Category Archives: Kindle edition

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroines

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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 review of Relatively Strange.

Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
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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
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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.

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRelentlessMoonbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed both The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, so was delighted when Himself suggested I treat myself with this one as part of my birthday present.

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 enjoyed The Martian.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenEmpirebookreview

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After following this entertaining series and Alisa Marchenko’s search for her daughter for over a year now, here I am at the last book. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight, Cleon Moon and Perilous Hunt. As with all enjoyable series, I reach this point with very mixed feelings, which is why I often put off reading the final book – I don’t want the adventure to end. But as I know there’s now a spinoff series available and I have far more new series stacking up than I can possibly read, it’s time to get practical…

BLURB: Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t crash into this series here. By now far too much has happened, and as this book picks up pretty much where Perilous Hunt left off, you’ll be floundering in a welter of names and places, before you figure out who is doing what to whom. Besides, it would be a crying shame to so short-change such a funny, entertaining series by such a talented author.

I really liked how finding Jelena has switched Alisa’s priorities. Her burgeoning romance with hunky cyborg Leonidas pretty much slides to a halt, as they are both aware that Jelena’s telepathic abilities could read their frustrated longing for each other, and as Jelena is only eight and already afraid of Leonidas, that would prove to be… awkward. Not that is the only thing Alisa has to focus on. Once again, Star Nomad, her clunky little freighter, finds itself up to its star drives in more trouble than it can cope with – so ditto the crew. I love the way that in the middle of all the risk of imminent death and destruction, there are still laugh-aloud moments of humour. Mica, Alisa’s long-suffering engineer is particularly hilarious.

But given that this is the final book in the series, the burning issue has to be – does it satisfactorily bring all that angst, romantic longing, humour and page-turning adventure to a fitting conclusion? Absolutely. Buroker nails it. As I haven’t read her books before, I am so impressed at how she managed to tie everything up without making it seem too tidy, or unrealistically cosy – yet at the same time not leaving any stray strands waving in the wind to niggle at me. It takes skill and experience to achieve such an outcome – and means I’ll certainly be looking out for this author, again. It’s one thing to bring a single book to a satisfying ending – it takes another order of ability to do the same with an eight-book series. Highly recommended for fans of action-packed space opera with a splash of humour and romance thrown in for good measure.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebooks The Zig Zag Girl – Book 1 of the Stephens & Mephisto mystery series by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffbookreview #TheZigZagGirlbookreview

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I enjoy Elly Griffiths’ books, though I haven’t remotely kept up with her prolific output –see my reviews of The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and A Room Full of Bones , which all feature Ruth Galloway. I have also become a huge fan of her latest series, the Harbinger Kaur series, see my reviews of The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders. So I was intrigued to check out her other series, set in the 1950s featuring two very different men linked by their experiences in the war, Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto.

BLURB: Brighton, 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

REVIEW: For me, part of the enjoyment is that I live reasonably close to Brighton and know of many of the landmarks that Griffiths describes in her book – that said, it would be a rather lame reason to tuck into any book, unless the plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding weren’t also spot on. Fortunately, Griffiths is a solidly good writer, so they are. I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding – the rather subdued atmosphere where everyone is still recovering from WWII is brilliantly done, along with a host of nicely added details, making this setting thoroughly believable.

The plotting is also excellent – as it should be, given that Griffiths is an experienced author of a best-selling murder mystery series. I quickly became caught up in the unfolding drama and flew through this book as the pages more or less turned themselves – always a sign that I am caught up in the world and its problems. But for me, Griffiths’ superpower is her characterisation. This book is mostly from the viewpoint of both Mephisto and Stephens, two very different people with a totally different world view. While I initially preferred Edgar, as the book wore on, I became increasingly intrigued by Max and what actually drives him.

