Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence

Sunday Post – 10th September 2017

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

It’s been a mixed week. My rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest has stalled at just over 1,000 words added to the manuscript as all sorts of deadlines have been knocking on the door. We had a lovely time with the grandchildren last week-end, which was great as it is possibly a while before we’ll see them again.

It was Himself’s birthday on Wednesday so my sister, J and I went out to our favourite Chinese restaurant and once again had an excellent meal – a real treat as being vegetarians means that eating out can be something of a lottery.

Unfortunately, I’ve been laid low with a cold, which has really knocked the stuffing out of me. While I’ve not got much in the way of a blocked nose, it’s the temperature, aching joints and sore head and throat which is the misery. It’s meant that I’ve missed teaching Tim on Friday and the first rehearsal session for the filming on Saturday – and the way I’m feeling today, I don’t think I’ll be making the lesson tomorrow unless I feel a whole lot better, either.

Today is our wedding anniversary – we’ve now been married for 22 years, which I can’t quite believe… Where did all those years go? It was the best thing I ever did. At least Himself is having his annual leave at the end of this month, so hopefully we’ll be able to make up the fact that we’re having a very quiet day at home while I snivel and shiver over the computer feeling sorry for myself… Have a great week, everyone.

This week I have read:

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker
Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…
I absolutely loved this one, despite the extreme language. Walker’s first person viewpoint of boisterous Lineker is marvellous and the story is gripping, shocking and tender.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
It is beautifully written and the love affair is depicted with tenderness and passion. However, I wanted to shake Francesca till her teeth rattled.

 

Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastein de Castell
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game. Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.
This YA coming-of-age adventure is great fun and I loved Kellen’s character and the surprises that kept coming all the way through the story. And the squirrel cat is delightfully snarky, too.

 

Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of The River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
This novella deals with the aftermath of the previous book – and my firm advice would be that if you haven’t read River of Teeth then go and search for that book first. There is more mayhem and chaos as feral hippos continue to infest the river system, causing carnage wherever they go…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd September

Review of The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Friday Face-off – Everybody’s got haters but your city’s always behind you… featuring Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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

Waterford Walls – the Sea – some more https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/09/08/waterford-walls-2017-some-more/ I make no apologies for including another post from with wonderful photographer

Monday Funnies – Piracy You’ll Enjoy Reading About… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/monday-funnies-4/ Have to confess – it was the cartoon about pilates that sold it for me. Now I’ve restarted my classes, I was howling with laughter at this one.

Running Out of Space Blog Tour – http://www.lolasblogtours.net/blog-tour-running-out-of-space-by-s-j-higbee/ To be honest, I’ve included this just because it still feels very unreal and seeing my book cover online is thrilling. And terrifying…

Writer’s Music: Daniel Pemberton https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/09/07/writers-music-daniel-pemberton/ This is a real treat – Jean writes about how she uses music when writing and then provides some wonderful tracks. This album is certainly one I’m going to be acquiring.

Poetry: The Misunderstood Merman http://blog.kristenburns.com/the-misunderstood-merman/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork
I love this one – funny and poignant…

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

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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I read the premise, saw the awesome cover and immediately requested it from Netgalley – and my hunch paid off.

BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.

This book drew me in from the very first page and did not let go until the end. I think the secret to this book is the very strong first-person narrative. We see the world through Brittle’s eyes as robots now rule the world, and she struggles to survive as a freebot. Constantly on the run with other surviving stragglers, Brittle also has to ensure she has sufficient spare parts to keep going. Given that during this savage civil war she has no access to any manufacturing plant, she is reduced to preying on other desperate robots scavenging in the sea of Rust – a desert graveyard where robots end up dying while trying to find the parts they need to keep going.

The world building is chillingly plausible as in between the ongoing action Brittle recalls how the world got in this mess in the first place. The overall tone is gritty and the action full on but this post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape is prevented from being unbearably bleak by the spiky point of view. I love Brittle! It also doesn’t hurt that the storyline is gripping and the writing exceptionally good.

