Category Archives: motherhood

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fury – Book 3 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent #Brainfluffbookreview #Furybookreview

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1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.

Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined.

On realising that this was the third book in the series, I broke with my usual habit of crashing midway into a series and got hold of the first two book and read them first. I was quickly swept up in the dark, intense world of Delilah, who is imprisoned and stripped of all her rights as a human after an incident at a local fair reveals her to be a cryptid in Menagerie – see my review here. This book is structured differently, in that it is largely a dual narrative so that as well as following Delilah’s story in first person viewpoint, we also learn a lot more about The Reaping as we go back in time to the event that causes all the fae to be treated so appallingly and track the consequences and fallout through Rebecca’s viewpoint.

I really enjoyed this aspect – having read allusions to The Reaping throughout the previous two books, it was satisfying to learn more about what happened, particularly as these events increasingly begin to link with Delilah’s storyline. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realised just how unusual it is to have a pregnant protagonist, or one who is coping with a newborn baby in fantasy. It was a plus that the subject was really well done.

The new spin on the story prevented this series becoming predictable and repetitive – and I certainly didn’t see that ending coming. It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so poleaxed by the final denouement of a story, but it really works. I would emphasise, however, that this series and book is not suitable for younger teens and is not a YA read, despite the fact that Vincent has written successfully for that age-group. While I obtained an arc of Fury from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Salvation’s Fire: After the War – Book 2 of the After the War series by Justina Robson #Brainfluffbookreview #SalvationsFirebookreview

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This has got to be one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of the year so far, given how much I enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Redemption’s Blade. I was particularly intrigued that Justina Robson wrote this sequel, using Tachaikovsky’s world.

The Tzarkomen necromancers sacrificed a thousand women to create a Bride for the Kinslayer so he would spare them in the war. But the Kinslayer is dead and now the creation intended to ensure his eternal rule lies abandoned by its makers in the last place in the world that anyone would look for it. Which doesn’t prevent someone finding her by accident. Will the Bride return the gods to the world or will she bring the end of days? It all depends on the one who found her, Kula, a broken-hearted little girl with nothing left to lose.

So does this one work? Oh yes – this is an amazing premise. The Bride returning to the world long after the tyrant she was designed to partner, has been vanquished. What is her purpose now? And perhaps even more importantly – what will she decide to do, now her bridegroom is dead? The opening sequences surrounding the circumstances where we see the Bride return are really gripping, though I have a hunch if you haven’t read Redemption’s Blade, you might not appreciate the importance of the place and significance of what is happening. This is one sequel that should not be read as a stand-alone, in my opinion – apart from anything else it would be a crying shame to miss out on the joy that is Redemption’s Blade.

Part of the fun of reading a series is to chart the development of the main characters. If I have a niggle with this particular story, it is that Celestine, whose energy and concerns pinged off the pages in the first book, is a pale shadow in this adventure. While she is constantly around, I did find it frustrating not to have her opinions as vibrantly represented as in Tchaikovsky’s tale.

The other issue, which is more of an observation rather than a criticism, is that Robson’s style is denser than Tchaikovsky’s and I had to slow down and pay more attention to the text than when reading the first book. That said, I am a fan of Justina Robson’s writing – see my review of Down to the Bone – and am familiar with her style. I was fascinated to see how each author presented this interesting, complex world. I very much enjoyed the strong relationship between the newly resurrected Bride and the orphaned child, Kula – it isn’t often we see any form of parental relationships explored in science fiction and fantasy and I was delighted to watch how this partnership developed throughout the story.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would be happy to see Angry Robot approach another author to take this story on further. Or maybe have both Tchaikovsky and Robson follow up their efforts with another book each. However it’s done, I really, really hope this series continues – there is so much more I would like to know about these characters and this world. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy with a difference. While I obtained an arc of Salvation’s Fire: After the War from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 26th July, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
10% But it is not as hard to leave as you thought it would be. Not now, with your former neighbors’ stares sliding over your skin like rancid oil.

