Category Archives: outstanding books

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #AtlasAlonebookreview

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I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review this one – After Atlas was my outstanding book of 2017. In order to get the best out of this book, you don’t have to have read all four books of this fabulous series, but my firm advice is to at least get hold of After Atlas, given that Atlas Alone takes up the story after that amazing ending and features at least a couple of the main characters who appear in After Atlas.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who perpetrated a terrible crime on Earth as they were leaving. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone. A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time…

I have tweaked and truncated the rather chatty blurb, but you get the idea… This is one of those atmospheric, twitchy narratives where the main character in first person viewpoint is driven by a sense of wrongness after witnessing a terrible crime. Seeing such horror has taken its toll on her and her two closest friends – Travis and Carl. What now drives her is a desire to discover who was responsible, because she knows they are on the ship.

What Newman excels at is writing difficult characters who don’t immediately appeal. I am aware that if I encountered Dee in real life, I would be repelled by her formidable reserve and the social mask she hides behind. That said, it’s made very clear exactly why she is as she is – to her fury. Because while immersed in a game, she finds herself confronted with aspects of her terrible past – and a scarily powerful entity she calls ‘the beast’ is intent on getting her to come to terms with what happened to her. While Dee is equally determined that she’ll do no such thing – over the years as an indentured employee (more like a slave) she has managed to throw up mental defences which she is reluctant to drop. Particularly when feeling so threatened…

And with good reason. When a sudden death in a game is mirrored in real life and Carl’s remarkable investigative skills are let loose on the case, Dee realises she is at risk of being arrested for murder with only the beast’s assurance that she won’t be caught. I found Dee a compelling protagonist, who I loved. So that ending… well – I can’t say much about it – but I didn’t see THAT one coming!

Yet another amazing climactic cliffhanger that leaves me desperate for the next slice in this amazing adventure. This is one of my favourite series at present and Atlas Alone is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Very highly recommended for fans of well-written, character-driven science fiction. The ebook arc copy of Atlas Alone was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

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Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Friday? Nope – TUESDAY Faceoff – The pyramids were built to last ten thousand years… – Brainfluffbookblog

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Yes – I know. I’m posting this one on the wrong day! But otherwise I’d miss out taking part and I love, love, love this meme which was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is DESERT LANDSCAPES, so I’ve selected Pyramids – Book 7 of the Discworld series by the late, great Terry Pratchett.

 

This edition was produced by Corgi in July 1990. This one is my favourite by a long country mile, given that it was designed by the wonderful Josh Kirby and beautifully captures the sheer knockabout mayhem and humour of this, one of the earlier Discworld novels. Though I would give a whole lot for that textbox to disappear…

 

Published in 2008 by Harper, I suppose I should give them points for effort. At least you know this is a humorous novel by the positioning and type of font and the bright teal against the crimson background is eye-catching. You also know it’s set in Egypt. But frankly, I’m not convinced. There simply isn’t the energy and wit so evident in the previous, original cover and don’t get me started on that ugly blob…

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in January 2014, is a better effort that the previous one. I like the way the great pyramid is clearly affecting the surrounding landscape and the figure leaping up and down on the cliffs. I also very much like the way the title and author name has been handled. While I still don’t think that any of the more modern efforts come close to achieving the excellence of the Kirby cover, this at least doesn’t have me shaking my head in despair at how one of my alltime favourite series is now being packaged.

 

Produced by Piper in May 2015, this German edition has reprised the Kirby feel with this amazing camel, who looks as if he’s about to slobber all over the prospective reader as he gallops away from that lethal pyramid. I love the night-time feel, which gives a great sense of the coruscating lightning building up. My one grumble is that the font could be more playful and exciting. This one is a close contender for my favourite…

 

This Italian edition, published by Sonzogno in May 1994, is – like so many of the editions for this book – is referencing Kirby’s original artwork. I’m interested to see that in thumbnail, this title is still clearly visible. Needless to say, I really like this cover, even though the pyramid isn’t anywhere in sight. Which is your favourite?

Review of INDIE Ebook Star Carrier – Book 3 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #StarCarrierbookreview

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I read the first book in this series, following the exploits of William Sparhawk in Battle Cruiser here for Sci Fi Month and I was hooked. In short order, I read Dreadnaught and now need to know what happens next…

The greatest warships ever constructed in known space rise up one by one, soon dominating our skies. They strike fear into the hearts of every citizen and rebel colonist alike. Captain William Sparhawk, the very man who convinced the secretive Council to build this terrifying fleet, now has doubts about the project. What is their exact mission? How could anyone have built these huge ships so quickly? And most puzzling of all, what’s happening out at the isolated laboratory complex on Phobos, Mars’ lop-sided moon?

I very much like William, which is important as this trilogy is told in first person viewpoint throughout through his point of view. Rather unbending and more than a bit socially awkward, William is partly cloned from his father’s genes, not that it means they get on – they don’t. And due to what happens during this event-filled foray, as William sets off on a mission he isn’t sure he’ll return from, he discovers the chilling reason why his father is so closed off.

There are plenty of ingredients vital to the success of a cracking series – a likeable protagonist with several character flaws that endear me to him; lots of action that has me turning the pages, providing plenty of excitement; sufficient worldbuilding that means I care about the stakes and situation putting the protagonist in peril and sufficient variety in the way in which our plucky character struggles so that it doesn’t become repetitive.

But what sets apart other series – including this one – is that as it progresses, situations and issues the character and reader thought were fact become something else. There are other layers underneath the apparent structure, which gives a completely different angle to what is actually going on. As a result, this is a series you really must read in the right order to get the very best out of it – and for my money, the best is very, very good.

I loved the dynamic that continued playing out at the end of Dreadnaught and continues on into this book that provides strong answers to all sorts of questions, such as – why is the political situation on Earth quite so stagnant? Why doesn’t the power structure morph and change into something else? Some of those answers are shocking.

I found it hard to put this one down as I was driven to discover how this plays out, hoping that the ending wouldn’t be a disappointment, after all the tension and adventure. I was enormously relieved – and sad – when Larson successfully tied up all the loose ends and brought the book and trilogy to a triumphant conclusion. Highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePsychologyofTimeTravelbookreview

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I’ve been eyeing this one with enthusiasm and was delighted to be able to get hold of it via Netgalley. Apart from anything else – that cover is to die for…

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history. Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Firstly, if you are in the habit of diving in and skimming your way through a story – that reading tactic won’t work here. This is a densely written, tightly crafted book with a non-linear timeline that means you need to slow down and pay attention when reading this one. And if you approached this one, thinking that you would be in for the kind of adventurous mayhem offered by Jodi Taylor in her Chronicles of St Mary’s series – again, you’d be wrong. It’s nothing of the sort. So now we’ve got the two fundamental mistakes I committed when first approaching this one out of the way – let’s address what it is.

For once, the title is spot on – this book addresses what regular time travelling does to the travellers. Unlike most time-travelling books, this one doesn’t take us on forays into the past or future, but concentrates on a small handful of people who are profoundly affected by time travelling and follows their story. I was intrigued that some didn’t even time travel themselves – Ginger, for instance – but were connected in some way to people who did. Told in multiple viewpoint, the story weaves around a tightly-knit group for whom the ordinary rules of the universe no longer apply. Led by someone innately arrogant and entitled, Grace’s viewpoint pervades the group and anyone who disagrees with her viewpoint is forced to leave. Apparently driven by a fear that the project will be shut down on the grounds that time travel causes mental illness, Grace institutes rigorous checks, including nasty games designed to foster an indifference towards death in the travellers.

How can an outsider find a way into this group to discover details about a mysterious death? As the story jumps between the characters and different timelines, we gain an insight into the motivations and lives of a handful of women all somehow involved in the particular death, or time travelling. It is an engrossing, clever read packed with telling character details that have had me mulling over this one ever since I put it down. And, exceptionally, I’m tempted to go back and reread it – something I hardly ever do. Partly, because while I thoroughly enjoyed it and am in awe of the writing talent that is Mascarenhas – I didn’t love it. Being a rather simple soul, I need to be able to bond with at least one of the main characters and other than poor Bee – I didn’t.

I’m really sorry about that, because the other outstanding aspect of this book is that the only male characters who appear are incidental. For once, I’m reading a book where every single person who has agency and matters is a woman – I can’t tell you after growing up in the 60s and 70s what an amazing feeling that is. I just wished I cared more about at least one of these brave, powerful females. However, that doesn’t diminish the book’s importance or lessen my appreciation of the writing skill on display and I shall definitely be looking out for more by this immensely talented author. While I obtained an arc of The Psychology of Time Travel from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Only do what your heart tells you… Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is HEART, so I’ve selected a classic book that I read another lifetime ago – when I was a teenager – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

 

This edition was produced by Prestwick House in September 2004 and I think this cover is amazing. Classic books often have rather boring covers – but this one is nothing of the sort. This African coastline also incorporates the face of the protagonist in a psychedelic way and it’s also avoided the dreaded textbox. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in May 1995 by Penguin, this cover is a little more traditional – but nevertheless manages to be both attractive and exotic, providing the kind of illustration that most people contemporary with Conrad would envision Africa looking like. Sadly there is a textbox, but at least it has the good manners to be reasonably small with an inoffensive font.

 

This edition, published by Penguin in 1983, is even more traditionally classic with a sepia-shaded drawing that looked aged from the moment the paint dried. The obligatory textbox is splatted across the top of the cover like a big black carbuncle. Oh well.

 

Produced by Newton and Compton in July 2013, this Italian edition is more like it! I love the bright green and yellow cover with the tropical leaf design bordering the edge and featuring the small plant, complete with roots. The yellow heart marked up with the roots of that little plant is so very effective that I very nearly had this one as my favourite – what stopped me from choosing it was that nasty little blob advertising a special low price bang in the middle of the artwork *sigh*.

 

This edition, published by Enhanced Media Publishing in November 2016, is an arresting and attractive design and was the one that made me choose this book. I love the contrast of the bright red heart splitting apart against a black background. No textbox – yippee! And I love the lovely flowing title font. Which is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth… Brainfluffbookblog

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If I haven’t already said it to you – I wish you a very happy, healthy 2019! This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a FRESH START, so I’ve selected one of my outstanding reads of 2018 – Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Gollancz in February 2015. It is one of the more stripped-back covers, but I do love the vibrant background colour with the embossed, bevelled font and the outline of the wing – the badge of the flyers. The result is eye-catching, classy and my favourite.

 

Published in April 2003 by Bantam, I do like the seascape and the flyer high up in the sky. But I was aggravated that the magnified image isn’t the same, given that the angle of wings is wrong. It makes me wonder if the cover designer thinks the readership are so stupid as to miss a detail like that…

 

This edition, published by Bantam in October 2012, is essentially the same basic cover as the first one, but it is startling to see just what a difference another background colour makes to the overall mood and feel of the design. While I like it, I don’t love as much as the first example.

 

Produced by Saída de Emergência in May 2013, this Portuguese edition is a strong contender. I love the artwork and the dramatic scenery, which is exactly as I envisage Windhaven. The scene highlights just how vulnerable and dangerous the flyers are as they face the elements and this cover is a close contender for the favourite spot.

 

This Italian edition, published by Mondadori in 2015 is another dramatic offering. This time we come face to face with young Mari, who stares straight out at the readers, defiantly wearing her wings with a stormy sky as a backdrop. The reason why this one isn’t a favourite is down to a personal peeve of mine. She is far too lightly dressed for a journey on such a stormy planet, when she will be travelling over water. I also think that sticker would be better off in the corner, rather than intruding on the rather fine artwork.

Which is your favourite?

Review of PAPERBACK The Boy on the Bridge – Book 2 of The Girl With All the Gifts series by M.R. Carey – #Brainfluffbookreview #TheBoyontheBridgebookreview

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I was blown away by The Girl With All the Gifts – indeed it was one of my Outstanding Books of 2015. Would I enjoy this one as much?

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading The Girl With All the Gifts and yet you’ve picked this offering up, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to read The Girl With All the Gifts to appreciate The Boy on the Bridge because in reality, the only real connection between them is that they are set in the same world, where a fungal plague has infected humanity, turning the majority of the population into zombies, or hungries, as they are called. The last enclave in the south of England mounts a scientific expedition to retrieve stored specimens that have been cached throughout the length of the country right up into Scotland, using a formidably armoured motorised vehicle – part-tank, part-laboratory – which will take best part of the year. The small elite scientific team is led by Dr Fournier, while the military detail assigned to keep them safe is commanded by Captain Carlisle. These two men loathe and distrust one another and their mutual hostility isn’t helping the success of this vital mission.

The story unfolds in multiple viewpoint, with the two main protagonists being Rina, a young, brilliant scientist who several years ago discovered a traumatised boy and took him under her wing, and Stephen Greaves, now a teenager on the autistic spectrum. One of the reasons why this mission is even possible is due to an invention of Greaves, the e-blocker that stops the hungries being able to smell humans. They are all looking for a mutated strain of the fungal plague which would allow them to find an antidote. This is the story of that mission.

I’ll be honest, I had to take two goes at this book. This genre isn’t my go-to choice if I’m not at my shiny best and right now I’m definitely not at my shiny best. There was a cascade of events that quickly snowballed into something dark and apparently unavoidable, and the very quality of the writing and the harsh reality of Carey’s excellent scene setting only managed to make the whole situation even grimmer. I had toyed with the idea of not finishing this one – not because it wasn’t brilliantly written, but simply because the situation seemed poignantly, desperately sad.

In the event, I’m glad that I got over myself and completed it, because that epilogue was a real jaw-dropper. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts, chiefly because no one snagged my sympathy in the way that poor little Melanie did. While I very much liked Stephen, there were too many times when I also found his reasoning too alien. I shan’t be forgetting this story, this world and the outcome for a very long time. Carey writes with power and an unflinching ability to dig into our vulnerabilities and make us really think about what it is to be human. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys apocalyptic adventures.
9/10

Review of PAPERBACK book Together by Julie Cohen #Brainfluffbookreview #Togetherbookreview

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One of my students kindly lent me this book – thank you, Rose! She thought I might enjoy it as I’d enthused about JoJo Moyes writing…

This is not a great love story. This is a story about great love.
On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.

That blurb is a really good summing up of the story – kudos to the publisher for getting it spot on – so many blurbs don’t. The book is told from two viewpoints – Robbie, whose pov features mostly at the beginning of the book, before Emily takes over the narration. So in order for this one to work, I had to really care for both of the main protagonists – and I did. Robbie is in the most horrible dilemma at the start and takes a hard decision without any compromise. But as the book continues, I realised that was how he lived his life – once he decided what was best for him and the ones he loved, he was prepared to go to any lengths to ensure it would happen.

Emily is equally determined to follow her heart. They both pay a very high price for that decision, but as the narrative timeline gradually works backwards throughout the book, I also become aware that they aren’t the only ones who get hurt. Others are also caught up in their unwillingness to live apart.

By the end of the story, I had a lump in my throat and also felt very emotionally torn – because this is essentially a story about a great love between two fundamentally good people who are not prepared to do the right thing and let each other go. Though I was very interested to see there were lines that Cohen wasn’t prepared to cross – the storyline concerning their son was interesting, because in some ways I felt the author slightly ducked the issue surrounding that one.

I’m aware this is a book I’ll remember for a long time… That many people will be shaken at the depiction of two people, whose passion for each other took them places where, perhaps, they shouldn’t have gone. Very highly recommended for fans of Me Before You.
10/10