Category Archives: outstanding books

#Sunday Post – 13th May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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

A shorter week as it was Bank Holiday Monday – which was also my son’s birthday, but for all that it turned into a very busy one. I worked through Monday and finished the main content edit on Breathing Space and now I’ve got a line edit to do and then I’ll be good to go. I’m aiming to release Breathing Space on 26th June.

On Thursday it was my sister’s birthday – and we spent the day working through Tim’s COPE folders ensuring that every piece of paper was signed and all the front pages were correctly cross-referenced, while my long-suffering sister ensured the page numbers were correct. All fiddley and vital – as any mistake could cause Tim to fail. The folder gets sent away on Monday… I felt terrible imposing on my sister like that – but as ever, she was lovely about it. In the evening we went out for a delicious meal at our favourite Chinese restaurant and had intended to come home and watch a nice film – but we dozed off as we were too shattered. On Friday, I taught Tim in the morning and then my writing buddy Mhairi and I travelled up to Haywards Heath to see Lesley Thomson, Elly Griffiths and William Shaw discuss their attitude to their writing in a fascinating three-way interview. It was a delight to touch base with Lesley again, who is such a warm, likeable person and I came away with a hardback, signed copy of her latest book which I’m dying to tuck into…

We travelled to Ringwood yesterday as one of my sister’s dear friends from France is celebrating a special birthday in Fordingbridge with all her family and we are meeting up with our parents for a meal today. All in all, a busy week in the best sense.

This week I have read:

Scylla and Charybdis by Lindsey Duncan
Anaea Carlisle, raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women, believes the rest of the universe has been plunged into anarchy and ruin by an alien-engineered disease known as Y-Poisoning. On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew.

Forced to flee the station with Gwydion, Anaea finds herself in an inexplicable, often hostile world permanently divided between the Galactic Collective and the Pinnacle Empire. She longs for some place to call home, but first, she’ll have to survive …
This was another unusual, fascinating read by a Grimbold author… They are not kidding when they say they want science fiction with a difference. Highly readable and engrossing – I stayed in bed far later than I should to see what happens next.

 

Obscura by Joe Hart
In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.
This was another storming read – a psychological thriller set in space, which when done well, works really effectively because everyone is essentially trapped. This one had me on the edge of my seat, with a fantastic action-packed finish.

 

The End of All Things – Book 6 of the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi
The Colonial Union’s Defence Force was formed to save humanity when aggressive alien species targeted our worlds. Now Lieutenant Harry Wilson has an urgent new mission, as a hostile universe becomes ever more dangerous. He must investigate a sinister group, which lurks in the darkness of space playing different factions against one another. They’ll target both humans and aliens, and their motives are unfathomable.
I spotted this one in the library and immediately scooped it up – I thoroughly enjoyed the Old Man’s War series and wanted to see where Scalzi would take it next.

 

DNF – The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan
It doesn’t happen very often these day – and make no mistake, this is beautifully written with wonderfully portrayed characters – but it is also achingly sad as it deals with children dying. I had a nightmare after starting it and decided not to proceed.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 6th May 2018

Review of Bound – Book 8 of the Alex Verus series by Bendict Jacka

Teaser Tuesday featuring Obscura by Joe Hart

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Outcasts of Order – Book 20 of the Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Review of The Cold Between – Book 1 of the Central Corps novels by Elizabeth Bonesteel

Friday Face-off – I was asleep when dinosaurs roamed the earth… featuring West of Eden by Harry Harrison

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Obscura by Joe Hart

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

Change in Perspective https://www.spajonas.com/2018/05/11/change-in-perspective/ Indie author S.J. Pajonas explains how a trip to the dentist recently fired up her writing muscle…

Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists https://lynns-books.com/2018/05/11/yeah-but-john-if-the-pirates-of-the-caribbean-breaks-down-the-pirates-dont-eat-the-tourists/ Lynn featured a really interesting selection of covers during this favourite meme of mine – plus the complete programme of upcoming covers for the next year…

#writersproblems: #technology #grief https://jeanleesworld.com/2018/05/10/writerproblems-technology-grief/ This should not be happening… really!

What is the point of being a nasty reviewer? http://www.keeperbookshelf.com/what-is-the-point-of-being-a-nasty-reviewer Marcy has some interesting things to say about reviewers who do nothing but write rude, demeaning comments about every book they encounter…

Top Ten Tuesday – Purple Cover Lover – http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2018/05/08/top-ten-tuesday-purple-cover-lover/ Lisa has selected all her favourite purple covers – and a wonderful feast for the eyes they are, too.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #The Hyena and the Hawk – Book 3 of the #Echoes of the Fall series by #Adrian Tchaikovsky #bookreview #Brainfluffbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this fascinating, shape-shifting fantasy series and was looking forward to reading the final slice of this adventure – see my review of The Tiger and Wolf .

The Hyena and the Hawk is the third book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s epic fantasy trilogy, Echoes of the Fall, following The Bear and the Serpent. From the depths of the darkest myths, the soulless Plague People have returned. Their pale-walled camps obliterate villages, just as the terror they bring with them destroys minds. In their wake, nothing is left of the true people: not their places, not their ways. The Plague People will remake the world as though they had never been. The heroes and leaders of the true people – Maniye, Loud Thunder, Hesprec and Asman – will each fight the Plague People in their own ways. They will seek allies, gather armies and lead the charge. But a thousand swords or ten thousand spears will not suffice to turn back this enemy. The end is at hand for everything the true people know.

Anyone who has read my reviews for any length of time will know that I am a fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing, and this one did not disappoint. Once he has written a really good character, he doesn’t let them slip through his fingers. One of my problems with some epic fantasy stories is that a character I have strongly bonded to in the earlier books simply fades away or is dismissed in a couple of hasty paragraphs within the final instalment. Not so with Tchaikovsky. I loved Maniye, Loud Thunder, along with a number of other strong, nuanced characters who had powered the previous two books in this engrossing story, so I was delighted that all these characters took precedence in this desperate struggle against an overwhelming enemy.

While the action rolls forward in multiple viewpoint, Tchaikovsky manages to transition between the characters without any sense of jarring. This is harder than he makes it look. I am regularly slightly aggravated when been forced to pull away from a character, or find myself skimming one protagonist in favour of another. This simply doesn’t happen to me in a Tchaikovsky novel.

As for the story – as this is the third book in a tightly written series. I am not in a position to write much about the action, except to say that throughout this series, I kept waiting for the impetus and narrative to drop away slightly, as so often happens in epic fantasy stories – and it simply didn’t happen. This excellent series deserves to be far more widely read and is highly recommended for fans of gripping epic fantasy tales.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #Before Mars – Book 3 of the #Planetfall series by #Emma Newman #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblog

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When done well, there is no genre I love more than science fiction – I’m not sure why except there is something about a cracking well-told tale out in the stars that speaks uniquely to my soul… I loved Planetfall and After Atlas – so would this final instalment live up to the astonishing standard Newman has set so far?

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team. But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Once again what hooked and then held me, is Newman’s nuanced and layered characterisation. I found Anna a deeply poignant character, who ends up on Mars as much because she is escaping her former life, rather than due to the fact that joining the tiny colony has been a lifetime’s achievement. Her struggles to come to terms with her post-natal depression, which prevented her from fully bonding with her baby really held me – it is an issue which isn’t written about nearly enough in SFF. Kudos to Newman for providing such a sympathetic, poignant insight into the struggles some women encounter in the weeks, months and years after having a baby.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound like it’s all about a rather broken woman wandering around and agonising about the baby she has left behind on Earth. While that is a minor story strand – actually, this book is a tense thriller whereby the newest visitor to a small scientific community cannot shake the sense that something is very badly wrong… I had figured out some of what is going on – but as ever, Newman has a number of other twists I didn’t see coming.

In addition, there is a strong supporting cast featuring the other characters who are also on the Mars base alongside Anna. I really appreciate the fact that there are no out and out villains – and the one character who has not behaved particularly well comes across as weak and out of their depth, rather than evil. As ever, after I put this one down, I found myself constantly thinking about it – and wondering how I’d feel in the same situation.

Like the other two books, this one can comfortably be read as a standalone. In fact, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be more satisfactory to do so – after that amazing cliff-hanger ending of After Atlas I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. I generally don’t reread anything – there are too many other fabulous books out there waiting for me. But this is the first time in a long while I’ve been strongly tempted to read through the whole trilogy, one after the other… Highly recommended for anyone who loves a gripping adventure featuring a well written, complex protagonist.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna

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I’m a solid fan of this author’s work – see my review of The Hadrumal Crisis – and have always enjoyed the politically aware worldbuilding and sharp characterisation of her epic fantasy novels, all set in the same world. This one, however, is a complete break from her former body of work. This is, in effect, a very Brit take on the urban fantasy sub-genre, where the supernatural world interacts with the human version in trying to get to the bottom of a crime. But instead of grimy city streets, the setting is an English stately home and instead of the usual fare of vampires and werewolves, we have dryads, boggats and wyrms…

A hundred years ago, a man with a secret could travel a few hundred miles and give himself a new name and life story. No one would be any the wiser, as long as he didn’t give anyone a reason to start asking questions. These days, that’s not so easy, with everyone on social media, and CCTV on every street corner. So Daniel Mackmain keeps his head down and keeps himself to himself. But now a girl has been murdered and the Derbyshire police are taking a closer look at a loner who travels from place to place, picking up work as he goes. Worse, Dan realises the murder involves the hidden world he was born into. When no one else can see the truth, who will see justice done?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

And she has absolutely nailed it. This is a complete and utter joy. I loved the character of Daniel, part-dryad, who is desperate to meet up with others in his situation and when he finally tracks down someone who can help – it doesn’t end well… He is a sympathetic protagonist with a few chips on his shoulder – not surprising given his heritage and how it has caused him problems. He is tall, well-built and innately attracts women. While that might sound like dream attributes, in reality it has caused him a lot of problems with annoyed boyfriends and brought unwelcome attention from the police, when such incidents turn into brawls.

I love the setting of a country district – McKenna has got the social faultlines running through modern England spot on. While the beautiful setting, juxtaposed with the grim threat reaching back into history and now posing a possibility of creating havoc all over again, works beautifully. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I put it down in the wee small hours, drained and slightly giddy.

The book hangover I’ve had since has been painful, because despite reading perfectly enjoyable, well written adventures, they haven’t been this world, with these characters. I want them back. I want more. And I’m hoping, fervently, that McKenna has plans to make this a series, because I’m already addicted.

Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and murder stories with a very cool paranormal twist.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 30th January, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
76% I will not say we weren’t tempted, when faced with the choice between permitting the destruction of a civilization, or of all life on the planet. Syl Anagist’s fate was sealed. Make no mistake. We had meant to seal it. The difference between what the Earth wanted and what we wanted was merely a matter of scale. But which is the way the world ends? We tuners would be dead; the distinction mattered little to me in that moment. It’s never wise to ask such a question of people who have nothing to lose.

BLURB: THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

I have left it far too long to return to this amazing series – The Fifth Season blew me away, so at last I have returned to the final instalment. It is every bit as remarkable as I recalled… This author breaks ALL the rules and somehow manages to get away with it. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure and enjoy apocalyptic adventures with a difference, then track down that first book, The Fifth Season – this densely written, engrossing series needs to be read in the right order.

My Outstanding Books of 2017

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Last year was yet another bumper year for reading, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. As usual, I’ll list the ones that stood out for me – and we’re not talking a top ten. I completed 174 books last year, but won’t go into too much detail in this article about my overall 2017 reading experience, as today it’s all about those that gave me the tingle factor. Most will have received a perfect ten on my scoring system, however there will be a couple that didn’t. The reason they are here is because that after I’d finished reading and writing about them, they didn’t go away, but continued to linger in my thoughts. So here they are, in no particular order:-

 

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

This godpunk duology set within the Japanese pantheon centres around a beautiful, dark-edged myth. Ash’s lyrical prose and deft handling of this tale has stayed with me throughout the year, despite having read it last January. See my review here.

 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

I absolutely fell in love with this haunting retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I enjoyed and admired Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed – another strong contender – this one stole my heart. The ending gave me goosebumps, while making me weep. That doesn’t happen very often. See my review here.

 

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Planetfall, this one blew me away. The characterisation, the horrible situation the protagonist finds himself in – it all got under my skin to the extent that I woke my husband up as I yelled in shock at a particular point in the book. I can’t wait to see where Newman goes next with this amazing series. See my review here.

 

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

This depiction of an existence on the Moon where rampant capitalism holds sway hasn’t left me alone since I read this one. McDonald has called it ‘A game of domes’ and he certainly has nailed the deadly powerplays the main families indulge in with his reference to George R.R. Martin’s epic. I keep thinking about that ending… See my review here.

 

Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

This book was a delightful surprise – I had no idea the writing would pull me into this version of Lovecraft’s monstrous world, with a strong, sympathetic protagonist who is one of the few survivors of the attack on Innesmouth years ago. I loved it and am very much looking forward to reading more in this fantastic series. See my review here.

 

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, finding Rudden’s punchy prose style both enjoyable and memorable. But this sequel builds on the first with an engrossing adventure and some amazing characters. It’s far too good to leave just for the children. See my review here.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Edwards’ books – but this managed to nock up the stakes to a point I could not put it down until I’d finished reading it. I have rules about never reading or watching TV until after 5.30 pm – otherwise I’d never get anything done. I broke that rule for this book. See my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

This is a new spinoff series by a much-loved author which I was delighted to read – even better, it was a storming adventure that proved to be an engrossing page-turner. I remembered all over again why I love reading this author. See my review here.

 

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

No one writes different aliens as well as Greg Egan – and I loved this adventure. I’m very much hoping it turns into a series as I would love to spend more time following the fortunes of these amazing creatures. See my review here.

 

The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

This is a series I read longer ago than I care to recall – and when I saw it had appeared in Kindle, I snapped it up and reread it, something I hardly ever do. My instincts were spot on – I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this engrossing world and following Rowena’s adventures in this smart, cleverly written fantasy/science fiction mashup. This is the particular story that has stayed with me, though the other books in the series are just as good. See my review here.

 

Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

This epic fantasy got under my skin and into my heart in a way that doesn’t often happen with this genre. I loved the clever, clever twist at the end and one of the treats in 2018 is to tuck into the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance. See my review here.

 

Sea of Rust by Robert C. Cargill

This was another amazing book that came out of the blue – I’d not read anything by this author before and was delighted by this post-apocalyptic world peopled by robots who are starting to wear out and fail. With no factories or warehouses full of spare parts anymore, the only option is to harvest those parts from other robots. See my review here.

 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

I’ve read a number of apocalyptic tales during the year, however in this version Walker triumphantly succeeds in giving us a dog’s version of a complete collapse in law and order. And the chilling results of what happens when that order is reimposed by the wrong people. See my review here.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Beford

This epic science fiction adventure stood out because of the flawed protagonist and the gritty depiction of establishing a colony. I really enjoyed the world and the fact that love clearly doesn’t cure all. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented author. See my review here.

 

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

After her marvellous series How To Train Your Dragon, I was interested to see how she would follow it up. The writing is more lyrical, the underlying poignancy is more pronounced. My elderly Kindle didn’t like the illustrations throughout this book and part of my Christmas money is going on buying a print version of this book. Not for the grandchildren – for me. See my review here.

 

Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

I have to declare an interest – Richard is a former student and I had read some extracts from a very early draft. However that did not prepare me for the excellence of the writing, where this historical adventure finds two young English people from the same small village ending up in America during the Civil War. They are both caught in quite different ways and this story just kept on delivering in terms of plot twists and tension. See my review here.

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This doorstopper is extraordinary. Don’t ask me what the storyline is – other than recalling there are five main protagonists with very different and vivid voices, it’s too complicated to recall. What I do remember is that very early on I took the decision to slow right down and savour this book as reads like this don’t come along all that often. It took me 10 days to get through this one and I recall feeling sad when it came to the end. See my review here.

To pare the list down to this required setting aside other books that still hurt to leave out – the likes of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts, The Invisible Library books by Genevieve Cogman and The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews all missed making this list by a whisker. If you force to me to choose just one of these books, I’ll probably never forgive you, but it would have to be After Atlas.

What were your outstanding reads of the year?

Friday Faceoff – Snap!

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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 week the theme is a mirror image or reflection, so I’ve chosen The Dark Mirror – Book 1 of The Bridei Chronicles by Juliet Marillier.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Books in June 2006, is my least favourite. While the hint of a reflection and the gnarled tree behind the seated girl does give a sense of the otherworldly tone that pervades this outstanding historical fantasy series, it doesn’t do it justice. I also think the lettering is clunky and unsuited to the genre and content.

 

This edition was produced by Tor books in March 2006 and is far more appropriate. The lone tree, reflected in the water in a wild landscape beautifully evokes the mood of the book and would immediately have me wanting to pick it up. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in 2007 by Bertrand Editora, this Portuguese edition has also manages to capture the magical sense of the book, though I’m not quite sure what that fraying piece of lace at the top is all about… But those brooding trees reflected in the lake are very effective.

 

This Australian edition, published in November 2007 by Pan Australia, is also effective and haunting. I particularly like the title font, which fits the period without being too fussy or taking away from that stunning landscape – this is a very close second for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

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I enjoyed Angelmaker and loved The Gone-Away World, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.

I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.

It might have been tempting to have accelerated through it if I hadn’t been enjoying the experience so much. Harkaway is a remarkable writer and this is him at the peak of his capabilities. For all the depth and complexity, I found the book highly readable and engrossing. It would have been a real shame to have thrown away the experience by trying to skim through it. The writing is immersive and each character has their own flavour so that after a while, it only took a couple of lines to realise whose head I was in. Essentially, it is a thriller. But the puzzle is far more of the slow-burn variety, which doesn’t stop there being some jaw-dropping twists near the end.

For all their quirkiness, I was fond of all the characters, though my favourites remained dogged, persistent Inspector Mielikki Neith whose investigation of the untimely death of Diana Hunter in custody triggers the whole chain of events – and fierce, beautiful Athenais, once-mistress to Saint Augustine, before he decided to become so saintly. The characterisation is masterly and as I’m a sucker for character-led stories, it was their vividness and sheer oddness that sucked me in and kept me reading.

I also feel a similar anger that sparks through the book – the apathy of too many of us, the blind belief that if we put in place a whole raft of cameras and electronic surveillance, it will somehow be alright, no matter who ends up at the helm and in charge. This is a remarkable, brave book, deliberately constructed and written on an epic scale. Does it work? Oh yes. I loved it, but my firm advice would be – don’t rush it. If you try reading this one in a hurry, you’ll end up throwing it out of the window – and given its size, it may cause serious injury if it hits someone…

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

Friday Faceoff – Then let the crabs be cursed by Odin…

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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 the one we prefer. This week the theme is Vikings, so I’ve chosen How to Speak Dragonese – Book 3 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

 

This cover, produced by Hachette UK in 2010, is the main template for the other covers. It is illustrated by Cowell herself, in the guise of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is her chief protagonist and heir to the Hooligan tribe. He grows up to be the greatest of all Viking chieftains, and this is part of the ongoing story of how he survives to adulthood – a mighty achievement in itself. I very much like this cover. It is eye-catching and humorous, while promising a big dollop of exciting adventures in the book. This is my favourite.

 

This offering was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in February 2010. It has a slightly slicker feel, having replaced the page in Hiccup’s journal with a purple background, but still features Hiccup and Toothless drawn by Cowell – and still clearly in yet another scrape. Once more it ticks the boxes for me.

 

This cover from Scholastic published in December 2009 features Toothless sitting in Hiccup’s helmet. Once more the illustration is recognisably Cowell’s and you get the sense that Toothless is sniggering about something. Another attractive cover that effectively gives a sense of the book’s content.

 

Produced in September 2008, this Spanish edition by Ediciones Sm still features the original illustration, but has changed the background. It’s pleasant enough, but I far prefer the blotchy, scruffy effect of the original, which is specifically aimed at reluctant boy readers, who are far more likely to be attracted by the odd ink blot and jagged page.

 

This Kindle edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s Books gives the first cover a very, very close run for its money as my favourite. While the original image has Hiccup and Toothless arguing, with Hiccup clearly losing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. However this cover features on of the most dramatic events in the book ripping a tear in the binding as a huge dragon hunts down his prey…