Monthly Archives: May 2016

Friday Faceoff – Just Then Flew Down a Monstrous Crow…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is comparing covers featuring birds. It took me a while to track this one down – I recalled the cover, but had forgotten the book, so was delighted when I realised it was by one of my all-time favourite authors – Fool’s Quest – Book 2 of Fitz and Fool series by Robin Hobb.

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This first cover is for the 2015 edition released by Del Rey. While I love a lot of their covers, I’m not sure this one really does justice to the book. The man dominating the cover is presumably Fitz, but I have such a clear idea of how he looks that I find it jarring.

 

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For me there simply is no contest this week. This cover, produced by Harper Voyager, was the one I’d envisaged as soon as I saw this week’s Friday Face-off. I love its simplicity and the sense of movement with the wings half on and half off the page.  I also think the title font works well. As evidenced by my trawling back to find it – this is also a memorable cover. What do you think? Do you agree?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

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Every so often I get caught out. I loved the title and the spacescape on this YA offering – but what I should have also paid more attention to was the blurb…

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsEven though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re hurtling through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. He becomes the sun for her, and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. To lose him would be like losing herself . . .

Yep. It’s firmly in the romance category, rather than a space opera with the romance as part of the plotline. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you are a solid fan of love stories – the snag is that I’m not, unless there is an interesting spin on the relationship. However, as I think this more my mistake than that the book is in the wrong category and there were aspects of it that I really enjoyed.

I found the setting intriguing. This Romeo and Juliet scenario plays out on Ventura a generational ship headed for Epsilon Eridani in response to a beacon that has been detected. Seran’s ancestors took the decision to dedicate the rest of their lives and those of generations of their offspring to head out into the unknown. However, there is no faster-than-light travel and it’s going to take a very long time to get there. In the meantime, there is a controlled breeding programme in place on board, with the strong emphasis on family values, as research as shown it is the most stable social structure. Until a stroppy teenager with a chip on her shoulder the size of Jupiter’s black spot decides she doesn’t want to marry her selected mate – because she’s fallen in love with someone else… And before you roll your eyes, there isn’t a love triangle going on here – the ‘happy’ couple who are slated to spend the rest of their lives together aren’t remotely in love.

I enjoyed the descriptions of life aboard the ship and the ongoing issue of what those space-faring generations do to keep up morale, given the whole of their lives will be spent travelling in the ship – it is a science fiction staple. Ling’s depiction of Ventura is vivid and I felt the overall reaction of the adults confronted with this situation was reasonably realistic in their ongoing efforts to try to persuade her to put her feelings on one side and see the bigger picture. Though there is a darker undertow, with strong hints that Seran’s mother’s suicide was less voluntary.

As Seran and Dom’s relationship becomes a thing, I found it harder to stay engaged with the book, although the climax was unexpected. And to be honest, I’m not sure it works on any level. It certainly felt as if the science fiction aspect of the story slid sideways into fantasy… But of course, I wasn’t caught up with the Seran and Dom’s relationship and didn’t particularly care if they stayed together.

All in all, I found the worldbuilding generally enjoyable and Ling has presented an interesting cast of characters, though I found Seran annoyingly self centred. I’m sure that romance fans will probably enjoy the story progression and ending more than I did. I received a copy of The Loneliness of Distant Beings from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
7/10

Review of The Snare – Book 1 of Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space by Cavan Scott

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I took my six-year-old grandson shopping for books, thinking we’d come away with yet another sticker book when this offering caught his eye. A great Star Wars fan, he was thrilled and so was I. Would it provide the adventure and excitement he wanted, with some of the film magic he craved?

thesnareIn a galaxy far, far away… When their parents are kidnapped by the villainous Captain Korda of the Galactic Empire, Milo and Lina Graf set out in their starship the Whisper Bird to rescue them. But with Imperial forces lying in wait, can they escape THE SNARE?

And there you have it – a brother and sister trying to find out where their parents might be held, alone apart from a lizard-monkey called Morq and a grumpy robot called CR-8R, or Crater to his young owners. This adventure story starts full-tilt and rockets along without letting the pace drop, providing plenty of thrills and spills along the way.

While there isn’t a huge amount of in-depth characterisation, Milo and Lina are both appealing, showing courage and determination in the face of danger, while still badly missing their parents. They also argue with each other, which I really liked and thought it showed a nice slice of reality that children would recognise. There are also regular touches of humour, mostly involving the grumpy robot and monkey-lizard, which helped to lighten the mood in amongst the whizz-bang action and constant activity.

Scattered amongst the text are a few line illustrations which Oscar really appreciated and which he wanted to discuss, given they all invariably depicted yet another action scene. That said, the writing generally reads well, although there were more typos that I’m happy to see in a book aimed at newly independent readers.

Was the climax satisfying? Oh, yes, Oscar was genuinely excited and begged me to complete the book before he had to go home. While he was a bit disappointed that it ended on something of a cliffhanger, he was delighted that we had the second book and immediately asked me if I could get the rest of the series. Which I’ve done. This isn’t beautifully crafted prose, but the setting and characters have struck a chord with someone who hasn’t been all that keen to listen to most of my reasonably extensive library of children’s books. I’ll take that, while mentally blessing the bright spark who reckoned there would be a number of boys who’d be delighted to once more get immersed in a Star Wars adventure particularly aimed at them.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 17th May 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 Nothing Girl – by Jodi Taylorthenothinggirl
1% I think I was more angry than scared. I’d worked my way up to this – this was the most important and probably the last act of my life and someone was telling me two paracetamol were sufficient, as if I just had a mild headache, instead of a life so unbearable that I didn’t want to be in it any longer.

BLURB: Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

I’ve just trudged through the opening pages of an shocker, so felt I needed something special – and this is my choice. Himself giggled through this – and at 2 am a couple of nights ago, woke me up while weeping over it… He reads A LOT and I can’t remember him doing that before. So I thought I’d give this one a go…

Review of the KINDLE Ebook The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice – Book 1 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

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I read The Lost Child longer ago than I care to recall and loved it, so when I went online and found this recent offering, I snapped it up. Would Ash’s ability to spin a great story and interesting world still hold me?

theflooddragonTwo rival clans. Two sacred pearls, the Tide Jewels, that can summon the Tide Dragons to protect the empire. Two young men, Kaito and Naoki, one a Black Crane healer, the other a Red Kite shinobi, are sucked into an ancient, unresolved conflict between the gods of land and sea, when the exiled Red Kites steal the Tide Jewels and re-ignite a bitter clan war. Kaito must find a way to restore the emperor’s jewels – but how can it be done without betraying his own clan or angering the gods?

The magic persists. I was immediately pulled into this engrossing, beautifully depicted world that is clearly based upon the closed society of Japan, as the book starts with a bang and the pace doesn’t let up. This epic story cris-crosses the country as the main characters Kaito and Naoki find themselves pitch-forked right into the middle of a family feud, with devastating consequences for all concerned… The story is told in multiple pov, as others also become embroiled in this clan war.

This isn’t a simple good versus evil conflict, where some shadowy nasty villain lurks whose motives are as murky as his scheming, for we are taken into the heads of sympathetic protagonists on both sides of this vendetta. I cared about all the people in the story and could see where they were coming from – even the wilful, high-handed Naoki.

The other dynamic I thoroughly enjoyed is how things are not as they initially appear. So while we are presented with what seems to be the facts at the start of the book, as the plot progresses, we begin to realise that there are other forces at play. Done well, this tactic never fails to have me humming with pleasure as I delve ever deeper into the world, absolutely hooked and wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery. And this deftly balanced plot pulled me along to the climax, with me reading waaay longer than I should to find out what happens next.

The initial storyline is all wrapped up satisfactorily – but there are a whole lot of dangling plotpoints and I’m fervently hoping the second book in the series is on the verge of being released – because I need to know what happens next! I’ll be buying more of Ash’s books – and if you are looking for a really strong, exciting fantasy story with plenty going on, that doesn’t descend into too much gore, then give it a go.
9/10

Sunday Post – 15th May

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Weekly Wrapup

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they have read and blogs they have written.

This week, I still seem to be running to stay on the same spot… Monday was taken up with helping my son with an audition tape and teaching and I’ve been out every night this week, except Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday I was with a couple of writing groups – vital to get feedback and discuss various writing/editing problems as well as great fun. Friend and accomplished poet, Lyn Jennings helped me out with my poem ‘The Price of Breathing’ and on Wednesday evening Sarah Palmer set me on the right track with my woefully bad blurbs for Dying for Space and Breathing Space.

On Thursday evening, the West Sussex Writers monthly meeting had Sarah Lewis talking to us about using social media as authors. It was a really good evening, with plenty of useful information. And we’ve had the pleasure of Oscar’s company throughout the week-end, so fun things like trips to the beach and bowling have pushed editing and reading into the background.

I have managed to read four books this week, although one of those is a book Oscar and I have been reading together, so it would count as more of a novella, as it is the £1 book he bought for World Book Day. I completed:

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight
I was given the opportunity to read this YA mystery sci fi thriller via NetGalley and couldn’t resist. It is a taut, twisting plot full of surprises written in first person viewpoint. It definitely is a Marmite book that readers seem to either love or hate and I posted my review of it yesterday.

 

planetfallPlanetfall by Emma Newman
I bought this book in the early New Year, but wanted to wait until I felt the need for a bit of a pick-me-up before reading it. I’m glad I did. This book is a joy. It grabbed me by the throat from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end. I still get a tingle every time I think about it… I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 of The Laundry Files by Charles Strossannihilationscore
This is the companion book to The Rhesus Chart and I’m very glad I managed to read the two books reasonably close together. Again, a roller-coaster ride through an everyday setting with recognisable people dealing with threats that are anything but mundane. Though the inter-departmental politics, office rivalries and budget constraints certainly are… Stross manages to weave a unique world that we all instantly can identify with – before throwing it into a tentacle-lined abyss. I’ll be reviewing this on or around 9th June when the paperback version is released.

 

theescapeEscape – Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space by Scott Cavan
This is a nifty idea – get a major film franchise agree to use their setting for a series of children’s books. Oscar was rather underwhelmed about the idea of going off to spend his £1 book voucher on anything other than the inevitable sticker book – until we happened upon this offering. And he was so excited, I bought the rest of the series. We completed this book on Friday night as soon as he walked through the door.

 

My editing schedule has lurched to a halt this week, but I’m hoping that as next week is considerably quieter, I’ll be able to really get cracking on Breathing Space.

My posts last week:
Weekly Wrap-Up – 8th May

Review of Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. Foner

Teaser Tuesday – Planetfall by Emma Newman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

2016 Discovery Challenge – April Roundup

Friday Faceoff – Which Witch is Which? featuring Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight

It has been an enjoyably sociable week with lovely writing friends. I am also getting steadily fitter with my weekly sessions of Fitstep and Pilates – though I stupidly dropped my TENS machine while loading the washing and broke it, so need to order another as my hip is being a bit niggly.

May your books bring you entertainment and enjoyment, or profound insights and I hope everyone has a fulfilling, busy week.

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight

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I was offered the opportunity to read and review this book – and took it like a shot. The premise very much intrigued me. Would I enjoy it?

theoutliersIt all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself. This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

I’m not giving any more of the blurb, because it moves into Spoiler territory with the next paragraph and the plot is too tightly constructed to allow the reader experience to be so compromised.

I was really caught up with Wylie’s dilemma – struggling with her anxiety since her mother’s sudden death, she is becoming increasingly isolated. However, when her friend gets herself into yet another scrape, Wylie battles her nerves to leave her house in response to Cassie’s cryptic message. Yes… I did find Wylie’s ability to overcome her recent agoraphobia convincing, along with her sudden determination to try and help her friend. The plot moves along at a fair clip, and while Wylie is still grappling with her fear, she is also beginning to reconsider her opinion of Jasper.

I like the way McCreight steadily presents us with a series of surprises, one after the other, jolting us – and the young protagonists – from our initial assumptions and had me reading late into the night to discover what happens next. The subsequent adventures where nothing is as it seems gives the story an almost gothic feel, particularly when they are finally reunited with Cassie.

The backstory that triggers the whole conspiracy does leave me slightly scratching my head, as I am still not convinced as to why the outliers would be quite so crucial to everyone apparently scrabbling to get their hands on them. However, this is the first book in a trilogy and there is a high likelihood that this initial explanation has another couple of layers beneath it, if McCreight continues in the same vein throughout the next instalments in this series.

That said, I’m not wholly convinced at the widespread nature of the conspiracy and feel I need to read at least the next book in the series to know whether I’m selling the author short. It may well be resolved to my satisfaction in the next two books in this trilogy. However, as the story was left on a complete cliffhanger, I definitely plan to read at least the next book – I need to know what happens next to Wylie.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Which Witch is Which?

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This is a new meme started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is covers featuring witches or witchcraft. And for me it had to be this book: Witch Week – Book 3 of the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones , which should be FAR better known. If you like the Harry Potter series, then you’ll love Chrestomanci’s world.

All three covers are British. This first offering is on the book that I own, published in 2000 by Harper Collins. It’s okay, featuring the main protagonists but doesn’t have the darkness or the quirkiness of this memorable book.

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This next cover was produced by Greenwillow Publishing back in 1997 and far more captures the darkness and sense of threat that runs through the story. There is also a nod to the enigmatic enchanter who is in charge of all things magical within the worlds, which I like.

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But this is my favourite by a long country mile.

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I love the bright boldness of the colours and the wonderful curling font. I reckon Harper Collins nailed it with this vastly improved effort, featuring Chrestomanci himself in the foreground, with all the additional quirky characters and events popping up in and around the title. What do you think?

2016 Discovery Challenge – April 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 April?

Cinders – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
cinderHumans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle.

I found the ways in which the story spun off from the original, playing against my expectations, added to my appreciation of the world – and I was hooked. Read the full review here.

 

Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
As a thief, I’m good at three things: hiding in the shadows, getting in and out unseen, and brightblazeofmagicuncovering secrets. I put these skills to work for the Sinclair Family, one of the magical mobs that run the tourist town of Cloudburst Falls. Everyone knows Victor Draconi wants to take over all the other Families – and kill every last Sinclair. What they don’t know is that I’m on to him, and no way will I let the man who murdered my mom get away with hurting all the other people I care about. Especially when I’ve got places to break into, stuff to steal, and Devon Sinclair fighting right by my side…

It wasn’t until I’d started the book that I realised I’d done it again… After all my best intentions – I’d crashed mid-way into a series as Bright Blaze of Magic is the third book in the Black Blades series. However, this wasn’t a problem as Estap is far too experienced and deft a writer to leave me adrift. Without going into long, involved explanations, I was provided with all the necessary backstory to be able to get up to speed for this slice of the narrative arc. The process was helped by the fact that our feisty heroine bounces off the page with loads of personality and charisma. This is an enjoyable, slick read from a writer clearly at the top of her game – read my full review here.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
thestartouchedqueenMaya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, has other plans for her.

And that is ALL I’m prepared to reveal of the blurb, which then immediately lurches into major Spoiler territory, as it happily provides most of the main plotpoints of the book. Please take my firm advice and avoid it until you have had a chance to read the book, first. The prose is rich and lyrical, spinning a beautiful world with a brutal undertow. It reminded me, in parts, of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Read my full review here.

 

Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts Saga by Colleen Oakes
The arresting black and white cover immediately snagged my attention and when I saw it was a queenofheartsdystopian take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I immediately requested this NetGalley arc.
As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life. When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

This book is squarely in Dinah’s viewpoint throughout, which isn’t always completely comfortable. While there is much to sympathise with – she’s had a fairly wretched time of it, without a doubt – she is also spoiled, headstrong and bad tempered. I did spend a chunk of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. However, what kept me caring is her undoubted courage and strong sense of loyalty to those she loves, as well as the fact that she is undoubtedly the underdog in the poisonous atmosphere of this palace. My review of this book is here.

Once more, I doubled my original target by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. Becoming a NetGalley reviewer has certainly helped me widen my reading range and the Discovery Challenge has further encouraged me to go on seeking books by women authors I haven’t yet encountered. So far 2016 has been a bumper reading year and while it can’t be sustainable, I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience.

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

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Yep, it was the cover. I took one look at it and was immediately smitten. Did it play me false?

centralstationA worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper. When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.
Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change. At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive… and even evolve.

If it isn’t already apparent from the blurb, this is one of those books where the central character is the world Tidhar evokes in his detailed, layered descriptions that are the pivot around which the various plotlines circle. And if this were a rom-com or whodunit, it would be an issue for the reader – the pace would suffer and the storyline would be compromised. However, this is the harder end of science fiction, set a long way in the future where technology and an alien entity has significantly altered humanity, so we are now confronted with posthumans. Nothing can be taken for granted, as this is a world very different from ours, so that level of information is necessary.

Having said that, if Tidhar had presented info-dumps in indigestible chunks, I’d have found it a problem. So I’m glad to report that he does no such thing. He also manages to pull off another nifty trick – my other issue with posthuman protagonists is that they are often so very alien I find it difficult to care one way or the other as to what happens to them. My attention was held throughout this many-stranded narrative in multiple pov because Tidhar writes with power and economy.

His characters and their concerns bounce off the page, pulling me in and making me care. There are occasional moments of humour, drama and passion. What there isn’t is a single overarching plot that draws all this together into a tidy whole – but that is sort of the point. Tidhar’s scattergun approach, highlighting a number of individuals while they are grappling with aspects of their lives causing them a problem, gives us a vivid, multi-faceted sense of the whole.

Inevitably I cared more about some characters than others, but that was okay – the only time I felt Tidhar’s writing faltered very slightly, was when depicting the children. While I understood they were definitely different, along with the difference, they somehow lost their childishness, which prevented me from fully bonding with them.

A warning, though. If you have followed Tidhar’s short fiction and are poised to dive into Central Station all set to be whisked away into a completely different adventure, then you may be disappointed. As far as I can make out from the notes at the back of the edition, Tidhar has woven together a number of his short stories to create the novel, Central Station. However, if you pick up this book at random, lured by the beauty and alien feel of the cover and hoping for a sense of that other-world atmosphere permeating the pages, you’re in for a treat.
8/10