Monthly Archives: July 2016

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Edition of Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders

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My attention was caught by the cover and the intriguing blurb – would it live up to the premise?

Rosamund Brandt has had a semi normal life for sixteen years. Well, semi normal for a family descended from aliens. Sure, she could create portals and her family had a secret basement. But she went to school, had a best friend, and got her driving permit like every other teen. However, her definition of “normal” Inbornunravels when a killer with multiple powers and an agenda steps into town. When Rosamund herself becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few, or getting to the core of the murders and stopping them for good. Rosamund’s choice will save everyone she cares about–or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.

Saunders writes with fluidity and ease – her dialogue is punchy and the action scenes are well written, with plenty of description and I very much liked the premise and backstory that unfolds as the story progresses – and I certainly didn’t see the big twist coming, at all. It is a nicely cool notion and should provide plenty of material for a number of original, intriguing adventures. However, you’re probably sensing a ‘but’ here – and there is one.

This story tips us right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the book, as Rosamund immediately is pitchforked into the initial action that triggers the cascade of events that then continually ricochet through the book. And this is my main problem with this novel – the premise is interesting and I think Rosamund could be a satisfying protagonist. But the pacing compromises this book. We could have done with getting to know the family dynamic before it all kicks off. In order to really care for Ros and her family, we should have at least one scene when life is normal so we can see what she has lost. I turned back to see if this book came partway through the series – it certainly has that feel – but, no, it is the book that starts it all off and the basic groundwork is simply rushed.

The same issue applies with the antagonists – we hardly have time to get to know them, or who they, before it all starts kicking off again. There were a number of suspects introduced throughout this tale, which is essentially a murder mystery – but, again, Ros doesn’t have much time to ponder who is doing what to whom. And I became very fed up with the amount of lying she does to her concerned parents – she appears to take on board their worries and promptly takes off again on another harebrained adventure without telling anyone, including her exasperated, put-upon brother. I found it hard to warm to her, given her crazy impulsiveness.

Perhaps Saunders, full of the potential of this series, has rather rushed this first effort and the subsequent books will settle down. Because if only she could get the pacing right, this could be really, really good.
7/10

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Review of Speak by Louisa Hall

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I scooped this off the library shelves, caught by the arresting cover and opened up the book. The riveting opening pages and high quality of the writing pulled me in and despite the fact that my own TBR is now in danger of engulfing a small grandchild, decided to take it home.

speakA young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls. Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps — to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human — shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances — echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.

And there you have the rather long blurb. However, given the nature of the book, I think it is justified. There are five distinct narrative voices that spool through the book, giving their own experiences, reaching from the past with Mary’s account of the long Atlantic crossing and Alan Turing’s moving letters, to the future inventor of the babybots, reflecting on his experiences. However this isn’t, is a foot-to-the-floor, adrenaline-fuelled adventure. What it does is reflect upon the issue of voice, who is heard and continues to be heard and what it means to communicate.

It’s no accident that the two historical voices are from marginalised groups – one a young Puritan woman and the other a homosexual in post-war Britain when people born with such sexual preferences were officially outlawed and disgraced. Both accounts are moving and I found Turing’s letters very poignant, given that I knew before I started the book what his fate would be.

It is a very neat plot twist – to bind up the voices and slices of people’s history inside a discarded AI, struggling to conserve her battery as she is stored in a warehouse with other bots for the crime of being too lifelike. I have a feeling this book is one that will stay with me for a long time – after all, what will be our legacy, those of us who have gone, now we no longer write down our feelings and emotions on paper, but instead, consign them to our computers? What will happen in the future when those computers can talk back to us? Will we get to rely far too much on them, until they are banned and outlawed? Considering these kinds of issues before we – inevitably – reach the stage where they are technically feasible, which isn’t that far away when you look at the likes of Cortana and Siri, is what science fiction does at its best.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 19th July, 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:
Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
p. 106: Unlike on transport flights, he was wearing a skintight pressure suit, with his helmet secured solarexpressunder the couch. He had his doubts about the usefulness of the suit. While it would allow him to survive decompression and would provide insulation for several hours, and oxygen for roughly the same time, its usefulness was limited to instants where damage to the burner did not affect the drives, since if he could not return somewhere quickly, he doubted that anyone could rescue him in that time – or would be terribly interested in doing so.

BLURB: You can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

This is hard science fiction with emphasis on the ‘hard’. Modesitt’s writing is dense, scattered with acronyms and allusions to space stuff, without stopping to explain much along the way. That’s okay. I don’t have a problem with that, so long as the protagonists are three-dimensional and believable. So far, so good – although this isn’t a book I’ll be whizzing through. Still… it’s good to let out my inner geek every so often.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell

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Jane came to talk to West Sussex Writers in June about characterisation, using the main protagonists in her two published novels The Lie of You and After the Storm. It was an enjoyable talk by a fluent, articulate speaker, but I was particularly intrigued by the sound of her new book and delighted when Jane kindly invited me along to the book launch.

womanofthehourLiz Lyon is Head of Features at StoryWorld TV. It’s exhilarating and sometimes glamorous work, but as a single mother with a demanding career, her life is a constant balancing act. Then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a web of rivalry, manipulation and deceit. If she trusts the wrong person, she could lose her job. But with everything she thought she knew crumbling around her, can she even trust herself?

Jane used to work for the likes of Anne Diamond at Breakfast TV – and she clearly is drawing on her own experiences as StoryWorld deadlines come and go and Liz is frantically trying to hold it all together. The narrative is in first person present tense which gives the book immediacy as Liz pings off the page with Jane’s fluid, readable style. I had intended to read this book over three or four days, but once I opened up the book and got engrossed, it proved very hard to put down again.

The characters are well depicted and even the nastiest character in the book – the bullying, sexist Julius Jones – has a major redeeming feature, which I appreciated. I do get very sick of pantomime-villain antagonists. What is also enjoyable, is that this book focuses on Liz’s work life, instead of her domestic and romantic life. While those elements are addressed and discussed, Liz’s focus is on her job as it consumes most of her waking life and thinking time.

However, the joy of this book isn’t just the protagonist – it is the ensemble who work at StoryWorld, who are mostly larger than life with flaws and talents to match. It is Liz who has the unenviable job of keeping them running as a team, while constantly working to punishing deadlines. As Lythell braids the different stories about the likes of Fizzy the main presenter, Betty the agony aunt, Ledley the chef and Harriet, the latest intern who has the job because her prominent father pulled strings, I found myself pulled into the febrile world of big egos, diminishing budgets and viewing figures – and absolutely loving it.

I haven’t read anything else quite like it, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the sequel and if you’re looking for an entertaining, holiday read this summer that will keep you captivated from the start to the finish, then consider this one. It’s great fun.
10/10

Sunday Post – 17th July

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Sunday Post

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

I am delighted to report that I have FINALLY completed the line edit of Breathing Space! I am now turning my attention to writing the course notes for my one day Writing Surgery course that will be running next Friday, which I’m really looking forward to – it’ll be great to catch up with some of my students. I have also found out that my Creative Writing course next term is already full – which is great news and I’m only 3 more spaces away from having the minimum numbers to run my Monday evening course as well – a brilliant position to be in this early, given that the courses have only been available for three weeks.

janelythellbooklaunchOn Thursday, my writing buddy, Sarah Palmer and I were invited to another great book launch – this time at Waterstones in Brighton which is a fabulous shop over three storeys and walking through, I noticed at least two more books I’ll be shortly adding to my reading pile. Jane Lythell’s third book, Woman of the Hour, was released and I came away clutching a hardcover copy, which Jane signed for me. It was a lovely evening, where as well as meeting up with Jane again – a lovely person – I caught up with other writers such as Tracy Fells, Wendy Clarke and Phil Viner. As for Woman of the Hour, I started reading it yesterday morning and found it very difficult to stop, finishing it this morning. I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

 

This week I’ve managed to read:
Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause nicedragonsfinishlasttrouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…
This science fiction/urban fantasy mash-up is a delightful read – full of incident in an enjoyably original world with likeable, surprising protagonists – great fun!

 

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
machinationsThe machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.
I really loved the sense of displacement Rhona feels upon waking up as a clone – I’ve read a number of books where clones are featured and this is one of the best at depicting the fallout of trying to step back into a life only partially remembered. I will be reviewing it in due course.

 

 

Vowed – Book 2 of The Blackhart Legacy series by Liz de Jager
A Blackhart can see the supernatural behind everyday crimes. But some crimes hide even greater evils… vowedKit Blackhart must investigate why children are disappearing from a London estate. However, their parents, police and fae allies claim to know nothing. And as yet more children disappear, the pressure mounts. Luckily, or unluckily, government trainee Dante Alexander is helping Kit with the case. Yet just as her feelings towards him begin to thaw, his life falls apart. As Kit struggles to unravel his problems and dangerous secrets, she meets fae Prince Thorn in her dreams – but their relationship is utterly forbidden.Then Kit digs too deep, and uncovers a mystery that’s been hidden for one thousand years. It’s a secret that could just tear down our world.
I really enjoyed Banished, the first book in this series – see my review here, so was keen to catch up with Kit’s adventures in the sequel. It did not disappoint – and I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

 

The Woman of the House – Book 1 of the StoryWorld series by Jane Lythell
womanofthehourLiz Lyon is Head of Features at StoryWorld TV. It’s exhilarating and sometimes glamorous work, but as a single mother with a demanding career, her life is a constant balancing act.
Then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a web of rivalry, manipulation and deceit. If she trusts the wrong person, she could lose her job. But with everything she thought she knew crumbling around her, can she even trust herself? A twisty drama of secrets and lies in a London TV station, this is the first book in the StoryWorld series from the acclaimed author of The Lie Of You.
I’d heard Jane’s excellent talk at West Sussex Writers where she had mentioned this book – and very kindly invited me along to the book launch – and was intrigued by the original premise. It’s a cracking read, funny, poignant and completely engrossing. I shall be posting a review of it this coming week.
As you can see, it’s been a brilliant reading week with a range of different books, all enjoyably good so I’ll be reviewing them all in due course.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 10th July

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Ghoul King – Book 2 of the Dreaming Cities series by Guy Haley

Teaser Tuesday – Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone

Review of Night Shift – Book 3 of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris

2016 Discovery Challenge – June Roundup

Friday Faceoff – Lady in Red featuring Spy Night on Union Station – Book 4 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. Foner

Review of Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The 2016 Discoverability Challenge – Kate Coe At the Half-Time Whistle –
https://hierath.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/the-2016-discoverability-challenge-kate-coe-at-the-half-time-whistle/
I’m taking part in this, so it was interesting to see how another participant was getting on…

High Summer Read-a-thon – https://onceuponalittlefield.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/high-summer-read-a-thon/
I love the idea of settling into a book, knowing others are doing the same around the blogosphere at exactly the same time – social media at its shiny best!

A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘An Arundel Tomb’ – https://interestingliterature.com/2016/07/15/a-short-analysis-of-philip-larkins-an-arundel-tomb/
As ever, an excellent article on the finer details of this interesting poem – and my fascination is sharpened by the fact that Chichester Cathedral is only a short drive away and I’m a regular visitor, so I know this tomb.

I have one more week before the schools break up and I’m into major granny-mode, so I’m hoping to get some major chores on my To Do list tidied up this week. Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of KINDLE Edition Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

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For those of you who are interested in such things (and who isn’t?) Rachel Aaron has also written the very enjoyable Eli Monpress series – see my review of The Spirit Rebellion and as Rachel Bach is author of the cracking space opera Paradox series – see my review of Fortune’s Pawn. So given that so far her stock in trade are gutsy badass protagonists who veer regularly onto the wrong side, how does she fare with quite a different type of hero?

nicedragonsfinishlastAs the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

This is great fun. A science fiction/fantasy mash-up in a near future world where a huge meteor strike has released magic, complete with magical creatures, back into our world after it was sealed away, also setting free some vengeful spirits who don’t like what humans have done to the world. Julius isn’t just the runt of the clutch – he’s the runt of the whole clan, and hates the draconic way of doing things. But sealed into his human form, he doesn’t have much choice but to use the circumstances around him and reason his way out of his dilemma. There is a lovely slice of power politics that Aaron is nifty about slipping into the ongoing action, along with an engaging human heroine who is also on the run from a powerful enemy.

Himself recommended this one to me and it didn’t disappoint. The world is engaging and well depicted, the characters ping off the page with plenty of energy and the situations Julius finds himself dealing with grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. To the extent that I was reading this while watching Wimbledon…

Aaron’s writing is always infused with a manic energy that scoops me up, sucks me into her plots and dumps me at the end of the book feeling a tad winded, but with a grin on my face. And this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be definitely tracking down the next one in the series – and soon.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Lady in Red

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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 I have decided to go for a quirky science fiction series, EarthCent Ambassadors by E.M. Foner. The Spy on Union Station is the fourth in this series – see my review of Date Night on Union Station. There are two options of this cover, admittedly somewhat similar, but they are both eye-catching and rather fun.

 

spynightonunion

This offering was published by Paradis Pond Books in 2015. It is certainly eye-catching and gives a sense of being on a space station. The sexy siren at the bar does tend to give the impression that this book is a lot more explicit than it actually is – in fact although there is a love story running through it, the dating encounters tend to be an excuse for a series of farcical events which had me sniggering quietly throughout.

 

spynightonunionstation1

I’m not sure when this version was produced, but this is definitely the current cover. The two figures have been flipped around, the font has been changed and the scene at the bar has been enlarged. I think I prefer the first one, but as they are quite similar anyway, there isn’t much in it. What about you – which is your favourite?

2016 Discovery Challenge – June 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. Did I succeed in achieving this target in June?

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
magicbitterMaire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. And then this ghostly winged man starts to appear to her – and nothing is the same, again…

This intriguing novel in first person viewpoint tells of Maire’s struggle to regain something – only she isn’t sure what it is. Only that she can influence and help people with the magic she adds to her baking. Intertwined in the story of loss and longing, are a number of fairy tales in a slightly altered version, adding to the otherworldly tone of this lovely book. I read it a couple of weeks ago, but it won’t leave me alone – it’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far, see my review here.

And that’s it. A lot was going during June, and the majority of the books I requested from NetGalley this month happened to be written by men. However, if I look at the stats halfway through the year, I should have read 12 books written by women new to me, whereas I have actually read 21 books which I’ve reviewed and published on my blog, on Amazon UK and NetGalley, so I’m not going to get too concerned about this blip to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them! I haven’t made a storming start to this challenge, unfortunately. In fact – I haven’t read a single book from my TBR pile this month. Hm… let’s hope July is better. In the meantime, have a great reading month, given that the weather isn’t enticing anyone outside for more than an hour or so before we all get drenched!

Review of Night Shift – Book 3 of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris

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I’ve really enjoyed this quirky series where Harris follows a small community, who have pitched up at this isolated crossroads in the middle of nowhere because they are all trying to keep a low profile. The first book, Midnight Crossroad – see my review here – immediately sucked me in and I have been on the lookout for the subsequent books in the series.

nightshiftAt Midnight’s local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves—only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town. Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There’s a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place. And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose—which just might happen—it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be…

Once again, the residents of Midnight have to pull together to discover what is going on. I really like the premise where Harris explores slices of each character as they fit into each story, slowly revealing more about their personalities and their histories. In this instalment, the main protagonist is Fiji, the witch. She is very appealing, with her kindness and good nature, her insecurity about her appearance and her unrequited love for another of the residents. In this story, we also learn more about her background and family, when her bitchy sister comes to stay. This provides some enjoyable humour and gives us a satisfyingly awful character to tut over – as while no one in Midnight is particularly cosy, neither are they utterly repellent.

The other character we learn a lot more about is the town’s vampire, Lemuel. He is an authority on paranormal lore, so has a nasty feeling about what is going on behind the suicides at Midnight – I’m not saying more as I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, but I won’t be giving away too much if I reveal that his worst fears are confirmed… Not a surprise as it wouldn’t be much of a story if they weren’t.

Harris weaves the community dynamic in amongst the dramatic happenings at Midnight, so once more we have an unfolding picture of the everyday alongside the havoc that has to be stopped. I really like this juxtaposition and find it makes this series a very satisfying read. However, I firmly advise that because of the ongoing character development, this isn’t a series to drop into halfway through. While you would certainly be able to pick up on the main drama easily enough, you wouldn’t get a proper feel for the continuing character reveal as we gradually get to know the residents of Midnight. This isn’t a demanding read, though technically more tricky to pull off than it at first appears and one I would recommend for a relaxing holiday read.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 12th July, 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:
Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
47%: This is how the memory looks in my head, but there’s no way of knowing whether it’s accurate; I machinationscould be filling in the blanks with what makes sense to me, what I’d like the past to look like, warm and friendly. I’ve begun to wonder how much I recall is actually real, and how much is stuff I’ve made up, cushioning the loss in my head.

BLURB: The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race.

A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

This book starts with a bang as Rhona dies – and doesn’t let up. The writing is strong, the characterisation layered and sophisticated, making Rhona a great protagonist. I was expecting an exciting adrenaline-filled tale of adventure and action – and have found something more profound and satisfying. Fingers crossed the ending of this first book in a very promising series manages to deliver.