BLURB: Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a thefifthseasonsmall town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Well this is different! As you can see, parts of this book are written in second person viewpoint – which is as rare as hens’ teeth… I can only recall a couple of other books I’ve read which used it. It’s early days and I found the omniscient Prologue a bit off-putting and the odd viewpoint is different – but the writing is strong and this is Jemisin, so I’m in for the duration. I’ll let you know how it goes in due course…

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Book 16 of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I had resigned myself to no longer looking forward to reading yet another slice of this delightful world, so was thrilled when Himself announced last year that a new book was in the offing . So was all that anticipation worth the wait?

Three years after her famous husband’s death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to turn her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in up in her plans in ways he’d never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his career. Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor’s key investigators, this time despatches himself on a mission of inquiry into a mystery he never anticipated – his own mother.

Layout 1First of all, a bit of a rant… For reasons I’m unable to fathom, no publisher this side of the Atlantic handles Bujold’s work, so Brit fans have to acquire her print books from the US. As Himself always insists on getting the hardcover copy of Bujold’s books, we naturally pre-order them – but this time, we were let down. The book didn’t arrive until nearly a week after the day of publication, by which time, he went and bought the Kindle version, no longer able to bear the thought of a Bujold book out in the universe that he was unable to read. Why someone of Bujold’s stature is not published in this country other than on ebook, I’m unsure – but it is a pain.

So was the book worth the wait – and the extra expense? Oh yes… However, for those readers who have dipped in and out of this long-running series, I would add a note of caution. The Vorkosigan series is ground-breaking on all sorts of levels – and one of them is the way it slides across a variety of sub-genres. The books charting Miles’ adventures as a youngster are mostly space opera, action-packed adventures with a dollop of social commentary thrown in amongst the shooting and mayhem. However, there are several straight whodunits, such as Cryoburn and yet several more books in the series are far more about the social and political aspects of this complex, multi-layered world, with nothing much in the way of hardcore action. This book drops squarely into the last classification.

However, that didn’t stop me reading waaay later than I should have, to discover what happens next. I have always enjoyed Cordelia’s character – she is something of a personal heroine as she has led a fraught existence, first as Aral’s wife and then mother to Miles. This is the first book since Shards of Honor where Cordelia emerges from her roles as wife and mother and rebuilds her life, again.

This is also a book where we are brought up to date on how the newly colonised planet, Sergyer, is emerging from its dark past, with all the challenges that poses. One of Bujold’s most famous gismos, the uterine replicator once more takes centre stage as one of the main characters is considering whether, after a lifetime of military service, to produce a family as a retirement project. It turns out, a steady trickle of ex-military personnel of all three genders, decide that raising a family is a suitable pastime for their retirement.

I also enjoyed the fact this book isn’t all about teenagers or young twenty-somethings, but about characters who are much older with a lifetime of adventure and life events, both good and bad, behind them. The emotional tenor of this book reflects that maturity. I appreciated characters who bring to bear a wealth of experience to the events that unfold around them, often with a certain wry detachment that runs through this book. While there isn’t the hilarious farcical humour of A Civil Campaign and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, I found myself grinning and having a quiet laugh at this comedy of manners.

This book also gives us another view of Miles, and not necessarily a completely flattering one. But that is okay with me – Bujold has never shrunk from showing us Miles’ flaws, along with his amazing fortitude, courage and desperate desire to do the right thing, no matter what. All in all, this book, one more, reminds me of why Bujold is regarded as one of the most interesting and nuanced writers of speculative fiction alive today – and if you like your science fiction to be about more than space battles and robots, then track down this thoughtful, intelligent addition to the canon.
10/10

Review of The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

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I must have been good last year – because Santa (in the form of my lovely husband) gave me just what I wanted… BOOKS. And one of those books I especially requested was Jo Walton’s The Just City

Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.
FACTS FOR TRAVELLERS
Name: Kallisti
Nickname: The Just City
Population: 10,520 children, 300 philosophers, Sokrates, Athene, An unknown number of robots
Languages: Classical Greek, Latin
Location: Thera (aka Atlantis)
Climate: Mediterranean
Government: Philosophical Monarchy
Religion: Hellenistic Pagan (with onsite gods)
Sports: Wrestling, Running in Armour, Archery
How to get there: Read Plato’s Republic and pray to Athene. Or be a ten-year-old. Or be a god.
How to leave: You can’t.

This is a book driven by an idea of what an ideal society should look like, as proposed in Plato’s Republic – as an thejustcityexperiment, Athene and Apollo decide to put it into practice. Doesn’t sound like a gripping read, does it? And in most hands it wouldn’t be – but it’s written by one of the most exciting, original writers in speculative fiction – the awesome Jo Walton, who turns this supposedly perfect notion into a thoroughly engrossing book.

Told in multiple viewpoint, including two of the children who are brought to the city as ten-year-olds, having been bought as slaves, in addition to one of the philosophers who prayed for freedom from her limited life as a Victorian woman, this could have been an almighty mess. Instead, it’s an intriguing story ringing with originality as it examines the notion of running humanity along the lines of a philosophical monarchy.

Apart from anything else, a serious look at another form of government is timely, with multi-global companies currently running the planet into ecological ruination, despite hand-wringing and pointless target-setting by concerned nations. Not that I think we’ll be lining up to replicate this particular model…

While the founders are very committed to give it their best shot, there are some inherent weaknesses in the system. Who will do all the hard labour necessary to keep everyone fed and clothed? In this Just City, it is unthinkable to use slave labour, even though it is still common during this time in other parts of Greece. But Athene has had the option of combing through the rest of human time to find help with the chores, so has found a solution to this problem. But once Sokrates is transported to Kallisti, he starts to question the use of the robots – as well as other aspects of the society, such as the abolition of the traditional family unit. With dramatic results…

I enjoyed all the characters, but young Simmea is my favourite, closely followed by Sokrates. They leap off the page as they strive to be the best they can be, in keeping with the precept of the Just City. I stayed up waay too late to find out what happens – and I wasn’t disappointed. It will leave you with all sorts of ideas and thoughts you didn’t have before, unless you were privileged enough to have a classical education. So one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get hold of the sequel, The Philosopher Kings. And if you read nothing else this year, or the next, get hold of this and give it a go. I’ll freely admit it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Walton’s writing is so accomplished and accessible, I’m betting you’ll find it a deal more easy to read that you might think.
10/10

Review of The Captain’s Daughter by Leah Fleming

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The Titanic disaster has spawned a number of books, and this is one of them. But the difference is it takes that historic event, following a handful of characters snagged by the tragedy to see what happens next in their lives.

thecaptainsdaughterFor May Smith stepping aboard the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, destined to take her, along with her husband Joe and baby Ellen, from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: America. But when the unsinkable Titanic hits an iceberg, May’s dreams are shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship, May loses her grip on Joe’s hand. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat and under the wing of first-class passenger Celeste Parkes. Minutes later, Captain Smith himself swims to the lifeboat and hands May her baby. Celeste does everything she can to keep the pair safe whilst in horror they watch the death throes of the mighty ship. As dawn arrives and the two women are rescued, a friendship is forged, one which is destined to transcend their social differences to last a lifetime.

This is a fascinating take on the most famous shipwreck in history. From that fateful night in 1912, we follow Celeste and May after their lives are changed forever by what happened to them. May, as a poor widow with a tiny daughter to care for, faces an uncertain future, while Celeste’s future is all too plainly laid out in front of her as she returns to a bullying husband. But against all the odds, these two women maintain their friendship and end up each helping the other during various crises during their lives.

However, there are other characters whose lives have been touched and altered by the loss of the Titanic without their even knowing it – and this book also charts their lives. Fleming’s characterisation is strong and her writing vivid and uncluttered. Historic novels need to depict a sense of the period without holding up the narrative pace. Fleming succeeds in doing this, while making the necessary jumps across her long narrative timeline without jarring or defusing the immediacy of her characters – which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look.

