The Green Man’s Silence – Juliet E McKenna (Spoilers)

The Green Man's Silence - Ben Bova

The Green Man’s Silence is the third book in McKenna’s incredibly popular rural fantasy series featuring Daniel Mackmain, son of a Dryad and a mortal man. In The Green Man’s Foe (review – spoilers) Daniel met and was aided in his battle against a nix by Finele Wicken, a Swan Maiden. Book three opens with Dan travelling to The Fens with Fin at the request of Fin’s mother – although he’s not going for the traditional meet-the-family-of-the-girl-I’m-sleeping-with. Instead, Helen Wicken wants to enlist Dan’s help in establishing what’s upsetting the local hobs and sylphs, who have virtually disappeared from view.

Dan finds his time in and around Ely to be harder than his time at Blithehurst or Brightwell because the Green Man’s conspicuous by his absence – there are very few trees out in the Fens (which makes Dan metaphysically as well as literally uncomfortable). Instead, he has to gain the trust of at least a couple of the hobs and sylphs, and to negotiate with Witta, one of the local nereids (river spirits), to enlist their help in dealing with the all-too-human Doctor Thomas Kelley, who has found himself in the thrall of a Wyrm (one of which Dan first encounters in The Green Man’s Heir). It is Kelley who has upset the hobs and sylphs.

The narrative of The Green Man’s Silence is fast-paced (I read it in a lot less than 24 hours because it was almost impossible to put down!) with lots of action, but it also contains small moments of stillness that I particularly appreciated.

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can hardly wait for the next book!

Cover Art: Ben Baldwin. The Green Man’s Silence is published on September 2 by Wizard’s Tower Press from whom I received an eARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Pre-order from Amazon UK, Waterstones, Amazon US, Kobo or Barnes and Noble.

The Green Man’s Foe – Juliet E McKenna (Spoilers)

The Green Mans Foe

Last year, Juliet E McKenna published The Green Man’s Heir (Review), which has sold over 10,000 copies in all formats and has twice been chosen for special promotion by Amazon. It is a finalist in the Best Fantasy Novel (Robert Holdstock Award) category of the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. I was not the only person who immediately clamoured for a sequel to this brilliant book, and fortunately its success meant that a second novel featuring Daniel Mackmain, son of a dryad, is out on August 15 (the first day of the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention, as it happens!). I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of the book from its publishers, Wizard’s Tower Press, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Daniel is busy at work at Blithehurst, anticipating the start of the season of the house and grounds being open to visitors, when he has a dream about a house where an old man is dying. The dream has been sent by the Green Man, who wants Daniel to go to Brightwell to deal with a particularly nasty individual who has joined forces with a nix, a shape-shifting water spirit that is poisoning the local lake. Aiden has some of the local teenagers in thrall to him, and thinks himself a ceremonial magician of the Aleister Crowley sort. He claims descent from one Mungo Peploe who was responsible for causing a great scandal at Brightwell in the past – Aiden wants some occult books, which the then-owner of Brightwell, Constance Sutton, purchased, and a Hand of Glory, which Aiden thinks will give him even greater powers.

Daniel is invited to become the project manager of Brightwell’s conversion into a hotel, his skills having been recommended by the brother of Eleanor Beauchen, who is a friend of the current owners of Brightwell. Daniel gets Eleanor’s approval before taking the job since it will require him to be absent from his job at  Blithehurst House for three months.

Once there, Daniel finds himself meeting a swan maiden, as well as a couple of locals who are attuned to the supernatural world. Between Finele (Fin) the swan maiden, Rufus Standlake (who is protected by The Hunter in a similar way to Daniel being protected by the Green Man), Daniel, and Sineya (one of the dryads from Blithehurst), they take on both the nix and its disciple, Aiden, and Daniel kills the nix, while Aiden winds up dead as a consequence of defying the Hunter and the Green Man. (Daniel doesn’t kill Aiden – the Hunter ensures he dies in a fire inside his caravan.)

I loved The Green Man’s Heir, and while I expected to thoroughly enjoy The Green Man’s Foe, I did not expect it to be even more satisfying than its forerunner. Which was foolish of me, I admit – I should know by now that McKenna is more capable of outdoing her previous tales in a series.

I very much hope that we’ll see more of Daniel Mackmain in the future modern day urban-rural fantasy very much needs less grimdark and more hopefulness, and McKenna is more than capable of providing that hopefulness.

The Green Man’s Foe is forthcoming this month from Wizard’s Tower Press, and is available to purchase from Amazon and Kobo.

Cover art is by Ben Baldwin.

Kat Wolfe Investigates – Lauren St John (Spoilers)

Kat Wolfe Investigates

After a break-in at their London home, Kat Wolfe’s veterinary-surgeon mum decides it’s time to move to the country, particularly as Dr Wolfe’s less than impressed with the bosses at her current veterinary practice. Her new job in the seemingly idyllic Bluebell Bay (where the worst crime of the last ten years was a stolen giant pumpkin) on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast comes with one condition: they have to adopt Tiny, a huge, near-wild Savannah, who initially resists Kat’s best attempts at cat whispering.

When Kat starts a pet-sitting agency to make some pocket money, her troubles begin to escalate. The owner of her first client, an Amazon parrot called Bailey, appears to have vanished from his fortified, gadget-filled cliff-top home, leaving only a half-packed suitcase, a threatening phone message, and a mysterious parcel. The only person who shares Kat’s conviction that he’s the victim of foul play is Harper Lamb, the daughter of a visiting American Palaeontology professor. A language and coding whizz, Harper spends the book laid up with two broken legs thanks to antics of her retired racehorse, the aptly-named Pocket Rocket, who becomes another of Kat’s new clients. (She brings him a friend in the shape of a semi-feral outdoor cat and teaches him to place ‘horse football’ to get him used to her, and to give him some exercise since Harper can’t ride him, and Kat’s not yet ready to do so.)

Kat also takes on dog-walking duties for retired librarian Edith (and her dog Toby), whose obnoxious son, Reg (the grower of the stolen giant pumpkin) wants to put her in a dreary ‘care home’ so he can sell her cottage and rake in the money from its sale.

Kat introduces Edith to the mysteries of the internet, and the joys of listening to audio books as her eyesight isn’t what it was, and the pair get caught up in the mystery of the Phantom of Oxford Street (an unidentified man who collapsed in Oxford Street and was whisked away by an ambulance that had false licence plates).

However, what starts out as a bit of mystery-solving holiday fun quickly turns darker and deadlier for the intrepid Wolfe and Lamb. When all the clues begin to point to the local army base, they have to try to persuade the sceptical village bobby, Sergeant Singh, to take them seriously, particularly when it looks like Kat’s estranged grandfather, the Minister of Defence, could be the intended target of a poisoner.

This book was utterly delightful. A riot and a romp, and a fast-paced mystery adventure that makes Holmes and Watson look quite pedestrian. I whizzed through this book with much laughter and joy in the antics of children and animals, and the adults caught up in their adventure.

I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo (Spoilers)

The Poet X

15 year old Xiomara Batista is a poet, a young woman whose blossoming body earns her unwanted attention from boys and men who think the shape of her body gives them the right to touch it, and also earns her stern lectures from her mother, who wants her daughter to be a saint and a virgin until she’s married, and whose strictly devout religious life causes Xiomara much hurt and misery, particularly as her mother automatically blames her for the unwanted attention she receives.

I think about all the things we could be / if we were never told our bodies were not built for them. 

Xiomara starts a new school year and she has a new English teacher who spots her talent and gently encourages her to attend her after-school poetry club on a Tuesday – but Xiomara can’t go because she goes to Confirmation classes then (even though she’s old enough to have been confirmed at least a year ago). The Confirmation classes serve to highlight Xiomara’s difficulties with her mother’s religious beliefs, and she eventually stops going and goes to Poetry Club instead.

Trouble is always lurking in the background for Xiomara but it comes to a head when her mother spots her riding a train home with her boyfriend Aman. The pair are kissing, completely oblivious to the world around them, and Xiomara misses her stop because she’s too caught up in the kissing. When she finally makes it home, she’s confronted by her angry mother, and punished by being confined to the house unless she’s in school or at church for services or her Confirmation classes – she even has her cell phone taken away. She gets through it with the silent support of her older twin brother, Xavier, whom she usually just calls ‘Twin’, and her poetry writing.

Eventually her mother returns her cell, and Xiomara learns about an upcoming poetry slam. She’s both terrified and exhilarated at the idea of taking part, but then her relationship with her mother takes an even worse turn – on the morning of her birthday she accidentally leaves her notebook full of poems on the kitchen table, and she leaves the poetry club to find two missed calls on her cell – her mother is waiting for her at home.

Xiomara rushes home and is confronted by her mother who’s angry not only at her daughter’s disobedience and defiance (she’s been pretending to go to Confirmation classes, not having told her mother that Father Sean had suggested she hold off on continuing with them since she has so many questions about her faith), but also furious about what she’s been writing in her poems. They end up having a massive row in which Xiomara flings scraps of her poetry at her mother while her mother flings Bible verses back. It culminates in her mother setting fire to her notebook, which brings her twin brother and her father (who’s always left parenting up to his wife) rushing into the room. Xiomara suggests that her mother burn her too since the poems are inside her, and then she rushes out.

Although she and Aman had split up a while before because he hadn’t stepped in to defend her from the unwanted attentions of another boy who’d grabbed her ass in the hallway by her locker, she calls Aman and asks if she can visit him. She spends the night at his place, just the two of them as his father works nights and his mother is absent, and they spend a lot of time kissing, then eventually get undressed, but she quickly realises she’s not ready for sex yet, and Aman respects that – to her complete astonishment as she’s too used to the idea that girls ‘put out or you get out’.

Mrs Galiano has her for first period English the following morning and she knows something is wrong as she’d worried about Xiomara’s abrupt exit following the previous afternoon’s Poetry Club when she heard her mother’s voicemail. Mrs Galiano had got Xiomara’s home number from the school directory and spoke to her father, who’d said they were all worried about where Xiomara had gone. She lets Xiomara cry and tell her all about it, then tells her that she’ll have to go home and see her family, and that she needs to talk to her mother properly, and figure out a way to have a relationship with her.

Leaving at the end of the day with Aman, Xiomara finds Caridad, her best girl friend, and her twin brother, who goes to the ‘genius’ school across town (for the academically gifted) are both waiting for her, and Xiomara realises that she’s not as alone as she’d thought. And she also realises who she can ask to help her to talk to her mother without another screaming match.

She arrives home with her twin brother and Father Sean, and when her mother sees the priest, she breaks down, and Xiomara is able to hug her mother and realises that she does love her even if she thinks she hates her.

Mother and daughter go to the church on a regular basis for sessions with Father Sean, and sometimes Twin and her father go too, and her mother begins teaching Communion classes to the youngest children at the church, and that makes her happier than Xiomara can ever recall her being before.

And her parents, and Twin, and Father Sean, and Aman and her Poetry Club friends, all go along to the Slam too, and Xiomara performs one of her poems, and afterwards they go back to Xiomara’s home where they eat pizza and also rice and beans, and talk and listen to music, and her father dances with her. And Xiomara knows that she and her mother may never go and buy a Prom dress together, but at least they can have a relationship that isn’t solely about her mother’s fears that she’ll end up pregnant before she gets married.

I loved this book. I’ve never read a novel written wholly in verse before, so that was a treat, as was Xiomara’s strong, fierce, and powerful voice. I fell in love with Xiomara from the very beginning and was willing her on, wanting her to find a way to voice her feelings and questions, her fears and her experiences of being a young black woman who’s talked over, talked down to, or simply ignored at every turn.

This book made me cry, made me cheer, and made me happy to have met Xiomara, a beautiful, brave, black girl. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae – Stephanie Butland (Spoilers)

The Curious Heart

I’m not a transplant patient and I’ve never, very fortunately, had an organ failure or a diseased organ that needed to be replaced so, as with certain other books about disability/illness, I could be considered to be speaking out of turn, but I found this book tender, funny, engaging, and hopeful.

Ailsa Rae is 28 years old and dying of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), which means she was born with a heart that had only 3 chambers instead of the usual, necessary, 4. She’s been in and out of hospital all her life, and although she did manage a relatively normal school career, her university life was severely restricted by her heart condition.

The Curious Heart opens on the eve of Ailsa getting a new heart, something that, unsurprisingly, gives her mixed feelings – after all, if she’s getting a new heart, it means someone else has died because that’s how the heart transplant system works.

This story follows Ailsa’s recovery from the heart transplant, and her first year or so of dealing with the idea that she’s no longer dying – which, if you’ve spent your *entire life* dying, is a big change to come to terms with.

The story jumps between the past, particularly her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Lennox, a fit and active young man who spends school holiday time travelling, only to catch Hepatitis B while he was travelling, and by the time it was diagnosed, it was too late for anything except a liver transplant, which he died before receiving, and the present, with blogposts from her award-winning blog about life as a person on the heart transplant list.

She wins the award soon after getting the new heart (which she names Apple), and soon afterwards makes the long trip from Scotland to London to give a radio interview alongside actor Seb Morley – of whom, she’s never heard because when you might die at any time, getting into TV shows isn’t something you want to do – books and movies are more finite than TV shows. Seb’s had a corneal transplant after getting an eye infection that was initially misdiagnosed (and no, this book’s NOT about bashing the NHS). The radio interviewer is a bit of a cow, and Seb leaves a comment on Ailsa’s blog by way of being supportive, and they strike up a friendship via email that slowly, gradually, develops into a romantic and sexual relationship as Ailsa grows more confident about having a functioning heart and in her healing body.

The story had an unexpected (to me, at least) Shakespearean flavour as Seb – who cannot do any TV or film work because of his cornea transplant (the stitches in his eye prevent close ups, and his light sensitivity also mean he wears sunglasses, even indoors, for some months after the transplant) – is offered the part of Romeo for an Edinburgh Fringe production. Seb talks Ailsa into helping him to learn his part before rehearsals start, and she spends a couple of weeks in London, staying in the flat of a friend of Seb, and going over to his flat every day to go over his lines.

Ailsa learns to live on her own (she’s only ever lived with her mother – her father walked out shortly after she was born), to love again after losing Lennox, to tango (part of her new post-heart exercise regime), and to make plans for the future, which includes finding a job and studying Law. She also learns who Ailsa-the-well is after a lifetime of being Ailsa-the-dying.

I’d previously read Butland’s Lost for Words, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I wasn’t surprised to find The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae was also engaging, enjoyable, and full of characters in whom I could believe.

I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.