Category Archives: family centred science fiction

Sunday Post – 25th June 2017

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

Last Sunday was sweltering, which I loved. But even I was glad of the air-con in the car as we drove to Ringwood to see my mother and father-in-law for Father’s Day. It was lovely to see them again – and admire their marvellous display of sweet peas they’ve grown.

This was another very hectic week – Monday we had the family coming to stay, so it was a case of ensuring bedrooms were all ready to go. I was teaching at Northbrook in the evening – we had two excellent sessions this week, with a great range of thought-provoking and well written pieces of work from the students. I cannot believe this coming week sees the final session of my Creative Writing classes for the year.

On Wednesday – the hottest day of the year so far – I decided to rejoin my Pilates and Fitstep group. I am once more the newbie, as the Littlehampton class has folded due to lack of numbers and the Middleton group is far more advanced. I muddled through and just jigged around in time to the music when I got hopelessly lost, but loved taking part once again. In the afternoon, I was teaching Tim – we were tweaking and rewriting song lyrics for the film as the cast will be in the studio recording the songs in just over a fortnight’s time. In the evening, it was writing group. There were only three of us, but we were able to sit out in the garden as it steadily grew darker – bliss!

On Thursday, writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and my sister also popped in as she was waiting for her broadband to be connected. In the evening, I attended Tim’s show with the Chichester Free School – it was an entertaining evening as the standard was impressive. Tim performed ‘You Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ as Fagin from Oliver and ‘Evermore’ from Sleeping Beauty, which he did beautifully and had me in tears… It is so wonderful to see him up on the stage performing so confidently and with such talent and passion.

On Friday morning, Tim reflected on his very positive experience of performing in this show during his lesson. He had composed a new tune – a lovely quirky number and after he performed it for me, I asked him if he could call it ‘Sarah’ and let me have a copy of it as a birthday present… He was delighted and was only too happy to do so. He also played me the finale for the film – and once more, I found myself filling up as I listened to it – such a hauntingly beautiful piece of music. In the afternoon – I went to the hairdresser and had my hair dyed purple…

Oscar stayed over on his own on Friday night, as Frances had a sleepover with a school friend before John picked her up from Brighton and we had both grandchildren last night. Sadly, the weather has been a whole lot cooler with spells of misty rain at times and while I know the garden and landscape could do with the moisture, I would have loved to have taken Oscar for a walk along the beach if the weather had been halfway decent.

As it has once more, been such a very busy week with the family staying over and so much going on, my reading and blogging has suffered. Apologies for not responding with my usual promptness.

This week I have read:
A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who’d ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps. But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting…before she’d been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn’t exist…before she’d learned about the “plastic” beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good. Yet she couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies–some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills–and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not–or would not–officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough. Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn’t war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
No… that wasn’t the book – it was only the blurb, honest. I really enjoyed this thoughtful, politically aware addition to this strong, well-written military science fiction adventure.

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingdon
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.
This science fiction cosy mystery is great fun – I’m a sucker for whodunit mysteries set in space and this is one of the cosy variety…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th June 2017

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2017 – May Roundup

Teaser Tuesday featuring A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff

Review of Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff

Friday Face-off – In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods… featuring Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This week, I simply haven’t been spending sufficient time online to be able to compile a list of intriguing and entertaining blog posts. In the meantime, thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

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Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

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

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

2016 Discovery Challenge – May 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. How have I done in May?

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him. But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

This twisting thriller cracks along at a fair pace and delivers plenty of surprises along the way. Read the full review here.

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Even though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re floating through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. For a while he becomes the Sun for her; and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. Being with him flaunts every rule designed to keep their home in order, but to lose him would be like losing herself. In the end they must decide what is most important: loyalty to the only home they’ve ever known, or to each other?

This a romantic science fiction tale set on a generational ship – with heavy emphasis on the romance bit. Despite the fact that isn’t my go-to genre, the scene setting and shipboard environment is well depicted – read my full review here.

 

Banished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de JagerBanished
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself… Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

This Fae story is well written and engrossing – I really enjoyed the fight scenes, which were vividly depicted and the real nastiness of the foes. I’ll be reviewing this in due course.

 

thenothinggirlThe Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

This book made my husband laugh and cry and he forcefully recommended it – so I read it… This contemporary/family/crime/mystery/romance is something of a genre mash-up, with a hefty dollop of humour and sadness thrown in. Have a go – you won’t have read anything else quite like it. My review is here.

