I listened to the audiobook of The Priory of the Orange Tree back in 2020 – see my review – and have never forgotten the sweep of the story. I hoped that Shannon would write another book in the series, so I was delighted when I saw this arc on Netgalley and even more delighted when I was approved to read it.
BLURB: Tunuva Melim is a sister of the Priory. For fifty years, she has trained to slay wyrms – but none have appeared since the Nameless One, and the younger generation is starting to question the Priory’s purpose.
To the north, in the Queendom of Inys, Sabran the Ambitious has married the new King of Hróth, narrowly saving both realms from ruin. Their daughter, Glorian, trails in their shadow – exactly where she wants to be.
The dragons of the East have slept for centuries. Dumai has spent her life in a Seiikinese mountain temple, trying to wake the gods from their long slumber. Now someone from her mother’s past is coming to upend her fate.
When the Dreadmount erupts, bringing with it an age of terror and violence, these women must find the strength to protect humankind from a devastating threat.
REVIEW: Firstly, let’s get to the business of which way around you should read these books. Obviously, I came to this one having already read The Priory of the Orange Tree – but if you haven’t, then it certainly isn’t a problem. In fact, given the relatively slow, steady build-up of this doorstopper, I think it might be an easier introduction to the sheer scope and power of the world. That said, as the books are set five hundred years apart, each one can also be treated as a standalone.
The pacing is certainly tighter in this offering – I recall there were moments in TPOTOT when after a big build-up, the keynote scene was delivered at a bit of a gallop. There wasn’t any such unevenness that stood out for me this time around. And the other issue I had with TPOTOT was the manner in which significant character deaths were treated – Shannon clearly hated killing off any of her cast and so we mostly learnt of their demise second-hand, instead of having a ringside seat to the event. Not so in ADOFN – there are several notable deaths, but two in particular stood out as I didn’t see them coming. But they were movingly written and left me with a lump in my throat – which is what you want when someone is tragically and unexpectedly killed.
Once again, I’m left awed at the sheer scale of this book, which comes in at 850+ pages. Epic fantasy tales tend to deal with the political, religious and social pressures caused by major happenings – and this one is no exception. I liked how a particular historic event has been interpreted entirely differently by various cultures, causing friction and religious persecution that fractures the response to the rise of the monsters. I also enjoyed the tenderness and love demonstrated within the same sex relationships, which Shannon writes very well.
Indeed, the characters all sing off the page as each one is clearly nuanced, with strengths and weaknesses that sometimes define them – fatally so, in a few instances – and always made me want to turn the page to learn more. Perhaps the one theme that stood out for me in this book is the treatment of motherhood. In a lot of Fantasy, mothers are often idealised and there is rarely a hint that any mother is anything other than thrilled with their offspring. So I was struck by Shannon’s more nuanced approach – particularly the feelings of poor, trapped Glorian. And given her plight is one that reflected the fate of queens and princesses through History, I found it both poignant and utterly relatable. I also loved the fact that three main protagonists in this book are all at different stages in their lives.
And I haven’t yet mentioned the dragons… the monsters… the battles… the double-crossings and the redemptions. All in all, this is an impressive effort – and since I stopped reading it, it has stayed with me. I’ve even dreamt about it. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy tales that provide an insight into a detailed, plausible world through a cast of charismatic and nuanced characters. While I obtained an arc of A Day of Fallen Night from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I thoroughly enjoyed Truthwitch and Windwitch, so I was delighted when I was approved for an arc.
BLURB: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night. Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for. Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
REVIEW: This is a major shift from the Witchlands series that Dennard has been working on, though I recognised many of the same strengths in the writing. Firstly, Winnie is a gutsy, appealing character. Having spent the last four years being officially shunned by everyone in Hemlock Falls, she has the courage and resilience to still come back fighting. That said, such a hammering from erstwhile friends and relations leaves it mark – and when public attitudes suddenly shift, I was pleased that Winnie is still struggling with her anger at the betrayal. I quickly found myself entirely in her corner and willing for her to prevail as I liked and sympathised with her.
