Category Archives: environmental disaster

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

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Williams is already a go-to author whom I love – her Copper Cat trilogy saw to that – see my review of The Copper Promise. But this time around, I think she’s excelled herself…

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.

For starters, this isn’t a straight swords and sorcery. The city of Ebora might be a faded version of its former self, driving Tormalin to seek his fortune elsewhere, but it isn’t the only place enduring sustained and catastrophic deterioration. Sarn and the other surrounding countries are still suffering the ravages of the last invasion by the lethal aliens, the Jure’lia. Wildlife and vegetation have been mutated wherever the huge spaceships have crashed, which also attracts the very dangerous parasite spirits that turns their unfortunate victims inside out if they so much brush against them. Where the huge maggots crashed through, they excrete a thick transparent sludge that hardens to an impervious block of varnish, trapping people inside like flies in an amber. In short, the world is still reeling from an apocalyptic attack several generations earlier.

As you must have gathered, William’s depiction of her ruined world made a deep impression – I’ve even dreamed about it. This could have been a completely bleak tale, but it’s not because the main protagonists, particularly the wonderful Lady de Grazon, ping off the page with a fine disregard for local customs as she insists on investigating every aspect of the alien wreckage, instead of trying to ignore it like most of the population. There is a fair amount of humour scattered through this story, which makes it far easier to read, though that doesn’t mean it’s innately funny – it isn’t.

Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. I also loved the young fell-witch, Noon, kept in a horrible prison called the Winnowry, where others like her who involuntarily summon fell-flame, are incarcerated – apparently so they can atone for their innate wickedness and to protect the rest of society from their fell-fire. Though the fact that their flaming energy is harvested and used to craft a number of exclusive, highly expensive artefacts is also a major factor.

Each one of the three protagonists have their own journey through the book which involves different aspects of this shattered place and unlike a number of epic fantasy tales, I didn’t find myself wanting to know more about one of them such that I skimmed through the others to get back to it. For this rich world sank its hooks into me and since I have finished reading it, I still find myself thinking of it. And I’ll be on the lookout for the sequel as I’m looking forward to revisiting this unusual world.

While I obtained the arc of The Ninth Rain from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
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

Sunday Post – 26th February 2017

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Sunday Post

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

It’s been my turn to have a week off, as it’s half term. That said, I’ve been hard at it – last week I suddenly had a breakthrough with how to move forward with Miranda’s Tempest so this week I’ve cracked on with the rewrite and finally completed it Friday afternoon. The relief is staggering – I’d begun to think this was the one that would defeat me… I still have to go through it a couple more times to tidy up the prose and catch those stray pronouns – I’ve changed the viewpoint from first person to third – but hopefully I’ll have it in a readable state before Easter.

Other than that – I’ve read. A lot. It’s amazing just how much more mental energy I have when I’m not teaching or trudging through the inevitable pile of admin that comes with it. Both the Fitstep and Pilates sessions went well this week and I am still thrilled at the progress I’m making fitness-wise. Next week, back into the hurly-burly but I’m still on a high at having completed my rewrite – yay!

This week I have read:

The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson
Riptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down atthemercyofthetide a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever.

This book is definitely on the literary end of the speculative fiction spectrum, with a nod to alternative history and magic realism. It is a study of loss and grief. A car crash months before the story starts has killed two women and not only does their death massively impact the main protagonists in the story – it also appears to set off a chain of events that have recurred on this site before.

 

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

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.

 

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 cleansweepa 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.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
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…

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.

 

Very Important Corpses – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
The Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of veryimportantcorpsesLoch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed.

I’ve done my usual trick of dropping into the middle of a series, but while I was aware there was something of a backstory that I didn’t know, most of the action and focus was on the current situation so it wasn’t an issue. Ishamael is certainly an intriguing figure. Endowed with superhuman powers, he is used to dealing with the nasties coming from other dimensions.

 

The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
thedemonicarcticexpeditionFast-paced, action-packed and funny, perfect for reluctant readers. The Demonic Arctic Expedition is the fourth in a series of MIDDLE GRADE books for fantasy-adventure loving readers. This book contains a scowling demon, an ancient weapon, an adorable Hound of Hell, a sort of angel, a dragon, an ordinary boy and an extraordinary castle. And a not so cuddly polar bear…

Yes… the plot is every bit as surreal and whacky as it sounds. There is also an enchanted sword and a dragon, who spends most of the time coating the dungeon in dragon snot as he has a cold, which he has given to the guardian angel… Mulberry has a trick of pulling in all sorts of classic characters and themes from fantasy and subverting them in her Skycastle adventures. Great fun!

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 19th February 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

Teaser Tuesday featuring Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR

Review of The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

Friday Face-off – Little Green Men… featuring The Tar-Aiym Krang – Book 1 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry

 

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

Point of View Blows Up in My Face (or the end of the “Normal’s Menace” experiment)
https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/02/23/point-of-view-blows-up-in-my-face-or-the-end-of-the-normals-menace-experiment/ Jean’s blog is always worth a visit – she is a passionate, talented and searingly honest writer, but this experiment in writing viewpoint is a MUST for anyone who struggles with it.

10 of the Best Poems about Dreams and Dreaming https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/24/10-of-the-best-poems-about-dreams-and-dreaming/ I love this site – and once more it delivers a series of excellent poems about this mysterious thing we all do…

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/02/23/space-features-week-23-february/ Once more Steph delivers an excellent roundup about what’s going on in space. And plenty is…

Photolicioux – untitled https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/untitled-98/ It may be untitled but I’ll guarantee it’s burn out your visual cortex if you focus on it for too long.

Using Speech-To-Text Software as an Editing Tool http://writershelpingwriters.net/2017/02/using-text-to-speech-software-as-an-editing-tool/ The marvellous Sara Letourneau has set out very clearly in this excellent article how to save your voice and your sanity by getting your computer to read back your work to you during the editing phase.

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

Friday Faceoff – Drivin’ Along in My Automobile…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cars, so I’ve chosen Ill Wind by Rachel Caine.

 

willwindThis is the offering produced by Roc in December 2003 and was the reason why I selected this series of covers and it is the only one that features Joanne’s beloved car, Mona… I really like it, though I could do without that ugly black strip across the top of the cover.

 

willwind1This cover produced by Alison & Busby in January 2011 may have the inevitable beautiful girl scowling out at us, but at least she does look as if she’s in the middle of some serious weather. I also love the font design, which gives a real sense of movement and menace. This is my favourite.

 

willwind2This cover, produced by Eclipse in November 2010, is another good effort, with the tornado swirling in the distance and the girl representing Joanne Baldwin looking suitably storm-tossed.

 

willwind3This Czech edition, produced by Triton in 2006, is certainly different. I love the seascape and that magnificently stormy sky – but that oddly stilted tentacle female plonked in the middle of it rather ruins it, I think.

 

willwind4This Portuguese edition, produced by Underworld in 2010, features yet another grumpy beauty glaring out at us. She is certainly eye-catching, but I still prefer the covers featuring the dire weather as I think she is simply too generic.

Do you agree? Which of these covers do you like or loathe?

 

2016 Discovery Challenge – November Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During November, I read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to thirty four books I’ve completed written by women authors I haven’t previously encountered.

Synners by Pat Cadigan

In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and thesynners external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

 

Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Mysteries by Mary Miley
renting-silenceCan 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.

While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.

As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.

 

Tackling my TBR
In a bid to try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Last month, I’m pleased to say, I managed to read four books languishing on my To Be Read pile:

Penric’s Mission – a Penric and Desdemona novella by Lois McMaster Bujold
Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on penricsmissionhis first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems and Penric is forced to use his own wits and resources. As well as those of the demon that lives alongside him in his body…
Firstly, avoid reading the blurb – it gives away far too much of the story and given this is a novella, there simply isn’t time for the narrative arc to recover from such a reveal. I’ve included a modified version that doesn’t contain any spoilers.

Fairly rapidly, Penric’s mission is in trouble and from then on, he is forced to think on his feet. I really like the way Bujold sets this up as one kind of story – and then suddenly changes everything around. I had intended to begin this book this morning and break off to complete it later tonight – except that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the end. Once more, Penric’s wry humour, his self-effacing manner and the real danger he and his companions find themselves in hooked me in and wouldn’t let go.

 

Bloodrush – Book 1 of The Scarlet Star trilogy by Ben Galley
bloodrush“Magick ain’t pretty, it ain’t stars and sparkles. Magick is dirty. It’s rough. Raw. It’s blood and guts and vomit. You hear me?”
When Prime Lord Hark is found in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his halls, Tonmerion Hark finds his world not only turned upside down, but inside out. His father’s last will and testament forces him west across the Iron Ocean, to the very brink of the Endless Land and all civilisation. They call it Wyoming.
This is a story of murder and family.
In the dusty frontier town of Fell Falls, there is no silverware, no servants, no plush velvet nor towering spires. Only dust, danger, and the railway. Tonmerion has only one friend to help him escape the torturous heat and unravel his father’s murder. A faerie named Rhin. A twelve-inch tall outcast of his own kind.
This is a story of blood and magick.
But there are darker things at work in Fell Falls, and not just the railwraiths or the savages. Secrets lurk in Tonmerion’s bloodline. Secrets that will redefine this young Hark.
This is a story of the edge of the world.

I immediately liked the premise of a fantasy set in the Wild West as the railroad is being built and very much hoped the book would live up to the punchy blurb. It does. Merion is a really appealing protagonist – a suddenly orphaned thirteen-year-old, who is uprooted from all he knows and shipped out to the wilds of the frontier to live with an aunt he’s never met.

 

Synners by Pat Cadigan
See above – this offering also had languished on my TBR pile FAR too long…

 

The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a thebanishedcraftsecret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

So that’s where I am so far on Tackling my TBR challenge. Once again, November was a far better reading month than I’d expected and my Discovery Challenge target, which was twelve books now looks stupidly unambitious, but then I’d expected to be doing a great deal more writing this year. How are you getting on with your reading challenges now the year is rapidly drawing to a close?

Review of KINDLE edition The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

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I’d read and reviewed the second book in the series, The Fettered Flame, and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to go back and read the first book – not always something I bother to do. Would I enjoy it as much, given that I largely know the outcome of most of the plotpoints?

thebanishedcraftStruggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

As well as providing an interesting, unusual take on the nature of the overwhelming disaster, Bell also gives us an insight into two uncomfortably familiar repressive societies as they seek to expunge any differences or political opposition. In the human world, women aren’t permitted to read or enter public life in any sphere, and although people travel from different parts of the planet, anyone with different colouring is treated with suspicion and hostility. Dragonkind is no better – a ruler who has been on the throne far too long is determined to continue to rule through whatever means she can. Her paranoia is creating an increasingly harsh regime where the majority are too cowed to rise up and protest. I don’t want you to go away with the idea that this is some political polemic, however. Bell is far too dedicated to the story to break her narrative with undue hand-wringing over the sorry state of our governing systems, but I liked the fact it is there.

What I mainly gained from reading this first book was a greater understanding of the characters, in particular Cor’s backstory and why she is such a cagey character. There is also an intriguing magical element in this story, which again is unique and I very much enjoyed watching it develop as Cor fumbles towards coping with this ability. The other unfolding story is that of the dragons, though I did feel Atesh’s main decision near the end of book was somewhat sudden and, given his ties to his family, was not wholly convincing. I’ll forgive Bell this slight inconsistency, however as I loved Zee, the twitchy ruler and her uncomfortable relationship with the brutal General Dronna.

Overall, the worldbuilding is excellent and as I continued reading, I was aware of not wanting the book to finish too soon as I was enjoying the unfolding drama in this detailed, troubled world. I’ll definitely be looking out for the last book in the series, which is highly recommended – though to get the best out of it, do please read The Banished Craft and The Fettered Flame in the right order.

Despite acquiring an advanced readers’ arc from the publishers via NetGalley, I can confirm my review is an honest, unbiased opinion of The Banished Craft.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Obelisk Gate Book 2 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

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I’ve recently reviewed the first book in the series, The Fifth Season, here and was delighted to hear that it has garnered the 2016 Hugo Award for best novel. While I haven’t read the rest, it blew me away and is certainly my favourite read of the year so far. So will The Obelisk Gate be able to live up to the very high bar Jemisin set with The Fifth Season?

theobeliskgateTHIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy. It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last. The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

The first recommendation I’d make is DON’T pick up this one if you haven’t already had the pleasure of reading The Fifth Season, what with the continuation of the unusual pov – in second person ‘you’ for one of the main protagonists, the slightly fractured nature of the narrative time and the density and richness of this odd, dystopian world, I think it would be an almighty struggle to work out what was happening. The Obelisk Gate pretty much takes up the story where The Fifth Season finishes and Jemisin doesn’t hold up the action to explain the story so far… So if it was a while ago you read the first book, then I’d have a quick skim just to remind yourself of exactly what was going on, just so you can fully appreciate this extraordinary story.

I was slightly concerned that the unfolding story might slide into a more predictable pattern, or the intensity of The Fifth Season might slump. Nope. I was immediately whisked back into this desperate situation, bonding with these spiky, difficult characters. They are people I’d rather never encounter in my daily life – all carrying emotional baggage and scrabbling to survive, they are lethal. However, I found them all engrossing, such that several times I read with a lump in my throat and on one occasion had to blink back the tears – not something that happens all that often to me, these days.

Any grizzles? Nassun is only ten years old and during the first part of the book, I never forgot that fact, but as she is steadily pulled further into the middle of the action, I don’t think she continues to realistically act like a ten-year-old. Even an amazingly talented, traumatised child surrounded by people she knows want to harm her… That said, it isn’t a dealbreaker and if I didn’t spend a chunk of my normal life around that age-group, I probably wouldn’t have even registered it as an issue.

Other than that, the story of the Earth, whose constant geological instability has spawned new species adapted to this state of affairs, continues to unwind as humanity struggles to avoid extinction. Marvellous, momentous stuff demonstrating a wonderful imagination that had me buzzing with excitement long after I finished the book. I’m now desperate to read the third one…
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I generally have the memory of a goldfish regarding books I’ve read, though it has dramatically improved since I started reviewing/logging every book on completion. But there are a handful I recall with pinsharp detail years later. One of those is the first time I encountered Jemisin’s writing. I was sitting in Victoria Station, having just bought the book at Waterstones and waiting for the train home. Himself was seated next to me, also engrossed in a book, so Life was pretty much perfect. Especially as the opening passage of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms hit me with the force of a sledgehammer – see my review here.

thefifthseasonSo I’m still scratching my head as to why it took me quite so long to get around to reading The Fifth Season which has been patiently waiting on my Kindle. Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s nagging, I bumped it up my TBR queue and I’m very glad I did…

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

I’m conscious this sounds like yet another gritted struggle for survival in a land where civilisation has suddenly broken – an abiding staple of science fiction that has reached new heights of popularity, recently – but as with most really successful books, Jemisin has scooped up the basic concept and turned it into something uniquely her own. For starters, there’s the viewpoint. As a Creative Writing tutor, I spend a great deal of time telling new writers that addressing the reader in a magnificently detached authorial voice might have worked for Charles Dickens, but modern tastes dictate that it’s now a no-no. Unless you’re Jemisin, of course… She then launches her main protagonist at us in second person viewpoint, so we are experiencing Essun’s trauma as ‘you’. Frankly, my jaw was grazing the ground at this point and I did wonder if I’d manage to put this character voice on the backburner sufficiently to become engrossed enough that it simply didn’t matter, or better still – added to my enjoyment of the story.

And, along with almost everyone I’ve met, I can report that by the time I was a quarter of the way into the story, it simply didn’t matter. I was so caught up in the story and the unfolding situation, I would have persevered if Jemisin had taken it into her head to omit every sixth word. Furthermore, there is a solidly good technical reason why Essun’s story is relayed in second person pov which I’m not going to elaborate further, as it would also be a thumping great big Spoiler. Suffice to say, it isn’t just some idle whim but matters to the narrative structure of the book.

Along with Essun, there are a raft of vivid characters I really cared about – my favourite being the prickly, tormented Alabaster. The narrative arc of this story isn’t straightforward. There are regular flashbacks, that initially appear to be random interruptions to the ongoing storyline, as well as those omniscient intervals. It all comes together at the end in the shocking twist that still has me humming with pleasure at the symmetry of it all. And desperate to get my hands on The Obelisk Gate – which definitely won’t be hanging around for months on my TBR pile.
10/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – July Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. After a rather paltry effort last month, during July I read and reviewed 6 Discovery Challenge books. Four are science fiction reads, one is contemporary and another is a YA paranormal thriller. This takes my yearly total so far to 28 books read and reviewed by women I haven’t previously encountered – and so far this year has been a fantastic year for really good books.

Speak by Louisa Hall
speakIn a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

It is a very neat idea – to bind up the voices and slices of people’s history inside a discarded AI, struggling to conserve her battery as she is stored in a warehouse with other bots for the crime of being too lifelike. I have a feeling this book is one that will stay with me for a long time.

 

 

Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
InbornRosamund Brandt has had a semi normal life for sixteen years. Well, semi normal for a family descended from aliens. Sure, she could create portals and her family had a secret basement. But she went to school, had a best friend, and got her driving permit like every other teen. However, her definition of “normal” unravels when a killer with multiple powers and an agenda steps into town. When Rosamund herself becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few, or getting to the core of the murders and stopping them for good. Rosamund’s choice will save everyone she cares about–or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.

This story tips us right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the book, as Rosamund immediately is pitchforked into the initial action that triggers the cascade of events that then continually ricochet through the book. I would have enjoyed it more if there had been less foot-to-the-floor action and bit more of a chance to get to know all the characters better – particularly the antagonist. However the premise is intriguing and I think this series could settle down to be really strong.

 

 

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.

This book thoroughly and effectively explored what it means to be a clone, both for the cloned person and those around her. For all it being used as a regular plot device, I cannot recall another book that deals with the fallout of cloning better. While there are some issues around the worldbuilding and the depiction of the machines and Rhona’s role near the end of the book, I look forward to reading what happens next in this intriguing series.

 

 

Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
womanofthehourLiz Lyon is Head of Features at StoryWorld TV. It’s exhilarating and sometimes glamorous work, but as a single mother with a demanding career, her life is a constant balancing act. Then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a web of rivalry, manipulation and deceit. If she trusts the wrong person, she could lose her job. But with everything she thought she knew crumbling around her, can she even trust herself?

Jane worked as a head researcher for breakfast TV for some fifteen years – and her wealth of experience bounces off the page in this original, thoroughly enjoyable story that wouldn’t let me go as I read it in one greedy gulp. I’m going to be tracking down the next instalment, too.

 

 

shiftShift by Em Bailey
Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.
She obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After “the incident,” Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past.
This YA psychological thriller with a paranormal twist started very strongly with laugh-aloud moments as Olive’s snarky commentary on her life pinged off the page. It slightly lost momentum in the middle, as Miranda’s unfortunate effect was far too clearly signposted so that I knew what was coming. However, the ending held a couple of further twists that I found enjoyable.

 

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
anaccidentofstarsWhen Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

This portal fantasy adventure is a delight – it was great to read female characters who weren’t necessarily young, beautiful or ‘chosen’ who had risen within the society. Characters who despite being brave and prepared to die trying to do the right thing, are also manipulative and lethally sarcastic… This book is my favourite of my Discovery Challenge reads in July and I will now be on the lookout for other Foz Meadows’ offerings.

 

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them!

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and mebeforeyouhome. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

This was one recommended by one of my Creative Writing students a while ago and I’m not sure why I didn’t immediately read it after having acquired it – but once I got hold of the sequel, it made sense to read it first. I’m very glad I did… It is an emotional, engrossing read that manages to deal with some very gnarly subjects without lapsing into sentimentality.

 

 

Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
nicedragonsfinishlastAs the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

This draconic twist on the usual urban fantasy tropes is such fun – I thoroughly enjoyed this one and look forward to reading the next in the series. Happily, that is also stacked up on my teetering TBR pile…

 

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.thefifthseason
A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Yes… Essun starts out desperately trying to come to terms with an unthinkable family tragedy and the apocalyptic world is undeniably grim. But this is so much more than a retread of a nasty slide from civilisation into chaos – there is also a gripping backstory about a small group of people feared and harnessed for their vital skills. And the twist at the end is a doozy… I haven’t yet released my review of this book – but it was my favourite read in a month characterised by a slew of really good books. And I’m now eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel, which will NOT be languishing on my TBR pile for the same length of time.

Review of KINDLE Edition Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

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For those of you who are interested in such things (and who isn’t?) Rachel Aaron has also written the very enjoyable Eli Monpress series – see my review of The Spirit Rebellion and as Rachel Bach is author of the cracking space opera Paradox series – see my review of Fortune’s Pawn. So given that so far her stock in trade are gutsy badass protagonists who veer regularly onto the wrong side, how does she fare with quite a different type of hero?

nicedragonsfinishlastAs the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

This is great fun. A science fiction/fantasy mash-up in a near future world where a huge meteor strike has released magic, complete with magical creatures, back into our world after it was sealed away, also setting free some vengeful spirits who don’t like what humans have done to the world. Julius isn’t just the runt of the clutch – he’s the runt of the whole clan, and hates the draconic way of doing things. But sealed into his human form, he doesn’t have much choice but to use the circumstances around him and reason his way out of his dilemma. There is a lovely slice of power politics that Aaron is nifty about slipping into the ongoing action, along with an engaging human heroine who is also on the run from a powerful enemy.

Himself recommended this one to me and it didn’t disappoint. The world is engaging and well depicted, the characters ping off the page with plenty of energy and the situations Julius finds himself dealing with grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. To the extent that I was reading this while watching Wimbledon…

Aaron’s writing is always infused with a manic energy that scoops me up, sucks me into her plots and dumps me at the end of the book feeling a tad winded, but with a grin on my face. And this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be definitely tracking down the next one in the series – and soon.
9/10