Category Archives: novella

Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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When I heard this one was all about an alternate history where the US Government decided to farm hippos in the everglades, I had to have it…

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Well this is fun! Gailey has perfectly paced this rip-roaring alternate historical adventure that mostly features Winslow Houndstooth. However, this story is an ensemble piece where a group of hard-edged characters are assembled to undertake the caper, or operation, whereby they drive the feral hippos out of the Harriet, this enclosed area that was once one of the foremost hippo breeding farms in the States.

All these folk are people you wouldn’t wish to meet in a dark alley – tough and battle-wary as they are.
We also meet up with some of the domesticated hippos, the star being Ruby, who is small, dark-skinned, smart and loyal. She is a hopper – a hippo bred for wrangling the herds of larger hippos, but who actually is Winslow’s best friend. He is determined to pull off this operation with his hand-picked crew, as it pays extremely well while also planning a side-dish of revenge along the way. However, events rapidly spin out of control as Gailey isn’t afraid to off some of her leading characters – the sudden death of one in particular rather winded me.

This novella certainly packs a punch, with Gailey effectively handling the pacing of events throughout the narrative timeline so that the climactic scene works really well. This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos… Of course, there also has to be an antagonist in this scenario and Gailey provides us with someone suitably powerful and menacing with just the right amount of nastiness.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an original premise I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for A Taste of Marrow, due to be released in September.
8/10

Sunday Post – 4th June 2017

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

Last Sunday was a bit wet, but a perfect day for moving plants around and potting up. We’d visited the garden centre and spent the children’s inheritance on reed screens, pots and ivies to train along our low brick wall to discourage the local teenagers from using it as a smoking spot. So I hacked away at bindweed and transplanted some sulking lavenders and a bullied fuchsia before the rain stopped misting around and decided to get serious.

This week was half term, so I had a break from teaching – which was very welcome, given I’ve been struggling since Easter with regular bouts of exhaustion and faintness. I had to cry off a writing get-together with former students on Tuesday as I was suffering with yet another headache, but at least it didn’t linger through until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get plenty of editing down – one of my lovely beta readers had given me plenty of notes, so I went through Miranda’s Tempest fixing some issues. Himself is currently going through a line edit for me. And the big bonus – on Thursday I finally managed to get together with my marvellous writing partner Mhairi, who I haven’t seen in faaar too long! It was lovely to catch up and natter about all things writerly with her.

I also managed to finish and submit a short story for an anthology – what was special about this one, was that I was asked to contribute… So I’m now fretting by hoping it is suitable and ticks all the boxes – and taking my mind off it by plunging into the last major edit of Dying for Space, Book 2 of the Sunblinded Trilogy. This week-end we’ve been working in the garden again as the weather continues to be fabulous. The best spring I can recall for years…

This week I have read:
Less Than a Treason – Book 21 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Kate Shugak is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5’1″ tall, carrires a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat, and owns a half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine—and she needs to be, to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her. And throw their worst the wilds have: Kate and Mutt have both been shot.
This book immediately picks up from the cliffhanger ending of the previous instalment. I loved this one – the dual narrative works really well and it is always a great bonus when a crime novel gives an insight into a corner of the world I’ll never know. Alaska is revealed as a relentless environment that is nonetheless undergoing massive change.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
Thanks to Oscar coming to stay at the start of the half-term break, we managed to get this one completed. As ever, lots of danger, unexpected plot twists and a nice message about just how vital libraries and books are – without being remotely preachy. Another cracking story.

Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews
In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?
This enjoyable military science fiction underwater adventure is full of tension and action that doesn’t let up. Hayes is a nicely grumpy protagonist with a bleak backstory and there is clearly going to be plenty of other problems looming in the future for him to tackle.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
I haven’t read Patrick Ness before – but I’ll certainly be reading him again. I found this beautiful, unexpected story a heartbreak. But I couldn’t put it down until I’d read it from cover to cover. Ness hooked me with his angry, conflicted boy and complicated monster and I wasn’t able to break away until I got to the marvellous end. One of my favourite books of the year to date.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This contemporary novel was a delight. Quirky and slightly fey, I was initially concerned that it would puddle down into sentimentality. Luckily Hogan is made of sterner stuff and this book tackles some gnarly subjects along the way, while delivering a lovely story. Recommended.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 28th May 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Less Than a Treason – Book 21 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Review of Saven Disclosure – Book 1 of The Saven series by Siobhan Davis

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Friday Face-off – Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars – featuring A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

Review of The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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

Italian Fantasy Names https://scflynn.com/2017/05/29/italian-fantasy-names/ This quirky article by fantasy writer S.C. Flynn had me grinning…

Broadside No. 14 – Rosemary Kirstein https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/broadside-no-14-rosemary-kirstein/ It’s always a buzz when you’ve been banging on about an underappreciated author to then find a fellow fan – and so imagine my delight when I was pinged by the Cap in her feature of the awesome Rosemary Kirstein’s wonderful Steerswoman series.

Asteroid Collision May Have Tipped Saturn’s Moon Enceladus http://www.space.com/37034-saturn-moon-enceladus-tipped-over-by-asteroid.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social#?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=2016twitterdlvrit An intriguing article for those of you who also enjoy space stuff…

A Summary and Analysis of Goldilocks and the Three Bears https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/30/a-summary-and-analysis-of-goldilocks-and-the-three-bears/ I’ll guarantee you’ll discover something you didn’t know about this story, if you read it.

A Book Labyrinth in London https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/a-book-labyrinth-in-london/ I’m sorrier than I can say that I managed to miss this one… It looks amazing!

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

Teaser Tuesday – 16th May, 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:

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
2% The sound of the horn pierces the aperion, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.

BLURB: At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

This is the opening of this novella from an author I have fallen in love with. Himself bought it a couple of months ago and has recommended it, so I’m tucking in as the second book in this series comes out at the end of the month. I don’t yet know if I like it or not as I am just beginning this one, though I am very much looking forward to it.

Sunday Post – 19th March 2017

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

It’s been a great week. Last Monday I started back at Fitstep and Pilates after a couple of weeks’ break and thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the rhythm of exercising again. We had our Poetry Workshop during my Creative Writing sessions on Monday and Tuesday, which I hope the students found as enjoyable and stimulating as I did. Himself had a couple of days off midweek, so we took a bit of a break and went out for lunch at the Look and Sea restaurant, though the lovely river views were a tad murky on account of the fog.

It was also something of a celebration as Kristell Ink Publishing have now announced they have signed a contract with me to publish Netted, which they described as: a tale of family love, rivalry and cybernetic implants, with some kick-ass older women and a dark undertone of repression and obsession. It is scheduled to be released in 2019. As you can imagine, I’m delighted. They got back to me at the end of January to say they liked the rewrite and wanted to publish Netted. Once I signed the contract, Jo Hall introduced me to the rest of the Grimbold authors – Kristell Ink is one of their imprints. I have been bowled over by the warm welcome I’ve received by these talented folks. One of the main reasons why I submitted to them last year is that I’m enormously impressed by the consistently high quality of the books they publish. And I would also like to congratulate with my fellow author, Myfanwy Rodman, who has also been recently signed with Kristell Ink.

This week I have read:
Wolf Moon – Book 2 of The Luna duology by Ian McDonald

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.

This is a gritty, action-packed sequel to the excellent Luna: New Moon released last year – see my review here. Now that everything has kicked off on the Moon and tipped into war, old scores are settled and revenge drives these ambitious, ruthless people whose energy and fire helped transform the Moon into the industrial powerhouse that now keeps the lights burning on Earth.

 

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission – see my review here – the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to twelve demons when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 12th March 2017

Review of Amunet by Robert Harkess

Teaser Tuesday featuring Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald

Review of Satan’s Reach – Book 2 of the Weird Space series by Eric Brown

Top Ten Spring Reads

Friday Face-off – I know why the caged bird sings… featuring The Lies of Locke Lamora – Book 1 of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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

Kristell Ink Welcomes Two New Authors! http://kristell-ink.com/kristell-ink-welcomes-two-new-authors/ I couldn’t resist featuring this announcement…

From the ‘Arctic’ series https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/from-the-arctic-series/ Once more this marvellous site has delivered an amazing pic.

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/03/18/space-features-week-18-march/ Another excellent roundup from Steph of what is going on in space – and this week, you really shouldn’t miss this article.

50 Word Stories: The Robin https://richardankers.com/2017/03/18/50-word-stories-the-robin/ Another little treasure from this insanely prolific and talented author.

Three Years and Counting https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/03/17/three-years-and-counting/ In this outstanding article, Inese provides amazing photos of this year’s St Patrick’s Parade and some thoughtful insights into her three-year experience of blogging.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE novella Mira’s Last Dance Book 4 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to a chaos demon with twelve previous riders when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.

Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
9/10

*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

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric and the Shaman – a World of Five Gods novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

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After recently reading Penric’s Demon I decided to treat myself to more Penric goodness and so plunged straight back into this world.

penricandtheshamanIn this novella set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in Penric’s Demon, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Penric is now a noted scholar and has learnt to live alongside his demon he calls Desdemona. It is enjoyable to see his growth in confidence and how he is still having to negotiate the personalities within him as he deals with this ongoing crisis. Bujold’s deft characterisation comes into its own as we also see slices of this adventure in the viewpoint of Inglis and the locator sent to track him down. Given this is a novella in multiple viewpoint, the story needs to get cracking – and yet at no time does the pace seem rushed or the characterisation thin. As you’d expect with a story set in an established series, the worldbuilding is pinsharp with weather, landscape and settlements pinging off the page.
While this story is about death and possible murder, there is a lot of humour. Penric copes with his demon by use of snark – or maybe it is the demon’s preferred choice… it’s not always easy to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Penric through the eyes of those interacting with him, as well as getting the benefit of seeing his own point of view – which had rather more internal dialogue than is usual.

As ever with Bujold, no one is shown to be perfectly good or all bad. Her characters are always a blend with their own agendas and foibles, which makes for an intelligent, nuanced story. As for the ending – it wasn’t a huge surprise, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. Although I did hold my breath several times – you can never completely relax with this author as she is quite capable of taking a story on an unexpected left turn, leaving you scrabbling to catch up.

Himself, who is a solid fan of all things Bujold, informs me that she is in the process of writing another slice of Penric’s adventures. I’m delighted and if you’d like a taster of what this talented, multi-award author has to offer, then look out this novella, preferably after reading Penric’s Demon although you won’t flounder overly if you don’t. It comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Frontier – an Epsilon Sector novella by Janet Edwards

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This is a standalone novella that nonetheless nests within the excellent Earthgirl series – see my review of Earthgirl here.

frontierAmalie’s the last unmarried girl in Jain’s Ford settlement. Life on a frontier farming planet in the twenty-eighth century has a few complications. The imported Earth animals and plants don’t always interact well with the local ecology, and there’s a shortage of doctors and teachers. The biggest problem though is the fact there are always more male than female colonists arriving from other worlds. Single men outnumber single women by ten to one, and girls are expected to marry at seventeen. Amalie turned seventeen six months ago, and she’s had nineteen perfectly respectable offers of marriage. Everyone is pressuring her to choose a husband, or possibly two of them. When Amalie’s given an unexpected chance of a totally different future, she’s tempted to take it, but then she gets her twentieth offer of marriage and it’s one she can’t possibly refuse.

Edwards writes with a chirpy energy that has her heroine pinging off the page with a likeable can-do attitude I find very endearing. Amalie is the eldest of eleven children and is used to making do so her tough practicality shines throughout this story. Because the character is both engaging and believable and the worldbuilding is filtered entirely through her, I found the newly established colony plausible and engrossing. Edwards perfectly depicts a small community with the town gossip, the eccentrics, the misfit with too much money and the rough-edged type of boisterous behaviour in the bar where Amalie works that would probably come to the attention of the law enforcement authorities in a more established settlement.

I’m a fan of a story that steadily builds on a series of small, everyday details that finally collide in a dramatic event – and Edwards is very skilled at handling this dynamic. Alongside her struggle to find the right husband – and avoid the plethora of wrong ones – Amalie is also trying to ensure her father’s experimental crop is successful. The sudden drama that impacts on the situation works well in raising the stakes for everyone in the small community and providing a reminder that life in such a place is always going to be risky.

Edwards perfectly judges the pacing and narrative arc for this novella and brings the story to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Those of you who found the Earthgirl series a delight and would like to once more experience this mostly upbeat, enjoyable world should track down this novella – it won’t disappoint.
9/10