Review of Omens – Book 1 of The Cainsville Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong

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Armstrong – best known for her trailblazing Women of the Otherworld series about werewolves – has started this new series. Would I enjoy it as much?

OmensOn the eve of her wedding Olivia Jones discovers two shocking facts. One – she was adopted. Two – her biological parents are notorious serial killers. With her life in immediate danger, Liv is thrown into a terrifying new world. But then she is confronted with a tantalising hope – is it possible her parents are innocent? Arriving at the remote town of Cainsville, Liv believes she has found the perfect place to hide while she hunts for the truth. But Cainsville is no ordinary town – and Liv’s arrival was no accident…

The plot device driving this series is intriguingly different. Olivia, a young, wealthy socialite who has it all suddenly discovers that she has a past that succeeds in negating all of her apparent status and wealth. Even her fiancé has second thoughts… I really enjoyed this one. Armstrong’s characterisation is always compelling and I have always found her world-building convincing and enjoyable. She puts those talents to excellent use in Omens. This paranormal thriller slowly builds up to the hinky, supernatural stuff, rather than plunge us straight into weirdness right from the outset – which is always effective, particularly in a storyline stretching over a series. It ups the stakes such that when events really start kicking off, there is a greater sense of shock at the abnormality after the ordinary everyday has been firmly established.

Olivia has hidden talents of her own, but rather than having an immediate and sudden reveal, she is fumbling to try and sort out what it all means. Once she is forced to confront the fact that it is happening, in the first place… Of course, no matter how appealing and enjoyable the feisty heroine is, she needs to be supported by a cast of interesting and believable characters. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the enigmatic lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, who is definitely one of the more mesmerising male leads in recent urban fantasy. His moral ambivalence lends a real edge to their investigations – and he acts as an effective foil to Olivia’s preppie fiancé, James Morgan.

And the haven where Olivia pitches up, broke and hungry, Cainsville is peopled with a variety of interesting, memorable characters – especially Rose Walsh, Gabriel’s aunt. Cainsville appears to be a dormitory town to Chicago – apart from the fact that very few people living there do the daily commute, due to the poor roads and long drive. There is definitely more to Cainsville than meets the eye – and don’t expect all those secrets to be revealed by the end of Omens. They aren’t.

I find it a fascinating parallel – Charlaine Harris has recently begun a new series set in a mysterious, small community called Midnight where a young man settles to set up his online clairvoyant business. Kelley Armstrong, also turning her back on an established, long-running series, has her protagonist pitching up in Cainsville, a town with its own slew of residents with secrets to hide… Fortunately, I haven’t had to wait to read Armstrong’s sequel, Visions, as it has recently been released. Which is just as well – after finishing Omens, I didn’t want to wait before diving back into Olivia’s compelling difficult search to find out what really happened to her parents. And her three-year-old self…
10/10

Words, words: Quote, October 20

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sjhigbee:

You can tell it’s Monday… Matt’s natty idea took something of a hit, which had him wondering if there was another way to approach it- Enough – read the blog, it explains the situation better than I can!

Originally posted on Books, Brains and Beer:

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“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood.

I was under the impression that this quote, attributed to Murakami, was apocryphal, but extensive Google research (I visited two pages, yay library science degree!) indicated that I was wrong. Had I been right, I intended to say something clever, like, “Had Murakami not said these words, we would have had to attribute them to him.” I can’t say that now without ironically nesting it in several layers of commentary, which I may or may not have successfully accomplished here. You’ll never know. This whole paragraph has become a twisting Ouroboros that you’re unable to comprehend through the weekend fug hanging over your mind. Welcome to Monday.

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Review of London Falling by Paul Cornell – Book 1 of The Shadow Police series

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This is the start of a new series featuring occult wrongdoing in London. So with the likes of Kate Griffin writing the Midnight Mayor series and Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, can Paul Cornell’s offering stand up in such company? Hell, yes…

londonfallingDetective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out. Now, the team must find a ‘suspect’ who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And it will kill again. Meanwhile, as the group begins to sense London’s ancient magic for themselves – they find they have two choices: panic, or use their new abilities to try and catch this lethal villain…

I have slightly shortened the blurb, but as you can see – this is a classic whodunit with a supernatural twist. As we are pitched right into the middle of the action, Cornell makes us care about each member of his disparate team for completely different reasons. So as the action hurtles forward, with the stakes being steadily raised, we are taken on a roller-coaster ride as Quill, Ross, Costain and Sefton become increasingly emotionally caught up in this particular case. It’s a nifty way of ramping up the narrative tension, without the need for anymore bangs and whistles regarding the Big Bad, which has quite enough already.

Cornell writes up a storm when the team first become aware of the magical landscape in amongst the London streets – I found myself experiencing the horror and terror alongside his protagonists as they find themselves plunged into the supernatural. This book is definitely not for the faint-hearted and if you do have inquisitive young or preteens who enjoy dipping into your reading matter, be aware that the violence and language is graphic.

The other touch I really enjoyed – the group are absolutely floundering as they start to grapple with their magical enemy. Often as not, crime fighters have served some sort of apprenticeship or have a skilled mentor to give useful tips… Not this hapless bunch – they have to fall back on using their basic policing skills to acquire the knowledge they need to help them. Or take big – some might say mad – intuitive leaps in the dark. Sometimes literally… It doesn’t always make for seamless teamwork.

What unfolds is a gripping, visceral tale of ancient wrongs etched into the ether and terrible revenge exacted – and all that stands in its way, is a small group of determined coppers, who are scared, cynical and on the edge of burning out. If you are waiting for the latest Kate Griffin or Ben Aaronovitch – track down London Falling. Better still, the sequel The Severed Streets was launched at Fantasycon at the beginning of September and we bought them both… No prizes for guessing what I’m going to be reading next.
10/10

Another Neglected Sci-Fi Gem: The Immortality Option

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sjhigbee:

I enjoyed this enthusiastic review of a neglected book, so wanted to share it with you. What books have you read that you consider overlooked masterpieces?

Originally posted on Sharp and Pointed:

The Immortality Option by James P. Hogan cover(The Immortality Option, by James P. Hogan. Gallantine, 1995, 323 pp.; out of print, but commonly available in used bookstores and also available as an overpriced e-book)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

This is the sequel to Hogan’s amusing and insightful Code of the Lifemaker, which we reviewed in June. It takes up where Code of the Lifemaker leaves off, with the Taloid mechanoid civilization on Titan, the mutant spawn of a damaged interstellar alien probe a million years ago, temporarily saved, but still under both internal threat from religious and political authoritarianism, and under external threat from GSEC, a rapacious Earth-based corporation.

The cast of characters is mostly the same as in Code of the Lifemaker. Like that book, this sequel is a combination of hard sci-fi and social sci-fi, and the political and social subtext is essentially the same: that science, free inquiry, and free expression are…

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Review of Kindle INDIE EBOOK Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

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This is a book I came across when browsing fellow book bloggers on WordPress and downloaded it onto my Kindle to read while I was  away.

2ndchanceFour lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls. But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets are at risk of being revealed. Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, this is the story of how far those in power will go to retain control, and the true price to pay for a Second Chance.

This post-apocalyptic near-future thriller unfolds through following these four characters. So does Hearn manage to handle the different voices? Oh yes – and it would have been all too easy to have lost the plot, literally, in the thickets of political intrigue, or by including yet another nifty plot twist while trying to hunt down missing Jennica. This is a slick, well written book with a strong storyline and plenty of narrative tension. The world is complex, with plenty of layers. I felt that the reveal, though I didn’t see it coming, was entirely plausible. Sadly…

I had a couple of favourite characters – Nic, the investigator and Stephanie, the politician. It was the fate of these two protagonists that pulled me into the story – and wanting to know what had happened to Jennica, of course. These two people struggling to do the best they can in difficult circumstances were well drawn and when Hearn demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to allow his main characters suffer major damage, my emotional involvement in the story increased, which isn’t always the case.

Hearn ably builds the pace to the shocking climax and the denouement. It is a tricky business to wrap up the storyline satisfactorily, while still leaving a couple of plot threads waving in the wind to tempt readers to track down the sequel – certainly harder than Hearn makes it look. Any grizzles? I did feel the reveal regarding Jennica was a little more rushed than it should have been – but this is a minor point. Writing a strong, plausible near-future thriller with multiple protagonists requires a great deal of technical skill – and way Hearn manages to tick the necessary boxes in order to produce such a successful book makes him One To Watch.
8/10

Thank you!

