Monthly Archives: April 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock

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I regularly look at the murder mystery offerings on Netgalley and this one caught my eye as something different and intriguing…

September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.

Of course, the catch is that it is the eighth book in the series, so would I find myself floundering at all? Nope, not for a second. Peacock is far too adroit and experienced a writer to fall into that pitfall and from the first page, I was pulled into this twisting story where the plot snaked in all sorts of unexpected avenues. So I had to read it in one greedy gulp to find out exactly where it was going.

Liberty Lane is clearly a remarkable young woman as a female investigator at a time when her male counterparts were looked down upon with contempt and suspicion – obviously there is a hefty backstory here. But I certainly found myself believing in the 19th century London streets depicted by Peacock and as a historian, there were no glaring anomalies that yanked me out of the story. Without holding up the action or pace, all sorts of little details contributed to make the world vividly convincing – and I very much liked the fact that she does not expect her horses to go galloping or cantering everywhere, which they generally didn’t.

I also enjoyed her characterisation. Alongside Liberty, there is a supporting cast who leap off the page – the beautiful, blind George is suitably enigmatic and Mr Vickery is by turns exasperating and open-hearted. But Liberty’s small team help to bring this story alive – it seemed entirely plausible that she would be on good terms with an experienced horseman, Amos, running a livery stable, for she often needs sudden access to transport and the main mode of transport back then is horsepower. Young Tabby, a streetgirl part of a gang of children surviving on their wits, is also a regular gatherer of information for Liberty.

However, while the setting is vividly depicted and the characters believable and entertaining, what sets this murder mystery apart is the sheer skill and dexterity of Peacock’s plotting. Just when I thought the story was off in one direction, it snapped around and the momentum and stakes were cinched ever higher. Of course, this means the ultimate climactic denouement has to not only deliver in terms of plenty of action and high drama, but also resolve all that tension entirely satisfactorily. And yes, this one certainly did. I have not read any of these mysteries before, but I’ll certainly be looking out for more – if your taste runs to historical murder mysteries with plenty of tension and action, then this one comes very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Fool’s Gold from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

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Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

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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.

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Snared Book 16 of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep

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Last year, I plunged into the tail-end of this series, Unraveled – see my review here. So when I saw Snared was available, I immediately requested the arc from Netgalley, keen for another slice of the feisty Gin Blanco…

Another week, another few clues trickling in about the Circle, the mysterious group that supposedly runs the city’s underworld. Gathering intel on my hidden enemies is a painstaking process, but a more immediate mystery has popped up on my radar: a missing girl. My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.

The overall tone and setting for this urban fantasy offering is darker than the breezy gung-go fun to be had at the Bullet Pointe western theme park where all the action took place in Unraveled. In this adventure, we start with the death of a young girl and the disappearance of another. As Gin watches the anguish of her sister, desperate to get her back, it takes her back to her own troubled past – and this is where Estep’s skill and experience kicks in. For those of us with the poor judgement to crash midway into this series, this provides us with valuable nuggets of information about Gin’s backstory – for those who have been following the series, this will doubtless provide further layers of characterisation.

While I’m sure there are nuances and allusions I am missing, at no point was I adrift, or struggling to work out what was happening to whom. I enjoy Gin’s gritty, rather violent take on Life as she is confronted with a range of unpleasant underworld characters. Her ice and stone magic give her some significant advantages in any kind of shootout or battle – but she isn’t invulnerable and when her own cockiness gets her into a very tricky situation, help comes from a completely unexpected quarter.

I really enjoyed the various plot turns snaking through this whodunit plot, where all is not as it seems, as well as savouring the extra information we learn about her traumatic childhood. Once more, an wholly enjoyable urban fantasy adventure full of action and twisty goodness.

While I obtained the arc of Snared from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

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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 the theme is the beach, so I’ve chosen Neville Shute’s famous apocalyptic novel On the Beach.

 

This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 isn’t the best of covers – the design is rather art deco and given this book was set in the near future – 1968 – it hasn’t the right period feel. The cool, calm colours are also rather too placid and cheerful for such a grim, shocking book. However, it is attractive and eye-catching, which is a big plus for a book cover.

 

This cover, produced in August 1975 by Ballantine, is much better matched to the subject matter. The red and black cover very effectively conveys the sense of threat and I like the seascape – so often an image of continuity and comfort – as a backdrop. This is my favourite cover.

 

This rather battered offering is the cover published in February 1960 by Signet and refers to the film of the book. I find the idea of the girl standing on the beach, staring at the mushroom cloud blooming over the sea somewhat unrealistic, but at least it directly relates to the subject matter.

 

This Kindle edition, produced in February 2016, is effective. The dark colours and violent explosion is eye-catching. I also like the font styling which gives a nod to the period, while avoiding those solid boxes of black that used to surround titles back when the book was first published.

 

This is another Kindle edition, published in September 2015, which uses the original cover when the book was published back in 1957. While I think it is both eye-catching and attractive, it isn’t anything like grim enough. That said, the book was regarded as very shocking when it first came out and I think Ballantine, rightly, didn’t want to put off readers by confronting them with something that looked too forbidding. There are a lot more covers out there – but these, in my opinion, were the pick of the crop. Which do you like best?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

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I have constantly seen positive reviews for this series and finally Lola persuaded me to give this one a go.

Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.

I very much enjoyed Sadie’s character – she has clearly had a rough time at home with a hostile, unloving mother and siblings who took their cue from her. It doesn’t help that the family are poverty-stricken with no opportunity of escaping dead-end, draining jobs, forcing them to take desperate measures. It is one of the reasons why Sadie applies for Thalassic City. Davis tucks in snippets regarding Sadie’s backstory in the first person (I) pov giving us a ringside seat to her thoughts and emotions – a staple in YA fiction.

There is an interesting cast of supporting characters – I particularly liked Jenna, the girl who rooms with Sadie and gets involved with Dante. I also like Jared. As for Logan, the handsome boy who Sadie falls for in the classic eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room way, he is clearly difficult to trust given his background which is gradually revealed as the story progresses. I liked the way Davis fed us a continuous stream of information as the story progresses, so that our perceptions are continually changing throughout. As for the courtship dance between them, that isn’t an aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting other than the way it contributes to the overall story arc of the Saven and their interest in humanity and what bargain they strike with a government fast running out of sufficient resources. However, I don’t have a particular problem with the insta-love – it’s the way I fell for my ex-husband… hook, line and sinker with the solid belief that we were intended to be together forever.

The scene-setting and worldbuilding also works very well. I found the underwater city believable as they journeyed down to it and again, while the setting seems well developed and convincing, it unfolds alongside the action. So given there is a lot of building tension throughout, when the climactic finale arrives, it needs to provide plenty of thrills and action – and it certainly does. I couldn’t break away during this section of the book, as I was desperate to know what happens next. I’ll warn you – while plenty of the issues that run throughout the book are addressed, it does finish on a cliffhanger, however that isn’t too much of a problem as Saven Disclosure, the next book in the series, is available.

While I obtained the arc of Saven Deception from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

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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.

It’s been all about the grandchildren this last week, as they have been with us again. Unlike most of their recent stays, the weather has been grand – though the fly in the ointment has been poor little Oscar’s hacking cough and heavy cold. So instead of trips to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, along the beach and to the bluebell woods, we had to rein in our activities. We did manage a couple of trips to the cinema – the first to see Beauty and the Beast which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Oscar and I returned to see a truly dreadful Smurf film yesterday instead of the proposed trip to the climbing wall, which was vetoed by me because of his cough. We did manage a visit to Highdown Gardens on Thursday. It was a beautiful morning – bright sunshine without the easterly wind and I decided we all needed some fresh air and the added pick-me-up of a wonderful display of Spring flowers. As ever, it was lovely and the children had fun running around together.

 

This week I have read:

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
Once again, I loved being swept off to the steamy humidity of the jungle where Lady Trent finds herself confronted with a lot more than the savage swamp-wyrms. Brennon’s plucky adventuress leaps off the page with her frankness in how she defied social conventions to follow her passion to discover more about dragons.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.
This far-future murder mystery is a classy, accomplished noir whodunit set on a miserable planet with too much gravity and weather, as Rause returns to Magenta to confront unanswered questions about the bombing incident in which his wife died. And uncovers a whole lot more…

Goldfish From Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay
Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?
Well, this is a hoot! I love the premise that Joe’s magical amulet given to him by his archaeologist uncle means that undead animals look to him to solve their unresolved problems. Fizz the goldfish is definitely on the warpath after being flushed down the toilet and determined to discover who perpetrated the crime.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 16th April 2017

Top Ten Unique Reads…

Teaser Tuesday featuring From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

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

Seven of the Best Epic Poems by Female Poets https://interestingliterature.com/2017/04/19/seven-of-the-best-epic-poems-by-female-poets/ Once more this excellent site has come up trumps with another informative, interesting article.

How To Fail Dismally at Book Blogging http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/how-to-dismally-fail-at-book-blogging.html?spref=tw I loved this funny, helpful guide on how avoid some of the pitfalls that can stall your book blog.

Meeting Deadlines – Remember to Breathe! https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/meeting-deadlines-remember-to-breathe/ Fellow Grimmie author and all-round thoroughly nice person Sophie has had a real roller-coaster month – and a cautionary tale for freelance artists…

It’s a Dog’s Life https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/its-a-dogs-life/ I laughed out loud at this quirky, funny story – if you want some light relief swing by and enjoy this one.

Why Not More Love for the Brontë Sisters? https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/why-not-more-love-for-the-bronte-sisters/ Having been a fan of their writing for a very long time, it has often puzzled me why Charlotte, Emily and Anne are not a lot more popular, given the rise and rise of nostalgia for classic reads.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

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I enjoy my whodunits and I love science fiction, so it was a no-brainer that I would request an arc for this far future murder mystery.

After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.

This noir thriller has a wonderful setting – the planet Magenta has an unfriendly, heavy gravity and terrible weather, to the extent that buildings are more like bunkers in order to survive the terrible storms and the only transport system is an underground railway. Peters’ scene setting is spot on, establishing the mood music of this classy murder mystery – an important component in noir crime. The protagonist is also suitably moody with a full suite of emotional luggage on account of his wife’s death – it has haunted him that although the person who actually set off the bomb was brought to justice, the conspiracy behind the crime was never fully uncovered. In a desperate attempt to try to uncover Alysha’s last movements – Rause has no idea why she cleaned out their bank account and what she was doing on the train in the first place – he has Liss constructed, based on every scrap of information he possesses about Alysha. However, this leaves him with a construct who looks, sounds and acts like his dead wife – so five years on he is no closer to coming to terms with his loss.

It’s a great premise. Peters drops us in the middle of this world, which I really loved – though initially I slightly struggled with the welter of unfamiliar names, though by the time I was 20% into the story, I had become sufficiently acclimatised to the world this was no longer a problem. And the reason for their unfamiliarity became apparent well before the end.

This police procedural is tightly constructed, with various clues and a number of suspects who are considered by Rause and his team. I also thoroughly enjoyed the cast of supporting characters – Rangesh, who has been undercover with the drugs squad, bounces off the page with his West Coast slang and his unorthodox fashion sense – Rause is rocked when he turns up for duty in a flamboyantly coloured caftan. Rangesh provides much of the welcome shafts of humour in amongst Rause’s gritted determination to discover what happened to his wife.

Alongside the murder mystery, Peters also raises the problem of how to grieve when technology can provide a replacement with a strong likeness to the dead person; there are also issues around the artefacts left behind by a powerful alien race as various powerful corporations race to try and uncover their secrets; Magenta is a colony world with a sudden influx of immigrants from Earth which is also causing resentment. Without losing pace or focus, we get an insight into these problems along with others bubbling under the surface that add to the texture and richness of this world. Peters’ unfussy style keeps things moving at a fair clip as the complex case of a series of drugs-related deaths cris-crosses the five-year-old bombing incident. Like many noir thrillers, this is one where you need to pay attention or you’ll miss something vital. Indeed at the end, I found myself backtracking to ensure I fully understood what was going on, as the denouement unspooled with something of a rush and it took me a couple of goes before I worked out all the ramifications – though I’ll freely admit I wasn’t at my shiny best at the time.

I was heartened to note there are plenty of dangling plotpoints, which I’m hoping will mean there will be a second book set in this world – and if there is, then I’ll be tracking it down. This is a world I very much want to dive back into.

While I obtained the arc of From Darkest Skies from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Burning my bridges…

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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 the theme is bridges, I’ve chosen The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young.

 

This cover, produced by Aspect in September 2000 is rather gloomy, with its sepia tones and rather hefty medieval styling – which is odd, given this is supposed to be a bridge through space. Frankly, I think this one is underwhelming – even the font is boring. And it’s a real shame, because the book isn’t anything of the sort.

 

This UK edition, produced by the now defunct Earthlight, has a far better cover in every way. The bridge is a wonderful construction that also closely resembles our DNA, which is a clever double reference to the plague that sweeps through humanity in this apocalyptic science fiction adventure. Even the font pops and fizzles. Needless to say, this one is my favourite. What about you – which one do you like?

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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The grandchildren have been staying over the Easter holidays, so Oscar and I have managed to get a fair amount of reading done, including this fifth instalment of the successful How To Train Your Dragon series.

The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?

After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. Or whether I would begin to see a pattern emerging in the storytelling. Well, there is a pattern – Hiccup and his naughty little dragon, Toothless, once more get dragged into an insanely dangerous and difficult adventure despite his best efforts. Though there is a major difference – the Isle of Berk is sweltering in a heatwave, which is something of a shocker. This part of the world is normally chilly and rain-lashed – failing that, it’s snowing… Hiccup spends most of his time shivering with cold if he isn’t shivering with fear.

However, Stoick the Vast has a cunning plan to keep his accident-prone small son a bit safer – when a real ex-Hero shows up, he employs him as a Bardiguard to look after Hiccup. Although there still seem to be a lot of near misses after Humungous the Hero starts guarding him – which makes his pal Fishlegs very suspicious… Oscar likes Fishlegs, who is small and suffers from eczema and asthma – until you put a sword in his hand and he turns into a Berserk. In this instalment, we also team up once more with Camicazi, the small heir to the Bog-Burglar tribe as the Archipelago is faced with a deadly threat that will leave every island a smoking ruin.

Of course, the one thing we do know is that Hiccup is going to survive and eventually prosper as these tales are his memoirs charting his progress to becoming the eventual leader that unites not just the Hairy Hooligan tribe, but all the Viking tribes. So the fact that both Oscar and I spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out how poor Hiccup is going to get out of this scrape and generally not getting it right is a tribute to Cowell’s considerable skill as a storyteller. What I did particularly enjoy about this tale is the insight it gave us on Hiccup’s mostly absent mother, Valhallarama, who is generally busy off questing on her own account.

The story is resolved after another climactic action scene that had me reading to Oscar later than I strictly should have – but neither of us wanted to stop as we needed to know what happened next. And if you are looking to fire up that kind of enthusiasm about books and stories in your youngsters, I highly recommend this wonderful series.
9/10

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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I love Sullivan’s writing – read my review of Lightborn here – and it doesn’t hurt that she is a lovely person. I met her fleetingly at Eastercon a few years ago during a Kaffeeklatsch session (which is when you can sign up for a session where numbers are restricted so you get to have a chance to talk to your favourite author over coffee and biscuits) and she came across as charming, clever and very modest. So I was delighted when I came across this offering.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. It starts with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Yes… I know it sounds mad and a complete mess. But Sullivan’s superpower is that her writing is so solid and strong, she immerses you in her worlds alongside her amazing characters doing amazing things and it seems utterly normal. Pearl is a fantastic character – it’s never easy to write from an alien or ‘other’ viewpoint, because if they are sufficiently different, it is often difficult to sufficiently care for them. But Sullivan manages to make Pearl vulnerable enough that we do bond with her.

Initially I thought she was some sort of fallen angel – but that is far too predictable for Sullivan’s fervid imagination. She writes the unusual brilliantly with wonderful descriptions that are punchy and to the point. Just as importantly, there is a strong structure and causality underpinning her original take on what powers the universe. Wild it may be, but there is nothing loose or wafty about the theory behind her worldbuilding.

As for the main players in this story – while Pearl, the main protagonist, was my favourite by a long country mile, the cast of supporting characters also leap off the page. There is Dr Sorle, conflicted and suffering, who is literally pulled in two directions; the corrupt dying plutocrat; and Alison, a stroppy vet. And in the midst of all this amazing story are regular shafts of humour – not jokes or comedy set pieces, but the kind of manic funniness that often occurs when we are pushed to our extreme.

This story grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t get go – I was beguiled, challenged, amused and thoroughly entertained. Another outstanding read of 2017.
10/10