Exiles by Jane Harper #BookReview

A new Jane Harper is always an exciting event and Exiles definitely lived up to my expectations. I have read all of her novels and loved each one of them. Her first book, The Dry, introduced the detective Aaron Falk and he makes his third appearance in this book.

In this latest book, I really enjoyed seeing him in totally new surroundings. This story takes place in a small Australian town in wine growing country and as always with Jane Harper, the sense of place is incredible. The landscape is vividly described and although it is very lush and green, we soon see how threats can lie hidden.

A year before the story begins, a young mother, Kim, had gone missing and she has never been traced. As Falk spends time with his friends who include Kim’s ex-partner and daughter, he gets drawn into the investigation of her disappearance and begins to realise that things are not necessarily as they seem.

I loved the gradual untangling of this mystery and the way we were drawn into the life of this small town where everyone knows one another. It’s quite a slow burn read and the sense of urgency in some mysteries is not present here as it’s effectively a cold case. Instead, the events of the past are slowly revealed through the different character’s viewpoints. As we get to know the characters and begin to see how their relationships are all tangled up together, we also get their memories of events of the previous year. Eventually that builds up to a complete picture although the final revelation still came as a shock to me.  

The cast of characters were all likeable which made the mystery even more puzzling as it was hard to see how any of them could have been involved.  I really liked the focus on the teenagers, especially Kim’s teenage daughter. Aaron Falk is one of my favourite detectives and I really enjoyed his story arc in this book. We see him at the beginning where he is finding that the pressures and workload of his job are getting in the way of any possible relationships and by the end of the novel, he has reached a decision that enables him to have a chance of finding happiness.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am really grateful to Net Galley and the publishers for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves mystery stories with a strong sense of place and atmosphere.

Exiles is published by Pan MacMillan on February 2nd 2023

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The Golden Oldies Book Club – A review

The Golden Oldies Book Club by Judy Leigh

I loved this story of a group of older women who come together in a book club. The main character is 72 year old Jeannie who runs her family’s cider business but is beginning to feel that life has passed her by. She lives with her 95 year old mother and two teenage grandchildren. She has lived in the village of Combe Pomeroy all her life but is beginning to wonder what she has left to look forward to.

The village book club of the title is run by the librarian Ruth and I enjoyed the discussions that they had about the books such as Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D’Ubervilles. There were some very spirited exchanges between Jeannie and her friends and Mark with his very dated attitudes.

Other members of the book club are also feeling unhappy with their lives and so after discussing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ruth decides to organise a trip to Brittany for herself and her friends. The five women set off to Normandy where they will stay on a local cider farm. The scenes in France were my favourite parts of the book especially the scene where they go sand yachting. The trip makes each of the women really think about what they want from life.

This was a lovely story about the fact that it is never too late to follow your dreams. I loved each of the five main female characters. As we got to know them we found that each of them had their own particular demons to deal with. We saw how the friendship between the five of them deepened during their stay in France and each of them had a satisfying story arc.

Jeannie’s family is the real backdrop of the story. Her mother Violet provides a lot of the humour in the story with a constant stream of jokes and puns. I think that living with her would be more than I could cope with but the relationship between her and Jeannie was full of affection. The two grandchildren also both have important roles to play as Jeannie begins to see that her future holds more than just more of the same day to day routine.

I really loved this story. It’s refreshing to have older characters as the main protagonists but I also enjoyed the real mix of ages in this novel. I haven’t read any of Judy Leigh’s previous books but I certainly will look out for them after reading this one.

Thank you to Net Galley and Boldwood Books for my ARC.

The Golden Oldies Book Club was published on December 6th 2022

The Final Strife – a review

The Final Strife
Saara El-Arifi
Adult Fantasy

Harper Collins UK
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Once this book hooks you in, you can’t let go. I had to stay up until way past midnight to finish it and it’s a long while since I’ve had to do that. It’s a slow starter and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it at first but once I got into the story I was completely hooked.

There are three classes of people in the empire, red blooded, blue blooded and clear. The red bloods or Embers are the ruling class and they rule their empire without mercy. The blue bloods are the Dusters who do all of the work and the clear or translucent bloods are simply invisible and known as Ghostings. 

Four Wardens control every aspect of life and their disciples learn from them. Every ten years, the disciples become the new wardens and the Aktibar Games are held to choose new disciples from the ranks of the Embers. These games and the opportunity that they bring for change are the focus of the novel. This is a familiar scenario but there is nothing familiar about the story that the author creates here.

