shooting.

The team rescue Eva. Whilst at hospital, Anja hands over photos of Eva with Bonpensiero and it’s clear they’ve been having an affair.

Salvo visits Mariccia, Bonpensiero’s widow, who is working in a great looking room, with high, high ceilings – she’s taken over her husband’s job in the firm. He tells her that they have reopened file on the death as they don’t believe it’s a mafia job – also that Eva is still alive.

The next shot is of cars  pulling into an abandoned quarry cave that is now being used as some form of auditorium. Salvo has called the heads of both families together. Salvo explains his theory then tells the families what he wants: the war to stop, Bonpensiero’s killer, and Mariccia to hand herself in.  The two old men embrace, ending things their side. Cosimo Zaccaria, the killer, gets delivered to Salvo in the precinct, still alive but following a chat.

They find Mariccia at the quarry, she admits to killing Bonpensiero herself by pulling the trigger of Cosimo’s gun. Before Salvo can stop her, she pushes herself off the edge, falling multiple stories to the ground.

The story finishes on a lighter note, with Mimi’s son being named, and the family are all together including Francois, who is rapidly growing up. He still loves horses, but is now interested in computers too. Hearing that Salvo is off to pick up Livia from the airport, he begs a lift to meet her.

The On Screen Sicily of Inspector Montalbano

Book Review: The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

The bestselling author of Richard & Judy Book Club hit The Cold Season returns with a chilling mystery – where superstition and myth bleed into real life with tragic consequences

Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away

From Netgalley in exchange for a review, this is very much in the style of a Gothic Novel, with the potential for the “hidden people” to be influencing events at every turn.

Albert (Albie) Mirralls is working at his father’s firm in the city, and he goes to the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he meets  his  cousin, Lizzie, and her father. Despite them only meeting the once, Albie convinces himself that he is in love with his first cousin, and that they would someday meet again and marry. However, a decade passes, Albie has married Helena, and is stunned when he hears of Lizzie’s violent death at a still relatively young age.

Helena can’t understand her husband’s distress over the death of a distant relation he met only once. When he hears that  Lizzie was  killed by her husband, who had come to believe that she’s a changeling, Albie sets off for the Yorkshire village of Halfoak, to investigate…

Lizzie is found to be still unburied, her burnt and putrid corpse not even laid out properly. Albie arranges for the funeral to take place, but the locals that do attend do it pitifully, and the rest of the locals simply don’t turn up either at the church or the graveside. As a rationalist from the Big City, Albie makes a point of not believing in or not understanding local superstitions, such as that Lizzie shouldnt be buried in green (it’s their colour) or on a Friday (because it’s unlucky) etc.

Helena arrives from London, seemingly still upset that she is still being ignored in favour of this distant relative. She often comes upon her husband, only for him not to recognise her – is she bewitched somehow, or is she even a changling herself? Despite her objections, rather than leaving after the funeral, they move into the house left behind by Lizzie and her now imprisioned husband as Albie begins to investigate what has lead to this horrible situation.

To be honest, this is as far as I got. I’ve read other reviews that say that pacing was patchy and/or slow, only to pick up in the second half and I hope that this is true. Littlewood has produced what was a very good Gothic-esque story that I was just not able to complete. Even the secondary characters (such as the Innkeeper) were well drawn, even in his apparent shiftiness.

 

So I seem to have been one of those people that didn’t push through to the end, but I hope others get to persevere!

Book Review: The Colour by Rose Tremaine

Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand, along with Joseph’s mother Lilian, in search of new beginnings and prosperity, but the harsh land near Christchurch where they settle threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in a creek bed, he hides the discovery from both his wife and mother and becomes obsessed with the riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new goldfields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of the “colour,” rush to their destinies and doom.

Paper edition from my bookgroup.

I am the first to admit that my reading has been “off” for about 6 months, if not longer, so I am probably not operating at my full game. That said, I am sad to admit that The Colour is the first DNF of 2017.

Three people make the perilous journey from England to New Zealand to make a new life. Joseph; Harriet, his wife of a few months; and Lilian, his mother. Each person has their own reason for leaving England and each has a different idea what the country will offer them. However, the country instantly puts them on the back food, especially x, as the seasons are topsy turvey and they have little time to prepare for winter. Out of stubboness, x builds his house in the wrong place, using the wrong material, and it soon becomes clear how wrong the decision was.

Joesph gets gold fever, and makes the decision to leave his wife and mother to go to south island to search for more gold. The majority of the book is dedicated to each major character living a separate life to one another with loneliness being the overwhelming trait in their life, even when surrounded by others.

It’s when Joesph gets left by his only companion, and is subsequently surrounded by other gold rush miners that I finally gave up on this book. I’d been reading it for over a month, and was struggling to get any energy to return to it.  This is generally the signal to drop a book and move on, as I wasn’t going to pick up another book until I had made a decision about this one.

There were some good parts in this, such as the description of how and why Joseph decided to leave England (we get hints early on, but only fuller details in the second half of the book). The interaction of the neighbour’s son Edward with his superstitious Maori nurse is also rather magical. However in the end, it wasn’t enough to keep a cynical reader entertained.