I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.
BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.
REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.
I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.
Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist. 9/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
I’ve resumed reading more Children’s fiction since I’ve been listening to audiobooks, as I’ve been working my way through my grandson’s list. And I’m so glad, because it’s brought me some really lovely reads this year. But this one has capped them all and is going to be one of my all-time favourites…
BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.
REVIEW: This is time travel with spikes on – Charlotte and Clare find themselves alternately cris-crossing each other, spending one day in their own time zone – and the next in each other’s. There isn’t any real explanation as to why this is happening, but the effect on Charlotte is beautifully described. This is a sophisticated book, written for children with a precocious understanding of how surroundings and loss can impact on someone, so they somehow keep going.
There aren’t any major outbursts in this book. It isn’t a tale of horrendous persecution – though one child is singled out in a distressing manner and nothing much is done about it, reminding me that back in the day, children were expected to cope if they were being victimised. Because this is a book that was first published in 1969, though other than some of the attitudes, the density and pacing – it hasn’t particularly dated, because it is set in the past. It very much reminded me of my own childhood, as I was brought up by my grandparents in a house full of large, dark furniture. Though we had a television, long days were spent amusing myself with toys such as solitaire, spillikins and, of course, books…
I loved this one. Charlotte is in the middle of an ongoing nightmare on one level. And yet she also makes friends and strong connections with other people in the 1918 timeline. The exquisite prose, beautifully narrated by the wonderful Hannah Gordon, produces a wonderful, nuanced portrayal of her experience. It’s simply a recommended read for anyone interested in a child’s view of 1918 – because it’s one of those magical books that might have been written with children in mind, but due to Farmer’s layered writing, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, too. I particularly recommend the audiobook version and am rather devastated to discover that this is the only story in the series that has been turned into an audiobook.
AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
BLURB: Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.
As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?
Ably narrated by Will Damron, who sounded exactly how I imagined Theo Cray would be like, I particularly enjoyed the opening where we were introduced to Theo, which was cleverly and originally handled. Overall, this was enjoyable, although the pernicky part of me was a tad annoyed at some of the plot holes and inaccuracies which could have been avoided with a bit more care. The progression of the story worked well, with some nice plot twists and a well-handled denouement. Highly recommended for murder mystery thriller fans, who like their protagonists nerdy and a bit too clever for their own good. 7/10
The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
BLURB: Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news…
Once again, Griffiths delivers a really strong, engaging murder mystery that manages to involve Ruth. A growing part of the enjoyment of this unfolding series is to catch up with the strong cast of characters who are alongside Ruth – and there are a couple of plotlines here that I followed with bated breath with probably more anticipation and interest than the unfolding murder mystery, if I’m honest. That said, the investigation once again ticks all the boxes with a suitably exciting denouement. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that fall between the cosy kind – and those that are grittily drenched in gore, but whatever you do, don’t crash into the series here – go back and start with The Crossing Places. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been a very hectic week, though Christmas is only just beginning to loom on my horizon. We have a lot of rather heavy family stuff going on right now – the sort of things you’d rather not be happening to those you love. And it is complicated by the situation regarding COVID and the fact that Himself is a key worker.
I was glad to be able to teach Tim last Monday and on Wednesday I had both Pilates and Fitstep, though I felt a bit sore and headachy that evening, I am glad that I am making a start on getting a bit fitter. On Thursday evening, we nipped across to my daughter’s to give my grandson a very belated birthday present – fortunately he was thrilled with the art tablet as he is planning to do an animation course next year. On Friday afternoon I was back there to spend some time with the family, as on Saturday we had all three grandchildren – including little Eliza – come to stay overnight for the first time. She is not yet two and a half, so it was quite a big deal and I was delighted that she had a peaceful night and woke up happy in the morning. Typically, the weather was absolutely atrocious on Sunday morning, so we didn’t have a chance to get out at all. But she loved playing with the battery-powered Christmas toys and helped Himself decorate the Christmas tree. By the time the children left at midday on Sunday, I was really pleased that it had gone so well. Though a tad shattered and couldn’t summon the energy to write my weekly Sunday Post.
No photos this week, what with one thing and another…
Last week I read: Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr.
Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… Catching up with this one is part of my drive to complete series I started – and then neglected. I have loved Matthew Shardlake as a character and Sansom’s clever and knowledgeable evocation of Henry VIII’s reign. And this one was no exception. Review to follow.
Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night.
When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton? I have thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring a young single father, who is trying to bring up his young daughter and keep his career going. Trouble is, he keeps tripping over all these dead bodies… This latest slice of Kellan’s adventures is both entertaining and gripping. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.
And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?
Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.
Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare… This enjoyable spinoff series is every bit as action-packed as the original Percy Jackson series. I was thoroughly caught up in the adventure – nobody raises the stakes as effectively as Riordan – and was rather shaken by the ending. Fortunately, I have the next book waiting for me to read! Review to follow.
Buffy’s Corner 12/6/20 – Looking at the week ahead https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/12/06/buffys-corner-12-6-20-looking-at-the-week-ahead/ While Tammy’s blog is always worth visiting – particularly if you are interested in SFF reading matter, this time around it is alll about the amazing wildlife pics her very talented photographer husband, Moses Sparkes, has produced during lockdown. Click on the link – I promise you won’t be disappointed…
WFT Audible? https://unconventionalbookworms.com/wtf-audible/Linda and Brandee have written a detailed article about Audible’s exploitative practices regarding their returns policy. If you use Audible and are in the habit of regularly returning audiobooks you have read to eke out your credits or budget, please, please click on the link!
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.
I read the print version of this book longer ago than I care to recall – and then found this offering on my Audiobook library, courtesy of my grandson, so dived back in. Would I enjoy it as much?
BLURB: The Amazing Maurice runs the perfect Pied Piper scam. This streetwise alley cat knows the value of cold, hard cash and can talk his way into and out of anything. But when Maurice and his cohorts decide to con the town of Bad Blinitz, it will take more than fast talking to survive the danger that awaits…
REVIEW: Stephen Briggs does a lovely job of narrating this entertaining standalone story with only the most tenuous connections with the Discworld canon. The only hint of the wider Discworld comes into play when we are told the rats lived on the rubbish heap behind the Unseen University and ate something that made them a whole lot smarter and able to speak. And Maurice becomes a talking cat by eating one of the rats.
While it is regularly touted as a children’s story, I would suggest if your child is the imaginative, overly sensitive sort who has problems with the dark, then perhaps leave this one for another year or so. There are some scary scenes where our protagonists are trapped in tunnels and very afraid, and later in the story Pratchett describes what goes on in a rat pit in quite graphic detail. While there is also his trademark humour, it might not be enough to mitigate the horror for a child who can vividly visualise the action. However, I loved it. Pratchett’s sharp observations on how the world works from a rat’s view is both entertaining and thought-provoking in classic Pratchett style. How I still miss him!
It made for lovely listening, as Maurice, the rats and Keith are suddenly faced with wrongdoing on a different level to the scam they’ve been running. And suddenly, the rats are out of their depth as the book they have been using for advice and guidance on how to negotiate the wider world – Mr Bunnsie Has an Adventure – isn’t up to the job. I would have loved to have used this book as a set text for a Year 5 class, as I think it raises all sorts of philosophical questions which that age group are ready to get their teeth into. Highly recommended for children of all ages who enjoy quirky fantasy tales about human behaviour seen through the lens of rodents and cats. 9/10
November was defined chiefly by the second lockdown in the UK, and although it wasn’t as strict as the first one, it did bring my social life to an abrupt halt again. So other than seeing the grandchildren when necessary (we are part of our daughter’s support cluster as she is a single-parent family) and shopping when Himself wasn’t able to fulfil the brief, I hunkered down at home, busy writing and reading. Other than teaching Tim, which I did resume after a long, serious discussion weighing the pros and cons with his mother…
Reading I read twelve books in November, which isn’t a particularly large number – but that’s okay. More importantly, once again it’s been a great reading month qualitywise – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. Because this was #Sci Fi Month 2020, which was once again organised by Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place and was a huge success.
My Outstanding Book of the Month was Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett.
My reads during November were:
Dead Lies Dreaming – a Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Wintersmith – Book 35 of the Discworld novels & Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Outstanding Audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Architects of Memory – Book 1 of The Memory War series by Karen Osborne. Review to follow.
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas. See my review.
Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre. Review to follow.
Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Lifelode by Jo Walton. Review to follow.
The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. See my review.
Writing and Editing Halfway through the month, I finally completed the manuscript for Picky Eaters 2 – which initially was going to be a novella – only to discover that it was a monster of over 117,000 words! I will be writing about all this in more detail in a separate post later in the month – but basically that was just nonsense. I’m not in the mood right now to read anything of that length – so why would I expect my readers to do so, either? Particularly as the whole point of this series is to provide some escapist fun. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived in. It took nearly a week of hard work and rewriting – but I now have a version of Picky Eaters 2, renamed Flame and Blame, that I’m happy with at just under 73,000 words. The great news is that I also have just under 50,000 words of the next novel in the trilogy, which will be called Trouble With Dwarves.
Overall, I wrote just over 61,300 words in November, with just under 20,000 on the blog, and just under 40,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just under 477,000 words. I’m very happy with that – the increased in the speed of my writing since I returned from Bexhill has been a gamechanger and should mean that next year will be far more productive.
Blogging Blogging revolved around Sci Fi Month, which was a joy. I added far too many books to my towering TBR and was able to swing by and chat to some other blogs I don’t regularly visit. Though as I battled with teasing apart my manuscript during the second half of the month, I’m afraid my visiting once more suffered. Sorry about that! In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to stay safe. Take care.x
The Cap from Captain’s Quarters was fulsome in praising this one – and I’ve come to respect the Cap’s opinions such that I immediately went looking for Finder. I decided to treat myself to the audio version – and I’m delighted that I did, because Joe Hempel did a cracking job on the narration. I’m linking this article with #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder. His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand. Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple… That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share.
REVIEW: Well this is a bucketful of fun! Fergus is a sympathetic protagonist, who I immediately bonded with over the way he handled himself during the first adventure that sucked him into Cernee’s power struggle. In common with most protagonists, Fergus has a troubled backstory that accounts for his footloose lifestyle. But although this comes into play and at times has a bearing on the decisions he makes, it doesn’t turn him into too much of a victim.
While this book is packed with action, it isn’t at the expense of the main characters or the setting. And I really enjoyed seeing Fergus pitchforked into the middle of a series of impossible situations and then watch how he tries to improvise his way out of them. A couple of his madcap ideas are plain hilarious – his use of sex toys comes to mind – which brings some welcome levity into a story that could have been all about the killing and bloodshed. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting – the space habs were vividly portrayed, as were the pests…
There is a McGuffin that Fergus acquires during his various adventures, but I was glad to see that in the eventual showdown, that didn’t allow him to prevail against the baddie. The supporting cast are also fun, especially the snarky teen who keeps popping up just as Fergus thinks he’s got her tucked away somewhere safe.
My only niggle is that we don’t really get a sense of the motivations of arch-villain, Arum Gilger – and given that he is the major antagonist throughout, I was a tad disappointed that it wasn’t until right at the very end of the adventure, we get any kind of insight as to what runs him. And even then, it wasn’t really fully explored, which given the reach he has, I found a little unsatisfactory. It isn’t a dealbreaker as such – and I’m certainly going to get hold of the second book – but it does account my score of eight, rather than a nine.
Highly recommended for fans who enjoy excellent space opera adventure with an interesting, likeable hero. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We weren’t around last Sunday, hence my absence. It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday night we helped celebrate my grandson’s 11th birthday – I can’t quite believe it… Where has the time gone? My writing club had a Zoom get-together on Wednesday, where I read out my very lame lyrics of an imaginary 1980s pop song, and we chatted about our writing projects. And tried to recall what it was like when we used to sit around a real kitchen table, eating cake and downing mugs of tea. On Thursday, I gave a short presentation via Zoom, again, to the West Sussex Writers’ meeting on the results of the Non-Fiction Competition, which I’d been judging. It was lovely to see many familiar faces, including a number of former Creative Writing students. And on Friday, I went over to look after little Eliza while my daughter listened to a lecture on… you guessed it – Zoom! We brought the boys back here to stay overnight and took them back home yesterday.
I am loving Sci Fi Month – thank you so much to Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for hosting this marvellous event. On the writing front, I’m still working on Picky Eaters 2 – though it’s turning out to be rather too long to be a quick, easy read, so I’m probably going to be splitting up Castellan’s adventures.
My photos this week are from a rather soggy garden…
Last week I read:
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.
Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. This quirky fantasy with a difference was an engrossing, enjoyable read, while the story went off in unexpected directions.
Angel Six Echo by Robert Appleton Armed with a fabled combat suit left to her by a dying warrior race, Gabby Rojas enters the deadliest standoff of the war as a rogue sniper with one goal: to keep her husband alive at all costs. Dalton is a high school teacher, not a soldier, but he’s volunteered to fight for the good of the colonies, against her advice. Gabby, on the other hand, is a black-ops prodigy who turned her back on the military years ago. The consequences of re-entering the fray alone like this, wielding the power of her extraordinary armoured suit, could tip the balance of power in the galaxy. This military sci fi adventure, featuring a super-soldier wife who goes rogue to rescue her clever, geeky husband, who ill-advisedly joins up, is an entertaining, action-packed read. I just couldn’t figure out exactly why happily married Dalton wanted to join up in the first place… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Son of Neptune – Book 2 of The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan PERCY IS CONFUSED. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth.
HAZEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem—when the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wishes she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.
FRANK IS A KLUTZ. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery—although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely—enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.
Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven. This spinoff from the Percy Jackson series delivers the same witty, action-packed adventures that made the original series so much fun to listen to – and I’m delighted we’ve more Riordan goodness stored on my Kindle. Mini-review to follow.