While the book is packed with foot-to-the-floor action that had me zipping through the pages, holding my breath, there are also lyrically beautiful passages where Brittle is recalling the past. I thoroughly enjoyed the various plot twists, which I mostly didn’t see coming – I certainly didn’t predict the end. In fact, I thought we had already reached the end and was slightly startled when I turned the page to realise the story was continuing. I have to say that I am slightly ambivalent as I thought that first conclusion worked very well. However, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of cracking read and I think this is one I shall be remembering a long time to come. Recommended for fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories as well as folks who enjoy reading well-written science fiction.

While I obtained the arc of Sea of Rust from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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There has been a buzz about this book among the bloggers I mix with, so I bought this one with some of my Christmas book tokens. I’m so very glad I did…

allthebirdsintheskyPatricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

And no – you won’t find the above blurb anywhere, but when I read the version on Goodreads it contained far too many major plotpoints over far too much of the story arc. What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

Both Patricia and Laurence are vulnerable and likeable. But both are also capable of being self-obsessed and judgemental and Laurence, in particular, is frankly something of an arse at times. However, I never stopped caring for both of them and hoping they would somehow prevail.

It’s difficult to discuss this one in any detail without giving away some of the plot progression and as I plunged into this one without any preconceptions, other than it had a cool cover about birds – I’d very much like other readers to do the same. What it isn’t, is a book solely aimed at speculative fiction fans – Anders’ sharp observations about all sorts of details in her very near-future world would chime with anyone.

What I do feel this book carries is a strong message. In the hard days to come when we will be facing a series of environmental and resource crises brought about by over-population and pollution, we – humankind – need to guard against the instinct to go for the Big Fix. We also need to keep listening out for possible solutions from unlikely quarters and not get locked within our own echo-chamber – a particular hazard for those of us who enjoy social media.

A wise, witty book with an engaging story and some apt advice for the future, this book comes with a very strong recommendation. Read it.
10/10

Review of A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers

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I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and when Himself said he’d ordered this offering from the library and it had come in, I was very excited. Would I enjoy this one as much as the first book?

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a aclosedandcommonorbittotal system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow. Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

While this book is set in the same world as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Lovelace was actually the AI on the Wayfarer, that is the only real connection between the two books. So if you are concerned about picking this one up without reading the first book then don’t be – neither book relies on the other in order to fully appreciate the story. Like Angry Planet, which takes the classic space opera theme of long space voyages as the basic plotline, A Closed and Common Orbit uses another popular science fiction subject – that of artificial intelligence as the starting point for one of the two narrative plotlines running through the book.

We learn how Lovelace copes once surfacing within a humanoid body designed to house her during one plotline, while the other goes back in time and relates the story of ten-year-old Jane. She works in a scrap processing factory and has been there for as long as she can recall, spending her days sorting scrap and overseen by faceless droids called Mother who are responsible for caring and disciplining the children. Until one day when something goes wrong…

Chambers’ readable, unfussy prose vividly depicts the plight of a small child trying to do the best she can in order to stay warm and fed and avoid punishment. I was completely caught up in her predicament and struggle for survival interspersed with Lovelace’s battles to cope with the shortcomings of her new housing – which also has the added complication of being completely illegal. Fortunately, she has come across two kind people who take her in and attempt to assist her to integrate.

I found it difficult to put down, and particularly enjoyed the way these two narrative strands intersected to provide a fitting climax and conclusion to this enjoyable, thought provoking read. I enjoyed it even more than Angry Planet, finding the tighter focus and strong characterisations more to my taste. Once more, Chamber provides an entertaining science fiction read that comes highly recommended.
9/10

Sunday Post – 29th January 2017

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Sunday Post

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

It hasn’t been a busy week as I’ve not been very well, trying to cope with a persistent, low-grade headache. It started on Sunday and I struggled on through teaching on Monday and Tuesday – I also had one of my lovely writing groups over for a meal and feedback on Tuesday night. But come Wednesday, I’d had enough. I declared myself beaten and retreated to bed where I’ve been mostly sleeping and reading and occasionally facing the computer, which has made me feel sick again. Feeling better now, though still getting tired far too easily. Hopefully I’ll be feeling a lot better next week.