The way both characters developed and expanded into complex, three-dimensional characters with occasional flashes of humour in amongst the serious business of tracking down a serial killer, worked very well. I have found myself thinking of this one since I finished reading and I’m delighted to discover that Himself has also bought the second book in the series – the man is a treasure! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys engrossing, well plotted whodunits set in an enjoyably detailed historical seaside town.
9/10


Review of INDIE Ebook Lifelode by Jo Walton #Brainfluffbookreview #Lifelodebookreview

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Jo Walton is one of the most gifted, inspired authors writing SFF today. See my reviews of Tooth and Claw, Among Others, Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown, My Real Children, The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity, The King’s Peace, The King’s Name, and Lent.

BLURB: At its heart, Lifelode is the story of a comfortable manor house family. The four adults of the household are happily polygamous, each fulfilling their ‘lifelode’ or life’s purpose: Ferrand is the lord of the manor, his sweetmate Taveth runs the household, his wife Chayra makes ceramics, and Taveth’s husband Ranal works the farm. Their children are a joyful bunch, running around in the sunshine days of the harvest and wondering what their own lifelodes will be. Their lives change with the arrival of two visitors to Applekirk: Jankin the scholar and Hanethe, Ferrand’s great grandmother and the former lord of the manor, who has been living for many generations in the East, a place where the gods walk and yeya (magic) is so powerful that those who wield it are not quite human.

REVIEW: I was wondering what one of my favourite authors was up to – so got a bit of a shock when I saw this offering had appeared when I wasn’t looking… Researching this one a bit more, it appears that this book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2010) when it was published by a small press. And earlier this year, Walton self-published it so her fans could have the ebook available – yay! It’s an interesting premise. This is a flat-world where the further East you travel, the more magic there is, while the further West you go, the less there is. Applekirk appears to be situated about midway between the two extremes, so some of the family members who live in the manor are reasonably well endowed with yeya. Others, not so much. And reading this one, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to be one of those who were overly talented.

The manor is generally reasonably peaceful, where an agrarian lifestyle revolves around the harvests. Initially the main protagonist is Taveth, who is married to Ranal, but mistress to Ferrand, the current lord of the manor. Taveth sees people at various stages of their lives whenever she looks at them and is in charge of running the house, while the official Mistress of the Manor is a potter. Their contentment is abruptly shattered when two visitors appear – one is a travelling scholar, Jankin, a beautiful young man with an eye for the ladies and the other one is a long-lost relative – Ferrand’s great-grandmother who reappears from the East very suddenly and rather mysteriously…

Walton’s storytelling, as ever, packs a punch. Events take a much darker turn, as it turns out that spiky, sneering Hanethe hasn’t returned to Applekirk simply to make everyone’s life a misery – she’s on the run from a very, very powerful enemy. This one gripped me and held me far too late into the night, as Walton’s writing always does. And as usual with Walton’s writing, now it’s finished, I can’t get it out of my head. The nature of belief… how people can do a lot of damage by simply being careless… and being thoroughly obnoxious to those around you doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person… And that nothing hurts quite so much as lost love…

Once more – a tour de force. Walton is a towering talent, whose books make me glad I can read and provide me with lots of mental fodder, before I get the pleasure of reading her next offering. I don’t know what it will be – but I can guarantee that it will be nothing like this particular book. Needless to say – very highly recommended.
10/10




Review of KINDLE Ebook Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of the Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan #Brainfluffbookreview #GirlsofPaperandFirebookreview

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I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…

BLURB: In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.

The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.

It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.

That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character.
6/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine #Brainfluffbookreview #AMemoryCalledEmpirebookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I’d seen glowing reviews for this book – and when someone compared Martine’s writing to that of C.J. Cherryh, then I had to get hold of it. It has languished on my TBR list for longer than it should have, so I’m very glad to finally read it. I have linked this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

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.

REVIEW: I can see the similarity with Cherryh’s dynamic. Mahit is flung into the middle of a tense, potentially deadly situation, where not only her own fate, but the fate of all those she cares about is at stake. She has no one who she can confide in, or trust – for the one source of support that was provided proves to be unreliable in a way that utterly compromises her. So she is conflicted and frightened, while dealing with a sophisticated group of people who immediately patronise and belittle her, simply because she isn’t one of them.

