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 Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R Green – release date 6th April, 2021.
#paranormal heist adventure #humour
BLURB: Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . .
Welcome back to my blog! Apologies for the long absence – but you might be aware that on that last Sunday Post, I’d just learnt that the illness we had gone down with was Covid 19 – and both Himself and I went down with it hard. I’m sure it didn’t help that I’d had my vaccination on the previous Saturday…
I don’t ever want to go through another month like March again. Himself missed going into hospital by a whisker, as he had significant breathing difficulties. As for me, I was coping with severe joint pain and life-muffling exhaustion. I just slept, or endured the pain. And no one could come in and help us. It was frightening and miserable. What we did have was a steady stream of concerned enquiries from loving family and my wonderful sister and daughter ensured we didn’t go without any medication or food – not that we ate all that much.
Himself has just started back to work, but I am still recovering. Yesterday I’d planned to start back on my blog, but it was a bad day. I woke up at midday feeling exhausted and by the time I’d showered and dressed – that was it. I’m having to learn to pace myself. So there will still be sudden absences, for which I apologise. But I’ve already learnt the hard way that if I try to push through it, I just end up feeling worse. And most of my mental energy has to go to my writing, which is what keeps my mental health topped up.
Today’s Tuesday Treasures are previous pics I’ve taken of Spring springing, which I’m aware has been going on while I’ve been indoors battling to get well. I’m hoping next week to have had the chance to actually get outside and take some new photos, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these offerings from previous years. Please, stay safe. I’m here to tell you that this is a terrible illness.x
I saw the blurb for this one and decided I needed something a bit different to break up my usual diet of SFF, so requested it. I’m so very glad I was approved for this interesting read…
BLURB: 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart. 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter…
I’ve truncated the blurb here, as afterwards I think it gets far too chatty and it’s better if you read the next plot twist in the book.
REVIEW: Three young women, all remarkable in completely differing ways and from entirely different backgrounds, are brought together in the pressure cooker that is Bletchley Park during World War II. I recall the furore caused when news of what went on at Bletchley Park first leaked out for general consumption, back in 1974. Those involved were sworn to absolute secrecy and they abided by it, from the typists and secretarial support through to the code breakers. We are given a ringside seat to the activities of Bletchley through the perspective of three women – Osla, Mab and Beth. For the other remarkable aspect of Bletchley Park is that women were permitted to work alongside men. Admittedly, they didn’t get the same pay – but given that they proved to be every bit as brilliant and dedicated as the men, they very quickly were established within the oddball community that was Bletchley.
This gripping story, much of it based upon the lives of actual people who worked at Bletchley, charts the highs and lows of working in such a pressured environment, where everyone was scaldingly aware that their success in breaking crucial codes affected the course of the war. We get to see how working in conditions of absolute secrecy created extra twists of pressure – men working eighteen-hour shifts under difficult conditions, only to be spat at in the street for not being in uniform, or ostracised by family members for not fighting for King and Country, for instance. Even if they resigned, they were still forbidden to join the Armed Forces, just in case they were captured and gave up information about Bletchley.
Quinn weaves a story of love, loss and heartbreak in amongst the febrile atmosphere of the war, where the friendship between the three young women is smashed apart. I thought the dual timelines worked very well and that the romance between Osla and the dashing Prince Philip was particularly deftly handled – anyone who has seen pictures of him as a young man knows that he was every bit as handsome as Quinn describes him.
The gripping climax of this story made it difficult to put down and I really enjoyed the exciting denouement. I highly recommend that you also read the Appendix where Quinn describes how she wove details of actual people within her story and also provides a potted history of Bletchley House, itself. Highly recommended for fans of historical adventures set during WWII. While I obtained an arc of The Rose Code from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?
BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.
Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.
I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.
This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…
The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.
The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.
Last week I read: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…
I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.
The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…
Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.
The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other. While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.
1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum… I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation… Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.
The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend. This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.
The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.
They didn’t tell him about the pixies. This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.
Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #5 – Announce to everyone who’ll listen that you’re off to teach those pesky humans their proper place in the scheme of things. Though don’t follow through on this one unless you’re really tired of life.
Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.
BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.
I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.
It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.
The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
Phil Williams, successful Indie author of The Sunken City trilogy, talks through his design process as he revamps the covers for his urban fantasy trilogy. As you know, I’m fascinated by book covers and what makes them successful, so leapt at the chance to have a chat with Phil about his reasoning behind the design decisions he made.
Why did you decide to change the covers, Phil? I have always loved these…
The original cover for Under Ordshawwas my first major attempt at a book design, and it served me well. I aimed to mix elements of urban fantasy, horror and thriller, with a nod to the more technical designs of the Rivers of London or Alex Verus series.
The results never quite satisfied me, though I received lots of very positive feedback, and when I frequently suggested I might update them fans told me no, they liked the originals too much. Part of the problem was that I designed a new cityscape with each book and they never quite felt like Ordshaw. I felt the same about including characters or creatures: literal interpretations of the books are hard to pull off.