Number One Son flew out the States on Monday and it was relief when I heard he’d arrived safe and sound. God bless modern communication technology.

I’m officially fed up with winter. The nights have been so wretchedly cold and Monday was horrible with freezing fog, having to drive into Northbrook College at night. But at least it hasn’t snowed this year, yet, so I must be grateful for small mercies.

This week I have read:
A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, aclosedandcommonorbitfollowing a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chambers’ first book in this series The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but I preferred this offering. This dual narrative switches between Lovelace and Pepper, both engrossing and interesting layered characters. I shall be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
themassacreofmankindIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.
So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.
He is right.

This offering is the approved sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Baxter has triumphantly evoked the tone and feel of the original classic invasion story, while injecting plenty of original action and excitement. If you are a fan of Wells’ book, I recommend you have a go at this one – it’s a blast with a delightful twist at the end.

 

Radio Boy by Christian O’Donnell
Meet Spike, aka Radio Boy: a new Adrian Mole on the radio for the internet generation.radioboy

Spike’s your average awkward 11 year old, funny and cheeky and with a mum to reckon with. When he becomes the first presenter ever to be sacked from hospital radio, he decides, with the help of his father and two best friends, to take other steps. However, it all spins out of control…

This is an amusing children’s book with an engaging protagonist and plenty of action with some important underlying messages without being preachy or stuffy. Ideal for newly independent readers and one that I shall be reading to my granddaughter.

 

Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

The above blurb takes you to the start of this engaging sequel, so my firm advice is to get hold of Truthwitch before tucking into this enjoyable, YA epic fantasy. As might be deduced by the title, this offering focuses on Prince Merik, however we do still follow the fortunes of Safi and Iseult. The narrative comes to a dramatic ending but there are still plenty of dangling plotlines all waiting to be tied up in the next book.

 

Old Bones – A Detective Inspector Slider Mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
A young couple discover human remains buried in the garden of their new house: could this be oldbonesthe resting place of 14-year-old Amanda Knight, who disappeared from the same garden two decades before, and was never seen again?
The problem comes almost as a relief to DCI Slider, still suffering from the fallout of his previous case. He is not popular with the Powers That Be, and his immediate boss, Detective Superintendent Porson, reckons that at least this little puzzle will keep Slider out of trouble. After all, with a murder twenty years in the past, this is the coldest of cold cases. Most of the suspects and principal players are now dead too, and all passion is long spent … Or is it?

Well this is fun! I haven’t read any of Harrod-Eagles writing before and I’m now a solid fan of this popular, prolific author. This established series is definitely going to be one I shall be revisiting. I loved Slider’s grumpy, desert-dry humour and while I guessed some of the elements of the mystery, it didn’t matter because I was so caught up with the characters, I was in for the duration.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 22nd January 2017

Review of Emperor of the Fireflies by Sarah Ash

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

PREVIEW of Empire Games by Charles Stross

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Friday Faceoff – A Room Without Books Is Like a Body Without a Soul featuring The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands by Susan Dennard

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry & Gene Autry chase Ghost Riders in the Sky – https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/01/26/johnny-cash-debbie-harry-gene-autry-chase-ghost-riders-in-the-sky/
In this delightful article, Thom gives us various versions of this classic song, after explaining why it matters so much to him. If you enjoy reading lyrically beautiful prose in praise of music, then this is must-read blog.

Tips For Helping Me Blog – https://onereadersthoughts.com/2017/01/27/ff-tips-for-helping-me-blog%ef%bb%bf/
Emma gives some useful tips in order to help keep our blogging schedules straight.

Never Press DELETE http://melfka.com/archives/2068
Joanna provides some useful advice for writers that I regularly find myself saying to my students – while horrified at how many who throw away or delete their own work…

Win 50 Books for a School or Library https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/win-50-books-for-a-school-or-library/
I thought I’d spread the word about this competition – let’s face it we all know schools or libraries which could do with 50 more books…

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest
https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/27/five-fascinating-facts-about-shakespeares-the-tempest/ I found this article particularly interesting as I’m in the process of rewriting my novel which is a sequel, exploring what happens to Miranda and Prospero once they leave their enchanted island…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Counterpart – Book 2 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone

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I read and reviewed the first book, Machinations, earlier this year. While there were issues with the worldbuilding, what made it stand out was Stone’s powerful, effective evocation of a cloned character. Would she sustain this fascinating character in the sequel?

Commander Rhona Long understands survival better than most. Killed in combat, she was brought backcounterpart to life using her DNA, and she’s forged a new, even more powerful identity. Now the leader of the resistance, she’s determined to ensure the machines are shut down for good. But victory is elusive. The machines have a new technology designed to overcome humanity’s most advanced weaponry. Despite Rhona’s peacekeeping efforts, former nations are feuding over resources as old power struggles resurface. Worse, someone inside the resistance is sabotaging the human cause—someone who, from all appearances, seems to be Rhona . . . or her exact replica.

The start of Machinations was one of the high spots of the book – that wrenching death scene right at the beginning of the story pitched us straight into the action and this book kicks off with similar action-packed drama. Could you fully appreciate it if you hadn’t read the first book? Yes, I think Stone’s writing and pacing is such that you could pick this one up and wouldn’t flounder too much, though in an ideal world you would read the first book before tackling this one.

While I enjoyed the first book, I did have difficulty envisaging exactly what the machines looked like. As a great deal of the action in Counterpart takes place in an underground citadel, which is very well depicted, this isn’t such a problem in this slice of the adventure, where we also get more information about how the machines operate, anyhow. And at no point does this book suffer from the classic second book slump – it grabs us at the start and the action doesn’t let up until the end. I reached the final page with a jolt of dismay, as we are left with something of a cliffhanger, although most of main plotlines running through the second book are brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

What Stone achieves magnificently throughout both books is to give us a ringside seat as a character struggles to come to terms with being a clone. This is a staple of science fiction and the normal way of dealing with it, is for the character to be a tad disorientated and grumpy about the whole business in the first couple of chapters, then snap into action, appreciating what this new body can do… Stone’s enjoyable, sympathetic character finds being a clone defines her as she struggles to get those closest to her to initially accept her. She also still has problems, due to not fully recollecting her former life. And once she hits her stride as humanity’s icon – the reason why she was cloned in the first place – there are several plot developments that have her on the back foot, again. I like her bravura, her constant patter of jokes, often at entirely inappropriate times. I like her hot-headed inclination to go plunging right into the middle of trouble.

Any grizzles? No – I found her relationship with Camus far more compelling and believable in this story. I read waaay into the early morning to discover what would happen next and am now eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.

I received a free arc of Counterpart from the publisher via Netgalley, which has not affected the content of my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Edition Machinations – Book 1 of Machinations series by Hayley Stone

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The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a machinationsrescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I loved the opening and thought the passage where she died was very strong. Stone has a memorable, effective writing style and especially in the earlier scenes, I felt her characterisation of Rhona was effectively layered – the dilemma of a clone with an impaired memory was movingly depicted. There was a strong supporting cast – Samuel and Camus both bounced off the page, although I did slightly wince at the love triangle aspect. Not only has it been done to death, it really jarred in the context of the story arc, I felt.

