Category Archives: dual narrative

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Dog Walker – Book 5 of The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson

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I was delighted to see this one on Kindle as I had wanted to attend the book launch, but simply been too ill. Now that I have got ahead with my Netgalley arcs, I could give sufficient time to properly savour this book as I love Thomson’s writing – see my review of The House With No Rooms.

January, 1987. In the depths of winter, only joggers and dog walkers brave the Thames towpath after dark. Helen Honeysett, a young newlywed, sets off for an evening run from her riverside cottage and disappears. Twenty-nine years later, Helen’s body has never been found. Her husband has asked Stella Darnell, a private detective, and her side-kick Jack Harmon, to find out what happened all those years ago. But when the five households on that desolate stretch of towpath refuse to give up their secrets, Stella and Jack find themselves hunting a killer whose trail has long gone cold.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Thomson’s atmospheric writing this time around has taken us to another obscure corner of London – she seems to specialise in those – where a crime was committed that shatters one family and blights the lives of others, including the husband of the victim. With two timelines running – one set around the time of the murder and afterwards as the consequences begin to stack up, while the other one is set here and now centred on the investigative efforts of Stella and Jack.

While there is not much in the way of gore in Thomson’s work, that doesn’t mean it is a particularly cosy read. Murder is not treated as an interesting puzzle here, but an act that has cut short a life and shattered the lives of others caught up in the investigation. Thomson writes particularly well from the pov of children who are involved, trying to make sense of what they see and hear. The sense of damage caused is reinforced by Jack’s own experiences as a child, which means he often imagines he is talking to his long-dead mother and goes on long, nocturnal walks as he has problems sleeping.

That said, this isn’t overall a gloomy read, either. While Thomson refuses to treat the crime with levity, Stella’s relationship with her mother, Suzie, is often amusing and her efforts to control Stanley, the little poodle she has acquired, are particularly funny if you have ever owned a dog. While Stanley is evidently fond of her, she clearly isn’t someone who is a natural around animals.

But for me, the reason why this is a standout read, is that in common with the rest of the series, the investigation into the crime slowly unravels. There are no speedy shortcuts. Between them, Stella and Jack piece together snippets of information to help discover who was doing what when the crime was committed. Some of those snippets prove to be wrong, or lead them astray – some we know from the start cannot be right, thanks to the flashbacks which give us, the reader, insights into aspects of the crime and its impact on the bystanders that Stella and Jack cannot have. Thomson’s thorough, precise approach means this book is a joy. In attempting to find out who killed Helen, Stella and Jack need to talk to all the residents in the row of cottages running alongside the towpath – in getting to meet all the potential suspects and witnesses, we also are introduced to a cast of characters who bounce off the page with their vividness.

One of the bonuses in having read the previous books – though it isn’t necessary to do so in order to enjoy The Dog Walker – is that we also have the pleasure of meeting up again with the likes of Suzie, Stella’s mother, and Lucie May, journalist and former lover of Terry Darnell, Stella’s father. I particularly enjoyed the role that Lucie played in this story and how it gave us a further insight into her character.

If you enjoy reading books more about the why than the gory deed itself – if you enjoy watching characters’ motivations and secrets unpeeled, then track this one down. While there are many cold case mysteries out there – books of this quality don’t come along all that often.

10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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I spotted this offering on Netgalley and really loved the sound of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved, given that VanderMeer is a talented author with a gift for writing the disturbing – see my review of Annihilation.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. However, in a world where any kind of weakness is lethal, can Rachel afford to bond with this odd creature?

VanderMeer’s atmospheric writing spins a stunningly vivid evocation of this wrecked landscape where Mord, the gigantic bear, stalks through the city peopled by knots of scavengers – some of whom have been altered and twisted by the biotech that has escaped into the environment. The river is poisoned, the rain toxic and people eke out a subsistence existence.

Rachel’s story is one that is probably heartbreakingly familiar in any refugee camp throughout the world. She recalls a happy family life with her parents, both with solid jobs and plenty of love for their only daughter, but as the sea levels rose and law and order broke down, they ended up in camps. She is unsure how exactly she has arrived in the city, scavenging and teaming up with Wick, a former employee of the Company with dark secrets of his own, but they are holed up in a defensible apartment block and coping reasonably well.

It is into this scenario that Borne enters her life as a scrap of biotech she picks out of the fur of the sleeping Mord. There is something about this unusual thing that attracts her – for starters, it smells of her childhood – of the sea. It is always hungry and empties out their accommodation of lizards and insects – and is clearly intelligent. So she teaches it to speak…

This is a tale of loss and change. And of the resilience of the human spirit when confronted with terrible circumstances. Given the backdrop and context, it ought to be a completely bleak read – but although there is violence and death – how could there not be in such a hard-scrabbled environment? – there is also is a fair amount of humour and a lot of tenderness. I found it very moving that Rachel, alone and childless, nurtures this creature and calls it Borne. They play games, and tell each other jokes. But Borne isn’t human and was never intended to mix with humanity. Borne is something else…

Rachel is a striking protagonist. It is always a tricky business writing a character where a defining aspect of the protagonist is left to the climactic final scene of the book – and to be honest, about halfway through I was feeling a bit fed up that she didn’t ring completely true. By the end, the reason why becomes clear. VanderMeer’s writing always burrows beneath the surface and often finds the darkness lurking there – this time around, he has also celebrated what defines us as humans. If you are a fan of interesting, post-apocalyptic reads, then give this one go. I’ll guarantee it will stay with you.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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I had just completed reading A Monster Calls which is a wonderful book, but achingly sad so I needed something a bit more upbeat. Fortunately, Himself had just treated himself with this offering…

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

This is an unusual and engaging read – but don’t be fooled by that beautiful, rose-decked cover into thinking this particularly cosy – it isn’t. After all, roses have thorns that dig in when you’re busy smelling the perfume. This isn’t a criticism, for I was a bit concerned about halfway through that this one was going to end with a nauseating side-order of treacle and I was delighted when it didn’t.

Anthony finds his way back into his life after a crippling loss by collecting and labelling hundreds, if not thousands, of lost items. His assistant and right-hand woman, Laura, has no idea of the enormity of his collecting habit until she assumes responsibility for it. This is one of the two storylines, as this book is structured as a dual narrative with Bomber, as a reasonably successful publisher and his young assistant, Eunice, being the other strand.

As their stories progress, this novel unflinchingly depicts some gnarly issues. Dementia afflicts one of the main characters and the main antagonist thrives at the expense of those a lot more deserving around her. We witness a girl with Downs syndrome who has been bullied at school find a refuge with an understanding, kindly neighbour, who even so at times hides in a cupboard when she cannot face Sunny’s constant questions. There is an angry ghost who haunts a house after dying far too soon.

So while Hogan’s smooth writing and quirky, charming style beguiles us, she gently yet firmly confronts us with a number of issues that won’t end happily ever after. I’m going to remember poor Bomber for a very long time… However, this isn’t all about plunging us into a maelstrom of misery, so there are characters we care about who do prevail. And in amongst the hard-hitting stuff, there is also an enjoyable romance and a fair dollop of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I suspect I shall be thinking about this one for a while to come.
9/10

Sunday Post – 4th June 2017

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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.

Last Sunday was a bit wet, but a perfect day for moving plants around and potting up. We’d visited the garden centre and spent the children’s inheritance on reed screens, pots and ivies to train along our low brick wall to discourage the local teenagers from using it as a smoking spot. So I hacked away at bindweed and transplanted some sulking lavenders and a bullied fuchsia before the rain stopped misting around and decided to get serious.

This week was half term, so I had a break from teaching – which was very welcome, given I’ve been struggling since Easter with regular bouts of exhaustion and faintness. I had to cry off a writing get-together with former students on Tuesday as I was suffering with yet another headache, but at least it didn’t linger through until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get plenty of editing down – one of my lovely beta readers had given me plenty of notes, so I went through Miranda’s Tempest fixing some issues. Himself is currently going through a line edit for me. And the big bonus – on Thursday I finally managed to get together with my marvellous writing partner Mhairi, who I haven’t seen in faaar too long! It was lovely to catch up and natter about all things writerly with her.

I also managed to finish and submit a short story for an anthology – what was special about this one, was that I was asked to contribute… So I’m now fretting by hoping it is suitable and ticks all the boxes – and taking my mind off it by plunging into the last major edit of Dying for Space, Book 2 of the Sunblinded Trilogy. This week-end we’ve been working in the garden again as the weather continues to be fabulous. The best spring I can recall for years…

This week I have read:
Less Than a Treason – Book 21 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Kate Shugak is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5’1″ tall, carrires a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat, and owns a half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine—and she needs to be, to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her. And throw their worst the wilds have: Kate and Mutt have both been shot.
This book immediately picks up from the cliffhanger ending of the previous instalment. I loved this one – the dual narrative works really well and it is always a great bonus when a crime novel gives an insight into a corner of the world I’ll never know. Alaska is revealed as a relentless environment that is nonetheless undergoing massive change.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
Thanks to Oscar coming to stay at the start of the half-term break, we managed to get this one completed. As ever, lots of danger, unexpected plot twists and a nice message about just how vital libraries and books are – without being remotely preachy. Another cracking story.

Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews
In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?
This enjoyable military science fiction underwater adventure is full of tension and action that doesn’t let up. Hayes is a nicely grumpy protagonist with a bleak backstory and there is clearly going to be plenty of other problems looming in the future for him to tackle.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
I haven’t read Patrick Ness before – but I’ll certainly be reading him again. I found this beautiful, unexpected story a heartbreak. But I couldn’t put it down until I’d read it from cover to cover. Ness hooked me with his angry, conflicted boy and complicated monster and I wasn’t able to break away until I got to the marvellous end. One of my favourite books of the year to date.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This contemporary novel was a delight. Quirky and slightly fey, I was initially concerned that it would puddle down into sentimentality. Luckily Hogan is made of sterner stuff and this book tackles some gnarly subjects along the way, while delivering a lovely story. Recommended.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 28th May 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Less Than a Treason – Book 21 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Review of Saven Disclosure – Book 1 of The Saven series by Siobhan Davis

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Friday Face-off – Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars – featuring A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

Review of The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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

Italian Fantasy Names https://scflynn.com/2017/05/29/italian-fantasy-names/ This quirky article by fantasy writer S.C. Flynn had me grinning…

Broadside No. 14 – Rosemary Kirstein https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/broadside-no-14-rosemary-kirstein/ It’s always a buzz when you’ve been banging on about an underappreciated author to then find a fellow fan – and so imagine my delight when I was pinged by the Cap in her feature of the awesome Rosemary Kirstein’s wonderful Steerswoman series.

Asteroid Collision May Have Tipped Saturn’s Moon Enceladus http://www.space.com/37034-saturn-moon-enceladus-tipped-over-by-asteroid.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social#?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=2016twitterdlvrit An intriguing article for those of you who also enjoy space stuff…

A Summary and Analysis of Goldilocks and the Three Bears https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/30/a-summary-and-analysis-of-goldilocks-and-the-three-bears/ I’ll guarantee you’ll discover something you didn’t know about this story, if you read it.

A Book Labyrinth in London https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/a-book-labyrinth-in-london/ I’m sorrier than I can say that I managed to miss this one… It looks amazing!

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 of Assassin’s Fate Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

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Robin Hobb is one of my favourite authors – I’ve read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings series. She has been clever with her series as her epic fantasy books are all set in the same world, but each trilogy or quartet deals with a particular storyline featuring a few of the characters and their adventures. Fitz and the Fool featured in the very first Farseer trilogy. If you are daunted at the thought of reading the whole world before plunging into this book, you don’t have to. My advice would be to read that first trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Hobb’s books as those first three books deal with Fitz’s eventful backstory.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

This is the final book in this trilogy and while you can get away with plunging into this one, you would be better off to start with the first book, Fool’s Assassin – see my review here, followed by Fool’s Quest – see my review here.

The dual narrative alternates between kidnapped Bee, struggling to cope with her brutal captors and the grieving Fritz who believes that Bee is dead. Each of these protagonists is involved in a major adventure which draws in a lot of characters we’ve previously encountered throughout the series. As well as the Fool being completely involved in this storyline, we also revisit the dragon city of Kelsingra and discover the fate of some of the liveships and a number of the dragons and the characters caught up with them. I found this one unputdownable. Robin Hobb is one of the most successful fantasy authors on the planet and there’s a solid reason for that. Her characterisation is layered and sophisticated, the worldbuilding – as you might expect with sixteen books – is detailed and delightfully complex.

She has an original take on the dragons inhabiting her books – they hatch into serpents which spend a certain amount of time in the ocean, which then form up into a tangle and make their way up the acidic Rain Wilds river to transform into the dragons they are destined to be and the humans who are glamoured to spend time around them, grooming them and providing them with food also become scaled or changed to reflect the appearance of their particular dragon. But after a cataclysmic natural disaster a number of years previously, the serpents are trapped in the sea unchanged and unable to fully recall how to do so. I’ve always enjoyed this storyline and particularly appreciated that this aspect makes a reappearance in this book.

In addition, I’ve always loved Fitz, from the time he was an unwanted royal bastard and also found Bee a compelling, unusual child with an unlikely ally who helps to keep her alive in very difficult circumstance. This all adds up to an emotional and exciting conclusion to a great series. If your taste runs to quality epic fantasy, then give this series a go.
10/10

Sunday Post – 14th May 2017

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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.

Last Sunday my son was down for his birthday – we had a lovely time together at Highdown Gardens after a birthday meal, including making my very first vegan cake! It tasted okay – at least the sponge was soft and moist, but I’m going to need to practice more with the egg substitute, I think, maybe have a go at a carrot cake… This week my sister and I have been spending a lot of time together flat-hunting for her and also spending some quality time. Sadly, I am still not 100%, so I missed going to West Sussex Writers on Thursday night as I simply ran out of energy.

Today is a gathering of the clan at a birthday meal for my sister before she returns to France to pack for her new life here in England later in the week – I still can’t quite believe we are going to be living in the same town! A very happy Mothering Sunday to all of you across the pond…

This week I have read:
A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue …
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this madcap time-travelling adventure, then the blurb does give a flavour of the roller-coaster nature of this superior and original series. I woke up Himself by cackling aloud in some places – while I was near tears in others. It takes a special book to do that…

The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife. But there are more secrets than one in the Outskirts: and each dangerous step closer to the Guidestar brings new discoveries, leading to the most startling secret of all…
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but this one takes the series to a new level with an amazing twist that turns it from epic fantasy adventure to fantasy/science fiction. I love it when that happens. As a bonus, the worldbuilding in this slice of the story – this is the second book in a quartet – is outstanding.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed.
Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles. Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected? But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.
I’ve always loved Robin Hobb’s books, but this one is the best yet. She has taken her complex, interesting protagonists and pushed them to the limits of their endurance – and then shown us what they are made of, while tying up a number of outstanding plotpoints along the way. And those marvellous dragons of hers make a stunning entrance – Tintaglia… need I say more?

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 7th May 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The One by John Marrs

Teaser Tuesday featuring Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of the Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Scavenger’s Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

Friday Face-off – Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone… featuring
Scared to Live – Book 7 of the Cooper and Fry series by Stephen Booth

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

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

Appearances can be deceiving https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/appearances-can-be-deceiving/ These amusing pics made me grin…

The Best Short Non-Clichéd Poems for Weddings https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/12/the-best-short-non-cliched-poems-for-weddings/ As ever, this excellent site nails it with a lovely selection of wedding poems that are different.

A Gap in the Market https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/a-gap-in-the-market/ This thoughtful post from a concerned mother about books that deal with death in a sensitive way for very young children caught my attention.

Book Marketing that is Grand, Extraterrestrial and Bloody https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/book-marketing-that-is-grand-extraterrestrial-and-bloody/ With ever more books being produced, how do authors and publishers gain attention for their new darlings? Kristen enjoys one of the latest developments…

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse Chapter 5 – Yes – Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall https://redpenofdoom.com/2017/05/07/fitness-tips-for-the-apocalypse-chapter-5-yes-any-sort-of-apocalypse-means-looting-the-mall/ My advice is to go back to Chapter 1, but this is a really enjoyable, quirky series.

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 A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – February Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During February I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, making my yearly total seven books so far.

My February books are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
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 book 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.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
Addy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah. Her mortal enemy Meredith, otherwise known as the Death Starr, breaks out in a severe and inexplicable case of butt boils. Addy might not know what’s going on, but she definitely wants a certain sexy demon hunter by her side when it all goes down. . .

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures. Meanwhile, she plays with the trope of the good Southern girl, looking for a husband, concerned with her appearance and intent on putting on a good front for the neighbours.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia 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…

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.

 

This month I managed to clear five books from my teetering TBR pile – they are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
See above.

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
See above.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
See above.

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side. She has lost her parents, who disappeared from their thriving Inn and though she has spent years trying to track them down, all her efforts have ended in failure.

 

Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

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I’ve absolutely loved the Rebel of the Sands series – see my review of The Rebel of the Sands and after the thrilling ending to Traitor to the Throne, I became a bit desperate for some more desert fantasy to whisk me away from cold, dreary old February, so turned to this likely looking candidate for more sand and heat…

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven. Çeda is a really interesting character – initially, she seems yet another sword-waving heroine, who manages to somehow overcome normal female behaviour to give us an unlikely-yet-equally-badass-protag that is rapidly becoming the norm in fantasy novels. I do get a tad exasperated at times by the ease with which these girls get access to expensive weaponry and the training to go with it – but, hey, this is fantasy, right?

However, Bradley then devotes a large chunk of this long novel – nearly 600 pages long, though it doesn’t feel like it – to showing us exactly how she has got to where she is. And a hard old road it’s been… Alongside Çeda’s amazing journey, we also follow the fortunes of the young street kid who befriended her and was her partner in mischief for most of their childhood. Emre doesn’t have Çeda’s reckless streak and often feels inadequate that his instinct is to back off just when she surges forward to get stuck in. Though as far as I can see, his is the more intelligent move… He is also on a journey throughout the book, which is mostly dual narrative, charting the different paths these young people take in a brutal society forged by the demands of the desert.

Bradley’s world is intricate, vivid and engrossing. I love the layers of society and power he has built against this unforgiving backdrop – and the magical elements are woven in with skill to provide plenty of impact when we finally get to learn what exactly is going on during the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. While there are frequent flashbacks, I didn’t find them jarring, as they helped us to understand the motivation of our two main protagonists, who I became very fond of throughout the book and am looking forward to getting reacquainted with in With Blood upon the Sand. If you enjoy quality epic fantasy set in the heat and drama of a desert backdrop, then this one comes highly recommended.
9/10

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