Category Archives: space travel

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Crash Land on Kurai – Book 1 of the Hikoboshi series by S.J. Pajonas

Standard

One of my book blogging buddies, Lola, reviewed this book here and I was so intrigued by the premise, I got hold of it.

Crash Land on Kurai is the first book in the Hikoboshi series, an action adventure, space opera series that explores the worlds settled by the Japanese who fled Earth a century ago. Culture, history, technology, and swords clash in a fast-paced future society on the brink of war. Yumi Minamoto has the shortest fuse on the ship. She’s just whipped a bully and been confined to quarters, but she’s not staying there. A disgraced journalist trying to clear her name, her job is to document the mission to the Hikoboshi system, and she’s determined to get it right, despite all the trouble she causes. But when unknown vessels fire on their ship, and Yumi’s life pod crash lands on a dying moon, she’s separated from her family and friends, and her mission falls to pieces. Now she must navigate the unfamiliar and deadly terrain, deal with a society she doesn’t understand, and try to stay alive until rescue comes… if it ever does.

Yumi is an interesting protagonist – from a powerful and influential family, she is clearly the cuckoo in the nest. Constantly in trouble with the authorities, I liked the fact that when she says at the start of the story that she is a pain in the neck with an attitude and a knack for rubbing folks up the wrong way – she means it. Quite often we are told at the start of a story the heroine is a trouble-maker and rebel – only to find she is actually a pleaser who very much minds what everyone thinks of her, especially the male characters. I also like the fact that she claims to be plain – and judging by the responses she gets, that does appear to be the case. That said, I wanted at times to shake her until her teeth rattle, as she really does rub folks up the wrong – even those who are trying to keep her alive

What I particularly enjoyed was the depiction of how environmental pressures affect a culture, so the colony that only a few hundred years ago was identical with the same values as its Earth equivalent from whence it came, now has morphed into something quite different. The runaway capitalism, where the majority population are born indebted and have to work continually to keep alive, is both shocking and plausible, given the ongoing warfare between the factions. The way the visitors are treated is also depressingly realistic. I’m conscious that Crash Land on Kurai is a spin-off from a previous series, but I didn’t find myself floundering in any way.

Any niggles? While I liked the idea that Yumi suffers from migraines – it seems hardly any protagonists have to deal with such physical issues in books – maybe the reason is because when pickforked into the middle of an adventure, her recovery time slows the pace somewhat. And when I think of how disabling my migraines used to be – particularly when I was in hospital and didn’t receive any pain relief – it took me days to get over it, I did feel a bit annoyed at how quickly she bounces back. However, I did enjoy how adrift and traumatised Yumi feels when subjected to the violence of real combat, even though she has regularly sparred throughout her life.

All in all, this is a thoroughly engrossing adventure and a strong start to the series that I will be definitely following in future. Highly recommended.
8/10

Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

Standard

Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.

The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash
The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.

 

The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.

 

The Witchlands by Susan Dennard
Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.

 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.

 

 

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Tiger and the Wolf and The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…

 

The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May
The Falconer; The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.

 

 

The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.

 

Planetfall by Emma Newman
Planetfall and After Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

 

 

Luna by Ian McDonald
New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.

 

Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and the Demon; Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.

 

 

Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.

 

 

The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…

 

There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.

Review of Chocolate Chocolate Moons by Jackie Kingon

Standard

I enjoyed Kingon’s quirky cosy murder mystery featuring her irrepressible protagonist Molly Marbles in Sherlock Mars – see my review here. So when the author contacted me, offering me the opportunity to read and review the prequel, I jumped at the chance.

It is a novel set in the future that tells the story of plus-sized Molly Marbles, who wins a scholarship to Armstrong University on the Moon, a haven for the plus-sized set where her weight drops from 287 Earth pounds to 47.6 without so much as passing up a piece of pie. When boyfriend Drew Barron dumps her, then jumps at a job at Congress Drugs, a company that makes low calorie food supplements, Molly’s weight is the least of her woes. And when her favorite treats, Chocolate Moons are found poisoned, she finds she has bitten off more than she can chew.

This space opera cosy mystery featuring food tells of how Molly recovers from her initial lost love and rebuilds her life – and about a crime that causes a number of chocolate lovers to fall into a coma. I love the details of the future depicted by Kingon’s breezy writing style – some of it is plainly a bit nonsensical, driven more by the word-play and humour, rather than any real possibility. So it is far more space opera than hard-core science fiction.

There is a large cast in this busy story, where by necessity a chunk of the narrative is told in semi-omniscient point of view. The plots and counter-plots where a number of the characters are trying to outwit each other and gain access to business opportunities or expensive works of art means I had to pay attention. Though I was far more interested in Molly than these nefarious deals, which tends to make the plotting something of a hot mess.

What kept me riveted to Molly’s narrative arc is the fact that she is a hefty lady who loves her food – and in Mars, where children are naturally born much slimmer and taller than Earthborn humans, she attracts a lot of attention, much of it hostile. I have read science fiction stories where the different body shape caused by different gravity drives a racist reaction – but what Kingon has done is to have a population define themselves by their body shape, which impacts on their diet and what they want to eat. In this book, Kingon highlights this consequence mostly as a humorous backdrop to the main action – but I did find this a really interesting aspect. Perhaps the reason why I zeroed onto this issue is because most of my family, including me, are allergic to dairy products, including milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter – and we are also vegetarians. So we also have foods we classify as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

While I found some of the humour and word play not particularly funny, I did really enjoy Molly’s character. Overall, this book isn’t without some structural flaws, but Kingon writes with such sunny energy that pings off the page, I was drawn into the story and enjoyed the originality and quirkiness. Recommended for someone who likes to read something a bit different.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sungrazer Book 2 of the Outriders series by Jay Posey

Standard

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Outriders – see my review here – so when I saw this sequel pop up on the Netgalley dashboard, I immediately requested it.

In a new Cold War between Earth and the colonies on Mars, when devastating weapons go missing, there’s only one team you can call – the Outriders. A crack force of highly specialised super-soldiers, their clone bodies are near-immortal. When a fully-autonomous vessel with orbital strike capabilities goes missing, it’s up to the Outriders to track the untrackable. But when the trail leads them to the influential Martian People’s Collective Republic, the operation gets a lot more complicated…

This military science fiction adventure once more hooked me in with yet another enthralling plot in a story where the stakes aren’t just cities or countries sucked into war and devastation, but planets… Things are still very tense between Earth and the Mars’ colonies after the last kerfuffle, where our plucky black-ops team narrowly averted a disaster so when a lethally effective weapon disappears, the Outriders are the obvious choice.

Military science fiction naturally requires a cracking plot – and once more, Posey displays his evident skill in his smooth delivery of a storyline where we have a dual narrative – Lincoln, the captain of the Outriders is one of the protagonists, with the other protagonist being Elliot, who is operating as an undercover agent for United States National Intelligence Directorate. The pacing and ramping up the tension is well handled and I enjoyed the twists and turns, particularly the climactic finale where Elliot encounters the Outriders with mixed results.

The characterisation also needs to be good in this genre as we have to care for those going into battle, because if we don’t, then it robs the story of all its tension. Linc is a likeable chap, with sufficient self-doubt and vulnerability for the reader to connect, but not too much because, after all, he is a super-soldier. We also need to identify with the rest of the squad and as this is the second book, I easily recalled all the characters and their particular quirks and skill sets. While reading this, I couldn’t help thinking that it would make a cracking TV mini-series or film.

But the other major ingredient that military sci fi adventures need is plenty of techie weaponry and nifty battle tactics, which need clear explanation before all the action kicks off or the reader isn’t going to full appreciate what is going on. Posey is accomplished at slipping in the salient facts about the guns and those super-suits this crack black-ops team wear, so that in the heat of battle, we are able to follow all that is happening with no trouble. He manages this without compromising the overall pace or gathering tension of the story. Overall, this is yet again a solidly enjoyable story with some unexpected twists – especially near the end that had me reading far longer than I should have done and this one comes highly recommended.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon

Standard

The quirky title and interesting premise caught my eye – I’m always a sucker for crime set in space, so I requested the arc.

Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.

This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way.

I like Molly – the fact that she is happily married with adult children and is rushing around organising a wedding for one of them is a major plus point as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to see women of a certain age confident in her ability and established in a stable relationship and career featuring as the main protagonist for a change. However, while she is crazily busy, I did feel her characterisation was a little thin – mostly because the continual stream of puns and gags around the future version of the past crowded out the opportunities for us to bond with her.

The worldbuilding is detailed and builds up a clear picture of exactly what life is like on Mars for Molly and her family. We get plenty of descriptions of the places they visit and in particular, the build-up to the wedding and the celebration, but again, the focus on the one-liners and wordplay inevitably skews some of the detail, as destinations and placenames are clearly only added for the sake of the gag. The situation regarding androids as political tensions rise around their status is nicely handled and I did enjoy Molly’s relationship with her friend Jersey, whose husband, Trenton, is an android. The only problem I did have, is that given the abilities Trenton displayed in manufacturing a range of goods for Jersey, it did occur to me that the fears of unmodified humans were very well founded – and that aspect simply wasn’t investigated. Perhaps it is being left for another book in the series, as although at no time is this book flagged as the second in a series, there is clearly a previous book somewhere about another case earlier in Molly’s life.

The solution to the case worked well, in that the murderer is someone who has a strong reason for killing the victim and is well placed to keep threatening Molly as she endeavours to track down the perpetrator. The various story arcs are nicely tied up and overall, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion – but I cannot help thinking that if there were a few less puns and wordplay jokes, the overall characterisation and scene setting could have been a lot stronger.
7/10

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

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Review of Star Wars: The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space series by Tom Huddleston

Standard

Oscar and I have really enjoyed this series to date – and we left Lina and Milo Graf in a tough spot at the end of the previous book as they had been captured by the Empire. So we were keen to read this next instalment to discover what happens next.

In a galaxy far, far away… Milo and Lina are adrift on a starship that is spiralling towards disaster. A dangerous criminal is on the loose, the Empire is closing in – and something even deadlier awaits them in The Dark…

Set in the very familiar world of the Star Wars franchise, this series of science fiction books is designed to appeal to boys between the ages of 7-10. We discovered this series last year when Oscar had his World Book Week £1 token and picked up the prequel, full of excitement that he had found something he really wanted me to read to him – see my review of The Snare. The covers are attractive, the font a friendly size and there are a number of black and white illustrations dotted throughout that help the story along, but it is designed for newly independent readers.

After following Lina and Milo in their desperate search for their parents through the previous four books, we were keen that they should be able to escape from their current predicament. Locked up in a cell and heading towards the vicious Captain Korda, their prospects look bleak – and indeed, I was surprised at just how genuinely creepy this offering is. Rapidly, things start to go wrong on this freighter and when the lights go out, there is a rushing, scuttling sound as it appears some of the cargo has escaped…

We ended up reading this not just before bed and first thing in the morning, but we also slotted in a reading session mid-afternoon as we both wanted to discover what would happen next, when two new prisoners are picked up. One has the title the Butcher of Brentaal IV – and it’s easy to see how the huge alien came by his grim title, with his scarred face and growling voice – Lina and Mira are very relieved that he is safely locked up, though they decide not to let the friendly Stel out, either. After all, they had trusted another character earlier in their adventures and look where that led them…

We were both gripped by this one and although I guessed one of the main plot twists that changes the fortunes of our two brave prisoners, it didn’t really matter as there was so much going on. Like Oscar, the moment we came to the end of this one, I was keen to find out when the next instalment in this entertaining series was coming out. This is an enjoyable read and comes highly recommended particularly for boys between 7-10, depending on maturity and reading ability.
9/10

Sunday Post – 25th June 2017

Standard

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

Last Sunday was sweltering, which I loved. But even I was glad of the air-con in the car as we drove to Ringwood to see my mother and father-in-law for Father’s Day. It was lovely to see them again – and admire their marvellous display of sweet peas they’ve grown.

This was another very hectic week – Monday we had the family coming to stay, so it was a case of ensuring bedrooms were all ready to go. I was teaching at Northbrook in the evening – we had two excellent sessions this week, with a great range of thought-provoking and well written pieces of work from the students. I cannot believe this coming week sees the final session of my Creative Writing classes for the year.

On Wednesday – the hottest day of the year so far – I decided to rejoin my Pilates and Fitstep group. I am once more the newbie, as the Littlehampton class has folded due to lack of numbers and the Middleton group is far more advanced. I muddled through and just jigged around in time to the music when I got hopelessly lost, but loved taking part once again. In the afternoon, I was teaching Tim – we were tweaking and rewriting song lyrics for the film as the cast will be in the studio recording the songs in just over a fortnight’s time. In the evening, it was writing group. There were only three of us, but we were able to sit out in the garden as it steadily grew darker – bliss!

On Thursday, writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and my sister also popped in as she was waiting for her broadband to be connected. In the evening, I attended Tim’s show with the Chichester Free School – it was an entertaining evening as the standard was impressive. Tim performed ‘You Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ as Fagin from Oliver and ‘Evermore’ from Sleeping Beauty, which he did beautifully and had me in tears… It is so wonderful to see him up on the stage performing so confidently and with such talent and passion.

On Friday morning, Tim reflected on his very positive experience of performing in this show during his lesson. He had composed a new tune – a lovely quirky number and after he performed it for me, I asked him if he could call it ‘Sarah’ and let me have a copy of it as a birthday present… He was delighted and was only too happy to do so. He also played me the finale for the film – and once more, I found myself filling up as I listened to it – such a hauntingly beautiful piece of music. In the afternoon – I went to the hairdresser and had my hair dyed purple…

Oscar stayed over on his own on Friday night, as Frances had a sleepover with a school friend before John picked her up from Brighton and we had both grandchildren last night. Sadly, the weather has been a whole lot cooler with spells of misty rain at times and while I know the garden and landscape could do with the moisture, I would have loved to have taken Oscar for a walk along the beach if the weather had been halfway decent.

As it has once more, been such a very busy week with the family staying over and so much going on, my reading and blogging has suffered. Apologies for not responding with my usual promptness.

This week I have read:
A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who’d ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps. But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting…before she’d been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn’t exist…before she’d learned about the “plastic” beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good. Yet she couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies–some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills–and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not–or would not–officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough. Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn’t war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
No… that wasn’t the book – it was only the blurb, honest. I really enjoyed this thoughtful, politically aware addition to this strong, well-written military science fiction adventure.

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingdon
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.
This science fiction cosy mystery is great fun – I’m a sucker for whodunit mysteries set in space and this is one of the cosy variety…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th June 2017

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2017 – May Roundup

Teaser Tuesday featuring A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff

Review of Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Peace Divided – Book 2 of the Peacekeeper series by Tanya Huff

Friday Face-off – In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods… featuring Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This week, I simply haven’t been spending sufficient time online to be able to compile a list of intriguing and entertaining blog posts. In the meantime, thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Standard

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic novel following the adventures of one of the few survivors after a terrible virus burns through humanity. But it’s a lot more grown-up than just charting the gritted determination of Jamie to survive in a world where everything has been so very changed. It’s a book that examines what she was expecting from life and the world – and what happens to her when those expectations are smashed after she experiences a tragedy far more common than the end of the world – a miscarriage.

Written in third person, this book gets right under the skin of the main character, warts and all. I didn’t like her very much – she is often quiet when she should say something and is awkward around humans. While she initially trained as a doctor, she moved sideways and qualified as a vet because she was a loss to know what to say or do when people, scared and ill, would proffer intimate details of their life to her. When she meets up with other survivors, she is clearly socially inept. During an argument on board a ship in cramped conditions, she flares at one of the other passengers, who is clearly suffering with her own mental problems – to the extent that I wanted to slap her just to shut her up.

Did I care for her, though? Oh yes. Corlett has written a character who doesn’t feel she fits anywhere. Who wants to reach out to the only man she thinks she’ll ever love – but can’t deal with the crowding that brings. Or his own demand for her to open up and release her sense of grief for their lost baby – something she simply cannot do. By the end of the book, we get to understand exactly why Jamie is as she is, while she undertakes a long journey, both literally and also emotionally with a small group of survivors, who are also shattered at the profound loss they have endured.

What this isn’t, is a completely bleak read. There are times when the situation lurches into farce, for instance when they encounter a group of elderly folk living in a stately home acting as if they are in the middle of a Jane Austen novel. And there is some nicely edged banter with the grumpy space pilot, who is clearly more comfortable carrying crates of freight than the group of traumatised passengers he ends up ferrying.

Corlett brings this tale to a satisfactory conclusion, including solving the mystery of what caused the virus in the first place. I closed the book, musing on Jamie’s journey – and wondering if I was left standing with everyone I cared about gone, what I’d do next. This is one I shall be thinking about for a while, I suspect. If you enjoy unusual books that raise hard, pertinent questions about why we are here and what we are doing, then track this one down.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Cold Welcome – Book 1 of the Vatta’s Peace series by Elizabeth Moon

Standard

I loved Moon’s Vatta’s War and The Serrano Legacy series – see my review here. So when Himself picked this one up as an Easter pressie, I was thrilled.

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. Kylara is a sympathetic protagonist, keenly aware of her responsibility in trying to keep the group alive. And as they are all plunged into one unpleasant experience after another in an inaccessible part of the planet, cut off from everywhere else due to the atrocious weather conditions, there are a steady stream of casualties. Moon’s smooth, unfussy prose and compelling plotting made it impossible to put this one down until it was over.

Accompanying Kylara is a cast of characters – and it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t all going to make it. So I found myself trying to work out who would survive and who wouldn’t, which all adds to the fun. It was also a pleasure to be reacquainted with other members of the Vatta family, particularly Aunt Gracie who is the formidable matriarch who currently heads up the family. It’s always enjoyable to find a book where it’s an older woman with all the power and still rare enough to be noteworthy. She has a fascinating backstory, which is hinted during the book and if you enjoy this one, then I recommend you track down the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Trading in Danger.

Alongside the gritted struggle for survival experienced by Kylara and the group of people caught up alongside her, there is also the question of exactly who is behind the plot. And who is once more targeting the Vatta merchanting family. Moon manages to give us all the necessary information connected with the politicking without losing momentum and pace – which is a lot trickier than she makes it look. It all adds up to a compelling page-turner.

But once the tension has been wound up to a desperate chase, then the climactic finale needs to deliver. And it certainly does – though there is one major dangling plotpoint to encourage Moon fans to look for the next book. I’ll be honest, I was disappointed when I realised there was such a big unanswered question at the end. I would have gone looking for the next one, anyway.
9/10