I absolutely loved it. This is science fiction at its beguiling best. A different culture, which is far more alien to Mahit, brought up on a space station, than she had ever imagined, even though she has spent most of her life preparing for this. I loved her character and how we were alongside her and in her thoughts. It would have been so easy to get the pacing wrong – either speed up the action so that there wasn’t time for her reactions to the unfolding sequence of events. Or to allow the story to stutter as Mahit’s thoughts and fears prevailed at the expense of the narrative.

The worldbuilding is beautifully handled. Mahit’s culture shock at the difference in surroundings, the clothing and food, is visceral. And I also very much enjoyed the cast of supporting characters, particularly the wonderful Three Seagrass, who is Mahit’s cultural aide. I found this one difficult to put down as the situation continued to grow in intensity and complexity – to the extent that I was afraid the conclusion would be something of an anti-climax. It wasn’t. The final denouement was both unexpected and surprising – and completely satisfying.

This immersive, memorable read won’t be for all sci fi fans. While plenty goes on, it is interspersed with periods of reflection by Mahit as to the possible consequences, in the manner of C.J. Cherryh. However, I adore this form of writing and am very much looking forward to reading the second half of this duology in 2021. Highly recommended for those who enjoy this form of story-telling.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie #Brainfluffbookreview #TheValhallaCallbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I really enjoy Currie’s writing – see my reviews of the first two book in The Scourwind Legacy series – Heirs of Empire and An Empire Asunder. But during the last year, I’ve chosen to follow his military sci fi series, featuring super-soldier Aida Sorilla, given it’s light years away from our current worries. See my reviews of On Silver Wings, Valkyrie Rising, and Valkyrie Burning. I am linking this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Lieutenant Sorilla Aida has a new mission and new allies, gear, and support as she is tasked with a job that could ensure that the human race stands a chance of reaching a technical parity with the mysterious alien alliance. Humans and SOLCOM are not the only ones making moves, however, and the Alliance has brought up their varsity to end the little side war before it gets out of hand. Are they really interested in humanity or human worlds, however, or is something more at play?

REVIEW: If you have encountered this offering before reading any of the previous books in this series, my firm advice would be to park it and then go and get hold of On Silver Wings, the first book in the series. This is essentially one long story broken up into smaller sections, despite the time lapses between each adventure. So you will be missing far too much of the context and by the time you are able to pick up sufficient knowledge of who is doing what to whom, the chances are you won’t be in a position to fully appreciate what is going on anyway.

I appreciated getting more of Sorilla and her new challenges with her latest piece of tech. As she was the principal protagonist in the first couple of books, it has been something of an adjustment as the focus of the story shifts into a more epic narrative with viewpoints from both human and alien commanders. The science is very well handled, with sufficient detail to satisfy the nerd in me yet without being overwhelming or silting up the narrative pace. And I don’t think that anyone does space battles better than Currie, including the build-up and making sure his readers are aware of the stakes. It is this superpower of his that makes me happy to overlook the fact that some of his aliens think and act uncannily like their human counterparts. The only other niggle is that this book could do with a bit more editing, as there are too many misspelt words. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, as years of reading arcs with shocking formatting issues has trained me to cope with such glitches without throwing up my hands.

Overall, this is a cracking addition to an enjoyable adventure and I am happy to report that you can ignore the comments about this being the final book in the series – it isn’t. Which is just as well, as it does leave everything on something of a cliffhanger ending. I am also happy to report that I have the next book in the series already lined up on my Kindle, waiting to be read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable military science fiction.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Hammered – Book 1 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear #Brainfluffbookreview #Hammeredbookreview #Sci Fi Month 2020

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I was blown away by Ancestral Nightsee my review – and then realised that was the first book I’d read by this remarkable author. I clearly needed to fix that one, so I was delighted when I discovered this series available. I have linked this review with #Sci Fi Month.