Combine that with years passing where I learnt more and more about cover design, leading to what I felt was a bit of a step change in my results for Kept From Cages, and it constantly niggled me that I could better.
How did you go about evolving the new design to include all the elements you wanted?
Over the past year or more, I’ve been toying with character covers, searching for a suitable Pax. No small feat when I work with composite stock, but I had a very particular image in mind.
Finally, I found a model that worked. I put together new designs at length until I had something almost approaching what I first envisioned. I also improved the background with higher-quality grunge texturing, and searched for a fantasy-esque graffiti motif to go behind the character and bring out the supernatural/horror element.
Then, when I had my Pax and a looming fairy, and found matching imagery for the other books, I realised the artwork far outshone my character image. When I removed the character, the simpler, more vivid design came to life.
From there, I experimented with extra colour, magic splashes, smashed glass, torn paper titles and more. Thanks to my wife being merciless with my bold choices, all those elements were finally worked into the design as subtle details, to form the covers we have now.
How did you then go about changing the look of an-already published series?
As I’ve already released the complete Sunken City Trilogy, one of the challenges was updating all the covers at once. Once the first design was complete, though, the designs for the others fell into place – thankfully all together, because seeing them side-by-side I ended up (with more feedback from my wife!) swapping the images from Under Ordshaw to Blue Angel, which now make more sense!
Now, I’ve got all three covers updated in eBook and paperback format, with audiobooks to follow, which comes at a good time to celebrate the upcoming release of The Violent Fae in audiobook form, along with the second Ikiri book. These new designs, I feel, blend better with the Kept From Cages design, and The City Screams’ cover, recently tweaked, though I’ll probably give that a redesign too.
To my mind they’re much more striking now, and above all embody the energy of the books. I only hope the public will agree!
Thank you, Phil, for taking the time to share the process with us all. What do you think – do you prefer the new editions? Have you read the series?
Phil Williams writes contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction and non-fiction grammar guides. His novels include the interconnected Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers, the post-apocalyptic Estalia saga and the action-packed Faergrowe series. He also runs the website English Lessons Brighton, and writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English.
Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and now spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.
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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with Roman warfare images. I’ve selected The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 of The Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe.
This edition was produced by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in September 1993. It has grown on me, as I like the artwork, which is clear and works well in thumbnail. My main grizzle is that eagle standard, which seems to be propped up against the main character’s shoulder in rather a peculiar way. I find it distracting. And I’m not all that keen on the highly stylised font, which says 1920s and 30s, rather than taking me back to Rome.
Published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), this looks to me to be a cover tie-in to the film. The protagonists look suitably grim and grubby and I like the epic sense of the battle going on in the background, rather than just a few chaps waving shields and pilums around. That is also a wonderfully threatening sky… However, I am disappointed in the choice of font, which blends far too well into the background to effectively stand out or draw the eye.
This edition, published by Oxford University Press in March 2000, has chosen to focus on the famous legion standard – the golden eagle. It looks fabulous, especially as it has been angled to catch the light and look suitably dramatic. So it’s a crying shame that all that impact and awesomeness is then promptly squandered by cluttering up the cover with that block of unnecessary chatter. WHY couldn’t the bit about the one million copies sold go on the back, under the blurb? This is so nearly my favourite…
This Dutch edition, produced by Clavis in 2003, also features the legion’s standard. This design has deliberately chosen to reproduce the sense of the 1950s – this book was first published in 1954 – with the textbox and artwork. While I’m not a fan of textboxes, I respect the care and thought that has gone into this one and it is so very nearly my favourite. I particularly like the red font, which pleasingly picks up the shade of tassels flying from the standard. It’s details like this that make a cover eye-catching.
This German edition, published by dtv in 1971, is my choice for this week. I love the vintage feel of the artwork and the clean, uncluttered look. Other than the author and title font, the only other detail is the publisher’s logo – what a lovely change to see the whole of the cover design unimpeded by blobs or chatter! I read this series when I was at school and while this isn’t the same cover as the copy I had – it’s not that different. Which is your favourite?
BLURB:Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day. Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time. I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
REVIEW: One of the wonderful things about Tchaikovsky’s writing is that when I pick up one of his books, I never quite know what to expect. There is only one other author I can think of who is quite so magnificently versatile – Jo Walton – and she isn’t nearly so prolific.
Even so, this one was a complete surprise – especially the magnificently dark humour. I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person narrator of Tchaikovsky’s with such a persona, I both loved and loathed our hero’s insouciant bounciness as he works unceasingly to keep a very broken world fixed in his own unique fashion… It would be very easy to drop spoilers here that would blunt the reader’s ability to experience this book as the author intended, so I’m going to do my level best NOT to commit that sin. I was mindful that the blurb didn’t let the cat the out of the bag, so neither shall I.
But I will say that all is not what it first appears to be – I was both captivated and horrified by the unfolding events, which also left my brain aching at times. Timey-whimey stuff happens that has major consequences. But I devoured this compelling read in two sessions and surfaced after that ending, mulling over what I’d read. And wondering what I would do in similar circumstances. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of One Day All This Will Be Yours from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10