Mini Reviews

Hello!

For my first mini reviews of 2021, I’m catching up a few stragglers from last year as well as some early reads this year. There is a mixture of non-fiction, historical fiction and fantasy, as well as children’s, YA and Adult in the mix.

Mini reviews will differ slightly from the longer reviews in that they will only receive a rating badge, rather than featuring a quote and highlighted aspect badge, otherwise these posts would end up even longer than they already are.

“Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley for these in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.”

The Real J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle-Earth – Jesse Xander

Pen & Sword | White Owl

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs | History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

The Real JRR Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle Earth is a comprehensive biography of the linguist and writer; taking the reader from his formative years of home-schooling, through the spires of Oxford, to his romance with his wife-to-be on the brink of war, and onwards into his phenomenal academic success and his creation of the seminal high fantasy world of Middle Earth. “The Real JRR Tolkien” delves into his influences, places, friendships, triumphs and tragedies, with particular emphasis on how his remarkable life and loves forged the worlds of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Using contemporary sources and comprehensive research, “The Real JRR Tolkien” offers a unique insight into the life and times of one of Britain’s greatest authors, from cradle to grave to legacy.

Review:

Unfortunately, while this book had potential, it felt a little too academic at times. More of an essay than a biography, and while I am very interested in Tolkien and his life beyond the books that are so well known, it was still a struggle for me to finish this one. Still, there was a lot of interesting information in this one, and I believe that many people will enjoy it, especially if they are looking for a deeper look at Tolkien’s life.

Rating:

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs and their War Against Spain – Brian Best

Pen & Sword | Frontline Books

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

The Sea Dogs were seafaring merchantmen who originally traded mainly with Holland and France. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, however, they began to spread their reach, sailing further and further afield exploring and plundering. The main source of wealth quickly became the Caribbean, which, until then, had been predominantly the domain of wealthy Catholic Spain.

The first man to trade with the Spanish Main was John Hawkins, who travelled to West Africa, captured the natives and transported them to the Caribbean. There he sold them to plantation owners in exchange for goods such as pearls, hides and spices. He made three voyages and on the disastrous last he took his cousin, Francis Drake.

The backers, including the Queen, were satisfied with the bounty but encouraged the Sea Dogs to seek greater riches. England at that time was a relatively impoverished country compared with Spain. Elizabeth had inherited a high cost of inflation, poor harvests and a legacy of poverty from Edward VI and Mary Tudor. This was a time of religious tension with King Philip of Spain, whose marriage to Mary Tudor gave him the right to rule England. The rift between the Catholics and Protestants was cooled somewhat by Elizabeth’s keeping the peace between the two countries, despite the continuing campaigns of the privateers crewed by the Sea Dogs.

The main thorn in the Spanish side was Francis Drake. Despite efforts to kill or capture him, he continued to plunder the high seas, bringing back Spanish riches to England. This allowed the Queen to flourish. It was thanks in main to the privateering exploits of the Sea Dogs that England became so wealthy, paving the way for the Renaissance that followed.

Review:

This was a well written, engaging look at a fascinating period of history. Best does an excellent job of keeping the material detailed without becoming too dry as he explores the nuances of the period, the methods of the Sea Dogs and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into this book.

Rating:

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

The Short Knife – Elen Caldecott

Andersen Press

Genre: Teens & YA | Historical Fiction

Book Summary:

It is the year 454AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Mai has been kept safe by her father and her sister, Haf. But when Saxon warriors arrive at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Can Mai survive in a dangerous world where speaking her mother tongue might be deadly, and where even the people she loves the most can’t be trusted?

Review:

This was a wonderful read from start to finish. It took me a little way to get into the language used, and I think it could have benefited from a list of words and meanings somewhere in the book, although once you’ve got into the rhythm it becomes a delight to read and explore the language. The Short Knife wasn’t quite what I had expected, as I think part of me had been expecting the usual, broader scope of historical fiction. This book has glimpses of that, but mostly this is a small, self-contained story within the wider world and historical period, and I actually loved that, as it was like getting a snapshot, especially as we follow Mai and therefore discover the world as she does. I loved the use of flashbacks, and the sense of mystery and atmosphere that permeated the entire story, and the author brought us full-circle to a wonderfully, satisfying ending.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

The Dragon and Her Boy – Penny Chrimes

Hatchette Children’s Group| Orion Children’s Books

Genre: Children’s Fiction | Fantasy

Book Summary:

A heart-warming magical adventure set in the same world as Tiger Heart but this time following Fly’s tumbler friend Stick, and his encounter with the very last dragon, living under the surface of London.

Review:

I loved the premise for this one, and I found the characters to be well-realised and engaging. Unfortunately, it just didn’t click for me, in part I think due to the language. This is very much a personal reaction, because the writing and the language use were a wonderful addition to the world that Chrimes established, but for me, it was a little much in places.

Rating:

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

A History of the Undead: Mummies, Vampires and Zombies – Charlotte Booth

Pen & Sword History

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

Are you a fan of the undead? Watch lots of Mummy, zombie and vampire movies and TV shows? Have you ever wondered if they could be ‘real’?

This book, A History of the Undead, unravels the truth behind these popular reanimated corpses.

Starting with the common representations in Western Media through the decades, we go back in time to find the origins of the myths. Using a combination of folklore, religion and archaeological studies we find out the reality behind the walking dead. You may be surprised at what you find.

Review:

I really liked the premise of this book, but I felt that there was nothing really new or groundbreaking in the book and in some places the writing was a little dry for the subject matter. Still, it was an interesting read, and I think this book will appeal to many people, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Rating:

Preorder Links:

Amazon UK | Bookshop.org | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

A Time for Swords – Matthew Harffy

Head of Zeus | Aries

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Historical Fiction

Book Summary:

Lindisfarne, AD793. The life of a novice monk will be changed forever when the Vikings attack in a new historical adventure from Matthew Harffy.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer… and there is a time for swords.

Review:

This was my first venture into Harffy’s writing but will not be my last as I really enjoyed the writing style throughout, as the author created a very vivid, believable world woven around a real historical event. Having read a lot of Norse-focused fiction lately due to Norsevemeber, I had high expectations with this one and it more than lived up to them, and I particularly liked the detail and focus on a real event, and A Time of Swords was well balanced between information about the period and events and action and story. The characters were well-written too, and Hunlaf made for an excellent main character, and it was fascinating to see his growth and transformation from monk to warrior, and it was done in a very believable way, with introspection and self-doubt, and it was impossible not to be invested in his story. While the wider cast was equally well-developed with individual and unique voices, motivations and roles within this story.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org| Waterstones

***** ***** *****

Orient (Volume 1) – Shinobu Ohtaka

Kodansha Comics

Genre: Manga | Comics & Graphic Novels | Fantasy

Book Summary:

At age 10, best friends Musashi and Kojiro sat in excited silence as Kojiro’s father spun tales of evil demons who preyed on the innocent, and the warriors who defeated them. Practicing swordplay, the two swear an oath to become the strongest in the world and But as they grow up, Kojiro turns cycnical, and Musashi comes to realize that he can’t turn back 150 years of demon rule on his own. He’s being called a prodigy with a pickaxe, and he’s almost ready to settle for a life of labor. Yet he can’t shake the feeling that he still has a responsibility to act… and, soon, the injustices of his world will force his hand…

Review:

I was excited to give this one ago, because I loved Magi and the premise for this one intriguing. The art style was fantastic, and the plot was promising, it was just the pacing that threw it off a little for me and I didn’t quite sync with the characters either. However, this is just the first volume and I am eager to see where this series goes, so I will definitely be picking up future volumes.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones|

***** ***** *****

Climate Change: An Archaeological Study – Jack Grainger

Pen & Sword History

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult) | Science

Book Summary:

How did our ancestors face climate change? Their response to the problem was not to attempt to stop climate change but was experimental and technological in finding ways to cope with it.

Global warming is among the most urgent problems facing the world today. Yet many commentators, and even some scientists, discuss it with reference only to the changing climate of the last century or so.

John Grainger takes a longer view and draws on the archaeological evidence to show how our ancestors faced up to the ending of the last Ice Age, arguably a more dramatic climate change crisis than the present one. Ranging from the Paleolithic down to the development of agriculture in the Neolithic, the author shows how human ingenuity and resourcefulness allowed them to adapt to the changing conditions in a variety of ways as the ice sheets retreated and water levels rose. Different strategies, from big game hunting on the ice, nomadic hunter gathering, sedentary foraging and finally farming, were developed in various regions in response to local conditions as early man colonized the changing world. The human response to climate change was not to try to stop it, but to embrace technology and innovation to cope with it.

Review:

Unfortunately, I found this one to be a somewhat disappointing read. It may have been that having studied climate change, I was looking for something more, but for me the execution of the premise and what was promised in the introduction falls short, and there were many places where the arguments and conclusions felt a little too one-side or simplistic. However, I will say that I did appreciate the scope with which the author approached the Ice Ages, as often such studies will look at a localised region, whereas this one was much more global in its approach.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** ******

Infernal – Mark de Jager

Rebellion | Solaris

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar place, with nothing but the knowledge that he is not human, with no memories of his past but possessing great strength, a powerful sorcery and the burning instinct to survive at any cost.

Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by the ten year war between the Kingdoms of Krandin and Penullin, now reaching new levels of savagery as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction.

As his personality grows with each step he slowly uncovers the truth of what he has become and the unquenchable thirst for vengeance that has led him there.

Review:

I really liked the premise behind this one, but I unfortunately didn’t love the book itself. I feel that the first person POV was not the best choice when focused on a character with amnesia, and it would have been interesting to have at least one other main POV to offer a counterbalance and a way into the world around Stratus. I also felt that the worldbuilding was a little too light on the ground, and while I understand that this is character driven it wasn’t balanced out. While the humour wasn’t to my taste, I can understand why people have enjoyed that aspect, and why the book has such appeal. It just wasn’t the book for me.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

The Tales of Catt & Fisher: The Art of the Steal – Adrian Tchaikovsky, Freda Warrington, Juliet E McKenna, K.T Davies, Justina Robson (Ed)

Rebellion | Solaris

Genre: Anthology | Sci Fi & Fantasy

Book Summary:

A brand-new collection of stand-alone stories featuring the return of two fan-favourite characters from the world of the critically acclaimed Redemption’s Blade and Salvation’s Fire novels. 

Four new tales of Doctors Catt and Fisher…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of war and peace. It was the epoch of acquisition and of generosity, it was the season of magic and of mundanity.

Join Catt and Fisher as a werewolf falls upon the first thief of spring, the winter of six kinds of duck gravy, the feast of a lifetime at the end of an aeon of starvation, and an unmissable, once-in-a-thousand-years auction of the most valuable objects in the world. Not to mention the one about the lighthouse made out of a moth’s wing.

Review:

This was a fascinating concept, as it is always interesting to see different writer’s takes on the same characters and this collection didn’t disappoint. Each author brought something new to the characters and the setting, and while I certainly preferred some to the others, they were all well-written and entertaining, and overall this was an enjoyable addition to an existing world.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** ***** *****

3 thoughts on “Mini Reviews

  1. Does the world need any new Tolkien biography, and if so, what does it add to excellent works like Tom Shippey’s “Road to Middle-Earth”, or Humphrey Carpenter’s “J.R.R Tolkien: A Biography”? There are already several specialized books around, covering e.g. his WWI experiences. So, really, what can some 150 pages contribute that the other essential books didn’t cover?

    Like

  2. Pingback: January Wrap-up and February TBR

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