We read the story through the eyes of three different women, an ember, a duster and a ghosting. Each of the women has her own agenda and through each of the view points we gradually learn more about the world they live in. Sylah was trained from birth to win the games but six years before, her entire family was murdered in front of her. Now she is a drug addict who survives by fighting for money in the ring. Anoor is the spoilt daughter of the Warden of Strength. Her only interest appears to be creating more and more extravagant outfits to wear. Hassa is a ghosting and also a friend of Sylah’s. As a ghosting, she has no worth in society but she is far more than at first appears. These women’s lives become intertwined and their interests coincide but nothing is quite as it seems.

The three women are very different and at first two of them at least, don’t seem very likeable. However, as the story develops and we learn more about each of them, you find yourself caring for all three. The relationships cover love, anger, hatred and betrayal and right up until the end, you aren’t quite sure how things are going to turn out.

Interspersed with the story are brief extracts from the wardens’ journals which show us more about the way they govern their empire and the horrific way the Dusters and Ghostings are treated. We also get extracts from the story tellers or griots which add more to our understanding of the world.

I found the world building amazing. Bit by bit, we learn about the society, its history and the magic system. I loved the way that the characters themselves don’t know their history and it gets gradually revealed to them and the reader.  The magic system is really logical and based on blood which makes sense as blood is such an integral part of this story.  It’s a dark world and there are some distressing descriptions of punishments meted out to the Dusters and Ghostings but for me, this book was unputdownable.

The book is definitely part of a series but doesn’t end on a cliff hanger. This part of the story concludes in a way that ends satisfactorily but leaves plenty of questions for the next books. I loved this debut novel and can’t wait to see how the story develops next.

The Final Strife is published by Harper Collins UK on 23rd June 2022

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers, Harper Collins UK, for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Beyond – A Review

Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

As a long-time lover of all things Valdemar, I was thrilled when I heard that Mercedes Lackey had written a book about the founding of this marvellous place. I was a bit wary though as the last few novels haven’t been any where near as good as her earlier series. However, although this doesn’t have quite the emotional impact of the Vanyel or Talia series, it is a return to form for one of my favourite authors.

The story is set in the Eastern Empire which has become corrupt and static and a place where the rulers generally have no interest in their people. An exception to this is Duke Kordas of Valdemar who cares deeply for his duchy and is in the process of carrying out a plan devised by his father and Grandfather to escape the empire with as many of his people as he can take with him.

The story is set partly on Duke Kordas’ estate and partly at the Imperial court where we see how corrupt and uncaring the empire has become. Magic has become something that is used purely to make the courtiers’ lives as easy as possible and ordinary people have become expendable.

The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of Kordas and we learn a lot about his character. Parts of the story are also told from the view of his young sister in law, Delia. These are the only two characters that we get to know in depth and it would have been nice to have a deeper feel of more  characters especially Korda’s wife, Isla.

I loved this book and enjoyed all of the links with the earlier series. This felt like a much more adult book than some of the more recent books which I felt was an improvement. I loved the concept of the dolls and knowing what they eventually become. The descriptions of the Empire and the court were a brilliant contrast to the life that Kordas wants for his people and Delia’s contrasting point of view is really important too.

This book has strong links with the Mage Storms trilogy and Duke Kordas reminded me a lot of Duke Tremaine. It has a similar feel too in that the novel spends a lot of time detailing exactly how the people live. This can have the effect of slowing the story down but it also gives you a real feel for the society that Mercedes Lackey has created.

If you have read the author’s previous Valdemar books, then I’m sure that you will love it too. However, if you are new to Valdemar, this might not be the best place to start and The Arrows or Last Herald Mage might be a better starting point.

For me, this is a five star read but new readers to Valdemar might not rate it so highly. I am really grateful to Net Galley and Titan publishing for providing me with an advance copy of this book and to Mercedes Lackey for writing it!

Beyond is published tomorrow, November 2nd.

Vespertine – A Review

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

I have never read anything by Margaret Rogerson before but was drawn to this by the cover and the synopsis and I really loved it. The novel takes place in a world where the normal passage between life and a peaceful death has been broken and the country of Loraille is plagued by undead spirits (who are ranked according to the method of their death) who try to possess the living. Artemesia is a young girl who can sense spirits and so is a nun in training to become one of those who settles the spirits so that they pass on peacefully. Her world is shattered by an attack on her convent and her only help is a powerful spirit who has its own agenda. The character of Artemisia and the world she inhabits are brilliantly described and the whole world system works together so well. The novel has a dark, gothic feel (I got the feeling that the sun never shines) which really appealed to me.

I loved the character of Artemesia and her relationships with the other characters. The fact that she couldn’t relate to any of her fellow nuns and the definitely argumentative relationship with the revenant are all brilliant and believable. The growth of the relationships through the novel made it a real pleasure to read.

A big thanks to Net Galley and the publishers, Simon and Schuster for letting me have an advance copy in return for my honest review. The book is due to be published on Oct 5th and definitely worth a read if you like your YA novels with a large dose of the unearthly and undeadly.