Monthly Archives: March 2015

Review of EBOOK Kindle edition Saltation – A Liaden Universe novel by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller


Saltation : That which proceeds by leaps rather than by smooth and orderly progression.

saltationI thought I’d start this review with the definition of the word saltation – and once you get hold of this book, you realise the title is actually apt and rather cool… But if you haven’t yet encountered the Liaden Universe books before, track down at least the first book about Theo Waitley, which is Fledgling – see my review here – or one of the other eight books in the Liaden series. Lee and Miller don’t do any form of reprise and their world is so layered and complex with a raft of rather daunting invented names bristling with vowels and apostrophes, it would be a real shame to spend time flailing around trying to work out what is going on rather than appreciating the verve and fun going on in this enjoyable book.

Theo Waitley is a Nexus of Violence. Thrust mid-year into a school for pilots far from the safe haven of her birth home on scholarly Delgado, young Theo Waitley excels in hands-on flying while finding that she’s behind the curve in social intricacies as well as in math. Her mentors try to guide her studies and training into the channels best suited to her special abilities and inclinations, including suggesting that she should join in the off-world student association, a plan resulting in mixed success…

I loved Fledgling. Already a fan of Lee’s Archer’s Beach series – see my review of Carousel Sun here – I was delighted to see that she had co-written the Liaden Universe series with her husband. So, did Saltation continue to excite and intrigue me? Yep. I really enjoy the way humanity has splintered off into societies with not only different languages, but significantly different customs and profoundly differing views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Theo’s heritage as a pilot is hampered by her upbringing on a planet which doesn’t even recognise her father’s input as important.

This book starts charting the next slice of Theo’s training – and then suddenly shoots off on another tangent, whisking Theo along with a turn of events all the more shocking because to date, this book has been dealing with her everyday doings. I became engrossed in the daily details of her routine and her struggles to succeed at mastering the craft of becoming a pilot. For me, the pull of this genre is to escape into a future world where I become immersed in the character and her aims and ambitions – and Saltation completely achieves this.

While there were rumblings of discontent portrayed throughout the book, the ending and cliffhanger climax came as a complete surprise – and I was delighted that the sequel was already in a pile by my bedside, so that as I put down Saltation, I was immediately able to turn to Ghost Ship and pick up where the story left off – something I generally rarely do.

Any grizzles? Well… it’s more of an observation, really. But I think I’ll echo Himself’s grumble at having space-going ships routinely hacking through a planet’s atmosphere to land and take off, which I think would be highly unlikely. But it’s a minor quibble, rather than any kind of dealbreaker in a book and series packed with all sorts of pleasing worldbuilding details. If you, too, love intelligent, well depicted space opera and enjoyable protagonists then seek out this series – it’s a joy.

My Eleven Favorite Literary Heroines


I love these lists:)) It’s always fascinating to know which characters have really chimed with reading buddies. So many thanks to Sarah Letourneau who has taken the trouble to provide her favourite literary heroines. Who are your top 10 or 11 favourite heroines?

Sara Letourneau

One of the recent Top Ten Tuesday topics sponsored by The Broke and The Bookish was “10 Favorite Literary Heroines.” After reading several lists by bloggers I follow, I thought I’d share my own. Though as you can tell from the title, I couldn’t stop at ten. 🙂

A number of things intrigued me as I worked on this list. Each character’s story, circumstances, personality, and set of struggles is unique. Despite those differences, these heroines share some common traits. See if you can pick out those similarities as you read along. (You might not even need to read the books to figure them out!)

Here are my eleven favorite literary heroines, listed in alphabetical order:

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Review of Songs of the Earth – Book 1 of The Wild Hunt series by Elspeth Cooper


With my customary pin-sharp organisation, I’d blundered into the middle of this fantasy series when I picked up Trinity Rising, – read my review here – and was impressed enough to want to go back and read the first book – not something I do all that often.

songsoftheearthNovice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire – until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames. With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

The Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

I really liked Gair. While Trinity Rising focuses on Teia’s story, this book is all about Gair. Cooper has a knack of writing really likeable, sympathetic characters who still have plenty of obvious flaws and more than a few edges, which has me thoroughly rooting for them. Unsurprisingly, given his upbringing, Gair isn’t the most outgoing, trusting sort which can be as much a weakness as a strength, especially in times of trouble. The storyline is classic epic fantasy fare – a misunderstood, degraded magic system showing signs of wear with a troubled history and hostile religion ranged against its use. And a nasty character in the wings all set to use it for his own dark ends…

The unpleasant antagonist works very well in this book – Cooper builds up a real feeling of dread around him. The fact we’re not completely sure about his motives – other than he implacably hates Gair – worked well for me, as it built up an aura and narrative tension that now has me tracking down the third book in this fine series.

The other thing I liked was the deaths of a couple of major characters. While it initially winded me and can certainly be overdone – George R.R. Martin’s habit of disposing of a whole cast of characters I’d come to like and trust was a major reason why I didn’t get past A Storm of Swords – it stretches the bounds of belief to depict a major, bloody confrontation and yet still have all the main protagonists breezing through unharmed. Still, it takes a measure of confidence to pull it off such that it increases the stakes, adds gravitas to the suffering survivors and increases the narrative tension. All of which, Cooper triumphantly achieves.

If you enjoy classic epic fantasy, but find some of the recent grimdark offerings a tad bleak, go looking for this first book in Cooper’s Wild Hunt series. It’s a thoroughly well written, engrossing world.

Clean Reader? You Can Stick It Up Your Mother-Fudging Bottom….


I generally don’t include lots of naughty words in my blogs. But today is an exception, courtesy of the marvellous Joanne Hall and her opinion on the new Clean Reader app. Her take on this technological intrusion on the author’s right to write is worth reading…

Joanne Hall

Recently it has come to light that a couple of American prudes people have created an app which they’ve called Clean Reader, using the catchy slogan “Read Books, Not Profanity.” (No, I’m not going to link to it – have a quick Google. These numpties don’t deserve the hits).

The app works – I’m vague about how apps actually work, having a Bronze-age phone, but anyway – the app works by replacing the “naughty” words in a text with non-offensive “clean” ones. There are several levels of swear-filter depending on how mortally offended you are by shit, fuck, bugger, damn, Jesus, penis, vagina…

Yes, I’m not kidding. Medical names for parts of a persons anatomy have been deemed by the creators of Clean Bandit Reader to be “offensive” and replaced with the handy catch-all term of “bottom”. Apart from being anatomically wrong, it’s just… bonkers.

Can I say bonkers? Is…

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FICTION FRIDAY – Running Out of Space


As I’m planning to release the first part of my space opera series, The Sunblinded trilogy this summer, I thought I’d post a short extract from the beginning of the first book, Running Out of Space


Yeah, I know – Basement Level – what were we thinking? But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of a single chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.

Donice punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Jezzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”

Alita and Efra started sniggering.

“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.

Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even bother acknowledging our efforts to make room for her.

Efra and Alita stopped.

“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Efra wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”

Alita began to mutter an agreement, but Donice silenced it with a scowl. “We’ve gone promming around for less than a nanosec. And you wanna run back ‘cos the scenery isn’t the same as on board?” Donice clicked her tongue in scorn. “Starting to sound like those old ship-abuelas.”

Efra flinched at the derision in her voice, but – being Efra – wouldn’t lock horns with Donice.

Breathing through my mouth, I straightened up. Donice is right. So what if this is a dank disappointment? We didn’t come down here for the view – we came to prove a point.

But Alita grabbed Donice’s arm. “Efra and me reckon this is a vile place. We vote to head back. Tramping through filth is a tragic waste of shore leave.”

All argument ceased when the floor crud rustled and heaved behind us. A cat-sized rat scuttered through the litter into the gloom beyond.

I shivered. “It’s gotta get better sometime, soon. We’re snagging the next lift we see, amigas.”

We continued trudging onwards for another ten minutes. Just as I was beginning to think the scuzzy corridor was leading into infinity, we turned a corner into a small plaza. With a blast of relief, I spotted the lift in the far corner and relaxed – now we were nearly out of here, we could do the tourist bit. Truth be told, the word ‘plaza’ probably gives the space more credit than it deserves. While the lighting was brighter and the floor litter had been trodden relatively flat, the buzz that normally goes with buying and selling wasn’t here. Under the stink of rotting rubbish was the sharper stench of desperation.

I passed a trader’s eye over the ratty stalls. Everything I could see on display would’ve gone straight into our ship’s recycler. The food canisters were crud-caked and filthy without the benefit of even the most basic steri-scrub. And the water on sale might have shown on the pacs’ Purity Scales, but the readings must have been blixed, because that cloudy stuff wasn’t fit to pass your lips. Even the powdered water looked like sweepings off a shower-stall floor.

If we hadn’t come down here, I’d never have known this place existed. How many on ‘Estrella’ know about it? This is what I joined the ship for… My heart was thudding with a mixture of fear and excitement. I felt alive. This was a hundred times better than trailing around the overpriced shops on Trader Level with a grumbling chaperone.

Though the people were a shock. There were no shades of yellow, brown, black, or white here; everyone’s skin was grime-grey. All wearing rags pockmarked with holes which only showed more scabby tatters, or dirt-scurfed flesh. I’d tried to blend us in; we were all in scut-gear – worn overalls and battered workboots. But we stuck out like a supernova on a dark night. Mostly because we were clean and well fed – everyone here was stick-thin. Even the niños

The Cap always says that we Iberians take care of our own better than anyone else. What if he’s right? Because I couldn’t recall seeing any children in this sorry state back in Nuevo Madrid.

Efra gave some creds to a pathetic, sunken-cheeked toddler sitting on the trash-covered floor – and in no time flat we were mobbed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. None of us could resist their pleading, so we handed out all our shore-leave cash. Of course, one of us should’ve kept an eye out for trouble. But we didn’t. And when the niños started melting away, I looked up to see we were now ringed by another group. Far more grown-up and dangerous.

POEM – Pennies on the Pendulum


I was fascinated to discover they ensure the most famous clock in the world keeps time by

piling old pennies on the pendulum… and decided to write a poem about it.

They put pennies on the pendulum
of the clock with Big Ben’s bell.
To ensure that all keeps steady
and the tock is ticking well.

It takes two men to tinker –
adding coins to the swinging pile.
Pennies fashioned for a time
when Victoria was in style.
The small chink of modern pence
are too cheap and mean and light
to keep the City working
every day and throughout the night.

Brokers and businessmen –
battling with suits and smiles –
Are all in thrall to ancient pennies
swinging in their piles.


Review of “Slow Lightning” by Jack McDevitt


This is one of my early posts that was only seen by a passing insect… So I thought I’d unleash it once more on an unsuspecting public – mostly because it’s a cracking read. The book, that is, not necessarily the review.


I don’t know quite how it’s happened – but this is the first Jack McDevitt book I’ve read.  This seems a great big black hole in my book list.  Worse – I encountered him by accident.   However, after wandering around the house with a mile-wide grin on my face after completing Slow Lightning, I’m not about to forget him.

slowlightningKim Brandywine, sister and clone of dead Emily, cannot let go of her sister’s ideals.  Despite a thousand years of intensive searching, Space seems dead – other than humankind.  But Emily didn’t believe it, convinced that other intelligent species were out there.  Right up to her final mission, which ended in disaster and disgrace for the returning survivors.  Kim has always suspected that the official version didn’t tell the whole story; and twenty-six years later, finally determines to get to the bottom of what really happened.   Maybe, if she’d realised…

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Slices of Spring Magic…


Water vole @ HighdownWe went for a walk in one of our favourite places on the planet – Highdown Gardens, a wonderful garden created by Frederick Stern on the south-facing side of a large hill just outside Worthing. It sounds ideal until you realise said hill is looking straight out onto the sea and takes the brunt of everything an English maritime climate can hurl at it, especially those salt-laden winds…

Water vole @ Highdown2On this particular sunny day, we were treated to the sight of this water vole busily gnawing through leaves and scuttering along the bank. We watched her (we decided it must be female – the male was probably stuck indoors watching the cricket…) for nearly half an hour. During that time several people wandered by, but she seemed unconcerned. The name water rat seems all wrong – her fur was far thicker and her body shape quite different to a rat. What we did notice was the way she bobbed in the water as she flung herself back into the pond periodically and disappearing below the surface, before reappearing again.

Water vole @ HighdownIt was when we were toiling up the hill, I heard the buzzing coming from the hellebore shrub and caught sight of this gigantic bumble bee. It’s difficult to judge from the pics, which I have enlarged, but this beastie was HUGE. Easily the size of a 2p coin and with a vivid orange bottom, and teddy-bear furred – she was the antithesis of aerodynamic. Yet there she was, grazing the flowers. Bumblebee on hellebore8I only have a point and shoot camera and find photographing bees quite tricky. They are easily spooked and don’t stay still all that long so was delighted when she obliged by continuing to crawl around the flower. I like to think she was bunking off from her daily toil and having a bit of a sunbathe in the spring sunshine…

Bumblebee on hellebore6

Bumblebee on hellebore7

A Posh Night and Musings on Power…


You may or may not know that Number One Son is an actor – and this week-end we travelled up to Salisbury where he was appearing in Posh to see him. Obviously, I am not in a position to give a proper review of the play – but I did think I’d share with you my thoughts and impressions of the production.robbiejarvisposh1

An elite Oxford dining society has hired a gastro pub for their termly dinner with the sole aim of getting totally ‘chateaued’. As the evening progresses and the booze flows, tempers fray and things get disastrously out of hand. Darkly comic and disgracefully entertaining, Posh isn’t just one big party: the boys are planning a revolution. Laura Wade’s critically acclaimed play is inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club, which counts the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London among its former members. As we approach the 2015 General Election, this razor-sharp play portrays what Boris Johnson himself described as superhuman arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. Welcome to the Riot Club.

Glowing maternal pride aside, what first struck me was just what a very high standard of acting and ensemble playing is achieved. There is all sorts of business going on, with rowdy drunken games, eating and drinking and other 100_3827darker activities during the meal – plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And most of the time there are ten plus actors onstage, with the dialogue constantly firing between them. More opportunities for actors to lose their place, tread on each others’ lines and generally mess up. None of which happened. Neither is there a single weak link – everyone on the stage could be easily heard at all times and conveyed their parts with conviction and skill.

I knew the dialogue was funny, I was expecting a fair amount of mayhem – what I hadn’t expected, was to come away with such a prickling awareness that the class warfare which has hampered this country for generations is alive and thriving. As one of the Boomers growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when we were all telling ourselves that class boundaries were closing up and by the next century would be a thing of the past, I find it profoundly depressing.

Whatever the reasons – I’ve all sorts of STRONG opinions as to the various causes – the simmering anger against ‘the other lot’ is exemplified by the shocking climax in the play, and the chilling closing scene. And when we met up after the show, Robbie was telling me that as the first half came to an end when they were in Nottingham, a woman stood up, shouting, “Yeah – we hate you, too!” and regularly people have walked out of the show. In this election year, however, it behoves someone to shed some light on one of the long-running faultlines in British society, an undertaking that the cast of Posh delivers with energy and skill.

100_3844The following day before heading home, we visited Salisbury Cathedral. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was nine – what immediately struck me was the sheer size of the building, compared to Chichester and Arundel cathedrals. And as we went around with one of the wonderful guides and were shown a succession of tombs and artefacts, the most impressive being Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta, I was again struck by just how much religious and political power has rested in the building since its consecration in 1258. So while some of the statues and images were a bit knocked about during the Civil War, the cathedral was sufficiently wealthy and powerful to protect its treasures – it’s no accident that the Salisbury cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta is the best preserved. Unlike Lincoln, for example, they were never in the position of having to exhibit it around the country to raise funds. Power – who has it, and who wants it – is a theme I constantly return to in my own writing.

However, the real reward this week-end was appreciating the sheer quality of Posh and feeling very proud of Robbie’s part in it.