Author Archives: sjhigbee

About sjhigbee

Science fiction/fantasy writer & creative writing tutor and book addict. I can't walk past a book shop or library and am considering therapy.

My Top Ten Favourite Reads of 2018 So Far… #Brainfluffbookblog

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Now that we are more than halfway through 2018, what are my standout reads? So far this year, I’ve read 73 books and in no particular order, my top 10 favourites of the year so far are:-

The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
This whole series blew me away. The extraordinary viewpoint and the worldbuilding that takes a science fiction premise and pushes it right to the edge. It has an epic fantasy feel with a strong family dynamic and remarkable characters – and perhaps most important, concluded this series with sufficient drama and conviction.

 

 

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
This space opera adventure, set on an intergalactic cruise-ship liner, was an unusual and riveting setting for this alien encounter. I liked the fact that the protagonists came from both the crew and passengers and enjoyed the growing tension as things slid away into a major emergency.

 

 

Blunt Force Magic by Lawrence Davis
I loved this one. A half-trained apprentice with loads of ability and no finesse finds himself having to stand against formidable antagonists. The chippy narrator and gritty take on this well-trodden path made this a memorably enjoyable read.

 

 

The Bitter Twins – Book 2 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve been a fan of Williams’ vibrant, energetic prose since I picked up The Copper Promise, but this one is an awesome braiding of both science fiction and fantasy. No mid-book slump here!

 

 

 

The Cold Between – Book 1 of the Central Corps novels by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This space opera focuses on the characters with ferocious intensity and we get a ringside seat as layered, plausible people grapple with their own lives in amongst the stars. Needless to say, there is also politics, greed and the need for revenge and love blended to make this one unputdownable once I’d started.

 

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna
This is one of the reading highlights of the year so far. Set in England and steeped in the myths and folklore of this ancient land, the story follows the fortunes of a half-dryad man trying to trace his lineage. Needless to say, he is pitchforked into the middle of something dangerous and old…

 

 

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
I loved the first book in this futuristic crime series, Lock In, where victims of a terrible illness leaving them completely paralysed are able to upload their consciousness into robotic bodies. Our protagonist is now working for the police, investigating the murder of a sporting star, who plays a savage version of American football. Mayhem and action all the way…

 

 

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
I’ve loved every one of these stories – and this one charting the fortunes of a woman newly arrived on a Martian outpost is another riveting read. It’s rare that motherhood is examined with any depth in science fiction stories – yet the protagonist has left a baby behind and is grappling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. There is a terrible twist that those who have read the previous two books are waiting for…

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
You won’t have read anything quite like this one. The cover alone tells you it is something different – and yet I plunged into it, thinking it was set on a near-future, post-apocalyptic Earth. I was devastated to learn it is set right now and based on the testimonies of children alive today…

 

 

 

All Systems Red – Book 1 of the Murderbot Diaries novella series by Martha Wells
Hard enough to write a well-paced novella – writing convincingly as a security robot assigned to keep scientific teams out of harm is far more difficult. Yet Wells triumphantly pulls it off. A marvellous read – I just wish I could afford to read the rest of the series…

 

 

There were other near misses it hurts to omit – Isha Crowe’s quirky Gwithyas: Door to the Void, L.E. Modesitt’s Outcasts of Order and Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill to name but three. What about you – what are your favourite reads of the year, so far?

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc novella Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #PrimeMeridianbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Beautiful Ones by Moreno-Garcia – see my review here – so when I caught sight of this novella on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting – but it wasn’t this. Less escapist space opera and far more dystopian, very-near-future, this novella packed a punch. I’ll be honest – given what else was going in my life, this was not the read I would have chosen to pick up. But I’m glad I did.

Amelia has edges – and quite right, too. So would I if I’d endured the lack of opportunity and dead-end options facing her. She has fixated on going to Mars – right from the time she was old enough to be ambitious and despite having had a series of unlucky breaks, she still is determined to get there. It’s the only thing that really matters… so it is painful to read of her constant struggles that seem to go nowhere. She is constantly angry and hostile to those around her – not ideal when one of her hard-scrabble jobs is to sell her companionship in response to an app.

The world is richly depicted – which seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s trademark, along with indepth characterisation that doesn’t impede the storyline. She nearly has the pacing nailed, but I did feel the ending was a tad hurried in comparison to the rest of the story. Having said that, novellas are fiendishly difficult to get right.

I enjoyed the story and the awkward dynamic between Amelia and the rest of the characters. The times when she is most at peace with herself and those around her, are when thinking of Mars, or watching the movies with an ageing actress who employs her to listen to her past. And if you think that sounds rather poignant, you’d be right.

I would love to read a sequel to this thought-provoking story as I find myself wondering about the character and what happens next. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. While I obtained an arc of Prime Meridian from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Dying for Space giveaway ENDS TODAY

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Just a reminder that if you haven’t yet claimed a free copy of Dying For Space, the second book in the Sunblinded trilogy, today is the last opportunity to do so. One click on the cover in the sidebar is all it takes…

Teaser Tuesday – 10th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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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:

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

30% I burst through the door and out onto the green lawn that sloped down to the banks of the Thames in time to see Father throw a very muddy and bloody Percy into the putrid waters.
I stumbled to his side as Percy emerged with a gasp. “Fawkes, you—”
“Scrub yourself clean, Percy.” Father squatted by the bank. “Before you oust us all. You’ve been a fool this night.”

BLURB: Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

I am enjoying this alternate history. The fantasy twist hinges on two different magical factions battling for supremacy in Stuart England during the turbulent times leading up to the Gunpowder Plot.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth and Air – an Earth Girl novella by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookreview #EarthandAirbookreview

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I have been a solid fan of Edwards’ writing – see my review of Scavenger Alliance, here. So when she contacted me to ask if I would like an arc of her latest novella, Earth and Air, which is a spinoff from her popular Earth Girl series – see my review of Earth Girl here – I was delighted to accept in return for an honest review

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else uses interstellar portals to travel between hundreds of colony worlds, 17-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, abandoned by her parents to be raised a ward of Hospital Earth, she lives a regimented life in one of their impersonal residences. Jarra is spending the summer at New York Fringe Dig Site with her school history club. While her friends search for lost treasures on the ground, Jarra is airborne in a survey plane and hoping to become a qualified pilot, but the sprawling ancient ruins of New York contain the lethal legacies of the past as well as its treasures.

It was a real treat to rebond with Jarra, the chirpy disaster-magnet who is the main protagonist in Edwards’ popular Earth Girl series. I had forgotten just how effective Edwards’ writing style is when depicting the alliances and frictions between a group of young teenagers. It could so easily become tedious or petty, but never does. The other standout feature of this entertaining series is the fascinating backdrop – a ruined Earth, where buildings are lethally unstable yet packed with archaeological treasures and discoveries eagerly awaited by populations scattered across the stars.

Novellas are not generally my favourite reads – too often, I have just become engrossed only to find the story abruptly finishing. Only a handful of my favourite writers can, in my opinion, adequately control the pacing and narrative arc so that the ending isn’t an unpleasant jolt. Edwards is one of them. At no time did I feel I was being short-changed with either the characterisation, setting or the storyline which contains plenty of adventures and shocks. The other outstanding quality of Edwards writing, particularly with this series, is the chirpy, upbeat tone that pervades most of the story. Unlike so many YA books, I get the sense that most of the people are trying to do the best they can most of the time. This is definitely one I will be introducing my granddaughter to next time she comes to visit – I think she will love it. With the absence of bad language or gratuitous violence, it is an ideal read for young teens – as well as those of us a lot longer in the tooth. This one is far too good to leave just to the youngsters. Recommended for fans of adventure and science fiction.
9/10

#Sunday Post – 8th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 got to meet my new granddaughter on Wednesday – but the day certainly didn’t go as planned. I needed to go shopping for my daughter – not all that straightforward, given they live in the depths of the country and I don’t know my way around the area. It didn’t help when I was speeding down the A27 the superstore came into view, peeping through the trees with a field between it and the road and my phone announced that I had reached my destination… I finally managed to get there – and back again. Only for the midwife who had arrived to check over Eliza to decide she needed to go to hospital. Fortunately, they gave her the all-clear – a huge relief. But it wasn’t a day for relaxing cuddles. Though it was great to catch up with my other grandchildren as I held the fort and gave them tea.

Other news… I’ve been busy setting everything up for the book launch as Breathing Space is now being released today. It’s the culmination of a great deal of work – as anyone who has written a trilogy will know – and even now, I can’t quite believe that I have all three books out there. Thank you everyone for your kind good wishes and encouragement.

This week I have read:

Earth and Air – A Second Prequel Novella in the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards
2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else uses interstellar portals to travel between hundreds of colony worlds, 17-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, abandoned by her parents to be raised a ward of Hospital Earth, she lives a regimented life in one of their impersonal residences.

Jarra is spending the summer at New York Fringe Dig Site with her school history club. While her friends search for lost treasures on the ground, Jarra is airborne in a survey plane and hoping to become a qualified pilot, but the sprawling ancient ruins of New York contain the lethal legacies of the past as well as its treasures.
I love this world and once more, Edwards’ upbeat writing pulled me in and held me until the end. Edwards has clearly mastered the art of pacing the story within the novella form so that the ending didn’t come as an unwelcome surprise, but as an inevitable conclusion to a cracking adventure.

And that’s it – other than lots of checking and rereading my own Sunblinded trilogy…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 1st July 2018

Teaser Tuesday featuring Running Out of Space – Book 1 of the Sunblinded trilogy by S.J. Higbee

Review of Witch at Heart – Book 1 of the Jinx Hamilton Mystery series by Juliette Harper

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré series by Eric Brown

Friday Face-off – Words as empty as the wind are best left unsaid… featuring Windwitch – Book 2 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard

GIVEAWAY – Dying for Space is FREE for 5 days only!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Truth Sister by Phil Gilvin

 

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

Exploring and Exploding the ‘Just World Hypothesis’ https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/07/04/exploring-and-exploding-the-just-world-hypothesis/ Another interesting and insightful post by Viv…

#lessons Learned & an #Author #Interview with Michael Scott, Part I: #writing a #pageturner. Thanks @flamelauthor! https://jeanleesworld.com/2018/07/05/lessons-learned-an-author-interview-with-michael-scott-part-1-writing-a-pageturner-thanks-flamelauthor/ Jean once more writes a fascinating article on how pacing and cliffhangers can enhance the reading experience…

Fun Fact Friday with Franky’s Fun Flamingo Facts https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/fun-fact-friday-with-frankys-fun-flamingo-facts/ And no – I had no idea about these flamingo facts – did you?

The Legacy of Millie the Quilter – a series of stories https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/06/30/the-legacy-of-milly-the-quilter-a-series-of-stories/ This is a wonderful tribute to someone very special…

Venting: Pirating books is wrong! #bookbloggers #bookblogger #bloggers #blogger #books #blog #blogpost https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/venting-pirating-books-is-wrong-bookbloggers-bookblogger-bloggers-blogger-books-blog-blogpost/ Drew of The Tattooed Book Geek has a rant about a particularly baldfaced attempt to steal books from authors – which also has my blood boiling. Be warned, the language is strong.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Truth Sister by Phil Gilvin #Brainfluffbookreview #TruthSisterbookreview

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I was attracted by the title and the premise, so picked this up. Being a feminist, I was hoping that perhaps women would make a better fist of running the world – but that wasn’t to be…

The year is 2149. The Women’s Republic of Anglia seeks to harness forgotten technologies from the time when men ruled the world. Naturals are second-class citizens, while women born through cloning are the true children of the Republic. When Clara Perdue graduates from the prestigious Academy, she is ready to do her part to support the Republic and bring about a better future for all. But when she stumbles on information that the Republic has tried to keep hidden, she begins to realise that the society she has been taught to believe in and trained to defend is not all that it seems. A secret from Clara’s past puts herself, her family, and her friends in danger, and Clara must choose between subservience and rebellion.

Clara starts off as a really unpleasant protagonist – this is a brave move on the part of Gilvin, as many readers, me included, don’t particularly enjoy reading a first-person narrative by someone so priggish and judgemental. My advice would be to stick with her, though, as she becomes less close-minded and brainwashed once she leaves the Academy. There are a number of strong, well-written characters supporting her. I particularly liked Clara’s mother and their manservant, Jamie.

Increasingly, Clara begins to realise that the Republic is nothing like the idealised system she has been taught to love and defend and we are right with her as her beliefs become unravelled, along with her life as the fault lines in society start breaking down. I enjoyed the fact that this story is set in a post-apocalyptic England, where recognisable place names are clearly very different places. London, in particular, is in all sorts of trouble as the Thames Barrier is in danger of failing. I became caught up in Clara’s adventures and thoroughly enjoyed the twisting plot which presented many surprises along the way.

My one niggle is that the main antagonist is presented as something of a caricature who I found it difficult to take seriously. Despite being told how very frightening she was, she seemed too over the top and ridiculous in comparison to the sympathetic, nuanced characterisations throughout the rest of the story. Having said that, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I have found myself thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I obtained an arc of Truth Sister from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

GIVEAWAY – Dying for Space is FREE for 5 days only!

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To celebrate the launch of Breathing Space on Sunday 8th July, Dying for Space is free from today until Tuesday 10th July. This will give you a chance to catch up on Lizzy’s adventures before she is plunged into yet more mayhem in the final instalment of the Sunblinded trilogy.

Friday Faceoff – Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week to feature on any of our covers is the wind. I’ve selected Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Tor Teen in January 2017. I love the autumn colours and the swirling cloak that gives a sense of movement and drama to this cover. That amazing sky full of lightning bolts and pouring rain also adds to the feeling of action in this accomplished and detailed cover. It is so nearly my favourite – but that font annoys me. Large and rather plain, it also manages to obscure details I’d like to be able to see.

 

Published in January 2017 by Tor, this cover is also featuring a cloaked figure in the middle of a windy forest, though I don’t like it quite as much as the previous one. However, this one has nailed that beautiful, eye-catching font, which nevertheless manages to avoid covering up any of the major artwork – unlike the previous cover.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Editura Nemira, in September 2017, is another beautiful cover featuring a cloaked figure in a forest. This time around, I particularly like the trails of magic wafting through the wind, which produces a rather attractive, surreal feel to this cover. That finely wrought cloak is particularly well done.

 

This Servian edition, produced by PUBLIK PRAKTIKUM in July 2018 is my favourite. This time we get to meet Merik face to face – and what a difference to see his angry determination. The storm around him is beautifully portrayed as something lethal. I particularly like the way that beautifully metallic font seems to be crafted by his sword. All in all, this is a delightful surprise. I had chosen this book because of my recollection of the Tor cover on the copy I had read – and assumed that would be my favourite. How wrong I was! Three of the covers depicted knocked that offering out of the court, even though it is a well crafted, attractive cover.

 

This cover, due to be published in October 2018 by Tor, is my least favourite. I don’t dislike it – indeed, it is a beautifully detailed cover with some lovely details, particularly that lovely swirling font. I also like the rich golden patina. But it simply doesn’t possess the drama and vitality of any of the storm-tossed figures striding through the forest in the middle of a self-induced tempest. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 5 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderTakesaTurnbookreview

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I picked this one up because the author is one I enjoy – as well as writing this historical murder mystery series, he also has written a number of successful science fiction novels. Indeed, Engineman, has one of the most memorable backdrops I’ve encountered in science fiction, outside a C.J. Cherryh novel.

When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles? Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge? When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself …

And if the cover and tone of the blurb remind you of an Agatha Christie novel, you’re absolutely right. The way the book unfolds is clearly a nod in the direction of the Grand Dame of Crime. I liked the main protagonists – it’s a refreshing change to have a dear old chap like Charles Elder right in the middle of things and his business partner Maria and her husband Donald are the couple who doing the sleuthing on this case. The location – a country house in an isolated part of Cornwall – is classically cosy mystery and the method in which the unfortunate victim dies is suitably macabre.

This is an ideal summer holiday read, which plenty of twists and turns and an entertaining variety of possible suspects. I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final big reveal – but only because I read all Agatha Christie’s novels longer ago than I care to think. That said, it didn’t put a huge dent in my enjoyment, because this was more about being bathed in the experience of revisiting an imagined past that I’m sure never existed – although I wished it had. Recommended for fans of well written historical cosy mysteries.
8/10