Category Archives: ghosts

*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

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*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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review KINDLE Ebook American Monsters – Book 3 of the Demon Road series by Derek Landy

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This is the final instalment of this YA horror series, featuring Amber, a demon who shape-shifts when the going gets tough – see my reviews of Demon Road and Desolation. And the going is continually tough…

americanmonstersBigger, meaner, stronger. Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face. For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

Amber has teamed up with Milo and his magical car to fight a series of lethal opponents. However, they all rather pale against her struggle with her seriously unpleasant parents, who raised her for the sole purpose of eating her once she came into her demonic powers. I really like the fact that when she isn’t a tall, red-skinned demon she is a rather plump, nondescript-looking girl. And her prospective girlfriend is attracted to the human side of her, rather than her charismatically fearsome alter ego.

Once again, the story starts with a bang and doesn’t let up as we are whisked from one crisis to another. There are a range of unpleasant monsters and creeps in this story, the most memorable being the murderous clown fixated on killing sixteen-year-olds. The action is vividly portrayed, with plenty of gore and a number of key characters dying off – to an extent that I was a tad winded when one of them met his end…

I’ve enjoyed this series, but I’m not quite sure who it’s aimed at. There is an awful lot of violence and murder, with not quite enough emotional bonding for it to truly appeal to the teenage girls I know – and while the non-stop action would definitely tick the boys’ boxes, I can’t see them warming to a gay shape-shifting female who beats up several men who bad-mouth her in sexist terms. While it is marketed as YA, I’d recommend that you check it out before you allow your younger teens to read it. Many, no doubt, will be perfectly able to cope with the action, but it is very graphic and there are some horrific moments that could upset sensitive children with vivid imaginations.

I received the arc of American Monsters from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
7/10

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Cursed – Book 2 of The Soulseer Chronicles by Sue Tingey

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Sue and I catch up with each other at Fantasycon every year, so I was thrilled that her debut book, Marked, had been scooped off the slush pile by Jo Fletcher. I read and enjoyed it – see my review here, so was more than happy to read the latest release in this series.

CursedAble to see ghosts in both the human and daemon worlds, Lucky de Salle is a commodity – and a liability. And when her best friend Kayla mysteriously disappears, she and her daemon guard stumble onto a secret that makes her even more of a danger to her enemies. Now she’s being hunted by the daemon Henri le Dent and Amaliel Cheriour, the court’s sinister executioner, Lucky has to rely on her wits, her inner strength, her friends – and the emerging talents that make her far more than she thinks she is.

Lucky is now travelling in the Underlands, accompanied by the two daemons who have marked her, Jinx the Deathbringer and Jamie the Guardian. My strong advice is to track down the first book in this entertaining series, as this one picks up right from where Marked left off. Tingey writes with pace and conviction. All too often when loved ones are kidnapped, it seems the protagonist is more concerned about the details connected to the chase, but Lucky’s real fear for Kayla pervades this part of the adventure. This made me care about her again, and hooked me into the story.

In addition to a likeable protagonist, the world is peopled with a number of vivid characters, including a cute, shape-changing drakon – and Tingey manages to pull off a device that normally has me rolling my eyes. There is a love triangle going on – both Jinx and Jamie want Lucky. But don’t reject this one because you are sick of the angsting and hand-wringing that normally goes with such dynamics, because there simply isn’t any… The three of them are quite happy for things to play out as they are – matters are conducted with more latitude in the Underland, apparently.

Court life doesn’t get any less lethal, with the King teetering on the edge of outright madness and the book continues to gather pace as the story gallops to the exciting and unexpected climax, with a vile cult making an effective and very unpleasant antagonist. There are plenty of surprises along the way and, while this particular story arc has been suitably concluded, there are still some major question marks surrounding Lucky’s role and what her enemies will do next. All in all, an action-packed adventure that is great fun.
8/10

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

How Are They Doing?

