Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shadow Weaver – Book 1 of the Shadow Weaver series by MarcyKate Connolly

Standard

I was drawn to this one by the lovely cover and interesting premise. The idea of using shadows to weave magic intrigued me so I requested it from Netgalley.

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar. Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal…

I’m leaving it at that as far as the blurb is concerned as I think it gives rather too much away. However, I found this book far more of a nuanced read than I had been expecting. Emmeline is feared by the servants and barely tolerated by her parents, who are clearly at a loss to know what to do about her. Left to her own devices, she spends her time sneaking around the grounds and the house, eavesdropping on conversations and playing tricks on the servants, or playing with the shadows.

I very much liked the fact that as her circumstances change and she finds herself with other people, she slowly begins to question her own behaviour. This isn’t a quick transformation and the book is as much about Emmeline’s own self-realisation as it is about the story of her emerging magic. The worldbuilding is well handled. Initially we don’t know all that much about what is going on in the wider world, apart from the snippets that Emmeline gleans from her snitching expeditions. However, as she leaves the family home and encounters other people, she learns just how much people with her gifts are being hunted and what they have to do to evade capture and a terrible fate. I very much liked the idea that people are invested with magic if they are born when a particular comet passes over every twenty-five years.

Emmeline’s growth and increasing discomfort with her own behaviour is one of the main themes throughout the book, as is the comparison with dark and light. While the imagery is obvious, it works well and is well aimed at a young audience. There is plenty going on in this well-written, pleasingly plotted book to keep an independent reader between the ages of 9-12 engrossed and I thoroughly recommend it. While I obtained an arc of Shadow Weaver from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Advertisements

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Standard

Simon Brett is patron of the West Sussex Writers club, so I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a number of times. His witty take on the world pervades this pleasing cosy mystery.

When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty new Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.

Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…

Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.

Any grizzles? Well, I was rather taken aback at having a crucial scene in the book where Jude is explaining the denouement glossed over in half a page, rather than being given the reactions of the characters involved. As the stakes were so high at this stage, I expected at least the first section to be fully depicted and the fact it wasn’t jarred with me. This is, after all, one of the planks of this particular genre and while Brett often successfully plays with readers’ expectations, this time it didn’t work. However, that is the only niggle and it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Frequency of Aliens Book 2 of the Sorrow Falls series by Gene Doucette

Standard

I really liked the cool cover and the blurb which sounds sharp and funny, if a tad chatty. I’ve only included part of it…

Becoming an overnight celebrity at age sixteen should have been a lot more fun. Yes, there were times when it was extremely cool, but when the newness of it all wore off, Annie Collins was left with a permanent security detail and the kind of constant scrutiny that makes the college experience especially awkward. Not helping matters: she’s the only kid in school with her own pet spaceship.

I found this one difficult to put down once I got used to the narrative. The story is pacey and due to the humour, feels quite different from, say, Fade Out, which I have also recently read and reviewed. This could so easily have been a grim tale of humanity facing a possible apocalyptic threat and while events are stacking up and there is a definite sense of unease, at no stage did the tone alter. I found it quite refreshing.

However, the catch with using any form of omniscient viewpoint – where the narrator is driving the story forward instead of the main characters – is the narrative can tip into being a mouthpiece for the author. So as I read on, I became aware that Doucette isn’t a fan of the military mindset, while feeling protectively admiring of isolated, rural settlements like Sorrow Falls.
Is this a major problem? It certainly wasn’t for hundreds of years, or for the likes of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. However the current fashion is for our protagonists to tell the story from their viewpoints within the story, on the grounds that no one has an overarching, ultimate view of what is happening – and that is exactly what is going on throughout this book. If Doucette wasn’t so deft with his humour, I think I would have had more of a problem with the viewpoint but because his wry irreverence permeates the story, he manages to pull this one off.

Other than that, the writing is slick and effective, while he keeps the pace rolling forward. All the main characters were reasonably appealing, although I did find the bloodthirsty survivalists a little unnerving and wondered if Doucette is playing too much with stereotypes in his characterisations. However, the denouement and ending was well handled and I enjoyed reading this sufficiently that I will be looking out for the first book in the series, The Space Ship Next Door.

8/10

 

ANNDDD…

Just Books features an extract from Dying for Space as well as an article by yours truly about a very awkward conversation I had that led to my changing the setting of the Sunblinded trilogy just days before I released Running Out of Space.

Hywela Lyn features another excerpt from Dying for Space in which Elizabeth is on the wrong side of Sarge. Again…

Comfy Chair Books has posted another slice of Dying for Space in which Elizabeth is finding herself right out of her comfort zone at one of her father’s fancy banquets. In addition, there is an article about how I used food and dining as part of the worldbuilding in this book.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fade Out by Patrick Tilley

Standard

I saw the funky cover and was hungry for some science fiction, so requested this one. It wasn’t until I featured it as a Tuesday Teaser, I realised it was a re-release of a book first published in 1977. So I was intrigued to know whether it would seem overly dated.

Patrick Tilley’s brilliant bestselling thriller of humanity’s first contact with advanced alien intelligence is a high-tension tour-de-force that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

While I don’t like overly chatty blurbs that give away a quarter of the main plotpoints before you’ve opened the first page, this one seems on the terse side – however, it does give you a very clear idea of the genre and what to expect.

The first thing to say is that if you have a major problem with limited omniscient viewpoint, then this one isn’t for you. While there are a number of main characters, Tilley regularly slides out of their heads and into neutral storytelling mode. As it is a classic narrative mode for this genre, I didn’t have a major problem with it and Tilley certainly couldn’t have covered all the angles he wanted to if he’d chosen any other viewpoint option. The next issue that struck me was how male and pale the cast were – no women or ethnic diversity within the higher government circles or the leading scientists brought in to examine what was going on. Given the book was apparently rewritten and updated, I think it is a shame this aspect was neglected.

So, the story. The way it builds up is excellently handled and I love the consequences and cost involved in the alien intrusion. I was also gratified that answers didn’t fall into anyone’s lap. The alien technology and motives are a genuine puzzle and folks are left guessing for a long way through the book. Other readers have mentioned how very America-centric the story is – but I do think that is probably a realistic take on the way things operate at the top in that government these days. What is intriguing is how that viewpoint genuinely hampers their ability to get to the truth of what is going on and the politicking and negotiating around the Russians is both funny and terrifying – as well as being spot on.

This tale is as much about our society and what we value as much as about the aliens. There is much to admire about this book and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it – however given the unhurried pace throughout most of it, I found the abrupt rush in the final pages rather jarring and wondered if this was the first in a series. It appears it isn’t. That said, it is still an interesting read and recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy reading the likes of Clarke and Heinlein. While I obtained an arc of Fade Out from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

8/10

 

ANNDDD…

Bibliophile Ramblings has featured an excerpt from Dying for Space as part of the blog tour…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Deadly Dance – Book 1 of the D.I. David Vogel by Hilary Bonner

Standard

I was drawn to this one because it is set in Bristol and the fact it is the first in a series, so I requested the arc.

The discovery of the partially-clothed body of a teenage girl in the heart of Bristol’s red light district indicates a tragic yet familiar scenario. But this marks the start of a baffling murder investigation where nothing is as it first appears. Fourteen-year-old Melanie Cooke told her mother she was visiting a school friend. Who was she really going to meet? Detective Inspector David Vogel is led towards three very different principal protagonists, each of whom grows increasingly chilling. But are they what they seem? And is any one of them capable of murder? A darkly complex secret lies behind Melanie’s death – and its ultimate revelation will shock Vogel and his team to the core.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I’d done the right thing in requesting this murder mystery thriller. There are four narrators throughout this tense thriller – D.I. Vogel’s point of view, which is in third person and three first-person viewpoints, who are three tormented young men who are struggling to fit into society – Leo, Al and Saul. As we keep returning to their ongoing battles to come to terms with their impulses, I found myself feeling some sympathy with the crippling loneliness that is evident within all three of them.

By comparison, I found David’s character rather pallid – he isn’t exactly Mr Charisma anyway, but while it becomes increasingly imperative that he solves the mystery, I was tempted to skim his scenes at home with his wife. The third person viewpoint simply doesn’t have the punch and immediacy of the three antagonists – I’m assuming this device is a deliberate ploy, but I don’t think it is wholly successful. It seems to me that one of the major tasks of a first book is to establish the protagonist as a strong, sympathetic character, even if he isn’t completely likeable and I’m not sure that Bonner has ticked that box with this book.

Where she triumphantly succeeds however, is in delivering a gripping page-turner. For as the story progresses, each of these three characters are increasingly mired in a mess of their own making. I was watching each of them begin to unravel and there was no question of my putting the book down until I discovered who did what to whom. The gathering tension as the stakes are steadily raised and the handling of the denouement and resulting fallout is beautifully handled. This book is recommended for those who like their police procedural thrillers tense and gritty. While I obtained the arc of Deadly Dance from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The River Keepers by Michael F. Stewart

Standard

I saw the fabulous cover, read the blurb and immediately requested this one – shapeshifting and infused with magic? It sounded irresistible…

What would you do if your sister turned into a skunk? How about a mouse? Or a frog? Would you want to be a snake? Have you ever wished to swim like an actual fish? Wouldn’t you worry that a snapping turtle might take a bite out of you? In The River Keepers, two sisters must rise to meet an unexpected challenge. It’s a story infused with the magic and drama outside their backdoor — perhaps yours, too.

I have to say – this was something of a disappointment. The story is well-written, the characters are convincing, the sibling rivalry between the twins and the dynamic between them and their annoying little sister is realistic and believable. But. I was expecting a story infused with magic and anticipating the ordinary throughout would be backlit with a glow of otherness, thanks to that wonderful cover. While Stewart provides all sorts of solidly good things in this book, that magical dimension is limited to being used as a device to explain to children the importance of our environment.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach – indeed, it could be argued it is far more vital to give children a sense of urgency about their immediate natural surroundings and how fragile they are, than some fey tale about gnomes. My grizzle is that I picked this book up expecting said fey tale and instead got something a lot more sensible and worthy, due to the blurb and the cover.

Onto the positives. I found the children pleasingly realistic and when they did encounter the magical element, it worked very well. The touches of humour were welcome and will be appreciated by the target age-group and in amongst this story is a wealth of information about the environment that is delivered with a nicely light touch. Overall, the story progression works well – until the ending which seemed very abrupt and consequently rather unsatisfying, especially as this doesn’t appear to be the first in a series.

However, if you are looking for an enjoyable tale for your eight to ten-year-old girls, who are interested in stories with a twist of magic, then this one would be a good stocking-filler.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of The Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

Standard

My attention was snagged by this title and Lisa Tuttle is an author who is been on my radar for a while, so I requested it.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane. According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft. But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but while I have clearly missed a slice of the adventure, that didn’t hamper my understanding or enjoyment of this story. Tuttle doesn’t hang about – she tips us straight into the case which I appreciated. While this series has been compared with the Sherlock Holmes adventures, I don’t think that Miss Lane, the narrator of this case, is all that much like John Watson. She isn’t overly gushing about Jasper Jesperson’s detecting skills, for starters – indeed, there are times when she is quite sharp about him, which I enjoyed.

The other aspect that I hadn’t expected and very much liked – while both Jesperson and Lane are middle-class and reasonably comfortably off, that doesn’t prevent Tuttle from lifting the façade on apparent Victorian respectability by depicting a young serving girl’s plight after suffering a rape. The detective duo also uncover a shocking lack of respect towards women who have the temerity to refuse or thwart a couple of apparently eligible men, who portray themselves as perfectly reasonable, educated gentlemen. Miss Lane isn’t particularly happy about the state of affairs, but isn’t overly surprised. What it reinforced for me is how much women were simply not regarded as on a par with men. Not only did they not have the same protection in law, they were not felt to be capable of the same understanding or intellect as a man – so when a woman demonstrated any independence of spirit, she frequently incurred anger at her temerity – how dare she defy him!

That said, I don’t want you to go away thinking this entertaining, engrossing whodunit is focusing on the gender inequality of the time – it is a mere side issue in this adventure. An adventure full of twists and turns as Lane and Jesperson then find themselves desperately looking for a baby. And the resolution to that puzzle had my jaw dropping…

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will definitely be tracking down the first instalment in this series. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their historical crime series with a twist of fantasy.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

Standard

This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Prisoner of Limnos – Book 6 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Standard

Himself was thrilled when he realised that another slice of Penric goodness was coming our way – quite right too as this series has not only been consistently excellent, it also is very good value, given that each novella is modestly priced. So would this next slice of the adventure measure up to the very high standard already set?

In this sequel novella to Mira’s Last Dance, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news…

And the answer is yes – this book is a joy to read and difficult to put down. However, I do feel quite strongly that although each book is designed to be read as a standalone, in order to gain the maximum enjoyment from this particular adventure, you at least need to read Mira’s Last Dance. As this narrative continues from the ending of that story, there are too many allusions to previous storylines – and besides, why not double the reading pleasure?

One of the delights of this series is charting the growth in Penric’s confidence and maturity since his first fateful encounter with the demon he has named Desdemona. Initially, he had a lot of adjusting to do, given that he wasn’t Temple-trained and his hosting of Desdemona was a complete accident. We don’t get so many tussles between them and neither does Desdemona bait him so much – instead, a strong bond is evident and interestingly, at one stage, it is Desdemona who is panicked and overcome in this adventure, with Penric providing the necessary reassurance to get them out of yet another tricky situation.

In amongst all the tension and excitement, we are also treated to Bujold’s hallmark humour, which is every bit as quirky as her characters. While the stakes are undoubtedly high, I found myself sniggering once Penric manages to successfully get into the prison complex, when someone wholly unexpected pops up… Their indignant exchange was a nice bit of light relief in amongst all the tension and danger.

I found this one almost physically painful to put down and when I finally finished it with a sigh – it was part happiness at having had such an enjoyable read, along with the inevitable pang of regret that it was all over. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this book – and the series – is recommended for anyone who enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan books or loves reading well-written fantasy with appealing characters and plenty of adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Artemis by Andy Weir

Standard

I loved The Martian and was delighted when I realised that Andy Weir had another book in the works and thrilled when I managed to obtain a Netgalley arc for it. Question is – does Artemis live up to Weir’s stunning debut?

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The short answer is yes. Oh yes – Artemis has yet another memorably enjoyable protagonist every bit as ingenious and determined as Mark Watney – Jazz is a street-wise moon-girl who plays the odds. She ekes out a precarious living by a series of shady deals under the cover of her lowly job as porter as she needs more money. Lots more money. And it is that need that drives her to make a deal against her better judgement… a deal that trips over into something a whole lot more serious. I’m aware some readers have had a problem with her lack of judgement and maturity, but I feel her poor impulse control is entirely realistic and when we learn the whole story of what went wrong between her and her father, there is also a valid explanation.

Like The Martian, we are charmed into really caring what happens to this lively, irreverent protagonist as she takes us into her confidence and tells us how the domes work, how the society is structured and about her tempestuous relationship with her father. So when it all goes really wrong, we are with her every step of the way, hoping she will prevail. As Weir steadily ups the stakes and increases the pressure – I found this one almost impossible to put down.

Despite the strong character-led nature of the story, there are still plenty of details about life on the Moon for hard science fiction fans. We learn about how the domes were constructed, who initially settled this first moon settlement and what currently powers the economy – all without compromising the pace or the narrative tension. It’s a neat trick to pull off and far harder to achieve than Weir makes it look. If all these geeky details tend to slide past you, my firm advice would be not to skim too much – because some of this stuff has a major impact on the story progression.

So after setting up a precarious situation where our plucky heroine finds herself on the sharp end of the trickiest conundrum – does Weir satisfactorily wrap up the story? Absolutely. We get a gripping conclusion to this plotline, while there are also some dangling tendrils that would give Weir the opportunity to revisit Artemis with the surviving characters. I would love to see him do so. Highly recommended.
10/10