Category Archives: fantasy

Sunday Post – 19th March 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.

It’s been a great week. Last Monday I started back at Fitstep and Pilates after a couple of weeks’ break and thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the rhythm of exercising again. We had our Poetry Workshop during my Creative Writing sessions on Monday and Tuesday, which I hope the students found as enjoyable and stimulating as I did. Himself had a couple of days off midweek, so we took a bit of a break and went out for lunch at the Look and Sea restaurant, though the lovely river views were a tad murky on account of the fog.

It was also something of a celebration as Kristell Ink Publishing have now announced they have signed a contract with me to publish Netted, which they described as: a tale of family love, rivalry and cybernetic implants, with some kick-ass older women and a dark undertone of repression and obsession. It is scheduled to be released in 2019. As you can imagine, I’m delighted. They got back to me at the end of January to say they liked the rewrite and wanted to publish Netted. Once I signed the contract, Jo Hall introduced me to the rest of the Grimbold authors – Kristell Ink is one of their imprints. I have been bowled over by the warm welcome I’ve received by these talented folks. One of the main reasons why I submitted to them last year is that I’m enormously impressed by the consistently high quality of the books they publish. And I would also like to congratulate with my fellow author, Myfanwy Rodman, who has also been recently signed with Kristell Ink.

This week I have read:
Wolf Moon – Book 2 of The Luna duology by Ian McDonald

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward – virtually a hostage – of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished from the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and – more to the point – that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was a schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey – to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war between the families erupts.

This is a gritty, action-packed sequel to the excellent Luna: New Moon released last year – see my review here. Now that everything has kicked off on the Moon and tipped into war, old scores are settled and revenge drives these ambitious, ruthless people whose energy and fire helped transform the Moon into the industrial powerhouse that now keeps the lights burning on Earth.

 

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission – see my review here – the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to twelve demons when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 12th March 2017

Review of Amunet by Robert Harkess

Teaser Tuesday featuring Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald

Review of Satan’s Reach – Book 2 of the Weird Space series by Eric Brown

Top Ten Spring Reads

Friday Face-off – I know why the caged bird sings… featuring The Lies of Locke Lamora – Book 1 of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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

Kristell Ink Welcomes Two New Authors! http://kristell-ink.com/kristell-ink-welcomes-two-new-authors/ I couldn’t resist featuring this announcement…

From the ‘Arctic’ series https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/from-the-arctic-series/ Once more this marvellous site has delivered an amazing pic.

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/03/18/space-features-week-18-march/ Another excellent roundup from Steph of what is going on in space – and this week, you really shouldn’t miss this article.

50 Word Stories: The Robin https://richardankers.com/2017/03/18/50-word-stories-the-robin/ Another little treasure from this insanely prolific and talented author.

Three Years and Counting https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/03/17/three-years-and-counting/ In this outstanding article, Inese provides amazing photos of this year’s St Patrick’s Parade and some thoughtful insights into her three-year experience of blogging.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE novella Mira’s Last Dance Book 4 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to twelve demons when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.

Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 7th March, 2016

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Amunet by Robert Harkess

1% Amunet had been warned this day would come, told over and over what she had to do. They had even warned her of the pain.

Yes, the time is now, child. Be strong.

The words whispered through her thoughts and she tried to reach out to them, to claw back a measure of comfort or respite. The effort made the hurt spike deeper, and she turned back to the pain, pasping as she tried to hold on to the place where it hurt the most, to wrap herself around it.

BLURB: Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her.

Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.

I’ve literally just opened this one up – but it’s been on my radar since I attended the book launch last year at Bristolcon. And judging by the beginning and intriguing blurb, I reckon this is yet another good’un…

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

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I had previously read and reviewed the prequel to this series, Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell, so when I was approached by the publishers and asked if I would like to read and review this book, I thedemonicarcticexpeditionimmediately agreed.

Fast-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…

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest addition to this reading series, designed to enthuse reluctant readers. As an ex-teacher, I have a clear idea of what books will persuade a book-shy youngster (usually a boy) to pick something off the shelves. It cannot be too long; the print has to be reasonably large and clear without looking ‘babyish’; the vocabulary cannot be too wide-ranging and there needs to be plenty of word repetition without making it obvious; there needs to be lots of action and loads of pace. So does Mulberry succeed in ticking all these boxes? Oh yes.

