I have been working through this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring young single father, Kellen, who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife’s tragic death. This means moving back to be near his family to get help raising his young daughter and get a job teaching at the local college, though his tendency to trip over dead bodies rather gets in the way of things. See my reviews of Academic Curveball, Broken Heart Attack and Flower Power Trip.
BLURB: A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night. When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton?
REVIEW: It’s been longer than I originally intended, before I became reacquainted with engaging Kellen and his eventful life. It was a delight to jump back into this busy world and get back in touch with not just our rather frayed hero, but many of the other characters that also feature in this charming series. Like many other readers, my personal favourite is Kellan’s feisty grandmother, Nana D, whose peppery comments hide a fierce love for her grandson and his daughter. Now she is local mayor, she is determined to root out any corruption and get things running more smoothly.
However, there are a string of jewellery thefts – and once again, Kellen does his trick of unexpectedly encountering a dead body. Fortunately, his relationship with the local sheriff has now markedly improved, and instead of having to run the gauntlet of her scornful remarks and prickly attitude, she is now prepared to accept his help. So long as it’s on her terms…
Once more, I’m struck at how strong the characterisation is and how very well plotted the mysteries are – both of the jewellery thefts and the murder. And bubbling away in the background is a massive issue that has thrown a shadow over Kellen’s whole life and also very much impacts his daughter’s wellbeing, too. It would have been all too easy for Cudney to have slightly faltered with a loss of momentum, or overlooked a plot hole, while keeping all these narrative arcs moving forward. But his assured, readable writing style rolls the story forward such that I stayed up far later than I’d intended to find out what happened.
The denouement of this one worked particularly well and I thoroughly enjoyed where the story went. Fortunately, I have the next book in this entertaining series already on my ereader – and I won’t be waiting so long before giving myself a treat and tucking into it. Highly recommended for fans of cosy murder mysteries with plenty of plot twists and a cast of likeable characters – though whatever you do, start this series at the beginning – you’ll miss far too much vital backstory and enjoyable shenanigans, otherwise. 9/10
BLURB: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.
Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over. She’s wrong.
A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions. Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.
I’m generally not a huge fan of space horror, as it’s often done badly, with scant respect for the actual science part of the fiction. This time, however, Wellington nails it. He has worked hard on his alien, so that the tension-filled build up is worth the wait. I found it hard to put this one down as the situation slithers out of control. And that ending is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended for fans of first contact adventures. 9/10
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear
BLURB: The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.
Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…
I loved the first book, – see my review of Hammered – but found it more of a struggle to get into this one. But I’m also aware that when reading this, I was extremely stressed, so that could have had a bearing on my ability to focus. However, I do think the crucial bonding moment with the main protagonist should have been differently handled. The first two opening scenes ought to have been the other way around. Or merged, so that if – like me – your memory is currently operating at the level of a concussed goldfish, enough of the ongoing story is fed into that initial scene so the reader isn’t scrabbling to make sense of what is going on, instead of relaxing into the strong, engrossing writing. Once I recalled the story and characters, I enjoyed the ongoing adventure and look forward to continuing with this series. If you pick this one up before reading Hammered – whatever you do, go back and find it. Bear’s fast-paced, immersive style doesn’t hang around for the bemused or floundering. 8/10
I absolutely loved the first book in this series The Expert System’s Brother – see my review. I particularly fell in love with Handry and his struggle to survive once his adaptations to the planet had been partially revoked. So I was disappointed not to get hold of a review copy – not that I let that get in the way of sampling this intriguing world, again.
BLURB: It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts. Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line.
But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace. And for the first time in memory, the Ancients have no wisdom to offer…
REVIEW: I struggled with this one initially, which was something of a disappointment – and not a usual experience with Tchaikovsky’s writing. There is a Prologue that goes on for 9% of the book that doesn’t include the main protagonist, Handry, who I really emotionally identified with in The Expert System’s Brother. I would have preferred more of a bonding event with Handry at the start of this adventure, because while I enjoyed the story and found the plight of the early colonists engrossing – I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, throughout, this time around.
