Monthly Archives: September 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

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Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know that I am continually banging on about how much I love the How To Train Your Dragon books – so when I saw Cowell had written a new series, it was a no-brainer that I would request it. It cheered me up no end when I was approved for this one…

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

My rather elderly Kindle did not handle Cowell’s trademark illustrations very well and I needed to persevere to pick out the text within the rather hinky formatting. However, I refused to be put off though it took me a little longer to get into the story than I had expected, simply because Xar is fairly obnoxious at the beginning – though as the narrative progressed, it became increasingly obvious why he is such a pain and I grew to like and sympathise with him.

This book is clearly aimed at an older age-group than the How To Train Your Dragon series, and consequently lacks the can-do chirpiness that runs throughout HTTYD no matter what is going on. The language is also richer, full of poetic metaphors and although the adventure is full of incident and unexpected developments that are the hallmark of a Cowell story, the issues are more nuanced. Neither Wish or Xar are all bad or all good and I particularly liked the way the adults are portrayed. Very often in children’s literature, adults are either bullying buffoons or simply oblivious. It’s relatively rare to see an adult with a significant backstory and an interesting hidden agenda, yet both parents in this book first appear as typically black and white authority figures, only to later develop into something far more intriguing. I shall be very interested to see how they develop in due course.

All in all, this is a joy. I shall be reading it aloud to my granddaughter as a break from the Louis the Laugh series – after I’ve bought the print copy. And I have included the poem at the back of the book as something of a treat – I recommend you read it aloud…

Wandering Free
In the roads of sky and paths of sea
And in that timeless long-gone hour
Words of nonsense still had power
Doors still flew and birds still talked
Witches grinned and giants walked
We had Magic wands and Magic wings
And we lost our hearts to impossible things
Unbelievable thoughts! Unsensible ends!
For Wizards and Warriors might be friends.
In a world where impossible things are true
I don’t why we forgot the spell
When we lost the way, how the forests fell.
But now we are old, we can vanish too.
And I see once more the invisible track
That will lead us home and take us back…
So find your wands and spread your wings
I’ll sing our love of impossible things
And when you take my vanished hand
We’ll both go back to that Magic land
Where we lost our hearts…
Several lifetimes ago…
When we were Wizards
Once.

While I obtained the arc of The Wizards of Once from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

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Friday Faceoff – Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady…

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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 the one we prefer. This week the theme is hearts, so I’ve chosen Heartless by Marissa Meyer.

 

This cover, produced by Feiwel & Friends in November 2016, is the hardcover version. I like the black and red combination, which runs through a number of the covers for this book. It accurately represents the tone of the book, which is a rather sad retelling of how the Queen of Hearts becomes quite so dreadful.

 

This offering was produced by Macmillan Children’s Books in February 2017. I really love this one. The portrait of the shy young girl is nicely depicted and I also very much like the title font and the strapline which gives effective information without too much cluttering. This one is my favourite.

 

This is another cover from Macmillan Children’s Books which was published in November 2016. This one is also enjoyable – even more so for its effective simplicity – a lipsticked heart across the mouth. I really like this one.

 

Produced in November 2016 by Blossom Books, this Dutch edition goes back to the original hardback cover for its inspiration. I prefer this tree, though with all the intriguing details and lovely artwork.

 

This Polish edition, published in June 2017 by Papierowy Księżyc, again gives more than a nod to the original red and black design. The heart shape in this one comes more from the twining rose stems, complete with thorns. Which one is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 27th September, 2017

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This is my first time taking part in this meme, but given that I have been an active Netgalley member for a couple of years now, it makes sense to share my excitement about the upcoming releases I am in the process of reading and reviewing.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – Select by Marit Wiesenberg

#YA #contemporary #dystopian science fiction #paranormal #romance

Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface—dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity.

This book is due to be released by Charlesbridge Teen on 3rd October and I will be reviewing it in due course.

