Monthly Archives: December 2015

Review of The Poison Throne – Book 1 of The Moorehawke trilogy by Celine Kiernan

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This has been loitering on my TBR pile for some time – I’m not sure why I passed it over, but as I started reading, I realised I’ve been missing out on a treat…

thepoisonthroneYoung Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father. But her old home is cloaked in fear. Once benevolent King Jonathon is now a violent despot, terrorising his people while his son Alberon plots a coup from exile. Then darkness spreads as the King appoints Alberon’s half-brother Razi as heir. Wynter must watch her friend obey his father’s untenable commands,, as those they love are held to ransom. And at the heart of matters lies a war machine so lethal that none dare speak of it.

This book hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. Kiernan’s accomplished storytelling sucked me in from the first page with her sympathetic protagonist, Wynter. In fact, the world was so well established, I needed to double-check that it was, indeed, the first book in the series. I love the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere Kiernan generates within the castle where Wynter was brought up, which has dramatically changed, as the King is bringing pressure to bear on Razi, his ‘spare’ to step up and replace the vacant heir spot now that his elder brother has disappeared… While many fantasy books are set within the medieval, feudal system, it’s rare that I get the full sense of what absolute power means on a day to day basis as depicted in The Poison Throne.

The cast of supporting characters add depth and vibrancy to this tense adventure. While I enjoyed Razi, the reluctant prince who really wants to be a doctor, and his enigmatic companion, my favourite after Wynter is her desperately ill father, Lorcan Moorehawke, Lord Protector and master craftsman. He expends the last of his strength to bring his young apprentice daughter back home to safety. Or so he thought…

I always enjoy a well written, complex antagonist who can elicit my understanding, if not approval, for his actions. King Jonathan certainly ticks that box – he is in a hard place. The fact that he far too readily turns to violence and force to get his own way is what makes him the baddie, even though he’d rather not be… The relationship between him and Lorcan Moorehawke is an interesting, nuanced one that Wynter doesn’t fully understand – and that’s fine.

All in all, this is an accomplished, sure-footed start to a really interesting fantasy adventure and one of my promises to myself for 2016 is to get hold of the next book, The Crowded Shadows.
10/10

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Teaser Tuesdays – 29th Dec

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TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

This is a regular item featured on the wonderful A Daily Rhythm site, hosted by Jenn. The rules are:-

• 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!

So… my Teaser Tuesday today is The Just City by the awesome Jo Walton that Himself bought me as a Christmas present, after he read my blog (bless him!). And it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped – better in fact…

THE BLURB

Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.thejustcity

FACTS FOR TRAVELLERS

Name: Kallisti

Nickname: The Just City

Population: 10,520 children, 300 philosophers, Sokrates, Athene, An unknown number of robots

Languages: Classical Greek, Latin

Location: Thera (aka Atlantis)

Climate: Mediterranean

Government: Philosophical Monarchy

Religion: Hellenistic Pagan (with onsite gods)

Sports: Wrestling, Running in Armour, Archery

How to get there: Read Plato’s Republic and pray to Athene. Or be a ten-year-old. Or be a god.

How to leave: You can’t.

TEASER SENTENCES

I put myself through all of this because I didn’t understand why she turned into a tree – why she chose to turn into a tree. Her name was Daphne, and so is the tree she became, my sacred laurel with which poets and victors crown themselves…

Review of The Captain’s Daughter by Leah Fleming

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The Titanic disaster has spawned a number of books, and this is one of them. But the difference is it takes that historic event, following a handful of characters snagged by the tragedy to see what happens next in their lives.

thecaptainsdaughterFor May Smith stepping aboard the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, destined to take her, along with her husband Joe and baby Ellen, from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: America. But when the unsinkable Titanic hits an iceberg, May’s dreams are shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship, May loses her grip on Joe’s hand. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat and under the wing of first-class passenger Celeste Parkes. Minutes later, Captain Smith himself swims to the lifeboat and hands May her baby. Celeste does everything she can to keep the pair safe whilst in horror they watch the death throes of the mighty ship. As dawn arrives and the two women are rescued, a friendship is forged, one which is destined to transcend their social differences to last a lifetime.

This is a fascinating take on the most famous shipwreck in history. From that fateful night in 1912, we follow Celeste and May after their lives are changed forever by what happened to them. May, as a poor widow with a tiny daughter to care for, faces an uncertain future, while Celeste’s future is all too plainly laid out in front of her as she returns to a bullying husband. But against all the odds, these two women maintain their friendship and end up each helping the other during various crises during their lives.

However, there are other characters whose lives have been touched and altered by the loss of the Titanic without their even knowing it – and this book also charts their lives. Fleming’s characterisation is strong and her writing vivid and uncluttered. Historic novels need to depict a sense of the period without holding up the narrative pace. Fleming succeeds in doing this, while making the necessary jumps across her long narrative timeline without jarring or defusing the immediacy of her characters – which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look.

As she takes us down the years following the sinking of the Titanic, we are given a ringside seat through both World Wars, witnessing the subsequent tragic loss of life, while relationships are forged and broken. The events and the way they impact on the lives of Celeste, May and those close to them are entirely believable. I was pulled into the book, reading far later than I should have to discover what befalls the main characters.

I love Fleming’s perspective – she could have written something cosier and far less thought-provoking. As it is, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read and if you have any weakness at all for historical novels, then track down this offering. It is so much more than yet another rehash of the sinking of a famous ship.
8/10

Review of Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

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Well, this is an interesting one… I scooped it off the shelves, after hearing some mixed opinions about it. Would I enjoy it?

memoryofwaterWhen Noria Kaitio reaches her seventeenth birthday, she is entrusted with the secret of a freshwater spring hidden deep within the caves near her small rural village. Its preservation has been the responsibility of her family for generations. Apprenticed to her father, one of the last true tea masters, when Noria takes possession of the knowledge, she becomes much more than the guardian of ancestral treasure: soon, she will hold the fate of everyone she loves in her hands.

While there is a huge clue in the subject matter – the tea ceremony isn’t exactly crammed with fight scenes or car chases – I would like to emphasise that this is science fiction with a strong literary component, therefore the pace is on the leisurely side. For action fans, the compensation is beautiful prose and a ringside seat as a complex, all too flawed character flails around trying to do her best with an increasingly grim situation. Indeed, I spent the second half of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. But it was all too feasible, as Noria is hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the forces ranging against her, given her training and inclination.

The worldbuilding is subtle and believable. Sadly. The fact that the military is desperate to gain control of all water sources is chillingly plausible – as is their tactic of steadily poisoning the population by squeezing their water ration until people are forced to drink almost anything liquid. It’s a devastatingly effective form of genocide, given how fast we die once water is withdrawn. So there is an inevitability to the outcome. Though I didn’t see the manner in which it unfolded… As for the Epilogue – well that’s a blinder! It completely changed my outlook on the book and its intent. I found myself reappraising Noria’s actions in the light of that final snippet of information and wondering if there was a way things could have ended differently. And concluded they probably couldn’t.

You’ll have gathered this book really got under my skin. I cannot recall feeling quite so churned up about an ending, which means that the book has succeeded – I read a fair amount and though I never bother finishing a book I don’t like, most don’t lodge like a burr at the back of my brain in the way Memory of Water has. I’d love to know what other folks think of this book – so if you have read it, please drop by and tell me your opinion of it, especially that ending!
10/10

Review of Astra – Book 1 of The Gaia Chronicles by Naomi Foyle

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I liked the look of the book cover and scooped it up, thinking it was probably a YA dystopian science fiction adventure along the lines of The Hunger Games trilogy.

Astra is seven years old, and like every child in Is-land, all she wants is to have her Security Shot and defend herastra Gaian homeland – oh, and become a famous scientist. But there’s more to the shot than governing body IMBOD claims. Then Astra’s Shelter mother, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, comes up with a plan to fool the authorities, allowing Astra to avoid the shot. As Astra grows up, so the danger increases. Her perfect world is not all it appears, and if she can’t navigate the web of lies that surrounds her, their deception will cost both Astra and Hokma everything.

As you may have gathered from the blurb, it isn’t YA and this ambitious, thought-provoking take on a dystopian future paints a depressingly credible picture of environmental collapse. However, a small group of eco-followers manage to survive due to having shed most of the conveniences of modern living and as our consumerist culture crumbles, thrive to the extent they are allowed a tract of desert land in exchange for their genetic breakthroughs, enabling food crops and animals to effect a recovery.

Astra lives in this apparently idyllic community where family life has been extended and strengthened by spreading the parental load and most adults and children go around naked, or ‘skyclad’ as they call it. Some of the phrases and words Foyle has made up are a delight, as she shows a world where children are taught sex at school and trained to be kind and co-operative to each other. However, Astra is steadily diverging from the rest of her peers, who were given the injection and she feels less connected with them and a lot more critical about everything going on around her.

