Category Archives: angels

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

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Teaser Tuesday – 2nd February

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This is a weekly meme set up by Jenn at A Daily Rhythm.TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

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!

Days of Blood and Starlight – Book 2 of  the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

P. 60 She didn’t know why this part of the process unsettled her so much; she supposed it was the image of two creatures going off into the scree and only one coming back. She hadn’t seen the pit, and she hoped she never would, but some days she could smell it: a fug of decay that gave reality to what was usually remote.

daysofbloodandstarlightBLURB: Once upon a time an angel and a devil feel in love and dared to imagin a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was alike a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

 

Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

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I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten – would the book live up to it?

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed. Karou is an engaging, sparky protagonist with some issues that make her stand out from the crowd – blue hair being one of them. She could so easily have descended into a Mary Sue, but Taylor’s writing is far too good for her to fall into an obvious trap like that. In fact, there are all sorts of pitfalls that are deftly avoided in this outstanding offering – it could have become just another slushy romance with lots of smart dialogue as they dance around each other before the inevitable lurve scene. It could have been a good-versus-evil retread, with Earth on the verge of the apocalypse…

And it is none of the above. The writing bounces off the page, crackling with vigour and magic as Taylor weaves a picture of a complex world where angels and their erstwhile slaves are locked in a terrible war that has ground on for too many years. Each side has inflicted terrible defeats on the other – each side has its own reasons for resorting to violence and each side is guilty of acts of shocking violence. In other words, this is a completely believable conflict with good people locked in a vicious struggle on both sides.

When just over halfway through the book, I had a strong idea I knew where it was heading and what the big reveal would be – and when it came, I was utterly wrong. That isn’t particularly unusual, as when I’m really engrossed, I tend to go with the flow and don’t expend much energy on trying to figure it all out, as I’m too busy enjoying the writing. But Himself, who snaffled this treat first, is a whizz at figuring out what’s going to happen, and he was also completely blindsided.

And then there’s the final twist that left me winded on Karou’s behalf – and limply relieved that we’d already ordered the next two books in the series, so I won’t have to wait very long before diving back into this wonderful world. So far, 2016 is turning out to be a wonderful reading year – two outstanding reads from two highly talented authors, with another fabulous science fiction series uncovered, and we still haven’t got to the end of January… Lucky, lucky me!
10/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Shadows – Book 1 of The Rephaim by Paula Weston

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In response to the recent release of the final book in The Rephaim series, Netgalley offered reviewers a chance to read, Shadows, the start of the series. As I’d heard a fair amount about this YA Fantasy series, I took the opportunity to download it and judge for myself.

ShadowsIt’s almost a year since Gaby Winters was in the car crash that killed her twin brother, Jude. Her body has healed in the sunshine of Pandanus Beach, but her grief is raw and constant. It doesn’t help that every night in her dreams she kills demons and other hell-spawn. And then Rafa comes to town. Not only does he look exactly like the guy who’s been appearing in Gaby’s dreams—he claims a history with her brother that makes no sense. Gaby is forced to accept that what she thought she knew about herself and her life is only a shadow of the truth—and that the truth is more likely to be found in the shadows of her nightmares. Who is Rafa? Who are the Rephaim? And most importantly, who can she trust?

I really enjoyed this offering. Gaby is a likeable character, whose reactions to the steady stream of unwelcome surprises that knock her sideways out of her life made me care about her. Weston’s depiction of a grieving sister is well done, and I liked the fact she took the time to establish Gaby’s normal routines and daily life before it all gets turned upside down. Far too often, we are plunged into the tumult of the adventure, which is all very well until the heroine starts longing for everything to go back to how things used to be – which is so often somewhere the reader cannot envisage as I was never there. eston doesn’t fall into that trap.

In fact, judging by the quality of the writing, the slick scene setting and deft characterisation, I’d be prepared to have a quiet bet on the side that while Weston may be a ‘debut’ author, she’s got a manuscript or two tucked away. The pacing of the story is well done – as soon as Rafa turns up, events start stacking up and continue to do so until I was thoroughly caught up in the increasing tempo until I took time I didn’t have to sit down and finish it. There was no point in trying to complete the tasks I’d set myself anyway, as I couldn’t stop thinking about Gaby’s adventures.

