Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Blood Sky At Night by Steve Turnbull / War's Last Dance by Julia Underwood / Alpha's Domain by A J Tipton

Blood Sky at Night by Steve Turnbull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I enjoyed reading the first Maliha Anderson novella, Murder Out Of The Blue, way back in November 2014 so I was pleased at how easy I found it to slip back into Steve Turnbull's invented reality for Blood Sky At Night. Set in Edwardian era Ceylon, Maliha's second mystery is the disappearance of one Mary Carnforth. Mary, like Maliha, is a former Roedean School student, but now her position as teacher to Bali princess Ngurah seems to have led her into trouble.

I liked Turnbull's scene setting and descriptions of the wealth and race contrasts across Ceylonese society. Maliha, being part-Indian and part-Scottish, doesn't quite fit in anywhere which makes her perfect to observe on our behalf. Etiquette and class rules are realistically British Empire, and then we get fantastical steampunk touches in the form of vehicles and airships to remind us that this world isn't quite ours after all.

Blood Sky At Night is short at about a hundred pages and I think this is what lets it down. There isn't enough space to show Ceylon and to tell the mystery story so, to me, the mystery side felt incomplete and disjointed. I am sure Maliha understands why she visits various locations, and why the gangs and villains act as they do. However we readers aren't often let in on her detective reasoning and this made much of the mystery impossible to follow.

War's Last Dance by Julia Underwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of War's Last Dance by Julia Underwood from its publishers, Endeavour Press, to read for their virtual Historical Fiction Festival which takes place later this month.

Set at the end of the Second World War, Underwood's novel takes us into the heart of destroyed Berlin when a young English woman, Isabel, journeys to Germany to join her husband, Bill, who has been posted there to help oversee rebuilding efforts. Isabel and Bill married during the War after a brief engagement, but have hardly seen each other for years and he is a stranger to their four year old daughter, Penny. I enjoyed the first half of War's Last Dance. We see London in wartime - the camaraderie and deprivation, rationing and vegetables grown in every back garden. Isabel is portrayed as a strong woman and devoted mother, getting by as best she can with the help of her family. Her decision, once it is safe to do so, to follow Bill to Berlin and finally be together as a family is completely understandable and the lengthy train journey across Europe is well described.

Berlin is a shocking place. The destruction is far worse than London and we see people not only barely surviving in impossible circumstances, but hundreds more - refugees and displaced persons - swelling their numbers every day. Underwood describes this hell with sensitivity and I thought such a setting would be central to her story. However instead we take a weird turn into not-quite-thriller and not-quite-romance. Isabel becomes incapable of doing anything without leaning on a man and frequently abandons her daughter to maid Irma in order to gad about with new friend Zelda and potential romance John. It's no wonder that overworked and stressed out Bill is so easily exasperated with her! The Penny is abducted in an flat unconvincing storyline that pivots on a miraculous teapot discovery and Isabel's unpracticed ability to accurately fire a gun. Turning the page reveals a six year gap and sudden swerve into Happily Ever After. WTF!

I was disappointed by the way War's Last Dance turned out. It starts pretty well, light but interesting, but if I had known where the tale would lead, I would probably have run at about the same time as the dog did.

Alpha's Domain by A.J. Tipton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I can't remember now if I discovered the quirky imaginations of A J Tipton through Goodreads or Twitter, having failed to note it at the time, but I recently re-discovered Alpha's Domain in my browser download folder. Clicking in to find out exactly what this book was, I started reading, started giggling at the great scenarios and kept reading right through to the story's satisfying conclusion.

The third in a series of standalone novellas - and I must now get the other two! - Alpha is a shapeshifting man/polar bear called Ben and his Domain is a fabulous ice hotel where practically all the guests are also supernatural beings. The hotel would be absolute chaos but for the incredible organisational skills of manager Sally, an ordinary human who is blind to the mysticism of those around her. This simple premise sets up very funny scenes of warring species - evil goblins, libidinous tigershifters, prudish pixies, and poor Ned the bellhop who is seriously losing the plot! When Sally and Ben realise their mutual attraction, sparks begin to fly in a very real way.

At about fifty pages Alpha's Domain is a quick read that keeps up its good pace all the way through. The romance is believable sexy and I loved that we get a full story arc with no irritating cliff hangers. Admittedly such a short work means that there isn't extensive character development and I would have liked more details about the supernaturals and the hotel, but the story is imaginative, interesting and, most of all, great fun!

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads


  1. Blood Sky at Night caught my eye! I'm adding it to me TBR list :)

    Aeriko @ The Reading Armchair

    1. Hope you enjoy reading it! The first in the sries is Murder Out Of The Blue and, if you haven't read any of the Maliha Anderson books yet, there's a boxed set of the first three available on Amazon that is extra-good value: