Monthly Archives: January 2016

Review of Golden Son Book 2 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I was very impressed with the first book in this series, Red Rising – see my review here – which charts Darrow’s struggles to establish himself after tragedy strikes and he is left for dead. Would I enjoy this second book that takes the story further?

golden sonDarrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars habitable. They were, they believed, mankind’s last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie…

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m willing to share, given that you may be inspired to track down the first book. All I will add is that Brown writes with great intensity and pace, so that Darrow and his followers pack an awful lot into this engrossing dystopian, coming-of-age science fiction thriller. I very much like the way the society is structured – after civilisation crashes on Earth, the survivors aspire to rebuild humanity using the precepts of the ancients. So there is slavery with the Reds right down at the bottom of the heap – both literally and metaphorically, and the Golds are the ruling elite with all the genetic gifts, being waited on hand, foot and finger as all the advantages or wealth and power accrue to them.

There is a catch, however. In order to survive as a Gold, you have to fight among your peers to the death, as there is a savage winnowing to ensure the most dangerous and amoral survive. These ruthless killers are the future leaders of this dystopian society, where everyone is rigidly confined within their colour to serve in the capacity preordained by their birth. Moreover it matters little if they are not suited to that task, because if they aren’t, they simply will not live all that long… And if you’re thinking that this setup will inevitably mean this book will contain a degree of violence – you’re absolutely right. This offering is not for the faint-hearted. Limbs are lopped off and people are cut down in a range of savage fights and battles.

This is foot-to-the-floor, full-on adrenaline fuelled action more or less from the first page, right to the startling denouement at the end… Brown is an accomplished storyteller who navigates the twists and turns within this story with deftness and confidence.

Darrow experiences a roller-coaster ride in his fortunes among the Golds, with the tight-knit team he has acquired from his adventures in Red Rising. However, he is also horribly isolated and that loneliness is increasingly weighing heavily on him as he wonders about the point of his mission. I really enjoyed the way Darrow’s character continues to develop throughout this book – he is all the more human and sympathetic for it. And we also need these interludes, in amongst the killing and the mayhem, to allow the reader to rebond with this main protagonist.

For if we don’t care what happens to him, then the whole structure of the book is immediately undermined, as it is the classic embittered hero striving to bring the structure down on the heads of all those around him, while hoping to rebuild something better from the ashes. Brown doesn’t have him slavishly following this path, however. And it is his questioning and doubts that open up the story to a far more interesting set of questions about what he has turned into and whether unleashing this amount of violence upon a lot of innocents, including servants and children, can ever be justified.

And once more – the ending is a doozy. I certainly didn’t see that coming… This is a cracking addition to the trilogy – no middle book slump here. And if you are looking for a new science fiction adventure with plenty of action and excitement, then track down Red Rising.
9/10

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10 Weird Literary Phobias and Manias for Book-Lovers

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10 Weird Literary Phobias and Manias for Book-Lovers

I came across this quirky article on the Interesting Literature blog a couple of days ago – and wanted to share it with you… Are there any among you who are biblioniomaniacs, like me??

Interesting Literature

Unusual words about literature every book-lover needs to know

Previously we’ve considered some essential words book-lovers should know; one of the book-words we coined, bibliosmia, has even found its way into other corners of the internet, albeit in a small way. (See also this Amazon discussion about the word and the phenomenon it describes; it also appears to have become a semi-popular hashtag on picture-sharing sites.) Since we came up with ‘bibliosmia’, anyway, we’ve uncovered lots of other weird and wonderful words relating to writing, reading, and other book-related activities and experiences. Here are ten of our favourites.

Alogotransiphobia denotes the fear of being caught on public transport with nothing to read.

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* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* KINDLE ebook – Review of Gold, Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

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This is a much-anticipated debut novel from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. Ray and Luz are drifting through the remnants of other lives as they squat in the mansion of a former starlet, using her belongings as they see fit. That Watkins can write is apparent from the first line. Her prose is extraordinary and she has the capability to push boundaries and take her readers with her to a heightened vision of this desert world.

While the people flail around, trying to fit into this brutal new environment, the main protagonist in this book is the setting. The huge, super-dune called the Amargosa that is sprawling out of the Mojave Desert and swallowing everything in its way has a forest of stories, legends and conspiracy theories sprouting up around it. When Watkins gets it right – such as Ray’s trek with heat-seared eyes, the writing is poetic, apt and astonishing. During a chilly January night, I felt and tasted the sweat, gritty dust and sweltering heat.

But, there is an unevenness throughout that prevents this thought-provoking book from becoming a great novel. While the literary genre does allow for a slower pace and more experimentation with story structure, all too often, the descriptions are a page or two too long; minor characters suddenly take centre stage, distorting the narrative arc; and character viewpoint goes completely haywire, as in the runup to Ray’s beating. Technical flaws such as these graunched, given how much is triumphantly successful about this offering.

Watkins gives us a mesmerising insight of Ray and Luz’s relationship, which kept me caring about both of them, even as they lurched from one self inflicted crisis to another – and I certainly didn’t see the ending coming. I’m still undecided whether I think it works or not. However, while I’m not sure I enjoyed Gold, Fame, Citrus, I’m very glad I read it and if your tastes run to apocalyptic scenarios, then track this one down. I’ll guarantee you’ll remember it.

My ARC ebook was supplied by Netgalley via the publisher, in return for an honest review.
7/10

Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 2

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This is the second half of my rundown of favourite aliens – so far – in the books I’ve read. What defines the creatures that have made this list? That fact that I’ve remembered them, to be frank. I have a shocking memory – leakier than the Pobble’s sieve – so any creature that has lodged in its recesses means that it struck a chord. I’m also very interested in the concept of the ‘other’, so am always fascinated how other writers tackle this difficult topic. So in no particular order…

The Morrors from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Yes… I know it’s a children’s book – but that doesn’t prevent it being a cracking, insightful read and this non-child absolutely loved it.

mars evacueesWhen I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

The Morrors are cooling down Earth to make it habitable for their species, causing Alice and her companions having to be evacuated to Mars. McDougall has produced an exciting adventure story, with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns and a memorable alien species. And if you are wanting a bit of enjoyable escapism during this everlasting January, then track this down. Read my review here.

Xenocides in The Xenocide Mission – Book 2 of The Ark series by Ben Jeapes
I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, xenocidedespite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans.

The depiction of the Xenocides is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. Read my review here.

Tao from The Lives of Tao – Book 1 of the Tao series by Wesley Chu
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he lives of taowas losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

This is another memorable offering that stood out for me because Roen isn’t some lantern-jawed alpha-male, but a rather overweight desk jockey whose adventure comes in screen form. His conversion to the other type is both painful and hilarious, although that doesn’t alter the fact that the struggle for Earth is a gritted, serious business. I haven’t got around to tracking down the second book in the series – yet. But I really must, as I want to know what happens next. Read my review here.

Kirizzo from The Trilisk Ruins – Book 1 of Parker Interstellar Travels by Michael McCloskey
This Indie offering caught my eye when sampling the extract on Amazon. Telisa Relachik studied to be a thetriliskruinsxenoarchaeologist in a future where humans have found alien artifacts but haven’t ever encountered live aliens. Of all the aliens whose extinct civilizations are investigated, the Trilisks are the most advanced and the most mysterious. Telisa refuses to join the government because of her opposition to its hard-handed policies restricting civilian investigation and trade of alien artifacts, despite the fact that her estranged father is a captain in the United Nations Space Force. When a group of artifact smugglers recruits her, she can’t pass up the chance at getting her hands on objects that could advance her life’s work. But she soon learns her expectations of excitement and riches come with serious drawbacks as she ends up fighting for her life on a mysterious alien planet.

Except the book doesn’t start in Telisa’s viewpoint – the Prologue pitchforks us into the head of the intriguing forty-legged alien, Kirizzo, whose strangeness is engrossing and memorable.
Read my review here.

