Corpselight: Paranormal Creatures and Pregnancy on the Streets of Brisvegas…

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corpselight

If you are as much a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series of paranormal police procedural novels as we are, you really should prick up your pointy, furry ears for the book we have for you today.  We received Corpselight, being the second book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder paranormal detective series, from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil and the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series by award-winning author Angela Slatter.

It must be noted that Brisbane, my ancestral home and current shelfing ground, is not commonly the setting for books featuring fantasy and paranormal happenings.  In fact, the last one I read with Brisbane as a setting was Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw, four years ago.  Despite this, Slatter has had a damn good crack at trying to create a paranormal paradise in our fair city in Corpselight, with, among other creatures, a mud-slinging Scandinavian nasty and a skulk of kitsune who have no doubt taken advantage of the quick nine hour flight from their home country.

The quick-witted tone of Verity’s narration moves the plot along apace and despite the many, many references to her pregnancy in the first few chapters (including the truly remarkable revelation that at thirty-two weeks along, she sleeps soundly all night), it’s easy to get sucked in to the initial mystery on offer – the mysterious repeat appearance of stinky, coating mud inside an upmarket Paddington house.  Much like in the Peter Grant series, Verity works with various connections in the paranormal underworld as well as seemingly ordinary people who have taken advantage of Weyrd-Human relations – the ubiquitous insurance agency chief amongst them – to dig deeper and uncover the truly unexpected source of the mud-slinging.  I did find that the narration was slowed a little in the early chapters by information dumps about the events of the previous book.  These were necessary from my point of view, considering I hadn’t read the first book, but I wonder whether there might have been another way to accomplish the same task without slowing the narration – a cast of characters at the beginning, perhaps, or something similar.

I’m sure that most readers won’t have any problem at all with Brisbane as a setting, but for some reason I found it enormously difficult to try and pair places mentioned that I know with the existence of fantasy elements.  I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure if the setting was Melbourne or Sydney or some other Australian city I wouldn’t have had this problem, but because Brisbane seems so unlikely to me as a paranormal setting, what with being a resident, it took an awful lot of effort to suspend my disbelief.  Although I will admit to a little flash of schadenfreude when I noted that the mud-afflicted house was in Paddington.  Sucks to be you, richy rich!

There were some reasonably complicated reveals toward the end of the book relating to Verity’s mother and other family members, that may have been clearer to those who have read the first book, but provided for an action-packed finale.  The fact that Verity gives birth halfway through the book was also an unexpected spanner in the works but provides a new lens through which Verity views the sinister events that are unfolding around her.

Overall, if you enjoy urban fantasy novels and appreciate some diversity in the paranormal creatures you encounter in your reading then you should definitely give Corpselight a go.  If you aren’t a fan of jumping in at the middle of a series, start with book one instead – Vigil.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Post-Natal Exhaustion and Creepy House-guests: The Hours Before Dawn…

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the hours before dawn

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin is a psychological thriller based upon those oft hideous first months of sleeplessness, exhaustion and physical and mental barrenness that can follow the birth of a child.   The book was first published in 1959 and won the Edgar Award in 1960 for best mystery novel.  We received a copy via Netgalley for review as Faber & Faber have reissued the book.  We are so glad we came across this novel because even as the attitudes and situations depicted in the book are clearly of their time, I have yet to come across a book that so flawlessly transcends social change to appear as relevant and likely today as ever.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.

In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s.

Although the book is a mystery with a psychological focus, Fremlin deals with the events with a remarkable sense of dry wit.  I initially thought that the book might be a bit dreary in tone, dealing as it does with an exhausted new mother, but Fremlin’s writing is incredibly enjoyable and droll and I couldn’t help having a bit of a giggle at certain wry observations.  This really helped carry the book and was part of the reason, I suspect, that I got through this one in a couple of chunky sittings.

The descriptions of the life of a stay-at-home mother with multiple children and a new addition are so absolutely spot on that it is obvious that Fremlin knows whereof she speaks.  Indeed, this edition features an introduction that describes how Fremlin based the story on her own experiences with one of her children.  The walking-dead exhaustion, the scrutiny of judging members of the public, the feeling that one must certainly be losing one’s mind when sleeping and nursing upright in a kitchen cupboard seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do to avoid waking the household during a night feed will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to live with and care for an infant who is a difficult sleeper.

