BLURB: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…
REVIEW: I’m not sure if it’s because I was a teacher, but the magical schools sub-genre is a favourite and I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education. Though I was a bit fed up with the cliff-hanger at the end – and I’m warning you now, there’s another at the end of The Last Graduate.
El isn’t such a hardcore, in-your-face character this time around. For starters, she now has a loyal group of friends, and other alliances with a handful of enclave kids who have far more resources and protections than those without that kind of advantage. And it’s just as well she’s got more going for her as this year, as the School has become a lot more aggressive – with El apparently a prime target. Novik writes action scenes really well and has a glorious suite of delightfully revolting monsters that squish satisfyingly when they meet their messy end. This series would make a wonderful TV series.
However, if you were one of those who found the descriptions of the magic and the world outside a tad tedious in A Deadly Education (I didn’t…), then you won’t fare any better in this offering. El has a lot to say about the political situation, the history of the school and the very complex magic system, particularly in the first half of the book. It didn’t bother me, partly because we need to know all the information, partly because I found it fascinating anyway. I’m a huge fan of El, who has a natural talent for horrific destruction but has had it dinned into her by her adorable mother, that she can’t afford to give into those instinct at all. And Novik manages to depict her absolutely following the rules without her coming off as sickeningly good.
El is bad-tempered, overly cynical, far too touchy and apt to push away those who genuinely want to befriend her – but despite that, she is rigid in trying to avoid doing harm. I really like the fact that she isn’t the overwhelmed, put-upon victim doing the best she can in awful circumstances, either. She’s far too powerful for that. That doesn’t stop her from becoming increasingly trapped in a terrible situation, where the right thing to do is plain terrifying. I also enjoyed the humour, albeit a tad dark-edged, that runs through this story. And I am impressed with Novik’s successful portrayal of a Brit main character, complete with the sardonic street-wise dialogue.
While there is plenty of action throughout, the pace and tension really picks up in the second half of the book, which was difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I was glad Himself had warned me about that ending, though – otherwise I think it would have gone flying across the room. Which is why I’ve passed the warning on. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read – and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in the series. The ebook arc copy of The Last Graduate was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…
The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…
Last week I read:
Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.
She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women. This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…
Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.
Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.
The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity. This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.
Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.
The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do. This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.
The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!
De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.
Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation : Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for. De Oppresso Liber… I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.
AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood… An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.
The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth… Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.
Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.
But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…
…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years. This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…
Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
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 very happy Father’s Day to those of you who are celebrating. This year, it won’t be a major thing in our house, as we’re still coming to terms with the death of my lovely father-in-law, Derek Higbee, who lost his battle with cancer on 6th May. He was a remarkable man, whose education was hampered by WWII and despite being dyslexic, he went on to have a successful career, ending up as Managing Director of an engineering firm, with several inventions to his name.
A keen cyclist all his life, he embarked on several major sponsored cycle rides once he retired, including riding the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and the other where he rode from the tip of South Island in New Zealand and ending in Auckland on North Island. All proceeds went to charity. He also took up pottery, passed exams and became good enough to have his work displayed for sale at the prestigious annual exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen at Chichester Cathedral. And his abiding passion for the last decade, was his involvement with the Ringwood Junior School, where he ran an Engineering afterschool club. He rounded up a team of like-minded friends and between them, they designed and constructed projects appropriate for 10 and 11-year-olds that could be successfully completed within a term. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Indeed, he received a national award in recognition of his efforts to introduce STEM subjects to schoolchildren. When he was in Christchurch Hospice, one of the nurses immediately recognised him, as her daughter had been one of the hundreds of children who had attended the club over the years.
All of this would be noteworthy and impressive – but he was also a charismatic, kindly, outgoing person with a lively intelligence and quirky sense of humour. And a very strong family man. Himself is the eldest of three – two boys and a girl. I came into the family rather unexpectedly, having divorced with two young children, and being determined never to get involved with anyone else ever again. Until Himself and I realised our strong friendship had become something deeper… I and my children were welcomed wholeheartedly by both Derek and Marie. When we first moved into our house, it was in a sorry state. Derek and Marie travelled up to help us fix up the house and we went away on holiday with them several times, first with the children – and then later, we took our eldest grandchild to stay with them and my sister-in-law’s family in a holiday cottage in Wales, back in 2008. So many happy times… We always knew they were there for us, and that was such a comfort.
His funeral service was on a lovely sunny day and although I wasn’t well enough to attend, I was able to watch it live online. I’ve promised myself that once I’m better, I’ll pay my respects by putting a posy of wild flowers on his grave. Derek was keen on wild flowers and nature – his final project was making a nestbox for owls, which he didn’t quite manage to complete. The celebrant at Derek’s funeral commented on just how much he had managed to pack into his life – not just with achievements and material success, but with past-times that made the world a better place. He is missed by all who knew him.
Last week I read: Chains and Memory – Book 2 of the Wilders series by Marie Brennan Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.
The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom. This was a real page-turner. Having recently read the first book in this engrossing series, I was completely on board with Kim and Julian – and the twisty plotting has left me hoping for more…
Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.
Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on. This quirky whodunit is something of an acquired taste – but I was charmed by the tension between mother and daughter, who write alternative chapters. And along with the murder mystery is all sorts of high jinks that largely appealed to my humour. Review to follow.
Love’s Labor’s Won – Book 6 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic.
The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all… This isn’t the best book in this gripping and unusual school adventure series – but I was interested to see Emily’s ongoing progression as she makes her way in this different world a portal away from the universe where she was born. And negotiating the customs and manners of the highest echelons of society was bound to trip her up…
Deathmaker – Book 2 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker When Lieutenant Caslin Ahn joined Wolf Squadron, she was prepared for the reality that she might one day be killed in the line of duty. She was less prepared for being shot down, assumed dead by her own people, and dragged off to the Cofah Empire as a prisoner of war.
As if being thrust into a dungeon and interrogated wasn’t bad enough, the sadistic commandant decides to give her a cellmate: the notorious pirate Deathmaker. Given the crimes he’s committed against Iskandia, Cas owes it to her people to try and kill him… That cover belies the sheer energy and humour that pings off the page as feisty Cas finds herself hauled into a criminal underworld against her will. I love Buroker’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining fantasy series.
AUDIOBOOK – Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett Young Susan has always suspected that her Grandfather was different, as though all the time he spent riding a white horse and wielding a scythe weren’t enough of a giveaway. Now that her worst fears have been confirmed, Susan learns that she’s expected to take over the family business when she grows up, even though most people mistake her for the Tooth Fairy.
But as attractive as Death can be to many people, Susan is drawn into something else: the exciting, addictive heavy beats of ‘Music with Rocks In,’ Discworld’s latest dance craze. Nigel Planer does a fabulous job of narrating this one. I read the paperback a lifetime ago, and listening to this one was still a treat. Though I got a tad tired of the running joke regarding the Klatchian foreign legion – but that’s a niggle. It might not be Pratchett at his best, but that’s a very, very high bar to scramble over.
Unfortunately, as I’ve been ill again most of the week, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or article. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.
Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.
I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.
Last week I read: Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.
Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems. I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.
The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past. I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.
Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.
It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might. I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.
A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.
In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead? I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…
The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…
1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man. 2) His new girlfriend is pregnant. 3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)
So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.
Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.
But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!
As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore… This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…
Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.
There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world … I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.
I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x
I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.
BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.
REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.
I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.
Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist. 9/10
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
BLURB: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.
REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.
However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.
The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series. 9/10
Record of a Spaceborn Few – Book 3 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
BLURB: Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat. Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened. Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it. Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong. When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?
I did find the accent of the narrator just a bit difficult to get to grips with at the beginning. But I love the different narratives as we go on learning about the daily lives of people still living on the generational ships. In multiple viewpoints we get to discover yet another pocket of the highly detailed world she has created, where humanity is now out among the stars, after having destroyed Earth.
While I’m aware there has been some criticism over the lack of a plot, I found the unfolding stories of each of the main protagonists was sufficiently engrossing to hold me to the end – and there were a couple of shocks along the way, too. The ending was beautiful – very poignant and left me with a lump in my throat. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading and/or listening to stories of everyday happenings, rather than large conflicts.
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
BLURB: With the man who kidnapped her daughter imprisoned aboard her ship, Captain Alisa Marchenko is closer than ever to reuniting her family. But her new guest has been in a coma for weeks, with the secret to her daughter’s location locked away in his mind. She must find a way to sneak him into a state-of-the-art hospital on Arkadius, a planet in the heart of Alliance territory. Not an easy task when she and the cyborg Leonidas, her most trusted ally, are wanted by the Alliance army.
As if that mission weren’t daunting enough, the Staff of Lore has appeared on the planet. As has the man who stole it: Alisa’s father.
I enjoyed jumping back aboard the Nomad for another action-packed adventure with Captain Alisa Marchenko and her quirky crew. Though the ship seems to be filling up with all sorts of unexpected passengers in this eventful instalment of the series…
Still trying to track down her missing daughter, Alisa is yet again diverted up another cul-de-sac. The romance with Leonidas does seem to provide rather too much distraction from her main aim of tracking down the missing child. That said, as ever the action is well depicted, the characters are nicely snarky and convincing, with some enjoyable layers and there are moments of real tension and danger that makes this yet another successful page-turner. I’m glad to have got back in touch with the series and it won’t be too long before I’ll be tracking down the next book.
Skyward – Book 1 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father’s—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.
I really enjoyed this action-packed adventure, featuring a gutsy teen brought up on tales of derring-do by her grandmother while having to daily face the disgrace of her father’s supposed cowardice. I felt she was both sympathetic and plausible, which isn’t as easy to achieve as Sanderson makes it look. While the initial premise wasn’t particularly original, Sanderson throws in sufficient twists so that I couldn’t predict exactly what would happen next, so this became a real page-turner I could get lost in. The beautiful drawings of the space fighters were a bonus that I’m sure would have been easier to appreciate on a newer, spiffier Kindle.
I really liked how the puzzle of exactly why a human enclave ended up on this shattered world was addressed and unravelled, alongside Spensa’s adventures. I’m delighted to have acquired the Audible version of the sequel, which I’m looking forward to tucking into very shortly.
BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.
I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.
While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.