*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford

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I was attracted by the blurb and fortunately didn’t pay too much attention to the cover, or I would never have picked up this enjoyable science fiction/fantasy mashup.

avelineIn post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly. Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Aveline’s skills as an assassin may have kept her alive to date – but she’ll need every ounce of ingenuity and grit to keep herself safe once she enters the household of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas…

Ignore the misleading cover – this is no soft-focused lurve story, this is a gritted battle for survival by a gutsy heroine who had me hooked from the first page. Aveline, shocked after her father’s sudden death, has no time to grieve. His enemies are howling for vengeance and are keen to capture and sell her on for what they can get. Ford immediately sucks us into her plight, so despite her violent tendencies, I immediately cared for her. The world is a savage one, which Ford manages to depict with shocking details that nevertheless don’t veer into the gratuitously violent or graphic, which is a balancing trick many modern authors don’t pull off.

While it was clear early on that Aveline and Tiana were going to meet up, after their initial encounter the story started shooting off into all sorts of directions I didn’t see coming. The characterisation of Tiana was also skilfully handled – she could easily been merely annoying and I really enjoyed the fact that Aveline frankly thinks she’s wet so the gradual progression of their relationship is both realistic and fascinating. The antagonists are also satisfyingly horrible – there is a real sense of claustrophobic menace created in the Hanover household that had me turning the pages long after I should have been doing other things.

In fact, that is my main complaint – I flew through this entertaining read far too quickly and the ending was left on a real cliffhanger. That said, I’m far less grumpy than I was when researching this author. She is a veritable writing machine and plans to have the next novella released in mid-October. Am I going to buy it? Oh yes – Aveline is currently free on Amazon UK and all Ford’s books are very reasonably priced, so I’ll definitely be getting the next in the series. I want to know what happens next…

My copy of Aveline was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn

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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 we are looking at covers featuring trees and I have chosen We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which I read last year and blew me away – see my review here.

 

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This hardcover edition was published in 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons was the one I read, which might have influenced me as it’s my favourite. But I think it features the massive twist in the story very nicely without giving the game away – I’m not going to say more for fear of spoilers, but if you’ve read the book you know what I mean… I love the black tree against the bright yellow background – Gollancz knew what they were doing back when they made that colour scheme their signature look.

 

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This edition, published in 2014 by Serpent’s Tail takes the same main design elements – the tree, the swinging youngster, the colour palette and adds another character with a different font, giving it quite a different feel. My big problem with this cover is that I think it gives the impression this is a comedy – and while there are some amusing incidents, it’s nothing of the sort.

 

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This offering, published in 2014 by Serpent’s Tail, has moved away from the stark yellow and black, but still kept the tree and the small swinging figure. While I think it is attractive and eye-catching, I still prefer the first cover.

 

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This paperback edition has dispensed with the tree and gone for a plain red cover and used the marvellous title to the maximum effect – though my gripe about it appearing to be a comedy still stands…

 

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This cover for the audio book, produced by Penguin comes closest to spoiling the twist in the depiction of the family, which is my biggest reservation in what is, otherwise, a beautiful and haunting cover. A shame, therefore, about the boring title font. So which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

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This established writer has produced a strong canon of work over the years such that when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

revengerThe galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them… Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection – and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous. Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

This intriguing coming-of-age story is set in the far future where humanity is making do with the leavings of earlier, greater civilisations. Adrana and Fura Ness are teenagers who have grown up with tales of scavenging ships who made their fortunes for their crews by homing in on likely worlds as they periodically open up for a short time to mine them for their treasures. And they are guided to these secret locations by bone readers, youngsters who have the gift of reading ancient skulls.

When it becomes apparent that both Adrana and Fura have this prized gift, at Adrana’s urging, they both sign up on a ship to try and save their father from financial disgrace. However, the consequences of this action is catastrophic for both girls… This story is told in first person viewpoint from Fura’s point of view and amongst all the mayhem, piracy and double-dealing charts her steady transformation from a rather shy, well brought up young lady to a vengeful, dangerous character that has people crossing the street to avoid her.

There is a wild, swash-buckling quality to this space opera adventure, aided by the fact that the ships use solar sails to aid their progress and the job of salvaging valuables from these hidden worlds is highly dangerous and life on board is hard. I really loved the world-building and the impact on Fura.

This is a world where terrible things happen, where people lose their lives and existence is precarious such that people sell their limbs when they fall upon hard times. It’s a world where a father is entitled to imprison and drug a rebellious daughter until she conforms. It’s a world where soldier robots, promised freedom for loyal and brave service, have their programming subverted so they continue service in menial circumstances unaware of how they have been betrayed. And yet, there are friends to be had – comrades who have shared terrible ordeals.

As for the ending… the story’s conclusion leaves plenty of room for this book to turn into a series – I very much hope it does. This world is completely different from Reynolds’ remote posthumans – the characters leap off the page with a vividness that has lodged in my head. And I would love to revisit this beguiling, bloodthirsty world.

I was provided with an ebook of Revenger by the publisher via Netgalley, in return for an honest review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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Those of you who are regular visitors will know that I am a real fan of Hall’s writing – see my review of Spark and Carousel here. Would this latest offering also please?

thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.

I love Asta’s character. She is plunged into the middle of a horrific situation and copes brilliantly, without turning into a Mary Sue, which is a far harder balancing act than Hall makes it look. As she is pulled into the middle of the politics of two colliding societies she knows very little about, she has to exist on her wits to cope. Fortunately, Asta is intelligent and resourceful – and she also has her brother’s spirit to aid her. However, this proves to be a mixed blessing… One of the things I really enjoy about Hall’s writing is the sharp-edged reality to her writing. While this isn’t the type of grimdark where every other word is an expletive and the overall tone is sharply sarcastic and bleak, it doesn’t give any quarter. So Finn, Asta’s brother, has sibling issues that now have far greater resonance given that he’s inside her head and they regularly squabble. While sometimes there is affectionate humour in their exchanges which helps Asta cope, there are also occasions when their quarrels get in the way of her ability to deal with her situation.

As the adventure gallops forward and Asta is catapulted into the middle of a complicated political situation, I appreciated how Hall completely side-steps the inevitable info-dump. Asta discovers the nuances going on around her the hard way – if she gets it wrong, she’ll be beaten or worse, as we learn what is going on alongside her. It’s a nifty trick to pull off  successfully. Her search for her nephew takes her into some dangerous situations and we meet a cast of supporting characters who ping off the page with their vividness and varying attitudes. No one is portrayed as completely good, or all bad, as Asta also makes some major mistakes along the way, too. This nuanced approach particularly applies to the major antagonist, who I found myself pitying even while hoping Asta is able to escape his clutches.

During the fight scenes, I was holding my breath – for Hall isn’t afraid to kill off some of her more major characters and a couple of times the death of a character caught me unawares. So at no point could I predict what would happen next. The story held me right to the end, where it was tied up without being too neat. You don’t get the sense the survivors will live happily ever after in Hall’s world, as Life is too precarious and chancy for any such tidy ending. This story is standalone, although it does loosely connect with Hall’s  The Art of Forgetting duology. For me, this is the best book yet. I loved this adventure and it comes very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic Fantasy at its sizzling best.

My copy of The Summer Goddess was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 27th September, 2016

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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:
Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzie Ford
74% Arthur finished checking the gelding’s girth and turned to face his unhappy friend. “If I do not avelinereturn by dawn, you know what you are to do.”
“Return to the city and your sister.”
“Good.”
“But I will search for you first.”

BLURB: In post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly.

Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Caught between her father’s debtors and his enemies, Aveline reluctantly accepts.

Ignore the very wafty cover – this novella is far more gritty and adventurous than it suggests. Aveline is gutsy, sharp and streetwise, whereas Tiana hasn’t so much as set foot in a Lost Vegas street. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the story and hope it will resolve satisfactorily at the end, which seems to be coming up far too fast.

Review of The Dark Dream – Book 4 of the Beaver Towers series by Nigel Hinton

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Oscar and I finally completed our time with Philip and his talking animal companions with the fourth and last book in this series. Would it sustain the standard set by the other books? See my reviews of Beaver Towers and The Witches Revenge.

thedarkdreamIn this fourth Beaver Towers adventure, Philip and old Mr Edgar set off on their travels so that Philip can learn how to use his powers to fight evil. But while they are away, the island itself is under threat from a strange creature named Retson. This time it is up to Baby B, the little beaver and Nick, the hedgehog, to save the day.

Those who have been following the series will immediately realise there is a major difference with this book – the major protagonist throughout the other books, Philip, is missing from the main adventure. This story is told through the viewpoint of Baby B and Nick, the little hedgehog. This wasn’t a concern for us, as Baby B had already stolen much of the limelight by this part of the tale. Philip is now growing into his magical powers and I think Hinton’s decision to remove him and Mr Edgar from the scene, leaving the two small animals at the centre of the adventure was a shrewd move. It also prevented this story falling into any kind of formulaic pattern, especially as Baby B and Nick become rather conceited and full of themselves regarding their magic – with consequences that impact on the rest of the story.

Hinton also produced yet another scary and all-too-plausible villain who poses a real threat to the inhabitants of Beaver Towers – to the extent that Baby B and Nick are forced to go on the run. The tension as the frightened animals flee through the hidden tunnel pings off the page and I was quite relieved when Oscar asked me to complete the story the following day during the afternoon. It wasn’t necessarily one to settle him down to sleep. That apart, we both were drawn into the adventure and I genuinely wanted to know what would happen next.

Retsnom’s power is in danger of overwhelming everyone left in Beaver Towers, so Baby B and Nick decide to return to try and save them. Oscar and I discussed whether this was a good idea – before returning to the action. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and the ending, once more, emphasised the importance of courage and kindness and looking out for each other, without sounding overly preachy.

All in all, it was once again, a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read that ended on a positive note and while there were scary moments, six-year-old Oscar didn’t find it too daunting. We agreed it was another really good book and a suitable end to the series.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Wee Sleekit, Cow’rin, Timorous, Beastie

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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 we are looking at covers featuring wee beasties… I have chosen The Crystal Prison – Book 3 of the The Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis, one of my daughter’s favourite readers when she was a schoolgirl, a lifetime ago…

 

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This version was produced by Chronicle Books in 2002 and shows the full menace of the wicked rat Jupiter who has been terrorising those poor mice…

 

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This version produced by Acorn Digital Press in 2012 is closest to the edition Rebecca owned back in the  early 1990s and is a striking image of the poor little mouse about to pounced on, with those outstretched claws poised to attack… This is my favourite offering. I love the clever perspective and there is a real sense of menace, while the slightly cartoon drawing gives a clue that this is a children’s book.

 

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I can’t find any details about the date and origin of this cover, but I think it must be a fairly modern edition and my guess would be that it was British, with the corruscating light flickering across the cover and not a mouse or rat in sight. Eye-catching and attractive though it is, it doesn’t give a real feel of the flavour of the story in any way, other than it is fantasy.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Crosstalk by Connie Willis

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Connie Willis is in that special category of writers as having been the author of one of my all-time favourite novels, Doomsday Book – see my review here. I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted this offering on Netgalley and was blown away when my request for the arc was accepted.

Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept crosstalk(‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings. Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her – he wants her to feel it. Everything is perfect. The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD – which they will – they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later. Only Apple are poised to deliver an amazing new product and she has to be one step ahead …if she can only persuade their tech genius, C. B., to drop his crazy ideas about a ‘privacy phone’ with its ‘do not disturb’ settings, and focus on what people really want: more efficient, instinctive and immediate ways to communicate. The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and – for Briddey – a chance for love at the heart of it all.

For those of you who have read Doomsday Book and fear this is yet another slice of armageddon, this story ticks at a fair clip with plenty of laughs along the way. We are immediately whirled up into the world of corporate gossip and concerns about how the latest launch will impact on jobs – as well as the carnivorous interest shown in fellow workers’ love lives. Especially when the latest happy couple both work for the same company. But Briddey is also fending off her family’s less than delighted reaction at her plans to commit to new boyfriend, Trent, by having a cutting-edge procedure that will make them neutrally more sensitive to each other’s emotions. However when they get bumped to the top of the very long waiting list and the operation comes around far more quickly, Briddey finds there are some unintended consequences.

The plotting is pitch-perfect. We are tipped right into the middle of Briddey’s busy, connective world where she constantly juggles a number of conversations, both private and professional. As the story picks up pace and shoots off in directions I didn’t see coming, I found the book increasingly hard to put down and whenever I thought about it, I found myself grinning. That said, don’t go away that this is a piece of happy fluff, because there are compelling scenes full of terror as Briddey teeters on the brink of destruction and madness. And help comes from an unexpected quarter – except that it isn’t remotely unexpected. Anyone who has ever read a romantic comedy will know the bloke with messy hair is going feature in some way.

