Four Riveting Reads: Pirates, Spies, Revenants and Creatives

Hi Everyone

Today’s I look at 4 page-turners novels

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown is one big adventure which sees Owen Wedgwood, a brilliant but often prim and proper chef, abducted away from shipping magnate Lord Ramsey to serve the privateer “Mad Hannah” Mabbot. 

After kidnapping Owen, Hannah orders him to earn his keep by preparing her one magnificent feast-like dinner each week; this is quite a challenge for him using only the ingredients he can find on her ship, the Flying Rose.

The Rose’s larder includes heavy cornmeal, which consists of a generous portion of weevils,” garlic, lard, vinegar, rum, and a preserved mystery meat the sailors call “Mary Sweet.”

“These are the desolate contents of the hold,” Wedgwood wails in his journal. “By far the most arresting are the rats, so bold and so many.”

I wondered how he would pull off his assignment each week, and it turns out that Owen is a culinary genius, thinking of creative ways to create dishes based on his favourite recipes.

The book is quite sweet in places, but on the flip side can also be a gorefest as we find out when anyone breaches the rules set by “Mad Hannah.”

Owen first paints an idyllic past of living with Lord Ramsey. Still, as time passes, we begin to see that his fine Lord was perhaps not such gentlemen after all. 

Owen certainly drives the story forward as the main character, but I think it’s fair to say that this book relies on equal parts character and plot to take the reader on an adventure that services bloody encounters as a starter, tea-smoked, eel ravioli as a main course; and a mix of tarts and treachery for dessert. 

Owen undergoes quite the transformation as he gets to know the crew; her certainly becomes more open-minded and learns just how little he was ever aware of the wider world before his abduction.  

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is currently rated 3.91 on Goodreads, and I think that’s a fair rating.

Reconsruction by Mick Herron

The back cover tells us that :

What should have been a simply pick-up turns into a day-long nightmare for Bad Sam Chapman.

When an operational catastrophe puts a gun in the hands of a young man who then breaks into South Oxford Nursery School and takes a group hostage, teacher Louise Kennedy fears the worst. But Jaime Segura isn’t there on a homicidal mission, and he’s just as scared as those whose lives he holds as collateral.

Louise Kennedy is a former international banker now working as a kindergarten teacher following an affair that didn’t end as she’d imagined Preparing for another day, she thinks her biggest issue will be dealing with Judy Ainsworth (a bitter, late middle-aged cleaner who fell on hard times after her husband’s death). Unfortunately for her, we know from the blurb that a hostage situation is about to unfold.

Ben Whistler is works for the secret service, but he’s just an accountant looking forward to another dull day of financial analysis when he’s pulled into his boss’s office and told there’s been a change of plan: he’s to get on a helicopter and head to Oxford. 

This book is populated by complex characters, each with their own memories of the events that will play out that day and the events that led them to be there. It’s a form of reconstruction, and the narrative structure follows different points of view, giving the reader fragments to reconstruct into a fuller picture. 

The narrative largely follows Louise Kennedy, a smart, resourceful woman who we know from the start made a mess of a high-powered career. Her scenes are by far my favourite. 

While there are often different scenes viewed by the various narrators, there are times when the narrative switches from one character to another with an overlap of a particular scene; for me this never felt repetitive. The characters are diverse enough to have very different ways of looking at or dealing with the same situation.

Expect twists and turns aplenty while you try to reconstruct the story.

Currently rated 4.05 on Goodreads, and that feels right to me.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

Marketed as a YA fantasy, I think it’s general fantasy; the only thing making it YA is the age of the main character Artemisia, who is 17. 

Artemisia’s dark past leaves her wanting to spend most of her time alone, and her attempts to make friends with people like her roommate and fellow Gray Sister in training fall flat. Artemisia doesn’t shrink back from difficult tasks, like cleansing dead bodies. In this world, the cleansing helps spirits to move on so that they don’t rise as spirits ready to prey on the living. There is also an old magic system that isn’t delved into in great detail but adds to the worldbuilding. 

As you can imagine, it’s not long before our unlikely hero finds herself on a quest. Her d unreliable ally is an ancient spirit called a revenant. To restore peace in her world, Artemisia must fend off various threats while unravelling a mystery of centuries-old magic.

I first heard of Vespertine from Olivia Savannah from the booktube channel: Olivia’s Catastrophe. It’s an excellent recommendation from her as I loved this fast-paced adventure which simultaneously managed to create something that felt both familiar and fresh. Many of the scenes have a medieval quality, and considering Artemisia’s role as a Gray Sister, expect to be taken through the spooky halls of convents and cathedrals haunted by restless spirits. 

Currently rated 4.14 on Goodreads and I rate this 4.5

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which offers insights into the nature of creative inspiration. I love that this book doesn’t suggest that to be creative that you have to suffer for your art; she shows how that is an old-fashioned and destructive philosophy. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need to live our most creative lives. I liked that she described creative living not just as a life that’s filled with writing and painting and all of that, but as a way to live authentically, like her parents, who had traditional jobs but embraced living creatively by also keeping goats. I’m probably not explaining that point very well, but maybe you’ll find yourself intrigued enough to pick the book up and see what you make of it. As the blurb says: Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

I think it does precisely that; it’s full of positive and practical advice and pretty eye-opening in a not so common common sense way. 

Currently rated 3.94 on Goodreads and I rate it 4 stars.

Let me know if any of these books are on your reading list, and if you’ve already read any of them: what did you think?

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