Given this was an apocalyptic scenario, the world had to be convincing and Stone’s description of a shattered landscape where people are holed up, eking out a minimal existence worked well. What was less successful was the depiction of the machines. While it is mentioned there are a variety of them, there only seemed to be one sort and they appeared to be very easy to disable. I also found it difficult to visualise what they looked like, apart from the red eyes and the whirring noise they made. While I didn’t expect huge swathes of information about the rise of the machines and the original premise made entire sense, there wasn’t a particularly strong sense of how they went about attacking or what the higher echelons consisted of, which I found slightly frustrating.

The other problem I had with the story in the latter stages was that Rhona became the poster girl for the human uprising on the strength of one inspirational speech. She didn’t quite tip into being a Mary Sue – the protagonist who can do it all perfectly – but it came uncomfortably close, which was a shame, given the nuanced, clever characterisation at the beginning of the book when she was coming to terms with being a clone.

However, both these issues were more irritations than dealbreaking flaws, and they don’t take away from the fact that this is an interesting beginning to the series, with a strong protagonist. I look forward to seeing what Stone does with this world in future books.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 12th July, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
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:
Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
47%: This is how the memory looks in my head, but there’s no way of knowing whether it’s accurate; I machinationscould be filling in the blanks with what makes sense to me, what I’d like the past to look like, warm and friendly. I’ve begun to wonder how much I recall is actually real, and how much is stuff I’ve made up, cushioning the loss in my head.

BLURB: The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race.

A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

This book starts with a bang as Rhona dies – and doesn’t let up. The writing is strong, the characterisation layered and sophisticated, making Rhona a great protagonist. I was expecting an exciting adrenaline-filled tale of adventure and action – and have found something more profound and satisfying. Fingers crossed the ending of this first book in a very promising series manages to deliver.

Review of Reality 36 – a Richards and Klein Investigation by Guy Haley

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This is Guy Haley’s debut novel, though not the first one I’ve encountered – see my review of Crash here. Somehow, this offering slipped through the net…

Richards – a Level 5 AI with a PI fetish – and his partner, Otto Klein, a decommissioned German military cyborg, are on the trail of a murderer, but the killer has hidden inside a fragmenting artificial reality. Richards and Klein must stop him before he becomes a god – of the sake of all realities.

reality36So, we have a whodunit set in the near future where technology has leap-frogged forward due to the artificial intelligences now proliferating. With Stephen Hawking’s recent warning ringing in our ears, I was particularly fascinated to see to the extent that Haley agrees… I really enjoyed the Timeline at the back of the book – it meant that swathes of exposition could be cut from this densely written book, which needed to move forward at a fair lick, given it’s a whodunit.

Have to say, it did take some time to get going. There were several early scenes that I felt could have been omitted without compromising the narrative arc – and given that this is the first slice in Richards and Kleins’ adventures, some of the information we were given then could easily have been interleaved within subsequent books. But it wasn’t a deal-breaker because I did keep reading, mostly because the world is detailed and intriguing. One of the reasons I could have struggled at the start, was that I didn’t fully bond with Richards until a very long way along the story. This is always something of a problem with posthuman protagonists – by definition, Richards is smarter than humankind and knows it, so frequently comes across as annoyingly smug. But I did like the fact that Haley recognises this is an issue, and instead of trying to humanise his protagonist, he provides a coterie of other Fives who are even more obnoxious… However, there are other characters who do give us the human touch – Veronique and Chloe, and the wonderful partnership between Sir Jagadith and Tarquinius also ticked all my boxes. I loved their eccentricity and the sheer fantastic extravagance of what this closed-off corner of a former gaming reality managed to produce.

Much science fiction tips into science fantasy, but Haley’s world seems all too plausible to me, and once the story really got going, the pace picked up and it barrelled ahead. Until the ending – which is a cliff-hanger… Given that the sequel wasn’t out when Reality 36 was first published, this was something of a risk. How many readers would be truly irked at having got to the final page – to discover they still didn’t have a conclusive ending? If I’d been one of the early readers, I probably would have had a bit of a tantrum – however these days it isn’t a problem. As Omega Point is available, all I have to do is track down a copy – which I fully intend to do…
8/10