Category Archives: romance

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – April Roundup

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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 April, I read – six books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to thirteen. They are:

Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innesmouth 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. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.
For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist. The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. This is one of my outstanding books of the year so far – see my review here.

 

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer
Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!
I found the three child protagonists all appealing and believable. The boys, in particular, I thought were done well. I also very much liked the way Dyer handled the major life event that brought the boys and their mother across to resettle in Britain – I had assumed one thing was the problem, but it turned out to be something quite different – see my review here.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.
I very much enjoyed Sadie’s character – she has clearly had a rough time at home with a hostile, unloving mother and siblings who took their cue from her. I like the way Davis fed us a continuous stream of information as the story progresses, so that our perceptions are continually changing throughout – see my review here.

 

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury mysteries by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
This cosy mystery is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. Myers evokes the period well as steady, sensible and very ambitious Nell Drury, working at Wychbourne Hall as Chef, suddenly finds herself confronted with a violent murder of one of the guests – see my review here.

 

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Of course, the catch is that it is the eighth book in the series, so would I find myself floundering at all? Nope, not for a second. Peacock is far too adroit and experienced a writer to fall into that pitfall and from the first page, I was pulled into this twisting story where the plot snaked in all sorts of unexpected avenues – see my review here.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day. Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty. Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve, and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies. And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.
I really like Madlyn and her struggle to fit into modern life. When she gets the job, I also like the fact that she finds the setup in the Lofton household a bit weird, if not creepy. But it was a refreshing change to have an elderly woman at the helm of the household and keeping control by an unnerving knack of knowing what is happening before anyone else. Review not yet posted.

 

Because I spent most of one week confined to bed either sleeping or reading, I also managed to clear eight books from my TBR pile. They are:

How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How to Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. I’m delighted to report that she does – see my review here.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
See above.

 

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
This is, if anything, even better than the first book. I love the first person narrator – Lady Trent is a feisty, unconventional woman driven by an insatiable scientific curiosity and a real concern that dragons will shortly be driven to extinction. Review not yet posted.

 

Reaper – Book 1 of the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this one. Edwards has a knack for writing strong young characters with plenty of depth and suitable lack of experience, but who don’t come over as whiny and annoying. Review not yet posted.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept. Blaze’s mother died six years ago. She thinks her father is Donnell, the leader of the uneasy alliance between the remnants of the Earth Resistance and the old criminal gangs. It’s less clear what Donnell thinks, since he barely speaks to her. The alliance is crumbling under the strain of its hardest winter ever, when an old enemy tries to use Blaze as a pawn in a power bid. She thinks her life can’t possibly get more difficult, but then an aircraft carrying three off-worlders arrives in New York.

I loved this one – I think it’s the best book she’s written to date. The sense of danger and tension with a likeable protagonist made this one difficult to put down – see my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
This is a full-on survival adventure which I loved. And even if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this is an ideal introduction to Moon’s world – see my review here.

 

Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.
This series niftily blends the current trend for fairytale retellings and rejigs it into a science fiction world where the terrifying Lunar Queen Levana is determined to bring Earth under her control. Review not yet posted.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
See above.

So that is my April roundup. Due to a rush of new releases at the start of May, a number of these reviews have not yet seen the light of day. What about you – have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

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While still not feeling all that well, I dived into this one for a bit of fun and escapism…

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. Taylor writes with a frenetic energy that pulls me into her story, holds me there – and when I’m finally flung out at the other side, I’m dizzily certain that I’ll never feel quite the same again. Even though this is the third time I’ve been smacked around the chops by Max and the St Mary’s gang, it is still an onslaught as much as an adventure.

As the blurb mentions, the historical trips are still going strong and Max, along with the rest of the disaster-magnets that make up St Mary’s history department, fling themselves into each time-travelling adventure with reckless enthusiasm. Taylor could have so easily opted to make these books straight comedic adventures – she certainly writes humour with verve and skill that has me sniggering aloud all the way through. But what, for me, elevates all these books, are the interludes where Max is dealt a lethal blow to prevent her from fully enjoying her life. Despite her love for the job and St Mary’s, she is to be denied personal happiness alongside a special someone. I know I was feeling poorly, but even if I’d been bouncing with health, I think I would have still wept.

I blew my nose, blinked away the tears so I could continue reading – it’s hard to focus on the print when you’re bawling like a fallen toddler – and just as I was settling down to rejig my expectations and read something instead a whole lot more sombre than I’d initially intended – a thing happens which once again transforms the mood and tenor of the story.

I’ve been reading avidly for over fifty years and during that time, I’ve learnt that the majority of books follow certain rhythms. But Jodi Taylor ignores those precepts and instead, mixes it all up quite outrageously. Furthermore, she gets away with it. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot since I read it. It won’t be long before the fourth book, A Trail Through Time, will be summoning me back to St. Mary’s. I just need another box of tissues, more emotional energy and then once more, I’ll be good to go. In the meantime, if you crave a real roller-coaster ride through Time, track down the first book in the series – Just One Damned Thing After Another – I can guarantee that you won’t have read anything else quite like it.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

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I was a bit shaken to see that I’d let this one slip under my radar as I’m a real fan of Edwards’ writing. But fortunately Himself was on the ball and picked it up for me…

In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept. Blaze’s mother died six years ago. She thinks her father is Donnell, the leader of the uneasy alliance between the remnants of the Earth Resistance and the old criminal gangs. It’s less clear what Donnell thinks, since he barely speaks to her. The alliance is crumbling under the strain of its hardest winter ever, when an old enemy tries to use Blaze as a pawn in a power bid. She thinks her life can’t possibly get more difficult, but then an aircraft carrying three off-worlders arrives in New York.

This post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure is set in the same world as the popular Earthgirl series – see my review of Earthgirl here – but earlier when Earth is still reeling from the Exodus. There is still a group of people eking out a living in the ruins of New York and we follow the fortunes of one of the teenage girls, Blaze. Once again, Edwards has depicted a sympathetic, readable protagonist so we get a ringside seat in her gritted existence as the group battle horrible alien creatures, the constant threat of starvation and illness. However, most of the time Blaze is more taken up with the tensions within the group as some dangerous people are unwilling allies and want to take over the group. And right in the midst of this, three off-worlders turn up, completely ignorant of their way of life.

It’s a nifty plot device as Blaze is regularly having to explain to the clueless bunch what is going on, allowing the equally ignorant reader to glean important details about their everyday life without it turning into an info dump. Particularly as one of the group, Tad, is a real motor-mouth who seems to expect everyone else to wait with baited breath as he asks a constant stream of questions. And a fair number of them are really stupid – while others display a disquieting amount of knowledge about Earth that he shouldn’t have…

As a YA book there is a romance, but as ever with Edwards, it doesn’t hi-jack the story which suits me just fine. In fact, while I always enjoy Edwards’ books, this one nocked up the action and tension such that I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it. If you like your science fiction with a gritty edge, plenty of action and a readable protagonist then go searching for this one. It’s one of the best science fiction adventure tales I’ve read this year.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

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I have constantly seen positive reviews for this series and finally Lola persuaded me to give this one a go.

Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.

I very much enjoyed Sadie’s character – she has clearly had a rough time at home with a hostile, unloving mother and siblings who took their cue from her. It doesn’t help that the family are poverty-stricken with no opportunity of escaping dead-end, draining jobs, forcing them to take desperate measures. It is one of the reasons why Sadie applies for Thalassic City. Davis tucks in snippets regarding Sadie’s backstory in the first person (I) pov giving us a ringside seat to her thoughts and emotions – a staple in YA fiction.

There is an interesting cast of supporting characters – I particularly liked Jenna, the girl who rooms with Sadie and gets involved with Dante. I also like Jared. As for Logan, the handsome boy who Sadie falls for in the classic eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room way, he is clearly difficult to trust given his background which is gradually revealed as the story progresses. I liked the way Davis fed us a continuous stream of information as the story progresses, so that our perceptions are continually changing throughout. As for the courtship dance between them, that isn’t an aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting other than the way it contributes to the overall story arc of the Saven and their interest in humanity and what bargain they strike with a government fast running out of sufficient resources. However, I don’t have a particular problem with the insta-love – it’s the way I fell for my ex-husband… hook, line and sinker with the solid belief that we were intended to be together forever.

The scene-setting and worldbuilding also works very well. I found the underwater city believable as they journeyed down to it and again, while the setting seems well developed and convincing, it unfolds alongside the action. So given there is a lot of building tension throughout, when the climactic finale arrives, it needs to provide plenty of thrills and action – and it certainly does. I couldn’t break away during this section of the book, as I was desperate to know what happens next. I’ll warn you – while plenty of the issues that run throughout the book are addressed, it does finish on a cliffhanger, however that isn’t too much of a problem as Saven Disclosure, the next book in the series, is available.

While I obtained the arc of Saven Deception from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison

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Last month, I read and reviewed the first book, The Drafter, in this fascinating series where a black ops agent can shift small amounts of time to avoid being killed/captured or to overpower and take out their opponent. There is only a small window where the drafter recalls both timelines, before the brain promptly forgets the previous one. And any lingering memory of another timeline has to be expunged by a handler – the drafter’s anchor – as recollection of two opposing timelines rapidly leads to shock, mental breakdown and catatonic coma before death. As you can see, this scenario leads to some really interesting questions, which Harrison explores effectively in the first book. Can she sustain the action and wider ramifications in this sequel?

Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.

The short answer is yes. I really like the fact that despite Peri is aware she has done terrible things to some people who didn’t deserve their fate at her hands – after she has walked away from that lifestyle, she still yearns for the excitement, power and money. To the extent that she essentially stalks her more monied customers in the coffee shop she now runs. And it is into this humdrum life, she is presented with a new development. A drug has been developed by her former boss, Bill, now disgraced and on the run from the CIA. And this drug means that she can cope with the aftermath of timeshifts to the extent that her memory doesn’t need to be wiped.

However, Bill has ensured said drug is lethally addictive. Will Peri return to the life she feels she is best suited to? The life she still yearns for? I really enjoyed the fact that she really struggles with the lure of the excitement, adrenaline-rush and money she used to earn. Meanwhile, events keep moving forward and it won’t come as an almighty shock that other people around her are in the process of making the decision on her behalf. Once again, this fast-paced thriller not only offerings us an action-packed adventure, but some more thought-provoking situations for us to ponder.

Harrison’s characterisation is excellent – it’s what motivated me to track down this series, after thoroughly enjoying The Turn, the superb prequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Hollows. Peri is a complex, spiky character who loves fast cars and expensive clothes. She can be selfish, demanding, materialistic and overly violent. She can also be loyal, generous with a highly developed sense of what is right. The near-future world has some nice touches and the supporting cast also work well. Another cracking read that delivered from a writer who is clearly at the top of her game.
9/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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

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

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

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

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

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

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

Friday Faceoff – Send in the clowns…

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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 circus, so I’ve chosen The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

 

This is the offering produced by Scribner February 2014. It is eye-catching and disturbing – the luminous image of a mermaid bounces out of the black border and accurately captures the mood of the book. That said, I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if it had been wearing this cover, as it looks too creepy.

 

This cover was produced by Scribner for the paperback edition in September 2014. The beautiful girl off-centre with the scarf around her head looks vulnerable and the muted colour palette gives it a sense of menace. This is a lovely cover and, again, does reflect the mood of the book.

 

I’m intrigued to see that this far more circus-oriented cover is also produced by Scribner in April 2014. I love this one – it is eye-catching and colourful. But with the reflections in the dark water, there is also a sense that there is something darker behind the bright, pretty lights. This is my favourite cover – I love the detail and in particular, the way the title has been threaded through the artwork.

 

This is the cover design, produced by Simon & Schuster in March 2015, that tempted me to pluck this book off the shelves and read it. I was attracted by the title and the carnival feel that nevertheless felt slightly off… and the fact I thought it was very pretty.

 

This Hungarian edition, produced in June 2015 by Maxim, has gone for the horror vibe. And I think it has done it very well. That said, while there are genuinely shocking elements in this book, it isn’t horror or particularly scary so while I think the cover is a lovely, disturbing piece of artwork, it isn’t an accurate reflection of the book. I’m guessing there were a number of really annoyed Hungarian readers who picked this offering up thinking they were in for a fear-fest they didn’t get.

What about you – which is your favourite cover?

Sunday Post – 2nd April 2017

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

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

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

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

This week I have read:

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

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

 

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

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

 

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 26th March 2017

Review of My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Teaser Tuesday featuring Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10