That said, this is still worth reading. Nobody does colonisation quite like Tchaikovsky and the sheer inventive cleverness of the story and the consequent oddity of the inhabitants had me turning to pages to discover what would happen next. Though I’m profoundly grateful I don’t live within an ecosystem that fundamentally is toxic to my body, given the ultimate adaptation that was made to provide humanity with the ability to survive the place. Wasps and snails are involved, for starters… And if Tchaikovsky produces another book set within this remarkable world, I’ll be getting hold of it. Even if this one didn’t emotionally chime with me as much as the previous book – it is still a thought-provoking, enjoyable read. 8/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this engaging YA far future adventure Navigating the Stars, featuring bouncy disaster-magnet Lyra Daniels – see my review. So I was happy to snap this one up when it became available.
BLURB: Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows. While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).
A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before Jarren learns I’m not dead and returns to finish what he started. There’s no way I’m going to let Jarren win. Instead I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas…
REVIEW: I also enjoyed the blurb, which gives a strong indication of the narrative voice and the stakes involved, without then giving away major spoilers. I won’t deny that Lyra is something of a Mary Sue – she has major skills that no one else possesses, which also puts her right on the front line of the trouble they are facing. But this time around, that didn’t bother me, especially as Snyder does give us solid reasons why she is particularly outstanding, and it works with the plot.
What also works particularly well is the steady rise in the tension throughout, as the enormity of the threat that Jarren poses continues to impact the lives of the community. We learn a bit more about what the mysterious terracotta warriors can do and how they interact with the deadly shadow aliens. I would just mention that in order to fully appreciate this book, I think you would need to have read Navigating the Stars, as they are essentially the same story with the same overarching narrative arc, so not only would you be floundering in far too many places – there are events in the first book that have a direct bearing on the characters and ongoing plot.
The ongoing romance isn’t an aspect of the book that particularly interests me, but I’m not the target audience – and it is generally well handled. Sweet, without being too cloying, with just the right amount of passion suitable for the age group, it evokes the strong emotions of first love very well. It also neatly underlines what is at stake. This one comes highly recommended for fans of far future adventures featuring a feisty heroine – though do read the first book before picking this one up. 8/10
A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.
However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight… 9/10
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard
BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….
Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wings – see my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.
I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series. 7/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been a very quiet week. Himself has been going off to work as usual, though he says the trains are nearly empty. And I’ve gone nowhere, other than shopping in town last Tuesday, while Himself whisked around the supermarket. It was cold earlier in the week and the pictures are of frost-covered plants from the garden taken one brisk morning.
I was a bit surprised when WordPress told me this week that I’d just reached my twelve-year blogging anniversary – where does the time go? Other than that, I’ve been working at home, catching up on the blog, working with my father-in-law on his memoirs and writing the opening act of Trouble With Dwarves. And reeling at the numbers of people falling sick…
Last week I read:
Haunted House Ghost – Book 5 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney
It’s Halloween, and excitement is brewing in Braxton to carve jack-o’-lanterns, go on haunted hayrides, and race through the spooky corn maze at the Fall Festival. Despite the former occupant’s warnings, Kellan renovates and moves into a mysterious old house. When a ruthless ghost promises retribution, our fearless professor turns to the eccentric town historian and an eerie psychic to communicate with the apparition. Meanwhile, construction workers discover a fifty-year-old skeleton after breaking ground on the new Memorial Library wing. While Kellan and April dance around the chemistry sparking between them, a suspicious accident occurs at the Fall Festival. Soon, Kellan discovers the true history and dastardly connections of the Grey family. But can he capture the elusive killer – and placate the revenge-seeking ghost. This was great fun, with lots of Halloween goodness – and goodies – in amongst the twisting plot that dear Kellan finds himself confronted with. We also have a ringside seat to his rather tangled personal life, which I keep hoping will get a bit happier and more settled… Review to follow.
Cruel as the Grave – Book 22 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found dead in his west London flat, his head smashed by one of his own dumbbells. His heartlessly-dumped girlfriend, blood on her clothes and hands, is the prime suspect. She had means, opportunity, and motive.
