Category Archives: outstanding books

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton

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I’ve loved this series – to the extent that after reading the third book in the series Spellbreaker, one of my favourite reads last year, I tracked down this second instalment for more Spellwright goodness.

Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.

This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive and have so many unthinkable and frightening consequences. Charlton’s febrile mind has worked out a system where words and will create spells – but what if different spellcasters regard others from different systems with suspicion and fear? What if there is a constant tension between those systems that teeters on the brink of open warfare? And what if in the middle of this tense political landscape come several powerful entities that threaten to overturn the status quo?

Inevitably there is quite a lot of explanation and passages of description throughout the book, but this doesn’t stop Francesca pinging off the page. I love her character – and the scenes where she is fighting to save the life of an injured patient are both exciting and highly plausible, which isn’t surprising given that Charlton is a fellow of Cardiology at the University of California. Nico is a spellcaster whose power undoes and subverts the spells of those who try casting spells against him, as he is unable to accurately spell his spells, thus echoing the pain and confusion Charlton must have endured as a child struggling with severe dyslexia. I can relate all too clearly, watching my granddaughter’s battle with this miserable condition.

While I knew one or two of the shock outcomes near the end of the book, given I had already read the final book in this trilogy, it didn’t prevent me really enjoying the journey which had its own share of surprises. Francesca’s character is a revelation and the way we discover who she is and how she got here is masterly and highly original.

This world is so cleverly devised and smart, it deserves to be far better known and Spellbound, along with Spellwright and Spellbreaker, comes highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook of Assassin’s Fate Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

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Robin Hobb is one of my favourite authors – I’ve read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings series. She has been clever with her series as her epic fantasy books are all set in the same world, but each trilogy or quartet deals with a particular storyline featuring a few of the characters and their adventures. Fitz and the Fool featured in the very first Farseer trilogy. If you are daunted at the thought of reading the whole world before plunging into this book, you don’t have to. My advice would be to read that first trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Hobb’s books as those first three books deal with Fitz’s eventful backstory.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

This is the final book in this trilogy and while you can get away with plunging into this one, you would be better off to start with the first book, Fool’s Assassin – see my review here, followed by Fool’s Quest – see my review here.

The dual narrative alternates between kidnapped Bee, struggling to cope with her brutal captors and the grieving Fritz who believes that Bee is dead. Each of these protagonists is involved in a major adventure which draws in a lot of characters we’ve previously encountered throughout the series. As well as the Fool being completely involved in this storyline, we also revisit the dragon city of Kelsingra and discover the fate of some of the liveships and a number of the dragons and the characters caught up with them. I found this one unputdownable. Robin Hobb is one of the most successful fantasy authors on the planet and there’s a solid reason for that. Her characterisation is layered and sophisticated, the worldbuilding – as you might expect with sixteen books – is detailed and delightfully complex.

She has an original take on the dragons inhabiting her books – they hatch into serpents which spend a certain amount of time in the ocean, which then form up into a tangle and make their way up the acidic Rain Wilds river to transform into the dragons they are destined to be and the humans who are glamoured to spend time around them, grooming them and providing them with food also become scaled or changed to reflect the appearance of their particular dragon. But after a cataclysmic natural disaster a number of years previously, the serpents are trapped in the sea unchanged and unable to fully recall how to do so. I’ve always enjoyed this storyline and particularly appreciated that this aspect makes a reappearance in this book.

In addition, I’ve always loved Fitz, from the time he was an unwanted royal bastard and also found Bee a compelling, unusual child with an unlikely ally who helps to keep her alive in very difficult circumstance. This all adds up to an emotional and exciting conclusion to a great series. If your taste runs to quality epic fantasy, then give this series a go.
10/10

Sunday Post – 14th May 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 my son was down for his birthday – we had a lovely time together at Highdown Gardens after a birthday meal, including making my very first vegan cake! It tasted okay – at least the sponge was soft and moist, but I’m going to need to practice more with the egg substitute, I think, maybe have a go at a carrot cake… This week my sister and I have been spending a lot of time together flat-hunting for her and also spending some quality time. Sadly, I am still not 100%, so I missed going to West Sussex Writers on Thursday night as I simply ran out of energy.

Today is a gathering of the clan at a birthday meal for my sister before she returns to France to pack for her new life here in England later in the week – I still can’t quite believe we are going to be living in the same town! A very happy Mothering Sunday to all of you across the pond…

This week I have read:
A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue …
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this madcap time-travelling adventure, then the blurb does give a flavour of the roller-coaster nature of this superior and original series. I woke up Himself by cackling aloud in some places – while I was near tears in others. It takes a special book to do that…

The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife. But there are more secrets than one in the Outskirts: and each dangerous step closer to the Guidestar brings new discoveries, leading to the most startling secret of all…
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but this one takes the series to a new level with an amazing twist that turns it from epic fantasy adventure to fantasy/science fiction. I love it when that happens. As a bonus, the worldbuilding in this slice of the story – this is the second book in a quartet – is outstanding.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed.
Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles. Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected? But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.
I’ve always loved Robin Hobb’s books, but this one is the best yet. She has taken her complex, interesting protagonists and pushed them to the limits of their endurance – and then shown us what they are made of, while tying up a number of outstanding plotpoints along the way. And those marvellous dragons of hers make a stunning entrance – Tintaglia… need I say more?

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 7th May 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The One by John Marrs

Teaser Tuesday featuring Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of the Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Scavenger’s Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

Friday Face-off – Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone… featuring
Scared to Live – Book 7 of the Cooper and Fry series by Stephen Booth

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

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

Appearances can be deceiving https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/appearances-can-be-deceiving/ These amusing pics made me grin…

The Best Short Non-Clichéd Poems for Weddings https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/12/the-best-short-non-cliched-poems-for-weddings/ As ever, this excellent site nails it with a lovely selection of wedding poems that are different.

A Gap in the Market https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/a-gap-in-the-market/ This thoughtful post from a concerned mother about books that deal with death in a sensitive way for very young children caught my attention.

Book Marketing that is Grand, Extraterrestrial and Bloody https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/book-marketing-that-is-grand-extraterrestrial-and-bloody/ With ever more books being produced, how do authors and publishers gain attention for their new darlings? Kristen enjoys one of the latest developments…

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse Chapter 5 – Yes – Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall https://redpenofdoom.com/2017/05/07/fitness-tips-for-the-apocalypse-chapter-5-yes-any-sort-of-apocalypse-means-looting-the-mall/ My advice is to go back to Chapter 1, but this is a really enjoyable, quirky series.

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 Ebook The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed His Dark Materials, particularly the first book which blew me away, so when I spotted this offering on Netgalley it was a no-brainer that I’d request it. I’m so glad I did…

The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.

This story is told through Ginny’s viewpoint as the summer holidays stretch ahead of her after her exams. It is a beautifully told tale with passages of lyric beauty as Ginny explores this seaside setting with an artist’s eye – and no, that isn’t reviewer-speak to warn you of a literary offering where the pace crawls along at the speed of a dozing snail. This tale cracks along at a fair clip as Ginny’s world is upended after a social worker suddenly appears up asking a lot of questions that has Ginny questioning former so-called facts, as well as shaking loose some uncomfortable memories…

This coming-of-age book has plenty of tension and effectively raises questions that all teenagers are confronted with – questions that we as adults shouldn’t let slip through the cracks of our oh-so-busy lives, because they go on mattering throughout our existence. This book deserves to be far better known than it is for it’s a gem. The story raises all sorts of gnarly questions about our society without any tub-thumping or syrupy sentiment – what happens to children when families can no longer cope? What is normal and who gets to decide? How do you decide what really matters to you – and what do you do when following that dream hurts the people around you? Pullman doesn’t necessarily offer the answers, but he certainly explores the issues around these questions in a wonderfully non-judgemental manner.

Though I found myself weeping when Ginny’s father was describing his childhood, I wouldn’t want you to go away with the idea that this is some worthily dreary read – there is also plenty of humour, with a couple of laugh aloud moments around the antics of Ginny’s friend Andy. In short, this one blew me away and is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Tyranny of Queens Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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I loved An Accident of Stars – read my review here – to the extent that it was one of my favourite reads of last year, so was thrilled when I spotted this offering on Netgalley.

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

It was a joy to catch up on Saffron and what happens to her after her unexpected return home. For me, she was always the standout character in this enthralling portal fantasy and I really appreciate the opportunity to rebond with her. But my firm advice is to read the first book before picking up this one. Politics in Kena is a complicated, nuanced business and as I plunged once more into this intricate world, it took me a while to pick up the threads and I’m not sure the pacing is quite as sharp as it might be. Granted everyone is thrown into turmoil after the shocking events at the end of An Accident of Stars but it seemed to take a while for the momentum of the story to get going.

However, that isn’t a dealbreaker – the world and the interplay of characters in this sophisticated, clever story makes is a standout read, anyhow. There are some pleasing plot twists I didn’t see coming which worked really well. It is also a joy to read a book where women are fully represented throughout the society – with not a cliché among them. Having grown up in the ‘golden age’ of fantasy and science fiction when women were either in the story to be seduced, saved or as a wrinkled fount of wisdom it still gives me a buzz to see a female cast of characters with agency representing a range of ideas and views from the nicest to the nastiest.

The climax and finale worked brilliantly with all the main characters taken care of – a feat in an epic fantasy where there are a fair spread of folks whose story arcs have cris-crossed through this duology. If you enjoy well written, engrossing epic fantasy, but feel that Life is too short to take on a doorstopper-sized epistle, then do consider this classy, engrossing duology – Meadows is a class act.

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

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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I love Sullivan’s writing – read my review of Lightborn here – and it doesn’t hurt that she is a lovely person. I met her fleetingly at Eastercon a few years ago during a Kaffeeklatsch session (which is when you can sign up for a session where numbers are restricted so you get to have a chance to talk to your favourite author over coffee and biscuits) and she came across as charming, clever and very modest. So I was delighted when I came across this offering.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. It starts with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Yes… I know it sounds mad and a complete mess. But Sullivan’s superpower is that her writing is so solid and strong, she immerses you in her worlds alongside her amazing characters doing amazing things and it seems utterly normal. Pearl is a fantastic character – it’s never easy to write from an alien or ‘other’ viewpoint, because if they are sufficiently different, it is often difficult to sufficiently care for them. But Sullivan manages to make Pearl vulnerable enough that we do bond with her.

Initially I thought she was some sort of fallen angel – but that is far too predictable for Sullivan’s fervid imagination. She writes the unusual brilliantly with wonderful descriptions that are punchy and to the point. Just as importantly, there is a strong structure and causality underpinning her original take on what powers the universe. Wild it may be, but there is nothing loose or wafty about the theory behind her worldbuilding.

As for the main players in this story – while Pearl, the main protagonist, was my favourite by a long country mile, the cast of supporting characters also leap off the page. There is Dr Sorle, conflicted and suffering, who is literally pulled in two directions; the corrupt dying plutocrat; and Alison, a stroppy vet. And in the midst of all this amazing story are regular shafts of humour – not jokes or comedy set pieces, but the kind of manic funniness that often occurs when we are pushed to our extreme.

This story grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t get go – I was beguiled, challenged, amused and thoroughly entertained. Another outstanding read of 2017.
10/10

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

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When I spotted this offering as part of a special Netgalley omnibus edition, I was delighted as the first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, is one of those which lodged in my head and hasn’t gone away – see my review.

Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

I had enjoyed the first book, but this second one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. I’d forgotten how punchy and readable the prose was, for starters. I love Rudden’s writing with his quirky imagery and desert-dry irony – and the way he nocks it up to gothic proportions when necessary. The descriptions of the Croits’ family home, the castle Eloquence, just pings off the page with its wrongness. While Denizen’s struggle to come to terms with his new family circumstances had me both grinning and feeling desperately sorry for him.

This one is a dual narrative – alongside Denizen’s storyline is another young teen – Uriel Croit, who is singled out by Grandfather for great things, alongside his twin sister. They train constantly and are being honed for the coming war, happy to pay the price for using their inner fire as they are set against cousins amongst the insane obstacle course that is the Croit family cemetery.

The two plotlines unfold with twists and turns in abundance and unlike most children’s books, there is very little ‘tell’ in this one and far more plunging forward with the story. I started off reading it with a view to its suitability for my granddaughter and by the end of the second chapter all that went out of the window. I was completely immersed in this grim world where everyone has an agenda and living alongside violence leaves scars – not just the physical sort, either. I love the fact that Rudden has created a world where killing is a big deal and we also get to see that monsters grieve for those they lose, too.

Of course when there are two storylines running alongside each other, there comes a time when they intersect – and this time around they didn’t so much meet as explode in the climactic crisispoint… The history of the Croit family is also caught up with the Knights in a fascinating manner – I loved the clever plotting, the gritty entrancing world and the spiky, memorable characters. And I cannot wait to read the next book. If you are fans of well-written fantasy, don’t be put off by the fact the marketing is aiming this series at children – for my money Rudden falls into the same category as Gaiman and Pratchett, whose writing appeals to both adults and children alike.

While my arc copy of The Forever Court Dark was provided by the publishers via Netgalley, this has not influenced or biased my review.
10/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During March, I read – um… no books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge. Nope – not a single one. I read plenty of books by women writers throughout March – the catch is that they were writers I’d read previously. So my yearly total of seven books so far is unchanged.

So surely I at least managed to clear a host of books from my TBR pile towards this year’s Tackling My TBR, given my sorry showing in the previous challenge. No… not really – just four – but it was definitely quality over quantity because every single one is a cracking read:

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
This science fiction whodunit blew me away and is every bit as good as the awesome Planetfall. It starts out as one sort of story and steadily morphed into something else, all the while giving us an insight into what makes Carlos tick. He is entertainingly grumpy about all authority figures – and then… something happens – a gamechanger that had me yelping in horror and unable to put the book down. And as for that ending – wow!

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
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. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

Blood upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater.
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy doesn’t suffer from any second book slump after Twelve Kings as we continue to follow Çeda’s fortunes while she seeks a way to get close enough to the kings in order to bring them down. But they are every bit as powerful as myths say they are… This is a compelling world riven with factions and deep, corrosive secrets and I loved it.

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete
Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . .
Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
After reading the hilarious How To Train Your Parents, it was a no-brainer that I would want to track down this sequel. Unlike many other children’s books, it puts Louis’s interaction with his parents right in the middle of the story. It makes for a funny, often poignant and engrossing tale with some shafts of wisdom about the intergenerational divide and modern family life.

So that is my March roundup. It’s early days in April – and already I’m doing better with the my Discovery Challenge. What about you – are there any challenges you’re undertaking during the year? I’d love to hear about it!

Sunday Post – 2nd April 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 rather roller-coaster week. Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday and we were invited to my daughter’s for a lovely meal, where the pic was taken of all us mothers. We had a wonderful time – plenty of delicious food and lots of laughter and good company.

Meanwhile, Himself and I are getting used to life without his snoring. He is coping brilliantly with his sleep mask – me… less so. I find it difficult to cope with the quiet and keep waking up in a panic, all set to thump him, when I hear the machine whistling and realise he is breathing, after all. So right now, I am very tired.

My Creative Writing classes finished this week – I can’t quite believe the Spring Term is now over. I’ve now completed the editing phase of my major rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest and have started releasing it to my trusty team of beta-readers, who are aiming to have their readthrough completed by the end of the Easter break, bless them.

This week I have read:

A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…
Another wonderful magical story in the best classic tradition – rich, lush and beautifully crafted. A real treat and an ideal Easter read if you are looking for something suitably rich to read while nibbling on your favourite chocs.

 

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations – A Mrs Pargeter Mystery by Simon Brett

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter. This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.
This is another book that was released during this week and I thoroughly enjoyed this welcome change in pace and genre. An enjoyable and charming mystery that is an ideal holiday read – and the fact that I crashed in mid-series didn’t matter a bit.

 

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author. Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.
I love Tricia Sullivan’s writing – she is an awesome talent who takes the genre in amazing directions and when I saw this one on the shelves, I was delighted. It is a real treat in a year of marvellous books.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 26th March 2017

Review of My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Teaser Tuesday featuring Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

Friday Face-off – Without gambling, I would not exist… featuring The Player of Games – Book 2 of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations – A Mrs Pargeter Mystery by Simon Brett

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

Tough Travelling: Beginnings https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/04/01/tough-traveling-beginnings/ This the restart of what looks like an excellent meme that will be running for the month and I enjoyed Wendy’s choice of books.

Alternate Writing Resources https://richardankers.com/2017/03/27/alternate-writing-resources/ It’s always intriguing to see what resources other writers use – and Richard has a useful clutch here – some I know, and others I don’t, but will be hunting down.

Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge – 1st Quarter check in http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2017/03/31/women-of-genre-fiction-reading-challenge-1st-quarter-check-in/ This is very similar to the Discovery Challenge I run throughout the year and it is interesting to see how fellow book-blogger, Tammy, is getting on.

Lessons Learned in Writers’ Music from the Rolling Stones: Don’t Misunderstand Your Villain https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/03/30/lesson-learned-in-writers-music-from-the-rolling-stones-dont-misunderstand-your-villain/ Jean always has interesting things to say – and this is another well written, enjoyable article.

Five Fascinating Facts about Vampire Fiction https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/31/five-fascinating-facts-about-vampire-fiction/ Yet another excellent, informative post from this superb site.

 

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