In addition, she also has provided an entertaining Prologue in the first person narrative of Jack, the main protagonist for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the previous books, so our reluctant reader isn’t tipped into the middle of an adventure and left floundering. Essentially Jack and Brink are on the hunt for gold, which leads them to the Arctic where they believe there is a great hoard so they can pay off the Collector, who is on their trail looking for the money Hell charges for hiring out a demon, namely Brink.

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.

There isn’t huge depth of character as action and pace are king here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about Brink or Jack – there is an edge of anarchy in these stories that means I’m not completely sure where they are going to end up and I certainly didn’t see the outcome of this particular story coming. Mulberry does exactly what it says on the tin – and if you have a child between 9-12 who isn’t overly enthusiastic about picking up a book, consider this one.

8/10

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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

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

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

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sunday Post – 8th January 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.

Christmas now seems a distant dream, but I’ve still been having a lovely social time as my sister has been staying for the past week. She lives in France, so it’s been brilliant catching up with her. As a result, I haven’t been online quite as much as usual – and have also been busy working on this term’s course at Northbrook, which starts on Monday.

On Tuesday I hosted my first blog tour, which was something of a milestone – I’d like to do more. On Wednesday, Mhairi came over for the day and we set our Shoot for the Moon targets together for the coming year and looked at how we’d done in 2016 – both posts I’ll be publishing in the near future. Readingwise, the start of 2017 has been mixed – I’ve read a couple of great books, but also encountered my first DNF of the year which was something of a disappointment as it doesn’t happen all that often these days. Hopefully, it will be an aberration.

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

I really enjoyed this interesting school-based, science fiction YA offering. The twist with this one is the protagonist and her brother come from Mars, so find Earth with its heavier gravity and profusion of life very difficult. Some of their classmates aren’t all that friendly, either – so when stuff starts happening around them, they are dangerously isolated. I like Vaughn’s writing and this one is great fun – those of you who enjoyed Janet Edwards’ Earthgirl series may also like Martians Abroad.

 

The Falconer – Book 1 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
She’s a stunner. Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the thefalconerMarquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.
She’s a liar. But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she’s leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.
She’s a murderer. Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.
She’s a Falconer. The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother’s murder—but she’ll have to save the world first.

I’ve seen recommendations for this series by various bloggers and so was delighted when Himself brought it home from the library and plonked it front of me with a command to read it. He was right – it’s a storming read. May manages to balance the rarified life of a gently bred heiress with the vicious savagery of her regular battles very effectively. I’ve now ordered the second one and am waiting eagerly for its appearance.

 

Strangers by Rosie Thomas
strangersSometimes the victims of tragedy are the ones who survive. Annie and Steve are from different worlds. She is a wife and mother, he is a wealthy executive with a stream of broken relationships in his wake. They do not know each other exists until one morning, on a shopping expedition, they becomes victims of a bomb blast, thrown together in the debris to fight for their lives. As they lie in the darkness and the rubble, the hours slowly tick by. To ward off fear and death they talk: of everything they have to live for, of their disappointments, loves, failures and their hopes. And so a bond is created that binds them deeper than family, than friends, than lovers. With such strange intimacy, such strange trust, how can they get through the future without each other?

Well this book starts with a bang. Trapped in the debris of a department store, Annie and Steve are injured and afraid. But the bomb doesn’t just snare them in a nightmare scenario – it blasts apart their former lives and leaves them to pick up the pieces. Thomas’s vivid writing really captures the desperation and pain these two endure, however I did have difficulty in believing they wouldn’t have been offered counselling and help to get through the mental trauma they suffered.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 1st January 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin mysteries by Casey Daniels

BLOG TOUR – Freeks by Amanda Hocking

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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

Friday Faceoff – Undernearth the spreading chestnut tree… featuring Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Edyth and Andrew kissing on top of taxis https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/edythe-and-andrew-kissing-on-top-of-taxis/
There is a steady stream of lovely photos from this quirky site – and this is one of them…

Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/tsundoku-the-art-of-not-reading/
For word nerds everywhere, but particularly those who are avid readers – and surely as we are all feverishly spending our book tokens, this is especially apt.

Caramel https://richardankers.com/2017/01/04/caramel/ Another thought-provoking micro fiction story from this insanely prolific author.

Happy Birthday Mabes! https://readlorigreer.com/2017/01/05/happy-birthday-mabes/ A poignant and beautifully written article about that most interesting and loaded of relationships – a young wife and her mother in law.

Five Fascinating Facts about The Merchant of Venice https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/06/five-fascinating-facts-about-the-merchant-of-venice/ Once more this informative site produces another readable article that teaches me something I didn’t know about a much-loved classic.

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

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

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I’ve already blogged about the favourite series I completed during 2016 here. Today I want to talk about the series I have started and want to continue reading in 2017.

WAYFARERS SERIES BY BECKY CHAMBERS

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Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

This is the blurb for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as I’m allergic to providing spoilers for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. If you enjoyed Firefly on TV, then you’ll probably like this one. I loved it and for some reason missed requesting A Closed and Common Orbit from NetGalley, so have promised myself the pleasure of this one in the early new year as long as I have managed to get my TBR pile down a bit more.

 

THE STEERSWOMAN SERIES BY ROSEMARY KIRSTEIN

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Steerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen’s ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

This is a delight – a clever, nuanced world with a confident mature woman at the height of her powers who enjoys exploring and learning. While there’s nothing wrong with the slew of coming-of-age books out there, it makes an enjoyable change to read of a protagonist who is wholly comfortable in her own skin. I have the other books on my Kindle and will have the pleasure of reading them and completing this series during 2017.

 

PLANETFALL BY EMMA NEWMAN

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Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

I loved Planetfall – it’s one of my favourite books of 2016 and yet haven’t managed to get around to reading After Atlas. So this is one I’m going to track down and read this year.

 

EARTHCENT AMBASSADOR SERIES BY E.M. FONER

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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.

I was charmed by the quirkiness of Date Night on Union Station and have promised myself to tuck into more of these enjoyable science fiction novellas which are as much a comedy of manners as anything else. So I’m making a date with Union Station in 2017 to read at least a couple more – particularly when in need of some light relief.

 

THE MEMOIRS OF LADY TRENT SERIES BY MARIE BRENNAN

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Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

I recently read The Natural History of Dragons and absolutely loved it – so I’m determined to read more in 2017. A plucky Victorian lady battling convention to learn more about dragons by travelling to wild and inhospitable places – what’s not to love?

 

THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S SERIES BY JODI TAYLOR

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“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

I’ve recently finished reading the first book in this time-travelling series and absolutely loved it. Taylor’s writing is punchy and fun and her protagonist Max is a delight. The plot had so many twists and turns, I cannot quite imagine where the next book will take the story, but I’m betting there’s a fair amount of mayhem and chaos in the process. A must-read series for 2017!

And there are series I plan to continue reading in 2017. What published series have you promised yourself to dive back into during the coming year?

Friday Faceoff – Underneath the spreading chestnut tree…

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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 I have chosen Uprooted by Naomi Novik – one of my favourite reads of 2016.

 

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This is the cover produced by Macmillan in May 2015 and is the cover of the book I read. I like it – the way the tower dominates the isolated village very effectively depicts the storyline. The colour also makes this an attractive, eye-catching cover – the downside is the very simplistic artwork initially made me think this was a children’s book, when it’s nothing of the sort.

 

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This is the cover produced by Del Rey in May 2015. I think this is a really good candidate – the medieval flavour is well depicted and I like the nod in the direction of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The title font is lovely.

 

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This edition is published in May 2016 by Pan Macmillan and reverts to the very simplistic design, without the attractive colouring. I think this is a rather drab, downbeat effort – a shame when considering what a cracking read the book is.

 

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This Spanish edition, produced in March 2016 by Planeta, is beautiful. I love the detail of the red etched trees highlighted against the black background, which is still simple but so very effective. This is my favourite cover.

 

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This German edition, produced in November 2016 by cbj, has chosen to feature the trees in a more figurative way. It is well done and evokes the mystery and era of the story, but does not quite have the punchy eye appeal of the previous cover. What do you think – which is your favourite?

BLOG TOUR – Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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blog-tour-bannerI was delighted when I was asked to take part in Amanda Hocking’s blog tour to spread the word about her latest book Freeks.

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act… Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night. When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing. Until people start getting hurt…

This YA paranormal mystery has plenty of pace – and the explosive prologue certainly sparked my freeks-cover-2interest, although I’m still in two minds whether it is necessary. While that action scene is a defining moment in the book, I don’t feel Freeks requires such a blunt instrument as a hook – the initial scene pulled me into the story, anyway.