Teaser Tuesday – 26th September, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:
Healer’s Touch – Book 1 of the Touch series by Deb E. Howell

80% Llew entered the farmhouse kitchen and nearly burst into tears. It was homely and small, with a central table surrounded by work benches and a range that was surely always well-banked at this time of year. The house was warm and fit exactly into her idealised memories of her early life in Quaver. If she’d been hoping to find safety within the borders to Turhmos, this is what it would look like. She didn’t drop her guard, though. Every kitchen knife, every pot and pan was scrutinised. They all could be turned into weapons; who converted them would be a matter of reflexes.

BLURB: Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby.

In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.

I had just DNF’d a deeply unpleasant read, full of grim characters gutting animals for dubious ends, when I found this offering in my TBR pile. A classic fantasy scenario with some interesting edges of its own. I love the main character and the fast-paced plot which pulled me in from the first page and hasn’t yet set me free – I dreamt of this one last night…

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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I was delighted to once more dive into this wonderful series – and it didn’t disappoint…

How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world?

The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…

This book absolutely filled the brief of completely absorbing me from the first page to the last, which I finished once more blown away by where Kirstein has taken this amazing series.

I love Rowan. She is a strong, capable protagonist who is consumed with curiosity about the world around her – which is why she trained to be a Steerswoman in the first place. Steerwomen undertake long, arduous journeys mapping and logging the landscape and are bound to answer any questions put to them by the local populace, unless someone refuses to answer one of their questions. So part explorer, cartographer, naturalist and educator… It’s a really nifty plot device to get a skilled, capable cadre of people out on the road without resorting to war. Over the last three books, I’ve come to be aware of her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She has an over-developed sense of responsibility and is poor at delegating jobs to others – and while she is good at moving through a landscape and keeping on good terms with the people around her, she tends to hold herself somewhat aloof.

This means that once she arrives in Alemeth, where the retired Steerswoman has recently died and they are awaiting a replacement – the villagers contrast her unfavourably with chatty, manipulative Mira. I love the fact that all these books can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty – however if you do read them in the right order (and for a wonder, this time around I have…) then they stitch together to build into a coherent adventure where the consequences of not tracking down Slado could be devastating. However, there is a wrinkle – once Rowan arrives, the village is attacked by a creature never seen before in those parts… I’m not saying any more as I do not want to venture into spoiler territory – but suffice to say that I’m so very impressed at the sheer peculiarity of the creatures that populate her fantasy landscape, along with the flora. Kirstein has built an amazingly detailed and plausible world without holding up the pace.

The twisting turns in this adventurous tale take meant that I stayed up late to read this one – it’s a reasonably substantial read at well over 400 pages, but they more or less turned themselves as I was desperate to know what happened next. This particular story arc was satisfactorily brought to a close – but the overarching narrative has now got an additional disturbing and dangerous strand which has added to the worldwide threat.

I have been spacing these books out, as I didn’t want to reach the end too quickly – but I am delighted to note that Kirstein is working on the fifth and sixth book in the series. Yippee! Highly recommended for all fans of excellent fantasy.
10/10

Sunday Post – 24th September 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.

Not a good week. Stuff was going on that completely cut the ground out from under me. Though there were drops of brightness in the middle of the dross – the major one being that I started back at Northbrook College teaching my Creative Writing courses. It was lovely to catch up on my regular students and meet up with the new ones – I’m sure it’s very uncool to miss them so much during the loooong summer break, but there it is… The other piece of good news is that the Heart Clinic gave my sister the allclear and once more we were impressed at the care and kindness she has received at Worthing Hospital.

Other than that, I felt I was slowly drowning – and on Wednesday and Thursday admitted defeat and retired to my bed, beaten and overwhelmed. And then as suddenly as everything went wrong, it was resolved. I’m still waiting for that boring middle-age I was promised.