Similarly, contemporary readers will recognise people of their acquaintance in Mark, Louise’s “man of the house” husband, who seems to have little idea why Louise can’t keep it together on less than three hours of sleep a night, and the family’s neighbours who are by turns nosy, complaining and downright outrageous.  There are a few bits of the book that are “of the period” such as the moments when the mothers in the story are quite happy to leave their unattended infants for hours on end to attend to some other task or errand, but overall, the situations faced by Louise and new mothers of today are remarkably similar.

The psychological thriller aspect of the story relating to the family’s lodger, the mysterious Ms Vera Brandon, unfolds slowly and almost as an afterthought in Louise’s hectic, chaotic life.  This is somewhat made up for in the end however, with an action-packed and sinister denouement that features danger, death and daring escapes.

I thoroughly recommend this as the perfect pick for a fun and creepy holiday read, although it may not be wise to pick it up just now if you are a new mother.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Challenge under category #29: a book with an unreliable narrator.   You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Stars Across The Ocean: Mums, History and Breaking the Rules…

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stars across the ocean

I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy today’s book as much as I did given that historical women’s fiction isn’t necessarily my go-to genre and I received this one from  Hachette Australia for review having requested completely different titles for this month.  To be brutally honest, I was expecting to flick through the first pages and decide to DNF, but instead found myself totally preoccupied with this story from the first chapter.  Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman is three stories in one, ranging from contemporary England to 19th century Colombo and beyond.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A story about love, motherhood, and learning whom you belong to in the world.

In 1874, wild and willful Agnes Resolute finally leaves the foundling home where she grew up on the bleak moors of northern England. On her departure, she discovers that she was abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button. Agnes had always believed her mother to be too poor to keep her, but Agnes has been working as a laundress at the foundling home and recognises the button as belonging to the imperious and beautiful Genevieve Breakby, daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had only seen her once, but has never forgotten her. She investigates and discovers Genevieve is now in London. Agnes follows, living hard in the poor end of London until she finds out Genevieve has moved to France.

This sets Agnes off on her own adventure: to Paris, Agnes follows her mother’s trail, and starts to see it is also a trail of destruction. Finally, in Sydney she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

A powerful story about women with indomitable spirits, about love and motherhood, and about learning whom you belong to in the world.

In the present, Victoria rushes to England from Australia to confront her mum’s diagnosis of dementia.  Her mother, a prominent history professor at the local university, found herself in hospital after inexplicably walking out into traffic and Victoria is shocked at her, usually formidable, mother’s mental degeneration.   In the distant past, Agnes breaks all the rules of society to search for the mother that abandoned her as a baby, even as those she meets recount memories of her mother that are far from complimentary.

These two stories, along with one more told in letter form, intertwine in unexpected ways in this epic tale that never loses the thread of the plot and delivers female characters who break the mould at every turn.  The book opens on Victoria’s mad dash to her mother’s bedside and although this plotline bookends the others, it isn’t the main focus of the story.  Instead, Victoria’s story provides the link between Agnes and the present, as Victoria’s mother is fixated on finding a letter that she has “lost” due to her deteriorating memory – a letter that tells the tale of a young mother forced to give up her illegitimate child.  I loved the way in which Agnes’s long adventure was broken up with Victoria’s story. The similarities of the two stories focused on the relationship between mother and daughter worked beautifully set against the juxtaposition of past and present.

Agnes’s epic travels are rife with danger, action and the unexpected, moving from life in the foundling home to squalor in London, from safety and friendship working as a lady’s companion to fear and captivity in a French bordello, and beyond to two separate sea voyages, a meeting with an old friend and a connection with another woman who isn’t afraid to throw off the shackles of expectation of female norms. Does Agnes finally find her mother in the end?

I’m not telling!

But the neatly dovetailed ending of all three plotlines was perfectly satisfying and uplifting, leaving the story on a note of hopefulness and expectation for a bright future.

Even though I initially had doubts about how much I would enjoy this story, I am pleased to relate that I was thoroughly impressed with the control that the author held over the three separate storylines and the excellent pacing with which these alternated.  If you are looking for an absorbing read with memorable and authentic female characters and a fantastic balance of loss and hope then you should definitely give Stars Across the Ocean a look.

I am submitting this book for the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category #33 (although it could have fit into a number of different categories): a book that takes place in two time periods.  I’m also submitting it for the Epistolary Reading Challenge, because one of the major plotlines in the book revolves around a letter.

You can check out my progress for all of my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce