Category Archives: near future

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Standard

I spotted this offering on Netgalley and really loved the sound of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved, given that VanderMeer is a talented author with a gift for writing the disturbing – see my review of Annihilation.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. However, in a world where any kind of weakness is lethal, can Rachel afford to bond with this odd creature?

VanderMeer’s atmospheric writing spins a stunningly vivid evocation of this wrecked landscape where Mord, the gigantic bear, stalks through the city peopled by knots of scavengers – some of whom have been altered and twisted by the biotech that has escaped into the environment. The river is poisoned, the rain toxic and people eke out a subsistence existence.

Rachel’s story is one that is probably heartbreakingly familiar in any refugee camp throughout the world. She recalls a happy family life with her parents, both with solid jobs and plenty of love for their only daughter, but as the sea levels rose and law and order broke down, they ended up in camps. She is unsure how exactly she has arrived in the city, scavenging and teaming up with Wick, a former employee of the Company with dark secrets of his own, but they are holed up in a defensible apartment block and coping reasonably well.

It is into this scenario that Borne enters her life as a scrap of biotech she picks out of the fur of the sleeping Mord. There is something about this unusual thing that attracts her – for starters, it smells of her childhood – of the sea. It is always hungry and empties out their accommodation of lizards and insects – and is clearly intelligent. So she teaches it to speak…

This is a tale of loss and change. And of the resilience of the human spirit when confronted with terrible circumstances. Given the backdrop and context, it ought to be a completely bleak read – but although there is violence and death – how could there not be in such a hard-scrabbled environment? – there is also is a fair amount of humour and a lot of tenderness. I found it very moving that Rachel, alone and childless, nurtures this creature and calls it Borne. They play games, and tell each other jokes. But Borne isn’t human and was never intended to mix with humanity. Borne is something else…

Rachel is a striking protagonist. It is always a tricky business writing a character where a defining aspect of the protagonist is left to the climactic final scene of the book – and to be honest, about halfway through I was feeling a bit fed up that she didn’t ring completely true. By the end, the reason why becomes clear. VanderMeer’s writing always burrows beneath the surface and often finds the darkness lurking there – this time around, he has also celebrated what defines us as humans. If you are a fan of interesting, post-apocalyptic reads, then give this one go. I’ll guarantee it will stay with you.
9/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – May Roundup

Standard

After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During May, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to sixteen. They are:

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.
This is an impressive debut novel that takes a familiar trope of the apocalyptic end of the world and makes it more about the protagonist’s internal, emotional journey than the gritted struggle of survival we normally get. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering and look forward to more from this author – see my review here.

The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen
Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit.
This gripping, emotional book charts the power struggle going on in the highest level of society. Those with the most magic are in control and treat everyone else with a chilling lack of compassion. It is all about getting more influence and control and no one is allowed to stand in the way – certainly not a young couple in love and afflicted with iron rot… I very much enjoyed this savage world and look forward to getting hold of more books in this series in due course – see my review here.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This is a lovely story with a big heart – and no, that is not some coded warning that this is a saccharine read. For in amongst the quirky charm, Hogan tackles head-on issues such as dementia and features characters that fall outside society’s ideas of what is normal. I very much enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it in due course.

I also managed to clear eleven books from my TBR pile. They are:
Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton
Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.
This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive. This inventive, clever series deserves to be far better known – see my review here.

A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue
As you may have gathered from the blurb, in parts this book is laugh-aloud hilarious – what isn’t quite so obvious is that in other places it is heart-breakingly sad. What it never does is stand still. I love the roller-coaster ride – even though I need some breathing space between books. See my review here.

The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.
Another gem of a series that deserves to be read far more widely. This second book has provided plenty of twists and given the story a cool science fiction twist that has me longing to pick up the next book – see my review here.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool series and Book 16 of The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.
This is the final book in this trilogy and for my money is her best book yet. Action-packed and full of emotion, with a real twist in the end, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far and is my book of the month. See my review here.

