I was drawn to the appealing cover and rather quirky blurb – would this one provide the upbeat, engrossing escapist read I was looking for?
BLURB: Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.
But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…
REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I’ve been a bit bemused by the negative reviews for this entertaining and really different fantasy adventure. But I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of reviewers picked it up because of the allusion to the telepathic cat – and most fantasy adventures with a telepathic pet don’t generally come with steamy sex scenes. So I think this is more of a case of readers opening up this book thinking they were getting one type of story – and instead were confronted with something quite different. While that cover certainly didn’t help, given that it also doesn’t give any clue of the erotic charge running through this adventure.
As for me – I found Shine beguiling and enjoyed the rather claustrophobic, dangerous edge to this adventure as the Family, both mundanes and mages, gather for the annual fertility festival, where consenting adults get together for the purpose of creating more children. Routley’s worldbuilding is impressive as she creates a large family, riven with factions and infighting as the most powerful, entitled mages jockey for the prime positions. Shine is well down the pecking order, as she watches the man she has given her heart to flirt with other girls – and tries to keep away from her more unpleasant, bullying cousins. I kept waiting for her to discover that she had unexpected magical powers… And no, I’m not going to reveal if she does – but this one has lodged in my head and despite the fact that I’ve subsequently completed two other books, it won’t leave me alone.
As for the sex – yes, there are a couple of uncharacteristically raunchy scenes, but I didn’t find them unduly gratuitous. This is a society with a very relaxed attitude towards sex, especially at this time of the Festival, for it is important that there be more female children within the family, as it is female mages with most power. And the fact that Shine is a mundane with an unfortunate bloodline means she is regarded with contempt by many family members – there is nothing cosy about this bunch. But despite the fact it deals with some quite dark subjects, there is a bouncy energy and a lot of snarky humour that stopped it being a bleak read.
I will be reading more from this intriguing author – and if there is a sequel to this book, which feels as if there should be – then I’ll be hunting it down. While I obtained an arc of Shadow in the Empire of Light from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
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…
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
It was the cover that drew me to this one – and I scooped it up, when I saw it was a hefty science fiction read that would be ideal audiobook to listen to while doing the chores.
BLURB: Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
REVIEW: At just over 500 pages, this packs in a whole lot of space opera, including many classical genre ingredients with modern spin on them, which I found really intriguing. However, I am aware that if I had been reading this one instead of listening to the excellent narration of Nneka Okoye, I think there would have been passages which I might have skimmed. The main protagonist, Haimey, is complicated and we learn of her tangled past as the story unfolds. Suffice to say that she was caught up in some major wrongdoing in her past, which means that her brain chemistry has been radically altered in the interests of justice. Though, as her whole life unravels once the discovery of the alien artefact and its ensuing consequences crashes around her, we also learn that the story is not nearly so straightforward and simple as she thought. The whole story is told in first person viewpoint, which happens to be a particular favourite of mine.
There are moments of high drama with great action involving space battles, alien confrontations and close quarters fighting. There are also scenes of drawn-out tension where Haimey is confronted with another character, whom she is strongly attracted to, but ultimately doesn’t wish her well. There is a romantic same-sex relationship of the slow-burn variety, so there is nothing remotely graphic in the book. There is also a fair amount of musing about all sorts of issues, including the nature of government; personal responsibility, seen through the lens of someone who routinely self-medicates for mood enhancement, by boosting brain secretions with the aid of implants; and what her cats think about. Yes… We even have space cats. This is a wide-ranging book that isn’t afraid to wander away from the narrative arc into all sorts of by-ways as the main character has plenty of downtime. Did I mind? No – because I found those musings absolutely fascinating. I am also a sucker for a well-drawn, complex character with hidden layers, which Haimey provides in spades.
It was a while since I listened to this one and wrote this review, but I’m adding a rider – this book won’t leave me alone. And although since I shunted it back into the Cloud, I’ve read and listened to a slew of wonderful reads – this is currently my outstanding read of the year. Highly recommended for those who enjoy intelligent space opera action, punctuated by episodes where ideas are discussed. 10/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. I’m linking this week’s fantasy offering with Wyrd and Wonder 2020.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley – release date, 4th August, 2020
#fantasy #family relationships #magic #magical pet
BLURB: MAGIC. MURDER. MAYHEM. But keep it in the family.
Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.
But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into dark intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy, and family drama mix with murder, sex and secrets, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…
It was the cover that did it for me this time around – and the strapline. I’m a sucker for quirky magical stories, particularly when you add family relationships and tensions into the mix. It also looks as if it doesn’t take itself too desperately seriously and I’m yearning for some fun in my escapism at the moment. So what with one thing and another, I’m really looking forward to this one. Has anyone else helped themselves to this NG arc?
Himself had bought this book and when he finished it, he said ‘Read this – it’s really good!’ So I did – and he’s right…
Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content. However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work. And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.
The blurb gives an indication of the sharp humour that runs throughout the book as Ivy is pitchforked into the middle of this entertaining mystery, where there is clearly a nefarious plot brewing at the Order. What made this book for me is Ivy’s first person narrative as she is reluctantly dragged into this investigation, when she would far rather curl up on her sofa and watch something good on the telly. It is such a refreshing change to find a protagonist who genuinely would rather be doing almost anything else other than getting involved that I was completely beguiled and found it very difficult to put this one down.
The fact she is partnered with the very focused and ambitious Winter – a complete opposite – heightened my enjoyment. It would have been only too easy for Harper to become so involved in the spiky dynamic of this partnership such that she didn’t pay sufficient attention to the investigation. This doesn’t happen. As events steadily stack up, the stakes continue to become ever higher so that despite the humour and interesting relationship, I was staying up waaay too late because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.
Of course along the way, Ivy discovers that she is quite enjoying herself – not that she is prepared to admit it, and certainly not to Winter. This entertaining investigation provides plenty of tension and action as well as a genuinely funny main protagonist with a strong voice that pings off the page. If you enjoy your urban fantasy with a feisty protagonist, strong supporting characters and an entertaining mystery, then I recommend you track down this enjoyable book by a talented indie author. I’m delighted to report that the next book in the series, Star Witch, has just been released and I will certainly be getting hold of it just as soon as I can.
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cats, so I’ve chosen Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – by T.S. Eliot.
This is playful cover is more than a nod to some of the earlier covers with the cartoon-like cats and cheerful colour – so much more fun than some of the other drearier offerings in the 1960s and 70s. It was produced in August 1982 by Harcourt Brace and Co., which sounds like the sort of publisher that would crop up in one of Eliot’s poems… I really like this one.
This edition, produced in October 2009 by HMH, is another really enjoyable cover with a number of the recognisable cats that feature in Eliot’s delightful poems. As well as being quirky and playful, this cover is attractive and eye-catching.
Published in 2001 by Faber and Faber, this cover continues with the bright background and cartoon cats. However, I think the whole design is spoilt by that ugly block running across the bottom of the cover for the title and author – and by 2001, they didn’t have the excuse that it was still the fashion that prevailed with covers.
This cover, produced by Faber and Faber in February 2014, is another strong contender. I like the madcap cat featuring behind the footlights – along with the distinctive font on the word CATS, this is more than a nod to the worldwide hit musical that came out of this collection of poems.
This is my favourite cover – mostly because I find it the most appealing and attractive, rather than because I think it is necessarily the best design. Produced by Faber and Faber in October 2010, I love the bright colourful design of the cats high-kicking their way across the rooftop. It may lack the quirkiness of some of the other covers, but the bold colours and well balanced title font sells this one for me. Which is your favourite?