Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric and the Shaman – a World of Five Gods novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

Standard

After recently reading Penric’s Demon I decided to treat myself to more Penric goodness and so plunged straight back into this world.

penricandtheshamanIn this novella set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in Penric’s Demon, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Penric is now a noted scholar and has learnt to live alongside his demon he calls Desdemona. It is enjoyable to see his growth in confidence and how he is still having to negotiate the personalities within him as he deals with this ongoing crisis. Bujold’s deft characterisation comes into its own as we also see slices of this adventure in the viewpoint of Inglis and the locator sent to track him down. Given this is a novella in multiple viewpoint, the story needs to get cracking – and yet at no time does the pace seem rushed or the characterisation thin. As you’d expect with a story set in an established series, the worldbuilding is pinsharp with weather, landscape and settlements pinging off the page.
While this story is about death and possible murder, there is a lot of humour. Penric copes with his demon by use of snark – or maybe it is the demon’s preferred choice… it’s not always easy to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Penric through the eyes of those interacting with him, as well as getting the benefit of seeing his own point of view – which had rather more internal dialogue than is usual.

As ever with Bujold, no one is shown to be perfectly good or all bad. Her characters are always a blend with their own agendas and foibles, which makes for an intelligent, nuanced story. As for the ending – it wasn’t a huge surprise, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. Although I did hold my breath several times – you can never completely relax with this author as she is quite capable of taking a story on an unexpected left turn, leaving you scrabbling to catch up.

Himself, who is a solid fan of all things Bujold, informs me that she is in the process of writing another slice of Penric’s adventures. I’m delighted and if you’d like a taster of what this talented, multi-award author has to offer, then look out this novella, preferably after reading Penric’s Demon although you won’t flounder overly if you don’t. It comes highly recommended.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – And Soul Meets Soul on Lovers’ Lips…

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s theme is lips, so I have chosen Living Dead in Dallas – Book 2 of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.

 

livingdead1This is the cover produced by Orbit in April 2004. It is certainly has a very different feel to most of the subsequent covers, but I think – despite the rather crude depiction of Sookie – probably better captures the tone of the book. The rather random font gives the book a rather folksy ad hoc feel that is far closer to the actual content than some of the subsequent covers, though I don’t really like it all that much.

 

livingdead2This 2009 cover, published by Gollancz, directly refers to the very racy HBO TV series True Blood. While many of the storylines are reasonably close to the books, there was certainly a lot more sex and gore in the TV series which had a far darker, Southern noire vibe than the books, which are in Sookie’s homespun first person viewpoint. I do wonder how many people picked up the books expecting a whole lot more bedroom action than they actually got.

 

livingdead5This French edition, published in August 2009 by J’ai Lu, certainly doesn’t feel the need to hold back in emphasising the sexiness of the series. Notice the prominent name check for True Blood.

 

livingdead3This cover, produced in August 2009 by Ace again references the True Blood series, but has the actress playing Sookie superimposed over the Dallas cityscape and dark sky. As Anna Paquin was spot on as the beleaguered, telepathic waitress, this works well, I think. This is my favourite cover.

 

livingdead4This is another Gollancz offering, in October 2011. The purple cover with a splash of blood glistening across it certainly is eye-catching. There is an additional quote from a review in one of our more Conservative newspapers, which has me wondering whether the publishers felt the need to distance themselves from the previous raunchy cover, though they do mention ‘sultry scenes’…

Which is your favourite cover?

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – November Roundup

Standard

After setting some crazy writing goals with my writing partner, Mhairi Simpson, moonway back in the dying throes of 2015, how am I doing?

Family issues rather ambushed me and I had little mental energy or necessary headspace required to cope with my demanding rewrite. On a more positive note, I gave a talk at West Sussex Writers on the joy of writing reviews and posting them online and my Creative Writing course gathered momentum, while Sally and I finally sorted out Tim’s syllabus and have drawn up a coherent schedule of work for him for the next two years.

• During November, I read eleven books. Again, it’s been a great reading month. I really enjoyed songsofseraphinethe wonderful the children’s book Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson, cyberpunk adventure Synners by Pat Cadigan, Bloodrush by Ben Galley and E.D.E. Bell’s penricsmissionThe Banished Craft – however Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton and Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold are my standout reads for the month.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me. I fulfilled this challenge in August, but I am continuing to read and review more enjoyable, exciting books.

 

• I am currently stranded in the boggy mid-book bit of Miranda’s Tempest. Realistically, I don’t expect to get much further this side of Christmas, but there’s no point in getting in a spin about it. I’ll continue as and when I can manage it.
Challenge – To continue to submit my work.

 

• I’ve continued to improve my fitness with Pilates and Fitstep classes and we’re now learning extra steps for the jive and tango – so much fun … thanks to the marvellous Louisa Jones, an inspired and very patient teacher. I hadn’t quite reached my target weight during November, but it was very close and I am continuing to improve my fitness and stamina.
Challenge – To continue to improve my fitness.

Another month where nothing has gone to plan… Oh well, that’s Life I suppose. I wrote just under 17,000 words on my blog during November, nearly 6,000 words on my teaching admin and just over 10,00 words on my rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest, bringing my total for the month to just under 33,000 words.

How are you getting on with your targets now the year is drawing to an end? Are you anywhere close to fulfilling them?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE ebook Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars series by Tessa Elwood

Standard

Yes, I managed to do it again – begin with the second book in the series… So has it impacted on my understanding and enjoyment of this fast-action, foot-to-the-floor adventure?

splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him.
Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone, from Mom to the rebels chasing her, has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?

As it happens, this time around I’ve got away with it as Elwood has shifted the action and focus on a completely different protagonist to those featuring in her first book Inherit the Stars. This book is all about Kit, who has had a hard time of it – the only person in her life who saw fit to spend time and energy on her upbringing has recently died. And on top of that, her mother has just been revealed as the perpetrator of a catastrophic attack on the city, killing dozens and inflicting ongoing damage on the systems used to run and control the administration necessary to run everything.

Kit finds herself the centre of attention – and not in a good way. The book starts with her attempting to fling herself off a building. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen. But the story then takes us on a roller-coaster ride as Kit is harried by events and folks who want information out of her – and in amongst all the fighting and fleeing, she has to discover who she is and what she wants.

Elwood’s writing is intense and Kit’s spiky persona pings off the page. I had originally intended to pick this one up, read a few pages and then settle down to sleep. Except I didn’t – the Kindle just wouldn’t leave my hands as I continued pressing the pages to discover what would happen next. Elwood’s ability to interweave Kit’s dysfunctional past amongst all the mayhem falling on her head is impressive and had me fiercely rooting for her. While romance isn’t normally my thing, Elwood handles the unfolding relationship between Kit and Niles really effectively so this doesn’t suddenly transition into a soft-focused lurve story after being a fairly gritty adventure – a transformation I personally hate. Kit’s growing attraction to Niles isn’t the centre of her existence, and something she tries to put into context, not surprising given everything else that’s going on around her. I was initially a bit concerned about Niles, but grew to like him more and more as the book progressed, which is a testament to Elwood’s writing skill. I’m generally immune to buff and endearing love interests…

My one grizzle – and it is normally a dealbreaker – is that the conclusion is slightly fumbled. The non-stop action needed to slow down just a tad more at the end in order to allow the reader to fully catch up with the events that wrapped up the storyline. However, I’ll even forgive Elwood this – she has written a cracking adventure tale set in the far future with an engaging enjoyable protagonist and took me with her on the action-packed journey. Great stuff!

Receiving a copy of Split the Sun from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th December, 2016

Standard

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Judged – Book 3 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jager
13% ‘Bro, it’s a mess.’ One boy shakes his head. He’s got eyeliner smeared under his eyes and too judgedmuch glitter down the side of this face. He leans against a girl, her arms wrapped around his waist. Looking at the group, I realize they all look shell-shocked. ‘We got here about an hour before the police showed up. Everything was going so well and we were all just partying hard.’

BLURB

Kit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . .

Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop.

In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.

As you can see, it’s early days, but I really enjoyed the first two books in this series – Banished and Vowed. Right now Kit is on the ropes after the devastating outcome in Vowed, but I’m just beginning to see her get her mojo back as the pace is picking up and she is becoming involved in this investigation to get to the bottom of who is handing out quantities of illegal and highly addictive drug Glow at clubs, raves, universities and schools. Yes – it’s great to be once more immersed in de Jagar goodness…

Review of KINDLE Edition Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Standard

This is book was published in 1988 and in some ways its age shows. Would it still hold and enthral me as her wonderful children’s book The Little Broomstick has done?

thornyholdThe story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. When the child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…

I’ve tweaked the blurting blurb somewhat, as it seems a shame in a relatively short book to have too many plotpoints spoiled in advance. This book starts slowly and steadily gains momentum so that by the time Gilly is confronted by the threat facing her, I was thoroughly rooting for her.

