Category Archives: coming-of-age

Review of KINDLE Ebook Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle #Brainfluffbookreview #Windhavenbookreview

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While I cannot get on with his sprawling epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, I am a real fan of much of Martin’s writing – see my review of Tuf Voyaging here, and I also enjoyed Lisa Tuttle’s The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – see my review here. So it was a no-brainer that I would pounce on this one when I spotted it. I’m so glad I did – and I’ll be linking this review to Sci-Fi Month.

The planet of Windhaven was not originally a home to humans, but it became one following the crash of a colony starship. It is a world of small islands, harsh weather, and monster-infested seas. Communication among the scattered settlements was virtually impossible until the discovery that, thanks to light gravity and a dense atmosphere, humans were able to fly with the aid of metal wings made of bits of the cannibalized spaceship.

Many generations later, among the scattered islands that make up the water world of Windhaven, no one holds more prestige than the silver-winged flyers, who bring news, gossip, songs, and stories. They are romantic figures crossing treacherous oceans, braving shifting winds and sudden storms that could easily dash them from the sky to instant death. They are also members of an increasingly elite caste, for the wings—always in limited quantity—are growing gradually rarer as their bearers perish. With such elitism comes arrogance and a rigid adherence to hidebound tradition. And for the flyers, allowing just anyone to join their cadre is an idea that borders on heresy. Wings are meant only for the offspring of flyers—now the new nobility of Windhaven. Except that sometimes life is not quite so neat…

The story charts the fortunes of Maris, who we first meet as a small child, foraging for anything of value on the beach when she makes a life-changing encounter. She meets a flyer called Russ who picks the child up and treats her dream of being a flyer as something more than just the imaginings of some land-bound brat. He eventually adopts her and trains her – until unexpectedly, he has a son. Maris helps to bring the motherless boy up, until the terrible day when she is forced to hand over the wings she has been flying with. For she is not entitled to keep them – they belong to Coll, Russ’s son, even though he yearns to be a singer and has already caught the eye of one of the best professional singers on Windhaven, who wishes to train him. But tradition says that Coll must follow Russ as a flyer, despite his inability to feel the wind.

As we follow Maris and her battle to continue to fly, we also learn of the original colonists and how they accidentally encountered Windhaven. The worldbuilding is excellent with wonderful descriptions of the storms that regularly sweep the planet and the air currents that generally keep the flyers in the sky – and occasionally fling them into the sea. It is a hard, dangerous life and flyers keep to themselves, forming close ties with each other, while despising those who are not able to fly.

A particular decision is made that overturns a tradition that has begun to cause problems – and in a less nuanced, clever book, we would get a variety of adventures involving talented flyer Maris and that would be that. However in this book, decisions have consequences that no one foresaw. The rest of the book continues to follow what befalls Maris, while also exploring the fallout from those decisions and how they impact upon the traditional way of life on Windhaven for both flyers and land-bound alike. I love the way this plays out and how the previous faultlines in society are not only heightened but previous prejudices are also strengthened.

This is a clever, thoughtful book that nonetheless also delivers an engrossing story full of adventure and incident, featuring a sympathetic and believable protagonist. Highly recommended for fans of quality colony adventure… quality fantasy… quality books, basically. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenPrinceborn:STOLENbookreview

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Jean Lee writes excellent articles on her blog – slices of her family and writing life that leap off the page. So when she asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her first full-length fantasy book, I jumped at the opportunity. I will be posting her fantastic interview on Monday…

In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte is running away with her younger sister Anna. Together they board a bus. Little do they know that they’re bound for River Vine—a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shapeshifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.

This one starts with a bang. I love Lee’s immersive style as we immediately are caught up in Charlotte’s concerns once the bus comes to a stop and the passengers spill out. As well as keeping a firm eye on Anna, her rebellious teenage sister, Charlotte is busy checking out the reason why they’ve broken down… their fellow passengers… their surroundings… the odd behaviour of the local wildlife, particularly a certain raven… It’s clear she has a heightened sense of smell – and that while she is alert and apprehensive, she isn’t afraid. Lee does a masterful job of establishing Charlotte’s difference and concerns from the very first line. I loved her.

The worldbuilding is brilliant. Lee’s snappy prose style gives us a real sense of the surroundings – and thanks to Charlotte’s enhanced olfactory abilities, we not only get to see the world, we get to smell it, too. Once the turning point in the book occurs, Charlotte finds herself in a completely different place with different rules. We get to see her propensity to act first and consider later, even if she isn’t always sure that’s the best strategy. During her troubled and often violent past, this has proved to be successful and it also provides her with release for the simmering anger that drives her. I loved watching her progression as she very slowly starts to let her guard down – only for all her suspicions surge once more when she becomes convinced that she is being double-crossed.

The other main protagonist is Liam, the Bloody Prince, who makes a dramatic entrance thanks to Charlotte’s intervention. He is also an interesting mixture. Imbued with a great deal of innate power, his abilities have been compromised over the years by his tendency to use them for his own baser ends. I really liked this aspect – far too often protagonists pitch up with major abilities they have only used for the greater good, with only the baddies who give in to the darker side… But what if a main character’s upbringing is sufficiently skewed to lead him down some dark paths? Can he pull themselves free of such a compromised past and redeem himself? This is one of the main questions Jean asks.

And the clash of cultures between entitled, mesmerising Liam and embattled, bitter Charlotte ensures that plenty of sparks fly. His assumption that he can schmooze her with his usual mix of flattery and mind-power elicits her contemptuous fury, beginning to make him reconsider what he is doing.

He isn’t the only nuanced, interesting character – all the supporting cast have their own tales. I particularly love Arlen, who had the thankless task of raising Liam and his own gifted and powerful nephew and is still trying to hold everything together.

Those violet-eyed, murdering creatures are also fascinating, with their own tragic stories. Like the grief-stricken, trapped fae who has seen his children blown apart, and is intent on slaughtering any human he can get hold of. While he clearly shouldn’t prevail, I liked knowing why his behaviour is so savage. How refreshing to be sympathetic to the antagonists, especially given what they have done and what they are planning to do to humanity.

After the initial tension-filled opening and flurry of action, the pace eases up as we are given a ringside seat into Charlotte’s struggle to acclimatise and discover exactly what is going on. I didn’t mind – I was hooked. Once the story picked up again, gathering momentum for the final denouement I simply didn’t bother to put this one down. Lee’s spin on some of the classical mythical tropes, such as the Tree of Life and a usurped prince, is beautifully handled. There are a couple of short story collections set in this world, but I am hoping for another full-length book of more adventures in this savage, strange place.

Highly recommended for fans of quality, character-led fantasy.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 30th October, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Satellite by Nick Lake

p. 168 for some reason, i had always thought that at some point we would go back up to Moon 2. i don’t know why i thought that. i mean, earth was the promised land. we were always told: when u’re strong enough u’ll go down to earth. so that was clearly the end point. the goal & yet somehow… somehow i saw it as a circle. saw myself back up there.
‘a problem, Leo?’ says my mother.
‘no, nothing,’ i say. ‘i just… i guess i always thought i’d go back up, 1 day.’
she nods. ‘i c.’
‘&?’
now she shrugs. ‘i guess u will have to apply urself & try to become an astronaut.’
yes. yes, i suppose that makes sense. we are not astronauts. we are people who happen to have been born in space.

BLURB: Fifteen-year-old Leo has never set foot on Earth. born and raised with twins Orion and Libra on the Moon 2 Space Station, Leo has grown up in the most extraordinary way. The time has now come for the trio to make their first flight home to Earth, but they cannot imagine the terrible consequences that their return will set in motion.

I treated myself to this paperback copy with my birthday, attracted by the cool cover. I rather like the near-future take on our spelling and punctuation – I can certainly already see signs of some of these changes already and it’s surprising how quickly I adjusted to the altered text. It was no doubt helped by the gripping story, which now has me desperate to find out what happens next…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Soulbinder Book 4 in the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Soulbinderbookreview

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The fourth book in the page-turning SPELLSLINGER fantasy series. Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

And that’s the blurb – well, you can’t fault the publisher for giving away any crucial plotpoints here, can you? I’m interested in the line-up of authors that are compared to de Castell, because they all have initially humorous, often quite bouncy stories that steadily get darker and grimmer as the series wears on. Up to this point, the Spellsinger series kept the humour going, mostly provided by that pesky squirrel cat. But while Kellen’s caustic comments still are evident during Soulbinder – this is the book where the stakes are upped even further, there is even more mayhem, bloodshed and emotion. And yet, right at the end, back comes the humour, which I often loathe in TV series, but this time around, breathless and a tad hollowed out by all the excitement and the loss of characters I’ve grown fond of – something de Castell regularly does – it was a huge relief.

In this slice of the adventure, we learn more about the shadowblack – the disease that has marked Kellen and forced him to be outcast as the black markings around his eye will eventually cause him to be possessed by a terrible demon and start killing all those around him. The magical society he is born into, the Jan’Tep, abhor and fear all those with shadowblack, regarding them as monsters and mages can earn respect by tracking and killing those with a bounty on their head. I appreciated learning more about exactly what others infected by shadowblack feel about their affliction as Kellen encounters those like himself.

The action builds to a really exciting climax and the pages flipped past far too quickly as I couldn’t put this one down – de Castell has a knack of leading us from one engrossing adventure to another, without losing any depth in the characterisation or allowing the pacing to become too repetitive, which is harder to do than he makes it look.

And despite reading two books in this series within a week of each other – see my review of Charmcaster – I didn’t find the experience diminished my enjoyment of Soulbinder, which is a real testament to the writing skill of de Castell, who goes on delivering humour, shocks and plot-twists throughout this engrossing series. Highly recommended for fans of adventure fantasy featuring cool magical systems.
9/10

Review of PAPERBOOK Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 in the Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangetheDreamerbookreview

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I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – I think she’s an extraordinary writer, who pushes the boundaries, so I was really excited to see Strange the Dreamer was due out. I treated myself to the paperback with my birthday money and then promptly became engulfed in a flood of Netgalley arcs that needed reading first. So I reckon I’m one of five people on the planet who haven’t yet got around to this one…

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I love, love, love Lazlo – his daydreaming as a child chimes with my own intense imaginary worlds I used as a refuge from a rather complicated childhood, though I hasten to add that’s where the resemblance ends. No one beat me for my imaginary adventures – unlike poor old Lazlo. But although he is bookish, he is also clever and unexpectedly courageous. Writing such a nuanced protagonist takes a lot of skill and talent, which Taylor possesses in shedloads.

As the story progresses, accounts of Lazlo’s life are interspersed by what is going on in the Citadel floating above the city of Weep, inhabited by five young people, who are the sole survivors of a savage attack that took place some fifteen years earlier. Their skins are bright blue and each one has a godlike talent, which they mostly use to eke out a difficult existence. Though one of them is determined to be revenged on the wicked humans below who stormed their stronghold and slaughtered everyone in the night…

As ever, Taylor takes an intriguing story and pushes it adrift from any comforting tethers where mercy or love prevent the worst atrocities happening. Yet she manages to do this while still keeping the book a thing of beauty and wonder by the lyrical quality of her prose and depth of characterisation. Even the antagonists have strong, plausible reasons for their behaviour. I was lost in this story, even dreaming of it, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. And despite the fact that Muse of Nightmares is more money than I’d usually pay for an ebook – when I came to the end of Strange the Dreamer, I bought it anyway, because I need to know what happens next.
10/10

Review of Kindle EBOOK Charmcaster – Book 3 in the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Charmcasterbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series – see my reviews of Spellslinger and Shadowblack – so I was a bit startled on learning that not only had Charmcaster been out for a while, but Soulbinder had also just been released. This is a series I didn’t want to slide away from me, so I got hold of Charmcaster with a view of taking it away on my writing retreat…

‘I was getting almost as good at running away from enemies as I was at making them in the first place. Turns out, I wasn’t running nearly fast enough.’ Kellen has begun to master his spellslinging and the Argosi tricks for staying alive, and he and Reichis have found a career that suits them both: taking down mercenary mages who make people’s lives miserable. But Ferius is concerned that Kellen is courting disaster . . .

Firstly, I want to congratulate Hot Key Books for keeping the blurb suitably concise – it’s such a refreshing change not to have to tweak/shorten it to avoid spoiling the book for prospective readers.

Next, my firm recommendation is to those of you who may have picked up this one without reading the other two books first – don’t go any further. Get hold of the previous two in the series. While I’m sure you could get the gist of what’s going on, this delightful, quirky fantasy adventure is far too good to miss.

As for Kellen, his squirrel cat companion Reichis, and Ferius, his Argosi mentor – they are once more on the track of the scumbags who have been inserting a parasitic worm into youngsters in order to control them. What I really have enjoyed about this series is that while Kellen is undoubtedly brave, he is regularly outmatched. And he does have a habit of rushing to the rescue of those he sees as innocent victims without necessarily working out whether his chances of prevailing are realistic. It doesn’t help that his squirrel cat is constantly goading him to take on any assailant in the hopes that he’ll be able to snack on another juicy eyeball… The humour in this series works as a nice counterpoint to the emotion also evident – Kellen wears his heart on his sleeve and the stakes are invariably as high as they can get, given he is tangling with some seriously unpleasant people. In other hands, this series could have been a constant, gritted struggle for survival – which is exactly what happens, but de Castell ensures the pacey writing and horrible situations Kellen finds himself in are leavened by the humour, mostly provided by the squirrel cat and his edgy relationship with his human companion.

I also very much appreciated the further insights into Ferius, Kellen’s mysterious mentor, and what drives her as I’ve found her cryptic utterances somewhat annoying. But this is the book where I bonded with her, while holding my breath. This author isn’t afraid to kill off major characters when it suits him.

Overall, this was an engaging read and worth addition to what is becoming a cracking series and highly recommended for fans of fantasy adventures.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – The grave’s a fine and private place… #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is A HORROR NOVEL, so I’ve selected The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

 

This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2008. I really like this one – the blue-black background is both effective and attractive and the gravestone is striking. But what stands out is the treatment of both the title and author fonts, which I love. And then they go and RUIN it by plastering that large gold blob right in the centre! Couldn’t it have gone in a corner? Just asking…

 

Published in December 2008 by Bloomsbury, this cover is the exact opposite of the above cover. Rather than going for the minimalist approach, this cover is full of wonderful detail, featuring the two main protagonists scowling out at prospective readers. I could have done without the endorsement by Diana Wynne Jones impinging onto that glorious artwork, but overall I like this one, including the funky title font. This is the cover of the copy we own. The big problem with it is that it doesn’t look good in thumbnail.

 

This Spanish edition, published by Roca Editorial in October 2010. I really like it – the design is  clever, featuring the blade of a knife with the cityscape running along its length and young Bod running along the edge of it. I think it’s attractive and eye-catching – and again the author and title fonts look fabulous. However, the snag for me is that there is no graveyard in this cover, which features so heavily in the book – and the title.

 

Produced by Polaris in September 2008, this Czech cover does feature a graveyard. I like the design and appreciate that the ghosts also feature. However, unfortunately the execution of the otherworldly characters lets down this cover – they look like they’ve been painted onto material and then photoshopped into the cover. It’s such a shame, because I think the idea and the rest of the image is really strong.

 

This French edition, published by J’ai lu in April 2012, is also set in a graveyard and I love it. I think it’s the strongest of all the designs. It sings off the page with the eerie lighting and the silhouetted figure of the small boy against the wrought iron gates of the graveyard looks fabulous. This is mine – but which is your favourite?

Teaser Tuesday – 16th October, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Soulbinder – Book 4 in the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

56% Ghilla came and gave me a gentle kick in the shin. ‘We ain’t so bad, boy. You’ll see.’

What do you do in the face of something you’ve never earned but always wanted? I held the bundled shirt with the bones inside it under my arm tightly, as if doing so was somehow an act of resistance against their kindness. It didn’t work though, because after a few moments my traitorous mouth opened, and I said, ‘Take me home.’

BLURB: The fourth book in the page-turning SPELLSLINGER fantasy series.

Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

Even grumpy old me can’t rant about that blurb being too much of a spoiler, can I?

I recently read and loved Charmcaster so Himself stumped up and treated me to this one as a belated birthday treat – no wonder I love him so… And once again, I’ve been caught up in Kellen’s adventures full of danger, emotion and humour. This is certainly one of my favourite fantasy series of the year.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Select Few – Book 2 of the Select series by Marit Weisenberg #Brainfluffbookreview #SelectFewbookreview

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I really enjoyed this first book in this YA paranormal series, Select – read my review here – so when I saw the second book was available, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be accepted.

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death. Will she ever be able to blend into normal society without being traced by her father? Will the FBI ever leave her alone? Can she ever find happiness?

I have once again made major changes to the very chatty blurb, and my advice is – don’t read it before picking up the book. The first book ended on something of a cliffhanger with a sudden revelation right at the very end, which turned everything on its head and had Julia making a snap decision not to join her family in their flight to a new life. So the start of Select Few has Julia coming to terms with that decision, after realising the enormity of her loss. She now has to make her way without her sister, whom she loves and misses and her overbearing authoritarian father. While at times she has revelled in her new freedom, she has also discovered that freedom is often accompanied by loneliness. Her relationship with John is also problematical, given that revelation at the end of the first book, so while her feelings for him are a comfort, he is often at a loss to understand her behaviour.

The reason I can discuss John’s feelings with such authority is that this book is a dual narrative with Julia’s first-person viewpoint telling most of the story, interleaved with John’s observations, addressed directly to Julia in the form of some kind of journal. If you haven’t read Select I recommend you do so if you are not feeling particularly bonded with the main characters, or you cannot work out what is going on. Given the first slice of the story is taken up with what is happening, I think this is one of those series where you really can’t crash midway in the series without floundering – and that would be a shame as I found the early part of the book particularly gripping while I tried to work out where it would go next.

Of course, if you are held at the start, the build-up has to really lead something – we’ve all read books which start with a bang and simply can’t sustain the momentum. Fortunately, Weisenberg has sufficient story and drive that the climax and final stages bring the book to a satisfying and convincing end.

I wasn’t as fed up with the inevitable love triangle as I usually am, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. But perhaps it was because I was sufficiently caught up in the main story and found the road trip also helped Julia comes to terms with some important issues along the way. Recommended for fans of paranormal coming-of-age books. While I obtained an arc of Select Few from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – I spy with my little eye… #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is EYES. I’ve selected The Host by Stephenie Meyer.

 

This edition was produced by Little, Brown and Company in May 2008. This is the definitive cover you see everywhere. It is surprisingly effective, that single eye staring out with such intensity – with the infamous silver line around the iris that glows eerily on the cover itself. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in January 2013 by Black Bay Books, this cover misses the whole point, while highlighting the love triangle in the book, which for me was the weakest part of the story. Still, I suppose it depends on whether you read it as a romance with a bit of science fiction thrown in, or an alien invasion with an added love story.

 

This German edition, published by Ullstein in 2011, features a butterfly. I’m not sure why. It makes for a lovely cover, though. I do feel the title is rather too curly, in fact this whole design makes me think fantasy, rather than science fiction alien invasion.

 

This Serbian edition, produced by Evro Giunti in 2009, is the failed version of the first cover. For starters, she is wearing far too much mascara and the light in her eye is entirely normal. So… is this our protagonist before the aliens got to her? In which case, why is the eye being specifically featured? I get the sense that they decided to rip off the really popular cover of this bestseller without reading the book, though I’m sure that didn’t happen. Did it?

 

This Italian edition, published in February 2013 by Rizzoli is a far better effort than the previous offering. The face is far better, though I think the silvering in the eye looks too heavy-handed. I do like the title font, which works well as it glows out of the gloom and stands out well in thumbnail size. This is a close second for me. What do you think? Do you agree with me?