Category Archives: Tackling my TBR

Sunday Post – 15th October 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.

I don’t expect to have another fortnight quite like this last one anytime soon. I’m recovering from flu – but it’s taking its own sweet time to move on. In the meantime my nose is running like a tap, I have backache, tinnitus, headaches and a temperature and I’m really fed up with feeling this lousy. Oh, and on Wednesday, I self-published my first novel, Running Out of Space. Needless to say, the launch was very lowkey. But it is ‘out there’. On Amazon. I keep nipping across to have look… And despite feeling like something the cat sicked up, every time I look at the cover I find myself grinning…

I hope you have a good week and in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I feel less like a snot-powered zombie and more like my old self by tomorrow night so I can resume my Creative Writing classes before my students forget what I look like.

This week I have read:

The King’s Name – Book 2 of The Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
The warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord King Urdo have finally united the land of Tir Tanagiri into a kingdom ruled by justice under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny. Soon Tir Tanagiri faces the blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms against former comrades and loved ones, fighting harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream.
This sequel that concludes Walton’s magical version of the Arthurian legend continues to deliver. See my review of the first book The King’s Peace. Marvellous writing and a wonderful, poignant ending that is still resonating with me…

 

The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?
I requested this book without realising it was a romance adventure this author had written relatively early in her writing career. But as it happens, although romantic fiction isn’t generally my go-to genre, I really enjoyed this sprightly, enjoyable adventure.

 

Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held
When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack. What Tatiana doesn’t realize is that her pack is willing to sacrifice even their own trained spy for their goals…
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this clever, nuanced werewolf world once more, after falling in love with the first three books – see my reviews of Silver, Tarnished and Reflected – and I am delighted to see that Held has decided to self-publish this book after her publishers took the decision to no longer continue with this series.

 

Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering
Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.
I loved Vampire State of the Mind featuring a feisty heroine who helps to keep the ancient city of York safe for its human inhabitants. This adventure gives us more insights into the courageous, funny cast of characters when one of them is threatened. Or is he actually the threat? The Department for Otherworldly Affairs has to deliver a decision – along with a dead vampire… I really enjoyed this one and the snarky humour was very welcome as I sneezed and snuffled my way through the action.

 

A Local Habitation – Book 2 of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Toby Daye-a half-human, half-fae changeling-has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world had other ideas… Now her liege, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills, has asked Toby to go to the Country of Tamed Lightening to make sure all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary. It seems like a simple enough assignment-until Toby discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, and that if the killer isn’t stopped, January may be the next victim.
Another classy series that I started with Rosemary and Rue a while ago and taken a while to return to. This classic murder mystery, where the victims are picked off one by one as Toby desperately tries to unravel who is committing these crimes, is gripping and unexpectedly poignant at the end. There is a real sense of loss over the deaths, which I appreciated. No doubt about it – McGuire’s writing packs a punch.

My posts last week:

Teaser Tuesday featuring Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

PUBLISHED TODAY! featuring Running Out of Space – Sunblinded: 1 by S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series
by Sebastien de Castell

Friday Face-off – You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR! featuring Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Review of Waking Gods – Book 2 of The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel

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

Saying Thanks to Great Teachers https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/saying-thanks-to-great-teachers/ A moving tribute to a clearly remarkable teacher by someone who wants to say thank you. Before it’s too late…

Finding Inspiration in the Space Race – In the Spotlight Guest Post http://www.secondrunreviews.com/2017/10/finding-writing-inspiration-space-race-guest-post.html Yours truly musing on the impact that growing up during the height of the space race had on my expectations

Times they are a-changing (I hope) ~ on the prevalence of sexual harassment & on why we’re starting to speak up https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/times-they-are-a-changing-i-hope-on-the-prevalence-of-sexual-harassment-on-why-were-starting-to-speak-up/ Viv’s articles are always worth reading and I particularly enjoyed this one…

Richard & Linda Thompson, Sam Cooke and Charlie Rich – The Cry for Home! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/09/26/richard-linda-thompson-sam-cooke-and-charlie-rich-with-the-cry-for-home/ If you love popular music, then swing by this marvellous site. I don’t know anyone who writes with such passion and knowledge about the music we grew up with.

We won Best Books And Literature Blog Of The Year! https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/we-won-best-books-and-literature-blog-of-the-year/ I thoroughly enjoy browsing this entertaining library blog where the staff chat about books in an approachable entertaining way. No wonder they won – congratulations, guys.

ANDDD…

Rainne Atkins has kindly invited me today to share my top ten fiction authors during my blog tour for Running Out of Space on her delightful book blog Just Books

 

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.

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

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I was delighted to once more dive into this wonderful series – and it didn’t disappoint…

How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world?

The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…

This book absolutely filled the brief of completely absorbing me from the first page to the last, which I finished once more blown away by where Kirstein has taken this amazing series.

I love Rowan. She is a strong, capable protagonist who is consumed with curiosity about the world around her – which is why she trained to be a Steerswoman in the first place. Steerwomen undertake long, arduous journeys mapping and logging the landscape and are bound to answer any questions put to them by the local populace, unless someone refuses to answer one of their questions. So part explorer, cartographer, naturalist and educator… It’s a really nifty plot device to get a skilled, capable cadre of people out on the road without resorting to war. Over the last three books, I’ve come to be aware of her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She has an over-developed sense of responsibility and is poor at delegating jobs to others – and while she is good at moving through a landscape and keeping on good terms with the people around her, she tends to hold herself somewhat aloof.

This means that once she arrives in Alemeth, where the retired Steerswoman has recently died and they are awaiting a replacement – the villagers contrast her unfavourably with chatty, manipulative Mira. I love the fact that all these books can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty – however if you do read them in the right order (and for a wonder, this time around I have…) then they stitch together to build into a coherent adventure where the consequences of not tracking down Slado could be devastating. However, there is a wrinkle – once Rowan arrives, the village is attacked by a creature never seen before in those parts… I’m not saying any more as I do not want to venture into spoiler territory – but suffice to say that I’m so very impressed at the sheer peculiarity of the creatures that populate her fantasy landscape, along with the flora. Kirstein has built an amazingly detailed and plausible world without holding up the pace.

The twisting turns in this adventurous tale take meant that I stayed up late to read this one – it’s a reasonably substantial read at well over 400 pages, but they more or less turned themselves as I was desperate to know what happened next. This particular story arc was satisfactorily brought to a close – but the overarching narrative has now got an additional disturbing and dangerous strand which has added to the worldwide threat.

I have been spacing these books out, as I didn’t want to reach the end too quickly – but I am delighted to note that Kirstein is working on the fifth and sixth book in the series. Yippee! Highly recommended for all fans of excellent fantasy.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

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I was intrigued by the cover and the rather nifty title – and when I looked at the opening paragraph, I decided to get hold of it. But it languished on my TBR pile until I got hold of the second book – and decided I had to read it.

There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.

This YA coming-of-age adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Kellen is an appealing protagonist who inexplicably has no magical ability despite his family’s great power and influence. In this world where magic is everything, his lack of magical talent will doom him to a life of servitude and drudgery – like his uncle, who instead of being a respected member of the council and adviser to Kellen’s father, instead runs the household. Kellen cannot quite believe that his magic won’t at some stage manifest itself. I really enjoyed the first-person narration and the shafts of humour.

The way the plot continually produced more surprises and Kellen’s strong character drew me in and kept the pages turning. It doesn’t hurt that the squirrel cat is also great fun with a lovely line in sarcastic putdowns. It is always a challenge when depicting someone discovering that their whole way of life and value system is based on lies and exploitation, but de Castell does a very good job as Kellen slowly discovers some very disturbing secrets. I enjoyed the magic system and really liked the idea that magic would tattoo its power upon the magic-user’s skin. However, the problem with the first-person narrative is that with so much going on, the worldbuilding at times suffered. That said, this is the first book in the series and I’m hoping in due course, we will have a clearer idea of the environment and exactly what it looks like.

While the story was satisfactorily wrapped up with the really unpleasant antagonists sorted out and Kellen’s future, at least in the short term, resolved, there was a major plot point left dangling to tempt us to get hold of the next book in the series. I’m delighted that I already have a Netgalley arc of Shadowblack and look forward to tucking into it very soon. This book is recommended for fantasy lovers of magical systems and a strong first-person protagonist.
8/10

Sunday Post – 10th September 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 mixed week. My rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest has stalled at just over 1,000 words added to the manuscript as all sorts of deadlines have been knocking on the door. We had a lovely time with the grandchildren last week-end, which was great as it is possibly a while before we’ll see them again.

It was Himself’s birthday on Wednesday so my sister, J and I went out to our favourite Chinese restaurant and once again had an excellent meal – a real treat as being vegetarians means that eating out can be something of a lottery.

Unfortunately, I’ve been laid low with a cold, which has really knocked the stuffing out of me. While I’ve not got much in the way of a blocked nose, it’s the temperature, aching joints and sore head and throat which is the misery. It’s meant that I’ve missed teaching Tim on Friday and the first rehearsal session for the filming on Saturday – and the way I’m feeling today, I don’t think I’ll be making the lesson tomorrow unless I feel a whole lot better, either.

Today is our wedding anniversary – we’ve now been married for 22 years, which I can’t quite believe… Where did all those years go? It was the best thing I ever did. At least Himself is having his annual leave at the end of this month, so hopefully we’ll be able to make up the fact that we’re having a very quiet day at home while I snivel and shiver over the computer feeling sorry for myself… Have a great week, everyone.

This week I have read:

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker
Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…
I absolutely loved this one, despite the extreme language. Walker’s first person viewpoint of boisterous Lineker is marvellous and the story is gripping, shocking and tender.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
It is beautifully written and the love affair is depicted with tenderness and passion. However, I wanted to shake Francesca till her teeth rattled.

 

Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastein de Castell
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game. Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.
This YA coming-of-age adventure is great fun and I loved Kellen’s character and the surprises that kept coming all the way through the story. And the squirrel cat is delightfully snarky, too.

 

Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of The River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
This novella deals with the aftermath of the previous book – and my firm advice would be that if you haven’t read River of Teeth then go and search for that book first. There is more mayhem and chaos as feral hippos continue to infest the river system, causing carnage wherever they go…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd September

Review of The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Friday Face-off – Everybody’s got haters but your city’s always behind you… featuring Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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

Waterford Walls – the Sea – some more https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/09/08/waterford-walls-2017-some-more/ I make no apologies for including another post from with wonderful photographer

Monday Funnies – Piracy You’ll Enjoy Reading About… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/monday-funnies-4/ Have to confess – it was the cartoon about pilates that sold it for me. Now I’ve restarted my classes, I was howling with laughter at this one.

Running Out of Space Blog Tour – http://www.lolasblogtours.net/blog-tour-running-out-of-space-by-s-j-higbee/ To be honest, I’ve included this just because it still feels very unreal and seeing my book cover online is thrilling. And terrifying…

Writer’s Music: Daniel Pemberton https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/09/07/writers-music-daniel-pemberton/ This is a real treat – Jean writes about how she uses music when writing and then provides some wonderful tracks. This album is certainly one I’m going to be acquiring.

Poetry: The Misunderstood Merman http://blog.kristenburns.com/the-misunderstood-merman/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork
I love this one – funny and poignant…

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.

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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The discovery of this series has been one of my reading highlights – and the reason I haven’t powered through all the books is because they are too good. I want to savour each one after I’ve read it and reflect on it for a while, before once more diving back into this rich, beautifully evoked world. That said, the gap between The Tropic of Serpents and this one was longer than I’d planned.

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

The tone and writing is pitch perfect. Isabella Trent epitomises those gutsy Victorian lady explorers who endured hazardous journeys to distant corners of the world in primitive conditions – often still wearing corsets and long skirts. Although Isabella does adopt trousers for their practicality in scrambling over ruins and running away from enraged dragons. This time, most of the book is spent aboard the ship Basilisk as the expedition she is heading attempts to garner more information on sea dragons, amongst other breeds living inconveniently long distances away from Scirland.

The first third of the book is necessarily episodic as the expedition gets under way – but once events start to spin out of control, as they invariably do for Isabella and her companions, the pace picks up along with the stakes. While she would love to devote all her attention and resources on tracking down and learning more about dragons, the politics of the region has to be taken into account – particularly in relation to her own country’s ambitions and she has learnt the hard way that this is an aspect of her travels she cannot afford to disregard.

The long-running narrative arc regarding the issue of dragon bones being stabilised and used industrially continues to gain momentum through this book. While I think all the books can be easily read as a standalone, it is always gratifying to have at least one ongoing thread to reward readers who follow the series. The climax in this book kept me reading until the end – I simply couldn’t put it down. And while I am not going to dive straight into the next book – I want more time to fully absorb and appreciate Basilisk goodness – I certainly don’t want to leave it too long before I once again delight in revisiting this world with the next book in the series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Heir to the North – Book 1 of the Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

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This is a book I picked up by a fellow Grimbold author a long time ago which has spent far too long stuck in my TBR pile – and this week I rediscovered it. So I dusted off the virtual fluff and got stuck in. I’m so glad it did!

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle. The North will rise again.

There are so many classic elements to this story – a lost civilisation that has fallen into ruin… evidence of arcane knowledge now gone… some grumpy powerful magic-users… a lantern-jawed warrior with a shiny family tree… If you are an epic fantasy fan these tropes are as cosily familiar as a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime. And then Poore adds his own spin on this epic storyline. Think of the absolute opposite of George R.R. Martin’s approach. There is a single protagonist – and no… it isn’t the shiny warrior – it is the daughter of a drunk storyteller who is constantly on the road.

Somehow – and this is a masterclass on the intelligent use of a protagonist – through this worm’s eye view, we are shown the bones of a lost culture and the way the current world works as young Cassia is given the chance to make her own way as a storyteller. I’ll be honest – epic fantasy isn’t always my go-to genre. I’m rather allergic to a horde of unpleasant main characters scrambling for power or survival, depending on the politics. I’m not a fan of pages of explanation about the world, either. Poore nicely side-steps these pet peeves of mine and unpeels a wonderful, vibrant world, alongside an engrossing storyline that held me throughout as I really cared about young Cassia.

She is a delightful protagonist – wary and neglected after an abusive childhood, she gradually begins to see there are opportunities for her other than just trying to stay out of trouble and survive. And when threats or dangers loom, she is reasonably good at reacting. All of this is written into her story without her coming off as a Mary Sue.

So as the book progressed – much faster than I generally take reading an epic fantasy as the pages pretty much turned themselves with this one – I was gearing up, waiting for the nasty warlock to unleash his world-ending magical mayhem. And Poore changes it all. While I had already figured out some of the reveals, I didn’t see that final twist coming – that came as a real shock. I’m so very glad that I had bought the next book in this series, The High King’s Vengeance, during the last Fantasycon – which I shall be tucking into just as soon as I can. Because I really, really need to know what happens next.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and decided to treat myself with this third slice in Dina’s adventures with Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn…

Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.

Dina has proved herself to be resourceful and powerful – particularly when in her magical inn, as evidenced by the last eventful adventure in Sweep in Peace – see my review here. So the trick is to produce a scenario where she is under threat right in the heart of her stronghold – what about when a smelly, ramshackle alien lurches onto the property pleading for sanctuary? What if this desperate creature is being pursued by a horde of fanatical aliens who believe their path to everlasting life and glory is to run down the first species, the Hiru, until they are extinct? And they will stop at nothing to get to them…

We also get to learn more about Dina’s background as another family member surfaces, bringing with her a familiar guest. I always enjoy it when characters we’ve known from previous adventures reappear – especially when we see another side to them, as is the case with a certain vampire who featured in the last book. Yet another favourite character who also heavily features in this book is the Alpha werewolf, Sean. Dina has been attracted to her neighbour for some time, but innkeeping has been rather hectic recently, so she hasn’t had much opportunity to give those feelings a chance. However, when desperately battling for her very existence, she and Sean find those feelings become intensified. This romance between the two of them is well handled, to the extent that even cynical old me felt an ‘ahh’ moment when they sorted out their feelings for one another.

Once again, I found it very difficult to put this one down before the end. I love this series – it goes on delivering one storming read after another. As for those smelly, downtrodden aliens – there was a wonderful moment of true poignancy near the end that was magical. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever enjoyed an urban fantasy or space opera adventure, given this is a glorious mash-up of the two. Now, I’m just waiting for the next book in the series…
10/10

Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I recently had the week from Hell and wanted something cosy and reassuring to read. What could be better than Eligible? It’s been languishing on my TBR pile for a while and now was definitely the time to dust it off and get stuck in…

This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

This proved to be just what I needed – a smart read that plays with the reader’s knowledge of the original story and then delivers something sufficiently different to keep the pages turning. For instance, Elizabeth, aged thirty-eight, is in the middle of an affair with Jasper Wicks whom she has been helplessly in love with for years – while he keeps stringing her along. Set in Cincinnati, where the Bennets live in a rambling, unkempt mansion called Tudors, this is also a commentary on modern times. The strength of this story is the way Sittenfeld reinvents the classic characters we know and love from Austen’s incomparable romantic comedy and offers them up in different guises. Some are still recognisable and some are completely different – I had great fun working out who was going to fill which niche in the story.

It does take a while to get going as initially we are treated to chunks of detail about the backstory in omniscient viewpoint, which I found a tad jarring. Once we were in the story, the pace picks up and the story lifted off. However, there is a problem that poor Sittenfeld couldn’t crack – while Mr Bennet does have some deliciously sharp and humorous lines, overall the dialogue lacks the wit and charm of Austen’s original novel. I’ll give her a pass on that one – Austen was a genius and while Sittenfeld’s prose is solidly good, she isn’t in the same league. That said, I had a great deal of fun with this one and recommend it to anyone in need of an enjoyable romance – a thorough working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice (and that can mean you’ve watched the films a few times) is a distinct advantage.
8/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – July Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, for the past two years I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least twenty-four books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me. During July, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to twenty-two. They are:

Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper
Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content. However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work. And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.
I loved this one – it’s such a refreshing change to meet a protagonist who would far rather slump on the sofa and watch something on the TV than run around getting involved in magical adventures. Sharp and funny, I found this one difficult to put down. See my review here.

 

The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman
The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with.
Julia is the edgy protagonist who immediately gripped me and pulled me into the start of this one, which pings off the page with tension as we begin to get to know her. The tale slowly unspools as we learn her backstory and why she is constantly alert. Lerman’s depiction of a damaged character whose trust was destroyed during her childhood is very effective. See my review here.

 

Crash Land on Kurai – Book 1 of The Hikoboshi series by S.J. Pajonas
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. See my review here.

I also managed to clear two books from my TBR pile. They are:

One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.
Dina has proved herself to be resourceful and powerful – particularly when in her magical inn, as evidenced by the last eventful adventure in Sweep in Peace – see my review here. So the trick is to produce a scenario where she is under threat right in the heart of her stronghold – what about when a smelly, ramshackle alien lurches onto the property pleading for sanctuary? What if this desperate creature is being pursued by a horde of fanatical aliens who believe their path to everlasting life and glory is to run down the first species, the Hiru, until they are extinct? And they will stop at nothing to get to them… Review to follow.

Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper
See above

This means I’ve managed to clear thirty-four books from my teetering TBR pile so far this year. Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think? Are there any challenges you are undertaking – I’d love to hear how it’s going.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

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Back in February, I read the first book in this entertaining series, Clean Sweep – read my review here. At that point, Himself bought the other two books in the series so far and tucked into them, but I don’t like reading books from the same series back to back. However, I hadn’t planned on leaving it quite so long before returning to this world.

Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…

Dina is on a mission. Her parents, along with their magical inn, disappeared without trace some six years ago and despite an exhaustive search, no one has seen any hint of them. She has now decided to settle down and run her own inn – though she has also posted pictures of her missing family and watches every guest’s reaction as they walk through the door, hoping that one day someone will offer valuable information – or betray a shocked jolt of recognition. However taking on this particular mission is doing things the hard way.

I loved the sense that Dina is plunged into a situation well over her head and scrambling to keep up, often several steps behind. She is a likeable protagonist – steady and determined, particularly when under pressure, but with the ongoing vulnerability of constantly missing her parents.

Andrews is also good at writing animals – Dina’s little dog is suitably annoying and yappy, except when he… isn’t. And when a cat makes an appearance, I was also convinced – I get a bit fed up when pets are depicted with too much treacly sentimentality. But what sets this intriguing fantasy/science fiction mashup apart is the originality of the premise – and how effectively Andrews raises the stakes. We are left in no doubt as to the high cost of this terrible war raging between two warlike species – and the impact on everyone, those taking part as well as those caught between them.

In addition, Dina finds her own happiness held hostage as to the outcome of the peace conference. Andrews’ pacing and handling of the narrative tension is spot on as she steadily ramps up it up with a mixture of the domestic mundane with a twist of fantasy – the galactic superchef produces wonderful meals and Dina has to spend a lot of time and magic ensuring each delegation’s needs are fully met – with the crucial details we need to understand exactly how important it all is. This is all deftly done, producing a smooth, enjoyable read that covers all the epic consequences of this nasty war through the fallout in Dina’s magical inn.

I have the next book in this entertaining series – One Fell Sweep – and I won’t be waiting so long to get to it and if you are seeking an interesting fantasy with a sci fi twist, then this series comes highly recommended.
9/10