Category Archives: ghosts

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScreamingStaircaseaudiobookreview

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This is a series I’d downloaded for my granddaughter, which had thoroughly gripped her – and after starting the story, I could see why…

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…. For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

This is set in an alternate reality where fifty years ago, ghosts of people who had died in difficult circumstances are now feral. Mostly, they are annoying, manifesting as cold spots, bright lights and leaving uneasy feelings in their wake. But some of the stronger types are able to kill with a touch – and it’s only some ‘gifted’ children who can actually see or sense them clearly. This premise is a brilliant one, producing this dark, clever and often funny ghost story brilliantly narrated by Miranda Raison, who vividly portrays Lucy’s first person narration.

I had previously read and enjoyed Stroud’s wonderful Bartimaeus Trilogy – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand – featuring an emotionally abused young warlock and a trapped djinni, whose withering and very funny commentary on human behaviour gives this book welcome shafts of humour. Lucy’s sharp-edged observations about her mysterious and brilliant young employer, Anthony Lockwood and his equally brilliant sidekick, George, often had me sniggering aloud as I listened to this one.

But that didn’t stop it being really creepy and utterly gripping when the trio were locked into a lethally haunted house – and very glad that I was listening to this one during the mornings when houseworking. There is the depth of characterisation I have grown to expect from Stroud, along with an exciting and well-paced adventure. The fact that I had already figured out who was doing what to whom before the denouement really didn’t matter – because the mystery was far more about how the heck they were going to survive the experience, anyway.

I’m thrilled to report that I already have the second book in this adventure ready and waiting to be heard – yippee! Far better for my blood pressure and mental health than listening to the catastrophic struggles in Parliament over Brexit…
9/10

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Sunday Post – 24th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

This week was the last week of the Spring Term at Northbrook, so I am now on Easter holiday until 23rd April… The final sessions went well on Monday and Tuesday – it’s always a pleasure having a one-on-one tutorial with each student to discuss their writing progress. On Wednesday, Mhairi and I got together – they actually moved to Lincolnshire on Thursday, so we had lunch together in Haskins and spent the afternoon talking. She will be coming to stay next Tuesday, so it wasn’t too much of a wrench, thank goodness…

On Thursday and Friday, I got up late and pottered a bit – did some really pressing admin and answered urgent emails, etc. But other than doing a bit of tidying – nothing much, other than listening to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase which was gripping and fun. On Friday night, I had some amazing dreams and woke up fizzing with creative energy. So after posting my blog, I got down to work and wrote a couple of shorter pieces – one life writing article about our holiday in Venice, back in 2015; and a short story set on Mars and then tucked into the novel. It went reasonably slowly, but I’m pleased with what I wrote – and that’s the main thing.

After a week of gloomy, dank weather, today is glorious, so Himself is outside, painting the fence. Spring is finally here – thank goodness!

Last week I read:
Starseers – Book 3 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
The mysterious and powerful Starseers have Captain Alisa Marchenko’s daughter, and she will do whatever she must to get her back, even if it means traveling to their stronghold and confronting them personally. Unfortunately, her strongest ally, the cyborg Leonidas, may become a liability since the cyborgs and the Starseers have a long history of hating each other. It doesn’t help that Leonidas and Dr. Dominguez have a mission of their own, one that could jeopardize all that Alisa is fighting for.
I am thoroughly enjoying this series – I like the fact that the narrative powering the story is Alisa’s hunt for her lost daughter. There is plenty of action and snark in this entertaining space opera adventure and I look forward to read the next book very soon.

 

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…
This is a retelling of the tale of Pericles – I’m glad I didn’t know the original before I read this, because in many places it follows the story quite closely. Review to follow.

 

 

Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War by Timothy Zahn
Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy.
And that’s putting it mildly. It is the classic story of the underdog, where an outmatched outsider somehow has to prevail and put right a lot of injustices with insufficient information… I quickly got pulled into the story and really enjoyed it. I’m going to go back and get hold of the first book, Pawn.

 

AUDIOBOOK – The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood and Co series by Jonathan Stroud
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
This may be presented as a children’s book, but the writing and premise kept me gripped throughout – and it was quite creepy enough, thank you very much… I’m delighted that I already have the second book in this excellent series to tuck into. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h March 2019

Review of Satellite by Nick Lake

Review of Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper

Review of Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Friday Face-Off featuring Death of Kings – Book 6 of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwall

Review of Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson

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

The Art of the Book Event: 9 Tips https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/23/the-art-of-the-book-event-9-tips/ I’d like to think that authors take this on board – to avoid disappointing long-suffering book fans and so that they, too, enjoy these events…

Midspring https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/23/midspring/ And why wouldn’t we celebrate the coming back to life of the countryside with Inessa’s fabulous photos?

