Category Archives: dystopian science fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and when Himself said he’d ordered this offering from the library and it had come in, I was very excited. Would I enjoy this one as much as the first book?

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a aclosedandcommonorbittotal system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow. Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

While this book is set in the same world as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Lovelace was actually the AI on the Wayfarer, that is the only real connection between the two books. So if you are concerned about picking this one up without reading the first book then don’t be – neither book relies on the other in order to fully appreciate the story. Like Angry Planet, which takes the classic space opera theme of long space voyages as the basic plotline, A Closed and Common Orbit uses another popular science fiction subject – that of artificial intelligence as the starting point for one of the two narrative plotlines running through the book.

We learn how Lovelace copes once surfacing within a humanoid body designed to house her during one plotline, while the other goes back in time and relates the story of ten-year-old Jane. She works in a scrap processing factory and has been there for as long as she can recall, spending her days sorting scrap and overseen by faceless droids called Mother who are responsible for caring and disciplining the children. Until one day when something goes wrong…

Chambers’ readable, unfussy prose vividly depicts the plight of a small child trying to do the best she can in order to stay warm and fed and avoid punishment. I was completely caught up in her predicament and struggle for survival interspersed with Lovelace’s battles to cope with the shortcomings of her new housing – which also has the added complication of being completely illegal. Fortunately, she has come across two kind people who take her in and attempt to assist her to integrate.

I found it difficult to put down, and particularly enjoyed the way these two narrative strands intersected to provide a fitting climax and conclusion to this enjoyable, thought provoking read. I enjoyed it even more than Angry Planet, finding the tighter focus and strong characterisations more to my taste. Once more, Chamber provides an entertaining science fiction read that comes highly recommended.
9/10

PREVIEW of Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

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I’ll be honest – this is a complete mistake. I was under the impression that I had got hold of this latest series from Stross, so was somewhat underwhelmed when I realised it was, instead, the opening chapters as a taster…

empiregamesThe year is 2020. It’s seventeen years since the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire, and the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth is developing rapidly, on course to defeat the French and bring democracy to a troubled world. Two nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

I have left a large chunk out of the very chatty blurb because if you haven’t read the Merchant Princes series then the names aren’t going to mean all that much, anyway and I think it’s far too much information that you’ll learn more effectively once you read the book. That said, this is a spin-off series from the Merchant Princes series, which is a portal worlds thriller. I’ve only read a couple of books in this series, but found them thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing which was why I requested Empire Games. This epic storyline is spread across multiple worlds, so it takes some concentration to work out what is happening to whom and sadly, the preview extract I received was a misery to read. It’s been a while since I’ve had to slog through anything so appallingly formatted, with a binary thingy of zeroes and ones randomly appearing throughout the text and words being split across lines numerous times – I don’t think there was a single page where the text was correctly formatted.

If it hadn’t been a NetGalley preview, it would have gone winging across the room. I had a pre-migraine headache blow up on me later during the day I’d been battling through this ‘mare of a read and I’m not sure the two aren’t connected. I’ve made a promise to myself that it’s the last time I trudge through anything so egregiously messed up, anyway.

There was a lot of information to impart and just as the story was starting to gather pace and I was beginning to care – it all came to an end. Obviously I cannot comment on the characterisation, the pacing, the plotting or how satisfactorily the story ends. But it’s out there and given that Stross is an able storyteller, it should be good.

Sunday Post – 22nd January 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, though I think I begin to see daylight and hope that Life is beginning to calm down, somewhat. Last week-end we had the pleasure of the grandchildren visiting – it was a joy catching up with them as we hadn’t seen them since Christmas, which now seems a very long time ago. Then on Sunday afternoon after we delivered them back to their parents, we had to rush back and get the spare room ready for an impromptu visit by my son who had a couple of audition tapes that needed doing. So Monday and Tuesday we were working on those between my teaching commitments – it is always a pleasure but as we had a very narrow timescale, it was also quite intense. However, lovely to catch up with Robbie before he flies out to LA on Monday. Unfortunately, my Wednesday evening session with my writing group was wiped out by a headache that threatened to turn into a migraine, but at least I sufficiently recovered to have my marvellous friend Mhairi come over for the day on Thursday. Friday saw us collecting the children for another session of grannying and on Saturday we went out for a meal to celebrate my father’s birthday at the fabulous George and Dragon at Burpham, where the food was delicious and the welcome warm despite the frosty weather. They went to a great deal of trouble to accommodate Oscar’s veganism.

This week I have read:
Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill
terminalregressionLaura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as though 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 but Terminal B a community of people more like her than she considered possible, including the beautiful, tormented Will Noble. Though Laura still thinks little of her own life, the lives of others begin to fascinate her as never before. And when those lives become imperiled, Laura discovers the last thing she ever expected to find on her way out of the world: a mission and a reason to live.

This is a brave book that confronts the tricky issue of a suicidal protagonist suffering from severe depression. Despite that, it is full of drama and tension, producing a strong story set in a dystopian world demonstrating a lot of skill by this young author.

 

NETGALLEY PREVIEW of Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross
empiregamesTwo nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

This latest offering by Stross is a spin-off series from his successful portal world Merchant Princes adventures. I haven’t read them all, but those I did read were powerful and engrossing, so I was thrilled when it seemed I’d acquired Empire Games via NetGalley. Only I hadn’t. What I got was a slice of the story. So I cannot fully review the book – only report that it started with plenty of drama and quickly established what is at stake.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 15th January 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Teaser Tuesday featuring Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

Friday Faceoff – Slipped the surly bonds of earth… featuring Abaddon’s Gate – Book 3 of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

Review of A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
from the ‘Hjordis, I Miss You’ series https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/from-the-hjordis-i-miss-you-series/ This intensely personal depiction brought tears to my eyes…

22 photos that will make you want to visit South America this winter https://roamwildandfree.com/2017/01/19/22-photos-that-will-make-you-want-to-visit-south-america-this-winter/ Another pictorial series – this time the scenery will take your breath away…

The Best Canterbury Tales Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/18/the-best-canterbury-tales-everyone-should-read/
Once more this marvellous, informative site comes up with a cracking list…

God 1 https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/god-1/ A wonderful poem by the talented Viv Tuffnell…

Inventing a Word For It – https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/inventing-a-word-for-it/ Can you guess which is the right definition for this word?

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

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

Teaser Tuesday – 17th January, 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:
Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill
54% He might have had a chance. If he’d just stayed in Terminal A, none of this would have happened. terminalregressionBut how could I be surprised? I knew this place killed. I saw it happening every time I brought Will home and every morning as I held my breath waiting to see if he’d wake up. The train really was death; it was just a little delayed. Will, me, Grant, Mimi, Seth, my dad. We were already dead. We just didn’t know it yet.

BLURB: Laura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as though 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 but Terminal B a community of people more like her than she considered possible, including the beautiful, tormented Will Noble. Though Laura still thinks little of her own life, the lives of others begin to fascinate her as never before. And when those lives become imperiled, Laura discovers the last thing she ever expected to find on her way out of the world: a mission and a reason to live.

Laura is an interesting character with a strong first-person voice that has quickly drawn me into the book. There is plenty of tension and incident, with a strong cast of supporting characters – and the action has just nocked up another gear. I’m enjoying this one and hope to have the review written before the end of the week.

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

thejustcity

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

uprooted

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

manyselvesofkatherine

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

thestartouchedqueen

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

theannihiliationscore

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

thehousewithnorooms1

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

mebeforeyou

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

anaccidentofstars

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

thefifthseason

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

spiderlight

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

thesummergoddess

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

songsofseraphine

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

anaturalhistoryofdragons

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.

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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I’m not quite sure how it happened, but despite December being a really busy month I managed to continue reading more than two books a week. As for my Discovery Challenge, which I undertook after reading this post by Jo Hall to read and review at least two books a month by women authors previously unknown to me – I managed to read and review five books during December, though one of those reviews hasn’t yet been published.

Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the World series by Tessa Elwood
splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?
I really enjoyed this one. Foot-to-the-floor, action-packed dystopian sci fi adventure with an appealing spiky heroine, I was scooped up into the middle of this world and didn’t want to pull away until the last page. Great fun – see my review here.

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals 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, as she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”.
There has been a real buzz about this YA desert fantasy offering, and I can see why. Hamilton tips us right into the middle of the action from the first page as Amani’s spiky first person narrative pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. It is a foot to the floor, non-stop adventure where she careens through the vividly depicted landscape that borrows much from eastern influences. It’s a delight and I’m now hoping to be able to hunt down the sequel. See my review here.

Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her everthehunteddays tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart.
It was pure chance that I read two YA fantasy adventures back to back. They both featured teenage female protagonists on the run, both had secrets and issues they knew nothing about at the start of the adventure. Both had a romantic sub-plot. Both are cracking reads. However, Britta isn’t so carelessly, gloriously reckless as Amani – she is wary and untrusting of everyone. The pace in this one isn’t quite so full-on, either, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale set in a more traditional medieval fantasy setting. There were some pleasing plot twists in this adventure I didn’t see coming – and I certainly didn’t guess who had murdered Britta’s father. See my review here.

The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
thecityoficeDeep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.
It took me a while to get into this genre mashup, where epic fantasy meets a steampunk-type world using magic to power machinery. However there are unforeseen consequences to harnessing such power in that particular way… I love the intricate, layered world with a number of interesting creatures including the tyn, powerful godlike rulers who nevertheless are somewhat down on their luck – and a number of ambitious humans trying to get what they can. Altogether, this becomes an engrossing world with a number of fascinating stories – I’m definitely going to be looking out for the sequel. See my review here.

It was also a good month for my other reading challenge of the year – Tackling my TBR as I read and reviewed five books from my teetering To Be Read pile, which were:-

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
The story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. When thornyholdthe child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…
An enjoyable, initially slightly eerie read that becomes a more conventional romance – as ever Stewart’s writing is a joy. See my review here.

 

 

A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.
This was recommended to me by the wonderful Kitvaria Sarene during an intense evening at Bristolcon talking books, so I made it a top priority on my TBR list and decided to treat myself this week. And I’m delighted I did – it’s a gem and you can find review here.

Judged – Book 3 of the Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jagar
judgedKit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . . Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop. In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.
I really enjoyed the previous two books in this series, Vowed and Banished so was pleased to be able to wrap up Kit’s adventure before the end of the year. Though whatever you do – don’t start with this book, go back to the start and experience this charming series in the right order. See my review here.

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

“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a jsutonedamnedthingdifferent kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.
This is time-travelling adventure is a joy. Funny, anarchic with a reckless sense of derring-do, this tale is told in first person viewpoint by Max as we follow her initial introduction to St Mary’s, training and early adventures. That said, the attrition rate is high and a number of folks die in this – some of whom I was really sorry to see go… I think this would make a marvellous TV series, however – not yet. There are a raft of these books out there and I want to read them all, first.

The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
thekingspeaceSulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.
I loved this version of the King Arthur story. As ever, Walton took me somewhere different and engrossed me in the life of someone with other values and ideas. Another great addition to a wonderful reading year…

What about you – how did your December reading targets go?

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?