If you’re looking for some angel-based action and a story that goes on delivering pace and action throughout, then track this one down. It’s an enjoyable, engrossing read that grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it. And if my TBR pile doesn’t keep growing ridiculously high – I’ve promised myself that I’m going to track down the other books in the series the next time I’m due some escapist me-time.
8/10

Review of Happy Hour in Hell – Book 2 of the Bobby Dollar series by Tad Williams

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I enjoyed Tad Williams’ Otherland series, so when I saw the funky cover and realised it was a new series, I scooped it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it as much as the epic fantasy door-stoppers I’m more used to reading from him?

happyhourinhellBobby Dollar, angel on Earth, has a couple of epic problems. Problem One: Bobby has fallen in love with Casimira, Countess of Cold Hants, who just happens to be Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell’s girlfriend. Problem Two: the Grand Duke, aware of the first problem, has whisked Casimira off to the Bottomless Pit itself, telling Bobby he will never see her again unless Bobby hands over a golden feather that Eligor desires more than anything else. But Bobby, long-time veteran of the endless war between above and below, is not the type of guy to be intimidated. All he has to do is toss on a demon’s body, sneak through the infernal gates, work out why Eligor wants the feather, and rescue the girl. Saving the day should just be a matter of an eon or two of anguish, mutilation and horror. If only it were that easy.

While the first person narration is humorously laconic, the overall tone puts the grrr into grimdark. Bobby spends a significant slice of the book in Hell, which Williams has managed to make convincingly hellish. Needless to say, this book isn’t suitable for your younger teens as Williams – known for inventive, detailed worldbuilding – doesn’t hold back when depicting the worst place on the planet. He has taken some of the classic representations of Hell, built on them and given them his own imaginative spin. The result is a graphic examination of hopelessness and despair. One of the grimmer details is that a fair number of its inhabitants don’t really deserve to be there – or the fact they are trapped there for Eternity. And the reason why I’ve capitalised it, is that is a very, very long time. One of the scenes that will haunt me for a while is the Forest of Suicides…

Any niggles? Well, I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the torture – while it wasn’t as graphically described as the backdrop, there were enough details for it to have been extreme. Bobby manages to prevail because of his unwavering belief in his love for Caz and the fact he’s an angel. If he’d been human, he would have folded like wet paper under a fraction of the abuse he endured, which is something that I felt should have been more explicit. But this isn’t a dealbreaker.

It is an original, dark and visceral take on the fight between Good and Evil – the ending wasn’t what I was expecting. But I certainly want to read the next slice of the adventure, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. If you have enjoyed Tad Williams in the past and haven’t yet picked up this series, I recommend you do so – it is urban fantasy splashed with Williams’ own magic formula.
9/10

Review of A Madness of Angels – Book 1 of the Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin

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This is another of the reviews I wrote and posted back in the days when my blog was a pool of silence amidst the humming crowd of online activity… So I thought I’d repost it now that the Matthew Swift series has – rightly – become a classic.

amadnessAs I am a solid fan of Kate Griffin’s writing, you can also find a review of the third book in the series, The Neon Court here and the first book in her Magicals Anonymous series, Stray Souls, here, as well as her intriguing offering The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August under the name Claire North, here.

When Matthew Swift finds that he has returned to life after a two-year absence, he quickly needs to acclimatise himself to the London landscape where the source of his power resides – urban magic. A new power that ebbs and flows with the rhythms of the city, makes runes from the alignments of ancient streets and hums with the rattle of trains and buses; it waxes and wanes with the patterns of the business day.

Enter a London where magicians ride the Last Train, implore favours of the Beggar King and interpret the insane wisdom of the Bag Lady. Enter a London where beings of power soar with the pigeons, scrabble with the rats and seek insight in the half-whispered madness of the blue electric angels…

Griffin grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last with her taut, poetic prose and action-packed story. Matthew Swift’s thirst for revenge against the terrible being preying on urban sorcerers leads him into dark places – and we are yanked along with him. There are one or two really bloody moments. Not to mention some scenes that score high on the ‘yuck’ factor – an attack by a litter monster being one of them. However, this book is so much more than a guts’n gore fest. Griffin’s ability to weave her action amongst the densely depicted London scenes that she clearly knows extremely well, gives the story an almost literary feel. And Swift is an amazing creation. Only half human, his instability while teetering on the edge of something terrible creates plenty of narrative tension as he tries to pick up the pieces of his old life. And – yes – Griffin manages to conclude the story with a satisfactorily climatic ending, leaving enough interest dangling for another adventure.

If I have a quibble – and it is a minor one – I did find myself skimming some of the descriptions of the London landscape to find out what happened next. But it was only an occasional flip of the page – mostly the scene setting held and enthralled me.

What this outstanding series has done, is set the bar for London-based urban fantasy very high – and now the likes of Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell and Benedict Jacka have also stepped up to the plate, making this sub-genre one of the best written and interesting within speculative fiction.
9/10

Review of Angelfall – Penryn and the End of Days – Book 1 by Susan Ee

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I had heard about this self- publishing phenomenon at the time – but somehow didn’t get around to tracking down a copy of the book. So imagine my surprise when there it was, in my local library. Naturally, I had to whisk it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it as much as The Hunger Games trilogy?