Shiver Me Timbers! A Series Shake-Down – Part 1 https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/shiver-me-timbers-a-series-shake-down-part-one/ As the Cap gives a rundown on outstanding book series, I’m sure we can all relate. How do you handle it when you realise you have started faaar more series than you can ever complete?

A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Wild Nights! Wild Nights’ https://interestingliterature.com/2019/03/18/a-short-analysis-of-emily-dickinsons-wild-nights-wild-nights/ A poem I didn’t know from this accomplished poet…

Throwback Thursday: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett https://lynns-books.com/2019/03/21/throwback-thursday-the-secret-garden-by-frances-hodgson-burnett/ I really like the sound of this meme. We spend a lot of time discussing new books or more recent releases – I love the idea that we can now also highlight and celebrate gems we read years ago that someone else might also like…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Friday Faceoff – Always do what you’re afraid to do… #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is something SCARY, so I’ve selected The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

 

This edition was produced by David R. Godine in December 2001. While I’m never a fan of boxes containing the artwork, I think this one gives a sense of the period in which this creepy book is set. I’ve seen this on the stage at it is mesmerising – the haunted look of the man in the picture very accurately reflected the way the marvellous actor played the main character. And please don’t judge this by the dreadful film starring the hapless Daniel Radcliffe…

 

Published in 1998 by Vintage, I really like this stylish offering. The diffuse sun shining through the fog… the woman wandering alone… and the looping font all give a real sense of the book. I also rather like the decorative scrolling around the edge. Does it give a sense of menace? I think so, but maybe I’m biased, given that I know what an issue that fog is to the story…

 

This edition, published by Vintage Classic in October 2007 has called my bluff. I am always moaning about cluttered covers and how much I’d like to see a more minimalist approach. This one, however, has gone too far the other way. The outline of those tangled branches is wonderfully menacing, but would it have killed them to actually give Susan Hill her full name? Or maybe – perish the thought – actually lend a bit of style to the painfully plain title font.

 

Produced by Profile Books in September 2011, this is also a very attractive offering. I like the purple and black colour scheme and the Victorian woman walking alone. And then they go and over-egg it by having an owl flying overhead… I can’t recall if there is a hooting owl – while the sound of that rocking chair is one that I’ll never forget – the problem I have with its addition, along with the colour scheme, is that it now looks like a shapeshifting paranormal fantasy cover…

 

This edition, published by Vintage in October 2011 has so much going for it. I love the fog-shrouded forest and the lovely looping title font. And then they go and completely spoil it by putting a lot of chatter on the cover about the dreadful film! Otherwise this one would have been my outright favourite. As it is, it ties with the second cover. Which is your favourite?

Review of PAPERBOOK Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 in the Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangetheDreamerbookreview

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I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – I think she’s an extraordinary writer, who pushes the boundaries, so I was really excited to see Strange the Dreamer was due out. I treated myself to the paperback with my birthday money and then promptly became engulfed in a flood of Netgalley arcs that needed reading first. So I reckon I’m one of five people on the planet who haven’t yet got around to this one…

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I love, love, love Lazlo – his daydreaming as a child chimes with my own intense imaginary worlds I used as a refuge from a rather complicated childhood, though I hasten to add that’s where the resemblance ends. No one beat me for my imaginary adventures – unlike poor old Lazlo. But although he is bookish, he is also clever and unexpectedly courageous. Writing such a nuanced protagonist takes a lot of skill and talent, which Taylor possesses in shedloads.

As the story progresses, accounts of Lazlo’s life are interspersed by what is going on in the Citadel floating above the city of Weep, inhabited by five young people, who are the sole survivors of a savage attack that took place some fifteen years earlier. Their skins are bright blue and each one has a godlike talent, which they mostly use to eke out a difficult existence. Though one of them is determined to be revenged on the wicked humans below who stormed their stronghold and slaughtered everyone in the night…

As ever, Taylor takes an intriguing story and pushes it adrift from any comforting tethers where mercy or love prevent the worst atrocities happening. Yet she manages to do this while still keeping the book a thing of beauty and wonder by the lyrical quality of her prose and depth of characterisation. Even the antagonists have strong, plausible reasons for their behaviour. I was lost in this story, even dreaming of it, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. And despite the fact that Muse of Nightmares is more money than I’d usually pay for an ebook – when I came to the end of Strange the Dreamer, I bought it anyway, because I need to know what happens next.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The grave’s a fine and private place… #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is A HORROR NOVEL, so I’ve selected The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

 

This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2008. I really like this one – the blue-black background is both effective and attractive and the gravestone is striking. But what stands out is the treatment of both the title and author fonts, which I love. And then they go and RUIN it by plastering that large gold blob right in the centre! Couldn’t it have gone in a corner? Just asking…

 

Published in December 2008 by Bloomsbury, this cover is the exact opposite of the above cover. Rather than going for the minimalist approach, this cover is full of wonderful detail, featuring the two main protagonists scowling out at prospective readers. I could have done without the endorsement by Diana Wynne Jones impinging onto that glorious artwork, but overall I like this one, including the funky title font. This is the cover of the copy we own. The big problem with it is that it doesn’t look good in thumbnail.

