Monthly Archives: November 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Artemis by Andy Weir

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I loved The Martian and was delighted when I realised that Andy Weir had another book in the works and thrilled when I managed to obtain a Netgalley arc for it. Question is – does Artemis live up to Weir’s stunning debut?

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The short answer is yes. Oh yes – Artemis has yet another memorably enjoyable protagonist every bit as ingenious and determined as Mark Watney – Jazz is a street-wise moon-girl who plays the odds. She ekes out a precarious living by a series of shady deals under the cover of her lowly job as porter as she needs more money. Lots more money. And it is that need that drives her to make a deal against her better judgement… a deal that trips over into something a whole lot more serious. I’m aware some readers have had a problem with her lack of judgement and maturity, but I feel her poor impulse control is entirely realistic and when we learn the whole story of what went wrong between her and her father, there is also a valid explanation.

Like The Martian, we are charmed into really caring what happens to this lively, irreverent protagonist as she takes us into her confidence and tells us how the domes work, how the society is structured and about her tempestuous relationship with her father. So when it all goes really wrong, we are with her every step of the way, hoping she will prevail. As Weir steadily ups the stakes and increases the pressure – I found this one almost impossible to put down.

Despite the strong character-led nature of the story, there are still plenty of details about life on the Moon for hard science fiction fans. We learn about how the domes were constructed, who initially settled this first moon settlement and what currently powers the economy – all without compromising the pace or the narrative tension. It’s a neat trick to pull off and far harder to achieve than Weir makes it look. If all these geeky details tend to slide past you, my firm advice would be not to skim too much – because some of this stuff has a major impact on the story progression.

So after setting up a precarious situation where our plucky heroine finds herself on the sharp end of the trickiest conundrum – does Weir satisfactorily wrap up the story? Absolutely. We get a gripping conclusion to this plotline, while there are also some dangling tendrils that would give Weir the opportunity to revisit Artemis with the surviving characters. I would love to see him do so. Highly recommended.
10/10

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Friday Faceoff – Snap!

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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 a mirror image or reflection, so I’ve chosen The Dark Mirror – Book 1 of The Bridei Chronicles by Juliet Marillier.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Books in June 2006, is my least favourite. While the hint of a reflection and the gnarled tree behind the seated girl does give a sense of the otherworldly tone that pervades this outstanding historical fantasy series, it doesn’t do it justice. I also think the lettering is clunky and unsuited to the genre and content.

 

This edition was produced by Tor books in March 2006 and is far more appropriate. The lone tree, reflected in the water in a wild landscape beautifully evokes the mood of the book and would immediately have me wanting to pick it up. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in 2007 by Bertrand Editora, this Portuguese edition has also manages to capture the magical sense of the book, though I’m not quite sure what that fraying piece of lace at the top is all about… But those brooding trees reflected in the lake are very effective.

 

This Australian edition, published in November 2007 by Pan Australia, is also effective and haunting. I particularly like the title font, which fits the period without being too fussy or taking away from that stunning landscape – this is a very close second for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

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I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the first part of the blurb – which is far too long
and chatty for my taste – so requested this one from Netgalley. I’m so glad I did.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

This wasn’t remotely what I was expecting. What I thought I was getting was an urban fantasy tale of a werewolf with something of a Jungle Book twist. What this book actually covers is the life of Weylyn Grey, mostly through the viewpoint of people who come into contact with him and whose lives he affects. From the time he is found roaming around the forests with a pack of wolves, he is clearly unusual. But other odd things continue to happen around him.

Given this is set in contemporary America, these unusual talents don’t encourage Weylyn to don a spandex suit featuring a cape and his underpants over his tights – instead they are a constant concern as they often put those around him in acute danger. There is a particularly poignant scene just over halfway through the book where we learn why he hates snow so much.

There are a number of viewpoint characters throughout this book – something I’m not normally a huge fan of. Some of them only feature for a single section, while others return more than once. But each one plays a role in Weylyn’s life as they come into contact with him and become aware of his strangeness. While it has been done before, building the characterisation of the main protagonist through the various viewpoints of a series of transitory characters is a risky strategy. This normal structure most often occurs in murder mysteries where we gradually learn about the victim through the eyes of those who knew her and the investigating team looking into her murder. If we don’t like the victim all that much, it doesn’t really matter – the issue powering the narrative drive in such stories is discovering who killed her. However, for this book to work on almost any level, we need to like and empathise with Weylyn and his plight, because if we don’t care then there’s no point in continuing to read on.

While this may be her debut novel, Lang clearly is an experienced, competent writer with a clean, unfussy writing style that quickly drew me into this book and kept me engrossed until the end. I was sufficiently invested that despite the fact that I could predict the probable ending some way off, I was perfectly happy to relax and go with the flow. And when the ending finally did come, I was left with a lump in my throat.

There is a warmth and gentleness about Weylyn that drew me to him. Lang doesn’t actually sugarcoat his life – some harsh things happen, but there is a steel core of optimism running through this book that swept me up and had me believing that in the end, the right folks would prevail. If you are looking for something a bit different with plenty of heart and adventure, along with a splash of magic realism, then this comes highly recommended.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 15th November, 2017

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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 week’s Can’t Wait offering – The River Keepers by Michael F. Stewart

#children #fantasy adventure #magic

What would you do if your sister turned into a skunk? How about a mouse? Or a frog? Would you want to be a snake? Have you ever wished to swim like an actual fish? Wouldn’t you worry that a snapping turtle might take a bite out of you?
In The River Keepers, two sisters must rise to meet an unexpected challenge. It’s a story infused with the magic and drama outside their backdoor — perhaps yours, too.

This one sounds entertaining. I’m always a sucker for shapeshifting tales – and isn’t that cover gorgeous? By the look of it, Stewart is an experienced author with a number of books to his name, so I’m looking forward to tucking into this one, which is due to be published on 1st December by The Publishing House.

Teaser Tuesday – 14th November, 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:

A Plague of Giants – Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearn

72% The bard ends his completely miserable audience by saying he’ll stay at the Raelech embassy and then tosses out a wish for me to “be well,” which is more alarming than the news of my army’s destruction. People are beginning to notice. To question my health. My sanity! My fitness to rule.

BLURB: In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . .

From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim – an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom’s only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world’s wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.

This epic fantasy has an interesting structure – we learn about the unfolding drama as a volcanic eruption triggers a major and unwelcome migration of a people through a magically enhanced bard. He recites the story of what happens, complete with the resulting political fallout to a bulging city of refugees, taking on the persona of the various key characters through his magical gift, or ‘kenning’. I’m enjoying it – though having to really concentrate to keep track of the eleven protagonists that keep popping up. Himself has raved about this one, so I’m looking forward to a climactic ending…

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

Sunday Post – 12th November 2017

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

Another busy week – last Sunday was amazing as we completed filming all the major scenes, including the finale and once again, the weather was unbelievably kind with bright sunshine, though it was very cold. Monday and Tuesday were teaching days – though a number of students were off, smitten by tummy bugs and colds. On Wednesday, I attended Pilates and Fitstep again, although I still have a way to go before I regain the fitness I attained in the summer. On Thursday, Mhairi came over and provided a sympathetic listening year as I had a bit of a meltdown over the fact that I was STILL going through the line edit on Dying for Space after working on it for hours and hours… In the evening, I attended West Sussex Writers as Phil Williams was giving a talk on marketing for indie authors – it was an excellent evening with lots of valuable information. It was heartening to see such a great turnout.

On Friday, we had an important meeting regarding Tim’s progress and it was wonderful to see him talk so articulately about his hopes for his future in front of people who he doesn’t know very well. When I got back home, I got stuck into the manuscript and also worked through Saturday, so I should be able to have review copies available by the beginning of the coming week – phew!

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday and Oscar’s birthday tea. Bless him, he has kept our present unopened even though his birthday was earlier this week, so that we can watch him unwrap it.

This week I have read:

The Medusa’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Mask of Medusa by T.O. Munro
Haunted by very different pasts, three travellers journey together across a continent riven by clashes of faith and race. Odestus, the war criminal flees from justice. Persapha, new to all things human, yearns for a way and a place to belong. Marcus Fenwell, schooled in diverse talents, seeks a future beyond a wine bottle

But past and future entwine to snare them all, for the Medusa has not been forgotten nor her daughter forgiven.

This entertaining epic fantasy story is about three strong characters – one has been seriously maimed when engulfed by sorcerous fire; one is on the run from a powerful secret organisation and the Medusa’s daughter, only part human, begins to learn what she is capable of. I will be reviewing it in due course.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 5th November, 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Medusa’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Mask of Medusa series by T.O. Munro

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of The Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Friday Face-off – Zip it, lock it and throw away the key – featuring Keeper of the Keys by Janny Wurts

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of novella Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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

The Chickpeeps – How to Go Vegan with Erik Marcus https://www.thechickpeeps.com/
This is a new podcast to assist people wishing to go vegan, or begin making changes in their diet towards veganism. I’m declaring an interest – my son is involved in this project and I’m so very proud…

How Well Do You Know SFF?
https://www.playbuzz.com/orbitbooks10/how-well-do-you-know-sff?utm_campaign=social&utm_medium=Orbit+Books&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=OrbitQuiz%252COrbitBooks Test your knowledge on this admittedly very small and limited quiz

Tammy’s Top Twelve 2018 YA Sci Fi Books #RRSciFiMonth http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2017/11/07/tammys-top-twelve-2018-ya-sci-fi-books-rrscifimonth/ This is an excellent article with Tammy’s top 12 picks for the coming year – given that it’s #SciFi Month, this is a great opportunity to compile your Christmas list

The Plot Thickens: How To Improve Young Children’s Critical Thinking Skills During Storytime https://freespiritpublishingblog.com/2017/11/07/the-plot-thickens-how-to-improve-young-childrens-critical-thinking-skills-during-storytime/ Reading to children can be so much more than reciting the words on the page…

…an Author’s lament… where Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and modern pirate’s differ…
https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/11/07/an-authors-lament-where-johnny-depps-jack-sparrow-and-modern-pirates-differ/ This is an article about the kind of pirates that don’t sail around the seas sporting a skull and crossbones, wonderful hats or a surprisingly sexy shamble…

And as this is Remembrance Sunday, I wanted to add one of the poems I grew up with – one that my grandmother used to read to me while telling me about all the soldiers who died so we could be free. The wrenching pity is that young men are still falling miles away from their homes. Lest we forget…

For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc novella Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I was intrigued when I saw this on the Netgalley dashboard – and obviously went for it…

Special limited edition science fiction hardcover novella by the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Only 1000 copies.

Scions have no limits. Scions do not die. And Scions do not disappear.
Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong. Now Regan and his men, ill equipped and demoralised, must go behind enemy lines, find the missing Scion, and uncover how his suit failed. Is there a new Ironclad-killer out there? And how are common soldiers lacking the protection afforded the rich supposed to survive the battlefield of tomorrow?

This year has marked an outpouring of creativity by this talented author, who is clearly relishing flexing his writing muscles. The last book I reviewed only a few weeks ago was in the first-person viewpoint of a wardog. This offering features battle-hardened Sergeant Ted Regan, who has improbably managed to keep himself and his small team from being killed thus far in a war where ordinary troops are regarded as fodder for the scary fighting machines and near-impregnable Ironclads.

I found that once I picked this one up, it was difficult to put down. I’m not a huge fan of novellas. It takes a degree of technical skill to downsize plot progression, characterisation and worldbuilding, particularly in science fiction and fantasy settings, so that the pacing and story flow doesn’t suffer. In my frank opinion, relatively few authors can successfully pull this off – and while I think the denouement was just a tad hurried so that I had to go back and reread it to ensure I completely understood what was going on, it certainly didn’t make a major dent in my overall enjoyment of this cracking tale.

The world is a grim one. Now resources are increasingly limited, the major corporations are fighting for control of governments and land in order to continue to make money. Most people have been knocked down to subsistence levels with only the privileged few able to live in any kind of luxury. However, as is often the case, the true motivations of the savage fighting are wrapped up in grander-sounding motivations – like freedom and democracy. Those at the sharp end know only too well what a hollow sham that turns out to be and I loved Ted’s world-weary take on what is happening around him.

It means that when it all kicks off, I care about him and the small band of outmatched underdogs tasked with a Mission Impossible job. Knowing Tchaikovsky’s form, I was genuinely worried that we might lose one of the team. In the event, as the action unspooled I wasn’t going anywhere until I discovered what happened and the ending came as something of a shock. I am really hoping that this proves to be the start of a new series – I’d love to see more of this world.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Zip it, lock it and throw away the key

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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 keys, so I’ve chosen Keeper of the Keys – Book 2 of The Cycle of Fire series by Janny Wurts.

 

This cover, produced by Grafton in 1990 is really eye-catching with the limited colour palette of blues. The glowing key illuminating the face from below gives an otherworld, ethereal cast to the character and while I don’t much like chatter on the front cover – at least the endorsement isn’t too intrusive. This is my favourite.

 

This edition was produced by Ace in August 1988 and is far more dramatic. The protagonist is clearly in a desperate situation. I really like the unfolding drama with the sinister figure looming over the hapless lad. My problem with this cover is that the beautifully painted eagle somehow gets lost amongst the large golden lettering. Why on earth didn’t they choose another colour for the title font?

 

Published in October 1995 by HarperPrism, this is another beautiful detailed, action-packed cover. This time, the protagonist (he does get about, doesn’t he?) is hanging off the hull of a boat, moodily clutching the key around his neck as he gazes out across the seascape. I also thoroughly enjoy this one – but the eerily lit face just edges it. Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

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I enjoyed Angelmaker and loved The Gone-Away World, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.

I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.

It might have been tempting to have accelerated through it if I hadn’t been enjoying the experience so much. Harkaway is a remarkable writer and this is him at the peak of his capabilities. For all the depth and complexity, I found the book highly readable and engrossing. It would have been a real shame to have thrown away the experience by trying to skim through it. The writing is immersive and each character has their own flavour so that after a while, it only took a couple of lines to realise whose head I was in. Essentially, it is a thriller. But the puzzle is far more of the slow-burn variety, which doesn’t stop there being some jaw-dropping twists near the end.

For all their quirkiness, I was fond of all the characters, though my favourites remained dogged, persistent Inspector Mielikki Neith whose investigation of the untimely death of Diana Hunter in custody triggers the whole chain of events – and fierce, beautiful Athenais, once-mistress to Saint Augustine, before he decided to become so saintly. The characterisation is masterly and as I’m a sucker for character-led stories, it was their vividness and sheer oddness that sucked me in and kept me reading.

I also feel a similar anger that sparks through the book – the apathy of too many of us, the blind belief that if we put in place a whole raft of cameras and electronic surveillance, it will somehow be alright, no matter who ends up at the helm and in charge. This is a remarkable, brave book, deliberately constructed and written on an epic scale. Does it work? Oh yes. I loved it, but my firm advice would be – don’t rush it. If you try reading this one in a hurry, you’ll end up throwing it out of the window – and given its size, it may cause serious injury if it hits someone…

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