Category Archives: coming-of-age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Post – 19th February 2017

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Sunday Post

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

Himself has had the week off work. We have mostly stayed at home, because my half term break is next week *sigh*… That said, we did manage to have a couple of days when we chilled together and had lunch at our favourite place.

The weather has been variable, starting cold and wet but steadily getting warmer and sunnier – yesterday was fabulous so we went for a walk over Kithurst Hill. The views were wonderful and for the first time this year, it felt more like spring than winter. I’m not kidding myself – I’m aware that next week it could quite easily snow, but still… there it was – a slice of sunshine! The bonus was during the walk I talked through my ideas for Miranda’s Tempest, as since Christmas I’ve felt like I was wading through concrete on the rewrite. J is a really good listener and together we discussed some of the issues that I’d got stuck on, so I’m hoping to make much better progress this coming week, when I can fully concentrate on it.

As you can see, I’ve had a great reading week with a tranche of entertaining and in one case, outstanding books to read – though it looks a tad more impressive than it is, given one was a novella and one was a children’s book.

This week I have read:

The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
Aileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her thevanishingthronefriends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

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. There’s no second-book slump here – May continues where the first book leaves off in this adrenaline rush of an adventure. I will be reviewing it in due course.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
mirandaandcalibanMiranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the 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 beautifully written love story is mostly the prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest though you don’t have to know a thing about the play to become engrossed in the events of the enchanted island. I loved this one – it is my favourite book of the year to date.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
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.

This space opera novella offers a cracking adventure with plenty of twists and turns, along with some interesting concepts. The slow bullets of the title are identity chips buried deep within a person that record all their major life events. They are impossible to change or over-write. So what happens in a crisis when your life and who you are can be read for all to see?

Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris
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?

This entertaining historical mystery adventure for children tripped along at a fair clip, with the main protagonist, Artie Conan Doyle, seeming very familiar with fans who have read any Sherlock Holmes stories.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

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

Teaser Tuesday featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Friday Face-off – Drivin’ Along in my Automobile… featuring Ill Wind – Book 1 of the Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine

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

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

10 of the Best Wendy Cope Poems Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/17/10-of-the-best-wendy-cope-poems-everyone-should-read/ Once more this great blog has produced an entertaining informative article I really enjoyed.

Girl from Mars, on the telephone https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/girl-from-mars-on-the-telephone/ I love the sheer quirkiness of this pic…

Take My Hand, We Will Walk https://bitesizedhamma.com/2017/02/14/take-my-hand-we-will-walk/ I love the simplicity of this short poem, which also has been very apt this week. Himself and I had a walk just like this one – something we should do more often.

When Dedications Leave Something To Be Desired https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/when-dedications-leave-something-to-be-desired/ Oh, this is hilarious! I howled with laughter and then shared the fun with J…

Interview with Sir Kipling from the Lily Singer series by Lydia Sherrer http://lolasreviews.com/interview-with-sir-kipling-from-the-lily-springer-series-by-lydia-sherrer/ I’ve seen book characters interviewed before, but never with more entertaining snark than this gem…

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

*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

Teaser Tuesday – 14th February, 2016

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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:
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

97% Oh, dear Lord God, I do not want to think about promises.mirandaandcaliban

I paint the fish that dangles from the man’s other hand, using subtle curves to suggest that the fish is yet alive and wriggling in his grasp, I take more time than I ought rendering its fins and gills and scales in exacting detail, for I do not want this moment to end.

When it does, my life as I have known it will be over.

BLURB: Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the 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 is a fitting tease for Valentine’s Day. For it is a love story – not a sweet, sentimental tale but the kind of love that rips into the lovers’ lives, plunging them down desperate paths. Based on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, this alternative version is beautifully written and compelling. Not that you need to know the original in order to get thoroughly engrossed… I shall be reviewing it in due course.

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

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

Another busy week with the Northbrook courses going well and my sessions with Tim now less pressured with the extra session. The catch is this week Himself’s shift pattern meant I had to pick him up from work at stupid o’clock in the wee small hours. A lot of the time that isn’t too much of an issue but this week, for some reason, I wasn’t getting back to sleep all that quickly so I’ve been rather sleep-deprived – even for me. As a confirmed insomniac, I’m used to functioning on not much sleep, but I only managed three hours on Thursday night/Friday morning.

On Thursday, Mhairi and I got together for a writing day – we work really well together and manage to get a great deal done. It’s also helpful to have someone you know and trust to bounce ideas around, along with lots of tea and laughter. It was the West Sussex Writers’ monthly get-together on Thursday night. This month was the manuscript surgery followed by an excellent Open Mic session where a variety of amusing and thought-provoking prose and poetry highlighted just what a talented membership we have. The Friday morning planning session regarding Tim’s progress went really well – intense, but we realised we are on track and now just need to focus our efforts on moving forward.

This week-end we have the pleasure of the grandchildren staying over. As ever, they are a joy – which is more than can be said about the bleeping weather. Oscar is suffering with a heavy cold and bad cough, so taking him out and about in the bitter cold – yesterday it was snowing quite heavily though thankfully it didn’t settle – won’t be doing him any favours. We nicked out to get a few vital supplies, but are mostly hunkering down for cosy indoors activities.

This week I have read:
The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echo of the Falls series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

thebearandtheserpentManiye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown of 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.

I loved the first book in this shape-shifting epic fantasy set in a largely bronze age society, The Tiger and the Wolf . My firm advice is to tuck into this one before you reach for this offering as you are simply missing too much wonderful worldbuilding and rich character development if you plunge into this series with this one – which proves to be another real treat.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartlessCatherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, 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.

This prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a respectful and skilful addition to this famous classic that provides a fascinating take on what has happened to some of the major characters in the story. Highly recommended.

 

How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse – Book 4 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Reluctant hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III must rescue his best friend, Fishlegs, from the deadly howtocheatadragonscursedisease Vorpentitis. The only cure is rare and almost impossible to find…a potato. But where will Hiccup find such a thing? He’ll have to dodge the terrible Sharkworms, battle Doomfangs, and outwit crazy Hooligans if he’s going to be a Hero. Again.

Oscar and I completed this slice of Hiccup’s madcap adventures that takes him into the territory of one of the Hooligan tribe’s deadliest enemies in an effort to save Fishlegs’ life. Once more we giggled and gasped through this adventure together. Being a granny gets to be so much fun with books like this to share…

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

My 2016 Reading Year – the Statistics

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 to the Echoes of the Fall

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds Are Forever… featuring Diamond Mask by Julian May

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
12 Thoughts Every Book Lover Has Had At Least Once https://athousandlives01.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/12-thoughts-every-book-lover-has-had-at-least-once/ This amusing post had me grinning and nodding in recognition – especially numbers 1 and 11…

8 Useful Computer Shortcuts and Hacks https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/8-useful-computer-shortcuts-and-hacks/ These commands Ana has compiled can save a lot of time and frustration – I’ve certainly bookmarked them.

Booklovin’: What It Is and Why You Should Be Using It https://bookishnessandtea.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/all-abloglovin/ Ava’s excellent article helps those of us who enjoy reading blogs but have problems keeping track of our favourites.

The Best Poems for Valentine’s Day https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/10/the-best-poems-for-valentines-day/ In preparation for a certain date coming up next week, those fine folks at Interesting Literature have a stock of romantic poetry to wow that special person in your life…

Proverbs from Africa https://siuquxebooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/www-siuquxebooks-wordpress-comproverbs-africa-josbons/ Josbons has compiled these favourite African proverbs, which make fascinating reading.

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

*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

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

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I loved the look of the futuristic cover, so requested it from NetGalley…

Laura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as terminalregressionthough she has no place and no business even existing. Her life is forfeit, and it would be better for everyone if she simply ended it, if she simply got a ticket for a train to oblivion and faded from memory. But what awaits her at the end of the line isn’t death…

I’m reluctant to add the rest of the rather chatty blurb, because while you can gather Laura doesn’t die from the fact that this is at the start of the book and we have another two hundred or so pages to get through, I don’t like how many spoilers it contains. This YA offering has a really interesting protagonist. She is numb. Life washes around her and while her artistic, talented mother is endlessly encouraging and positive, Laura’s efforts to try and find her own enthusiasm and passion have all ended in failure. Wretched and discouraged, she decides to volunteer for the train to oblivion. Everyone knows about the train – it ships out criminals, misfits and those who can’t cope with living anymore and they never come back. There are also a handful of talented, effective people who are commandeered to board the train – like Laura’s dad eight years earlier – and they are never seen again, either.

It’s a tricky business writing a protagonist with severe depression. The classic symptoms – such as an inability to get out of bed, inability to communicate and prolonged fits of crying to name but a few – don’t generally make for the sort of character readers are going to warm to. But Hill manages to pull it off, which is a major achievement in this debut novel. She also tackles the issue of suicide head-on to the extent that it was causing me some concern, given the target audience are teens. I was uneasy with a protagonist who declared she’d rather be dead – and then acts on that impulse. However, by the end of the book I was far happier with her overall stance and felt that she handles the subject with sympathy and insight.

This is a brave book that wears its heart on its sleeve. The inevitable romantic element is very sweet, to the extent that this particular reader who is a dyed-in-the-wool cynic about such matters was won over by the love interest, who I initially was convinced would turn out to be some psychotic murderer. The sequence of events near the end of the book also had me wondering whether it was realistic to have such a seismic shift without any deaths, but then recalled the bloodless revolutions that have occurred throughout history. Overall, I think Hill has pulled off this one – an impressively ambitious book that marks Hill as One to Watch in the future. Receiving a copy of Terminal Regression from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Martians Aboard by Carrie Vaughn

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I picked this one up from my NetGalley arcs, hoping to get slightly ahead during the holiday period, rather than wanting to start the year with an engrossing book, so it was a lovely surprise when this YA science fiction offering turned out to be such fun.

martiansabroadPolly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever. Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly manoeuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

This entertaining book contains many elements familiar to YA fans, such as teenage protagonists, a school setting and the difficulties of establishing friendships in a potentially hostile, dangerous environment. The enjoyable twist Vaughn adds is that Polly and Charles are Martians, born and bred. So they struggle in Earth’s heavier gravity, immediately standing out as they are paler skinned, taller and thinner than Earth-born children. I loved seeing our home planet through Polly’s jaundiced eyes. She is horrified at the amount of life heaving in the soil and infesting all the plants and shocked at how profligate Earth inhabitants are with water and air. I loved reading of her struggle to cope on her first foray outside in a world without a protective dome. These details of scene setting that ordinarily are taken in alongside the story became a joy to read, along with Polly’s unenthusiastic take on her fellow students.

She is also chafing at the tightly controlled school regime, though her boredom is increasingly alleviated by the steady trickle of disturbing incidents that start to stack up. I also enjoyed her squabbles with her insufferably smug and clever brother, Charles. While he does look out for her, he’d rather rip his tongue out by the roots than admit it – typical teenage brother, in other words. The spiky relationship between the siblings feels pleasingly realistic and nicely unsentimental.

This one proved very difficult to put down as the tension rapidly increased and I found myself engrossed in Polly’s world, trying to work out what was going on. The denouement was a surprise, though it did make sense and I came to the end of the book far sooner than I wanted. More please, Carrie Vaughn!

And if you are a fan of Janet Edwards’ Earthgirl series, then take a look at this book which I recommend. Receiving a copy of Martians Abroad from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

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This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

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I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

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What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

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This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.