Foyle jumps forward a couple of times in this coming-of-age novel and as events go hurtling towards the book’s dramatic conclusion, I couldn’t put it down. Foyle’s decision to start the book with Astra as a child gives her the opportunity to explore aspects of the community and ponder its history for the benefit of the reader without appearing overly naïve – but that only works if her depiction is convincing. It is. Astra is an interesting protagonist, particularly as she is earmarked to be different and special by her adoptive mother and then becomes so for all the wrong reasons. I like the fact she is prone to fly off the handle and become unreasonable – young teens often do.
What this book doesn’t offer is foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action as it gradually builds to the climax, but it has certainly wormed its way into my head – I find myself thinking of Astra and her community at all sorts of odd times – and I will definitely be tracking down Rook Song, the second book in the series, in 2016.
9/10

Review of The Fire Prince – Book 2 of The Cursed Kingdoms trilogy by Emily Gee

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I read the first book The Sentinel Mage and reviewed it here – would the second book prove to be as entertaining?

thefireprinceThe Seven Kingdoms are in the grip of an ancient and terrible blood curse. Thousands have died; thousands more yet will. Only one man can end the curse: the fugitive Osgaardan prince and reluctant mage, Harkeld. The road to salvation is long and arduous. Harkeld has outrun his father’s soldiers, but he can’t hope to outrun the assassins – the notorious, deadly Fithians – clamouring for the bounty on his head. Even the Sentinel mages who guide and guard him are no match for Fithian steel. Faced with the ever-present threat of death, Harkeld must learn to use his fire magic, or die. Meanwhile, in Osgaard’s gold-tiled palace, Harkeld’s sister Princess Brigitta is living on borrowed time, hostage to their brother’s ambition. And far to the east, young orphan Jaimé journeys with a band of mysterious, dangerous fighters, heading north for a purpose he does not yet understand.

I enjoyed the first book and liked this one even more. The characters and world had stayed with me sufficiently that despite having read The Sentinel Mage back in May, I immediately found myself back in the world. This time around, the story hit the ground running and we were right back in the middle of the action with Harkeld still dodging and ducking while being looked after by a group of mages. While he still loathes and despises everything they stand for, after a catastrophic attack, he finds he has to learn how to control his formidable skills. I still want to shake him till his teeth rattle, but this time around he isn’t quite so annoying.

Princess Brigitta’s story is every bit as gripping as she struggles to cope after being married off in the first book as major changes are afoot in the palace – and not necessarily for the good… While poor little orphaned Jaimé is tagging along with a group of armed men, who allow him to do chores in return for food and shelter – they even train him to use a knife.

The story whips along at an increasing lick and held me so that I stayed up reading way later than I should. Be warned, though, there is no real resolution to the story arc, so I need to get hold of the third book in the series, The Blood Curse to find out how everyone fares. Which is one of my New Year’s resolutions. Without holding up the pace, Gee has evoked a vivid world where a terrible curse is destabilising the populace as it pollutes the water supply. Besides, I find I’m warming to the spoilt prince – in fact it is a refreshing change to have a flawed protagonist I’d like to slap at times for his selfish thoughtlessness.
9/10

Christmas Quiz – 2015

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During our family gatherings on Christmas Day, there are regularly four generations of us. And some are right clever-clogs… So I compiled this multi-choice quiz of 20 quirky questions so the youngest, hopefully, will have almost as much chance of getting the right answer as aforementioned clever-clogs. I thought I’d share it with you – you’re very welcome to download it and use it. Happy Christmas!

1. What is blennophobia?Featured Image -- 4449

a) Fear of the colour white b) Fear of fish
c) Fear of slime d) Fear of zinc

 

2. Where is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes?

a) Malbro’ country b) The moon Europa
c) Alaska d) South Island, New Zealand

 

3. What is the commonest surname is Spain?

a) Garcia b) Campo
c) Blanco d) deCruz

 

4. How many times have the Olympic Games been cancelled due to war?

a) Never b) Once
c) Twice d) Three times

 

5. What does a belly-man do?

a) Tattoos tummies b) Is a food-taster
c) Assembles pianos d) Looks after ballast on a ship

 

6. Which mammal lives longest?

a) Gorilla b) Man
c) Blue Whale d) Sloth

 

7. Which festival was the first greeting card manufactured for?

a) Christmas Day b) Easter Day
c Mothering Sunday d) St Valentine’s Day

 

8. Where do Vectians live?

a) The Virgin Islands b) The Isle of Wight
c) The Channel Islands d) The Isle of Man

 

9. In 1949, many precious manuscripts in the Vatican Library were discovered to be destroyed. How?

a) Monks had doodled in the margins b) Damp had rotted them
c) Termites ate them d) Paper wasps had nested in them

 

10. In which film did James Bond drive a white Lotus car underwater?

a) The Spy Who Loved Me b) Live and Let Die
c) Thunderball d) Goldfinger

 

11. What freak weather killed 23 people in Rostov, Russia in July 1923?

a) A tornado b) Mud slide after a rainstorm
c) Giant hail stones d) A tsunami

 

12. What is 555 in Roman numerals?

a) VVV b) VCDM
c) DLV d) LVD

 

13. From which planet do Dr Who’s daleks come?

a) Davros b) Skaro
c) Gallifrey d) Silurian

 

14. Who sang the original version of “Blue Suede Shoes”?

a) Elvis Presley b) Buddy Holly
c) Little Richard d) Carl Perkins

 

15. Which part of the body was the guillotine originally designed to cut off?

a) Head b) Hands
c) Feet d) Fingers

 

16. Whose national anthem is called “Thousand-Year-Old-Land”?

a) Ethiopia b) Finland
c) Bosnia d) Egypt

 

17. How many nobles used to be in £1?

a) None – a noble was worth £1-2s-6d b) 2
c) 3 d) 4

 

18. What is the name of the Flintstone family’s pet dinosaur?

a) Fido b) Dino
c) Boom-Boom d) Thumper

 

19. What part of the body does Bright’s disease affect?

a) The heart b) The eyes
c) The kidneys d) The liver

 

20. Why were brasses originally worn by horses hauling heavy loads?

a) To ward off the evil eye b) Their jingling warned people they were coming
c) To make them look good d) To keep the flies away

Christmas Quiz 2008 – Answers

1. What is blennophobia?

a) Fear of the colour white b) Fear of fish
c) Fear of slime d) Fear of zinc

 

2. Where is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes?

a) Malbro’ country b) The moon Europa
c) Alaska  d) South Island, New Zealand

 

3. What is the commonest surname is Spain?

a) Garcia  b) Campo
c) Blanco d) deCruz

 

4. How many times have the Olympic Games been cancelled due to war?

a) Never  b) Once
c) Twice  d) Three times

 

5. What does a belly-man do?

a) Tattoos tummies b) Is a food-taster
c) Assembles pianos  d) Looks after ballast on a ship

 

6. Which mammal lives longest?

a) Gorilla b) Man
c) Blue Whale d) Sloth

 

7. Which festival was the first greeting card manufactured for?

a) Christmas Day b) Easter Day
c Mothering Sunday d) St Valentine’s Day

 

8. Where do Vectians live?

a) The Virgin Islands  b) The Isle of Wight
c) The Channel Islands d) The Isle of Man

 

9. In 1949, many precious manuscripts in the Vatican Library were discovered to be destroyed. How?

a) Monks had doodled in the margins b) Damp had rotted them
c) Termites ate them  d) Paper wasps had nested in them

 

10. In which film did James Bond drive a white Lotus car underwater?

a) The Spy Who Loved Me  b) Live and Let Die
c) Thunderball  d) Goldfinger

 

11. What freak weather killed 23 people in Rostov, Russia in July 1923?

a) A tornado b) Mud slide after a rainstorm
c) Giant hail stones  d) A tsunami

 

12. What is 555 in Roman numerals?

a) VVV b) VCDM
c) DLV  d) LVD

 

13. From which planet do Dr Who’s daleks come?

a) Davros b) Skaro
c) Gallifrey d) Silurian

 

14. Who sang the original version of “Blue Suede Shoes”?

a) Elvis Presley b) Buddy Holly
c) Little Richard d) Carl Perkins

 

15. Which part of the body was the guillotine originally designed to cut off?

a) Head b) Hands
c) Feet d) Fingers

 

16. Whose national anthem is called “Thousand-Year-Old-Land”?

a) Ethiopia b) Finland
c) Bosnia  d) Egypt

 

17. How many nobles used to be in £1?

a) None – a noble was worth £1-2s-6d  b) 2
c) 3   d) 4

 

18. What is the name of the Flintstone family’s pet dinosaur?

a) Fido b) Dino
c) Boom-Boom d) Thumper

 

19. What part of the body does Bright’s disease affect?

a) The heart b) The eyes
c) The kidneys  d) The liver

 

20. Why were brasses originally worn by horses hauling heavy loads?

a) To ward off the evil eye  b) Their jingling warned people they were coming
c) To make them look good  d) To keep the flies away

 

Review of EBOOK KINDLE edition An Ancient Peace – Book 1 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff

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If you’ve ever spent any time rootling around this blog (and many of you have – thank you!) you’ll have gathered I’m a huge fan of Tanya Huff. I haven’t yet read anything of hers I haven’t loved. She is crazily prolific and her writing anancientpeacecovers a wide range of speculative fiction – from her humorously wacky Enchantment Emporium series, see my review of the first book here – to her epic fantasy offering The Silvered here – while also revisiting one of her earliest books, Blood Price here. However, another series she has been writing for a long time, featuring Torin Kerr, The Confederation series – see my review of Valour’s Choice here – recently finished and then spun off into a follow-up series, the Peacekeeper series. An Ancient Peace is the first book in that series. Does it manage to sustain the high standard Huff sets in her writing?

The centuries-long war between the Confederation and The Others, a group of violent alien species, is over. Intergalactic peace is finally restored. Torin Kerr and her crew of ex-Marine friends have gone freelance – using their military experience as guns for hire. But this calm equilibrium cannot last. Someone is searching for the lost weapons of the H’san: powerful tools capable of destroying entire planets. Though the H’san gave up fighting long ago, the reappearance of their weapons would no doubt lead to a devastating war. It’s up to Torin Kerr and her team to fix this problem before it explodes. But the more Torin learns about the relationship between the Elder and Younger races, the more she fears war might be unavoidable…

The answer is yes. I haven’t managed to get around to reading all the Confederation series, though I should because I love Huff’s writing, and yet I very quickly got up to speed about what had been going on and why Torin and her gang of misfits were on the mission they found themselves on. Huff writes characters very well. I love the interaction between the group which is built on a number of adventures when they have all been tested in extreme situations. I particularly enjoy the spaces Huff leaves so the reader can come to her own conclusion about what is happening. It’s a neat trick that only a writer at the very height of her powers can successfully pull off, which is probably why you don’t come across it very often. Better still – it’s what we do when we are with people we are comfortable with and know well, so it feels natural.

But Huff also manages tension beautifully, as well. I actually dreamt of the alien dome where the trapped party were desperately trying to find a way out… So when the action kicks off, my heart was racing and my palms were sweating because it really mattered to me that certain folks survived – especially as Huff isn’t afraid to kill off a number of likeable, entertaining characters. All in all, this book is a wonderfully enjoyable read and if your taste runs to military science fiction – and even if it doesn’t – I thoroughly recommend it.
10/10

Dear Father Christmas, PLEASE can I have…?

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This week on the weekly Musing Mondays blogspot at A Daily Rhythm, the questions was: What books are you hoping to get for Christmas? What with one thing and another – it’s been a bit full-one at chez Higbee this last week – I didn’t get around to to answering it on Monday.

But I DO have a wishlist, so here goes…

thejustcityThe Just City by Jo Walton – she is an awesome author. I haven’t yet read anything she’s written that I don’t absolutely love and no two books or series remotely resemble each other in either style or subject matter. Which, in my experience, is really unusual. I haven’t yet got this one, but I DEFINITELY want it!

motherofedenMother of Eden by Chris Beckett – Dark Eden blew me away and wormed its way into my inscape, so I have often wondered about the complex, disturbing world Beckett produced. When I recently realised the sequel was out, I knew it was one of the books I’d HAVE to get hold of – and soon…

The Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre – No… I’m not being greedy. I don’t want the WHOLEEndgame-smAftermath2killbox

 series. I’ve already got the first three Grimspace, Wanderlust and Doublebind – I just want the NEXT three – Killbox, Aftermath and Endgame. They are such fun, full of adventure and excitement – and I LOVE the gutsy heroine.

thecity'ssonThe City’s Son by Tom Pollock. I saw him in action at Fantasycon 2014, discussing worldbuilding on an awesome panel with Kate Elliott and I keep promising myself to track down one of his books – and haven’t yet got around to it. So maybe Father Christmas will help me out…

Ghost Girl by Lesley Thomson. This is the second in the amazing detective series, The Detective’s ghostgirlDaughter. I’ve loved Lesley Thomson’s writing since my mother recommended A Kind of Vanishing – and again, this is one which I’ve wanted to get for a long time, but haven’t got around to.

Um. I think that’s it. For the time being. Although I’m aware there are probably some VITAL books I’ve not mentioned. What about you – are there any books prompting you to write begging letters to the North Pole?