 

Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryantchangeoflife
With great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home

I expected this to be a parody of the superhero genre, but it follows most of the genre conventions – except the protagonists are women of a certain age… There are some amusing touches and I love Bryant’s original take on what superpowers can endow. See my review here

This month, I more than doubled my original target with five books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered and of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, 30 are by authors new to me. Once more, I have to thank the NetGalley arcs for introducing me to many of these writers. While I cannot see myself able to sustain this throughout the year – I’ve too many other things on my plate – I’m delighted I’ve managed to make such a strong start to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant

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When I saw the cover and the blurb for this book, which was released last month, I immediately requested it from NetGalley. I’m quite happy to read about youngsters coping with all sorts of adventures while assailed by self-doubt and first love – but as a woman of a certain age, the prospect of reading about my contemporaries zipping through the sky was irresistible. Would I be disappointed?

changeoflifeWith great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home.

The cover led me to think that this would be a humorous take on the superhero sub-genre, but while there are a few comedy moments, Bryant is focused on delivering a full-on adventure. It took me a little while to work out what was happening to whom, because I did my usual trick of picking up the second book in the series, as the first book, Going Through the Change, clearly ended on something of a cliff-hanger.

But once I worked out what was going on with all four of the women who have been changed, the story started to fall into the place and I was intrigued by Bryant’s quirky take on the superhero genre. One grumpy elderly woman has been transformed into a flamethrower – so how does she control this lethal superpower? Poorly is the answer. Jessica can fly – or can she? She leaves the ground, but is finding it very difficult to do anything other than bump along the ceiling, or tumble helplessly without extra help. Whereas Linda, who has also changed gender as she comes to terms with her super-strength, is finding her marriage is being tested. No… David, her husband, is able to cope with her gender change, but isn’t so impressed that now she is fighting super-villains, the household chores are being neglected and she isn’t there to make his supper.

I love this notion that just because these women have been given these great powers, they don’t get a pass on basic physics or everyday problems. Life doesn’t get any easier – especially when you factor in the fact that there is also a couple of sinister characters who are kidnapping individuals with remarkable abilities to use for their own ends.

There are a few issues with the narrative – at times the pacing loses momentum while the storyline is pieced together. Within the different viewpoints and plotlines, there is some repetition and backtracking which, ideally, could be smoothed out. But I was surprisingly tolerant of these glitches – unusual for me, as this is something I normally very much dislike. However, I really enjoyed these characters and was prepared to go on reading to discover what would happen next. Though, I should warn you, while the main story is resolved, there is a major plotpoint still dangling. Will I be looking for the next slice in this adventure? Oh yes – I’m also going to track down the first book in this unusual, quirky series. I received a copy of Change of Life from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

8/10

Five SFF books that Made Me Laugh – Part 1

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I saw this list on the Top Ten Tuesday meme and couldn’t resist, but am a tad pressed for time, so I’ve rounded up five – with the intention of trawling through my reading lists and finding the rest when there are more hours in the day. So in no particular order, here are five science fiction and fantasy books that put a grin on my face.

Hogfather – Book 20 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

hogfatherIf I’d been feeling a bit lazier, I think I could have more or less filled this list with Terry Pratchett offerings – or at least padded it out a lot more. The likes of Moving Pictures, The Colour of Magic, Mort and Equal Rites all had me howling with laughter at times.

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions…

I had to choose Hogfather, because the scene where Death is handing out presents in the department store grotto never fails to make me giggle every single time I read it.

 

civilcampaignA Civil Campaign – Book 12 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won’t do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan… Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan… Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Mile’s cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan…

I’ve mentioned before that Bujold covers a wide spread of sub-genres within in this science fiction adventure series and this one is definitely a comedy of manners. And in places, it is hilarious – especially during a particular formal banquet…

 

Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. datenightFoner

This quirky series of novellas set on a space station by indie author E.M. Foner was recommended to me by Himself after I was a tad wrung out after a rather gruelling apocalyptic sci fi novel. I wanted something lighter and amusing – see my review here. This is definitely it.

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

It’s no surprise that once he published this on Amazon, he was flooded with requests for a follow-up – which he duly wrote. The setting is intriguing, the cast of characters suitably eccentric and Foner’s offbeat style really works. I loved it and will be getting hold another of these little gems.

 

mars evacueesMars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall

The adventures of Alice Dare entranced me from the moment I picked up this appealing offering and has gone on doing so. I have reread this one to the grandchildren and it made them snigger with laughter, too – see my review here.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

As well as being funny, it is also a cracking adventure story featuring one of the most memorable and appealing heroines I have ever read. If you like splashes of humour in amongst the mayhem, then give this one a go – it really is too good to leave to the children.

 

Vampire State of Mind by Jane Loveringvampirestate

Urban fantasy often has a chirpy thread of humour running through it, which I always enjoy – but Lovering has provided a heroine that memorably bounces off the page and has me recalling the book with affection – see my review here.

Jessica Grant knows vampires only too well. She runs the York Council tracker programme making sure that Otherworlders are all where they should be, keeps the filing in order and drinks far too much coffee. To Jess, vampires are annoying and arrogant and far too sexy for their own good, particularly her ex-colleague Sil, who’s now in charge of Otherworld York.

But when a demon turns up and threatens not just Jess but the whole world order, she and Sil are forced to work together, and when Jess turns out to be the key to saving the world it puts a very different slant on their relationship. The stakes are high. They are also very, very pointy and Jess isn’t afraid to use them, even on the vampire that she’s rather afraid she’s falling in love with.

This is urban fantasy at its smart, snappy best – I particularly liked the Brit take on this sub-genre, with the reflection that there’s nothing so dire that a Hobnob can’t make better…

Have you read any of the above and found them amusing? What SFF books have made you grin or laugh?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

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This apocalyptic adventure is more Brit than fish and chips and warm beer. Does it work?

endoftheworldrunningclubEdgar Hill is 35 and caught in his own headlock. Overweight slob, under-performing husband and reluctant father – for Ed, the world may as well have already ended. So when it does end in a catastrophic asteroid strike and Edgar and his family find refuge in an Edinburgh army barracks, it comes as something of a relief. His world becomes simpler, life becomes easier – things might just be looking up.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that whatever else is going to happen – Life isn’t going to get any easier for Ed. In a twist I’ve no intention of blurting about, he finds himself needing to be at the other end of the country in a hurry. Not only are the majority of cars burned out, but with most of the roads damaged and cratered, hopping in a car and driving anywhere is an impossibility. So he and his travelling companions are faced with legging it through the chaos, encountering a variety of interesting characters.

Walker briefly explores some of the faultlines in British society by having Ed and his spend a night in a stately home, hosted by the surviving member of the landed gentry and then end up in a inner-city council estate. I did feel the characterisation was very predictable in both scenes, which was disappointing. There was none of the sharp-edged unexpectedness of Gloria, for instance – which was an incident that has stayed with me for the poignancy and horror of it.

However, I did enjoy Ed’s character. His sense of being adrift, before the meteors strike, is palpable – something I have discussed with men about their loss of identity within our modern society. Ed is believable and although there are times I want to shake him – I also find myself sympathising with him, which is important. As the whole unfolding adventure is filtered through his viewpoint, unless we care about him and his goals, we won’t fully bond with the story.

I did care. In fact, I was gripped by the book, staying up far too late to discover what happens next. By about two-thirds of the way through, I figured out I’d know how it was going to end – and I was wrong. The ending was a genuine surprise and worked well in the overall context. If you taste runs to end-of-the-world adventures, then track this one down, as it’s well written, pacey storyline makes for a gripping read.

The ebook arc copy of The End of the World Running Club was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK Flawed – Book 1 of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

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I have read several of Ahern’s adult books, so was intrigued when on NetGalley I noticed this YA near-future dystopian offering from her.

flawedCelestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan. But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED. In a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished, Celestine decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.

This is a near-future where multi-national corporations and the worldwide banking systems have crashed due to, apparently, the rash and ill-advised actions of their reckless managers. To avoid such chaos happening again, the Guild has devised a set of social and personal codes that people live by – and if they infringe those rules and make a mistake, they are branded and permanently ostracised by the rest of society. They are no longer able to eat the same food as everyone else, they have to sit in designated seats and their brands have to be uncovered for all to see. But, of course, nothing like that will ever happen to Celestine – she is dating the Chief Judge’s son, Art; her family are well placed in society and she has all the advantages of a privileged background. How could she ever be so stupid as to throw it all away?

Ahern deftly pulls us into the middle of this drama without holding up the pace with too much explanation, which is a lot trickier to pull off than she makes it look. We hit the ground running during a special get-together that suddenly goes horribly wrong – and forces Celestine to confront a whole raft of uncomfortable truths about her life and the situation around her.

The transformation from a sheltered, naïve and self-centred teen into someone far more sharply aware of the faultlines in a very unfair system is nicely handled. I liked the fact that Celestine initially flails around, terrified and overwhelmed at the enormity of what has been done to her, but gradually moves on from that. It would have been all too easy to have turned her into a rebel leader, or had her immobilised with the trauma of the experience. For me, the strength of the book lies in Celestine’s profound wish to get back to some kind of normality – something we all yearn for when it is yanked away from us…

There is a strong supporting cast. I liked the fact she comes from a caring family, who stand right by her and do their best to support her – her mother is fabulous. I also enjoyed the conflicted relationship she has with her sister, which rang very true.

The only misgiving I have is Ahern’s handling of the main antagonist. His complete loss of control didn’t convince me. While the story arc does work, I think it could have been tighter  if he had stayed more lethally effective throughout. I get a tad fed up with unsubtle antagonists making fundamental errors in YA and Children’s fiction – not only does it often create a flabby story arc, it also gives youngsters a false sense of security about the nature of those willing to step outside the rules. They are not all pantomime villains.

That said, while it is a personal peeve, I don’t necessarily think it has undermined the overall story too much. This is, after all, far more about Celestine’s personal journey than what is done to her – and overall, it is a strong, enjoyable tale.

The ebook arc copy of Flawed was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

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I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

Is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

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Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?

Review of EBOOK Kindle edition Saltation – A Liaden Universe novel by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

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Saltation : That which proceeds by leaps rather than by smooth and orderly progression.

saltationI thought I’d start this review with the definition of the word saltation – and once you get hold of this book, you realise the title is actually apt and rather cool… But if you haven’t yet encountered the Liaden Universe books before, track down at least the first book about Theo Waitley, which is Fledgling – see my review here – or one of the other eight books in the Liaden series. Lee and Miller don’t do any form of reprise and their world is so layered and complex with a raft of rather daunting invented names bristling with vowels and apostrophes, it would be a real shame to spend time flailing around trying to work out what is going on rather than appreciating the verve and fun going on in this enjoyable book.

Theo Waitley is a Nexus of Violence. Thrust mid-year into a school for pilots far from the safe haven of her birth home on scholarly Delgado, young Theo Waitley excels in hands-on flying while finding that she’s behind the curve in social intricacies as well as in math. Her mentors try to guide her studies and training into the channels best suited to her special abilities and inclinations, including suggesting that she should join in the off-world student association, a plan resulting in mixed success…

I loved Fledgling. Already a fan of Lee’s Archer’s Beach series – see my review of Carousel Sun here – I was delighted to see that she had co-written the Liaden Universe series with her husband. So, did Saltation continue to excite and intrigue me? Yep. I really enjoy the way humanity has splintered off into societies with not only different languages, but significantly different customs and profoundly differing views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Theo’s heritage as a pilot is hampered by her upbringing on a planet which doesn’t even recognise her father’s input as important.

This book starts charting the next slice of Theo’s training – and then suddenly shoots off on another tangent, whisking Theo along with a turn of events all the more shocking because to date, this book has been dealing with her everyday doings. I became engrossed in the daily details of her routine and her struggles to succeed at mastering the craft of becoming a pilot. For me, the pull of this genre is to escape into a future world where I become immersed in the character and her aims and ambitions – and Saltation completely achieves this.

While there were rumblings of discontent portrayed throughout the book, the ending and cliffhanger climax came as a complete surprise – and I was delighted that the sequel was already in a pile by my bedside, so that as I put down Saltation, I was immediately able to turn to Ghost Ship and pick up where the story left off – something I generally rarely do.

Any grizzles? Well… it’s more of an observation, really. But I think I’ll echo Himself’s grumble at having space-going ships routinely hacking through a planet’s atmosphere to land and take off, which I think would be highly unlikely. But it’s a minor quibble, rather than any kind of dealbreaker in a book and series packed with all sorts of pleasing worldbuilding details. If you, too, love intelligent, well depicted space opera and enjoyable protagonists then seek out this series – it’s a joy.
9/10