"When I look back on that eventful night now, all this seems trivial. For even as we lived our little lives and fought our petty battles, death stalked the city, and soon would ride triumphant through the streets."
I'm not sure what exactly encouraged me to want to read 'The Strange Adventures of H' by Sarah Burton, as it's certainly a historical fiction novel.. which is something I typically avoid. What's more.. there's no supernatural or fantastical element that might normally turn my head, yet in hindsight.. I'm glad I gave it a chance.
The story follows an orphaned girl simply known as H, who along with her sister Evelyn, is sent to live with their aunt in London. The sisters are incredibly close and Aunt Madge is an endearingly free-spirited widow who seems to adore them.
Happy in their lot, possibly happier than they were before they became orphans, things take a dark turn when their cousin assaults H and an epidemic of the plague ravages the city. Those she loves, either too far removed or taken from her, H is cast into the streets during a great exodus of those hoping to get beyond the disease's reach.
Alone, pregnant, and with no money with which to survive, she's forced to do whatever she can to earn a living.
"..I thought this must be what Hell is like. Not hot and full of pain and confusion, but cool and grey and empty, where you are shut out of everywhere, yet cannot leave."
Honestly, this doesn't read at all like a story. There's no discernable plot exactly, just a series of horrific events, though that isn't a bad thing. It's more of a fictional memoir chronicling the life of a young woman as she experiences some of the lowest days imaginable, some of the greatest betrayals and losses a heart can bear, and some moments of great joy that seem to exist at times.. only to give her hope until the next crushing disappointment.
Despite the fact it's a period piece, most of the language avoids that flowery styling I normally dislike, as it deals with people considered common and the dialects of their status. There's plenty enough modern wording thrown in there that I didn't mind it all that much and in truth, I was too engrossed in what was going to happen to H.. to put the book down anyway.
There were some characters I dearly loved. Godfrey was spectacular, Aunt Madge was a warm, rebellious creature, Fredrick and Charlie filled their pages with a kindness and gentleness that was sorely needed to offset all the horrible events happening around H, and certainly Jasper.. while silly as can be.. managed to charm me nonetheless.
Both the time period and historical events that took place throughout the tale, were intricately detailed. Burton painted an appropriately somber image of the tragedy and despair devastating those left behind to struggle through the plague, while the wealthy often just picked up and left.. heading off to safer locales. The result of course being even more unkindness as their society devolves into a primarily 'every person for themselves' situation. Therein lies a parallel not lost on me as we have in some cases watched similar things take place in recent months.
I give the author credit for not simply sinking into the more unpleasant human nature that can rise to the surface in these situations. There's still representation here for those who would help their fellow, whether or not it be in their own best interest.. and poor H is one of those. But overall things are rather grim and sometimes the things people tell themselves to justify their behavior is shocking.
It's a great read though, I recommend it if you're not likely to be overwhelmed by the desperation many of the characters find themselves in. There are some triggers here to be considered, especially in regards to violence towards women and children, even up to loss of life in some cases.. but if you can handle that, it's a richly pain-filled story painted in fine strokes, so as nothing is glossed over.
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Wow.. 'The New Girlfriend' by Sheryl Browne is a wild ride. The kind where you need a scorecard just to keep up with all the moves being made and the lies being told.
Opening with a bang.. or in this case.. practically the screech of metal and the weight of shock and disbelief, Cassie's only son is killed. Just a few short months later, a stranger appears on her doorstep.. claiming to be his girlfriend and bearing a baby in her arms that is clearly her grandchild.
In the wake of her loss, Cassie is struggling to cope with the changes that have come at her full speed ahead. The idea that her neurosis drove her son out of the house.. leaving her somehow at fault for his death.. paired with what appears to be a serious relationship he never shared with her or his stepdad, Adam.. has her reeling.
Attempting to do what she can for her grandson and his mother, she begins to get cryptic texts in threatening tones referring to a big secret she's been keeping. Someone knows what she's been hiding, a potentially life altering act that she'd do anything to protect.
Honestly, this story throws a lot at you. Many of the characters are embroiled in their own nest of secrets, each with something big to lose. While Josh, Cassie's son, actually seems like a basically good guy.. he's far from perfect himself and the result is a handful of people who all might have reason to be involved at least peripherally in anything bad that might have befallen him.
I really only found one of the characters to draw any investment from me.. any concern for their well-being, and that was Adam. He's a kind, genuine man.. who seems to try to do his best for pretty much anyone who enters his sphere of existence, even if they aren't entirely kind to him. And I'm pretty sure the author intended it to be that way.
It definitely feels as if the other characters are meant to have somewhat ambiguous moral codes to begin with. Most of them seem to make their decisions from a selfish place with little regard to the collateral damage they might cause. I don't think Browne means for us to feel sorry for them, even if the things they deal with are a bit soul-crushing at times.
The author did a great job at keeping the ball moving.. so your eyes never lingered too long on any one possibility. Though in the end.. the answers are compounded. I was vindicated in my beliefs to a point, but surprised by the addition of some other parts to the puzzle. There was one plot point that felt out of place, unnecessary.. as if it was thrown in simply for a 'gotcha' moment, but the story as a whole is a solid read if you enjoy a good mystery.
Sheryl Browne writes psychological thriller and edgy contemporary fiction. A member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and awarded a Red Ribbon by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards, Sheryl has several books published and two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies, where she completed her MA in Creative Writing.
To find out more about Sheryl and her novels or follow her, use the links below.
'Poe Dameron Free Fall' by Alex Segura is more than just a story of a young man coming of age under the rule of the New Republic.. more than the story of one of the greatest pilots to grace the stars. The title to me.. sometimes referring to a very literal sense.. but also in the midst of an emotional free fall.
At sixteen, he's already full of hunger for adventure and challenge.. but after numerous arguments with his father, former Pathfinder.. Kes Dameron and a close friend of the family.. L'ulo L'ampar, he's desperate to get out and see what he can do. Happening across a group of scoundrels at a local bar who are in even more dire need of him than he thinks he is of them, he takes a leap of faith that will change the course of his life completely.
With his mother, A-Wing pilot Shara Bey, already lost to him.. he's a boy on the verge of adulthood who feels little more than distance between he and his father. He's struggling to decide what kind of man he's going to be.. what kind of man he wants to be.. torn between the memories of a woman he sees as a hero and the realities of his farmboy life on Yavin 4.
It's hard to say I blame him for taking the kinds of chances he does. In his position, anyone might strike out on their own with little thought to the cost of their actions.. yet deep down there's a consistent pull visible within him to do the right thing. Even caught up as he becomes, fearful at times, he makes an effort to be a good man.. and the decisions that so much as walk that morally gray line, are choices he revisits. He makes second guessing himself into a hobby at times, but I got that. The uncertainty in his own ideals.
There are definitely glimpses here in his youth.. of the man he would yet become. The seemingly fearless pilot and hero in his own right known for pulling half-baked plans out of thin air that actually usually work.. is already beginning to develop in this story.
I enjoyed getting to know how he found himself amongst the Spice Runners of all things, since they certainly don't hold the same moral codes he obviously does. Though, what I love about Poe is he isn't afraid to get a little gray if need be.. there are just limits to how far he's willing to go.
He's already a hothead and that gets him into more than his fair share of trouble, but it also just further endears him to me. After all, he's not so unlike that 'other' famous pilot in the Star Wars universe.
During his adventure, we get to meet a young Zorii as well. A character who clearly had some kind of serious history with Poe when she appeared in The Rise of Skywalker, it was exciting to get to experience her backstory firsthand. I loved learning not only where she came from.. and how she came to be who she was.. but also what they were to each other and what her motivations might have been in the film.
The book is filled with page-turning action, vividly described space chases, and battles great and small. Segura did an amazing job of allowing the reader a peek behind the misdeeds of the spice runners to the people beneath.
What a great addition to the Star Wars canon. I can't wait to read more..
'Lore' by Alexandra Bracken is easily one of my most anticipated releases of 2021, so I was thrilled to get the sample chapters for an early glimpse.
I've long been a fan of mythology from around the world. I love the classic tales and legends and I love the more modern works that have either emerged as actual retellings or just borrowed some of the amazing characters and developed whole new worlds to experience.
'Lore' falls into that last category.
The story is about a girl named Lore and a punishment put into place and structured like a game that has existed for over a thousand years. As the book opens, those involved are on the 212th cycle.. as every seven years the Agon takes place.
Nine Greek gods, having dared to rise against Zeus.. led by Athena.. and having failed, are forced to walk the earth as mortals. For seven full days, they're hunted by the descendants of ancient hero bloodlines. Those who succeed in capturing and killing one of the nine, seize their divine power and immortality for themselves.. until the next cycle.. that is.
As Lore's roommate and best friend Miles says..
"..every seven years this ... hunt happens. And the location changes-- sort of like the Olympics, only with more murders?"
I love Lore. She's got a vicious angry streak to be sure, but she's not a bad person. She's the last of her family line and she's actually stepped away from the ancestral oath. In hiding herself, first a childhood friend she believes is dead finds her, then a gravely wounded goddess.. Athena herself, shows up on her doorstep and drags her back in.
There's a lot on the line here. A fact the author drives home in early scenes as she unapologetically ends one of my favorite characters pretty much on sight. The game is brutal and no one is pulling any punches, least of all the new gods.
Obviously, only reading a few chapters doesn't let me get very far into the story or the character building that I expect to see, but I'm already intrigued by Castor and the chemistry between him and Lore. Though whether he's to be friend or foe in reality, is yet to be distinguished.
Even Athena is amusing. She doesn't deal all that well with human needs. She's disdainful of them at best and that's certain to be a mixture that will make me laugh here and there.
I can't wait to read more of this book, I just know it's going to be great. Imagine the destruction that lies ahead..