Category Archives: netgalley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Face the Change – Book 3 of the Menopausal Superheroes series by Samantha Bryant

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I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked if I would like to review this latest adventure, as I had posted a review of her previous book in the series Change of Life.

The Menopausal Superheroes are coming out of the closet and the pressure is high, on the job and on the homefront. Now that he knows what it’s like to be a hero, Leonel “Fuerte” Alvarez can’t imagine going back to his former life as a grandmother and housewife. But putting his life on the line may cost him his husband even while he saves the city. Jessica “Flygirl” Roark is holding on to her second chance at love with both hands while learning to balance single parenthood with her new career in crime-fighting. Patricia “Lizard Woman” O’Neill is blindsided by an unexpected romance just as she signs on to join the team. Meanwhile enemies abound–old and new. When superpowers alone aren’t enough, what a woman really needs are her friends.

I do feel this is one series where a “story so far” prologue would help the reader. As I followed the fortunes of our four protagonists and a couple of formidable antagonists, it took me a while to recall who was doing what to whom. However, once I was back in the flow of this entertaining and unusual take on the superhero genre, I was able to settle back and thoroughly enjoy the story. While the blurb and eye-catching cover give the impression this is a humorous parody, in fact this isn’t the case. Bryant has set up an original scenario whereby for women of a certain age suddenly find themselves endowed with superpowers – what she isn’t doing is playing this situation for laughs.

In a genre which historically has been dominated by the likes of Superman, Spiderman and Batman, Bryant has given us a refreshingly different take on the superhero dynamic when these four women with busy home lives, including grandchildren, and established careers suddenly find themselves dealing with paranormal powers.

The character who has to embrace the biggest change is Leonel who not only is suddenly coping with superstrength, but also coming to terms with also becoming a man. His very traditional husband is finding it difficult when the household chores aren’t done because Leonel is off chasing down baddies. When David demands that Leonel choose between his new crime-fighting career or his marriage, Leonel is anguished at being forced into such a choice and turns to his daughters for help and advice. Whereas Helen, who finds herself able to wield fire with lethal consequences, appears to be affected mentally by her newfound ability and increasingly ignores her daughter. Always a rather brittle, obsessive personality, she is now consumed with fury against those who she regards betrayed her and abandoned her and she is determined to get her revenge.

Bryant gives us interesting insights into how these characters interact as we switch between viewpoints. I am not always a fan of multiple viewpoint, having far too often found that shuttling between a cast of characters means I don’t get a chance to bond or fully understand anyone. That isn’t the case here. Once I got back into the swing of the story, Bryant’s perceptive characterisation built a really interesting dynamic that took this story beyond an escapist romp. The primary antagonist also has problems of her own, having also been caught up in the inadvertent changes her experimentation has caused and I enjoyed following her story in parallel with those people whose lives she has changed forever.

The climactic denouement satisfactorily resolved the narrative while leaving a few plot points dangling for another adventure. At least, that is what I am hoping – I have grown fond of this band of menopausal superheroes and very much hope I can revisit their world. Recommended for readers who enjoy plenty of adventure featuring strong interesting characters.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of the KINDLE Ebook The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

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When I read the description for this one, I was intrigued enough to request the ARC (advance readers’ copy) – and was delighted when I was approved.

The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with.

Julia is the edgy protagonist who immediately gripped me and pulled me into the start of this one, which pings off the page with tension as we begin to get to know her. The tale slowly unspools as we learn her backstory and why she is constantly alert. Lerman’s depiction of a damaged character whose trust was destroyed during her childhood is very effective. Julia, suspicious and closed off, finds it difficult to bond with anyone and prefers to work as a cleaner alone, so she is able to react quickly whenever she is visited by the things. I found her relationship with John very moving, particularly when she begins to drop her guard and strive for normality. The twist where she discovers what it is he actually does is nicely handled.

However the trouble with her attitude in denying and pushing away the peculiar beings that constantly invade her life, is that the reader is left hanging without any further information about what is actually going on until relatively near the end, which then felt a tad rushed. Julia’s attitude also means that she refuses to discuss the situation until she absolutely has to – and even then the conversations are so overlaid with her hostility that she manages to shut down any meaningful discourse, other than the one with Alice, which even then poses more questions than it answers. This means that we don’t have an opportunity to fully engage with the subject on a deeper level, other than as a prop for the story. And initially, this book seemed to promise more.

I love the premise. I thought the setup regarding The Stargazer’s Embassy bar was both plausible and quirky. However the catch in beginning a book with such a strong hook is that it has to keep delivering. If the tension and narrative pace falls away, the reader is left feeling short-changed.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a good book. There is much going for it in the description, the detailed characterisation, the strong supporting cast and atmospheric writing. But after that storming start, I was expecting a great book and because of the story structure, the pacing was too uneven and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity to fully explore the issues raised surrounding the alien abductions. That said, I am still glad I read it and I do recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this subject.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Dichronauts by Greg Egan

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I always enjoy Greg Egan’s writing. Coupled with his scientific background and fertile imagination, he manages to come up with places and aliens unlike any others – read my review of his amazing The Clockwork Rocket, the first book in the Orthogonal series.

Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive.

In the universe containing Seth’s world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light. Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead. But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat…

In order to be better able to visualise this world, my firm advice is to visit Greg Egan’s site at the link:
http://www.gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/DICHRONAUTS.html
where you can discover how he came up with this intriguing creation and the inhabitants. Alongside all the maths, the world is also more fully explained before you plunge into this one. Inevitably, I discovered the site after I had completed the book and although I had picked up the gist of what was going on, it would have been helpful to have understood more of the complexities of the world and this remarkable indigenous species as I was reading it. However, if this story was simply about an enjoyably weird world and creature with little story or dry-as-dust descriptions bulking up the book – while I would doubtless have something enthusiastic and polite to say about Egan’s extraordinary imagination, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about this one as I am.

For not only does Egan offer a unique world and alien race – he also provides a cracking adventure story full of tension and excitement right from the start through to the climactic ending. I quickly bonded with Seth and his parasitic companion Theo and enjoyed the tensions and teamwork evident in their linked partnership. What happens if the Walker host has a major quarrel with his Sider? This premise is also explored within the story. I stayed up far later than I should to find out what happens to this embattled species as Seth and Theo struggle to discover a river big enough to support the large city where he was born and bred.

I love this one. Brilliant and inventive, this book reminds me all over again just why I love science fiction so much…
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 11th July, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:

Face the Change – Book 3 of the Menopausal Superheroes series by Samantha Bryant
19% Jessica watched the sky and imagined how good it would feel to fly up there in the open air. It would be warmer by day, but, then again, there would be more people around to wonder what on earth was happening. Giddiness bubbled in her again, as she imagined how going public might change things. She’d be able to fly openly, in a sunlit blue sky.

BLURB: The Menopausal Superheroes are coming out of the closet and the pressure is high, on the job and on the homefront.

Now that he knows what it’s like to be a hero, Leonel “Fuerte” Alvarez can’t imagine going back to his former life as a grandmother and housewife. But putting his life on the line may cost him his husband even while he saves the city.

Jessica “Flygirl” Roark is holding on to her second chance at love with both hands while learning to balance single parenthood with her new career in crime-fighting.

Patricia “Lizard Woman” O’Neill is blindsided by an unexpected romance just as she signs on to join the team.

Meanwhile enemies abound–old and new. When superpowers alone aren’t enough, what a woman really needs are her friends.

I enjoyed the second book in this unusual take on the superhero genre and was delighted when the author asked if I would like to read the next slice of the adventure – see my review of Change of Life. It didn’t take me long to pick up the storyline of all four of the main characters and I’m enjoying the ride. I’ll be reviewing this one shortly.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I love Matt Haig’s writing – read my review of The Humans and The Radley’s. So I was delighted to encounter this offering on Netgalley and even more delighted when my request for an arc was accepted.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.

Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.

The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sungrazer Book 2 of the Outriders series by Jay Posey

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Outriders – see my review here – so when I saw this sequel pop up on the Netgalley dashboard, I immediately requested it.

In a new Cold War between Earth and the colonies on Mars, when devastating weapons go missing, there’s only one team you can call – the Outriders. A crack force of highly specialised super-soldiers, their clone bodies are near-immortal. When a fully-autonomous vessel with orbital strike capabilities goes missing, it’s up to the Outriders to track the untrackable. But when the trail leads them to the influential Martian People’s Collective Republic, the operation gets a lot more complicated…

This military science fiction adventure once more hooked me in with yet another enthralling plot in a story where the stakes aren’t just cities or countries sucked into war and devastation, but planets… Things are still very tense between Earth and the Mars’ colonies after the last kerfuffle, where our plucky black-ops team narrowly averted a disaster so when a lethally effective weapon disappears, the Outriders are the obvious choice.

Military science fiction naturally requires a cracking plot – and once more, Posey displays his evident skill in his smooth delivery of a storyline where we have a dual narrative – Lincoln, the captain of the Outriders is one of the protagonists, with the other protagonist being Elliot, who is operating as an undercover agent for United States National Intelligence Directorate. The pacing and ramping up the tension is well handled and I enjoyed the twists and turns, particularly the climactic finale where Elliot encounters the Outriders with mixed results.

The characterisation also needs to be good in this genre as we have to care for those going into battle, because if we don’t, then it robs the story of all its tension. Linc is a likeable chap, with sufficient self-doubt and vulnerability for the reader to connect, but not too much because, after all, he is a super-soldier. We also need to identify with the rest of the squad and as this is the second book, I easily recalled all the characters and their particular quirks and skill sets. While reading this, I couldn’t help thinking that it would make a cracking TV mini-series or film.

But the other major ingredient that military sci fi adventures need is plenty of techie weaponry and nifty battle tactics, which need clear explanation before all the action kicks off or the reader isn’t going to full appreciate what is going on. Posey is accomplished at slipping in the salient facts about the guns and those super-suits this crack black-ops team wear, so that in the heat of battle, we are able to follow all that is happening with no trouble. He manages this without compromising the overall pace or gathering tension of the story. Overall, this is yet again a solidly enjoyable story with some unexpected twists – especially near the end that had me reading far longer than I should have done and this one comes highly recommended.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlowe series by M.J. Trow

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As anyone who has visited this site will know, in addition to my passion for science fiction and fantasy, I am also a real fan of historical murder mysteries. When I saw this offering on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer that I would request the arc and was delighted when I had the opportunity to read and review it.

April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him. To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.

Of course, what had escaped my notice was that this is the eighth book in this series. However, once again, I managed to land on my feet in that at no time was I floundering or adrift as Trow is far too an experienced and capable writer to let that happen. When Francis Walsingham dies, it falls to Kit Marlowe to try to discover who is the culprit. In this twisting Elizabethan plot there are no shortage of suspects and I really enjoyed reading about Marlowe’s investigations as characters I’ve known from history books leapt to vivid life in this Tudor whodunnit.

Trow clearly had a blast with some of these characters – his depiction of William Shakespeare is particularly amusing and somewhat controversial, given that in this incarnation, poor bumpkin Shakespeare is thoroughly adrift in the London theatrical scene and desperate for work. Though Marlowe is reluctant to employ him as a writer or an actor, given that he is not very good at either. I also enjoyed reading Trow’s version of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Dee. However, the character at the centre of all of these shenanigans is Kit Marlowe himself. Written in third person viewpoint, Marlowe is a complicated, somewhat driven character who provides a series of masks depending on who he is with. I really liked Trow’s characterisation – his detached observation of the people around him and his unwillingness to wear his heart on his sleeve makes him an interesting, complex protagonist.

In order for this book to work, the world building also has to be believable and sharp without slowing down the pace by too much description. Trow has nailed this. We never forget that we are in Tudor England with people whose worries and concerns are so similar to ours – yet also so very different. The climax of this story, along with the denouement worked really well. I certainly didn’t see it coming. Yet there is also another surprise at the end of the book relating to the title which leaves this book on a doozy of a cliffhanger. I shall definitely be looking out for the next book in the series and have already ordered the first one from the local library.

This is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys good quality historical mysteries along the lines of C.J. Samson’s Matthew Shadlake series – see my review of his book Revelation.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon

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The quirky title and interesting premise caught my eye – I’m always a sucker for crime set in space, so I requested the arc.

Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.

This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way.

I like Molly – the fact that she is happily married with adult children and is rushing around organising a wedding for one of them is a major plus point as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to see women of a certain age confident in her ability and established in a stable relationship and career featuring as the main protagonist for a change. However, while she is crazily busy, I did feel her characterisation was a little thin – mostly because the continual stream of puns and gags around the future version of the past crowded out the opportunities for us to bond with her.

The worldbuilding is detailed and builds up a clear picture of exactly what life is like on Mars for Molly and her family. We get plenty of descriptions of the places they visit and in particular, the build-up to the wedding and the celebration, but again, the focus on the one-liners and wordplay inevitably skews some of the detail, as destinations and placenames are clearly only added for the sake of the gag. The situation regarding androids as political tensions rise around their status is nicely handled and I did enjoy Molly’s relationship with her friend Jersey, whose husband, Trenton, is an android. The only problem I did have, is that given the abilities Trenton displayed in manufacturing a range of goods for Jersey, it did occur to me that the fears of unmodified humans were very well founded – and that aspect simply wasn’t investigated. Perhaps it is being left for another book in the series, as although at no time is this book flagged as the second in a series, there is clearly a previous book somewhere about another case earlier in Molly’s life.

The solution to the case worked well, in that the murderer is someone who has a strong reason for killing the victim and is well placed to keep threatening Molly as she endeavours to track down the perpetrator. The various story arcs are nicely tied up and overall, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion – but I cannot help thinking that if there were a few less puns and wordplay jokes, the overall characterisation and scene setting could have been a lot stronger.
7/10

Teaser Tuesday – 27th June, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:

Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlow mysteries by M.J. Trow
13% ‘Lord,’ he intoned, his voice the only sound in the room now that the coals had settled. ‘Demon of the Shedin, Master of the Gaming House of Hell, show me your face.’
He held out both hands as the blood still trickled, intoning the ancient Hewbrew over and over. ‘She me the ram and bull. Let me feel your fiery breath.’
There was a thud at the door and he visibly jumped, his pulse racing.
‘Who’s that?’ He was almost afraid to hear the answer.
‘Carter,’ the muffled voice came back through the oak. ‘Dr Dee’s man. I have a letter for you, Dr Salazar, from the magus.’

BLURB: April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him.

To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.

As you can see, it is early days with this book. But although once more I’ve done my trick of crashing mid-way into a long-running series, I’m not remotely adrift, while finding the worldbuilding and characters gripping and enjoyable. Trow is clearly comfortable in this vividly depicted world with his cast of vibrant characters – I’m really enjoying this one…

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

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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