Monthly Archives: February 2018

Can’t-Wait Wednesday, 28th February 2018

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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 – Meet me in the Strange by Leander Watts

#science fiction #YA #magic realism

Davi tries to help a new friend, Anna Z, escape a cruel and controlling brother, and the teens end up running away to follow the tour of their rock idol, the otherworldly Django Conn. The story is set in a weird and wonderful retro-futuristic city of glam-girls and glister-boys and a strange phenomenon that Anna Z calls the “Alien Drift.”

This one sounds a bit weird and interesting. I’m hoping for the same kind of vibe that Justina Robson manages in her Quantum Gravity series. I’ve never come across anything quite like it before or since. And that cover is fabulous, isn’t it? Not that I am ever unduly influenced by book covers. In any way. At all…

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Teaser Tuesday – 27th February, 2018

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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:

Blunt Force Magic – Book 1 of the Monsters and Men trilogy by Lawrence Davis

97% I walked out of the filthy den of forfeited hopes and dead ambitions into the blinding light of midday.
“You ducking the hard stuff again?” Kaycee asked, walking over from her store which was only a few feet down from the underground bar.
“Food.” I lifted the to-go bag up for her to see.
“From there? That’s brave.”
“Bravery is my middle name.”

BLURB: Janzen Robinson is a man lost between two worlds. Five years removed from a life as an apprentice to a group of do-gooding heroes who championed the fight against supernatural evils, the once-promising student is now a package courier going through the daily grind, passing time at a hole-in-the-wall bar and living in a tiny, run-down apartment on the south side of Cleveland, Ohio.

Then fate (or a case of bad timing) brings him face to face with a door that’s got his old life written all over it. From the ancient recesses of unyielding darkness known as the Abyss, a creature has been summoned: a Stalker, a predator whose real name is forbidden to be spoken aloud. It’s a bastardization of the natural order, a formidable blend of dark magic and primal tenacity. Its single-minded mission? Ending the life of a fiery, emerging young witch.

This is only part of the rather chatty blurb – and as you can see I’ve nearly finished this one. It’s been great fun and Janzen’s scruffy magic is a nice addition to the urban fantasy vigilantes keeping all those monsters at bay. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

Review of Split Feather – Book 1 of The Daughter of the Midnight Sun series by Deborah A. Wolf

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I saw this one on the library shelves, liked the look of it and notwithstanding the fact that my TBR pile has reached crazy proportions, I took it home.

Siggy J. Alexie is a troubled young woman. Taken from her family as a toddler, abandoned by her adoptive mother into the foster care system as a preteen, she is haunted by a history of abandonment, abuse, and mental health issues. She is also haunted by a demon. Siggy sees ghosts and demons, has conversations with beings she knows aren’t really there, suffers from cluster headaches, coffee addiction, and terminal bad language, and has a hot temper that just won’t quit. She lives in a crappy trailer in the woods in Bearpaw, Michigan – alone, just the way she likes it. But then she goes and does something heroic and screws up her rotten life even further.

That’s as much as the very chatty blurb I’m willing to share, but do be warned, it continues at some length and gives at least a couple of major plotpoints that you’d be better off reading within the story. The other warning – while it mentions it, if you are offended by strong language, then this isn’t the book for you. There is extensive use of the f word throughout, because as Siggy admits – she is a potty-mouth. However, I really warmed to the punchy first-person narrative which manages to portray an abused, troubled young woman without a scrap of whining or self pity. In fact, despite the bleakness of her life, she is frequently very funny, which worked well in bonding me to her and ensuring I really cared about what happens to her.

Her life doesn’t make for pretty reading – the foster-care system she ends up in is clearly broken and has left her to fend for herself with a sub-standard education and dealing with issues she shouldn’t have to. As well as having to cope with a demon who constantly plagues her.

I really like this aspect of the book. The demon can be taken at face value as one of the otherworldly creatures inhabiting this fantasy novel – or the demon can be seen as the personification of her own self-loathing. Either way works well and I enjoyed the fact that Wolf gives us an opportunity to read that layer into the story. The writing is sensually very rich – we know most of the time what Siggy is smelling and how the landscape impacts upon her as senses as well as emotionally. Not only does this give us another layer of information, it also underlines the impression of Siggy’s otherness. Of course, with such a vivid protagonist, we also need a suitably horrible antagonist – and Wolf delivers a couple, who are also both women, which I really enjoyed.

The other interesting aspect of this book is there is no romantic attachment, which – given Siggy’s messed up emotional state, was something of a relief. She isn’t in a fit state to be falling love. Yet all too often in this genre, a heroine staggers away from a series of incidents dire enough to have Superwoman buckling at the knees, only to fling herself into the arms of a handily available man, professing her love. Frankly, she’d be better off with a long, hot shower and a lie-down. Alone.

All in all, this is a really good start to what promises to be a fascinating and engrossing series. Recommended to urban fantasy fans who like gritty, vivid protagonists and a well-told story.
9/10

Sunday Post – 25th February, 2018

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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.

I’ve been back in the thick of it as term time has resumed at Northbrook. We had a department meeting this week, which was the most exciting in years with a new head who is very focused on expanding the role of Adult Learning in the college and in the community. I am now thinking about next year’s courses.

On Wednesday evening we had a great meeting with our Writers’ Group and are discussing the possibility of going on a week-long writers’ retreat in Devon at the start of October. During Thursday, my staunch writing buddy Mhairi came over and we discussed our projects, when she stopped me taking Miranda’s Tempest off on a new shiny direction that was luring me away from my former narrative arc. That’s what writing friends are for, people!

On Friday, Himself and I collected Frances from school so we were able to catch an early train to London on Saturday, as Grimbold Publishing were part of a featured event laid on by Forbidden Planet. I’ve never been to this store before – and found I’d arrived in heaven. In addition to being able to catch up with wonderful folks like Kate Coe and Jo Hall – there were all these books… shelves and shelves and shelves allll devoted to science fiction and fantasy! Frances was equally thrilled at the range of manga comics, so after a lovely afternoon chatting about books, browsing among books and buying books, we came home again… Though the trip home on the train was a tad quiet as we’d all buried our noses into our favourite reading matter.

Writing-wise, it hasn’t been a great week, but let’s hope I can do better in due course. Though it has been a very good reading week, given that I had some time after my meeting on Tuesday and a train journey to and from London to fill…

This week I have read:

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
A year after the Commonwealth won the war with the Theocracy, the interstellar cruise liner Supreme is on its maiden voyage, carrying a host of aristocrats thrilled to be sharing in a wondrous adventure among the stars. The passengers include the owner and his daughters, Angela and Nancy. Growing up with all the luxuries in the world, neither sister has ever known true struggle, but that all changes when Supreme comes under attack…
This is a really enjoyable adventure set on a passenger liner – think Titanic in space. I loved the slow build so we get to know the characters and care about them, before it all hits the fan. There are plenty of twists, though I did see a couple of them coming. All in all, an excellent read for fans of quality space opera.

 

Into the Fire – Book 2 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.
I loved Cold Welcome, the first book in this series, so I was delighted when I realised this offering was now available. It picks up immediately after the first book, when everyone has returned home and should be relaxing with their loved ones after such a terrible ordeal – only that isn’t happening. Once more Moon is cranking up the tension in this, well told futuristic thriller.

 

The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – Book 1 of the Black and Dods series by Diane Janes
1929.
The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.
This cosy murder is consciously set in the 1920’s tradition with a slow buildup and plenty of prospective suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details of Fran Black’s life, which takes a hard look at the lot of a woman living on her own at a time when they had only just got the vote. This one held me right to the end and I am definitely going to be looking out for more books, in this entertaining series.

 

The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow by Scott Baker
As writers, we all know what an incredible tool dictation software can be. It enables us to write faster and avoid the dangers of RSI and a sedentary lifestyle. But many of us give up on dictating when we find we can’t get the accuracy we need to be truly productive.

This book changes all of that. With almost two decades of using Dragon software under his belt and a wealth of insider knowledge from within the dictation industry, Scott Baker will reveal how to supercharge your writing and achieve sky-high recognition accuracy from the moment you start using the software.
This book is certainly well written and very clear. While there are a number of excellent tips which should help me improve my mastery of Dragon, I’m not sure that I will ever get to a stage where my accuracy will rival my typing – after all I was a fully-trained touch-typist who earned a crust as secretary in a former life. But as my hands and wrists are getting increasingly unhappy at cranking out 400,000+ words a year (NOT all novels or stories, I hasten to add) I need to do something before it turns into a full-blown repetitive strain injury.

 

Into the Thinnest of Air – Book 5 of the Ishmael Jones Mystery series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone’s Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone’s Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
This is another entertaining adventure in this paranormal murder mystery series. There is certainly plenty of tension as guests disappear one by one in the creepy castle that is cut off from the outside world. I was hooked into wanting to know what happens next and will be writing a review in due course.

 

Escaping Firgo by Jason Whittle
When a bank worker takes a wrong turn in life and on the road, he finds himself trapped in a remote village hiding from the police. Before he can find his freedom, he has to find himself, and it’s not just about escaping, it’s about settling up. Because everybody settles up in the end.
This is a delightfully quirky read – and at only 52 pages, moves along at a decent clip. I thoroughly enjoyed following our protagonist’s adventures, as he endeavours to escape from Firgo and will be reviewing this one.

 

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th February 2018

Review of Defender – Book 2 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Teaser Tuesday featuring Into the Fire – Book 2 of the Vatta’s Peace series by Elizabeth Moon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fire and Bone – Book 1of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

Friday Face-off – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down… featuring Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers

Review of Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

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

It Comes Down to Reading https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/02/22/it-comes-down-to-reading/ Just in case anyone has gone away thinking that learning an appreciation for books and reading is now an outdated irrelevancy superseded by newer technology…

Let’s Discuss – Predictability in Fiction and Film https://www.spajonas.com/2018/02/23/lets-discuss-predictability-fiction-film/ Accomplished indie author S.J. Pajonas raises this topic and has some interesting things to say regarding this topic. Do you like knowing what is coming up?

Blackwing: LITFIC edition https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/2018/02/19/blackwing-litfic-edition/ Genre author Ed McDonald pokes gentle fun at some of the snobbery that still pervades certain corners of the writing world…

Bar jokes for English Majors https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2018/02/20/bar-jokes-for-english-majors/ I loved these – though there were one or two that had me blinking and wondering what the joke was…

Do Not https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/do-not/ I love this poem by talented writer Viv Tuffnell – it contains a strong message for anyone who is feeling pressured and manipulated.

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre

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I read and reviewed the first books in this excellent series a while ago – see my review of Grimspace.

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. With no tolerance for political diplomacy, she quits her ambassador post so she can get back to saving the universe the way she does best—by mouthing off and kicking butt.

I’ve omitted the rest of the blurb as it is rather chatty. It has been far too long since I read the third book in this series, Doubleblind, and my recollections of that story are somewhat hazy, so I was interested to see if I’d flounder at all. I didn’t. Therefore, I would suggest that if you want to crash midway into this series (though I’m not quite sure why you would as the first three books are great reads) this would be a good spot to do so.

Sirantha Jax is an excellent protagonist. Uniquely gifted due to an unusual set of circumstances, with a very colourful past, she is strong-minded and confident to the point of arrogance – which makes a nice change from the plethora of young, uncertain protagonists we often get. That said, she also has her vulnerabilities and the people she deeply cares about – and thanks to the dire situation humanity is now facing, there is good chance none of them will make it. Aguirre depicts the stresses causes by continual combat very well, while the action scenes are well handled with plenty of tension. The stakes steadily rise throughout the book and I found this one difficult to put down as the story drew me in.

There is a strong supporting cast of likeable characters, including Sirantha’s partner and pilot, March, who has telepathic powers and a young Jumper called Angus who she is training. I held my breath throughout the combat scenes, hoping none of my favourites would die, as Aguirre is quite capable of killing off established characters, which is a measure of how much I empathised with the world and its inhabitants.

As for the ending, while it wraps up the current storylines it does leave the situation on a cliff-hanger ending and I am very glad the next book, Aftermath, is already available – and I certainly won’t be leaving it so long before tucking into it.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down…

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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 cover featuring stairs, so I’ve selected Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers.

 

This cover, produced by HarperTorch in May 1995, is boringly generic. They have taken one of the original images and plonked it into the middle of a white cover. The best part of this cover is the period feel of the font, which is well done.

 

This edition was produced by Four Square Books in 1962 and is a far better effort. There is a real sense of drama conveyed by the crumpled body at the bottom of the twisting staircase with all the advertisements behind him on the wall. My big quibble with this cover is that ugly black block for the title font – if it wasn’t for that, this one would be my favourite.

 

Published in 1967 by Avon Books, this edition is my favourite. I love the marble effect of the cover and the lovely art deco effect produced on both the image and the fonts for the author and title, which look as if they have actually been designed to complement each other.

 

This edition, published by HarperPerennial in 1993 is another good effort. The staircase looks far more seedy and shadow of the hapless victim on the wall while falling to his death gives a rather creepy feel to the cover.

 

This Dutch edition, produced by Uitgeverij Het Spectrum is another blast from the past as it was produced in 1961. I like the punchy effect of the cream and black against the red, which I think would have been a much stronger colour before it faded with age. The figure falling headfirst down the stairs gives lots of drama to the cover, making it appealing and eye-catching. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

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I liked the sound of the premise…

“Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson in the glitz and grit of L.A….”
In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future.

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap. Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

I haven’t seen Gossip Girl but have read snippets of the Percy Jackson series and have thoroughly enjoyed the world, so this one intrigued me. However, it wasn’t quite what I had envisaged. For starters, the romance features more than I had expected from reading the blurb – and as the story wore on, I realised there was the dreaded love triangle. I am not a fan of this dynamic, but I will say that Marks manages to make it seem a lot less sleazy than is often the case, as the extra character’s involvement is far more to do with what happened in the distant past.

It did take me a while to fully bond with Sage as she is continually plagued with visions and dreams which have the effect of swamping her rather chippy character, after she works through the clueless phase when she is struggling to work out exactly what is happening to her. There is a dark, tragic underbelly to this story that the blurb hasn’t highlighted and it isn’t our hapless protagonist navigating the social shark-tank of demi-god high society that I had envisaged – but the desperate story of a maddened Celtic queen who slays her king that eventually snagged me.

Given I was expecting something quite different – was what I got sufficiently engrossing to hook me anyway? Oh yes. There are some surprising plot twists in this story, particularly towards the end where the pace picks up and the stakes become a lot higher which had me reading into the early hours to discover what happened.

Be warned though – while a couple of the story elements are sorted out, this book ends on an almighty cliff-hanger. I’m hoping, therefore, that the second book is due to be released without too much delay as I would really like to know what happens next to Sage.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st February, 2018

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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 week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

#crime #murder mystery #historical

1929.

The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.

Could Linda have discovered something about Robert Barnaby that got her killed? Or does the answer lie in the dead woman’s past? As they pursue their investigations, Fran and Tom find the Barnaby Society to be a hotbed of clashing egos, seething resentments and ill-advised love affairs – but does a killer lurk among them?

I think this one sounds great fun. Though I haven’t read anything by this author before, Severn Publishing have produced a steady stream of well-written, enjoyable murder mysteries that I have scooped up on Netgalley – and this looks to be another entertaining addition.

Teaser Tuesday – 20th February, 2018

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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:
Into the Fire – Book 2 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

18% “Pods aren’t equal,” Ky said, scowling at the tiny figures in the drawings then back to the descriptive text. “And there’s another level. Look—the ground-level rooms have the nice beds and so on … the upper one, the rooms are smaller, thicker-walled, no windows. Described as ‘treatment rooms for more severe conditions.’”
“Perfect for isolating problem people,” Rodney said.

BLURB: When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.

I loved the first book, Cold Welcome, in this spinoff series from Moon’s successful Vatta’s War series and so far, I’m thoroughly engrossed in this one, too. Though I do think if you haven’t read the first series, you could probably be struggling with the raft of characters that hadn’t made an appearance in Cold Welcome.

Review of INDIE Ebook Defender – Book 2 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

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I was delighted when Himself got hold of this sequel to the first book, Telepath, which I really enjoyed as I was looking forward to catching up with Amber and her adventures.

Becoming a telepath was hard. Being a telepath is harder. Eighteen-year-old Amber is the youngest of the five telepaths who protect the hundred million citizens of one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but this time her team arrive too late. Someone is already dead. Someone that Amber knows. Amber is determined to catch the murderer, but she doesn’t realize who she’s up against, or the true danger of opening her mind to the thoughts of others.

The first book is a coming-of-age science fiction story featuring Amber when her telepathic abilities first manifest, so I was keen to see how Edwards would develop the story. I was also interested to discover if I liked Amber as much in this novel as I had in Telepath. Well, there were no worries there as Edwards is very good at writing engaging and positive young protagonists. The pacing is excellent and while I have read the first book, I don’t think anyone who hadn’t would have any difficulty in quickly getting involved in the story. So what about the crime aspect? As this is essentially a science-fiction whodunnit, the plot has to reflect that, with a suitably shocking crime and a tricky villain who is able to pose a real problem for someone who can read his mind.

I was impressed that Edwards managed to provide all these requirements with a fast paced, tight-knit storyline that once it took off, made it difficult for me to put the Kindle down. I also very much enjoyed how Amber is jeopardised by the very process of reading minds. This nicely upped the stakes both for herself and her team, which really mattered because I have grown to like the group of people who support and protect her. As she tries to grapple with this situation without sinking into permanent mental confusion, we also gain some intriguing insights into the rest of the world. I really appreciated being able to meet another telepath and it was reassuring to discover there is a high price to possessing such a talent, which gives the story a harder edge, which I appreciated.

The final denouement was suitably thrilling and once I reached it, there was no way I could stop reading before discovering how it all went down – I was already aware that Edwards is quite capable of killing one of her supporting characters, so I was fully invested in the story and genuinely concerned on behalf of the team. If you enjoy your crime with a futuristic twist, I highly recommend this series and while you can read this book as a stand-alone, I do think it would be a shame to miss out on Telepath goodness.
9/10