 

This Spanish edition, published by Roca Editorial in October 2010. I really like it – the design is  clever, featuring the blade of a knife with the cityscape running along its length and young Bod running along the edge of it. I think it’s attractive and eye-catching – and again the author and title fonts look fabulous. However, the snag for me is that there is no graveyard in this cover, which features so heavily in the book – and the title.

 

Produced by Polaris in September 2008, this Czech cover does feature a graveyard. I like the design and appreciate that the ghosts also feature. However, unfortunately the execution of the otherworldly characters lets down this cover – they look like they’ve been painted onto material and then photoshopped into the cover. It’s such a shame, because I think the idea and the rest of the image is really strong.

 

This French edition, published by J’ai lu in April 2012, is also set in a graveyard and I love it. I think it’s the strongest of all the designs. It sings off the page with the eerie lighting and the silhouetted figure of the small boy against the wrought iron gates of the graveyard looks fabulous. This is mine – but which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Muddle of Magic – Book 2 of the Fledgling Magic series by Alexandra Rushe

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One of my book blogging buddies was looking forward to this one (sorry – I can’t remember who!) so I nipped across and requested it, not realising – again – that it was the second book in the series.

What’s a nice Southern girl doing in a place like this?
Whisked from humdrum Alabama to the fantastical land of Tandara by a mage who won’t take no for an answer, Raine Stewart finds herself tangled in a muddle of magic. A Dark Wizard is out for her blood, a demonic golem has orders to dispatch her . . . and she stinks at magic. Being a wizard, even a baby wizard, is harder than Raine thought.

This is an amazingly rich, detailed world – and I was a bit more adrift than was ideal, given I hadn’t read the first book. But this portal fantasy adventure was great fun with a wealth of magical beings – there are dragons, giants, a rich variety of trolls and fairies, wizards, seers, ghosts and shape-shifters. I enjoyed Raine’s character and while there were times she was a bit overwhelmed, she mostly coped with the major culture shock extremely well. Since she arrived in this fantasy world, she has managed to make a number of friends with some powerful beings – sufficiently successfully so as to draw down some very unwelcome attention from a powerful dark wizard. So with a huge price on her head, she is also having to be continually guarded – which she finds especially irksome, given that before she was yanked into this portal world, she was an invalid with a poor prognosis.

While the adventure is mostly in Raine’s viewpoint, there were moments when suddenly we would get someone else’s pov, which I found a bit jarring. That niggle aside, I really enjoyed this world. It is very much a classical fantasy adventure in the Tolkien tradition with a rich variety of different creatures and Rushe is deft at giving us plenty of description without holding up the pace too much. I loved her serpent Flame, while the puzzles surrounding a number of the other main characters kept me turning the pages and enlivened a long train journey.

There was plenty of snark and humour thrown in amongst the plots, kidnappings, brutal fights, snooty courtiers and lantern-jawed heroes. My favourite is probably Gertie, the foul-mouthed, drink-loving troll who takes Raine under her protection and is full of smart-mouthed opinions about the outraged courtiers and haughty queen who hates her. And in amongst the banter and nonsense, there are some poignant moments of loss and heartache in the form of unrequited love and a desperately unhappy marriage.

I’m impressed that Rushe has managed to pack so much vividness and detail into a book just shy of 400 pages – she achieves this by also ensuring the pace keeps moving forward as fantastical creatures, magic artefacts and scheming wizards spin through her story. And there might be a muddle of magic – but there is nothing muddled about the storytelling. While I obtained an arc of A Muddle of Magic from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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This is a gem of a series that Himself stumbled across – see my review of Star Witch here – and so we were delighted when we realised the next book in the series was just about to come out. It was a no-brainer that we would pre-order it…

Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…

This urban fantasy romp features Ivy who would far rather slump on a sofa eating takeaway than get swept up in some wretched adventure. That’s what she tells anyone who’s prepared to listen, anyway. However, it turns out that she is unexpectedly nifty at the odd tricky rune and while she initially hated Rafe Winter and his driven attitude – they are now an item… So you have some of the major ingredients in this beguiling adventure – a feisty protagonist with a strong first person voice that pings off the page; an enjoyable dollop of romance that supplies plenty of snark and some silliness; a strong plotline that provides plenty of page-turning tension as the stakes are steadily ramped up. And a talking cat.

I became a tad tired of this sub-genre a couple of years ago and these days I’m quite picky what I’ll read – but this one ticked all my boxes. The fact it is set in the UK and written by a Brit doesn’t hurt, as the sarcasm and humour is very much home-grown and certainly had me chuckling aloud in places.

Like the previous book, the actual storyline is quite dark as a serial killer with a major prejudice against witches is on the loose – and Ivy only gets to hear about it when another ghost tells her. Her ability to see and talk to ghosts is both unnerving and the source of some humour. Harper is very good at using comedy to lighten what would be quite a grim read, otherwise – in fact there is a very moving scene near the end which left me with a lump in my throat. But it is then counter-balanced by some more nonsense from Brutus, Ivy’s very contrary cat, which helped to lighten the mood again.

The romance is well handled – I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy and Rafe’s sheer delight with each other as they bathe in that newly-in-love feeling that makes every day together seem like Christmas. Harper manages to effectively depict that glow without feeling the need to embroider it with any nonsense like a love-triangle, or someone plotting against their happiness – it put a smile on my face and even produced a couple of ‘ah’ moments. Given that I’m not a romance fan, that takes some doing.

I was under the impression that this is supposed to be the final book in the series – however I have read a steady stream of impassioned pleas from other fans wanting more and I’m about to add my voice to that chorus. I would love to read more about Ivy, Rafe and Brutus. This is a delightful series and comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Top Ten Spring Reads

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This was the theme on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish and I thought it was such a lovely one, I decided to join in – albeit two days late!

1. Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings.
During this winter, I’ve developed a real taste for desert-based fantasy and the first book in this series – Twelve Kings – was a gripping read. I’m really looking forward to getting lost once more in this complex, well written world full of heat, sand and intrigue…

 

2. Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
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.
I’ve really enjoyed this series of novellas as Penric learns to adapt to the twelve demons riding him. There is plenty of action and I have particularly grown to love the unintended consequences that spring up around a good man coping with a host of chaos demons. Wonderful stuff!

 

3. The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
After the storming series The Copper Cat, I was delighted to be able to get hold of this latest offering by such a talented author. Her swashbuckling energy will nicely chime with warmer days and lots of greenery appearing in the garden.

 

4. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. And then the Emperox dies just as a cataclysmic change threatens the stability of everything…
Scalzi is always worth reading – I particularly loved his futuristic crime thriller Lock In – so I fell upon this start to a new epic space opera when I spotted it on Netgalley. It should be full of thrills and spills, along with some interesting ideas along the way.

 

5. Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Immediately drawn to Logan Chandler, Sadie is captivated by the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes. Logan seems to embody everything that has been forbidden, but he isn’t all he appears to be.
While visiting other book blogs, this series kept popping up with lots of good things being said about it, so when I had the opportunity to get hold of the first book in the series and see what all the fuss was about – I grabbed it. I’m looking forward to tucking into this one and maybe getting hold of some more of the books in due course.

 

6. The Operator – Book 2 of The Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt.
I’ve recently finished the first book in this series, The Drafter, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Harrison delivers a twisting plot, foot to the floor action and some thought provoking questions along the way – the staple of excellent science fiction. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how this next slice of the adventure plays out.

 

7. My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents by Pete Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I read the first book in this series, How To Train Your Parents, to my granddaughter, who thoroughly enjoyed it – and so did I. We got hold of the rest of the series and I need to read it in advance, as otherwise I’m tempted to skim ahead as I’m reading aloud to find out what happens next…

 

8. A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi
Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen. Chokshi’s rich lush prose and mythological story gave this tale an epic feel that reminded me of the Arabian Nights’ stories of my youth. I’m looking forward to being transported back to a land full of wonders and danger – as well as meeting up again with a certain meat-eating horse…

 

9. The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennon
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
I loved the first slice of this adventure and have left it far too long before revisiting this enjoyable Victorian-like world where an intrepid young woman is determined to continue studying dragons in the wild, despite the dangers and discomfort…

 

10. Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world…
When I saw this, I had to scoop it off the shelves and bring it home. Sullivan is always worth reading, here is my review of Lightborn. Her stories are invariably peopled by complex, interesting characters and her worlds always reverberate with me, to the extent that I nearly always dream about them… So I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

 

And that’s part of my reading list this Spring. Are there any books here that you are also intending to read, or have already read?

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels