Category Archives: outstanding books

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSilenceoftheGirlsbookreview

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Obviously I have heard Pat Barker’s name, but when I saw this offering last year I couldn’t resist it. And after having read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achillessee my review, I recalled I also had this one in my TBR, so dived in and retrieved it. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

REVIEW: Before I go any further, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence against women – although neither are depicted in any great detail, the writing is powerful and moving. I was gripped from the very first sentence.

Rather stupidly, I started reading this late one night, intending to get into the story and then put it down after the first chapter. No chance. When I’d finally got to the stage where my Kindle kept falling out of my hands because I was so tired, it was in the wee small hours and I was halfway through the book. Told in first person POV, Briseis tells the story of how she became a pivotal part of the siege of Troy. Having only recently read Miller’s book, her name was immediately familiar and it was interesting to compare that cosier version of Briseis’s fate to the harder, bleaker narrative told by Barker.

She spends years in the Greek camp outside Troy’s walls as a slave girl to Achilles. She is then caught up in a quarrel between Achilles and the commander of the Greek armies, Agamemnon, when he demands her as a prize. I am not giving away too much of the plot, given this is also mentioned in Homer’s, The Iliad. There is, however, an interesting departure from The Iliad, whereby Agamemnon swears upon the god Zeus that he has left her untouched. Her version of events is quite different – but then she is a mere woman and no one wants to hear what they have to say.

I have been reading quite a lot of Greek retellings recently, as well as Stephen Fry’s excellent Mythos and Heroessee my review. I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the misogyny embedded within our Western culture directly stems from the Greeks, who probably prized a good warhorse above most of the women in their household. I would love to treat Barker’s tale as a slice of history that has no relevance in modern times. I would love to be able to claim that girls around the world were no longer experiencing the treatment meted out to Briseis on a daily basis. And of course, I can’t. In all the versions of the Greek myths I’ve read and heard, that there isn’t a single one told by the women being chased, harried and routinely raped. For the Greeks prized silence in their women, apparently. Thank goodness we have Circe by Madeline Miller – see my mini-review – and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, along with other feminist retellings of the ancient Greek myths. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in reading a different version of this era.
10/10

Cover Love – 3 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverloveJulietEMcKenna

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Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m displaying Juliet E McKenna’s covers in honour of her recent release of The Green Man’s Silence, which of course I snapped up. I have enjoyed reading her books for a while now – see my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe, Dangerous Waters, Darkening Skies, Irons in the Fire, Blood in the Water and Banners in the Wind. I also have read the awesome Aldabreshin Compass series, which absolutely rocks and the highly enjoyable The Tales of Einarinn series. Which ones do you particularly like?


Review of AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #OutstandingAUDIOBOOKofthemonth #DeepRootsbookreview

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I absolutely loved Winter Tide, which is a gem of a book – see my review – and so impressed me that it made my 2017 Outstanding Reads List. Would Deep Roots be as compellingly good?

BLURB: Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. “Deep Roots” continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

REVIEW: This series is marvellous and deserves to be far better known. Aphra is desperately searching for more relatives, as far too many houses stand empty in Innsmouth after most of the town was wiped out by the Government years earlier. Such unused real estate is starting to draw unwelcome attention. If Aphra cannot find more of her own kind, they not only risk dying out, but she will no longer be able to meet up on the beaches of her childhood with her Grandfather and the other Deep Ones, who have now transformed and live below the waves. So she is in New York with her brother and a small band of friends, following up on reports of a cousin who has the same bulbous eyes and odd skull configuration as Aphra and her brother.

Gabra Zackman’s excellent narration helped weave the pervading sense of tension throughout this gripping fantasy, imbued with Lovecraftian monsters. I love Aphra’s character and was delighted that this book continues in her viewpoint. She is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents and community, but trying to move on and recreate a safe place for others like herself and her brother. This book is set in 1940s America, just as the Cold War with Russia is starting to gather pace – indeed there is a point in the book where there is an announcement that the USSR has detonated a nuclear device – and there is also increasing paranoia about anyone who looks are sounds different. Emrys has nailed the sense of time, just as she has also beautifully woven Lovecraft’s pantheon through this engrossing, well written fantasy.

I love books that creak with tension – but then the author has to deliver sufficient plot and action to merit the buildup, which Emrys does in spades. I loved the pacing, which works really well. At no stage was anything unduly hurried, yet the story clips along with plenty happening along the way and the reader fully aware of the consequences should it all go wrong. The supporting characters work well – there were several that I’d encountered in the first book and I was pleased to see that one in particular, who was badly injured, is still battling with the fallout from her encounter in this book, too. All in all, this is another accomplished, utterly engrossing read that left me longing for more in this world. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well crafted fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones – though whatever you do, start with Winter Tide.
10/10

A Deja Vu Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin #DejaVuBrainfluffbookreview #TheHundredThousandKingdomsbookreview

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!

This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.

BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.

Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.

She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive…
10/10

Cover Love – 2 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverloveNKJemisin

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Welcome to a second helping of Cover Love where I’m displaying N.K. Jemisin’s covers😊. I was inspired by the awesome covers of the Broken Earth trilogy – which is also one of my all-time favourite reads. See my reviews of The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky, The Killing Moon, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and The Broken Kingdoms. Which ones do you particularly like?


A Deja Vu Review of KINDLE Ebook A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured Marie Brennan’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I thought I’d revisit my impressions of the first book in her wonderful Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I first published this review on 12th December, 2016…

Regular visitors to my blog will recall my attendance at Bristolcon this year, where I had one of the best evenings of my life, talking books with similarly passionate readers. One of these marvellous people – Kitvaria Sarene highly recommended this series as one of her favourite fantasy reads. When Himself hit a reading slump a few days later, I suggested he get hold of this one. Once he did so, he then bought the rest of the series. So would I also become a huge fan?

BLURB: Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

REVIEW: This is gem is a must-read for those smitten by dragons. It is set in the Victorian era in a parallel world where a high-spirited, intelligent girl makes a habit of sneaking into her father’s study to read his learned tomes deemed unsuitable for well born young ladies. And she encounters the book A Natural History of Dragons and falls in love with them. From then on, she is determined to try to learn more about them in any way and this story charts her efforts to do so.

What I would caution is that Brennan does couch the language in an approximation of 19th century prose – however, it is only an approximation. There is nothing like the pages of intense description or long, involved passages of exposition you’d find in a novel written by Dickens or Mrs Gaskell. Brennan takes the story forward in the form of a memoir written by Lady Trent as an elderly lady about the exploits that made her famous, which moves along at a fair clip.

I was utterly beguiled. This is a wonderful conceit brilliantly pulled off by Brennan. The plot rapidly corkscrews away in all sorts of directions I hadn’t anticipated and there is a really shocking outcome that left me winded at the ending, while leaving me keen to learn more.

I’m so glad Himself has bought the next three books in the series – and the great news for fans of this accomplished series is that the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is due out in February 2017. I’m very much looking forward to reading it – which also gives me an excellent excuse to tuck into the other three in the meantime. Happy Christmas me – and many, many thanks to Kivaria for her recommendation. She is spot on – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
10/10

July 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffJuly2020Roundup

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Lockdown is slowly easing and right at the end of the month, we actually went to a café together and had a cup of tea and cake. It’s been lovely to meet up with my daughter and the grandchildren and have them over to stay, again. But most of the time, I’m still at home reading and writing, while Himself has continued to go out to work.

Reading
I read fifteen books in July, which used to be an outstanding number for me, but isn’t anymore. No DNF’s and once again, it’s been a great reading month – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Deep Roots – Book 2 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. My reads during June were:

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell – Book 1 of the Embers of War series. Review to follow

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Review to follow

Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi. See my review

Skin Game – Book 15 of the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher – reread

AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Review to follow

Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review

End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker. Review to follow

Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. See my review

Chaos Vector – Book 2 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH

Seven Devils – Book 1 of the Seven Devils series by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. See my review

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE MONTH

The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Mini-review to follow

AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Review to follow


Writing and Editing
I had intended for Picky Eaters 2 to be a novella, but though I’ve written a reasonably comprehensive outline, the writing has fallen into the rhythm and pacing of a longer piece of work. Oh well. So rather than polishing off the first draft during the first fortnight of July, I found it has been something I’ve been picking up and putting down between the final two editing passes of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now produced the cover, which I’m very happy with – and I’m on track to publish it at the end of August, as planned. Again, due to all the editing I’ve been doing, my writing wordcount is way down in comparison to the beginning of the year.

Overall, I wrote just over 35,500 words in July, with just over 20,500 on the blog, and just over 15,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just over 288,500 words – which completely justifies my decision to step away from my regular Creative Writing stints at Northbrook, because that is over 92,000 more words than this time last year.

Blogging
I am more or less back on track with commenting, though I still struggle to get around and visit as much as I’d like – sorry to those of you who I’ve neglected! But again, I’m finding it such a lifeline to be able to chat about books to other folks – it certainly cuts down the sense of isolation. Take care and stay safe.x






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDoorsofEdenbookreview

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I was delighted to be offered the chance to read and review the arc. Yay! Those of you who regularly visit will know I’m a fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing. His range is impressively versatile – and the outstanding reads he’s produced for me over the last few years range from the awesome Children of Time, Dogs of War, Spiderlight and the novella The Expert System’s Brother, to name but a few…

BLURB: Lee’s best friend went missing on Bodmin Moor, four years ago. She and Mal were chasing rumours of monsters when they found something all too real. Now Mal is back, but where has she been, and who is she working for? When government physicist Kay Amal Khan is attacked, the security services investigate. This leads MI5’s Julian Sabreur deep into terrifying new territory, where he clashes with mysterious agents of an unknown power ¬who may or may not be human. And Julian’s only clue is some grainy footage ¬– showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.

This is science fiction apocalyptic portal adventure is a hefty read at over 600 pages, but it didn’t feel like it – I was a bit shaken when I realised how long it was. There are a handful of protagonists, including Lee, Julian and Kay – who is my personal favourite. A transgender woman who is fond of swearing and a brilliant mathematician. I thoroughly enjoyed Kay’s character, which pinged off the page. But I was also impressed at the nuanced characterisation of Julian, whose complicated relationship with one of his work colleagues is also poignantly portrayed against the apocalyptic events unfolding.

I am very aware that the peculiarities initially build quite slowly, so I don’t want to reveal Spoilers that would skew the reading experience – it’s a major reason why I never read blurbs until after I’ve finished the book. But while this one feels initially quite familiar – there are a number of odd events that can’t be explained away, and Julian is aware there is some sort of high-up knowledge… We’ve all read that one. However, Tchaikovsky does his usual trick of taking a recognisable trope and putting his own unique spin on it. There are a series of interludes where an American scientist and lecturer posts a particular theory and walks us through the progression this could take throughout the book. I love how these apparently random sections are ultimately brought into the wider narrative.

As usual, Tchaikovsky’s zoological expertise is in evidence, though this time around the spider content is minimal – however there are rats and birds, as well as scarily brilliant fish… And a particularly satisfying antagonist I loved to hate throughout. I loved this one – it’s Tchaikovsky at his best, I think. There is sufficient hard science that the nerd in me enjoyed and appreciated the theory, as well as loving his take on the Neanderthal sub-species, which I felt was particularly effectively handled. But also plenty of action, with a high-stakes narrative when meant that by the end, I stayed up far later than I should to discover how it all was wrapped up. Very highly recommended for fans of quality apocalyptic thrillers. The ebook arc copy of The Doors of Eden was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10


Friday Faceoff –Each man should frame his life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffframecovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with FRAMES. I’ve selected the first book in the mighty series – The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Pliocene Saga by Julian May.


Del Rey 1985

This offering was produced by Del Rey in January 1985. This is full of drama and colour, featuring one of the powerful alien women, accompanied by a human torc-wearer. The stormy sky denotes the time tunnel that links the Pliocene era with modern Earth, allowing people to make the one-way journey into the past. While I like the cover design and am a fan of striking title fonts – the vivid fuchsia clashes with the colour palette in the rest of the cover and unbalances it visually, rather spoiling the overall effect.

Del Rey 1983

Published in June 1983, by Del Rey, I think this cover is more successful. I really like the punchy colours and clever design. The horse-riding warrior apparently riding out across a modern cityscape with a space ship in the background raises interesting questions that would make me want to pick up this book. I also like the title and author fonts, both their design and the colours, which work well with the rest of the cover. However, I don’t like all that chatter crammed across the top of the cover which detracts from the awesome image.

Fawcett Books 1982

This edition, published in March 1982 by Fawcett Books is beautiful. I love the stylised landscape, with those volcanic mountains disappearing into the distance – clearly in the other timezone. And that amazing time tunnel wending its way across the world, apparently floating there. And yes… I know there is a black textbox chopping off the fabulous image across the bottom of the cover AND there is too much chatter at the top. But there is also a really funky sci fi font that looks awesome and adds to the sense of science fiction otherness of the whole design. This is my favourite.

Houghton Mifflin 1981

This edition, published in January 1981 by Houghton Mifflin, is also a strong contender. We have a stream of people from across a variety of times trekking towards the tunnel. We can see the other version of Earth in space, beyond where everyone has congregated ready for their new lives. The title and author fonts do the job – but I very much like how the textboxes have been left transparent, so we can still appreciate the cover design, while the title and author are suitably visually set apart from the action.

La máquina que hace PING! 2019

This Spanish edition, published by La máquina que hace PING! in September 2019, is a close contender. I love the haughty look on the beautiful woman’s face and the odd mixture of clothing she is wearing. I also like the backdrop – presumably the entrance to the tunnel on the other side in the Pliocene era, judging by the luxuriant ferns. The coloration and strong design make this an eye-catching cover that has me wondering what is going on. What about you – which is your favourite?


The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

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I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.

Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…