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. Another cracking read – see my review here.

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
I really enjoyed this unusual urban fantasy set in an inn with a difference. This particular peace conference certainly provides plenty of opportunity for mayhem and turmoil – review not yet posted.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This novella certainly packs a punch with an impressive protagonist full of rage and power – and no recollection of who she is and where she came from. She just knows she has a quest and is bound to carry it out. Review not yet posted.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
Once more Oscar and I settled down together to enjoy this madcap adventure with all the unexpected plot twists, wondering how Hiccup is going to escape this next lethal threat. Great stuff!

Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews
In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?
Lots of adventure and incident in this underwater, military science fiction offering, featuring a flawed protagonist with a dark backstory… Enjoyable and engrossing.

 

 

 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
I loved this one. It could so easily have descended into a sentimental mess and didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the unpredictable, dangerous nature of the monster… Review not yet posted.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
See above.

So that is my May roundup. Due to my illness back in April, I still have a backlog of reviews waiting to be posted, which is a nice position to be in – and a change for me! Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Saven Disclosure – Book 2 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Standard

I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining YA science fiction series, Saven Deception – see my review here – where an alien race has infiltrated the human population. This is a tried and tested trope – think of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the TV series V. But this one has a different feel…

Enemy alien ships crowd the skies over Earth while the world waits with bated breath. The Saven have been exposed, and where once they were abhorred, they are now championed as our greatest ally and our only possible savior. Logan and Sadie have been separated, and the longer he is gone, the more their love is tested by duty, doubts, and deception. Sadie and Jarod have infiltrated the highest levels of government, but they are playing a dangerous game. Surrounded by people with conflicting agendas—hell-bent on using her for their own aim—Sadie is confused when the lines between good and evil are blurred. It’s impossible to tell friend from foe, and no one can be trusted.

Sadie is in a unique position with regard to the Saven aliens, which has made her a major target. So she now is being closely guarded – until she gets a job within the Government administration as assistant to the Vice-President. However, all is not as it seems… And this is Davis’ superpower. She sets up a particular situation with Sadie in first person viewpoint thinking that all is going in one direction – until it is revealed that isn’t the case. And the reveal almost always ramps up the stakes so that Sadie’s personal happiness or someone very close to her is put in harm’s way. Of course, in order to continue reading – and I did – I have to care about Sadie and those around her.

This is a YA read, so the protagonist is inevitably feeling out of her depth and the romance is sweet and frustrated rather than steamy with Sadie spending a fair amount of time agonising as to whether Logan really loves her. However, this is science fiction adventure with a romantic element rather than being a romance that uses the sci fi backdrop as a convenient setting for the relationship, so while it part of the driver for the plot, there is a lot more going on than just a love story.

I found Sadie’s steady character development from the first book credible – particularly her growing ability to protect herself when she is attacked, given all the coaching she has received from Haydn, the bodyguard assigned to look after her. As for the supporting cast, they are well written and suitably complex. Logan is desirable and clearly in love with Sadie, yet I still have issues with aspects of his behaviour – not a surprise with the Saven species both aggressive and intent on galaxy-wide domination, before they gained consciences by interacting with humans. His bossiness and tendency to order Sadie around grates with me. The antagonists in the story, including Logan’s father, are suitably horrible and one of them proves to be unexpectedly powerful – another plot twist that caught me unawares.

The action in the last third of the book is continuous, with one shock after another all culminating into a major cliffhanger, whereby the book ends with everything hanging in the balance. I hate it when that happens… At least Davis does apologise for leaving everything up in the air – and the good news is that you don’t have to wait before getting hold of the novella Saven Denial which immediately picks up the story.

This unbiased review has not been influenced by receiving a copy of Saven Disclosure from the author.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The One by John Marrs

Standard

I read the premise and immediately requested this one on Netgalley as it sounds so cool and topical.

How far would you go to find THE ONE? One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

We follow these five people as they take the test and have to cope with the consequences as they find themselves dealing with the fallout. I am not going to be able to go into details because I’m allergic to spoilers and Marrs’ clever plotting is one of the best things about this smart near-future science fiction adventure. I have to say I nearly skipped this one in the early stages with the intention of returning when I wasn’t feeling so thick-headed and ill as reading a short passage in one viewpoint before being yanked away into yet another pov isn’t my favourite narrative mode. Fortunately, trying to work out what to read next proved just as taxing so I decided to go with my default which was to give it until 20% to get going. And by the time we got to that stage, I was hooked.

The cast of characters were all engrossing and well depicted. As for likeable – well, they mostly were with one outstanding exception and if I’d realised he was part of the story there is a strong likelihood I would have given this one a miss. However, I am glad I didn’t as I would have missed the sheer bravura of Marrs twisty plotting where little is as it seems.

In amongst this unfolding story, Marrs raises some interesting and disturbing questions… While couples in established and loving relationships are encouraged to take the test as they find it deepens their love for each other when they discover they are Matched – what happens if they aren’t? And while the genetic test can find a Match for the majority of the population, there are instances where they can’t. Either their genetic match has died, or isn’t on a database – what happens then? And has this engrossing tale demonstrates – being Matched doesn’t guarantee living happily ever after as there all sorts of intriguing scenarios where it is little short of a disaster.

In fact, I came away from this interesting, thought provoking book with deep thankfulness that I have a kind, loving companion who deeply cares for me – and a fervent promise to myself that whatever happens I’d never dabble in getting Matched, should the opportunity come up. This one is highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The One from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Friday Faceoff – Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is the beach, so I’ve chosen Neville Shute’s famous apocalyptic novel On the Beach.

 

This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 isn’t the best of covers – the design is rather art deco and given this book was set in the near future – 1968 – it hasn’t the right period feel. The cool, calm colours are also rather too placid and cheerful for such a grim, shocking book. However, it is attractive and eye-catching, which is a big plus for a book cover.

 

This cover, produced in August 1975 by Ballantine, is much better matched to the subject matter. The red and black cover very effectively conveys the sense of threat and I like the seascape – so often an image of continuity and comfort – as a backdrop. This is my favourite cover.

 

This rather battered offering is the cover published in February 1960 by Signet and refers to the film of the book. I find the idea of the girl standing on the beach, staring at the mushroom cloud blooming over the sea somewhat unrealistic, but at least it directly relates to the subject matter.

 

This Kindle edition, produced in February 2016, is effective. The dark colours and violent explosion is eye-catching. I also like the font styling which gives a nod to the period, while avoiding those solid boxes of black that used to surround titles back when the book was first published.

 

This is another Kindle edition, published in September 2015, which uses the original cover when the book was published back in 1957. While I think it is both eye-catching and attractive, it isn’t anything like grim enough. That said, the book was regarded as very shocking when it first came out and I think Ballantine, rightly, didn’t want to put off readers by confronting them with something that looked too forbidding. There are a lot more covers out there – but these, in my opinion, were the pick of the crop. Which do you like best?

Review of The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison

Standard

Last month, I read and reviewed the first book, The Drafter, in this fascinating series where a black ops agent can shift small amounts of time to avoid being killed/captured or to overpower and take out their opponent. There is only a small window where the drafter recalls both timelines, before the brain promptly forgets the previous one. And any lingering memory of another timeline has to be expunged by a handler – the drafter’s anchor – as recollection of two opposing timelines rapidly leads to shock, mental breakdown and catatonic coma before death. As you can see, this scenario leads to some really interesting questions, which Harrison explores effectively in the first book. Can she sustain the action and wider ramifications in this sequel?

Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.

The short answer is yes. I really like the fact that despite Peri is aware she has done terrible things to some people who didn’t deserve their fate at her hands – after she has walked away from that lifestyle, she still yearns for the excitement, power and money. To the extent that she essentially stalks her more monied customers in the coffee shop she now runs. And it is into this humdrum life, she is presented with a new development. A drug has been developed by her former boss, Bill, now disgraced and on the run from the CIA. And this drug means that she can cope with the aftermath of timeshifts to the extent that her memory doesn’t need to be wiped.

However, Bill has ensured said drug is lethally addictive. Will Peri return to the life she feels she is best suited to? The life she still yearns for? I really enjoyed the fact that she really struggles with the lure of the excitement, adrenaline-rush and money she used to earn. Meanwhile, events keep moving forward and it won’t come as an almighty shock that other people around her are in the process of making the decision on her behalf. Once again, this fast-paced thriller not only offerings us an action-packed adventure, but some more thought-provoking situations for us to ponder.

Harrison’s characterisation is excellent – it’s what motivated me to track down this series, after thoroughly enjoying The Turn, the superb prequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Hollows. Peri is a complex, spiky character who loves fast cars and expensive clothes. She can be selfish, demanding, materialistic and overly violent. She can also be loyal, generous with a highly developed sense of what is right. The near-future world has some nice touches and the supporting cast also work well. Another cracking read that delivered from a writer who is clearly at the top of her game.
9/10

Review of The Drafter – Book 1 of the Peri Reed series by Kim Harrison

Standard

After recently reading and reviewing The Turn I was reminded just what a good storyteller Harrison is – and once I discovered this covert science fiction thriller, I couldn’t resist getting hold of this one…

Detroit 2030: Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.

I picked up this one expecting a cracking adventure story full of action and mayhem, featuring a strong, well depicted heroine. And the story delivered that, alright. Peri Reed is an astonishing protagonist, capable of superhuman feats as she can shift time to either attack or evade her attackers. But she is also so very brittle. And desperately fragile. For this ability comes at a terrible cost. The human brain cannot cope with processing two competing timelines and if that starts to happen, the victim tips into a complete breakdown that progresses into catatonic shock and ultimate raving madness… To stop that happening, each drafter has an anchor, a trained minder who is taught relaxation and mind control techniques so they can go into the drafter’s mind and erase the conflicting timeline by wiping out their memories.

And if there is any risk of a breakthrough – the drafter is recalled to headquarters, Opti, to have a complete mindwipe. But of course, that entails losing chunks of her memory… That is a price Peri is prepared to pay if it means she gets to take out the bad guys, because she is on the side of the angels, right? But what if she isn’t? What if something else is going on? Despite the loving support of her anchor and her talismans – Peri feels that something isn’t right…

This book at times is a highly uncomfortable read where we watch a strong, uniquely gifted woman used and abused as she becomes a pawn in a high-stakes power struggle. Along the way Harrison is asking questions about the notion of self. Who are we? What happens to us if our memories are not the sum total of our life experiences? Peri over-compensates by becoming increasingly obsessed by the material things in her life – her clothing, her car, her food. She is frequently offhand and arrogant to those around her. But given her increasingly shaky grasp of who she is, that would be exactly what would be going on, wouldn’t it?

This is so much more than an escapist, futuristic romp. It is also a warning that in our increasing explorations into how our minds work, there should be no-go areas. Those places that Opti have gone, for instance. My respect for Harrison’s writing has hugely increased after reading this complex, intelligent thriller and if you, too, are interested in these questions then track down this offering. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I finished reading it.
9/10

Sunday Post – 12th March 2017

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s as if half-term never happened… I’m right back in the swing with my Creative Writing courses and also busy getting Tim ready for his exams in June. I have had a fortnight without Fitstep and Pilates and now very much looking forward to getting back to it on Monday as I am now really missing my exercise. On Thursday, Mhairi came over and we caught up – it seemed a very long time since we last talked over our writing problems and worked together. In the evening we attended the monthly West Sussex Writers’ meeting where Vanessa Gebbie talked about how to go about selecting short stories for collections and then after the tea break, she set us a crazy and enjoyable timed writing challenge. It was another successful meeting.

I had a hectic and exciting Saturday on a venture, which I’m hoping to talk more about later in the year… Other than that, I’ve been busy editing and beta-reading. The days are now getting steadily longer and Spring flowers are springing up everywhere. Have a lovely week!

This week I have read:

The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Collapsing Empire series by John Scalzi
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
I loved the idea that dark matter includes The Flow which allows humanity to escape from Earth and colonise space. The Interdependency is a nifty idea that has managed to – more or less – keep the empire from fracturing and allows an elite to make a very, very good living, with the rest more or less managing. In other words, capitalism is alive and kicking – and then there is a gamechanger and a new ruler all at the same time…

 

Amunet by Robert Harkess
Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her. Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.
This one immediately pulled me in – the writing style is punchy and readable and I really enjoyed Amunet. She is at once entitled and vulnerable, clever and very unworldly with an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on a dog, along with a burning drive to track down her mother, thanks to the person in her head guiding her. Harry has a parallel life in many ways, given he also lost his mother early in his life, but whereas Amunet’s guide and mentor is a voice in her head, Harry’s role model is his own father.

 

The Drafter – Book 1 of The Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Detroit 2030: Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Peri has an extraordinarily rare talent – she can shift through Time and alter outcomes. This ability surfaced when as a child she suffered a fatal accident on a swing – then got up and walked away from it. This ability is called drafting and each precious drafter has to have an anchor, who works alongside them and helps them keep sane by filling in the memory blanks and expunging conflicting timelines that otherwise cause catastrophic mental breakdown. But what if your anchor is wiping a lot more than occasional drafting? And who do you become if your memory keeps getting wiped? Oh yes… this twisty near-future thriller is great fun.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 5th March 2017

Review of Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

Teaser Tuesday featuring Amunet by Robert Harkess

Review of Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

Review of After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

Friday Face-off – I never let schooling interfere with my schooling… featuring Ender’s Game – Book 1 of Ender’s Saga by Scott Orson Card

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – February Roundup

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Reptile Dysfunction https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/reptile-dysfunction/ Something to put a smile on your face…

10 of the Best Poems about Depression https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/10/10-of-the-best-poems-about-depression/ Once more this awesome site comes up trumps with this collection of poems. One of the worst things about this illness is the terrible sense of isolation it engenders – and hopefully, knowing it has not only afflicted people through the ages, but caused them to write about it, might just lessen that disabling loneliness a tad…

Inspirational Ray Bradbury Quotes http://www.logicalquotes.com/ray-bradbury-quotes/ This site features quotes from a range of great writers and I particularly loved this collection from one of my literary heroes.

Healing the Silent Hurts https://apricotsandadmiration.com/2017/03/02/healing-the-silent-hurts/ This is a lovely, salutary article about how children’s lives can be affected by what goes on in the classroom other than learning to read and write…

50 Word Stories: Unwished For https://richardankers.com/2017/03/09/50-word-stories-unwished-for/ Yet another one of Richard’s quirky unsettling stories sunk its hooks into me…

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – February Roundup

Standard

After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During February I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, making my yearly total seven books so far.

My February books are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This book is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
Addy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah. Her mortal enemy Meredith, otherwise known as the Death Starr, breaks out in a severe and inexplicable case of butt boils. Addy might not know what’s going on, but she definitely wants a certain sexy demon hunter by her side when it all goes down. . .

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures. Meanwhile, she plays with the trope of the good Southern girl, looking for a husband, concerned with her appearance and intent on putting on a good front for the neighbours.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

 

This month I managed to clear five books from my teetering TBR pile – they are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
See above.

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
See above.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
See above.

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side. She has lost her parents, who disappeared from their thriving Inn and though she has spent years trying to track them down, all her efforts have ended in failure.

 

Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven.