Category Archives: feisty heroine

Review of Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

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I have heard Jacey Bedford speak on a number of panels at various Fantasycons over the years and a couple of years ago, she did an inspirational workshop about submissions that helped me overcome my block about sending work out. So when I had a few pennies for my birthday, I ordered this science fiction offering. I’m so glad I did.

Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. So far…

I really loved Cara – she is desperate and frightened when we first meet her. Clearly used to dealing with the sleazier side of life, she doesn’t hesitate to sleep with Ben, the pilot who offers to take her off-planet, thinking it’s part of the deal. But over the length of the book, which includes chases, murders and helping establish a colony on a new world, Cara begins to find herself again. Bedford effectively depicts a woman struggling to put an abusive past behind her and build a new life for herself – and I really enjoyed the fact that it certainly isn’t all plain sailing just because she finds someone who cares for her.

I’m aware I may have given the impression this book is all about the romance, and while it is an element, it certainly isn’t the driving force or main theme of the book, which is far more mainstream epic space opera – that of corruption and the ruthlessness of big corporations. Once again, we have a future where it is huge capitalist corporations driving colonisation of planets. Inevitably, it comes down to profit – and you won’t be surprised to learn that when eye-watering sums of money are involved, the people running those corporations regard those in the way as expendable. It doesn’t help that they are a poorly regarded, eccentric cult with relatively few resources…

I loved the growing friction between the team of experts all with brain implants to boost their telepathic, empathetic and healing talents and the colonists who wish to establish an agrarian idyll where technology is replaced by horse and bullock power and industry is severely restricted. Bedford is very good at keeping the pace going with a series of adventures that keep the narrative ticking along at a fair clip, all the while steadily ramping up the stakes. While I love this genre, all too often I find the characterisation suffers in the middle of establishing all the world-spanning action – but it is the characters and what happens to them that is firmly at the heart of this one, which leads to an action-packed finale.

All in all, this is a cracking read and I shall be looking out for the next one in the series, just as soon as I manage to find some space on my bulging book shelves. Highly recommended for fans of entertaining epic space opera.
9/10

ANNDDD…

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, Pippa Jay has interviewed me about stuff about me, writing the book and life in general…

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Sunday Post – 15th October 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.

I don’t expect to have another fortnight quite like this last one anytime soon. I’m recovering from flu – but it’s taking its own sweet time to move on. In the meantime my nose is running like a tap, I have backache, tinnitus, headaches and a temperature and I’m really fed up with feeling this lousy. Oh, and on Wednesday, I self-published my first novel, Running Out of Space. Needless to say, the launch was very lowkey. But it is ‘out there’. On Amazon. I keep nipping across to have look… And despite feeling like something the cat sicked up, every time I look at the cover I find myself grinning…

I hope you have a good week and in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I feel less like a snot-powered zombie and more like my old self by tomorrow night so I can resume my Creative Writing classes before my students forget what I look like.

This week I have read:

The King’s Name – Book 2 of The Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
The warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord King Urdo have finally united the land of Tir Tanagiri into a kingdom ruled by justice under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny. Soon Tir Tanagiri faces the blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms against former comrades and loved ones, fighting harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream.
This sequel that concludes Walton’s magical version of the Arthurian legend continues to deliver. See my review of the first book The King’s Peace. Marvellous writing and a wonderful, poignant ending that is still resonating with me…

 

The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?
I requested this book without realising it was a romance adventure this author had written relatively early in her writing career. But as it happens, although romantic fiction isn’t generally my go-to genre, I really enjoyed this sprightly, enjoyable adventure.

 

Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held
When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack. What Tatiana doesn’t realize is that her pack is willing to sacrifice even their own trained spy for their goals…
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this clever, nuanced werewolf world once more, after falling in love with the first three books – see my reviews of Silver, Tarnished and Reflected – and I am delighted to see that Held has decided to self-publish this book after her publishers took the decision to no longer continue with this series.

 

Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering
Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.
I loved Vampire State of the Mind featuring a feisty heroine who helps to keep the ancient city of York safe for its human inhabitants. This adventure gives us more insights into the courageous, funny cast of characters when one of them is threatened. Or is he actually the threat? The Department for Otherworldly Affairs has to deliver a decision – along with a dead vampire… I really enjoyed this one and the snarky humour was very welcome as I sneezed and snuffled my way through the action.

 

A Local Habitation – Book 2 of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Toby Daye-a half-human, half-fae changeling-has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world had other ideas… Now her liege, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills, has asked Toby to go to the Country of Tamed Lightening to make sure all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary. It seems like a simple enough assignment-until Toby discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, and that if the killer isn’t stopped, January may be the next victim.
Another classy series that I started with Rosemary and Rue a while ago and taken a while to return to. This classic murder mystery, where the victims are picked off one by one as Toby desperately tries to unravel who is committing these crimes, is gripping and unexpectedly poignant at the end. There is a real sense of loss over the deaths, which I appreciated. No doubt about it – McGuire’s writing packs a punch.

My posts last week:

Teaser Tuesday featuring Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

PUBLISHED TODAY! featuring Running Out of Space – Sunblinded: 1 by S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series
by Sebastien de Castell

Friday Face-off – You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR! featuring Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Review of Waking Gods – Book 2 of The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel

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

Saying Thanks to Great Teachers https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/saying-thanks-to-great-teachers/ A moving tribute to a clearly remarkable teacher by someone who wants to say thank you. Before it’s too late…

Finding Inspiration in the Space Race – In the Spotlight Guest Post http://www.secondrunreviews.com/2017/10/finding-writing-inspiration-space-race-guest-post.html Yours truly musing on the impact that growing up during the height of the space race had on my expectations

Times they are a-changing (I hope) ~ on the prevalence of sexual harassment & on why we’re starting to speak up https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/times-they-are-a-changing-i-hope-on-the-prevalence-of-sexual-harassment-on-why-were-starting-to-speak-up/ Viv’s articles are always worth reading and I particularly enjoyed this one…

Richard & Linda Thompson, Sam Cooke and Charlie Rich – The Cry for Home! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/09/26/richard-linda-thompson-sam-cooke-and-charlie-rich-with-the-cry-for-home/ If you love popular music, then swing by this marvellous site. I don’t know anyone who writes with such passion and knowledge about the music we grew up with.

We won Best Books And Literature Blog Of The Year! https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/we-won-best-books-and-literature-blog-of-the-year/ I thoroughly enjoy browsing this entertaining library blog where the staff chat about books in an approachable entertaining way. No wonder they won – congratulations, guys.

ANDDD…

Rainne Atkins has kindly invited me today to share my top ten fiction authors during my blog tour for Running Out of Space on her delightful book blog Just Books

 

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.

Review of NETGALLEY book Waking Gods – Book 2 of the Themis Files by Sylvain Neuval

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I’d heard a lot about this series and so was delighted when I spotted this one on Netgalley.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force. Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

I make a regular habit of crashing series midway through and most of the time it is absolutely fine. However, I have a real sense that I would have enjoyed this book a whole lot more if I had read Sleeping Giants first as there didn’t seem to be a particular moment for the reader to bond with the main protagonists before the action all kicked off again. There was certainly plenty going on – those huge robots were suitably mysterious and chilling.

As I hadn’t read the first book, it took me a while to work out what exactly what happening with Themis and why only a very select number of people could control it. I was certainly startled when one of the main characters died – but there was a fair amount of mayhem and destruction, which was well depicted. It’s a tricky proposition to portray widespread annihilation and get the readers to really care for the thousands who have died, but this was one of most successful parts of this book. I was genuinely shocked at the sudden outbreak of violence and the extent of it. The deaths were also very well handled.

However, I didn’t really care as much for the main characters and their fates as I felt that I should and the narrative told in the form of recorded files meant that it read in places far more like a play. I suspect that this book is brilliant in audio form – but I missed the layers and nuances you get with characters’ gestures, given they were little more than talking heads throughout. That said, there was never any risk of my not completing it – the action was far too engrossing. While I obtained the arc of Waking Gods from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

ANDDD…

My debut novel Running Out of Space is featured today by those nice folks at the Daily Waffle, complete with an excerpt from the book.

 

 

 

 

PUBLISHED TODAY!

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RUNNING OUT OF SPACE
SUNBLINDED: 1

by S.J. Higbee

 

Elizabeth Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

I can’t recall whose idea it was. Just that me and my shipmates were sick of wading through yet another unjust punishment detail. So we decide to take ourselves off on a short jaunt to the lower reaches of Space Station Hawking to prove that fertile English girls can also deal with danger.
The consequences of that single expedition change the lives of all four of us, as well as that of the stranger who steps in to save us down in lawless Basement Level. Now I have more excitement and danger than I can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

 

And Hywela at Romance That’s Out of This World is starting my blog tour with a guest post by yours truly.

Running Out of Space is available on Amazon.com 

and Amazon UK  for an introductory offer until the end of October only!

Here is the start of the book, where it all begins to go wrong…

CHAPTER ONE

Yeah, I know – Basement Level on Space Station Hawking – what were we thinking?  But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of one chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than shipwear throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.

Jessica punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Lizzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”

Alisha and Sonja started sniggering.

“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.

Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even look our way, let alone thank us for making sufficient room.

Sonja and Alisha stopped.

“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Sonja wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”

“We’ve gone promming around for less than a nanosec. And you wanna run back cos the scenery isn’t the same as on board?” Jessica clicked her tongue in scorn. “Starting to sound like those old nannies.”

Sonja flinched at the derision in her voice, but – being Sonja – wouldn’t lock horns with Jessica.

Breathing through my mouth, I straightened up. Jessica is right. So what if this is a dank disappointment? We didn’t come down here for the view – we came to prove we could handle ourselves when off-limits.

But Alisha grabbed Jessica’s arm. “Sonja and me reckon this is a vile place. We vote to head back. Tramping through filth is a tragic waste of shore leave.”

All argument ceased when the floor crud rustled and heaved behind us. A cat-sized rat scuttered through the litter into the gloom beyond.

I shivered. “It’s gotta get better sometime, soon. We’re snagging the next lift we see back to Trader Level.”

We continued trudging onwards for another ten minutes. Just as I was beginning to think the scuzzy corridor was leading into infinity, we turned a corner into a small plaza. With a blast of relief, I spotted the lift in the far corner and relaxed. Now we were nearly out of here, we could do the tourist bit. Truth be told, the word ‘plaza’ probably gives the space more credit than it deserves. While the lighting was brighter and the floor litter had been trodden relatively flat, the buzz that normally goes with buying and selling wasn’t here. Under the stink of rotting rubbish was the sharper stench of desperation.

I passed a trader’s eye over the ratty stalls. Everything I could see on display would’ve gone straight into our ship’s recycler. The food canisters were filthy without the benefit of even the most basic steri-scrub. And the water on sale might have shown blue on the pacs’ purity scales, but the readings must have been blixed, because that cloudy stuff wasn’t fit to pass your lips. Even the powdered water looked like sweepings off a shower-stall floor.

If we hadn’t come down here, I’d never have known this place existed. How many on Shooting Star know about it? This is what I joined the ship for. My heart was thudding with a mixture of fear and excitement. This was a hundred times better than trailing around the overpriced shops on Trader Level with a grumbling chaperone.

Though the people were a shock. There were no shades of yellow, brown, black, or white here – everyone’s skin was grime-grey. All wearing rags pockmarked with holes which only showed more scabby tatters, or dirt-scurfed flesh. I’d tried to blend us in. We were all in scut-gear with worn overalls and battered workboots. But we stuck out like a supernova on a dark night. Mostly because we were clean and well fed, while everyone here was stick-thin. Even the kids

The Cap always says we English merchanters take care of our own better than anyone else. What if he’s right? Because I couldn’t recall seeing any children in this sorry state back in New London.

Sonja gave some creds to a pathetic, sunken-cheeked toddler sitting on the trash-covered floor and in no time flat we were mobbed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. None of us could resist their pleading, so we handed out all our shore-leave cash. Of course, one of us should’ve kept an eye out for trouble. But we didn’t. And when the children scampered away, I looked up to see we were now ringed by another group. Far more grown-up and dangerous.

***

I can’t quite believe I’m here… It’s taken such a long time to get it all ready and on top of everything else, I’m still struggling with this flu. But I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the book on Amazon – I keep clicking on it just to have a look. I’ve crossed a line – gone from ‘going to’ and ‘want to’ through to ‘done that’. I am very aware in the scheme of things, this isn’t rocking anyone’s world except mine – that the average amount an author makes with their first book is less than the price of a meal for two in a halfway decent restaurant. But this feels huge and I want to thank everyone who has helped to make it possible.

 

 

 

 

Teaser Tuesday – 10th October, 2017

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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:
Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

3% I am vampire. I am top of the food chain, a mover-in-shadow; desired by women, envied by men. I have the grace of a cat, the sight of an eagle and the speed of a greyhound – so why can’t I find a bloody biro when I want one?

BLURB: Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he?

Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.

With her loyalties already questioned for defending zombies, the Otherworlders no one cares about, Jess must choose which side she’s on, either help her lover or turn him in. Human or Other? Whatever she decides, there’s a high price to pay and someone to lose.

I loved the first book in the series Vampire State of the Mind and couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that this book, which has been languishing on my TBR for far too long, was the sequel! Funny and engrossing – this is just what the doctor ordered while I’m still in the throes of influenza.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc The Tiger’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Bright Ascendency by K. Arsenault Rivera

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This epic fantasy looked a bit different, so I requested it.

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

This is one of those lush, richly written fantasy tales that clearly has its roots in the Eastern tradition. Set in a large sprawling land that is a cross between Mongolia and Japan, it is the story of two girls born of two close friends. One is a Qorin ruler, leader of nomadic horse tribes, while the other is sister-in-law to the paranoid emperor. I was a bit concerned about the way the animosity between the Oorin and Hokkarans were depicted – would anyone call themselves flat-faced? While I enjoyed the fact this wasn’t a fantasy set in medieval/early modern Europe, I did wonder if it didn’t borrow rather too heavily from other historical conflicts.

These two girls, born close together, first meet as small children and then throughout their young lives, quickly forming a strong bond. This novel is actually a letter from one of the girls, written to the other and charting their adventures together and what they have done. It is a time-honoured structure and mostly successful – although I do think the pacing could have been improved, if only we had hints throughout of just what the stakes were, before they were fully revealed.

However, that grizzle doesn’t detract from the richness of the worldbuilding and the punchy characterisation of these powerful girls. While it is a coming-of-age romance, because of the manner in which their friendship turns into something far deeper and more passionate, it is certainly different. I thought the love between them was tender and convincing, though personally I could have done with less explicit sex scenes.

I liked the fact that though there is a great deal of powerful magic sloshing around, when people get hurt, there is a price to pay. This is a hefty book at 500+ pages, but especially towards the end, the pace really picked up and the story concluded with a nicely climactic ending.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Select by Marit Wiesenberg

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I was caught by the intriguing premise and loved the cover, so requested this one as I’m always a sucker for science fiction scenarios.

Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface—dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity.

I really like Wiesenberg’s writing style – the punchy first person point of view drew me in and kept the pages turning as we see this mysterious mega-rich family from Julia’s perspective. I especially enjoyed the fact that as in the better first person narratives, Julia is busy telling us one thing, while something quite different is unfolding in front of our eyes. She tells us that those with the greatest abilities are especially valued in their community – and then we realise that she and a group of highly talented boys have been sidelined and more or less forbidden to use their prodigious skills. Julie emphasises and indeed, tries to carry out the firm instruction not to draw attention to herself. But we also learn that her father has achieved celebrity status by dint of having accrued huge wealth, having film-star looks and refusing to give any interviews to the press. As the charismatic leader of their community, he is very much about ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

I loved the incident at the swimming pool, which beautifully illustrated the tension between what Julia tries to do and the sheer impossibility of those instructions. Rich, beautiful and very entitled, Julia is nonetheless a highly sympathetic protagonist, who I cared about especially when it became obvious she is being set up to fail. While I wasn’t particularly invested in the romance, it felt convincing and I enjoyed the game-changing scene near the end that provided the final reveal. And the very final page has one more twist that leaves an interesting plot point dangling and ready for the next book.

Overall, this is a fast, enjoyable read with plenty of tension and an appealing protagonist. Recommended for fans of school-based stories with a strong romance. While I obtained the arc of Select from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Monday Post – 2nd October 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 crazy week. My Creative Writing course at Northbrook is going well – everyone has settled in and our classroom is one of the nice big ones with plenty of windows. We started filming this week on Tim’s major project at the Bognor Museum on Wednesday evening, which was a wonderful surreal experience, though exhausting.

When my writing pal Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday, I discussed my increasing concerns regarding Running Out of Space hoping that she would wave her hand and tell me I was making a fuss about nothing. But she didn’t. She nodded and agreed with me. So I went back to the script and made a MAJOR change to the world with less than a fortnight to go before the launch. It took a huge amount of work, but I got the manuscript altered, the new review copies out, extracts and guest posts altered and my shiny new website and Goodreads all updated. Once the dust has settled and I have a chance to fully process exactly what happened, I will be blogging about it. And then fell ill on Friday night as we were picking up the grandchildren.

On top of that the clutch on the car died in the middle of the week and my lovely sister lent me hers while ours went into the garage to be fixed for a lot of money I hadn’t budgeted to go on car repairs. Thank goodness we took the decision not to go to Fantasycon this year, though I am sorry not to be able to catch up with all the lovely people I only get to see then – and huge congratulations to Grimbold Publishing for their Award for Best Independent Press.

I spent the week-end in bed enduring a really nasty cold that has also sideswiped my sister – which is why this is a Monday Post, instead of a Sunday Post…

This week I have read:

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell
Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.
This new series from the author of the fabulous How To Train Your Dragon series did not disappoint. With all the plot twists and engrossing storyline I have come to expect from this wonderful author, there is also a beautiful lyric quality to the prose and more nuanced characters.

 

Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell
Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby. In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.
I really enjoyed this fantasy adventure which takes a classic trope – the youngster growing up on the streets who is singled out by a unique talent – and then gives that premise a thorough shaking. Llew is an interesting protagonist with some scary powers that nonetheless won my sympathy, even though the right thing might be to ensure she can’t cause any more havoc… This one hasn’t left my head since I stopped reading it.

 

Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell
It’s a few months since Kellen left his people behind. Now aged sixteen, Kellen is an outlaw, relying on his wits to keep him alive in the land of the Seven Sands. He misses home, he misses family and more than anything, he misses Nephenia, the girl he left behind. And when someone else turns up unexpectedly who carries a secret that’s all too familiar to Kellen. Kellen and Ferius resolve to help – but the stakes are far higher than they realise…
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Spellslinger, in this entertaining series – see my review here. The good news is that this offering is even better. More Kellen goodness along with the naughty squirrel cat who nearly manages to steal the show, despite a thumping good plot and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist – great stuff!

 

Austral by Paul McAuley
The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.
I love this one. The landscape, the situation and above all, Austral’s narration of the most turbulent, difficult time in her life to someone she cares about and wants to tell all to… This one held me until the last page and though not flawless, it is a gripping, moving book that will stay with me for a long time.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 24th September

Review of The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

Teaser Tuesday featuring Healer’s Touch by Deb E Howell

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Select – by Marit Weisenberg

Friday Face-off – Faint heart never won fair lady featuring Heartless by Marissa Meyer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

Apologies to those of you who have commented and are still waiting for a response. Hopefully normal service will be resumed next week… 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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

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Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know that I am continually banging on about how much I love the How To Train Your Dragon books – so when I saw Cowell had written a new series, it was a no-brainer that I would request it. It cheered me up no end when I was approved for this one…

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

My rather elderly Kindle did not handle Cowell’s trademark illustrations very well and I needed to persevere to pick out the text within the rather hinky formatting. However, I refused to be put off though it took me a little longer to get into the story than I had expected, simply because Xar is fairly obnoxious at the beginning – though as the narrative progressed, it became increasingly obvious why he is such a pain and I grew to like and sympathise with him.

This book is clearly aimed at an older age-group than the How To Train Your Dragon series, and consequently lacks the can-do chirpiness that runs throughout HTTYD no matter what is going on. The language is also richer, full of poetic metaphors and although the adventure is full of incident and unexpected developments that are the hallmark of a Cowell story, the issues are more nuanced. Neither Wish or Xar are all bad or all good and I particularly liked the way the adults are portrayed. Very often in children’s literature, adults are either bullying buffoons or simply oblivious. It’s relatively rare to see an adult with a significant backstory and an interesting hidden agenda, yet both parents in this book first appear as typically black and white authority figures, only to later develop into something far more intriguing. I shall be very interested to see how they develop in due course.

All in all, this is a joy. I shall be reading it aloud to my granddaughter as a break from the Louis the Laugh series – after I’ve bought the print copy. And I have included the poem at the back of the book as something of a treat – I recommend you read it aloud…

Wandering Free
In the roads of sky and paths of sea
And in that timeless long-gone hour
Words of nonsense still had power
Doors still flew and birds still talked
Witches grinned and giants walked
We had Magic wands and Magic wings
And we lost our hearts to impossible things
Unbelievable thoughts! Unsensible ends!
For Wizards and Warriors might be friends.
In a world where impossible things are true
I don’t why we forgot the spell
When we lost the way, how the forests fell.
But now we are old, we can vanish too.
And I see once more the invisible track
That will lead us home and take us back…
So find your wands and spread your wings
I’ll sing our love of impossible things
And when you take my vanished hand
We’ll both go back to that Magic land
Where we lost our hearts…
Several lifetimes ago…
When we were Wizards
Once.

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

Friday Faceoff – Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady…

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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 the one we prefer. This week the theme is hearts, so I’ve chosen Heartless by Marissa Meyer.

 

This cover, produced by Feiwel & Friends in November 2016, is the hardcover version. I like the black and red combination, which runs through a number of the covers for this book. It accurately represents the tone of the book, which is a rather sad retelling of how the Queen of Hearts becomes quite so dreadful.

 

This offering was produced by Macmillan Children’s Books in February 2017. I really love this one. The portrait of the shy young girl is nicely depicted and I also very much like the title font and the strapline which gives effective information without too much cluttering. This one is my favourite.

 

This is another cover from Macmillan Children’s Books which was published in November 2016. This one is also enjoyable – even more so for its effective simplicity – a lipsticked heart across the mouth. I really like this one.

 

Produced in November 2016 by Blossom Books, this Dutch edition goes back to the original hardback cover for its inspiration. I prefer this tree, though with all the intriguing details and lovely artwork.

 

This Polish edition, published in June 2017 by Papierowy Księżyc, again gives more than a nod to the original red and black design. The heart shape in this one comes more from the twining rose stems, complete with thorns. Which one is your favourite?