Category Archives: outstanding books

Friday Faceoff – Any planet is ‘Earth’ to those who live on it…

Standard

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 week the theme is planets, so I’ve chosen The Empress of Mars by the wonderfully talented Kage Baker.

 

This is the cover produced by Tor in May 2009. I like this one – the depiction of the half-terraformed planet is vividly portrayed without any undue clutter or blurb, which makes this one very effective.

 

This Italian edition, produced in October 2007 by Delos Books is more static with the red desert landscape featuring, rather than showing any of the feisty characters that ping off the page. I don’t feel this cover does the book justice, but neither is it an egregious travesty either.

 

Published in December 2008 by Subterranean Press, this cover is less about the Mars environment and more about the characters. It tends to have a sense of fantasy about it, which isn’t quite right. That said, it is eye-catching and effective and anything that encourages a reader to pick one of Baker’s books off the shelf is to be encouraged.

 

This cover, produced by in 2003 by Night Shade Books, once again features a Martian landscape. This depiction certainly looks very like a lot of the images we have seen of Mars, especially the pink-tinged sky and rather foreshortened horizon. I particularly like the font on this one. As for my favourite? This week I simply cannot decide. What about you – do you have a preference?

Friday Faceoff – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. (James Taylor)

Standard

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 week the theme is hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

This is my personal favourite. I love the drama of the swirling red dust as poor old Mark is being swept away and think this is the cover that most effectively depicts the initial drama the starts the book. It was produced in February 2014 by Crown.

 

This edition, produced in February 2014 by Edbury Digital is produced as a movie tie-in cover. So it is Matt Damon suffering on the cover, with flashes of the faceplate hinting at the helmet as he considers his plight after being stranded on Mars. Again, the colour of the cover and his agonised expression captures the drama of the situation.

 

Published in February 2014 by Broadway Books, this is the ‘arrested’ version – we all have them. The photo of us that looks like it’s been taken at a police station after we’ve done something naughty… I’m quite comforted to see that even film stars endure such pics, as I thought it was only one’s children who specialised in taking these efforts. Suffice to say this isn’t a cover that would persuade me to rush out and buy this book.

 

This cover, produced by Autopublished in September 2012, is clearly a DIY effort. Having said that, I’ve seen worse – the biggest criticism of it being that it is very generic. However, that clearly didn’t stop people buying this book in droves, as it subsequently attracted a publishing deal based on its popularity.

 

This Russian cover is another strong contender. I like the drama and fact it depicts the full horror of Mark’s situation. Produced by ACT in September 2014, I like the fact we are seeing exactly what Mark sees – although I’m not sure there are quite so many clouds in a Martian sky. Which cover do you like best?

TAGGED – I’m It…

Standard

I saw this tag by Rae at PowerfulWomenReaders, on The Mid-Year Freakout Book Tag and couldn’t resist…

The Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2017
Really? I’m supposed to pick JUST ONE out of allll the fabulous reads I’ve had? Fine! But this is a CRUEL question!
After Atlas – Book 2 in 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.
I loved the first book, but this one… it blew me away. Carlos is such a strong protagonist and a particular twist in this story had me gripped to the extent that I actually yelled. As for that ending – oh my goodness! No wonder it is a nominee for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Your Favourite Sequel So Far
I have two – and no… I simply CANNOT decide between them.
A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
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.
This classy portal fantasy won’t leave me alone, with the strong story and interesting characters.

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash
Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
I loved this beautiful fantasy duology with its strong Japanese influence and fascinating range of characters. If you are looking for a quality fantasy with a different twist, then this comes highly recommended.

A New Release That You Haven’t Read But You Really Want To
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
I love the sound of this one. The good news is that I have a Netgalley arc, so it is one I am going to enjoy reading next month – I love my life…

Most Anticipated Release of the Second Half of the Year
The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman
The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with. Violent and despairing after the murder of the one person she loved, a psychiatrist who was studying abductees, Julia continues to rebuff the aliens until her relationships with others who have met “the things,” as she calls them, including a tattoo artist, a strange man who can take photographs with the power of his mind, and an abductee locked up in a mental hospital, force Julia deeper into direct alien contact and a confrontation about what death means to humans and aliens alike.
I love the sound of this one! So, rightly or wrong, I am really, really looking forward to reading it.

Your Biggest Disappointment

I don’t finish books I dislike, so there’s nothing that’s a disappointment in my reading list so far this year. I have a policy that if I don’t complete a book, then I’m not qualified to discuss it.

Your Biggest Surprise
The Forever Court – Book 2 of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series by Dave Rudden
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 thoroughly enjoyed Knights of the Borrowed Dark – a surprisingly gritty and creepy fantasy adventure, but this sequel took the writing to a new, punchy level. Sharp, dryly funny and also full of violence, this one pinged off the page and into my inscape. Marvellous stuff…

 

Favourite New to You or Debut Author
The Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.
This wonderful thriller set in H.P. Lovecraft’s world is amazingly good – I loved it. Full of atmosphere, Aphra is a wonderful protagonist.

My New Fictional Crush
It has to be poor Fitz from Assassin’s Fate the final book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and Fool trilogy. Now he has reached a certain age and still grieving for his dead wife, I can admire him safely from afar – I am, after all, a happily married grandmother…

 

 

 

 

New Favourite Character
My favourite character is Dina Demille, who is the protagonist in Ilona Andrews’ charming and occasionally hilarious urban fantasy series who we first meet in Clean Sweep – Book 1 of the Innkeeper Chronicles. She is innkeeper to an enchanted inn, providing rest and refreshment to the magically talented. Dina is feisty and resourceful, but has a constant sadness that wears at her soul – her parents are missing, along with the inn where she grew up.

 

A Book That Made You Cry
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.
Yes… this one made me weep. And that doesn’t happen all that often these days. But the ending was such a heartbreak, yet with also a sliver of hope that poor Conor would finally be free from the terrible dread that had consumed him. As for that monster – it was brilliant…

 

A Book That Made You Happy
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?
It’s just the loveliest feeling… sharing a funny book with a grandchild and relishing his sniggers and hiccupping splutters of delight at the snarky humour, rude names and broad-humoured illustrations. If I could bottle that feeling, I would save it up for when I’m an old lady and my grandchildren are grown and gone…

Your Favourite Book to Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year
I haven’t.

Favourite Book Post You’ve Published This Year
This has to be my monthly progress report on how I’m doing with my blogging, reading and writing targets for the year, Shoot for the Moon – March Roundup, when I was finally allowed to announce my publishing deal for Netted, my post-apocalyptic science fiction family adventure set in Maine with Kristell Ink Publishing.

The Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought/Received This Year
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?
The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.
This is a beautiful tale – shot through with lovely imagery and tinged with darkness. If you like retellings with some serious heft and respect for the original storyteller, then this comes very highly recommended.

And that’s my responses to the questions – though as I have now read 84 books so far this year, it was something of a struggle to actually choose. In the meantime, if you have looked at the questions and would like to share your reading highs and lows of 2017 to date – please join in.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – May Roundup

Standard

After reading Jo Hall’s post 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 May, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to sixteen. They are:

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.
This is an impressive debut novel that takes a familiar trope of the apocalyptic end of the world and makes it more about the protagonist’s internal, emotional journey than the gritted struggle of survival we normally get. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering and look forward to more from this author – see my review here.

The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen
Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit.
This gripping, emotional book charts the power struggle going on in the highest level of society. Those with the most magic are in control and treat everyone else with a chilling lack of compassion. It is all about getting more influence and control and no one is allowed to stand in the way – certainly not a young couple in love and afflicted with iron rot… I very much enjoyed this savage world and look forward to getting hold of more books in this series in due course – see my review here.

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 is a lovely story with a big heart – and no, that is not some coded warning that this is a saccharine read. For in amongst the quirky charm, Hogan tackles head-on issues such as dementia and features characters that fall outside society’s ideas of what is normal. I very much enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it in due course.

I also managed to clear eleven books from my TBR pile. They are:
Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton
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. This inventive, clever series deserves to be far better known – see my review here.

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
As you may have gathered from the blurb, in parts this book is laugh-aloud hilarious – what isn’t quite so obvious is that in other places it is heart-breakingly sad. What it never does is stand still. I love the roller-coaster ride – even though I need some breathing space between books. See my review here.

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.
Another gem of a series that deserves to be read far more widely. This second book has provided plenty of twists and given the story a cool science fiction twist that has me longing to pick up the next book – see my review here.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool series and Book 16 of The Realm of the Elderlings 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.
This is the final book in this trilogy and for my money is her best book yet. Action-packed and full of emotion, with a real twist in the end, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far and is my book of the month. See my review here.

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. Another cracking read – see my review here.

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
I really enjoyed this unusual urban fantasy set in an inn with a difference. This particular peace conference certainly provides plenty of opportunity for mayhem and turmoil – review not yet posted.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
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.
This novella certainly packs a punch with an impressive protagonist full of rage and power – and no recollection of who she is and where she came from. She just knows she has a quest and is bound to carry it out. Review not yet posted.

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?
Once more Oscar and I settled down together to enjoy this madcap adventure with all the unexpected plot twists, wondering how Hiccup is going to escape this next lethal threat. Great stuff!

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?
Lots of adventure and incident in this underwater, military science fiction offering, featuring a flawed protagonist with a dark backstory… Enjoyable and engrossing.

 

 

 

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 loved this one. It could so easily have descended into a sentimental mess and didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the unpredictable, dangerous nature of the monster… Review not yet posted.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
See above.

So that is my May roundup. Due to my illness back in April, I still have a backlog of reviews waiting to be posted, which is a nice position to be in – and a change for me! Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

Sunday Post – 4th June 2017

Standard

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.

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

Standard

This is the second book in this excellent series – read my review of The Steerswoman here – and it takes the stakes ever higher and in a fascinating plot twist, this series then acquires a science fiction dimension. I’m not the only one who thinks this author is special – awesome book blogger the Captain over at Captain’s Quarters recently highlighted Rosemary Kirstein in her Broadside series.

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.

I love this book – Kirstein’s adventurous, intelligent protagonist pings off the page. Steerswomen are constantly on the road, mapping and enquiring about anything that takes their interest – they wear a livery that lets everyone know who they are and the deal is they are bound to honestly answer any question that is put to them. However, if someone refuses to answer one of their questions, they are then entitled to ignore any of their subsequent questions. Rowan has become intrigued by rare blue gems she has noticed – and that interest has put her on a dangerous path.

The Outskirts are known to be hazardous and Rowen is accompanied by Bel, who was born there – which is just as well. The area is full of life-ending traps for the unwary and becomes almost another character, given the detail of this imaginary lethal landscape Kirstein portrays, as Rowan and Bel try to track down where they think the fallen Guidestar may have fallen. We get a ringside seat as the intrepid duo tangle with the insects, fight off demons and goblins and attempt to navigate their way through these hostile grasslands. They also encounter the nomadic tribes that cris-cross the vast terrain and end up travelling with them, sharing their triumphs and their catastrophes as they make their way towards the crash site of the Guidestar.

I’m not in the business of providing spoilers, so I won’t be mentioning more about the story arc – but I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I completed it. The progression and consequences of what happens left me with my jaw dragging on the ground. I’d already worked out that one of the main supporting characters wasn’t all he seemed – but the climactic conclusion to this leg of Rowan’s travels was so coolly apt, I am raring to get hold of the next book in this superb series.

While this one could easily be read as a standalone, I do recommend you go back and get hold of The Steerswoman – this series is simply too good to skimp. As for me – I’ve got some books I need to read first, but as soon as I’m able, I’m going to revisit this world with The Lost Steersman.
10/10

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

Standard

Himself is a solid fan of this series and I’ve also enjoyed dipping in and out of them – see my review of A Cold Day for Murder. He pre-ordered this offering a while ago, but I forgot all about it until this week, when I found it lurking in my TBR pile.

KATE SHUGAK is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries 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. Two thousand people go missing in Alaska every year. They vanish in the middle of mountain footraces, on fishing boats in the Bering Sea, on small planes in the Bush. Now a geologist known for going walkabout with his rock hammer has disappeared from the Suulutaq Mine in the Park. Was it deliberate? An accident? Foul play? Kate Shugak may be the only person who can find out. But for the fact that Kate, too, is now among the missing…

I loved this one. Stabenow effectively takes us back to the dramatic events at the end of the previous book, Bad Blood, and then resumes the narrative as we witness the fallout after the shocking events that left the book on a major cliffhanger. Once the immediate danger is past, Kate does what she always does when confronted with a major setback – she retreats to the wilderness to lick her wounds and heal. It doesn’t help that her constant companion, Mutt, has gone missing. I very much like Kate’s character – her laconic manner belies the impact she makes whenever she walks into a room. Stabenow is very effective at depicting a protagonist who doesn’t say a lot, yet clearly engenders a strong response – for good or bad – on those around her.

Meanwhile we also follow Jim, Kate’s significant other, who was right in the middle of the drama and pain of the event that found Kate hospitalised, fighting for her life. After she disappears, he keeps waiting for her to get back in touch and in this dual narrative, we also discover what he does while waiting for her.

And in this almost incidental manner, Kate’s next case starts with a missing man as a dead body also turns up near her cabin. Meanwhile, Jim is increasingly concerned about another member of the Shugak family who goes missing – Martin, one of Kate’s cousins. Not that anyone is overly surprised if Martin comes to a sticky end, given some of the company he keeps. Though it is no longer Jim’s job, he starts to ask around for Martin, as well as trying to quietly discover where Kate has got to.

I loved the way that Stabenow dripfeeds all the small details that build up to this murder mystery, while giving us a ringside seat as to how Jim and Kate go about rebuilding their lives after a major trauma. In addition, we also get a real insight into how to live in a part of the world that is intrinsically hostile. Stabenow’s experience of being raised in Alaska plays a major part in the excellent worldbuilding that defines this series. I was particularly struck at how global warming is playing out in this fragile corner of the globe.

If you are looking for a murder mystery series with a difference, then you can jump right into the middle of this one without too much floundering – although you’ll miss a massive backstory. But this is one of my favourite murder mysteries of the year so far and comes very highly recommended.
10/10

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.