What is far less predictable is where the story about mental connectedness is going – and I loved the twists and turns, as well as the science behind it that Willis slips into the narrative. Any grizzles? Well, Briddey’s intrusive extended family includes a very precocious nine-year-old niece. Given the nature of her role in the story, I felt she should have been at least eleven – while she is clearly exceptional, my experience of nine-year-olds under pressure is that those two extra years make a huge difference to a child’s confidence and sense of self.

That said, it isn’t a dealbreaker and I also love that under the mayhem and comedy, Willis is raising some pertinent and searching questions about our current obsession about staying in touch with each other. A highly recommended read.

I received the arc from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
9/10

BGC 2016 Charity Day at Canary Wharf, London

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As well as teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook in Worthing, I am also part of a team who tutor Tim, my friend Sally’s son. When he was a tiny baby and Sally had to return to work, I looked after him for a couple of days a week until he was three and a half, so I was right there alongside the family when they 100_5054received the devastating news that he was autistic. Tim struggled to learn to talk and was still difficult to understand aged five. He regularly retreated into patterning behaviours, often reduced to screaming terror at birds on the grass or a passing lorry.

Sally was fortunate enough to be directed towards John Caudwell’s Children’s 100_5087Charity, who funded Sally and her husband’s training in the Son-Rise programme and have continued to pay for a number of alternative treatments that have transformed Tim’s life over the years. Through the continual hard work 100_5064and skilled empathy of his parents and a number of helpers, Tim is now a bright, chatty boy of fourteen, who loves performing in plays, writing screenplays and making films. He is also a talented composer and plays the piano, picking up tunes by ear. We are in the process of preparing him for exams to allow him to attend college and study media with a view to becoming a fully independent meandchrishollinsadult – a goal that would have been unthinkable only a handful of years ago.

The BGC Charity Day was born out of the horror of 9/11, when the trading bank lost 658 employees, as well as 61 other brokers working on their premises. The bank decided to mark the anniversary by donating all the profits made that day to a charity to support the dependents left behind and over the years this has 100_5061expanded to embrace a number of other charities. The Caudwell Children’s Charity is one of them, and Sally, Erik and Tim were invited to attend to represent the charity and take part in the day’s events at their London HQ. As Erik was unable to go, Sally asked me to come along, instead.

The atrium was decorated with scenes from Roald Dhal books and lined with a variety of enjoyable activities like table tennis, which Tim particularly enjoyed. There was a selection of food, including delicious vegetarian wraps, tea, coffee, water and soft drinks available throughout the 100_5069day – as well as the most magnificent chocolate fountain I’ve ever seen. We were taken up to the trading floor at intervals with a number of celebrities, who then helped the traders to close deals amid a flashing onslaught of photo opportunities and a filmed interview with John Bishop.

The views from the building were stunning – Tim commented that everyone 100_5068below us looked like toys. I enjoyed meeting Chris Hollins, being a Strictly fan. Lindsey Lohan remembered Tim from the Butterfly Ball and spent a significant amount of time talking to children and parents. Tim was delighted to be photographed with the likes of Rio Ferdinand and GB gold medal-winner in the canoe slalom, Joe Clarke, who allowed Tim to try on his medal.

While we often hear how pampered and spoilt the rich and famous are, I was struck by the patience and friendliness of all the celebrities who appeared throughout the day. It was a reminder in a world where greed and selfishness seem to abound and horrible, senseless acts of attrition occur that there are also many, many people who strive not just to help themselves, but go out of their way to also support others. Thank you John Caudwell and BGC, without your generosity Tim’s future would be a whole lot bleaker.

Teaser Tuesday – 20th September, 2016

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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:
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
76% Set me up is right, Briddey thought as he shut the door behind her. She went over to the table. On itcrosstalk were a pair of headphones, a microphone, a pencil, and a sheet of paper with numbers down the side.

BLURB: Briddey is about to get exactly what she thinks she wants . . . Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept (‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings. Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her – he wants her to feel it.

Everything is perfect.

The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD – which they will – they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later.

The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and – for Briddey – a chance for love at the heart of it all.

This very-near future romantic comedy is an absolute joy. Yes – it’s funny, brimming with vivid characters and a typical twist in Briddey’s personal life that has me firmly onside and hoping she ends up with the right chap. But underneath all the amusing mayhem, Willis’s gimlet focus is gunning for our current obsession to be connected 24/7 to the world around us. Sooo… what would happen if that was really possible?