Monthly Archives: March 2016

2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in March?

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
I have to thank NetGalley for this book, as I would never have considered it otherwise. But I’m so glad I read it.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process. Read my full review here.

The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
Shea Kelly had a brilliant career in technology, but after refusing to implant and invasive government device in her body she was sent to a modern-day reservation: a Non-Compliance sector, a lawless the sectorcommunity run by thugs and organised crime. She’s made a life for herself as a resourceful barkeep, and hacks for goods on the black market with her best friend Wynne, a computer genius and part-time stripper. Life is pretty quiet under the reigning Boss, apart from run-ins with his right hand man, the mighty Quinn: until Danny Rose threatens to take over the sector. Pushed to the edge, Shea decides to fight back…

Set in a dystopian near-future, where a series of environmental disasters and illness have swept through the population, an increasingly controlling government decides to chip everyone. The story is unrolled with the punch and pace normally reserved for urban fantasy, right down to the first person viewpoint and feisty, kickass character. I really enjoyed this one and tore through it far too fast – although that won’t be a problem, as we do have the other two books in the series. Read the full review here.

Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – a prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
Make no mistake, the Underworld is not a cheerful place. Brinkloven Crowley the Third is a Prince of brinksunfortunateescapeHell and he does NOT like living among his kind. He searches tirelessly for a way to escape. Then an escape finds HIM, and it is most unfortunate… Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell is the prequel to the middle grade series Skycastle, the Demon, and Me.

Brink is a protagonist I found it easy to sympathise with in this chirpy Children’s Fantasy offering. It is easy to understand why he’d hide away and read, given the unpleasant characters wandering around Hell – not least his large, loud-mouthed brother. I found the latter scenes in the book easier to visualise than the earlier ones where he is scurrying through Hell and the grey demon Torque was one of my favourite characters. And the final interchange between Jack and Brink suddenly brought the story to life in a way that made me want to check out the first book in the Skycastle series. Read the full review here.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone…manyselvesofkatherine

Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

Geen’s writing is amazing as she immerses us in Kit’s projections into a variety of animals in the beautifully depicted first person viewpoint. This is firmly in the realm of science fiction, so we have a ringside seat as Kit struggles to acclimatise to the new body – there is even a plausible-sounding name for the sensation overload – Sperlman’s syndrome – as her human sensibilities have to adapt to the new sensory input produced by different bodies. Geen’s prose gives us a masterclass in sensory writing at its best. I will be posting this review in early June, when this book is released, but I featured it in the Teaser Tuesday here.

Once more, I managed to exceed my target – in fact, I doubled it by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. So far, 2016 has been a remarkable reading year – and this Discovery Challenge has been a major factor in ensuring I continue to read more enjoyable, well-written books by talented women authors.

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Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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As a solid fan of Novik’s awesome Temeraire series – see my review of Victory of Eagles hereuprooted – I was shaken to realise that I somehow managed to miss her latest offering, Uprooted. But after regularly seeing it recommended across the book blogs I visit, I vowed to get hold of it as part of my 2016 Reading List, especially as it was short-listed for the 2015 Nebula Best Novel award.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
This character bounces off the page. I loved the depiction of her life in the isolated village where she lives and the casual manner in which she mentions the disappearances and horrific transformations of people she knows. The first person narrative works extremely well and Novik is very deft as depicting the world through the eyes of her charismatic and quirky protagonist. However, that doesn’t mean there is any undue hanging around with pages of scene setting, as Novik whisks us up into the narrative at a fair clip.

I found myself reading during the day to discover what happens next – thus breaking one of my rules. But there was no point in trying to immerse myself in my own editing, as my head was too full of Agnieszka and her story. Not wanting to encroach into Spoiler territory, I am not going to discuss any details of the narrative, but the magic system works well, with structure and rules that have consequences.

What I particularly liked about this tale, is the depiction of the antagonist. As the books progresses, we realise there is more than a single version of why the Wood is very hostile to humanity. Having read several books recently where the finale was compromised by the thin characterisation of the antagonist, it was a delight to have such an intelligent approach to the story resolution. A great end to a fabulous, entertaining read.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 29th March 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Deceptions – Book 3 of the Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong
52%: But they weren’t “that” sort of sound at all, simply them whispering and laughing, their voices too low for him even to make out what they were saying. That was enough, those whispers and laughs pounding through his skull like red-hot spikes.

BLURB:
TRUST NO ONE. Olivia Jones is desperate for the truth. The daughter of convicted serial killers, she hasDeceptions begun to suspect that her parents are innocent of their crimes. But who can she trust in a world where betrayal and deception hide in every shadow.
RISK EVERYTHING. Liv does have one secret weapon: a mysterious sixth sense that helps her to anticipate danger. The trouble is, this rare power comes with its own risks. There are dark forces that ant to exploit Liv’s talents – and will stop at nothing to win her to their side.
FACE THE TRUTH. Now Liv must decide, before it’s too late. Who does she love? Who is really on her side? And can she save herself without burning down everything that matters most?

I’d just finished reading an apocalyptic near-future offering featuring an environmental holocaust, so needed something a lot lighter, while flicking through my TBR list, this seemed to tick the box. I’ve read and enjoyed the other two books in the series – see my review of Omens here – and have been once more, whisked into Olivia’s world of improbable, paranormal events thousands of miles away. Thank goodness!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK World of Water – Book 2 of the Dev Harmer Mission by James Lovegrove

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I was delighted to get my hands on the arc of this new release, as James Lovegrove is one of my favourite authors – see my review of Age of Aztec here. He writes with wit and a wry humour that suffuses his work – and assumes his reader will get the joke…

worldofwaterDev Harmer has landed in a new body on a new planet. He has gills and fins and a chronic malfunction in his genes. With only 72 hours to bring the settlers and natives of a colonised world to peace before his temporary body expires, murder and corruption are the least of his worries. With the indigenous ‘mer-folk’ on the seabed and the human settlers in floating cities on the ocean surface cannibalising the mer-tech in an attempt to force their way into the eco-system, Harmer is in a race against the clock to ensure his mission doesn’t end in abject disaster, a Polis+ coup or genocide.

Yes, this is mostly a straightforward military science fiction sea adventure with special agent Dev Harmer battling to cope against ridiculous odds. And the reason why he’s even bothering? As an ex-soldier who was grievously injured, he has agreed to act as an agent for ISS to earn sufficient points to have his real body repaired to full functionality, as the procedure is extremely expensive. So his personality is ported into a serious of temporary vat-grown hosts specifically designed for each planet where he is sent to discover if humanity’s arch-rivals, the Polis+, are at the bottom of the heightening tensions between the Tritonion mer-folk.

Dev’s sardonic voice gives this story an enjoyable edge as he has to cope with his body’s increasingly unpleasant side effects as it starts to fail. But one of the touches I really enjoyed, is that the Marine corp of soldiers accompanying Dev are all women, including the kickass commander. This is military sci fic at its action-packed best as the adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for an instant, so that I read way later into the night than I’d intended to find out what happens next. There are plenty of satisfying twists in amongst the mayhem, as Dev finds himself ranged against an insanely fierce storm and all sorts of unpleasant marine wildlife keen to sample his new body. While he is coming to some disturbing conclusions as to who is exactly behind the mayhem on Triton…

Yes. There’s a solid reason why well-written sci fi is my all-time favourite genre and when I encounter it, I remember that reason all over again. Forget Easter eggs and all that chocolate nonsense – I’m buying myself the first book in the Dev Harmer series as an Easter pressie just from me to me…
10/10

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016

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Given I am now reading and reviewing more frequently, I thought I’d follow Hayley’s suggestion over at RatherTooFondofBooks – check it out, it’s a really good book blog – and write a short summary of my week to share with other bloggers, inspired by the Sunday Post meme from the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

This week I completed and wrote reviews for three books:-

Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of the Luna series by Ian McDonaldluna
This was a vivid, entertaining read about runaway development in a viciously capitalist structure that has the Five Dragon ruling family battling for ascendancy. I’ve already posted the review here.

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
manyselvesofkatherineThis Netgalley arc is a remarkable read about a young girl who jumps into premade animal bodies – Ressies – in order to better understand the habits and lives of the wildlife around us against a backdrop of climactic change. As a YA dystopian science fiction adventure, this book has far more science content than the average YA read, and the character is complex and nuanced. I featured this book in this week’s Teaser Tuesday. My review will not be appearing until June, however, when the book is due to be released.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This is another storming read – I LOVED this fantasy offering. The magic system is great, the uprootedprotagonist punchy and spirited, but what for me sets this book apart is the nature of the Wood, whose implacable opposition to humanity blights the lives of all who have to live near it. I shall be posting the review in due course.

I posted a blog every day, with one reblog from the marvellous Lizzie Baldwin’s entertaining book blog. My most popular post was this week’s Teaser Tuesday, as Emma Geen’s book attracted a lot of attention, with the next most visited post this week being my article Favourite Space Operas – Part 1.

I’m grateful to everyone who popped in and an especial thanks goes to those of you who took the trouble to comment – I still get a thrill at being able to share my reading passion with like-minded souls. Happy Easter to you all!

Review of Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of Luna by Ian McDonald

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I read Desolation Road, Chaga and Kirinya longer ago than I care to recall, so when I kept seeing reports of Luna on the book blogs I frequent, I decided to get hold of it, to see if the McDonald magic was still as formidably effective as I hazily remembered…

The Moon wants to kill you. She has a thousand ways to do it. The bitter cold of vacuum. The lethal sleetluna of radiation. Choking dust as old as the Earth. Your weakening bones… Or you could run out of money for water. Or air. Or simply run foul of one of the Five Dragons: the corporations that rule the Moon and control its vast resources. But you stay, because the Moon can make you richer than you can imagine. Adriana Corta is eighty. Her family run Corta Helio. They have survived the vicious corporate wars and the dangerous peace that followed. But now that peace is fracturing. Adriana may have to die but she will not be killed by her rivals, or the Moon. And whatever happens to her, Corta Helio will not die.

This is capitalism, red in tooth and claw. We follow the fortunes of various Corta family members, from the founding matriarch, Adriana and her children and grandchildren, as well as one particular newcomer – a Jo Moonbeam as Earth immigrants are dubbed – Marina Calzaghe. Think of Game of Thrones set in space – indeed, McDonald himself apparently named this duology ‘Game of Domes’.

The depiction of life on the Moon, with all its burgeoning opportunities set against an intensely hostile environment where every breath you draw has to be paid for, is vividly realised. We also get a ringside seat at the dynamics within the Corta clan – their ambitions, their strengths, flaws and loves. My particular favourite is the first person recollection by Adriana of her early days on the Moon, but all the family members are characterised by a streak of recklessness and striving to grab hold of life with both hands. Not that they are remotely cosy or even all that likeable – Rafa, Lucas and Ariel are all unpleasantly arrogant and entitled, however that doesn’t prevent them being engrossing. As with the Game of Thrones, things don’t necessarily go all that well for the main protagonists.

There are a number of assassination attempts and dynastic marriages are not sufficient to paper over the cracks steadily growing amongst the Five Dragons – what then happens to the subsequent offspring is that they become another resource to be fought over. McDonald’s evocation of a freebooting society teetering on the edge of utter lawlessness is beautifully portrayed.

So, does the story come to a satisfactory conclusion? Nope. Not remotely. It all kicks off near the end, so I put the rest of my life on hold to discover what happened to these characters I have come to know well throughout the book – only to get to the last page with no resolution whatsoever. This is the ultimate ‘to be continued…’ I wouldn’t have minded quite so much – but this is March 2016 and the sequel isn’t scheduled for publication until September. I have no idea what those who read this book back when it was first published back last September felt when they realised they would have to wait a whole year for any kind of resolution, but I am a tad fed up.
8/10

Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven’t Talked About Enough

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Yes… I KNOW it’s Thursday, not Tuesday – but Lizzie has compiled another of her amazing book lists, which I thought you’d also like to see…

mylittlebookblog

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Heeeeeellllo readers, hope you’re weeeellll! It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for another TOP TEN TUESDAAAAAAY – and that means that I get to talk to you about books that I love that I just don’t gush about enough. I’m going to get straight into it because I want to gush a lot – so LET’S GO.

The End of Your Life Book Club byWill Schwalbe

THIS book is just stunning; full of feeling and emotion this book tells the story of Will and his incredible mum Mary Anne who is dying of pancreatic cancer. The two of them start a two person book club, where we learn about the relationship between the mother and son, whilst Marry Anne’s life hangs in the balance. A warm but really upsetting tale that I am so happy to have read; one you should get a hold of and read soon.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK Flawed – Book 1 of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

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I have read several of Ahern’s adult books, so was intrigued when on NetGalley I noticed this YA near-future dystopian offering from her.

flawedCelestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan. But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED. In a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished, Celestine decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.

This is a near-future where multi-national corporations and the worldwide banking systems have crashed due to, apparently, the rash and ill-advised actions of their reckless managers. To avoid such chaos happening again, the Guild has devised a set of social and personal codes that people live by – and if they infringe those rules and make a mistake, they are branded and permanently ostracised by the rest of society. They are no longer able to eat the same food as everyone else, they have to sit in designated seats and their brands have to be uncovered for all to see. But, of course, nothing like that will ever happen to Celestine – she is dating the Chief Judge’s son, Art; her family are well placed in society and she has all the advantages of a privileged background. How could she ever be so stupid as to throw it all away?

Ahern deftly pulls us into the middle of this drama without holding up the pace with too much explanation, which is a lot trickier to pull off than she makes it look. We hit the ground running during a special get-together that suddenly goes horribly wrong – and forces Celestine to confront a whole raft of uncomfortable truths about her life and the situation around her.

The transformation from a sheltered, naïve and self-centred teen into someone far more sharply aware of the faultlines in a very unfair system is nicely handled. I liked the fact that Celestine initially flails around, terrified and overwhelmed at the enormity of what has been done to her, but gradually moves on from that. It would have been all too easy to have turned her into a rebel leader, or had her immobilised with the trauma of the experience. For me, the strength of the book lies in Celestine’s profound wish to get back to some kind of normality – something we all yearn for when it is yanked away from us…

There is a strong supporting cast. I liked the fact she comes from a caring family, who stand right by her and do their best to support her – her mother is fabulous. I also enjoyed the conflicted relationship she has with her sister, which rang very true.

The only misgiving I have is Ahern’s handling of the main antagonist. His complete loss of control didn’t convince me. While the story arc does work, I think it could have been tighter  if he had stayed more lethally effective throughout. I get a tad fed up with unsubtle antagonists making fundamental errors in YA and Children’s fiction – not only does it often create a flabby story arc, it also gives youngsters a false sense of security about the nature of those willing to step outside the rules. They are not all pantomime villains.

That said, while it is a personal peeve, I don’t necessarily think it has undermined the overall story too much. This is, after all, far more about Celestine’s personal journey than what is done to her – and overall, it is a strong, enjoyable tale.

The ebook arc copy of Flawed was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 22nd March 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

45%: Readjusting to a human colour palette after a week of being a snake means that I’m finding instances of the forgotten colours everywhere. Rubbing my eyes doesn’t help, though alternating the manyselvesofkatherineshower between cold and hot at least makes me feel a little more real.

BLURB: Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone… Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

This YA sci fi Netgalley offering is a blast – the writing is a real exploration of how to write about senses we don’t have and Geen’s depiction is extraordinary. I’ll be reviewing it in due course…