That said, I was a bit flummoxed at her particular habit of clicking her front teeth – the only people I’ve ever come across who did such a thing wore dentures. And on several occasions I was pulled out of the story by wondering exactly how much noise they made and how exactly she did it. I was a bit surprised that such a mannerism survived the editing stage, to be honest, as it’s sufficiently rare to be distracting and rather an off-putting habit.
The other strength of this story is the forest and the monsters that reside there. This terrifying place constantly creates unpleasant creatures who are highly dangerous and the Luminaries are designated families whose task it is to keep them sufficiently culled so they don’t leave the forest and spread out to attack everyone else. I enjoyed the range of monsters, who Winnie obsessively studies and draws, so we also get to discover them and their methods of killing. Winnie wants to become a hunter and has to pass three trials in order to succeed at this demanding role, but is very much hampered because while her family were shunned, she wasn’t able to train using the excellent facilities and equipment to make her sufficiently formidable. I think Dennard gets away with her workaround – I was pleased that Winnie didn’t end up being some kickass heroine who was able to march into the forest and take down a dangerous beast with hardly any problem.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and while the slow-burn romance wasn’t an aspect of the book that particularly drew me in – it was well handled. However, I do have a major grizzle that has knocked a point off my original score – and that was the very abrupt ending. Reading a digital copy meant I wasn’t completely aware of how far through the book I was. And when I suddenly swiped the page to be confronted with the back matter, I wasn’t best pleased. Chiefly because not a single one of the major dangling plotpoints are resolved. I am aware that we do have a complete story arc for Winnie, but that didn’t appear to be the narrative engine powering the plot, so I felt both wrong-footed and more than a little dissatisfied with the sudden ending. That said, I did enjoy the world sufficiently that I definitely want to discover what happens next. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Luminaries from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
I really should know better… Last week I was celebrating the fact that I’d not had a Long Covid relapse since November – and from Wednesday through to Friday I was back in bed, again. The good news is that it wasn’t longer and although I felt a bit washed out yesterday, I wasn’t shaky and sick – which is a good result.
It’s been another tough week, what with one thing and another – but the light shining in amongst the dark is that my son and his girlfriend have just moved from L.A. to Germany, which is so much closer to us here in the UK. And the reason why is that Zoe, having had a fabulous season playing with the Texas Longhorn’s volleyball team that came top of their league, has now signed up with Munster and played her first professional match against Aachen last night. I don’t know how that went, as I’m writing this on Saturday morning – but my thoughts are with her.
We are just emerging from over a fortnight of freezing nights and bitterly cold days – though at least the rain finally stopped. It’s now slowly warming up – it’s been a treat not to have to thaw out the car before leaping in to ferry the grandsons to various places, as the taxicab of Gran and Papa is in great demand. If only we could charge them – that would set up our pensions into our old age!!
Last week, I got more reading done, particularly audiobooks as lying in bed and listening was all I was fit for. You’ll notice that apart from one Netgalley read, all the books I turned to were by trusted, favourite authors – I wanted the comfort of a solidly written, escapist read and they all delivered, bless them. Thank goodness for books – I’d have gone raving into the night years ago if it wasn’t for my love of reading!
Last week I read:-
Cast Adrift – Book 1 of the Cast Adrift series by Christopher G. Nuttall Five hundred years ago, the human race discovered it was not alone in the universe when Earth was invaded and forcibly integrated by the Alphan Empire. Over the years, humans have grown used to their position within the empire, serving as soldiers and spacers for alien masters as well as building a place in the universe for themselves. But now, in the aftermath of a violent interstellar war that shattered the power of the Alphans, humanity has rediscovered its pride. Humanity wants to be free.