I really cared about Mara, a beautiful, edgy character whose previous experiences with townies has left her wary, while yearning for a more settled life as she watches her mother’s mental health deteriorate under the pressure of her Gift. Hocking’s depiction of the closed community of the carnival and the strong bonds between the performers is excellent. While it is undoubtedly a source of strength and solidarity, it is also a small gossipy village where everyone invariably discovers everyone else’s business – not necessarily a place to feel wholly comfortable as her own dark talents are starting to emerge just as her mother’s abilities start chewing her mind.

The growing tension as the worrying events escalate is well handled, as is the relationship between Gabe and Mara. I liked the fact that it is Gabe who makes the running, while Mara – preoccupied with the mounting problems at the carnival – is less emotionally invested. In order for this story really work, I needed to also care about the cast of supporting characters and again, I felt Hocking did a really good job in providing a cast of interesting misfits who joined the carnival because normal life doesn’t have space or acceptance for their particular abilities.

As for the mystery – I had already guessed what Gabe was before he revealed himself to Mara, but I don’t think Hocking intended it to be a huge shock. However, the denouement came as a surprise as did the conclusion, which also left a grin on my face.

It’s just as well I was reading this one during the holidays, as once I started it was difficult to put it down – to the extent that I broke off working and gave myself permission to read during the daytime, something that doesn’t happen all that often. If you enjoy a slice of paranormal escapism, then go looking for this one – it’s a cracking read. Receiving a copy of Freeks from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

AMANDA HOCKING Q&A

1. Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

If it’s just the characters from FREEKS, and only one could win, I would put my money on Luka or maybe Roxie. Luka because he can heal from injuries, which gives him a crazy advantage, but Roxie is smart and she’s a survivor. Plus, she has the power of pyrokinesis, which I think I would come in handy in a battle to the death.

2. What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?

I almost always listen to music when I write, unless I’m writing a really difficult scene. Sometimes the silence helps me focus, but most of the time, I prefer music. For FREEKS, I got to make a really fun 80s playlist, so I especially enjoyed working to that.

3. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

There are sooo many things. For FREEKS, I had to do fun stuff like, “What does a dead body smell like?” and “How much blood can a human lose?” And then after those macabre questions, I did a bunch of googling on fireflies and tarot cards. My search history when I’m working can be pretty exciting like that.

4. What was your favorite part of writing FREEKS?

I love Southern Gothics and I love pulpy 80s horror movies, so I was excited to be able incorporate those things in FREEKS. But my favorite part was actually Mara and Gabe. I think they complement each other well, and it was fun writing their banter and flirtations.

5. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from FREEKS?

For Mara, I envisioned Cassie Steele from the start. I used to be a hardcore Degrassi fan, and I loved Cassie Steele on that. For Gabe, I like Ryan Guzman. I saw him in a Jennifer Lopez movie, and I was like, “Yep. That could be Gabe.”

6. Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I usually write between 11 am and 7 pm. I’ve tried to write earlier in the day and have more of a 8-5 type schedule, but I am not a morning person. My brain just doesn’t want to work much before noon.

7. Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I usually have a goal in mind before I start writing, but it varies. Some days, it’s slow going and I hope to get at least 500 words out. Other days, I fly through with thousands of words. So it depends on where I’m at in the book, when it’s due, and how I’m feeling about the whole thing.

8. When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

With all my main characters, I have a really good idea of who they are, and it’s just a matter of showing that to the readers. With the side characters, they tend to be rather one-dimensional, and they grow into the story as they’re needed.

9. How did writing FREEKS differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

10. If Freeks had a theme song what would it be?

Either “Hush” by Limousines or “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.

11. Can you please tell us a little bit about FREEKS and where you got the inspiration to write it?

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own.

12. FREEKS is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

Mara and Gabe are my obvious favorites, since they’re the main characters because I was drawn to them and their story the most. Both of them of them have complex feelings about family and personal identity, and their instant chemistry was fun to write.

But I think Gideon – the namesake and head of sideshow – was actually the biggest surprise, which made him fun in a different way. In the original outlines of the story, he was much a different character – very one-note and cruel – but he completely changed and evolved as I was writing.

13. The book is based off of a type of traveling circus that is full of many mysterious acts. If you were to attend a Freekshow, which act would you want to see most?

My favorites are usually the acrobatics, but I think if I attended Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, I would be most excited to see Gideon’s magic act. With his skills and knowledge, I think it would be a really amazing show.

14. What do you hope readers will take away from FREEKS after reading it?

With some of my other novels, I deal with heavy themes like life and death, identity, honor, mortality, classism, and family. And while I do definitely touch on those themes in FREEKS, I mostly wrote it as an escape for myself, and that’s what I hope it is for other readers. Life can be hard and frustrating, and I just wanted to write a fun book that readers could get lost in for awhile.

15. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Probably how chronically shy I am. Writing is a weird profession, because a good 90% of it is perfect for introverts – you sit alone by yourself and make up imaginary friends to go on adventures. But the last 10% – which involves introducing the whole word to your imaginary friends – is the most exciting and rewarding part, but it’s also the most difficult when you’re as shy as I am.

 

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EXCERPT: CHAPTER 1 – Premonitions

My feet rested against the dashboard of the Winnebago as we lumbered down the road, the second vehicle in a small caravan of beat-up trailers and motorhomes.
The sun hadn’t completely risen yet, but it was light enough that I could see outside. Not that there was much to see. The bridge stretched on for miles across Lake Tristeaux, and I could see nothing but the water around us, looking gray in the early morning light.
The AC had gone out sometime in Texas, and we wouldn’t have the money to fix it until after this stint in Caudry, if we were lucky. I’d cracked the window, and despite the chill, the air felt thick with humidity. That’s why I never liked traveling to the southeastern part of the country—too humid and too many bugs.
But we took the work that we got, and after a long dry spell waiting in Oklahoma for something to come up, I was grateful for this. We all were. If we hadn’t gotten the recommendation to Caudry, I’m not sure what we would’ve done, but we were spending our last dimes and nickels just to make it down here.
I stared ahead at Gideon’s motorhome in front of us. The whole thing had been painted black with brightly colored designs swirling around it, meant to invoke images of mystery and magic. The name “Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow” was painted across the back and both the sides. Once sparkles had outlined it, but they’d long since worn off.
My eyelids began to feel heavy, but I tried to ward off sleep. The radio in the car was playing old Pink Floyd songs that my mom hummed along to, and that wasn’t helping anything.
“You can go lay down in the back,” Mom suggested.
She did look awake, her dark gray eyes wide and a little frantic, and both her hands gripped the wheel. Rings made of painted gold and cheap stones adorned her fingers, glinting as the sun began to rise over the lake, and black vine tattoos wrapped around her hands and down her arms.
For a while, people had mistaken us for sisters since we looked so much alike. The rich caramel skin we both shared helped keep her looking young, but the strain of recent years had begun to wear on her, causing crow’s feet to sprout around her eyes and worried creases to deepen in her brow.
I’d been slouching low in the seat but I sat up straighter. “No, I’m okay.”
“We’re almost there. I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
“You say we’re almost there, but it feels like we’re driving across the Gulf of Mexico,” I said, and she laughed. “We’ve probably reached the Atlantic by now.”
She’d been driving the night shift, which was why I was hesitant to leave her. We normally would’ve switched spots about an hour or two ago, with me driving while she lay down. But since we were so close to our destination, she didn’t see the point in it.
On the worn padded bench beside the dining table, Blossom Mandelbaum snored loudly, as if to remind us we both should be sleeping. I glanced back at her. Her head lay at a weird angle, propped up on a cushion, and her brown curls fell around her face.
Ordinarily, Blossom would be in the Airstream she shared with Carrie Lu, but since Carrie and the Strongman had started dating (and he had begun staying over in their trailer), Blossom had taken to crashing in our trailer sometimes to give them privacy.
It wasn’t much of a bother when she slept here, and in fact, my mom kind of liked it. As one of the oldest members of the carnival—both in age and the length of time she’d been working here—my mom had become a surrogate mother to many of the runaways and lost souls that found us.
Blossom was two years younger than me, on the run from a group home that didn’t understand her or what she could do, and my mom had been more than happy to take her under her wing. The only downside was her snoring.
Well, that and the telekinesis.
“Mara,” Mom said, her eyes on the rearview mirror. “She’s doing it again.”
“What?” I asked, but I’d already turned around to look back over the seat.
At first, I didn’t know what had caught my mom’s eye, but then I saw it—the old toaster we’d left out on the counter was now floating in the air, hovering precariously above Blossom’s head.
The ability to move things with her mind served Blossom well when she worked as the Magician’s Assistant in Gideon’s act, but it could be real problematic sometimes. She had this awful habit of unintentionally pulling things toward her when she was dreaming. At least a dozen times, she’d woken up to books and tapes dropping on her. Once my mom’s favorite coffee mug had smacked her right in the head.
“Got it,” I told my mom, and I unbuckled my seat belt and went over to get it.
The toaster floated in front of me, as if suspended by a string, and when I grabbed it, Blossom made a snorting sound and shifted in her sleep. I turned around with the toaster under my arm, and I looked in front of us just in time to see Gideon’s trailer skid to the side of the road and nearly smash into the guardrail.
“Mom! Look out!” I shouted.
Mom slammed on the brakes, causing most of our possessions in the trailer to go hurtling toward the floor, and I slammed into the seat in front of me before falling to the ground. The toaster had slipped free from my grasp and clattered into the dashboard.
Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, but I could hear the sound of squealing tires and honking behind us as the rest of the caravan came to an abrupt stop.
“What happened?” Blossom asked, waking up in a daze from where she’d landed on the floor beneath the dining table.
“Mara!” Mom had already leapt from her seat and crouched in front of where I still lay on the worn carpet. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her.
“What about you?” Mom reached out, brushing back Blossom’s frizzy curls from her face. “Are you all right?”
Blossom nodded. “I think so.”
“Good.” That was all the reassurance my mom needed, and then she was on her feet and jumping out of the Winnebago. “Gideon!”
“What happened?” Blossom asked again, blinking the sleep out of her dark brown eyes.
“I don’t know. Gideon slammed on his brakes for some reason.” I stood up, moving much slower than my mother.
We had very narrowly avoided crashing into Gideon. He’d overcorrected and jerked to the other side of the road, so his motorhome was parked at an angle across both lanes of the highway.
“Is everyone okay?” Blossom had sat up, rubbing her head, and a dark splotch of a bruise was already forming on her forehead. That explained why she seemed even foggier than normal—she’d hit her head pretty good.
“I hope so. I’ll go check it out,” I said. “Stay here.”
By the time I’d gotten out, Seth Holden had already gotten out of the motorhome behind us. Since he was the Strongman, he was usually the first to rush into an accident. He wanted to help if he could, and he usually could.
“Lyanka, I’m fine,” Gideon was saying to my mother, his British accent sounding firm and annoyed.
“You are not fine, albi,” Mom said, using a term of affection despite the irritation in her voice.
I rounded the back of his motorhome to find Gideon leaning against it with my mom hovering at his side. Seth reached them first, his t-shirt pulled taut against his muscular torso.
“What’s going on? What happened?” Seth asked.
“Nothing. I just dozed off for a second.” Gideon waved it off. “Go tell everyone I’m fine. I just need a second, and we’ll be on our way again.”
“Do you want me to drive for you?” Seth asked. “Carrie can handle the Airstream.”
Gideon shook his head and stood up straighter. “I’ve got it. We’re almost there.”
“All right.” Seth looked uncertainly at my mom, and she nodded at him. “I’ll leave you in Lyanka’s care and get everyone settled down.”
As soon as Seth disappeared back around the motorhome, loudly announcing that everything was fine to everyone else, Gideon slumped against the trailer. His black hair had fallen over his forehead. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing the thick black tattoos that covered both his arms.
“Gideon, what’s really going on?” Mom demanded with a worried tremor.
He swallowed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know.”
Even though the sun was up now, the air seemed to have gotten chillier. I pulled my sweater tighter around me and walked closer to them. Gideon leaned forward, his head bowed down, and Mom rubbed his back.
“You didn’t fall asleep, did you?” I asked.
Gideon lifted his eyes, looking as though he didn’t know I was there. And guessing by how pained he was allowing himself to look, he probably hadn’t. Gideon was only in his early thirties, but right now, he appeared much older than that.
That wasn’t what scared me, though. It was how dark his blue eyes were. Normally, they were light, almost like the sky. But whenever he’d had a vision or some kind of premonition, his eyes turned so dark they were nearly black.
“It was a headache,” Gideon said finally.
“There’s something off here,” Mom said. “I felt it as soon as we got on the bridge. I knew we should turn back, but I hoped that maybe I was imagining things. Now that I look at you, I know.”
That explained that frantic look in her eyes I’d seen earlier in the Winnebago, and how alert she’d been even though she’d been awake and driving for nearly twenty hours straight. Mom didn’t see things in the way Gideon did, but she had her own senses.
“It’s fine, Lyanka,” Gideon insisted. He straightened up again, and his eyes had begun to lighten. “It was only a migraine, but it passed. I am capable of having pain without supernatural reasons, too.”
Mom crossed her arms over her chest, and her lips were pressed into a thin line. “We should go back.”
“We’re almost there.” Gideon gestured to the end of the road, and I looked ahead for the first time and realized that we could see land. The town was nestled right up to the lake, and we couldn’t be more than ten minutes outside the city limits.
“We could still turn around,” Mom suggested.
“We can’t.” He put his hands on her arms to ease her worries. “We don’t have any money, love. The only way we can go is forward.”
“Gideon.” She sighed and stared up at the sky, the violet fabric of her dress billowing out around her as the wind blew over us, then she looked back at him. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Whatever pain I had, it’s passed.” He smiled to reassure her. “We should go before the others get restless.”
She lowered her eyes, but when he leaned in to kiss her, she let him. She turned to go back to our motorhome, and as she walked past me, she muttered, “I knew we should never travel on Friday the thirteenth. No good ever comes of it.”
I’d waited until she’d gone around the corner to turn back to Gideon, who attempted to give me the same reassuring smile he’d given my mom.
“We could go back,” I said. “There’s always a way. We’ve made it on less before.”
“Not this time, darling.” He shook his head. “And there’s no reason to. Leonid assured me there’d be a big payday here, and I’ve got no reason to doubt him. We can make a go of it here.”
“As long as you’re sure we’ll be okay.”
“I haven’t steered you all wrong yet.” Gideon winked at me then, but he was telling the truth. In the ten years that my mom and I had been following him around the country, he’d always done the best he could by us.
I went back and got into the Winnebago with my mom and Blossom. Within a couple minutes, Gideon had straightened his motorhome out, and the caravan was heading back down the road. At the end of the bridge was a large sign that read WELCOME TO CAUDRY, POPULATION 13,665.
As soon as we crossed the line into town, the air seemed even colder than before. That’s when I realized the chill wasn’t coming from outside—it was coming from within me.

Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

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Pepper Martin, now Community Relations Director of Garden View Cemetery, is contacted by the ghost of Eliot Ness, one of Cleveland’s most famous dearly departed. According to Ness, the ashes scattered at the ceremony twenty years earlier weren’t his. His were stolen prior to the ceremony by a Ness groupie, and he cannot rest until those ashes are found. Luckily, Pepper has an idea where they may be – but of course it isn’t nearly that straightforward…

graveyardshiftWell this is fun! And the fact that I’d crashed into a series with nine previous books wasn’t an issue, as Pepper is very much into dealing with the current situation. While she occasionally alludes to previous incidents, none were confusing or difficult to assimilate in relation to her more recent problems – which start stacking up very fast. I really like Pepper – she is rather lazy, a bit scatty and not above bending the truth to breaking point if it gets her out of a jam. In short, she is very much like a lot of us. So when the initially light-hearted tone suddenly got a lot darker and Pepper’s very existence is on the line, I really cared.

That said, while this murder mystery gathered momentum with the stakes suddenly becoming a lot higher, this is no grim gorefest. The action moved along at a reasonable clip, while still giving us a ringside seat to Pepper’s feelings and motivation as she becomes increasingly entangled in this mystery, all in first person viewpoint. There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, including her slightly demented mother who seems hellbent on marrying Pepper off, her work colleagues and Quinn, her policeman boyfriend.

Daniels weaves a satisfying whodunit with a really unpleasant villain, a real sense of threat and a denouement I didn’t see coming. Despite this being a long-running series, the main adventure is satisfactorily tied up and I found myself coming to the end of this pleasing tale wanting to read more about Pepper and her previous adventures. So I shall be revisiting this series at some stage during 2017 and this enjoyable, well-crafted mystery comes highly recommended. Receiving a copy of Graveyard Shift from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10