As she takes us down the years following the sinking of the Titanic, we are given a ringside seat through both World Wars, witnessing the subsequent tragic loss of life, while relationships are forged and broken. The events and the way they impact on the lives of Celeste, May and those close to them are entirely believable. I was pulled into the book, reading far later than I should have to discover what befalls the main characters.

I love Fleming’s perspective – she could have written something cosier and far less thought-provoking. As it is, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read and if you have any weakness at all for historical novels, then track down this offering. It is so much more than yet another rehash of the sinking of a famous ship.
8/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Aurora: Eden – Book 5 of the Aurora series by Amanda Bridgeman

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When I selected this book from the latest releases on Netgalley, I wasn’t too concerned that this was Book 5 as I have a long and dishonourable tradition of crashing halfway into an established series while still enjoying the experience. However, with this particular book it was far more of an issue.

aurora edenIn the wake of the tragic events in Centralis, Captain Saul Harris stands with the weight of the world on his shoulders. With the truth of UNFASP revealed, he realizes that he must embrace his ancestry if he is to survive the coming onslaught. But how far will Harris go to protect the future? Will he sacrifice life as he knows it and become a Jumbo? Or can he face the future as a common man? Meanwhile Sergeant Carrie Welles has been left devastated by what has happened. Uncertain of the future ahead, and with her nemesis, Sharley, on the brink of control, she struggles to pick herself up. But she is left surprised when help comes from the unlikeliest of places. As her life veers off in a direction she never expected, Carrie soon understands that she is running a course with a destiny that lies far beyond her control.

Firstly, congratulations to whoever wrote the blurb for managing to avoid spoilers. Given we are now into Book 5 of the story arc and there was a major event in the previous book that knocked most of the protagonists endways, it is a commendable achievement. However with any long-running series, the challenge is to ensure new readers care sufficiently about the characters to want to flounder through the initial stages, so there should be a bonding moment in the opening chapters where that can happen. Unfortunately, Bridgeman doesn’t provide such an opportunity. I hung in there, hoping for some space action and expecting to grow attached to the characters as the story progressed.

Overall, the romantic element in the story was well handled, although I do wonder how fans of the series would react to the speed with which Welles recovered from her loss – I felt that aspect of it was rather rushed. It’s always tricky depicting small children in adult adventure books – they often come across as sickeningly cute or unbelievably precocious. I think Bridgeman gets away with the twins – just.

The premise is certainly interesting and I liked the sense of foreboding the predicted alien invasion produces, but I wonder if daily life would be a lot different sixty years hence. I haven’t been around quite that long, but things have certainly changed in all sorts of ways since my childhood and I didn’t feel Bridgeman has paid quite enough attention to that aspect of everyday life set in the near future. That said, it is probably the hardest type of futuristic writing to nail.

None of these issues are dealbreakers, but I do confess to being a little disappointed at the story progression. A particular plotline was well flagged at least a third into the novel, and I waited for the sudden twist, for the unexpected action to come out of nowhere and suddenly whisk the story somewhere else other than where I was predicting it would go. And it didn’t. While the book was brought to a satisfactory conclusion with all the loose ends tied up, I came to the end feeling a tad put out that there hadn’t been enough surprises. For those of you who haven’t followed this series from the start – don’t begin with this book as I get the impression it doesn’t do justice to what could be a really entertaining story.

The book was provided by Netgalley, while the opinions and writing in the review are all my own.

I’m so proud…

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Last Friday was Rebecca’s Graduation Day. After three years of hard work, studying for a Business with Marketing degree at Brighton University while looking after two children, this was the day when it we celebrated the fact it was worth it.

IMG_0033The ceremony took place at The Dome and was due to start at 10 am. Rebecca’s father and I were there, along with the grandchildren. But although it happens far more often these days, universities are slow to acknowledge their mature students may need more than a couple of tickets for parents. So we agreed to sit the children on our knees for the duration. As the seats weren’t allocated and we wanted to be situated where everyone could get a good view of Rebecca on the stage, we were sitting down by 9.30 am in our best bib and tucker.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know the ceremony would continue until well after 12.30 pm. It could have been a nightmare. The seats in The Dome are closely jammed together without much legroom, but the grandchildren, aged 10 and 5 respectively, were heroically well behaved. They sat quietly and attentively throughout, clapping other people and remaining engaged with the whole procedure, which inevitably, included a fair number of long speeches and a never-ending procession of gowned students marching across the stage to shake the Chancellor’s hand and pick up their certificates. Though they did jump up to cheer and clap their mum as she walked across the stage.

She has done so very well, getting impressively high marks that has netted her a first class degree. We went for meal afterwards to celebrate her achievement, then the grandchildren and I caught the train home. Despite being on a crowded train where they both had to stand for part of the journey, their behaviour, as ever, was marvellous, finally arriving home at around 5.30 pm.

It’s never easy studying when you have children – as I know only too well. But for Rebecca to get the outstanding result she achieved, while also bringing up two such delightful, well behaved children speaks volumes for her, and of course, for my lovely granddaughter and grandson…

POEM – Bindweed

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I wrote this poem when my children were in the throes of teenage angst. Now those days are now behind us, I’m relieved to report that ongoing gritted battle between us is history.

Blood- stained stems spiral
with sappy springtime love.
Heart-shaped leaves frondle
over sticks and stones –
billowing in green pillows
across the garden. Clasping
strong young growth in a
snugly lethal grasp.

Madonna-white bells nod
sweetly as I tear through
massed tangles of stems
and blanketing leaves, to
reveal the maggot-pale,
mangled plants beneath.

My teen-smart offspring with
wary eyes, and sharp replies
rip through my pillowing love –
blood-warm and snugly tight –
the bindweed in my children’s lives.

Monday, 16 September 2002

Review of Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

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Himself doesn’t usually do mainstream fiction – particularly with curly writing on the cover… So when he enthusiastically recommended this book, I paid attention. Would I enjoy it, too?

dearthingAfter years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing they most want. But Romily wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire – and even destroy their marriage. Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make…

This wasn’t a book I would ever have picked up – but that didn’t prevent it from immediately hooking me into the story. Cohen’s style is readable and punchy. I initially really bonded strongly with Claire, but as the book progressed I increasingly sympathised with Romily. Cohen managed to write her small daughter without lapsing into sentimentality – not always an easy trick to accomplish when small children make intermittent appearances in an adult book. Especially when one of the main themes revolves around what makes a good mother – something of a burning question in these days of increasing concern about the way we parent. And as Romily finds herself unexpectedly bonding with her unborn baby, she is torn – does she keep her promise to her friends? Or keep the baby? Cohen certainly knows how to pull a story along. I devoured this book in three greedy gulps.

For me, the best bit was how both very different women reacted to the situation confronting them – and the way their relationship and attitude to each other changed. Claire’s story was no less engrossing or heart-tugging than Romily’s problem and anyone who has ever longed for a baby will sympathise with her plight. And while Romily tends to stumble into her own muddles through her impulsive nature, Claire is the victim of biology. Small wonder she becomes a tad over-controlling about the aspects of her life she can alter – I found the way Cohen depicts this both clever and moving.

Any grizzles? Well, while I found Jarvis completely convincing, Ben bothered me. On one hand, he is quite able to implicitly acknowledge Romily’s affection for him for years – to the extent that they go out for pub quizzes together as best mates. That seems entirely plausible. What I find difficult to swallow is his sudden need to then become painfully honest to Claire, given the dire consequences. Nope – didn’t ring true, given his capacity to gloss a thorny problem for years and years. However, given how much Cohen got right and the skill with which she negotiated this highly emotional story, it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

The ending works well – which again, is no mean feat, given the complexity of the problem. I certainly won’t be by-passing Julie Cohen’s books again, and if you’re looking for a well-written, readable novel about some of the complications that contemporary issues can pose for family life, I highly recommend this.
9/10