Monthly Archives: November 2015

Why Do You Read?

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My article today is a response to this week’s Musing Monday random question generated by the marvellous Jen on her blog A Daily Rhythm. Due to the horrendous cold I’ve battling with for the last month, I missed posting this last Monday, but decided I wanted to share it with you anyhow.

MusingMondays-ADailyRhythmSince I was tiny, books have been a draw. My mother says when I was a year old, she’d put me in the high chair with her precious copy of The Readers’ Digest and I would leaf through each page, looking at the pictures and the print without tearing it. It would take me half an hour or so to go through it, apparently.

I could decode my own name, but didn’t learn to read until I went to school, as Mum didn’t want me getting bored at a time when there was no streaming or differentiation. I don’t ever remember struggling, the words just seemed to peel open on the page. I do recall completing a reading test and being told to go along to the TV room, across the quadrangle to watch a show in the Hall – and crying quietly on the way, because I’d wanted to stay in the classroom with the books and my rather stern teacher had shouted at me when I’d asked to do just that. Once in England and at the local primary school, I was allowed to stay in at break and lunchtimes in my last year and tidy the shelves in the small school library – a wonderful treat… When Life became very turbulent during my teens, books were a refuge where I could retreat. I used to read under the bedclothes after I was made to turn the light out, nursing flat batteries back to life by tucking them under my arm.

I married far too young and it didn’t work out. There were a whole raft of reasons for this – but it didn’t help that he wasn’t a reader and didn’t like it much when I got lost between the covers of a book. And after my children were born, I actually stopped reading for seven years, because I knew that if I picked up a book and opened the pages – they could scream because they were hungry… because of a dirty nappy… because they’d fallen down the stairs… and it would be a struggle to put the book down and attend to their needs. Besides, I was busy reading and reciting poems and stories to them from the time they were born – making the next generation of avid readers, so it wasn’t a problem… Except things didn’t work out that way. They are both extremely intelligent and were very precocious, but neither are natural readers, who are born, I’ve discovered, not made… I love them both deeply and am very proud of them, but am I disappointed neither of them inherited my love of books? Oh yes. It would be wonderful to be able to discuss books with them. But, that’s the way it goes – my poor mother hoped that one of her three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren would turn out to share her passion for horses and not one of us has.

I read because I can’t not read. It’s fun. And I’m now married to a man who reads even more than I do, which means we regularly spend a day together curled up in front of the fire, reading. If I’m anywhere without a book (God bless my kindle for making mobile reading so much easier) the world is a greyer, grimmer place. I mostly read speculative fiction as I particularly enjoy opening up a book and never quite knowing what world I’ll plunge into between the covers. The great Terry Pratchett said that writing was the most fun you can have with your clothes on – but reading is right up there alongside it, I reckon.

What about you? Why do you read? Have you always read, or did you discover the joy of books later on? I’d love to know!

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Review of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

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While it isn’t my favourite genre, I do enjoy a well written historical novel and when I saw this had won the Richard and July ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, I was curious to see if I agreed with the Madleys.

Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is taken in at nearby Hatville Court. But the masters and servants of the grand estate prove cold and unwelcoming. Amy’s only friend and ally is the sparkling young heiress Aurelia Vennaway. So when Aurelia dies young, Amy is devastated. But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift.

This is a really interesting book. Those of you who recall Cecelia Ahern’s book PS, I Love You will have a basic idea of the overarching plot. But there are some important differences. Amy is very dependent on Aurelia as everyone else at Hatville Court remains hostile towards her and once Aurelia dies, as well as being grief-stricken, Amy is vulnerable in a world where young women have very few opportunities for earning their own living.Amysnow

Because the book is in Amy’s viewpoint, apart from a couple of short interludes, the character at the centre of the book who drives the narrative action – Aurelia – is filtered through her eyes. So we get a fascinating portrait of a highly strung, vibrant and intelligent young woman facing an inevitable early death while also trying to break out of the confines of a society with rigid expectations of what she must do. It is a poignant glimpse at a life cut short. Rees could have allowed this to collapse into a sentimental mess whereby Aurelia is portrayed as a complete victim and everyone speaks of her with tears in their eyes. Which would have been okay, I suppose. But Amy is totally reliant on Aurelia for any crumb of affection in a household where she is otherwise barely tolerated, so when her benefactress disappears for an unexpectedly long time, leaving her stranded at Hatville Court as a young teenager, she feels angry and betrayed.

These feelings are inevitably complicated by the knowledge that Aurelia is dying, and once she has gone and Amy flees Hatville Court, she still has very mixed feelings about the lost year when Aurelia dropped out of her life. And when she finds herself following a trail of letters arranged by Aurelia for her before she died, Amy embarks on this quest still conflicted.

It makes for a fascinating read and while there is the inevitable romance accompanying her adventures, the boy-meets-girl isn’t the storyline that powers the novel. And once Amy’s story appears to be resolved, as far as it can go, there is an unexpected twist at the end, which I really enjoyed – as a reader it gave me answers I needed, as well as a sense of sadness that the person who really needed to know this information would never learn it. Nicely done.

If you like your historical heroines to be doing more than spending time fluttering their eyelashes at some eligible dandy over a fan, then track this down. It’s a memorable read for all the right reasons.
10/10

Review of Marked – Book 1 of The Soulseer Chronicles by Sue Tingey

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This is the debut book of fellow author Sue Tingey, who I first met in 2011 when I attended Fantasycon in Brighton. So I was thrilled when I heard last year that her book at been plucked out of the slush pile at Jo Fletcher books. And even more thrilled when I discovered her book at this year’s Fantasycon at Nottingham.

MarkedIn a world filled with charlatans, Lucinda “Lucky” de Salle’s psychic ability has always made her an outcast, even as it has also made her a sought-after (if reluctant) investigator of paranormal phenomena. With no remaining family and very few friends, she has only one “person” she can rely on–Kayla, the ghost girl who has been her constant companion since she was born. When Lucky is called in to investigate a spectral disturbance at the all-girls school she attended as a child, she isn’t surprised. She herself had had a terrifying confrontation with the troubled spirits of two girls who died in the attic room. But when Lucky goes up to the attic, she discovers that the vicious little girls are the least of the problem–a demon has been released into this world, a creature of such malevolence that even the spirits of the two girls are afraid. When the demon demands that Kayla be handed over to him, Lucky realizes that this case will be like no other she has ever experienced. For one thing, it seems that her chatty, snarky spirit companion is not what she has always seemed to be…

This is great fun. I really like Lucky. Feisty, with plenty of edge – which she needs when being regularly ambushed by ghosts, Lucky is an entertaining first person narrator in this urban, supernatural fantasy. I enjoyed the way the book quickly shifts from the tense, opening scene into another direction entirely. I didn’t foresee where the story was headed and was able to relax into the book and just go with the flow – something I only do when in the hands of a competent author.

As well as the interesting plot development, the other memorable aspect of this book is Kayla. Lucky’s constant companion, Kayla is snarky, amusing and evidently fond of Lucky. Or is she? Tingey skilfully provides significant ambiguity surrounding Lucky’s friend – and as the story unfolds, we find why she has been so close to Lucky. I found Kayla and Lucky’s relationship fascinating and certainly am eager to discover how it progresses.

Because of where the story goes and my allergy to spoilers, once the books gets to a certain stage, I am somewhat hampered in discussing exactly what goes on. But I can confirm this is an enjoyable urban romp. And I’m very much looking forward to the sequel to see what happens next.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday (24th November)

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.
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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!

My teaser:

‘Swooping from the safety of their altitude, they dropped on the Queen’s party as they rode, fully exposed, along the low path in the gorge’s edge. They leaped like wolves upon sheep.’ P.442thedreadwyrm

Extract from The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron, Book 3 of The Traitor’s Son Cycle.

A medieval Fantasy series that features some cracking battle scenes and plenty of character-driven action.

Part of the blurb… The Red Knight has stood against soldiers, against armies and against the might of an empire. He’s fought on real and magical battlefields alike, and now he’s facing his greatest challenge yet. A tournament.

Here is my review of the first book in the series, The Red Knight.

Review of Firefight – Book 2 of The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

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This is the second full-length book in The Reckoners series. I really enjoyed Steelheart – read my review here – as this super-hero, near-future science fiction romp was chockful of action and adventure. Would this sequel successfully continue to sustain the pace and excitement?

Sanderson-R2-FirefightUK_thumb21David realises he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs. Babylon Restored, the former borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, also known as Firefight, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble but David’s willing to risk it and embark on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to get his answers.

I’ve dramatically pruned the blurb so that if you haven’t yet read Steelheart, you won’t find yourself beset with spoilers regarding the plot. Sanderson has shifted the environment from the metallic surroundings of Newcago, so David is now out of his comfort zone and confronted with another hostile urban landscape. The Epics acquire their superpowers when the population are exposed to Calamity, a celestial body that bathes everyone in a lurid light. But as well as gaining superpowers, the Epics also are driven to rule at all costs and regard the rest of humanity as a lower lifeform destined to do their bidding – and if they don’t, then they should die. Or… die anyway.

The Reckoners, an underground group, have evolved to try and halt the Epics is humanity’s last desperate fight back against the chaos the Epics have caused as they squabble among each other in unceasing power struggles. David is part of that group. This gives plenty of scope for non-stop action and mayhem, which is a staple for this particular sub-genre. What makes this offering stand out for me is David’s quirky first person narrative. He is a geeky, driven character who spent his formative years trying to prevail against the overwhelming might of the Epics by observing them and keeping copious notes on their habits.

He is the opposite of the classic lantern-jawed hero, with his nerdy preoccupations about his weaponry and coining cool metaphors. He is also tongue-tied and awkward around girls – come to think of it, he’s not all that at ease around anyone else, either. But his character provides some lovely moments of light relief that had me laughing out loud in amongst this ruined dystopian world.

Sanderson’s rich, disturbing backdrop whisked me away from a horrendous cold and the overarching story where we are steadily learning more about exactly what lies behind the Epics powers had me turning the pages way into the night. If your taste runs to superhero adventures – or even if it doesn’t and you want to know what all the fuss is about – then track down this entertaining series.
10/10

Review of The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

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After reading his excellent adult Musket and Magic fantasy series The Shadow Campaign – read my review of The Thousand Names, the first book in the series here – I was delighted to come across this children’s offering. Would Wexler make a successful transition from writing very adult books, to catering to the reading tastes of far younger readers?

theforbiddenlibraryImagine a world… where cats can talk, where fairies are snarling bald beasts with needle-like teeth, where a huge dark library hides secrets in its shadows and dangerous creatures prowl the pages of books… Dare you join Alice on her quest to find a happy ending?

The gorgeous cover and the creepy blurb on the back are a very fair indicator as to the emotional tone and overall feel of this book. Alice is on a mission to discover what has happened to her father, but it looks as though it was nothing good. In the meantime, she has been apprenticed to a rather unpleasant character called Geryon, who has access to a very dangerous library, where a monster read means something quite different from a large, densely written book…

A sense of menace pervades the book throughout, reminding me of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It is definitely a page-turner. The pacing and growing tension as I continued to read to discover what is going on is skilfully handled. Alice is an enjoyable protagonist – spiky and adventurous, however managing to portray sufficient vulnerability in difficult circumstances so that we care about her. She is also very bright and quickly adapts to her new existence. And it is just as well she shows bags of resilience in difficult conditions as there isn’t a single adult around her who is remotely likeable or trustworthy. And that also goes for most of the creatures she encounters on her quest.

Wexler presents us with a puzzle at the start of the story, which steadily unspools with a variety of answers which add substance and a backstory to this unsettling world she appears to have slipped into. It’s neatly done and I think most 10+ year olds will thoroughly enjoy it. However, my caveat would be those children who are innately nervous, or very stressed might find this particular read a bit dour – there isn’t a lot of laughs in this adventure. The other comment I’d make is that this is clearly the first in the series and while plenty happens throughout the book, there are precious few real answers provided at the end of this volume. The good news is the second book, The Mad Apprentice is available.

I’ll be definitely tracking down the next book because I want to know what next befalls Alice – and besides, when I read The Forbidden Library to my granddaughter, she’ll probably want to go straight on with the story. I know I do.
8/10

Review of The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Book 1 of The Cinder series by Jim Butcher

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For fans of the Harry Dresden Files comes another treat, this time in the shape of far-future steampunk. As Butcher embarks on a completely different project, has he successfully mastered this sub-genre, too?

theaeronautswindlassSince time immemorial, humanity has lived inside the Spires, habitats towering for miles over the dangerous, monster-infested surface of the world. Captain Grimm of the merchant airship Predator was dismissed from Spire Albion’s military in disgrace – now his ship and crew are all he has, and he’s fiercely loyal to both. When the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a choice – take on a clandestine mission for Albion’s leaders, or stay grounded for good.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I am prepared to reveal, but I can say that this opening conflict is merely a preliminary salvo to the full-tilt action that fizzes through this book from the start. While the world, particularly their weapons and airships, are powered by crystals rather than coal, this book recognisably falls into the steampunk genre. Steampunk is generally characterised by a chippy, derring-do tone and Butcher has kept to this convention. Captain Grimm is implacably proper at all times, leading his crew by his dauntless heroism. And while there is a certain tongue-in-cheek flavour, Butcher manages to keep this from being too knowing.

Grimm is accompanied on this multiple third person pov adventure by an enjoyable cast of characters, including a ferociously skilful aristocrat and his ferociously confident cousin, a plucky young woman and her talking cat, a mad etherealist and his fey apprentice and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist. The overall feel and tone of this book is far closer to Butcher’s Codex Alera series than the better known Harry Dresden Files. As you might expect with an author of Butcher’s calibre, the action kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the last page, making this a book that I stayed up reading waaay into the early hours.

In amongst all the mayhem, a lot of world-building needed to be slipped in to give the reader sufficient context to really care about the stakes, which Butcher manages without holding up the pace. He also changes viewpoints smoothly enough that I didn’t find myself skimming any of the various plotlines to get back to my favourite.

But what boosts this book to one of my memorably favourite reads so far this year, is the gripping nature of climactic battle scenes, which worked brilliantly for me. This first book in a major new series has left me keenly anticipating the sequel to discover what happens next – I am especially keen to meet up again with Rowl the talking cat.
10/10

Review of Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

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With my customary efficiency and foresight, I managed to read the second book Overbite in this series – see my review here – before plucking this one off my teetering TBR pile. However I’d so enjoyed the chirpy tone of the protagonist Meena Harper that when I was needing some light relief after struggling with a tenacious cold that has turned into something nasty and infected, I dived into Insatiable.

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. Meena Harper is familiar with the supernatural. After all, she knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’ll believe her. No one ever does.) But while she’s always been able to see everyone else’s destiny, she’s never been able to look into her own. Maybe that’s why when she meets Lucien Antonescu – a modern-day prince who also has no destiny that she can foresee – she’s instantly attracted.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb as I’m willing to share as the plotting in this smart, semi-parody is well paced and crafted to pull you in. Meena is an entertaining protagonist, who spends a great deal of time trying not to think about death, until she sees how those around her are going to die… And the catch is, those deaths are avoidable, so she feels obliged to try and warn them, which does nothing for her love life.

Cabot is an experienced writer, clearly at the height of her powers. It takes a lot of skill to take the vampire sub-genre and gently parody the more gothic aspects, while at the same time producing a gripping, convincing adventure tale in the same genre. The vampires are nicely handled – and while there is an undercurrent of fun, particularly at the expense of the lantern-jawed hero Alaric Wulf, chief vampire-slayer of the Palatine Guard, once the action starts, there was plenty of tension and gore. The sub-plot provides a lot of the fun. Meena is a script writer for a long-running soap that is suffering from falling ratings, so the studio have come up with the idea of introducing a vampire storyline, to Meena’s intense disgust. She thinks the whole notion of vampires is so lame and ridiculous…

There is also delightful cast of characters around the three main characters, Meena, Lucien and Alaric. My particular favourites are the eccentric neighbouring couple Mary Lou and Emil and Meena’s clueless brother Jon, as well as Meena’s vampire-hating dog, Jack Baur. And yes… there is a thing going on with names in this book. For those of you who don’t know, Jonathan Harper is the narrator and protagonist in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mina is the name of his fiancée who suffers the attentions of Dracula.

This could all have disintegrated into a pretentious, lumpen mess, but with Cabot at the helm, the result is memorably enjoyable, with plenty of thrills and action garnished with a helping of fun. Every time I recall the book, I find myself grinning. If you enjoy urban fantasy with a dollop of humour, track this down.
9/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Spark and Carousel by Joanne Hall

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This is the latest book, released at Bristolcon this year, from Joanne Hall, whose duology, The Art of Forgetting, so impressed me – read my review of Rider here. My copy of  Spark and Carousel was provided by the author on the understanding that if I enjoyed the book, I would review it, but did I enjoy it as much as her previous work?

Liathan is struggling to care for his master and mentor, who is slowly losing his mind. Carousel, street dancer and acrobat, is excited at the prospect of being allowed to work in one of the bawdy houses in the dry and wearing pretty clothes – how hard can it be? Allorise is desperate to avoid marrying an old man with rotting teeth and a big gut, just to advance her father’s schemes. These three characters come together in an explosive mixture that engulfs a city and threatens the Kingdom…

spark&carouselI’ve taken liberties with the rather chatty blurb because Hall’s plotting is too enjoyable to be Spoiled by prior knowledge of what is going to happen. From the start, we have enjoyable, sympathetic characters with engrossing problems, along with a fair dollop of humour. But do be warned. Hall’s smooth, readable style is deceptive – she reels you into her world and then suddenly ambushes you with an unexpected twist you don’t see coming. I found Carousel’s journey, in particular, a hard one to follow at times…

While the scenario is a familiar one, with a powerful, yet unskilled magic-user causing major damage – the vividness of the world-building, the strong characterisation and the accelerating pace as the story gathers momentum makes this offering stand out. I’m reminded of Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise in the sheer energy of the writing and intelligent plotting.

Hall has the knack of providing interestingly nuanced characters – no one is whiter than white. So our protagonists all have their flaws and the main antagonist, Allorise, is clearly charming and facing a miserable existence. The fact that her way of dealing with it is extreme and leads her down a steadily darker path is both believable and jaw dropping. However my favourite character is Carousel, the spiky street kid, who is negotiating becoming a woman in a mileu where that process is a commodity – something Hall doesn’t flinch from.

If you like your fantasy intelligently written with fully rounded characters and a full-on scenario, then track down this offering. I’ve read a crop of really good fantasy recently and Spark and Carousel is right up there with the best of them.
9/10

Do you review books? If so, who do you review for? If not, was it by choice? Why?

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I was all set to upload yet another book review I’d written, when I came across this ‘random question’ on Jenn’s regular Musing Monday slot and all my plans went out of the window. For those of you who may be mildly interested, this is my 828th post on this blog and a fair chunk of them – well over 500 – are book reviews.

So the answer is, yes – I write books reviews. Who do I write them for? Well, a while ago I started writing a few for MusingMondays-ADailyRhythmthe SFReader site, and then discovered that I really, really enjoy the process of considering a book on paper. That I absorb the book as I read it, though I do read fast, sometimes too fast. But when I know that I need to write about it afterwards, then I have to slow down a little. Consequently, I now find that reading experience is taken to another level when I have to consider it, organise my thoughts into some sort of rational order and write about it.

Those of you who read my reviews will know that I only write positive reviews. The main reason is that if I start reading a book and don’t like it, I stop. Life’s too short and my TBR pile is too crazily high to waste my time ploughing through something I don’t like. I read for enjoyment and escape, it’s my principle hobby so I’ve no intention of going all hair shirt about it. However, I do still take notes and write about WHY I hated a book sufficiently to abandon it, which are all carefully filed on my computer.

Occasionally I’ll get to the end of a book and decide not to review it. Often it’s because I’m absolutely slammed with other stuff that needs doing – but there are a number of books I read where the ending is so bloody lame or hamfisted that it ruins a perfectly good story. Those generally get hurled across the room and I also write about them in language that never sees the light of day on my blog.

So the answer is – it’s all about meeee. I write about books that have excited me because I want to share the fun with others. I still can’t believe – after living most of my life as a passionate reader and regarding it as a solitary affair – the joy of being able to pour out my ideas and feelings about stories with like-minded people. My grandfather would have LOVED to blog about books and I feel privileged to be able to do so.