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sjhigbee:

This lovely heartfelt article from a Woman’s Wisdom about enduring hard times struck a chord with me, so I thought I’d share it with you…

Originally posted on A Woman's Wisdom:

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This week I haven’t been around much.  I have been concentrating on important and emotional family matters.  We all go through difficult times and just lately my family have had their fair share and perhaps a little more. Much to the collective relief we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel waiting for us!

It seems to be an ongoing theme for many of us at the moment. So many people I talk to have serious family stuff going on which is making their lives very difficult but, like me, they still get on with it all because they have to. I salute those people. In a world where so many countries are going to war and making money at any cost to others is the top pursuit, it is heartening for me to see people reach out to each other and give a few words…

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Review of W is for Wasted – Book 23 of the Alphabet/Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton

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Just in case you were residing on another planet for the last several decades, Sue Grafton – an established screenwriter – was going through a messy divorce and fantasising about ways to murder her ex-husband, when she decided to write down the ideas she had for killing him. After reading a book to her children entitled The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an abecedarian book listing the different ways in which children die, she decided to write a murder mystery series based around the alphabet. As a result, in 1982 the first book featuring Kinsey Millhone, A is for Alibi, was published.

w is for wastedTwo dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue… The first was a local private investigator of suspect reputation. He’d been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The second was on the beach six weeks later. He’d been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with PI Kinsey Millhone’s name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him…

That’s the start of the rather long blurb – and neatly sums up the starting point of the novel. Kinsey doesn’t know the homeless man and tries to discover who he is. Alongside her first person narration of the events surrounding this particular case, we get another storyline in third person narrative (he) by Peter, who is quite a different investigator from Kinsey. This dual narrative powers the plot for much of the novel and works very well.

Kinsey’s account is chatty and detailed – her cases generally include a lot of description about the weather, the neighbourhood, what she eats and where… Given this is a murder mystery you’d think all these extraneous bits and pieces would silt the book up and dilute the tension. But they don’t. Grafton is a master of the slow burn and I have always found that the juxtaposition of Kinsey’s everyday life alongside the violence of the crime that she is investigating highlights the shocking nature of the murder – something that doesn’t always come across in the cosier whodunits. Inevitably in the series twenty three books long, some are better than others. See my review of U is for Undertow here, and V is for Vengeance here.

The action takes place in the autumn of 1988 – another smart move in pacing this series. Kinsey’s narrative time is far more compressed, which means she isn’t staggering around on a zimmer frame as she would have been if she’d aged at the same rate as the books were written and released – and neither is she dealing with modern technology such as mobile phones and GPS, which has significantly changed the tenor and mode of murder mysteries. The gradual unravelling of this case produces a couple of real surprises – one of which impacts upon Kinsey’s life in a profound and long term manner.  I was struck by the underlying mood of melancholy running through this particular book – the plight of the homeless man and his friends is starkly portrayed. Grafton presents us with one of the current problems in modern western society – that of the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. And what to do when drug dependency or alcohol or just sheer misfortune derail someone’s life to the extent they lose their friends, family and any form of shelter…

I really enjoyed this offering. And if you, too, like your murder mysteries embedded in a distinct setting with a layered, enjoyable protagonist, then give it a go. Then again, you might simply be a Kinsey Millhone fan – along with large chunk of the reading public around the world.
9/10

101 things in 1001 Days: The Fault in Our Stars: John Green

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sjhigbee:

I do have this book on my Kindle – but like Lizzy, I’ve been delaying reading it until the ‘right’ moment… Though Lizzy’s revview has me reshuffling it further up my TBR pile!

Originally posted on mylittlebookblog:

101 things in 1001 days

Good evening readers, this review comes from a tired, grumpy, sick, cold and weepy little blogger. I’m not sure I was ready to read this book fall in love all over again and then have my heart heartlessly broken, once again. I, however, braved the storm and snuggled up to Eeyore and wrapped in my new blanket I snuggled down to read. I can’t tell you how much this book moved me, broke me and then made me feel calm and kind of complete all over again. I had put this book off because when I think a book is going to be downright perfect I refuse to read it; instead choosing to savour the imagination of its perfection. I know it’s madness, it’s a problem but it’s my habit and all those books (yes 1984 you are next) will one day get read. For now I hope I manage…

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Review of God’s War – Book 1 of the Bel Dame Apocrypha by Kameron Hurley

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This is a series I’ve heard a lot about – and took the opportunity to get hold God’s War at Fantasycon last month. Would it live up to expectations, after winning the Sydney J. Bounds Best Newcomer Award of 2012 and being shortlisted for every prestigious science fiction prize going?

Nyx is a bel dame, a bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of deserters – by almost any means necessary. ‘Almost’ proved to be the problem. While the centuries-long war rages on only one thing is certain: the world’s best chance for peace rests in the hands of its most ruthless killers…

god's warThat is a potted version of the blurb, as the first big plot progression is embedded in the chat – and as I found that progression was part of my rather shaky bonding process with Nyx, I decided not to throw in that spoiler. There are some books that have me hooked right from the first page, and there are books that steadily grow on me as I keep reading… God’s War fell into the second category. The world is brutal and Nyx, a bounty hunter, is a kickass protagonist you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley on a dark night – come to think of it, you wouldn’t want to meet her on a sunny day in the middle of a field, either.

Kameron tips us sideways right into the middle of her ferocious, war-torn landscape on the colony planet Umayma, where each side has had to adapt to live alongside this conflict. Women end up running things, as the handful of men who return from the front after serving from their teens until they are forty are often too traumatised or infected with something biological and nasty to be much use. But while acquiring clean water and decent food is a constant struggle, healing technologies are advanced thanks to the magicians – who are also genetically predisposed to be able to harness and use swarms of bugs, to power a form of car, for example.

Nyx is on the side of Nasheen, who are engaged in fighting Chenja. The world has clearly originated from a Muslim society and some of the place names in both countries are close to cities and towns from the Middle East. The manner in which Hurley has shifted clothing and religious customs in different ways is clever and nuanced – each of the viewpoint characters circling around Nyx have varying opinions about her behaviour. Rhys, a Chenjan refugee and second-rate magician, would like to be a lot closer to her – but is also repelled by her coarse, aggressive attitude. Nyx curses, fights, gets drunk and high and ruts as she sees fit. And she’s not the only female who is defined by her violent response – the antagonist Rasheen is every bit as bad.

Hurley doesn’t back off from depicting the world in all its gory, bleak nastiness. There are unpleasantly graphic descriptions of dead bodies, torture victims, bomb-blasted landscapes. The wonder is that the characters eking out a living in amongst this devastation don’t just give up… It was this savagery that initially dented my enthusiasm – but I was sufficiently intrigued to continue and I’m glad I did. While I’m not completely convinced by the final outcome – I came to care about a number of the supporting characters to want to get to the end. As for Nyx? Still don’t like her much. But since I finished the book, the strange, shattered planet Umayma won’t leave me alone and I shall be tracking down the sequel, Infidel for another disturbing slice of Hurley’s world.
8/10

Review of Kindle EBOOK Annihiliation – Book 1 of The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

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For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences. This is the story of the twelfth expedition, told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

annhiliationAnd that’s most of the blurb. Which takes you straight into the middle of the action – from the first line we are pitchforked right into Area X as the biologist struggles to recover from the journey over the border. And is recording exactly what she sees around her. VanderMeer manages to have the prose pinging with tension right from the opening passage – and while this is definitely an adrenaline-filled exploration filled with incident and shocking occurrences, it is also so much more.

There is more than a touch of Margaret Atwood in the manner in which VanderMeer has the gruesome and shocking discoveries shake up our aloof, wary biologist to the extent that she confides her own story of exactly why she volunteered for Area X. And her own secret is both sad and harrowing. As events within Area X spiral out of control, the biologist is driven to tell her own tale in sections – leading to the climax.

VanderMeer is a highly skilled writer at the top of his game – this could so easily have turned into some spatterpunk gore-fest. But his control over the bizarre and creepy is pitch perfect, as is the pace at which this story unfolds. This isn’t my favourite sub-genre by a long country mile – I’m not a huge fan of creepy nastiness. But I was so hooked by the need to know what exactly would happen to the biologist, I couldn’t put the book down. And do I want to read Authority, the next in the series? Oh for sure. Since I completed the book, the beautiful, terrifying world of Area X keeps sliding back into my head every so often – reminding me of the heartbreak of human relationships. And what might happen to us, if our natural surroundings ever decide to fight back…
10/10