Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

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I’m a real fan of Sullivan’s writing – see my reviews of Occupy Me, Lightborn and Sound Mind. She is a highly talented writer with a penchant for pushing the envelope with her fiction in a way that I love. So I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…

As you can see, this is set in the very near future where virtual reality is being taken into some disturbing areas… I happen to know someone who suffers from narcolepsy – where the sufferer will fall fast asleep anywhere at any time, particularly when stressed. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this sleep disorder drives a tank through any attempt to lead a normal life. Charlie’s ability to hack dreams starts after her drugs trial with BigSky, when she also starts to suffer from narcolepsy, lose her job and a lot of her hair through stress. Unfortunately, due to the small print on the contract she signed when she took part in the trial, she has no recourse to any form of compensation. So she also ends up homeless. However, she is lucky to have a loyal friend in Shandy and find herself living as a companion to a cranky old lady in a wheelchair, known as O, by cooking and cleaning her pigeons for her. O is also very supportive of her new job as a dreamhacker.

I very much enjoyed Charlie’s character. She could so easily have moaned her way through the novel and although she is often depressed and undermined by her misfortunes, she is also feisty, with a nice line in sardonic humour. I also liked her impulsiveness and occasional lapse of judgement – it can be rather wearing to read of a protagonist who invariably takes the sensible option.

As for the crime aspect – it was really creepy to experience the way the Creeper infiltrated Charlie’s dreams and as I hadn’t read the rather chatty blurb, which I’ve tweaked, I hadn’t realised there was a suspicious death. Unravelling the murder mystery was enjoyable with plenty of suspects and though I guessed part of it, I didn’t appreciate the final part of the puzzle. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and recommended for fans of near future whodunits. While I obtained the arc of Sweet Dreams from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

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I was intrigued by the cover and the rather nifty title – and when I looked at the opening paragraph, I decided to get hold of it. But it languished on my TBR pile until I got hold of the second book – and decided I had to read it.

There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.

This YA coming-of-age adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Kellen is an appealing protagonist who inexplicably has no magical ability despite his family’s great power and influence. In this world where magic is everything, his lack of magical talent will doom him to a life of servitude and drudgery – like his uncle, who instead of being a respected member of the council and adviser to Kellen’s father, instead runs the household. Kellen cannot quite believe that his magic won’t at some stage manifest itself. I really enjoyed the first-person narration and the shafts of humour.

The way the plot continually produced more surprises and Kellen’s strong character drew me in and kept the pages turning. It doesn’t hurt that the squirrel cat is also great fun with a lovely line in sarcastic putdowns. It is always a challenge when depicting someone discovering that their whole way of life and value system is based on lies and exploitation, but de Castell does a very good job as Kellen slowly discovers some very disturbing secrets. I enjoyed the magic system and really liked the idea that magic would tattoo its power upon the magic-user’s skin. However, the problem with the first-person narrative is that with so much going on, the worldbuilding at times suffered. That said, this is the first book in the series and I’m hoping in due course, we will have a clearer idea of the environment and exactly what it looks like.

While the story was satisfactorily wrapped up with the really unpleasant antagonists sorted out and Kellen’s future, at least in the short term, resolved, there was a major plot point left dangling to tempt us to get hold of the next book in the series. I’m delighted that I already have a Netgalley arc of Shadowblack and look forward to tucking into it very soon. This book is recommended for fantasy lovers of magical systems and a strong first-person protagonist.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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After enjoying the hippo-related mayhem of River of Teeth and looking forward to reading what happens next as the first book left everything on something of a cliffhanger, I was delighted to spot this one on Netgalley.

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.” In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

My first piece of advice would be – don’t start with this one, go back to River of Teeth as this novella picks up from where the first book left off and there isn’t anything in the way of ‘The Story So Far’. While there is a bit of explanation about what happened, it comes fairly late in the story and in the meantime, I think newcomers to this series could flounder.

As we plunge straight back into the action only a few weeks after the climactic events at the end of River of Teeth we meet up with all the protagonists once again as they start to count the cost of that dramatic day. It took me a while to get back into this, because not only wasn’t there much explanation, neither did we have any rebonding moments with the main characters. I did care about several of the gang members, but was rather detached from Winslow, whose behaviour wasn’t particularly pleasant. While I understood it, because the reason for it was in the previous book, we didn’t get a chance to see the justification and I think this hampered some of my enjoyment.

I do like the world very much and there was plenty going on – but I wanted more character development and longer to enjoy this interesting, vivid setting. There was a sense that this was a quart-sized story squeezed between pint-sized covers. That said, if I hadn’t liked it so much then clearly I wouldn’t have wanted more – this is really cool idea and was brought to a satisfactory conclusion this time around. I’d love to see a full-length novel set in this world, though… While I obtained the arc of Taste of Marrow from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Dazzling Heights Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee

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When I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it, having read the first book, The Thousandth Floor – see my review here – and really enjoying it.

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.

Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives. Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal? When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return. Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together? And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count. Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall…

This YA near-future thriller bristles with intrigue, including an intended con, a guilt-ridden girl desperate to cover her tracks and prepared to go to any lengths to do so and a young couple who have it all – except each other. Most of these characters are materially pampered, living as they do in the lap of luxury with all sorts of extra add-ons gifted by near-future technology that we don’t yet possess. I really like these futuristic nifty touches McGee includes throughout the story without impeding the pace in any way.

I also enjoyed the fact that McGee isn’t content to merely present us with an ensemble of privileged youngsters, who inevitably are saddled with entitled attitudes – she takes us into their lives to the extent that even if we don’t like them, we do understand what drives them. As it happens, there was no one among the cast who I didn’t like. While initially, it took me a little while to recall who was doing what to whom, once I rebonded with all the protagonists, I found myself caring about all of them. After that, the pages turned themselves as the storyline advances through the alternating viewpoints of each one of the characters trying to make their way in a glittering world where they are the object of a lot of jealous scrutiny.

There is a nice moral lurking within this story that McGee keeps downplayed, making it all the more effective. Happiness doesn’t equal the next designer dress, beautiful piece of jewellery or wonderful party – instead it is about friendship, trust and love, both within and outside families.

Any grizzles? Hm. There is a dramatic incident near the end of the story that radically shifts the dynamic and the person responsible apparently comes out of nowhere. Of course, if you have read the first book, you will instantly recognise the name and understand what is powering her actions. I did feel that it wouldn’t have unduly lengthened the book to have a couple of chapters featuring this particular character, giving us more of her backstory. Having said that, it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker and is more of an observation as someone who habitually picks up book series halfway through.

Once more, the story ends with a dramatic climax, so that I shall be eagerly looking out for the next slice of this adventure. Recommended for those who like their YA with plenty of tension in a very cool futuristic setting. While I obtained the arc of The Dazzling Heights from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Walker’s thought-provoking, apocalyptic adventure The End of the World Running Club and so when I saw this one featured on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer that I would request it.

Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy-go-lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…

Firstly, a warning – if you don’t like reading extreme swearing, including the c-word, then this one may not be for you. That said, while this is generally a word that immediately has me shutting up the book and flinging it across the room, it occurs when we are in Lineker’s pov, when it seems to be entirely appropriate.

I think that the depiction of this dog is a tour de force particularly in the early stages when he is full of beans and boisterous. Having been a dog owner, I felt that Walker completely got inside the skin of an animal who mostly decodes the world through his nose. I also love the bursts of energy and impulsiveness Walker manages to evoke. By contrast, later on in the novel, when everything gets a whole lot darker, there is an effective shift in the viewpoint when Lineker stops being such a volatile bundle of joy.

As for Reginald – Walker has already demonstrated that he is effective at writing a flawed ordinary bloke, struggling to cope in a modern world. While Reginald is a very different character, there is an underlying likeability that stands him in good stead. Despite a particularly shocking episode that had me shaking my head in disbelief, I did stick with him and care about what happens to him, which is crucial to the overall success of this book.

Both Reginald and Lineker go on a journey, both literal and figurative as the awfulness around them finally intrudes. Both man and dog are tested and I was very relieved that this book didn’t puddle down into any kind of sentimentality.

The ending is entirely satisfactory and makes sense, though it did feel a tad rushed. However, I am not knocking off any points. Lineker is an amazing character who will stay with me for a long time to come and this book is recommended for anyone who enjoys something different, despite – and even because of – the hardcore language.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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I read the premise, saw the awesome cover and immediately requested it from Netgalley – and my hunch paid off.

BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.

This book drew me in from the very first page and did not let go until the end. I think the secret to this book is the very strong first-person narrative. We see the world through Brittle’s eyes as robots now rule the world, and she struggles to survive as a freebot. Constantly on the run with other surviving stragglers, Brittle also has to ensure she has sufficient spare parts to keep going. Given that during this savage civil war she has no access to any manufacturing plant, she is reduced to preying on other desperate robots scavenging in the sea of Rust – a desert graveyard where robots end up dying while trying to find the parts they need to keep going.

The world building is chillingly plausible as in between the ongoing action Brittle recalls how the world got in this mess in the first place. The overall tone is gritty and the action full on but this post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape is prevented from being unbearably bleak by the spiky point of view. I love Brittle! It also doesn’t hurt that the storyline is gripping and the writing exceptionally good.

While the book is packed with foot-to-the-floor action that had me zipping through the pages, holding my breath, there are also lyrically beautiful passages where Brittle is recalling the past. I thoroughly enjoyed the various plot twists, which I mostly didn’t see coming – I certainly didn’t predict the end. In fact, I thought we had already reached the end and was slightly startled when I turned the page to realise the story was continuing. I have to say that I am slightly ambivalent as I thought that first conclusion worked very well. However, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of cracking read and I think this is one I shall be remembering a long time to come. Recommended for fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories as well as folks who enjoy reading well-written science fiction.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

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I loved the cover for this and when I read the premise, I immediately requested it – I thoroughly enjoy vivid fairytale retellings..

Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust. In the wake of it all, he knows that Gothel has escaped to finish what she started. She is out to make sure that the Sleeping Beauty never wakes, and that Grimm suffocates under her blanket of thorn and vine.

This is a really clever retelling in a dystopian world where the famous curse on sleeping beauty has riven Grimm into a series of small squabbling states. Rapunzel, the Queen, is clearly out of her depth and I found her the most fascinating of all the characters. I enjoyed the way in which nothing is as it first seems. And the way Sullivan plays with established fairytale characters is both smart and intriguing.

However, for some reason while there was never any risk of not completing this book, I didn’t love it as much as I had expected. I didn’t bond with Hansel, finding his constant negativity a real problem. Neither did I like Gretel very much. And as these were the two main characters who were at risk throughout, I wasn’t as heavily invested in the story as the stakes were raised and they were increasingly at risk.

That said, I’m aware this is the personal preference and the other reviewers have loved this one. If I have found Hansel more appealing doubtless. I too would have been caught up in the story, which is accomplished and clever. Recommended for fans of fairytale retellings.

While I obtained the arc of Just Off the Path from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

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Being the shallow sort, I was first attracted by the fabulous cover for this book, then intrigued by the premise which prompted me to request it from Netgalley.

In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…

This dystopian, YA science fiction near-future adventure explores a premise that I’ve recently come across in other books – Reaper by Janet Edwards and The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts – whereby people are spending more time in a virtual reality at the expense of our organic, real-time world. There are differences, of course, and Steinmetz has the dead uploaded into a virtual Heaven, which sounds a great idea.

However, the dead are still in charge of governing and over time they out-vote the living, who are increasingly losing out to the dead. Professionals are inevitably dead – but imagine being treated by a virtual doctor who has been dead so long, he has no sympathy about the fact you are in a lot of pain. This is the kind of problem the living are coping with. I like this world very much, which is well thought-out and poses some interesting questions.

Our protagonist is certainly very ticked off with his situation. His parents, who died six years ago in one of the virulent plagues sweeping across the planet, spend their time and energy in a fantasy world looking out for dragons, rather than keeping in touch with their children. Amichai, bright and inventive, is boxed into a miserable dead-end maintenance job so necessary to keep the Upterlife going, so relieves his frustration by breaking the rules and getting into mischief. However, he is treading a very narrow line – if he finally succeeds in really annoying the authorities, the dead can examine his ‘Shrive’ his last ‘save point’ where his thoughts and memories are uploaded and if they judge him to be a criminal, he would then die a ‘meat death’ where he won’t be uploaded once he dies. Unsurprisingly, the real-time population are really fed up, but reluctant to revolt given the way the odds are loaded against them.

I enjoyed this one. The plot twists and turns as Amichai flounders to find his place in this unhospitable world with a strong supporting cast. I think I could have loved it a tad more if I hadn’t found Amichai so flaky and annoying, but I’m aware this is a very personal response. My grouse is that when the situation is so dire, his impulsive risk-taking is plainly inappropriate and a lot of the narrative tension rides on it. However, if only he behaved with more responsibility, he wouldn’t have found himself in such a bad place – and given that his sister is pretty much reliant on him, I lost patience with his attitude. That said, the author makes a good case for the reasons why he is as he is – and he is thoroughly called to account for his behaviour and forced to reconsider his attitude, so there is a sense that he grows up during the book. If you enjoy dystopian science fiction reads with plenty of action, then I recommend this one.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Death Shall Come: A Country House Murder Mystery – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

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I read and really enjoyed the third book in this series, Very Important Corpses – see my review here – so when I spotted this one on the Netgalley dashboard, I immediately requested it.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb … Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy. When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?

This is a classic locked-room murder mystery with some very familiar elements – the ancient Egyptian artefacts complete with a curse; a powerful family all very grumpy with each other; complete isolation with no immediate help forthcoming. Given this is set in a more or less contemporary Britain, the final element takes some arranging – however Green manages to achieve the sense of the house being completely cut off without too much suspension of disbelief.

His protagonist, Ishmael Jones, is an interesting character – I don’t want to veer into spoiler territory, so I’ll just mention that he isn’t necessarily what he appears to be. This brings it set of problems, which play nicely with the hidden antagonist striking down victims within the house.

Green is an experienced writer and gives us a gripping read that had me reluctant to put it down as once the action takes off, the tension steadily mounts. I also like the odd moments of light relief provided by Ishmael’s right-hand woman, Penny, who happens to be the love of his life. They are a solid team, though Ishmael is also aware his concern for her welfare can be a weakness, but cannot bear the thought of leaving her behind as he takes this important, unofficial mission. I like the bond between them – the steady fondness and Penny’s sprightly banter provides the necessary moments of humour and humanity before we are once more plunged back into a situation where a crazed killer is on the loose.

The key to crafting such a mystery is that the solution has to provide a satisfactory explanation that has sufficient heft so the reader doesn’t feel cheated – it’s quite tricky to achieve. Green manages to satisfactorily wrap up the story, though there is a cost to the survivors and as his immediate boss is right in the middle of this mess, I’m interested to see how this impacts on their working relationship in future. This is an enjoyable murder mystery with a paranormal twist which comes recommended for fantasy fans who want a break, or crime fans who would appreciate reading something slightly different.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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This is a gem of a series that Himself stumbled across – see my review of Star Witch here – and so we were delighted when we realised the next book in the series was just about to come out. It was a no-brainer that we would pre-order it…

Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…

This urban fantasy romp features Ivy who would far rather slump on a sofa eating takeaway than get swept up in some wretched adventure. That’s what she tells anyone who’s prepared to listen, anyway. However, it turns out that she is unexpectedly nifty at the odd tricky rune and while she initially hated Rafe Winter and his driven attitude – they are now an item… So you have some of the major ingredients in this beguiling adventure – a feisty protagonist with a strong first person voice that pings off the page; an enjoyable dollop of romance that supplies plenty of snark and some silliness; a strong plotline that provides plenty of page-turning tension as the stakes are steadily ramped up. And a talking cat.

I became a tad tired of this sub-genre a couple of years ago and these days I’m quite picky what I’ll read – but this one ticked all my boxes. The fact it is set in the UK and written by a Brit doesn’t hurt, as the sarcasm and humour is very much home-grown and certainly had me chuckling aloud in places.

Like the previous book, the actual storyline is quite dark as a serial killer with a major prejudice against witches is on the loose – and Ivy only gets to hear about it when another ghost tells her. Her ability to see and talk to ghosts is both unnerving and the source of some humour. Harper is very good at using comedy to lighten what would be quite a grim read, otherwise – in fact there is a very moving scene near the end which left me with a lump in my throat. But it is then counter-balanced by some more nonsense from Brutus, Ivy’s very contrary cat, which helped to lighten the mood again.

The romance is well handled – I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy and Rafe’s sheer delight with each other as they bathe in that newly-in-love feeling that makes every day together seem like Christmas. Harper manages to effectively depict that glow without feeling the need to embroider it with any nonsense like a love-triangle, or someone plotting against their happiness – it put a smile on my face and even produced a couple of ‘ah’ moments. Given that I’m not a romance fan, that takes some doing.

I was under the impression that this is supposed to be the final book in the series – however I have read a steady stream of impassioned pleas from other fans wanting more and I’m about to add my voice to that chorus. I would love to read more about Ivy, Rafe and Brutus. This is a delightful series and comes highly recommended.
9/10