Facing a war they will lose even if they win, the Alphans give humanity its independence once again. Humanity stands alone in a hostile universe, facing alien threats that regard humans as nothing more than servants – or weaklings, easy meat for armed conquest. And if the human race cannot learn to stand on its own two feet, without its masters, it will rapidly discover that it has traded one set of masters for another …
… And if they lose the coming war, all hope of independence will die with it. Nuttall is one of my favourite authors. I loved his School of Magic series, as he is clearly a history buff and likes to explore possibilities based on real historical incidents and the progression of the series is smart and inventive. This is a classic alien invasion story – with a bit of a twist. Thoroughly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next one. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK – Hidden Truth – Book 2 of the Truth series by Dawn Cook Alissa never believed in magic. But then she went to the Hold, a legendary fortress where human Keepers once learned magic from enigmatic Masters. Under the tutelage of the last surviving Master, Alissa discovered that she had inherited her father’s magical ability.
But the Hold is ruled by Bailic, the renegade Keeper who seized the First Truth, a book of magic he will use to harness the might of the city of the dead and wreak a war of total devastation. The book has thwarted Bailic’s every attempt to access it, while it continually calls to Alissa—who must summon all her will to resist it. For if she gives in to the First Truth’s ultimate power and knowledge, she will be utterly changed—and the man she loves could be lost to her forever. This is a series I discovered on Audible before I realised that Dawn Cook is also the pen name of urban fantasy author Kim Harrison – and it shows in the smart character progression and magnificently nasty villain. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I do find the simpering, ringleted female on the cover rather annoying, given it’s supposed to be Alissa, who isn’t remotely like that. That said, I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in the series as I can’t wait to discover what happens next. 9/10
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies – Book 1 of the Emily Wilde series by Heather Fawcett Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.
So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.
But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart. This book is essentially Emily’s journal as she undertakes a field trip in order to discover more about the mysterious Hidden Ones in order to complete her encyclopaedia. I love her ongoing grumpiness and her narrow focus on her studies – as well as her regular rants about Wendell. While aspects of this plot are entirely predictable, I wasn’t sure some of the major characters were actually going to survive. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – Diplomatic Immunity – Book 13 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor’s youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.
Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms. The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back… I read the whole series longer ago than I care to recall – but do remember that while I always enjoyed Miles and his madcap adventures, it was the later books after his Admiral Naismith days that I particularly loved. So picked this one up on a bit of a whim – and found it utterly gripping. I’d forgotten enough of the twisting plot that I once more was engrossed – as well as being impressed all over again by the sheer quality of the writing. I’ll be listening to more of this series, which has certainly stood the test of time and reminds me why this author has won so many awards for her writing. 10/10
Range of Ghosts – Book 1 of the Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.
Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.
Bear is another favourite author – and this stunning first book in this epic fantasy series is a gem that deserves to be better known. I was immediately swept up in the savage aftermath of a terrible battle and couldn’t put this one down until the final scene, as the vivid writing and charismatic characters held me throughout. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – The Princess Paradigm by Lindsay Buroker Then a fearsome warrior from the human empire arrives, a supposed diplomat. Mrothgar is tattooed, muscled, and looks like he’d rather slay elves than befriend them, but he takes an interest in Hysithea. He invites her to accompany him back to his land to visit its great libraries.
As an academic and a historian, Hysithea is tantalized by the offer, but she’s studied his language and overhears his true intent: Mrothgar is there to gather intelligence on the elves as his emperor prepares an invasion force to conquer them. Hysithea has no choice but to join him, hoping to spy and find a way to sabotage the invasion. Her people need her, and this is her chance to atone for the past.
But Mrothgar is smarter than she realized, and those muscles and tattoos are more intriguing than they should be. Against her wishes, Hysithea finds herself drawn to him. And that’s a problem. She can’t save her people if she falls in love with the man who wants to conquer them.
The Princess Paradigm is set after the events of The Elf Tangent, and brings in a few familiar characters, but it is a complete stand-alone fantasy romance novel (no cliffhangers!) and can be read on its own. I’ll be honest – if I had to judge this one by its blurb alone, then I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. But… it’s Lindsay Buroker, people! And besides, I’ve already listened to the wonderfully entertaining The Elf Tangent, so I knew how much romance versus fantasy adventure I was getting. And it didn’t disappoint. I love the world with its interesting backstory about the Elvish curse so recently lifted and how that is affecting the humans and their own complex politics. This was often funny, yet also poignant and I loved that Epilogue. I do hope Buroker revisits this beguiling world, as I want more. 9/10
BLURB: There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.
What will be the spark that lights the conflagration? Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores. Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.
Ilmar, City of Long Shadows. City of Bad Decisions. City of Last Chances.
REVIEW: This story unfolds via multiple viewpoints, with italicised inserts in semi-omniscient point of view. So as the situation within the city steadily deteriorates, while we follow the fortunes of a handful of its citizens from various walks of life, there are also short sections covering a number of characters who only make fleeting appearances and then are gone, not to return. It takes significant technical skill to successfully pull off this type of structure without either losing the reader’s interest or sympathy. Fortunately, Tchaikovsky has that skill – to the extent that I was hooked throughout, even though this is far from my favourite narrative style.
What makes it work is that Ilmar is a fascinating society. In many ways, it’s all too familiar for those of us who studied the likes of Manchester and London during the Industrial Revolution, with the same wretched working conditions for far too many of the population. Then Tchaikovsky adds a twist that demons are also enslaved within factories by the kings of the Underworld, contracted to use their mighty strength and stamina to power the machines that are turning out uniforms for the invading soldiers. For Ilmar is also a city under occupation by a totalitarian regime that is obsessed with bringing Perfection to an imperfect world. And of course, the only way to do that is to conquer all those imperfect states and corral their culture, religion and way of life to the striving for Perfection, right down to altering their language.
In addition to the conquered aristocrats that in theory are running much of the city much of time, despite the occupation – there is also a powerful underclass of criminal gangs that are constantly fighting for supremacy. And one of the places where that battle particularly plays out is in the deserted areas of the city, where not even the occupying Palleseens venture called The Reproach. Ilmar was originally built far too close to a vast forest where vicious, enchanted beings live and the then ruling family made a dynastic pact with the denizens of this wood, which turned them dangerously peculiar. So they were slaughtered in favour of the Duke. But instead of doing the decent thing and fading decorously into the history books, the court of the ruling family is still… alive. And anyone wandering in the wrong part of the woods at the wrong time is apt to be subsumed into their court, to dance until they die, while inhabited by the consciousness of ancient, aristocratic family members.
This could so easily have been a rather charming, fey read. It isn’t. This world is peopled by folks eking out a living in a dangerous society, who have survived by putting themselves first. The powerplays amongst those running the city are all about personal advancement over the wellbeing of those they are responsible for – the Palleseens aren’t too fussy about killing Ilmar’s citizens, anyway. So don’t expect a cast of characters who are either wholly good or bad – everyone is doing the best they can to stay alive, except for a handful carried away by the old stories of glory, who want to see the end of the current occupation. I found it a riveting read, that – despite the grim situation and casual violence – isn’t remotely dreary. I suspect Tchaikovsky’s vivid descriptions, strong control of his narrative drive and flashes of dark humour has a lot to do with that.