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You’ve followed the protagonist and her friends and enemies through a whole series of books, finally closing the last volume with a sigh… So, which character would you like to revisit to see how they’re now getting on? Thanks to Anastasia, who first posed this question here, I’ve compiled my own list of top ten characters I’d like to catch up with.
In no particular order…
1. Corporal Carrot from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett – Okay – I lied. There is an order – GuardsGuardsbecause this wonderful body of work has to be one of the major starting points for any speculative fiction fan. And why Corporal Carrot out of the cast of Discworld characters? Because if anyone is liable to suddenly march out of obscurity and into a Hero’s storyline, then it’s got to be Corporal Carrot. And I’m betting even an ordinary day in his life is probably rather more event-filled than most folks – particularly if he and Angua ever get around to producing offspring…
2. Johan Eschback from the Ghosts of Columbia series by L.E. Modesitt Jr – This fascinating series is set in an alternate world where America was settled by the Dutch – and large parts of the world are uninhabitable because whenever anyone suffers a violent death, they return as ghosts able to cause havoc to the living. Johan Eschback is a retired secret agent, now happily remarried to an opera singer, who finds himself unable to turn down an offer to resume his former career in a series of enthralling adventures. I’d love to peep back into his life and ensure that he and the lovely Llysette are still thriving…
3. Jarra from the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards – This YA science fiction trilogy follows the adventures of Jarra, who is part of a minority of humans trapped on Earth due to an allergic reaction she suffers whenever travelling offplanet – leading to discrimination by the majority of humanity who have now relocated to more desirable planets. Is Jarra enjoying her new role? I really hope she retains all her energy and enthusiasm which makes her such an engaging protagonist.
4. Tintaglia from The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb – This series of four books set in Hobb’s world concentrates on the dragons and their keepers struggling to find the fabled dragon city. Tintaglia has to be the most defiantly self-centred and arrogant protagonist I’ve ever cared about – and I’d love to know if the beautiful blue dragon is still engrossed in her own affairs to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.
5. Sookie Stackhouse from the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris – I read all the books and Deaduntildarkeven followed the first couple of series on TV until I decided that it was all a bit too gory. While the TV series followed the storyline of the books reasonably closely, it couldn’t successfully recreate the dry humour that ran throughout Sookie’s first person narrative, which makes her a solid favourite of mine. Is she still well and happy? I’d love to drop in and find out.

6. Nadia Stafford from the Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong – This entertaining trilogy features an ex-policewoman who embarked on a career as a hit woman after being kicked off the force for taking the law into her own hands. The story arc over this enjoyable thriller/whodunit series with a difference is a cracking read – and I’d love to know that if the choices Nadia finally made are still working for her…
7. Jon from the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name – This science fiction romp is about a duo, so I suppose I should have also added Lobo’s name. Jon is an ex-labrat who has done some fairly awful things in his time – and teamed up with Lobo, a mouthy AI. Together they are a formidable twosome who try to provide might for the right. With mixed results… I love the non-stop action and sharp dialogue that accompanies this entertaining, well written offering. And would like to think that Jon enjoys a measure of peace in his life – though I have my doubts, given he has Lobo alongside…
8. Matthew Swift from the Midnight Mayor series by Kate Griffin – To say that Matthew is a troubled soul is something of an understatement, given that he’d been murdered and spent two years living in the wires cris-crossing London before being reincarnated as the spiritual saviour of the city. I’d like to think he is now putting his feet up – but somehow have my doubts. He does occasionally put in an appearance in Griffin’s spinoff series – and I wait patiently to see if he settles down. Or better still, steps away from the gruelling post of Midnight Mayor.
9. Lila from the Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson – This genre mash-up is a tour de force and I still find myself sliding back to considering these remarkable books. The premise is that a quantum bomb has allowed creatures from other realities to bleed through into our world without anyone really noticing… And yes – you’re right. It sounds mad, but Robson makes it work. I’d love to know that Lila is still raising hell somewhere. Preferably a safe distance from where I am.
10. Devi from the Paradox series by Rachel Bach – This enjoyable space opera romp featuring adrenaline œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIjunkie Devi, who gets into more scrapes than I’ve had hot dinners, is a blast from start to finish. And I’d like to think that she and Rupert are still dancing around each other and causing sufficient chaos to keep them happy, though probably – knowing Devi – she’s probably up to her eyebrows in trouble.

Those are my choices for protagonists I got to know and would love to be able to just peep into their futures and ensure everything is still going smoothly for them. Who would you like to revisit and check out?

My Top Ten Fantasy Reads (including series)

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Thanks to Anastasia’s blog, which I reblogged here, there was a fair amount of interest in favourite fantasy books – many thanks Dylan Hearn for going to the trouble of giving us your list as well. So here is mine, in no particular order:-

1. Among Others by Jo Waltonamong others
This is an amazing book. In fact, ALL of Walton’s books are amazing, from Tooth and Claw right through to My Real Children. But Among Others has an extra dose of awesomeness. I happen to think she is one of the finest speculative fiction writers of this generation. I met her once, before I’d read any of her books and now fervently hope I get a chance to meet her again, though I’d probably embarrass myself with inappropriate fangirl noises.

2. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart
A firm family favourite, I just love the writing in this small children’s book – and even having read it aloud at various times to various classes and my own children and grandchildren, the ending still brings a lump to my throat…

3. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, starting with Storm Front + 14 others…
Set in Chicago, this urban fantasy series is about a snippy wizard who has trouble with authority and takes it on himself to try and right supernatural wrongs. It’s funny, sharp and entertaining.

4. The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, comprising The Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
I absolutely second those of you who nominated this wide-ranging, epic series – wonderful and magical slice of fantasy building…

5. The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London + 4 others so far…
This sharp and interesting crime fantasy series took this sub-genre and nocked up the quality a notch. Though at times London descriptions occasionally become a little OTT, Peter Grant is a wonderful character and the narrative arc is going off in a fascinating direction.

6. The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin – Stray Souls and The Glass God so far…
This London-based urban fantasy series is a spinoff from Griffin’s the Midnight Mayor series and has all the superb descriptions we grew to love in those particular books, but with more wonderful humorous touches that regularly has me laughing out aloud. If you haven’t ever read her – do so, she’s a treat.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods
When I first picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this wonderful writing and the sheer originality of the worlds. And years later after first reading it, the world still resonates in my head…

8. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Like Jo Walton’s offering, this is simply a remarkable book with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read…

9. The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn – Touchstone, Elsewhens and Thornlost so far…
Again, an awesome, original series that has enriched my inscape and every book has me pining for more, as this magical theatrical cast manages to create something unique and special…

10. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, starting with The Colour of Magic + 39 others…
colourofmagicI’ve read ‘em all, loved most of them – and I don’t think any serious list of fantasy books could leave the Great Man off. He took the genre by the scruff of the neck, shook it thoroughly and left it forever altered. May he rest in peace…

Because it’s my blog, I can ALSO mention Fantasy authors it HURT to leave out – Juliet E. McKenna, Diana Wynne Jones, Miles Cameron, Cressida Cowell, Charlaine Harris, James Lovegrove, Sharon Lee and Tanya Huff…

Review of No Humans Involved – Book 7 of The Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong

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It is the most anticipated reality television event of the season; three spiritualists gathered in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For renowned medium Jaime Vegas there’s just one problem. Unlike her colleagues, Jaime is the real deal – and she knows the house is truly haunted. Not by dead film stars, but by something even stranger and much more disturbing…

nohumansinvoledI really enjoy Armstrong’s writing – read my reviews of Men of the Otherworld here and Omens here. This popular and trailblazing series, started back in 2001 with Bitten, features women caught up in the paranormal world one way or another. So while Bitten deals with Elena, a young journalist pitchforked into the middle of werewolf society – in No Humans Involved Jaime has to deal with the sudden appearance of ghosts in ‘I see dead people’ moments. Constantly…

Fortunately, she does have coping strategies to prevent her going mad – one of them being that she is very well connected with a number of highly placed and powerful otherworldly characters. As this is the seventh book in the series, these characters have generally already appeared along the way. I really enjoy this feature of Armstrong’s writing – it is always a pleasure to get a different take on a protagonist in another story and she is very good at this technique. It doesn’t hurt that Jaime, though undoubtedly glamorous and good looking, is also aware that the clock is ticking, her waistline isn’t getting any trimmer and the laughter lines are in danger of turning into crowsfeet… In other words, she reflects many of the anxieties women past a certain age can experience on a daily basis. Obviously, the fact she’s a celebrity means those concerns are heightened, but it is still something of a treat to read an urban fantasy romp that doesn’t feature a fit, perky young thing with all her vitality and good looks before her. I also love her self deprecating humour. Of all Armstrong’s female heroines, Jaime holds a special place in my heart…

So in this murder mystery, does the story hold up around her? Oh yes. Armstrong quickly pulls us to the centre of this disturbing mystery by also giving us chilling slices in the perpetrator’s viewpoint, without revealing her identity– and it was also an enjoyable extra layer to discover that the baddie is also a woman… Meanwhile, Jaime is juggling the needs of the director, coping with professional jealousy from both her co-stars, while also trying to deal with her feelings about Jeremy Danvers, the Alpha werewolf who takes a vacation to meet her. Question is – does he also reciprocate her feelings? And is there really time for any sort of romance when there are trapped ghosts waiting for Jaime to help them?

I gobbled this book up in a couple of sittings when I should have been sleeping, but once I started reading I simply couldn’t stop. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and climactic, with a couple of surprises along the way. Great fun! And if you haven’t yet treated yourself to any of Armstrong’s keynote series – don’t start with this one, get hold of Bitten and feast on an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable world.
9/10