Category Archives: Book review

Review of The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer Trilogy by Elizabeth May

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I encountered the first book, The Falconer, at the beginning of the year and loved the intense, brutal writing style of this YA genre mash-up, so was delighted when this offering became available at the local library.

thevanishingthroneAileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her friends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

Whatever you do – don’t start with this book. Go back to The Falconer, which ended on a devastating cliffhanger and pretty much picks up exactly where the first book left off. So if you start with this one, while you may not be floundering too much, you will definitely be missing an important chunk of the story. Having your main character being subjected to sustained torture can be tricky business, especially in a YA read, and needs careful handling. Fortunately May deals with it well and Aileana certainly is left with wounds that run deeper than the scars inflicted as the storyline progresses.

I was concerned that as the first book galloped towards an apocalyptic climax, the second book would necessarily be something of a let-down – and it proved to be nothing of the sort. May doesn’t ease up on the pace one iota and Aileana is immersed into another series of twists and turns that reveals yet more of the fae and their tortuous relationship with humanity reaching back millennia.

It was also a treat to meet up again with the strong supporting cast of characters who people The Falconer… I was very relieved that Derrick, the stroppy pixie, survives. Apart from anything else, the repartee between Aileana and Derrick provides some very welcome humour. Not that this is particularly downbeat – there is too much going on and too many issues for our protagonist to consider for the mood to become too gloomy. However, it is gritty – wounds cause scars. People sustain losses. And bear grudges…

Once more, I was swept up into this enticing, edgy world. Though as I approached the ending I became increasingly concerned that it could not compete with The Falconer’s shocking conclusion. But I need not have feared – as I got to the final page, I was scraping my jaw off the floor, while being very relieved that I shan’t have to wait too long for the final book, The Fallen Kingdom, in this exciting, entertaining series. Highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

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I requested this one from NetGalley as the description caught my attention and I was looking for something different…

themercyofthetideRiptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever.

This book is definitely on the literary end of the speculative fiction spectrum, with a nod to alternative history and magic realism. It is a study of loss and grief. A car crash months before the story starts has killed two women and not only does their death massively impact the main protagonists in the story – it also appears to set off a chain of events that have recurred on this site before.

Often protagonists are faced with unexpected deaths of partners, parents or children – and while we are aware of the impact upon them, events generally move along so that we rapidly gain some distance from the bereavement tearing lumps out of their lives. Indeed, I am regularly exasperated at how quickly that aspect of the story is glossed and the implicit message is that the bereaved are allowed a few months’ grace, but then should be pulling themselves together, again. Unless the book is all about how their dead partner has arranged letters in bottles, or a series of tasks for them to undertake – then they’re allowed to continue to founder in a morass of grief.

Rosson hasn’t done either of these – his focus is firmly on the four characters devastated by the deaths of these two women. In beautiful, unsentimental prose that peels back any pretence or façade, he digs into his characters’ souls and shows the crippling extent of their loss. Alongside this, though, there are other events. Mutilated remains of animals start appearing along the beach of this off-season seaside town which has seen far better days, a body is discovered. Meanwhile the political temperature is steadily rising as Ronald Reagan is warning the world about Russia’s ‘evil Empire’ and fears about nuclear war abound as the cold war seems to be dangerously heating up.

There are all welded into an engrossing read that takes us into the rain-lashed streets of Riptide with a grieving Sheriff of Police, a teenage boy trying to also look out for his deaf nine-year-old sister as he comes to terms with the loss of their mother and a Deputy who was having an affair with one of the women. In order for this book to work, I needed to really care for all the characters – which I did. Even when they did stupid, silly things. Even when they were mean and angry. Rosson does a cracking job of giving his characters depth and vulnerabilities that certainly had me rooting all the way for them.

Any niggles? I’m aware this is more of a literary read than I generally do, these days – but I did feel that about two-thirds of the way through, the pace dipped slightly just at the point in the book when it should have picked up. That said, I was never at any stage tempted to put it down. I really enjoyed the wonderful piece of personification for all that terrible grief in amongst the story and found it a gripping, sobering read. Strongly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris

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I really liked the blurb for this children’s mystery based on the supposed adventures of the young Arthur Conan Doyle. Would the charm persist beyond the book’s description?

thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

We are immediately plunged right into the middle of this mystery as Artie and his friend and sidekick, Ham, have a spooky encounter in a churchyard, which persuades Artie that the young trainee doctor lodging at their house is up to no good. Harris has managed to layer the character rather effectively. While watching Artie in action, I’m forcibly reminded of a juvenile Benedict Cumberbatch – opinionated, bossy and invariably convinced he is superior to those around him. More endearingly, Artie is prone to make more mistakes and go blundering more haphazardly into situations than his supercilious sleuth.

The historical feel of the period is effectively depicted with the occasional old fashioned word, such as ‘kirk’ instead of church, for instance but reading the context, I think most young readers could work out what the word means. We also have a number of interesting characters. I like the fact that Artie’s family is rather dysfunctional, with a father suffering depression in a time when there is no sickness benefit or safety net for those struggling on the poverty line. Ham also has a difficult background, with a father who has died and a widowed mother trying to cope.

There is plenty of banter between the two boys, as Ham is reluctantly dragged along in Artie’s wake. Most of the time he goes along with it – but just occasionally his pointed remarks regarding Artie’s tendency to go crashing into a situation make him pause and reconsider. I was pleased it is Ham’s contribution to the adventure that is the major gamechanger during the climactic final flurry of action.

Any niggles? I could have done without Artie’s jabs about Ham’s size. This is particularly unfortunate, I feel, in a book aimed at the children’s market when there are now significant numbers of youngsters heavier than is healthy. Surely, in an escapist adventure overweight children are also entitled to be able to enjoy the fun without such reminders of their problems?

That apart, I enjoyed this romp and I think many youngsters will do, too. There is plenty of action and some creepy moments without slipping into anything too horrific for newly independent readers, or those having this one read to them.

While I obtained the arc of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

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I’ll make time for anything Reynolds has written – even his least stellar efforts are characterised by wonderful imaginative leaps and at his best, he weaves worlds of wonder that have lodged in my head years after reading them. See my review of Revenger.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

Scur is an intriguing protagonist, having been unfairly conscripted to punish her father for his political activities against the regime. She is on her way back home, eager to see her parents and reassure them that despite some of the things she has been forced to do during the war, she is still okay and it isn’t their fault… Only during her homeward journey, she is once more overtaken by circumstances beyond her control and finds herself in a very tricky situation.

The slow bullets of the title are a type of chip implanted deep in the body such they are unable to be removed without killing the recipient, but nevertheless, they can still be read. Details of a person’s life can continue to be fed into its memory, along with images of people who matter in their lives, where they have worked or served. All soldiers have a slow bullet inserted as a matter of course, along with a portion of civilians. And prisoners…

So is someone the sum of what is on their slow bullet? Does that completely encompass who they are and what they are capable of? These are some of the questions behind this engrossing space opera adventure. Scur finds herself in a leadership role, despite not wanting it, because her driving concern is to return home and she cannot see how they are going to do so if she lets the one technical civilian continue to drift, locked in horror when he discovers the enormity of the jam they are in, when things go wrong on the transport ship. That said, he is also the person who manages to solve a whole lot of problems along the way – they probably wouldn’t survive without his input.

As well as raising some interesting issues, Reynolds also provides a real page-turner – over the years I have read one or three space opera adventures and I sort of guessed where this one was going. Until it took a left turn and went in an entirely different direction altogether, leaving me agog and desperate to know how the whole mess was going to pan out. So once the story steps completely over any of my expectations, does Reynolds bring this one to a satisfactory conclusion?

Oh yes. I think this one is going to reverberate around my head for a while, given the unsettling final section. Small wonder Slow Bullets won the Locus Award for Best Novella 2016 and was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Highly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

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The minute I saw this one, I knew I would have to read it. I have to declare an interest here – I’m working on my own retelling of The Tempest, so I was very interested to read this one…

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in mirandaandcalibanthe abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This books is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them. Miranda and Caliban are in thrall to Prospero and suffer the consequences of his abusive, controlling behaviour.

Carey’s lyrical prose drew me into the closed world of the enchanted island and the deserted Moorish palace inhabited by Prospero, Miranda and Caliban. As the years roll past, Miranda and Caliban grow up, while Prospero grows older, always working away at his magical studies. The pacing works well, with the first half of the book moving relatively slowly – and then as we approach the more familiar events covered in Shakespeare’s play, the book’s momentum suddenly rockets forward.

Miranda and Caliban is more of a prequel to The Tempest, with Carey’s version of what happens once Prospero raises his magical storm and wrecks King Alonso’s ship, differing in major ways from Shakespeare’s version. Though the main events are still recognisable and I love the twists and variations which work very effectively, still keeping to the spirit and form of this, one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays. However, if you’ve never seen or read The Tempest and have absolutely no intention of doing so – there is nothing here that prevents you from appreciating this bittersweet story of young love, as Carey ensures the tale is completely standalone.

Both young people are utterly convincing in their desperate loneliness, while caught up in Prospero’s elaborate scheme to escape his island exile. Their feelings for each other are completely understandable and both struggle to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. As for the ending… oh my word. It blew me away, leaving me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Wonderful and memorable, this is my favourite book of the year so far. Very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Miranda and Caliban from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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When browsing NetGalley – which is becoming something of a vice – I noticed this offering and after thoroughly enjoying Cinders, I put in a request to read it.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of heartlessHearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

If you have read and enjoyed Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, then do consider tracking down this YA prequel to his madcap world. Catherine is a joy. I immediately bonded with her open-hearted approach to life and her interest in baking. Meyer has done an excellent job in depicting her privileged life that, nevertheless, is rather empty when it comes to close, loving relationships to the extent that her closest friend is her maid. This first person narrative is harder to pull off than Meyer makes it look, given that she also has to nail Carroll’s peculiar world.

For me, this is the book’s real strength – as a girl I loved the world Lewis presented and Meyer’s depiction of it is both clever and respectful. The kingdom of Hearts has its own quirky rules, which Meyer presents with minimum fuss or explanation so that we fully accept the idea of playing cards running around the place. Neither has she glossed or ignored any of that quirkiness – I enjoyed the Cheshire cat, whose sudden appearances and perceptive comments are entirely in keeping with Lewis’s world. While the account of the croquet game, complete with hedgehogs and flamingos, is funny and bizarre. This is a large part of the book’s charm – while there is a dark undertow, the amusing Lewis-inspired episodes throughout had me grinning, both at the humour and Meyer’s skill in weaving her own narrative within this complex and very odd world.

The catch with prequels is that you generally know the outcome, apart from some minor details, so there has to be something other than the plotline to keep you reading. The ongoing romance throughout this book was well handled – I cared for the couple and hoped they would prevail. Given I’m not a fan of lurve stories (yawn) the fact that I found myself rooting for this one is a testament to Meyer’s excellent writing. And part of the game in these retellings is recognising key characters that featured in the original classic and seeing what Meyer has done with them. Like the original, there is amongst the surreal oddity a sense of wrongness to this world which on occasions breaks into violence – the Jabberwock attacks are a shock in this mannered world where what you wear and how you wear it is the one of the yardsticks to social success. Meyer’s pacing, where she steadily increases the momentum of the story to that amazing climax, is pitch perfect, providing us with the world we now recognise from Alice’s own visit in Lewis’s classic. As you may have gathered, I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Regulars to this site will know that Tchaikovsky is a favourite author of mine and last year I read and reviewed the first book, The Tiger and the Wolf, in this latest epic fantasy offering and loved it.

Maniye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown thebearandtheserpentof the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

For those of you tempted by the cool cover to plunge in and pick up this one without reading the first book in the series, my advice would be don’t. Though Tchaikovsky provides a ‘Story So Far’ – a development that I thoroughly approve of – the first book is a tour de force and you’ll miss far too much of the wonderful richness of this amazing world. A world where people are defined by their clans and what they shape-shift into when they reach puberty. A world riven by constant wars and fights between the clans. A pre-agrarian society, where the secret of smelting iron belongs to the Wolf and the rest of the clans make do with bronze weapons.

While The Tiger and the Wolf mostly features the adventures of Maniye, the outcast child of the Wolf, this sequel branches off and we have another main protagonist, the Champion of the Bear, Lord Thunder. He has been dragged unwillingly right into the middle of the ferment caused when catastrophe overtakes the Seal people. A rather grumpy character possessing great strength and a short temper, he has no desire to become any kind of leader. I like the humour that comes from his struggles to deal with the political in-fighting, while he yearns to retreat once more into solitude – though that humour is tempered by the undertow of threat that runs through the book.

In common with much epic fantasy, there is Something Nasty and Worldchanging the prophesies are all saying is just around the corner. And indeed, Tchaikovsky’s talent for writing gripping action scenes and battles comes in handy as the book builds up to a page-turning climax that meant I read far into the wee small hours to discover how it all turns out. Anyone who has read Tchaikovsky’s Spiderlight and Children of Time will know he’s the master of unintended consequences, and while the main storyline is satisfactorily concluded in this action-packed book, there are some intriguing plotlines left dangling for the next in this series. Classic epic fantasy isn’t my favourite sub-genre, but Echoes of the Fall has a place in my heart – I dreamt of it when I finally fell asleep. So it comes very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Bear and the Serpent from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

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As soon as I caught sight of this one on the NetGalley catwalk, I knew I had to have it. Like many fantasy fans, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Hollows series – see my review of Every Which Way But Dead – where in each book Harrison invariably alludes to the game-changing catastrophe that brought the Interlanders out from the shadows. It is now a delight to have that keynote time actually charted in this entertaining read.

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the theturnseries that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before! Can science save us when all else fails?

I reserve the right to abbreviate book blurbs as I see fit, as far too many toss one spoiler in after another. But I’m not even giving you the beginning of the this one, as it immediately lurches into Spoiler territory – unnecessary as I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who have never read Kim Harrison and this is an excellent starting point. So long as you haven’t already been told half the story, already.

We are in the viewpoint of Trisk, a female dark elf and brilliant geneticist whose outstanding work is consistently passed over due to her gender – and her swarthy looks and lack of breeding. Elves are supposed to be blue-eyed, pale-skinned and blonde, like Kal, the spoilt, entitled jerk who made Trisk’s life at school a complete misery. Given that he, too, has gone on to study genetics, he continues to blight her life. And then they go their separate ways – until she makes a major breakthrough in a relatively small, human lab. Could this save the elves from the genetic damage inflicted by demonkind?

I loved this one. Harrison excels at writing nuanced, driven characters who frequently make disastrous mistakes. The worldbuilding is brilliant and the supporting cast every bit as charismatic – for Harrison fans, half the fun of this book is seeing familiar characters pop up at the start of their journey – or their ancestors. I loved Orchid, the gutsy pixy, desperately looking for a buck and refusing to believe that she is the last of her kind and seeing how the imperturbable Quen was before he got to be that way. While vampires regularly appear in urban fantasy reads, few writers manage to evoke the sheer terror and unpredictability of this creepy species the way Harrison does. As for Kal – I keep banging on about how important it is that we have a clear insight as to why the antagonist behaves the way he does and this is a masterclass in how to write one. He has been gifted with so much, but he knows only too well that what he lacks is that touch of brilliance Trisk brings to her work.

The way this book leads up to the disaster that overtakes the world and what happens next is masterfully handled. I very much hope that Harrison will be writing another in this series. I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Indie Ebook Griffen: Shadows of the Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

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I liked the sound of this one and requested it from NetGalley…

She has nothing—not even a roof above her head. She has unimaginable powers, but these griffenpowers come at a price: she has to feed on the mental energy of human beings, killing them in the process. Her name is Griffen and she is a newborn. She is a copy, a paranormal twin of a young woman, Letitia. Griffen is not the only one of her kind—there are others like her, living among humans or hiding underground. Romantics called them doppelgangers, ghostly twins, the harbingers of death. Scientists who know that they exist call them simulacra. They call themselves mirror souls. Who are they and what are their goals?

This feels like the start of a series about this group of superbeings who have existed in our world alongside us for millennia. We see this world through the viewpoint of this newly created being, who has the memories and emotions of Letitia – yet needs to kill in order to stay alive. Traumatised and loathing the need to kill in order to keep alive, Griffen attempts to learn more about who she is and what she is capable of, in order to continue to be able to cope with her abilities.

It is a nifty idea – provide someone right at the start of their journey and give the reader a front row seat as she begins to learn more about who she is and what she is capable of. I very much liked the idea of how the mirror world is created and the factions and politics of the power struggles between those factions is by far the strongest part of the book. Blakemont nicely blends parts of our history, such as the Knights Templar being one of the early powerbases of the mirror beings for instance. And there are pleasing echoes of the vampire legends embodied in some of their attributes that I enjoyed.

What hampered my full reading enjoyment was my inability to bond with the main protagonist, Griffen. Perhaps had I known a bit more about Letitia before Griffen’s creation, in order to get a real sense of what she feels she has lost, I would have found her more interesting. It wasn’t until well into the book, I really began to care more about her aims and goals and with many books that would have been a dealbreaker, but I found the alternate world Blakemont has created sufficiently engrossing that I was able to continue enjoying the read. For while I didn’t fully identify with Griffen, neither did I actively dislike her. Overall, this is a pleasing adventure about an interestingly original set of superbeings, whose opposing aims and cultures pulled me into this story.

While I obtained the arc of Griffen from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10