Portia from Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in childrenoftimethe footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

But the creature who actually are uplifted in an unforeseen twist, are not monkeys at all. And Portia is one of them… This witty, enjoyable adventure both charts the gradual evolution of a creature into sentience and the journey of a generational ship desperately trying to hang on until they reach a suitable planet. Both stories are engrossing, but I do find Portia regularly skittering through my head at all sorts of odd moments. Read my review here.

So there you have it – a selection of my favourite aliens. What about you? What ‘other’ creatures have ticked your boxes, and why?

Teaser Tuesday 26th January

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TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

This is a regular weekly activity Jenn has set running over at A Daily Rhythm.

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!

The Philosopher Kings – Book 2 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

This is the second book in the science fiction/fantasy adventure by the amazing Nebula and Hugo Award winning author, Jo Walton, who is ALWAYS worth reading. See my review of the first book, The Just City, here.

p. 54 “It’s sad, and we’re all extremely sorry, but you’d think from he way you’re acting that we’d never lost thephilosopherkingsanyone before,” Maia said.

Father didn’t say so to her, but the truth was that he’d never really lost anyone he cared about before, not lost them permanently the way he’d lost Mother.

BLURB. Twenty years have passed since the goddess Athene founded The Just City. The god Apollo is still living there, albeit in human form. Now married and the father of several children, the man/god struggles to cope when tragedy befalls his family. Beset by grief and fuelled by a bloodthirsty desire for revenge, he sets sail for the mysterious Easter Mediterranean to find the man he believes may have caused him such great pain. What his expedition actually discovers, however, will change everything.

 

Review of The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver

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thepuppetboyThis book has been buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

When his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

Yes… this is a story of endurance and bravery during the darkest time for Europe during World War II, when Jews were systematically targeted for no other reason than they were a distinct ethnic group that made them an easy scapegoat. Young Mika discovers the small puppets and uses them to create an escape from the increasingly grim reality around them – and then is prompted to share them with those around him, until a German soldier forces him to entertain the troops with his little shows.

There are times when I was concerned the story would tip into sentimentality – but fortunately Weaver managed to avoid going there. Her graphic descriptions of the full horror of the Jewish ghetto is unflinching, along with the fate of the inhabitants once they are rounded up and the neighbourhood is emptied… However, I have read books where that aspect has been fully covered with perhaps more technical dexterity – Weaver’s dialogue at times is clunky which does detract from some of the emotional intensity in some of those crucial scenes. However, what made this offering stand out for me, is that her narrative doesn’t end with the war. I really liked the fact that unlike so many survivor tales I’ve previously read, this one doesn’t end on some triumphant note once hostilities come to an end. Because those caught up in such a bloody, dehumanising business are never free of it – the issue then becomes how they can best deal with those experiences once life returns to normal.

While I had found Mika’s story reasonably engrossing, it is Max’s tale that made me want to read far into the night. It was wrenching to read of his terrible trek from the Russian gulag and then struggle so profoundly to fit back into the family that had been the impetus for his fight for survival during the darkest times in the prison camp. It was this story strand that, for me, sang off the pages.

I would add that this isn’t a read for the faint-hearted – Weaver hasn’t held back from vividly recreating the misery and horror that occurs when far too many people are crammed into a space not equipped for the numbers, without sufficient food. But it left me musing on the nature of survival, guilt and responsibility and I’m glad I’ve read it. If you are interested in reading something that takes the events of WWII and spools them forward to follow the protagonists long after the last shot is fired, then track it down – it’s worth it.
8/10

My Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 1

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I initially published this article back in September last year. But other events rolled over me around that time, so I didn’t get around to providing the second half of this list. So as I’ve now completed it, I thought I’d reblog the original today, before adding the second half of the list.

Yalda from The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Book 1 of The Orthogonal
theclockworkrocketIf you really enjoy hard science fiction with a strong, coherent and utterly different world and haven’t yet encountered this series, then do so. By tweaking a mathematical sign from minus to plus in an equation that governs space time, Egan has created a universe where light behaves completely differently – he writes at length about it on his website. To people his world, he also creates a species that don’t look like us and don’t breed like us. Once fertilised, the females bodies break down into two breeding pairs, effectively dying. So it is the males who are left with the task of raising the young and keeping society running. This creates tensions among women who don’t wish their lives to end prematurely, so refuse to mate with their co. Yalda is born without her opposite, larger and stronger than average and regarded as a freak in the farming community where she is raised. I loved her story from the first page. Read my original review here.