On Friday afternoon we picked up the grandchildren. Frances and I spent most of Saturday rehearsing Tim’s film and in the evening my sister joined us for an evening meal. Afterwards we played several noisy games of Dobble and Uno. Today, we are once again rehearsing for the film – we actually start filming this coming Wednesday – a deadline that’s approaching at the speed of a closing train…

This week I have read:

Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan
Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…
This near-future thriller about a girl struggling to cope with both a gift and a curse is engrossing and enjoyable – just the kind of clever, page-turning tale I love getting lost in.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of The Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford
Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. For now…
I loved this one – a believable world, lots of tension and character-driven action, a colony struggling against the odds and a climactic conclusion that left me wanting lots more psi-tech goodness.

 

Select by Marit Wiesenberg
Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface—dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity.
This YA dystopian science fiction offering features an enjoyable sympathetic protagonist struggling to achieve the impossible – to be just ordinary and unremarkable. I really liked the writing and the first person viewpoint of a character being clearly manipulated without becoming whiny or victimised.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h September

Review of Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

Friday Face-off – The color purple… featuring Mendoza in Hollywood – Book 3 of The Company novels by Kage Baker

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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

Beautiful Writing: Part 2: William Shakespeare https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/beautiful-writing-part-2-william-shakespeare/ It was a no-brainer for me when I spotted Sonnet 116 which is one of my all-time favourite poems.

How Reading Rewires Your Brain https://mctuggle.com/2017/09/18/how-reading-rewires-your-brain/ Those of us who are avid readers know that opening the pages brings a sense of calm and clarity when all around are losing it and you don’t want it to be you, too – but now they’ve scientifically proved it.

7 Types of Book Bloggers We’ve All Seen https://thisislitblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/7-types-of-book-bloggers-weve-all-seen/ This article manages to be funny and revealing – question is… which blogger are you?

The Psychology Behind Good Cover Design http://writerunboxed.com/2017/09/17/the-psychology-behind-good-book-cover-design/ Regular visitors will know that I am very intrigued by what makes a good cover and this article by someone who knows what they are talking about sheds further light on the subject.

Authors… yer book’s a what kinda seller? https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/09/23/authors-yer-books-a-what-kinda-seller/ Successful Indie author Seumas Gallacher reflects on the increasing trend for books to be labelled ‘best seller’ and what that means.

Guest Post: Sherwym Jellico https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/guest-post-sherwyn-jellico/ Drew from The Tattooed Book Geek hosted this amazing article by Sherwyn which will contribute towards the effort to lift the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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I picked this one off the shelves because I loved the look of the cover and the idea that this book filled a gap left by J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman appealed.

England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives.

This book is set in a Dickensian England in an alternate time when any negative emotion appears as either soot or Smoke. The aristocracy and upper classes generally don’t show any signs of such debased behaviour, whereas the lower orders are steeped in it. London, with its factories and crowded living conditions, is a byword for degradation and filth as a perpetual cloud of Smoke infests its streets. We follow the fortunes of three youngsters – two boys who are pupils at the boarding school – Charlie and Thomas and a girl Livia.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way this book opened and found the initial tension and questions surrounding Smoke pulled me into the story. However, while it continued to be enjoyable and there was never any risk of my not finishing it, the readability factor that initially hooked me began to dissipate. Vyleta seemed to need to thoroughly explain his world and that was the factor that began to drive the story, rather than the other way around. It is, indeed, a fascinating premise. But I did find the continual addition of random characters who we never saw again giving us slices of their viewpoint rather jarring and it diluted the characterisation and strength of the initial protagonists, who became rather generic. The love triangle also seemed an oddity and didn’t sit at all well with me, given how it cuts right across the gothic atmosphere and managed to diminish the story into a will-they-won’t-they romance while also trying address some really big and interesting themes.

I’m conscious that it sounds as if I thought this was a bad book and it’s not. There premise is original – Vyleta handles the subsequent class divide really cleverly – and at times, the writing is wonderful. But I have a feeling that this book is trying to be a gothic, Dickensian read while having a wide YA appeal and in trying for both goals has managed to fall short of the original greatness this book promised. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it and would be interested in reading other works by this author – he certainly has a fertile, original imagination.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The Color Purple…

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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 the one we prefer. This week the theme is purple covers, so I’ve chosen Mendoza in Hollywood – Book 3 of The Company novels by Kage Baker, which happens to be one of my favourite books of all time.

 

This cover produced by Tor Books in April 2007 is the purple one and is definitely my favourite. Although I’m a tad allergic to having such a strong protagonist featured on the cover as my mental picture isn’t anything like this, I’ll forgive that as all the other main elements of the book are reasonably accurately represented here. I particularly like the depiction of the unspoilt countryside before Hollywood becomes established and so many plants are lost.

 

This offering was produced by Tor Books in May 2006 and is another strong contender. I do prefer this version of Mendoza, who I think did dress up as a saloon girl in some of their evening entertainments, if my memory serves me well.

 

This earlier edition, produced by Eos in July 2001, is where it all starts to go wrong. While the artwork and overall design is subtle and detailed with lots of allusions to the content, the whole effect is ruined when some bright spark decides to write the equivalent of chapter one across the top of the cover in white against the black background. Immediately this is where our gaze is drawn to, rather than the clever design.

 

Produced in March 2003 by Mondadori, this Italian edition is clearly going for a retro look harking back to the science fiction covers of the 1960s and 70s. I think it’s a shame the design only covers a relatively small circle in the middle of the white expanse, given the quirky subject matter and once again, the cover design is blighted by that ugly block splatted across the top. What about you – which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

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I’m a real fan of Sullivan’s writing – see my reviews of Occupy Me, Lightborn and Sound Mind. She is a highly talented writer with a penchant for pushing the envelope with her fiction in a way that I love. So I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…

As you can see, this is set in the very near future where virtual reality is being taken into some disturbing areas… I happen to know someone who suffers from narcolepsy – where the sufferer will fall fast asleep anywhere at any time, particularly when stressed. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this sleep disorder drives a tank through any attempt to lead a normal life. Charlie’s ability to hack dreams starts after her drugs trial with BigSky, when she also starts to suffer from narcolepsy, lose her job and a lot of her hair through stress. Unfortunately, due to the small print on the contract she signed when she took part in the trial, she has no recourse to any form of compensation. So she also ends up homeless. However, she is lucky to have a loyal friend in Shandy and find herself living as a companion to a cranky old lady in a wheelchair, known as O, by cooking and cleaning her pigeons for her. O is also very supportive of her new job as a dreamhacker.

I very much enjoyed Charlie’s character. She could so easily have moaned her way through the novel and although she is often depressed and undermined by her misfortunes, she is also feisty, with a nice line in sardonic humour. I also liked her impulsiveness and occasional lapse of judgement – it can be rather wearing to read of a protagonist who invariably takes the sensible option.

As for the crime aspect – it was really creepy to experience the way the Creeper infiltrated Charlie’s dreams and as I hadn’t read the rather chatty blurb, which I’ve tweaked, I hadn’t realised there was a suspicious death. Unravelling the murder mystery was enjoyable with plenty of suspects and though I guessed part of it, I didn’t appreciate the final part of the puzzle. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and recommended for fans of near future whodunits. While I obtained the arc of Sweet Dreams from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 19th September, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:
Empire of Dust – A Psi-Tech novel by Jacey Bedford

p. 112 “Didn’t you know him then?” Marta asked.
Not wanting to lie, Cara just shook her head.
“He had a tough time on the Rim. You ever hear of the Londrissi hijack?”
It had been big news, galaxy-wide. A big Trust liner, held to ransom in an unpressurized docking bay of the Londrissi Leisure Station. The hijackers had started to jettison victims into the vacuum. The team that went in to end it took heavy losses.

BLURB: Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity.

Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. She’s on the run from Ari van Blaiden, a powerful executive, after discovering massive corruption in Alphacorp. And he wants her back… Badly.

I’ve been really looking forward to tucking into this one – and it’s great. A sympathetic protagonist on the run from an unscrupulous executive… space station chases… starships… colonists looking for a new start… What’s not to love?