But is the case as clear-cut as it seems? Handsome Erik Lingoss had clients in high places; and he seemed to engender powerful emotions. If it was a crime of passion, there was plenty of that to go round: love strong as death, jealousy cruel as the grave. Who did he let in to his flat that evening? Where is his missing mobile phone? Why is seven hundred pounds in cash stuffed under his pillow? The deeper Slider and his team dig, the clearer it becomes there’s far more to this case than meets the eye. I loved this gloriously plotted police procedural – Harrod-Eagles absolutely nails it in this classy whodunit, which was difficult to put down. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, as I particularly appreciated the lighter touches that meant it wasn’t too gloomy, yet still being mindful that someone had died. Nicely done! Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
SPFBO Finalist Super Sale https://mlwangbooks.com/spfbo-finalist-super-sale/ For Fantasy fans of all types – this is a fantastic opportunity to pick up some marvellous reads for only $0.99 each. It lasts until 20th January, so nip across and take a look…
I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…
BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.
The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…
I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
A very Happy New Year to everyone! I’m conscious I’ve been AWOL over the Christmas break. We had planned to have a quiet Christmas with just Himself, my sister and me. But because of the introduction of the Tier system, my daughter and grandchildren were unable to spend the Christmas break with their other grandparents. And that meant we were buzzing around like blue-bottomed flies trying to organise a Christmas Day suitable for seven, with the youngest being two, instead of the low-key, relaxed affair we’d been expecting. We managed it and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is the important bit.
And we’ve also had the grandchildren to stay since then, this time around, it’s included little Eliza, who has never stayed overnight with us before. It is always full-on when there is a lively toddler in the house – but she is an absolute poppet, very even tempered and coped well without her mother.
Last week I read:
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones.
Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds… This multiverse adventure is great fun and while the narrative is fairly straightforward – what sets this apart is the sheer variety and originality of alll those worlds poor old Zax ends up visiting. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company. But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future… I’d seen a number of critical reviews for this one – but it turned out to be a delightful surprise, despite a couple of rather steamy sex scenes. However, I loved the character, the worldbuilding and the plotting. Review to follow.
Spirited by Julie Cohen Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her – and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye. . .
Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them – but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.
Faith. Courage. Love. What will they risk for freedom? This love story teeters on the edge of sentimentality – but there is an underlying core of grittiness that prevents it from descending into mush, thank goodness. That said, it is well written, the characters ping off the page and the ending worked well. Review to follow.
I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett It starts with whispers.
Then someone picks up a stone.
Finally, the fires begin.
When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .
Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.
But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her. This is an utter joy. I laughed and wept with this one, as I listened while rushing around getting the house toddler-proofed and cranking Christmas up several gears to give the grandchildren a worthwhile day to remember. Review to follow.
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, happy holiday – and whatever is going on in your life, let’s hope 2021 is MUCH better than 2020! Take care. x
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
BLURB: The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened. Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
REVIEW: The previous two books are in Elma’s viewpoint and are all about her struggle to get accepted as a woman astronaut in an alternate world where unfortunately sexism and racism are still prevalent. However, this slice of the adventure changes both the dynamic and viewpoint, so if you wanted to know what all the fuss is about, yet are reluctant to read the previous two books – you could pick this one up without struggling too much. That said, you would be missing out on two wonderful books, so my recommendation is that you then hunt them down, too. But I suspect once you’ve got to the end of this one – you’ll want to do that anyway…
I loved Elma and was a bit taken aback when I saw this one was in Nicole’s viewpoint – particularly as Elma isn’t always a huge fan of Nicole and believes – rightly – that her husband’s position guaranteed her slot on the space programme. However, I fell in love with her. Nicole is such a gutsy woman, who has overcome so much in her life – and continues to do so. There were times during this story when I was struggling not to cry – and yet at no stage is she portrayed as a helpless victim. Kowal writes powerful women so very well – along with their vulnerabilities, and I thought once again she absolutely nailed it.
But what had me reading throughout the night, unable to put this one down, is the fact that it turns into one of the most nail-biting thrillers set in space that I’ve ever read. The Moon colony is a fragile community and Nicole is put into the position of trying to ensure its survival. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, non-stop adventure, but a tense, high-stakes scenario, where those implacably opposed to any kind of solution that diverts money and effort from Earth, do their level best to scupper the whole project.
It’s very well done, with plenty of details that portray the struggles of living in space without overloading the story with too much techy stuff – yet make the environment wholly believable. Kowal’s ability to pull this off is far harder than she makes it look, and this one is right up there as one of my best reads of the year, so far. I’m just really sorry I’ve now reached the end of this exceptional series. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoyedThe Martian. 10/10