It has been six weeks since the angels returned to Earth and destroyed the world as we know it. When they fly away with a helpless little girl, her sister Penryn will do anything to get her back…

angelfallI’ve read a couple of apocalyptic books, recently – so this post-apocalyptic offering is timely. It certainly is a page-turner – Penryn is an appealing protagonist, street-smart and tough after having lived alongside and cared for her mentally ill mother, in addition to looking after her paraplegic young sister. The narrative engine of the story is Penryn’s frantic search when she witnesses Paige being snatched from her wheelchair by an angel and carried off. After helping another angel, Raffe, who was wounded by Paige’s abductor, they team up and experience a series of adventures, despite the fact that angels regard humans with contempt, calling them monkeys.

The book is written in Penryn’s first person viewpoint, so it is vital that we engage with her and I think her strong characterisation is one of the key appeals of this book. The present tense throughout emphasises the fast-paced action that tends to characterise YA books – and this is certainly a foot-to-the-floor non-stop ride for all you adrenaline junkies. Despite the YA tag, there is a lot of violence and some of it is visceral, particularly near the end.  The world that is portrayed by Ee is deeply unpleasant – everything has gone to Hell in a handcart since the angels struck. Several reviewers felt that the speed at which everything has disintegrated is too fast, given that the angels destroyed civilisation six weeks ago. But having read one or three apocalyptic books in my time, I reckon Ee has it about right. There are still a handful of houses where there are slim pickings, while survivors have banded into gangs, the majority of them aggressive males. Once electricity becomes sufficiently unreliable so we cannot rely on most of our clever machinery to keep ourselves clean, fed and watered – life in any sized town rapidly would become untenable. Very rapidly…

I also like the fact that Penryn doesn’t know much about anything. She doesn’t know why the angels struck, and is unaware of the warring factions amongst them until she sees the attack on Raffe, who isn’t the chatty sort. The relationship between the two of them is nicely judged – I personally would prefer it if it doesn’t slide into lurve as I think the prickly tension between them is far more interesting– but I’m not the target audience for this sub-genre.

So… after all the adventures, fights and harrowing discoveries, does Ee satisfactorily wrap up this story? No, she doesn’t. She leaves it dangling on something of a cliffhanger – and still managed to garner a hatful of five star reviews from ecstatic readers. While the prose is a tad basic, Ee produces strong characters, plenty of thrills and spills and an intriguing world where we are left wondering exactly what is going on. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book, World After.
8/10

Review of Riven – Book 2 of the Bound trilogy by Sarah Bryant

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With my usual lack of planning, I plucked this offering off the shelves, beguiled by the cool cover and it wasn’t until I got it home, I realised that it was the sequel to Bound, which I haven’t read…

Devastated by the death of her boyfriend, Lucas, Sophie moves in with her mother in Edinburgh, hoping to grieve quietly. But since rivenmeeting Lucas, nothing about Sophie’s life has been quiet, and his death doesn’t change this. If anything, life has become more complicated and confusing than ever. Her mother is determined that she get over him. A strange, compelling man seems to be stalking her. And she’s begun to have visions she doesn’t dare believe. Because, if she does, it means that Lucas isn’t dead at all. Instead, he’s entangled in a fate worse than death. And only she can save him.

Congratulations to Snow Books for a really good blurb – it gives a taste of what the book is about without including any major spoilers, which these days is a rarity… So given the atmospheric cover and intriguing blurb, did the contents of this YA adventure encompassing loving angels and otherworldly nasties live up to the promising first impression? In a word – yes.

Bryant is clearly an experienced story-spinner at the top of her game and her deft handling of this sequel is clear proof. Starting a book with a grieving protagonist is a lot trickier than Bryant makes it look – particularly if you have a reader like me who hasn’t read the first book, so isn’t remotely invested in the heroine’s narrative arc. Misery is actually fairly boring – which is why soaps linger on the meaty drama leading up to a terrible event, dwell on the Awful Bit and then gloss/skip the subsequent grieving. Bryant manages to give us a real feel for Sophie’s emotional pain, while keeping the pace going and pulling us into her world.

And an interesting mishmash her world is… There is a lot of blending of mythological characters taken from a variety of sources – the Morrigan, for instance, which are flung into the rich mix of Bryant’s particular version of How It All Began and how our heroine fits into the overall picture. Needless to say, she isn’t a bit player. While initially more than a tad sceptical about this world, by the middle of the story I was completely prepared to suspend any disbelief and just keep turning the pages. In addition to an appealing main protagonist, Bryant also produces an interesting cast, so that when the climax kicks off, Sophie has alongside a team that are more or less allies. I enjoyed the fact that these include a couple of major characters whose motives don’t line up with Sophie’s – but are less of a threat than the main villain.

I really enjoyed the final showdown – and the fact that Bryant played with our expectations of the climax, then threw in yet another curved ball, which sets up the next book in the series to be yet another huge deal… Needless to say, I will be waiting for this final book with anticipation – as well as tracking down some more of Bryant’s books. If she writes for adults with half the skill and flair she demonstrates in her YA offering, then I want to read more of her work.
8/10