Illisidi from The Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
This is another extraordinary series. I need to catch up on it, because I’ve read the first six, but now realise to my foreignerdelight that since I last read them, Cherryh has written a whole bunch more. Yippee! These books are about a human outpost on a planet already settled by tall, predatory dark-skinned aliens who use numbers and maths to make sense of their world. The protagonist is the diplomat, Bren Cameron, who lives among them, constantly striving to ensure communications between the two species stays peaceful. Illisidi is grandmother to the ruler, a stately, enigmatic lady very heavily involved in politics. Scary and stately by turns, she is intrigued by Bren. Cherryh is superb at writing tension and miscommunication.

The Fithp from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
footfallThis famous alien invasion book lodges in my mind as the elephant-like aliens may superficially resemble the grazing beasts that live in Africa and Asia, but the Fithp are far more lethal. They don’t understand the concept of diplomacy, regarding species as either prey or predators. Prey are to be turned into useful slaves and predators are to be subjugated. A frightening species I loved to hate…

The Thranx from the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean FosterNorcrystaltears
These insectoid species stumble across a human crew while waging war with the AAnn. After scooping them up, they tweak humanity’s DNA a tad and then forge a close alliance with them. Foster is one of a handful of science fiction authors completely comfortable with producing a whole slew of remarkable and original alien lifeforms, but the Thranx is the one that stick in my mind.

The Ariekei from Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownThis is another book about a small enclave on a planet already settled by an alien species, but differs markedly from Cherryh’s Foreigner series in all sorts of important ways. The Hosts are large, powerful crablike creatures, who communicate with pairs of specially raised and trained humans. Until it all goes terribly wrong when a new pair of ambassadors turn up from off-planet and attempt to communicate with the Hosts… This offering blew me away with its sheer inventiveness and worldbuilding – particularly around the alien species. Miéville has also lots of interesting things to say about language and how it is used, along the way. Read my review here.

Once I started writing this, I realised it would be far too long if I included all my favourites in one article. So this is the first half… I’ll be adding the next tranche in due course.

Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

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I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten – would the book live up to it?

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed. Karou is an engaging, sparky protagonist with some issues that make her stand out from the crowd – blue hair being one of them. She could so easily have descended into a Mary Sue, but Taylor’s writing is far too good for her to fall into an obvious trap like that. In fact, there are all sorts of pitfalls that are deftly avoided in this outstanding offering – it could have become just another slushy romance with lots of smart dialogue as they dance around each other before the inevitable lurve scene. It could have been a good-versus-evil retread, with Earth on the verge of the apocalypse…

And it is none of the above. The writing bounces off the page, crackling with vigour and magic as Taylor weaves a picture of a complex world where angels and their erstwhile slaves are locked in a terrible war that has ground on for too many years. Each side has inflicted terrible defeats on the other – each side has its own reasons for resorting to violence and each side is guilty of acts of shocking violence. In other words, this is a completely believable conflict with good people locked in a vicious struggle on both sides.

When just over halfway through the book, I had a strong idea I knew where it was heading and what the big reveal would be – and when it came, I was utterly wrong. That isn’t particularly unusual, as when I’m really engrossed, I tend to go with the flow and don’t expend much energy on trying to figure it all out, as I’m too busy enjoying the writing. But Himself, who snaffled this treat first, is a whizz at figuring out what’s going to happen, and he was also completely blindsided.

And then there’s the final twist that left me winded on Karou’s behalf – and limply relieved that we’d already ordered the next two books in the series, so I won’t have to wait very long before diving back into this wonderful world. So far, 2016 is turning out to be a wonderful reading year – two outstanding reads from two highly talented authors, with another fabulous science fiction series uncovered, and we still haven’t got to the end of January… Lucky, lucky me!
10/10