BLURB: Jenny Casey is a former Canadian special forces warrior living on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062. Her artificially reconstructed body is failing her, but a government scientist from her old life thinks she is perfect for his high-stakes project. Suddenly Jenny is a pawn in a battle being waged on the Internet, the streets, and in the complex wirings of her man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.

REVIEW: There is so much to love about this book, starting with the heroine. I love the fact that we jumped into her life after she’d already endured a lifechanging series of events that had left her physically and emotionally compromised. I love that she turns fifty in the middle of the novel – how cool to have a major middle-aged female protagonist in a science fiction cyberpunk thriller!

This near-future dystopian view of Earth has climate change having redistributed the political power dynamic and you won’t be surprised to learn that government departments are every bit as ruthlessly determined to get hold of the latest tech to give their struggling countries some advantage. Jenny is a casualty of a previous entanglement and has been living with the consequences, ever since. Facing premature death from a systemic failure in her cybernetic implants, she is determined to end it herself before she is left a drooling dementia patient. But that is before people from her old life crash back into her current existence. Bear’s writing style grabs my head and heart and won’t let go until the end. I’m aware that there are places where the pacing could be tighter, but I didn’t care. I am pulled into this world of shifting loyalties, where old fury and hurt is hauled into the light and re-examined in the light of new priorities.

For me, the triumph of Bear’s writing is that in a sub-genre exploring the interface between Man and machine, it’s the humanity of her characters that leaps off the page, in all their complexity and differing needs. It’s one heck of a trick to pull off and while this isn’t a flawless book, it is a glorious read. Highly recommended for fans of intelligently written near-future sci fi adventures.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFatedSkybookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I am linking this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020, as I absolutely loved the first book in this series, The Calculating Starssee my review – so was thrilled when Himself went and promptly bought the second book in this series. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth. But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The international Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission…

REVIEW: I loved this one. Though it is essentially a continuation of the story started in The Calculating Stars so don’t pick up this one first. Or you will spend too much time trying to figure out exactly who is doing what to whom to be able to fully appreciate the scope and stakes involved.

We continue to follow maths genius Elma Wexler, as she completes a three-month stint on the Moon and looking forward to seeing her husband, again. If I have a niggle, it’s that their relationship seems improbably idyllic, given the stresses put on it. Nathaniel is just so understanding, kind and appreciative of Elma’s drive to excel that I think a modern husband would struggle to be able to match up to his enlightened attitude. Given he is a product of a very different time, when it was tacitly agreed by many right-thinking men and a fair number of women, that it was a risky business giving a woman any kind of major responsibility, it does strain credulity. Especially as most of the other men Elma encounters have their macho insensitivity on display. However, I’m aware it’s a minor niggle in the scheme of things, when so much about this book is so good.

I think the handling of the alternate historical timeline throughout has been skilful and inspired. As someone who recalls the launch of Telstar and the Race to the Moon, Kowal manages to capture the feeling of the time, even allowing for her huge ‘what if’ of a major meteor strike that accelerates Humanity’s interest in establishing a colony elsewhere. I also enjoyed the adventure and tension with the two ships travelling to Mars and the ongoing tensions caused by the prevailing racist and sexist attitudes. The influence of the ongoing political situation, where hanging onto the funding as the life on Earth becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, is also a factor.

This all adds up to a cracking story, with plenty of adventure and some pause for thought about the ingrained attitudes that lead to people being overlooked because of what they represent, rather than being judged more fairly on their abilities and individual merits. I found the ongoing character arc of Parker to be an interesting progression – and while he was still fairly obnoxious, I appreciated learning more about him and what drove him. But one of the things I liked about Elma was her reaction to being attacked – she didn’t come out all guns blazing. She retreated behind a façade of politeness and tried to propitiate those around her whenever possible – which is what women of her generation, and my generation were raised to do. We were taught to be ‘good’. And I really, really liked that Kowal didn’t ignore that aspect, which I think has probably hindered gender equality far more than is appreciated.

An exceptionally good space travel adventure.
9/10