As ever when completing one of Tchaikovsky’s books, I came away from this one thinking a lot about the themes of social injustice, the nature of good and evil and what it takes to live a decent life in difficult times. Highly recommended for those who enjoy their fantasy layered with social commentary amidst a vibrantly depicted society. While I obtained an audiobook arc of City of Last Chances from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
I did wonder if I was tempting Fate by writing about my experiences with Long Covid, given the up and down nature of the illness. But though I’d been feeling rather tired recently, I hadn’t had a proper relapse since August. Until this week, when I went to get out of bed on Thursday morning and the minute I put my foot to the floor, the world spun, my stomach roiled and I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere for the rest of the day except back to bed. And so it proved. I felt too ill to shower or change my clothes, though I did manage to stagger downstairs and have tea with the family. Meanwhile Himself was having to look after me, on top of doing the school run. Fortunately, it was his day off – but it wasn’t remotely restful. In the meantime, I dosed and slept. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading or listening to books, feeling too tired to watch TV. I woke up on Friday, feeling much the same – though as the day wore on, I did feel well enough to have a shower.
Then suddenly, at about 10.30 pm, I felt better. As if a huge muffling blanket had been lifted away from me. I’m writing this on Saturday, having got up, showered and dressed. I still feel a little groggy and I don’t have all that much stamina, but the nausea has gone. I think I need to face the fact that I will have to keep managing my energy for the foreseeable future. One of the issues is that I haven’t been getting enough sleep, as years of being an insomniac makes it difficult to wind down and go to bed at a reasonable time. And while I’m doing better than I used to – it’s still not good enough for my body’s needs. I average between five and six hours of sleep a night and I reckon that these days, I need more than that.
The boys have stepped up and helped out, as they always do when I’m ill. Both have had a busy week and today Ethan is out meeting up with friends, while Oscar is recovering from a very hectic football practice. Tomorrow (Sunday) we are meeting up with my parents, who are taking us out for a meal to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary. It’s actually a little early – their anniversary is near the end of next month, but Dad isn’t all that keen on doing the drive home in the dark, which it will be by then as the day length continues to shorten. I am so very excited – I haven’t seen Mum since September 2020 and I cannot recall when the boys last saw her. So it will be a very special reunion for us and my sister, who is joining us.
Last week I read:-
The First Binding – Book 1 of the Tales of Tremaine series by R.R. Virdi All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.
I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster. My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil. And if this blurb makes you think of The Name of the Wind, then you’re absolutely right – it definitely has a feel of that fantasy classic. It’s also a hefty size, being 800+ pages. That said, while it took me a while to get through it, at no time was I tempted to break off and read something else instead. Review to follow.
Unraveller by Frances Hardinge Kellen and Nettle live in a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, but only one person has the power to unravel them. But not everyone is happy he can do so and, suddenly, he’s in a race to save both himself and all those who have been touched by magic…
I love Hardinge’s writing – see my review of Deeplight. So I immediately requested this arc and was thrilled to receive a copy. And my instincts were spot on – it’s a cracking read. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – The Elf Tangent by Lindsay Buroker As a princess in the impoverished kingdom of Delantria, it’s Aldari’s job to look pretty, speak little, and marry a prince. Studying mathematics and writing papers on economic theory in an effort to fix her people’s financial woes? Her father has forbidden it. With war on the horizon, they must focus on the immediate threat.
Reluctantly, Aldari agrees to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom to secure an alliance her people desperately need. All is going to plan until the handsome elven mercenary captain hired to guard her marriage caravan turns into her kidnapper. His people are in trouble, and he believes she has the knowledge to help.
But with an invasion force approaching Delantria, Aldari’s own people need her. She must do everything in her power to escape the elves and make it to her wedding in time. Never mind that her kidnapper is witty, clever, and offers her a challenge that intrigues her mind even as his easy smile intrigues her heart… Aldari can’t let herself develop feelings for him. To fall in love and walk away from her wedding would mean the end of her kingdom and everyone she cares about. I’ve read the ebook, but when I had the opportunity to get hold of an audiobook of this engaging fantasy adventure with a splash of romance, I couldn’t resist it. I really enjoy Buroker’s characters and this particular story was lovely to listen to at a time when I needed an escapist read. 9/10
What Song the Sirens Sang – Book 3 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green You can find everything you’ve ever dreamed of in the strange, old magical shop known as Old Harry’s Place. The problem is, not all dreams are kind.
Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.
Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone. Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . . I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this entertaining fantasy heist series – and this next slice of the adventure manages to give yet another twist, without getting steadily darker, as so often happens in ongoing series. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – Murder by Other Means – Book 2 of The Dispatcher series by John Scalzi In the world of the Dispatchers, a natural or accidental death is an endpoint; a murder pushes the do-over button and 99.99% of the time the victim comes back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher who’s been taking shadier and shadier gigs in financial tough times, and after witnessing a crime gone wrong, he finds people around him permanently dying in a way that implicates him. He has to solve the mystery of these deaths to save the lives of others–and keep himself out of trouble with the law.
I loved Scalzi’s Lock In series – it’s one of the best sci fi murder mystery series I’ve read. So when I saw this Audible exclusive, I scooped up a copy and thoroughly enjoyed it. It isn’t all that long, but the pacing and voice are perfect and there are twists and action throughout. I will be looking out for more in The Dispatcher series for sure. 9/10
Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher Bryony and her sisters have come down in the world. Their merchant father died trying to reclaim his fortune and left them to eke out a living in a village far from their home in the city.
But when Bryony is caught in a snowstorm and takes refuge in an abandoned manor, she stumbles into a house full of dark enchantments. Is the Beast that lives there her captor, or a fellow prisoner? Is the house her enemy or her ally? And why are roses blooming out of season in the courtyard?
Armed only with gardening shears and her wits, Bryony must untangle the secrets of the house before she—or the Beast—are swallowed by them. This is an intriguing retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a tougher heroine than poor Beauty. Bryony is a gardener, who has already had a far too interesting life to date, which has made her resilient and resourceful. Which is just as well, because she’s up against a terrifying magical opponent. This is a cracking read that had me turning the pages until I came to the end. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Persuasion by Jane Austen At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.
This is one of my favourite Austen novels – and listening to the version produced by the partly dramatised Jane Austen Collection was a real treat. I love Austen’s take on Bath society and her depiction of Lyme Regis, somewhere I used to know very well. The second-chance romance is beautifully done and while Anne is clearly beset by an uncaring family, she manages not to be too victimised. 9/10
I enjoyed the quirky originality of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series and absolutely loved his futuristic crime Lock In series – see my review of Lock In and Head On. And while I’m still unsure about the ending of the series, I also found his Interdependency series an exhilarating read – see my reviews of The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox. So I was delighted to be approved for this intriguing standalone adventure.
TRUNCATED BLURB: When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…
REVIEW: In the Afterword, Scalzi makes it plain that he had a difficult time during the Lockdown wrestling to write a far darker book that was scheduled for release. And he was hit hard by Covid, too. So when this idea popped into his head as a far lighter tale, he went with it. I’m very glad he did. I’ve been in Long Covid hell for the last year and I’m all over anything that provides escape from my daily grind where I’m battling to get well, again.
Jamie is a thoroughly likeable protagonist and as our first-person narrator, he gives a nicely sardonic commentary without coming across as ‘too up himself’ as they say around here. Indeed, it is refreshing to have a main character who is the least qualified person in the story, who doesn’t then go on to reveal that he has some kind of hidden power. Unless it’s the knack of getting along with his co-workers and fitting right in very quickly. But then, he’s had a rough old time of it during the Lockdown and isn’t about to take for granted the basics like warm clean accommodation, food and medical care if he needs it. Or… is our plucky protagonist a she? I really appreciate how Scalzi leaves it up to the reader to decide the gender of this s/hero – after all, that’s the coolest thing about books, isn’t it? That the pictures engendered by the story are sharply personal to each of us.
While the tone is breezy and Scalzi himself talks about this book being a pop song – that doesn’t mean he has skimped on the science. My nerdy side enjoyed reading the discussions about how the ginormous kaiju are possible and I appreciated that the eco-system invented around these huge creatures is detailed and feels plausible throughout. As for the adventure that kicks off when a mother kaiju comes under threat, along with her brood of eggs – parts of that felt cosily familiar in a good way.
Throughout, there are enjoyable shafts of wit and humour. Even our greedy, narcissistic villain refers to his own monologuing as he explains his motives and the full extent of his wrongdoing during the denouement. I was grinning throughout that scene. All in all, this is a delightful piece of escapism that had me wishing it would go on longer. Highly recommended for those who need a break from the ongoing awfulness in our daily News. The ebook arc copy of The Kaiju Preservation Society was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.
The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.
What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.
This week I’ve read:-
Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.
But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule. This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.
It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle… I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10
The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.
When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.
With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way? I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…
I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10
Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson
Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate. For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.
Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage. I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!
This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
I haven’t been here for a while. There are several reasons. I’ve had spells of feeling extremely tired again, which means I haven’t done much of anything – except sitting on the settee and watching TV. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics which I loved. I have also been battling with back pain again, which means sitting at the computer isn’t something I felt like doing. And there were times when I had a bit more energy and my back was fine, but to be honest – I couldn’t see the point in bothering. With anything, really. I’m aware that is probably a sign of depression – I certainly struggle to get out of bed at times, even when I’ve got sufficient energy. I think I’m just battle weary as it was at the end of the first week last March that I got sick with Covid-19 and my busy, happy life disappeared. It now feels like it belonged to someone else.
We are trying to get out and about more. After a tumultuous week when we were battered by three storms in five days, this week there has actually been some sunshine. On Thursday after my reflexology appointment we went out for a coffee at a favourite river-side café. It wasn’t a total success, as I had underestimated the anxiety of ordering my own coffee, aggravated when their machine wouldn’t accept my debit card. And yesterday and the day before, we went for a walk down by the beach, getting down onto the sand as the tide was out. It was lovely. We weren’t there for long, but it was glorious to stand by the sea once again.
This week I’ve read:-
The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis Lizzy Moon never wanted Moon Girl Farm. Eight years ago, she left the land that nine generations of gifted healers had tended, determined to distance herself from the whispers about her family’s strange legacy. But when her beloved grandmother Althea dies, Lizzy must return and face the tragedy still hanging over the farm’s withered lavender fields: the unsolved murders of two young girls, and the cruel accusations that followed Althea to her grave.
Lizzy wants nothing more than to sell the farm and return to her life in New York, until she discovers a journal Althea left for her—a Book of Remembrances meant to help Lizzy embrace her own special gifts. When she reconnects with Andrew Greyson, one of the few in town who believed in Althea’s innocence, she resolves to clear her grandmother’s name. I really enjoyed this atmospheric story. It captures the strengths and weaknesses of a small community and I enjoyed watching a wary, aloof protagonist riven with far too much resentment try to come to terms with her troubled childhood. In amongst a page-turning story, there are strong messages we can all use in our lives – no wonder this one was a best-seller when it first came out. 8/10
For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash A lone crow is a dead crow. That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.
However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever. This intriguing shapeshifting urban fantasy adventure is alluding to the collective noun for crows – as in a murder of crows. The main protagonist is very well drawn and the slow-burn romance well handled. Full review to follow. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK – Rogue Prince – Book 1 of the Sky Full of Stars series by Lindsay Buroker Starseer, pilot, and animal lover Jelena Marchenko wants to prove to her parents that she’s ready to captain her own freighter and help run the family business. When she finally talks them into getting a second ship and letting her fly it, it doesn’t faze her that the craft is decades old and looks like a turtle. This is the chance she’s craved for years.
But it’s not long before the opportunity to rescue mistreated lab animals lures her from her parentally approved cargo run and embroils her in a battle between warring corporations. To further complicate matters, her childhood friend Thorian, prince of the now defunct Sarellian Empire, is in trouble with Alliance law and needs her help. Torn between her duty to her family and doing what she believes is honorable, Jelena is about to learn that right and wrong are never as simple as they appear and that following your heart can get you killed. Once again, I quickly was pulled into this entertaining space opera adventure by one of my favourite authors. The added bonus is that this is a spinoff series from Fallen Empire, which I’d read last year, so I already knew some of the characters. The action was non-stop and as ever, I found myself listening far longer than I intended to hear what happens next… 9/10
Monster by C.J. Skuse At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.
This was recommended to me by one of my Creative Writing students in another lifetime and I decided to finally get hold of it. I love the opening scene, which really held me. The tension was well sustained – my only main grizzle was that Nash didn’t seem to have any long-term friends she could rely on and that seemed rather unrealistic. However, this thriller whodunit got me through a wretched night when I couldn’t sleep. 8/10
Scot on the Rocks – Book 3 of the Last Ditch series by Catriona McPherson A community is devastated when the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day. When Lexy Campbell arrives on the scene, a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from.
Then, Lexy’s ex-husband Bran turns up begging for help to find his wife, Brandee, who has disappeared. Lexy agrees to pitch in, but when she shows up at Bran’s house he has just discovered one of Brandee’s false nails and another ransom note with the same grisly message. Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? And can Lexy put aside her hatred for Bran long enough to find out? I loved the fourth book in this series, so it was a joy to backtrack and get more Lexy goodness and a few more laughs at the confusion that her Scot’s dialogue poses for her American friends – and her surprise at everyone’s reaction when she mentions buying Della’s small son a rubber to take to school… Meanwhile the mystery is also delightfully whacky, too. 9/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.
Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.
To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.
Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!
A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.
Since the start of the year I’ve read:- The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.
It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil . Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10
A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes
When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar. This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10
Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.
It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive. This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.
Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.
But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care. Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.
Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying. I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10
Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.
Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10
Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.
Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself. Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10
Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.
Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning… It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10
Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.
What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
I enjoy Phil’s quirky writing – see my reviews of his Ordshaw series – Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. So I was delighted to also tuck into the first book in this duology last year, Kept in Cages and when Phil contacted me and asked if I’d like a review copy of Given to Darkness, I was delighted.
BLURB: Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?
A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.
They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way. Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?
REVIEW: I’m aware the cover and the blurb make this one sound really dark. And while I cannot deny that there is a lot of mayhem and death – there is also a madcap energy running through the book that means it isn’t an unduly bleak, depressing read. Partly, the lighter tone is down to the magnificently eccentric characters. Of course the classic trope of talented child with awesome powers is personified in Zip – but in this book, she is also shown to be more vulnerable. As her father disappears off, leaving her without a backward glance, it’s down to the American musicians, Leigh-Ann and Reece, to look after her. And then, there’s Katryzna, the Russian assassin – who is now trying to adapt within this group brought together while trying to fight a terrible evil.
Of course, coping with the monsters and constant danger facing them is a major part of the book. But for me, the highlight was watching the members of the group become closer as they end up trying to protect each other. The character forced to make the greatest change is former lone killer, Katryzna. Now aware that she needs to take into account the needs of the other team members, she often ends up having loud arguments with her conscience – a character named Rurik. The dynamic is often very funny as well as poignant, without tipping into caricature. It’s a fine line and Phil walks it well.
There is also the tragedy of what has happened to Zip’s shattered family, which looms over the book in a dark counterpoint, making this one hard to put down. As ever, the action scenes pop and the vivid depiction of the dark evil crawling through the African landscape as they get ever closer to Ikiri nicely winds up the tension. And the climactic denouement doesn’t disappoint. All in all, I really enjoyed this series – Williams’ accomplished writing spins a story full of light and dark, good and evil without ever trying to be moralistic. A memorable read that is highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for something different. The author provided me with a review copy, which in no way has compromised my honest opinion of Given To Darkness. 9/10