My Notorious Life by Madame X | Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X by Kate Manning is the fictionalised account of the story of a midwife and abortionist in the Victorian era.

Notorious Life Manning‘In the end, they celebrated. They bragged.
They got me finally, was their feeling.
They said I would take my secrets to the grave.

They should be so lucky.’

Axie Muldoon, the headstrong daughter of Irish immigrants, forced to beg for pennies as a child on the brutal streets on New York City, grows up to become the most successful – and controversial – midwife of her time.

‘Saved’ from poverty by a well-meaning philanthropist, Axie is sent West with her brother Joe and her sister Dutch. But the kindness of strangers is short-lived and soon Axie returns to the city of her birth, separated from those she loves but determined to one day reunite her family.

When she is taken in by a Manhattan doctor Axie learns the craft that she will live by – and later fight for. As a purveyor of ‘lunar tonic for the relief of female complaints’ she rises from the gutter to the glitter of 5th Avenue high society, and discovers that the right way is not always the way of the church or the law, and that you should never trust a man who says ‘trust me.’ But what if that man is an irresistible risk-taker with a poetical Irish soul?

As Axie’s reputation grows she finds herself on a collision course with the crusading official who would be the righteous instrument of her downfall. It will take all of her power to outwit him and save both herself and those she loves from ruin.

This is a very powerful and often disturbing book.

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The Spinning Heart | Donal Ryan

SpinningHearth RyanThe Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan is a literary novel with the story told by several different characters.

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down.”

 In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

 The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant.

 Donal Ryan’s brilliantly realized debut announces a stunning new voice in literary fiction.

This was lovely, but somewhat thin.

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(re)visions: Alice | Various

(re)Visions: Alice is a collection of retellings of the childrens classic.

(re)Visions: Alice is the first in a planned series in the (re)Visions line, which is devoted to exploring the lasting legacy of classic works of speculative fiction on our genres and on our lives. In each book in the series, four authors will tackle a classic work of imaginative fiction, and give it their own spin; along with each of these novellas will also be the original work. In this first entry, Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is presented, along with four modern pieces based on his work.

Here’s a summary of each of the novellas in Alice:

What Aelister Found Here
By Kaye Chazan

It is 1888, and Aelister has never felt at home, not even in his own skin. Now that he’s been expelled from school, he sees no reason to stick around his house in Warwickshire, so he runs away to another world altogether: London. The city is a maze of heat and rain, where a murderer stalks the streets of Whitechapel and a Crown Prince flouts his mother’s laws, and Aelister soon finds himself dealt into a series of deadly games—ones that put his life, and far more, on the line. And while London may not be the wonderland Aelister expected to find, he is far from the only person in the city looking for that very place.

House of Cards
By Amanda Ching

There’s Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and had an adventure. Then there’s the Queen of Hearts, who loses her temper quite frequently. But before that, there was Mary Ann, a servant pressed past patience, past duty. As all three hurtle toward an inevitable meeting, a creature has broken from its coffin and is even now tunneling to meet them. When the deck is stacked like this, even the strongest foundation could crumble.

Knave
By Hilary Thomas

In the city they call Wonderland, the Queen calls the shots. If she doesn’t like the way you’re playing the game, she’ll give you the axe. Permanently. Jack Knave is an investigator, a man of many talents, an occasional blade for The Crown; and he’s the best at what he does. He knows every face in the city, every move they make, every connection.

Except one.

When a mysterious woman shows up in town, Jack is sure she’s not just here for the tourism. But the more he digs, the less he knows. Finding the answers means getting close to her, but she’s not the only one with secrets. Somebody’s been stealing from the Queen, and it looks like Jack’s taking the fall. Alice could seal his fate with a word—or not. With no options left, and the odds stacked against him, Jack must make a desperate gamble to survive. Whether his luck holds out or he’s left out to dry, one thing’s for certain: he can’t afford to lose his head.

The World in a Thimble
By C.A. Young

Toby Fitzsimmons hates the creepy sculpture of Alice on display in his gallery, but when it drops him into Wonderland for real, he’s not prepared for what he finds. From real living furniture to scoutmasters and cowboys to coyotes who really do go everywhere, Toby finds himself in a Wonderland that’s more deadly, and much more American, than the one he remembers reading about as a boy. At the heart of it all is the Catmistress, who rules over the city’s dark alleys and knows the secret of the Cheshire trick. In this strange new world, Toby will need all the help he can get to find his way home. Before that, though, he’ll have to find a way to keep from losing himself. Wonderland, it seems, changes everything it touches. And then there’s the thing in the sewers…

I really, really enjoyed this. Collections can be hard to review, but this was great.

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The Blue Blazes | Chuck Wendig

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig is an Urban Fantasy crime caper.

Meet Mookie Pearl.

Criminal underworld? He runs in it.

Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.

Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.

But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

Well, um, wow.

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A Spear of Summer Grass | Deanna Raybourne

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne is a mainstream/romance set in 1920’s africa.

Paris, 1923 

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides. 

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.  

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.  

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

This can be a difficult novel.

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The City | Stella Gemmell

The City by Stella Gemmell is a big huge chunk of a fantasy book.

The City is ancient and vast, built up over the millennia, layer upon layer. Once a thriving metropolis, it has sprawled beyond its walls, inciting and waging constant wars with neighbouring tribes and kingdoms – creating a barren wasteland of what was once green and productive.

At the heart of the City lives the emperor. Few have ever seen him, but those who have recall a man in his prime, though he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he truly ever was. And a small number have come to the desperate conclusion that the only way to stop the City’s incessant war and the constant bloodshed is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.

From the maze-like sewers and catacombs below the City, where the poor struggle to stay alive in the dark, to the blood-soaked fields of battle where few heroes manage to survive the never-ending siege, these rebels pin their hopes on one man: Shuskara. Once the emperor’s foremost general, he was betrayed long ago and is believed to be dead. But, under different aliases, he has survived, forsaking his City and hiding from the man to whom he once vowed his allegiance. Now, the time has come for Shuskara to emerge from the shadows and lead a final bid to free the City from those who have brought it and its people to their knees for so long…

Inspired world-building, complex and wholly believable characters, thrilling battle scenes and glorious storytelling come together in this epic novel. Exciting, dark and affecting,The City is a stunning achievement that places its author at the very front rank of fantasy fiction.

Look at that description. Look at it. I should have loved this book.

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Scrap | Ermory Sharplin

Scrap by Ermory Sharplin

On the brutal streets of Hellip, a village in the vast empire of the cruel King Ibis, you either become good at running from the king’s Blackcoats or you die. This is the lesson that twelve-year-old Tucker Scrap, abandoned as an infant among the orphans of Hellip, learned early. Along with her friends Ash and Kally, Tucker spends her time keeping one step ahead of the unjust laws, stealing what she needs to survive, and pondering her own unknown origins—and those of the enchanted bracelet with which she was found.

Now, both Ash and Kally have vanished from the orphanage, perhaps headed for the faraway city where Ibis still rules. When a mysterious girl named Vivian arrives in Hellip with a strange invitation to Tucker, the leader of the orphans decides that this may be her opportunity to find her missing friends. But more than this: it may become an opportunity to recover her hidden inheritance, and to change the fate of an entire kingdom.

The introduction to a fantasy world rich with ancient magic, enigmatic gypsies, palace labyrinths, and deep woods haunted by strange and forbidding creatures, Emory Sharplin’s debut novel tells the story of Tucker Scrap: a bold, memorable heroine at the center of a centuries-old mystery, stepping into her destiny at last.

How can I review a book that is so… average?

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