That said, I’m a tad conflicted about this one. I had a sense that this book started out to be a paranormal examination of how people with odd gifts can blend, or otherwise, amongst the rest of us. I enjoyed the slow building tension, where a number of small details were not quite… right and I was engrossed in wondering where this story was going next. When abruptly the mood and feel of the novel turned into something quite different as a romantic hero was introduced.

From then on, the story became more predictable and conventional as it lapsed into the normal trope of a love story. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with said story – I liked the heartthrob well enough and he is clearly a catch. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Stewart had initially submitted something quite different, imbued with the sense of otherness that permeates the beginning of the book – and had probably been told that it was too odd for the book-buying public.

I may well be entirely wrong about this – but this is definitely a book of two halves and for me, the gripping, eerie feel of the first half wasn’t satisfactorily filled by the second half of the book. Under normal circumstances, that would be a dealbreaker. But this is Mary Stewart, whose writing I love, so this rather uneven book is readable and still enjoyable despite the rather tame ending.
8/10

Sunday Post – 4th December 2016

Standard

Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It hasn’t been my best week on a personal level. Families, eh? Thank goodness, my teaching sessions went well at Northbook and I was able to attend both my Fitstep and Pilates sessions. I’m now down to my target weight, though I do wish it wasn’t because I’m a tad stressed. However, it does mean I can now get into all my lovely party gear in readiness for the party season – clouds and silver linings and so on… On Friday my awesome writing buddy and personal lifesaver Mhairi came over for a writing day, though again, my rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest is struggling, somewhat. And I’m not remotely ready for Christmas. Oh well. Hopefully next week will be better.

This week I have read:

The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
thebanishedcraftStruggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.
A quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, The Banished Craft begins the genre-bending Shkode fantasy trilogy about a split world, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I really enjoyed this unusual epic fantasy – ideal for fans of the genre who would like to read something a bit different.

Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the World series by Tessa Elwood

splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?

I really enjoyed this one. Foot-to-the-floor, action-packed dystopian sci fi adventure with an appealing spiky heroine, I was scooped up into the middle of this world and didn’t want to pull away until the last page. Great fun.

Thorneyhold by Mary Stewart
The story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. thornyholdWhen the child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…

An enjoyable, initially slightly eerie read that becomes a more conventional romance – as ever Stewart’s writing is a joy.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 27th November 2016

Review of Bloodrush – Book 1 of The Scarlet Star Trilogy by Ben Galley

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

The This is my Genre Tell Me Yours Book Tag

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Myseries by Mary Miley

Friday Faceoff – Oranges and Lemons… featuring Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Review of The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Dancing the Nutcracker and Becoming the Mouse Kinghttps://mnbernardbooks.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/dancing-with-the-nutcracker-and-becoming-the-mouse-king/ An enjoyable seasonal article about how this charming ballet has influenced a writer.

A VATMOSS update. What? Did you think we given up? http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2445 The wonderful Juliet McKenna updates us on her exhaustive battle to get this wrongheaded and unjust tax lifted.

A Short Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s ‘I Look into My Glass’ https://interestingliterature.com/2016/12/02/a-short-analysis-of-thomas-hardys-i-look-into-my-glass/ Once more this marvellous site delivers. A lovely, well-written explanation of this poignant poem by Hardy.

Rita Chauveau’s street photography around the world https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/rita-chauveaus-street-photography-around-the-world/ I loved this brief glimpse into a variety of places in another time.

ISBN: What It Is and Why a Book Needs One https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/isbn/ A fascinating and informative article about this barcode that appears on the back of every book.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of KINDLE edition The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

Standard

I’d read and reviewed the second book in the series, The Fettered Flame, and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to go back and read the first book – not always something I bother to do. Would I enjoy it as much, given that I largely know the outcome of most of the plotpoints?

thebanishedcraftStruggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

As well as providing an interesting, unusual take on the nature of the overwhelming disaster, Bell also gives us an insight into two uncomfortably familiar repressive societies as they seek to expunge any differences or political opposition. In the human world, women aren’t permitted to read or enter public life in any sphere, and although people travel from different parts of the planet, anyone with different colouring is treated with suspicion and hostility. Dragonkind is no better – a ruler who has been on the throne far too long is determined to continue to rule through whatever means she can. Her paranoia is creating an increasingly harsh regime where the majority are too cowed to rise up and protest. I don’t want you to go away with the idea that this is some political polemic, however. Bell is far too dedicated to the story to break her narrative with undue hand-wringing over the sorry state of our governing systems, but I liked the fact it is there.

What I mainly gained from reading this first book was a greater understanding of the characters, in particular Cor’s backstory and why she is such a cagey character. There is also an intriguing magical element in this story, which again is unique and I very much enjoyed watching it develop as Cor fumbles towards coping with this ability. The other unfolding story is that of the dragons, though I did feel Atesh’s main decision near the end of book was somewhat sudden and, given his ties to his family, was not wholly convincing. I’ll forgive Bell this slight inconsistency, however as I loved Zee, the twitchy ruler and her uncomfortable relationship with the brutal General Dronna.

Overall, the worldbuilding is excellent and as I continued reading, I was aware of not wanting the book to finish too soon as I was enjoying the unfolding drama in this detailed, troubled world. I’ll definitely be looking out for the last book in the series, which is highly recommended – though to get the best out of it, do please read The Banished Craft and The Fettered Flame in the right order.

Despite acquiring an advanced readers’ arc from the publishers via NetGalley, I can confirm my review is an honest, unbiased opinion of The Banished Craft.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Oranges and lemons…

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s theme is fruit, so I have selected Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne.

 

 

timesecho

This is the cover produced by Pan Macmillan in August 2012. The apple sitting on top of the old manuscripts is both spot on in terms of relating back to the content and providing an intriguing cover. The italic styling on the title font also works well against the weathered wooden backdrop. There is a lot going on in this apparently simple cover which nevertheless conveys a sense of the historical content of this book. This is my favourite.

 

 

timesecho1

This Dutch cover, published by Van Holkema & Warendorf, in October 2012 is also beautiful. The gold-etched detailing against the bright orange is beautiful and eye-catching. It certainly is an unusual design here and would have me reaching to examine it more closely – I don’t know if Dutch covers habitually use a single, bright colour in such a manner, but it is certainly effective.

 

 

timesecho2

This Italian cover, produced in March 2013 is completely different to the others and refers more to the modern strand of the story, rather than the timeslip element. I’m not sure it works all that well. The story is set in York and the landscape with the wide starry sky and blurred lighted buildings as a backdrop doesn’t convey the city to me.

 

 

FL 125x200 B+R

However, this French cover is a far stronger offering. Again, apparently simple – the apple hidden behind the girl’s back gives a sense of secrecy and unease. It’s clever and arresting – my only grizzle is the uninspiring font with the jarring dark pink that looks as if its been just plonked there, which lets the cover down.
Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Mysteries by Mary Miley

Standard

On looking up the details of this book on Goodreads, I learnt that Mary Miley won the Mystery Writers of America for First Crime Novel Award in 2012 for The Impersonator, which I think is the first book in this series. I can see why…

renting-silenceCan 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.

While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.

As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.

However what makes this stand out for me is her clear depiction of the darker side of the era – the edgy lawlessness as crime gangs, emboldened and funded by the massive sales of moonshine, battle amongst each other for territory and the casual, everyday racism that condemns anyone of colour to a second-rate existence. That, coupled with the sexism that also downgrades women’s prospects makes me very glad that I’m alive now, rather than back then. One quibble – when she spends a couple of nights with her lover, there is no mention of any contraception. I’m sure someone as worldly wise as Jessie would have insisted on her partner using a condom to prevent pregnancy in an era when a baby out of wedlock brought shame and disgrace to women, but there is no mention of it.

That doesn’t prevent me thoroughly enjoying this engrossing and well written mystery, which twists off into all sorts of directions and I certainly didn’t see exactly who the perpetrator was until Miley wanted me to. All in all, while I was in bed with a heavy cold, this was the perfect book to get lost in. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Renting Silence from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10