Category Archives: netgalley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

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I thoroughly enjoyed McDonald’s depiction of this aggressively capitalist society in the first book, Luna: New Moon set in a near future where an exhausted Earth is relying on the Moon to keep the lights on. So it was a no-brainer that I was immediately going to request this sequel when it appeared on Netgalley.

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward – virtually a hostage – of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished from the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and – more to the point – that he is still a major player in the game. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war between the families erupts.

What the above blurb may not make clear is that Luna: New Moon left the story on a major cliffhanger – nothing at all was resolved. So if you haven’t read it, then my firm advice would be to go away and track down the first book before tucking into this one, because there is no ‘Story So Far’ and with the large cast of characters, multiple viewpoints and odd names, I think anyone coming cold to this world is going to flounder.

The gamechanger that flung everything up in the air at the end of the first book continues to have consequences. Major consequences. And as ever, when turmoil and catastrophe occurs, it is often surviving children who suffer more than anyone else. McDonald is very good at showing rather than telling and in this fast-moving, action-packed epic, he starkly portrays the ravages of war and violence. I could see this being made into a cracking film.

And there would be nothing wrong if he left it at that, but what elevates this book to something more than a slice of escapist enjoyment, is that he continues to show what happens after the initial violence dies down. Because the people involved don’t forgive and forget. That drive and aggression that drove them to forge industrial empires on the Moon morphs into something a lot darker and vengeful when their own families are attacked and their homes and businesses gutted.

Inevitably, in such a wide-ranging story with a scattered cast of characters, this is more of an action-driven story. However there are a handful of protagonists who have lodged in my head – Marina, a ‘Jo Moonbeam’ who came up from Earth in the first book to make her fortune gets pulled right into the heart of the conflict and then has to make an agonising decision. Does she stay on the Moon for the rest of her life, or return to Earth? There is a window in which she can return – but after then, her body will have adapted to the lighter gravity such that it will be impossible without massive and expensive medical intervention. Two children particularly tugged at my heart – Robson, who ends up living on the streets and Darius, another boy caught in the middle of the ruling family feuds, is manipulated into perpetuating their ongoing war…

Apparently McDonald has described this epic political power struggle set in space as the ‘Game of Domes. I’ve found myself often thinking about the first book and the brilliant, fragile infrastructure he wrought – and this book is every bit as thought-provoking and disturbing. Highly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

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I mostly thoroughly enjoy Scalzi’s writing and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley. Sadly though, it wasn’t much fun to read – and that was nothing to do with the author. The Kindle arc looked as though it had been mugged by a binary monster as every page was spattered with zeroes and ones amongst the prose – and if that wasn’t bad enough, the majority of the polysyllabic words were split up into their syll ab les. Fortunately, I very much liked the story, otherwise I wouldn’t have persevered – but I did end up with a thumping headache after a couple of reading sessions and I would plead with publishers to consider their hapless reviewers before letting arcs go out in that state.

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. Said gamechanger is going to shake everything up in such an extreme manner, the information isn’t even accepted without a lot of hard evidence – which means there isn’t a lot of time left to do anything about it…

I loved the premise – it was every bit as interesting as I had hoped. I particularly enjoyed the fact that not only did we get a ringside seat when the new emperox finds herself landed with a job she didn’t want, we also got to see exactly what motivates the main antagonist as they manoeuvre for more power and agency. The plotting and double-crossing going on results in plenty of action – some of it nicely unexpected, which is why I’m keeping my comments reasonably general.

Scalzi’s easy style keeps this book barrelling along at a fair pace, so that while the pages didn’t fly by quite at the speed I would have liked – it was taking too much effort to decode the abysmal formatting in my Netgalley arc – nevertheless the story unfolded with pleasing ease. The finale brought the main story arc to a satisfactory conclusion, though there are sufficient dangling plotpoints such that I will be looking out for the sequel in due course. After a number of great standalone reads, such as Lock In, I’m delighted Scalzi has now embarked upon another major series.

While I obtained the arc of The Collapsing Empire from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 14th March, 2016

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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:

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald
64% Hypatia is a hope, a haven. They may reach it on the dregs of power. There may be something at Hypatia that can deal with a score of killing bots. There may be something between their current position and Hypatia that will save them.
Or their batteries may fail, despite the careful husbanding. Then the bots pounce and annihilate them. Every ten minutes Wagner runs up the radar mast to peep over the horizon. They are always there. They are always closer. No hope of losing them: the two rovers leave indelible fresh tracks, aimed like arrows at Hypatia.

BLURB: Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward – virtually a hostage – of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished from the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and – more to the point – that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was a schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey – to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war between the families erupts.

Last year I read the first book in this series, Luna: New Moon, and thoroughly enjoyed McDonald’s rich evocation of an individualistic society where there is no state intervention and everyone has to pay for air, food and water from the moment they step off the shuttle. Now it’s all gone pear-shaped, it’s riveting stuff…

Review of KINDLE Ebook Amunet by Robert Harkess

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I attended the launch of this book at Bristolcon – my favourite con of the year for its sheer friendliness – back in October and had always promised myself to get hold of it. And then saw it on Netgalley…

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.

But what Harkess manages to do is depict two detailed, interesting characters while it is busy kicking off around them – because this book hits the ground running and wherever Amunet goes, violence and mayhem follows. But this book really bounces to life when she reaches London – a Victorian-type setting but with some important differences. There are all sorts of nice steampunk touches that garnish this adventure action novel.

Alongside Amunet and Harry, there is also a rich cast of characters who weave through the story – some of them unexpectedly popping up again when I had thought we’d seen the last of them. Harkess is clearly an experienced, able writer who manages to keep the momentum for this interesting alternate historical genre mash-up plunging forward without losing character focus or skimping on the vivid backdrop – which is a whole lot harder to achieve than Harkess makes it look.

While the book is concluded entirely satisfactorily, I got to the end and immediately looked around to see if there is likely to be a sequel as I would welcome the chance to revisit this beguiling world. This one comes recommended, particularly for steampunk/alternate history fans.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 7th March, 2016

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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:

Amunet by Robert Harkess

1% Amunet had been warned this day would come, told over and over what she had to do. They had even warned her of the pain.

Yes, the time is now, child. Be strong.

The words whispered through her thoughts and she tried to reach out to them, to claw back a measure of comfort or respite. The effort made the hurt spike deeper, and she turned back to the pain, pasping as she tried to hold on to the place where it hurt the most, to wrap herself around it.

BLURB: 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.

I’ve literally just opened this one up – but it’s been on my radar since I attended the book launch last year at Bristolcon. And judging by the beginning and intriguing blurb, I reckon this is yet another good’un…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Very Important Corpses – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

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I’ve read a couple of books by the author before – see my review of The Man With the Golden Torc – and know that I enjoy his writing, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I couldn’t resist.

veryimportantcorpsesThe Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed.

I’ve done my usual trick of dropping into the middle of a series, but while I was aware there was something of a backstory that I didn’t know, most of the action and focus was on the current situation so it wasn’t an issue. Ishamael is certainly an intriguing figure. Endowed with superhuman powers, he is used to dealing with the nasties coming from other dimensions. Neither is he wholly on the side of the angels – he’s been involved in plenty of dirty operations in the past, although he’s doing his best to clean up his act, these days. So he isn’t an operative who would usually be in evidence for this kind of assignment, where he is dealing with VIPs who require some finesse when dealing with them. But a colleague has been brutally murdered, so he has been sent, along with his pretty young colleague Penny, to sort it out.

This story is the equivalent of the locked room puzzle, except it is a locked house tucked away on the shores of Loch Ness, with a shadowy creature roaming around in the grounds – and a savage killer in their midst. Ishmael stomps around thoroughly upsetting everyone, while Penny smooths them over. Meanwhile, the bodycount is rising and so are the stakes… This is an enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit with plenty of plot twists and turns. No, I didn’t guess who the villain was as I just tucked in and went along for the ride. If you enjoy your whodunits with a paranormal twist, then have a go at this one – it’s fun.

While I obtained the arc of Very Important Corpses from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry

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I had previously read and reviewed the prequel to this series, Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell, so when I was approached by the publishers and asked if I would like to read and review this book, I thedemonicarcticexpeditionimmediately agreed.

Fast-paced, action-packed and funny, perfect for reluctant readers. The Demonic Arctic Expedition is the fourth in a series of MIDDLE GRADE books for fantasy-adventure loving readers. This book contains a scowling demon, an ancient weapon, an adorable Hound of Hell, a sort of angel, a dragon, an ordinary boy and an extraordinary castle. And a not so cuddly polar bear…

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest addition to this reading series, designed to enthuse reluctant readers. As an ex-teacher, I have a clear idea of what books will persuade a book-shy youngster (usually a boy) to pick something off the shelves. It cannot be too long; the print has to be reasonably large and clear without looking ‘babyish’; the vocabulary cannot be too wide-ranging and there needs to be plenty of word repetition without making it obvious; there needs to be lots of action and loads of pace. So does Mulberry succeed in ticking all these boxes? Oh yes.

In addition, she also has provided an entertaining Prologue in the first person narrative of Jack, the main protagonist for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the previous books, so our reluctant reader isn’t tipped into the middle of an adventure and left floundering. Essentially Jack and Brink are on the hunt for gold, which leads them to the Arctic where they believe there is a great hoard so they can pay off the Collector, who is on their trail looking for the money Hell charges for hiring out a demon, namely Brink.

Yes… the plot is every bit as surreal and whacky as it sounds. There is also an enchanted sword and a dragon, who spends most of the time coating the dungeon in dragon snot as he has a cold, which he has given to the guardian angel… Mulberry has a trick of pulling in all sorts of classic characters and themes from fantasy and subverting them in her Skycastle adventures.

There isn’t huge depth of character as action and pace are king here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about Brink or Jack – there is an edge of anarchy in these stories that means I’m not completely sure where they are going to end up and I certainly didn’t see the outcome of this particular story coming. Mulberry does exactly what it says on the tin – and if you have a child between 9-12 who isn’t overly enthusiastic about picking up a book, consider this one.

8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris

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I really liked the blurb for this children’s mystery based on the supposed adventures of the young Arthur Conan Doyle. Would the charm persist beyond the book’s description?

thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

We are immediately plunged right into the middle of this mystery as Artie and his friend and sidekick, Ham, have a spooky encounter in a churchyard, which persuades Artie that the young trainee doctor lodging at their house is up to no good. Harris has managed to layer the character rather effectively. While watching Artie in action, I’m forcibly reminded of a juvenile Benedict Cumberbatch – opinionated, bossy and invariably convinced he is superior to those around him. More endearingly, Artie is prone to make more mistakes and go blundering more haphazardly into situations than his supercilious sleuth.

The historical feel of the period is effectively depicted with the occasional old fashioned word, such as ‘kirk’ instead of church, for instance but reading the context, I think most young readers could work out what the word means. We also have a number of interesting characters. I like the fact that Artie’s family is rather dysfunctional, with a father suffering depression in a time when there is no sickness benefit or safety net for those struggling on the poverty line. Ham also has a difficult background, with a father who has died and a widowed mother trying to cope.

There is plenty of banter between the two boys, as Ham is reluctantly dragged along in Artie’s wake. Most of the time he goes along with it – but just occasionally his pointed remarks regarding Artie’s tendency to go crashing into a situation make him pause and reconsider. I was pleased it is Ham’s contribution to the adventure that is the major gamechanger during the climactic final flurry of action.

Any niggles? I could have done without Artie’s jabs about Ham’s size. This is particularly unfortunate, I feel, in a book aimed at the children’s market when there are now significant numbers of youngsters heavier than is healthy. Surely, in an escapist adventure overweight children are also entitled to be able to enjoy the fun without such reminders of their problems?

That apart, I enjoyed this romp and I think many youngsters will do, too. There is plenty of action and some creepy moments without slipping into anything too horrific for newly independent readers, or those having this one read to them.

While I obtained the arc of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

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I’ll make time for anything Reynolds has written – even his least stellar efforts are characterised by wonderful imaginative leaps and at his best, he weaves worlds of wonder that have lodged in my head years after reading them. See my review of Revenger.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

Scur is an intriguing protagonist, having been unfairly conscripted to punish her father for his political activities against the regime. She is on her way back home, eager to see her parents and reassure them that despite some of the things she has been forced to do during the war, she is still okay and it isn’t their fault… Only during her homeward journey, she is once more overtaken by circumstances beyond her control and finds herself in a very tricky situation.

The slow bullets of the title are a type of chip implanted deep in the body such they are unable to be removed without killing the recipient, but nevertheless, they can still be read. Details of a person’s life can continue to be fed into its memory, along with images of people who matter in their lives, where they have worked or served. All soldiers have a slow bullet inserted as a matter of course, along with a portion of civilians. And prisoners…

So is someone the sum of what is on their slow bullet? Does that completely encompass who they are and what they are capable of? These are some of the questions behind this engrossing space opera adventure. Scur finds herself in a leadership role, despite not wanting it, because her driving concern is to return home and she cannot see how they are going to do so if she lets the one technical civilian continue to drift, locked in horror when he discovers the enormity of the jam they are in, when things go wrong on the transport ship. That said, he is also the person who manages to solve a whole lot of problems along the way – they probably wouldn’t survive without his input.

As well as raising some interesting issues, Reynolds also provides a real page-turner – over the years I have read one or three space opera adventures and I sort of guessed where this one was going. Until it took a left turn and went in an entirely different direction altogether, leaving me agog and desperate to know how the whole mess was going to pan out. So once the story steps completely over any of my expectations, does Reynolds bring this one to a satisfactory conclusion?

Oh yes. I think this one is going to reverberate around my head for a while, given the unsettling final section. Small wonder Slow Bullets won the Locus Award for Best Novella 2016 and was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Highly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

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The minute I saw this one, I knew I would have to read it. I have to declare an interest here – I’m working on my own retelling of The Tempest, so I was very interested to read this one…

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in mirandaandcalibanthe 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 books 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. Miranda and Caliban are in thrall to Prospero and suffer the consequences of his abusive, controlling behaviour.

Carey’s lyrical prose drew me into the closed world of the enchanted island and the deserted Moorish palace inhabited by Prospero, Miranda and Caliban. As the years roll past, Miranda and Caliban grow up, while Prospero grows older, always working away at his magical studies. The pacing works well, with the first half of the book moving relatively slowly – and then as we approach the more familiar events covered in Shakespeare’s play, the book’s momentum suddenly rockets forward.

Miranda and Caliban is more of a prequel to The Tempest, with Carey’s version of what happens once Prospero raises his magical storm and wrecks King Alonso’s ship, differing in major ways from Shakespeare’s version. Though the main events are still recognisable and I love the twists and variations which work very effectively, still keeping to the spirit and form of this, one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays. However, if you’ve never seen or read The Tempest and have absolutely no intention of doing so – there is nothing here that prevents you from appreciating this bittersweet story of young love, as Carey ensures the tale is completely standalone.

Both young people are utterly convincing in their desperate loneliness, while caught up in Prospero’s elaborate scheme to escape his island exile. Their feelings for each other are completely understandable and both struggle to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. As for the ending… oh my word. It blew me away, leaving me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Wonderful and memorable, this is my favourite book of the year so far. Very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Miranda and Caliban from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10