January Reads 2022

This month it was great to discover a new author, Brian Marshall, and return to a trusted favourite Tracy Chevalier.


The order I read them was:

The Illusionaires by Brian Marshall

Fleet: the Gods Reborn by Brian Marshall

Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier




The Illusionaires by Brian Marshall

Published June 2021 missppelled press


Official Blurb

1938. Master Illusionist Richard Constairs is heading for Hollywood, hoping to snag a coveted spot on a new film, The Wizard of Oz. But what began as a light-hearted lark soon lands him in hot water, up to his neck in studio intrigue and pursued by a shadowy presence. The Kennedy assassination, twenty-five years later. Apollo’s mission to the Moon. In a world where magic is all too real and history itself can be altered, the Illusionaires will do their best to keep Mankind on course. An invisible boy. A knife-wielding vixen. A golem in search of his soul. All bound together by a weathered scroll that serves as a door to elsewhere.


My Review

The Illusionaires is extraordinarily good. It has a swift and distinctive narrative voice, that's easy to read, which to me was reminiscent of voiceover dialogue in Hollywood thrillers. At least, that's how it sounded in my head! I absolutely loved the cleverly structured plot, and how despite quite complex goings on, the writer kept clear purpose and context. I shall be reading more from Brian T Marshall.


My Rating

5 stars



Fleet: the Gods Reborn by Brian Marshall

Published April 1997 missppelled press


Official Blurb

A man, lost and naked, on the streets of Manhattan, pleading in an unknown tongue. The retired linguist who realizes it's an archaic Greek, unspoken for three thousand years. And the young woman who befriends them both, just in time for an unlikely quest. From New York to LA, Nebraska to Delphi, Fleet travels a labyrinth, with a mystery as old as mankind lying at its very heart.


My Review

I read this straight after Illusionaires because I loved it so much.

Fleet grabs you from the start with a strange unexplained incident that is slowly solved by a mix of likeable characters; Simon, a reclusive academic with onset dementia, Sarah his cleaner and Noman, who is suffering from amnesia. I love alternative reality fantasy, especially when it's done well, like this. Marshall's writing style is cinematic, old-hollywood-slick, easy to read and full of philosophical challenges.

The 4 rather than 5 stars is just because Marshall writing style is a little less honed than his more recent work.


My Rating

4 stars



Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Published by Penguin 2018


Official Blurb

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent - until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all - retold by the witness that history forgot . . . Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story?


My Review

Timely and powerful this is the re-telling of the fall of Troy but through the eyes of a queen who through the ‘spoils of war’ becomes Achilles’ bed slave. The New York Statesman describes this book as ‘lyrical’ but it’s the complete opposite, so different to Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles that is truly lyrical, romanticised and that I loved.

Briseis is also not the only one whose story we follow, both Patrolcus’ and Achilles’ POV are described. I’m not sure why Barker decided to do this, but there are many female characters she could have chosen instead to widen perpective.

Overall, I enjoyed this and recommend it, but there were elements that I really disliked. Mainly the vernacular that was far too contemporary. At one point Achilles says ‘cheers lads’ or something along those lines! Urgh!

It's still exceedingly good though.


My Rating

4 stars



At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Published by the Borough Press February 2017


Official Blurb

“One in ten trees comes up sweet…”

In the inhospitable Black Swamp of Ohio, the Goodenough family are barely scratching out a living. Life there is harsh, tempered only by the apples they grow for eating and for the cider that dulls their pain. Hot-headed Sadie and buttoned-up James are a poor match, and Robert and his sister Martha can only watch helplessly as their parents tear each other apart. One particularly vicious fight sends Robert out alone across America, far from his sister, to seek his fortune among the mighty redwoods and sequoias of Gold Rush California. But even across a continent, he can feel the pull of family loyalties…


My Review

I love arboreal stories. I also love Tracy Chevalier, I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by her novels. Other books I’ve read include, The Fair Botanist which is set slightly earlier than this (1820’s Edinburgh) and Philippa Gregory’s Earthly Joys which follows gardener and collector Tradescant who planted for James 1. Both are great and highly recommended.

Anyhow, I loved At the Edge of the Orchard not just for the apples and redwoods but the family relationships. Brilliantly portrayed in all their flaws the Goodenough family are tragic and so human.

Told in parts, from multiple points of view and in back and forth time scales, this has the feel of an epic story but is squeezed into an acceptable commercial size. I would have loved it to be longer. Much of Robert's adventure is told quickly through letters taking us through his youth into adulthood and I’d have loved to have learnt more about this period.

If you want a book to remind you how vast and varied our natural world is and of man’s efforts to curate and tame it, then this is for you.



My Rating

5 stars


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