Category Archives: unreliable narrator

Sunday Post – 24th 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.

Not a good week. Stuff was going on that completely cut the ground out from under me. Though there were drops of brightness in the middle of the dross – the major one being that I started back at Northbrook College teaching my Creative Writing courses. It was lovely to catch up on my regular students and meet up with the new ones – I’m sure it’s very uncool to miss them so much during the loooong summer break, but there it is… The other piece of good news is that the Heart Clinic gave my sister the allclear and once more we were impressed at the care and kindness she has received at Worthing Hospital.

Other than that, I felt I was slowly drowning – and on Wednesday and Thursday admitted defeat and retired to my bed, beaten and overwhelmed. And then as suddenly as everything went wrong, it was resolved. I’m still waiting for that boring middle-age I was promised.

On Friday afternoon we picked up the grandchildren. Frances and I spent most of Saturday rehearsing Tim’s film and in the evening my sister joined us for an evening meal. Afterwards we played several noisy games of Dobble and Uno. Today, we are once again rehearsing for the film – we actually start filming this coming Wednesday – a deadline that’s approaching at the speed of a closing train…

This week I have read:

Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan
Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…
This near-future thriller about a girl struggling to cope with both a gift and a curse is engrossing and enjoyable – just the kind of clever, page-turning tale I love getting lost in.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of The Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford
Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. For now…
I loved this one – a believable world, lots of tension and character-driven action, a colony struggling against the odds and a climactic conclusion that left me wanting lots more psi-tech goodness.

 

Select by Marit Wiesenberg
Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface—dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity.
This YA dystopian science fiction offering features an enjoyable sympathetic protagonist struggling to achieve the impossible – to be just ordinary and unremarkable. I really liked the writing and the first person viewpoint of a character being clearly manipulated without becoming whiny or victimised.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h September

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

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

Friday Face-off – The color purple… featuring Mendoza in Hollywood – Book 3 of The Company novels by Kage Baker

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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

Beautiful Writing: Part 2: William Shakespeare https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/beautiful-writing-part-2-william-shakespeare/ It was a no-brainer for me when I spotted Sonnet 116 which is one of my all-time favourite poems.

How Reading Rewires Your Brain https://mctuggle.com/2017/09/18/how-reading-rewires-your-brain/ Those of us who are avid readers know that opening the pages brings a sense of calm and clarity when all around are losing it and you don’t want it to be you, too – but now they’ve scientifically proved it.

7 Types of Book Bloggers We’ve All Seen https://thisislitblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/7-types-of-book-bloggers-weve-all-seen/ This article manages to be funny and revealing – question is… which blogger are you?

The Psychology Behind Good Cover Design http://writerunboxed.com/2017/09/17/the-psychology-behind-good-book-cover-design/ Regular visitors will know that I am very intrigued by what makes a good cover and this article by someone who knows what they are talking about sheds further light on the subject.

Authors… yer book’s a what kinda seller? https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/09/23/authors-yer-books-a-what-kinda-seller/ Successful Indie author Seumas Gallacher reflects on the increasing trend for books to be labelled ‘best seller’ and what that means.

Guest Post: Sherwym Jellico https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/guest-post-sherwyn-jellico/ Drew from The Tattooed Book Geek hosted this amazing article by Sherwyn which will contribute towards the effort to lift the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness.

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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Sunday Post – 15th May

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Weekly Wrapup

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

This week, I still seem to be running to stay on the same spot… Monday was taken up with helping my son with an audition tape and teaching and I’ve been out every night this week, except Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday I was with a couple of writing groups – vital to get feedback and discuss various writing/editing problems as well as great fun. Friend and accomplished poet, Lyn Jennings helped me out with my poem ‘The Price of Breathing’ and on Wednesday evening Sarah Palmer set me on the right track with my woefully bad blurbs for Dying for Space and Breathing Space.

On Thursday evening, the West Sussex Writers monthly meeting had Sarah Lewis talking to us about using social media as authors. It was a really good evening, with plenty of useful information. And we’ve had the pleasure of Oscar’s company throughout the week-end, so fun things like trips to the beach and bowling have pushed editing and reading into the background.

I have managed to read four books this week, although one of those is a book Oscar and I have been reading together, so it would count as more of a novella, as it is the £1 book he bought for World Book Day. I completed:

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight
I was given the opportunity to read this YA mystery sci fi thriller via NetGalley and couldn’t resist. It is a taut, twisting plot full of surprises written in first person viewpoint. It definitely is a Marmite book that readers seem to either love or hate and I posted my review of it yesterday.

 

planetfallPlanetfall by Emma Newman
I bought this book in the early New Year, but wanted to wait until I felt the need for a bit of a pick-me-up before reading it. I’m glad I did. This book is a joy. It grabbed me by the throat from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end. I still get a tingle every time I think about it… I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 of The Laundry Files by Charles Strossannihilationscore
This is the companion book to The Rhesus Chart and I’m very glad I managed to read the two books reasonably close together. Again, a roller-coaster ride through an everyday setting with recognisable people dealing with threats that are anything but mundane. Though the inter-departmental politics, office rivalries and budget constraints certainly are… Stross manages to weave a unique world that we all instantly can identify with – before throwing it into a tentacle-lined abyss. I’ll be reviewing this on or around 9th June when the paperback version is released.

 

theescapeEscape – Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space by Scott Cavan
This is a nifty idea – get a major film franchise agree to use their setting for a series of children’s books. Oscar was rather underwhelmed about the idea of going off to spend his £1 book voucher on anything other than the inevitable sticker book – until we happened upon this offering. And he was so excited, I bought the rest of the series. We completed this book on Friday night as soon as he walked through the door.

 

My editing schedule has lurched to a halt this week, but I’m hoping that as next week is considerably quieter, I’ll be able to really get cracking on Breathing Space.

My posts last week:
Weekly Wrap-Up – 8th May

Review of Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. Foner

Teaser Tuesday – Planetfall by Emma Newman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

2016 Discovery Challenge – April Roundup

Friday Faceoff – Which Witch is Which? featuring Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight

It has been an enjoyably sociable week with lovely writing friends. I am also getting steadily fitter with my weekly sessions of Fitstep and Pilates – though I stupidly dropped my TENS machine while loading the washing and broke it, so need to order another as my hip is being a bit niggly.

May your books bring you entertainment and enjoyment, or profound insights and I hope everyone has a fulfilling, busy week.

Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…

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I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…

 

Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…

 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.

 

requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.

 

Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.

 

rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.

 

Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.

 

fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

How Are They Doing?

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You’ve followed the protagonist and her friends and enemies through a whole series of books, finally closing the last volume with a sigh… So, which character would you like to revisit to see how they’re now getting on? Thanks to Anastasia, who first posed this question here, I’ve compiled my own list of top ten characters I’d like to catch up with.
In no particular order…
1. Corporal Carrot from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett – Okay – I lied. There is an order – GuardsGuardsbecause this wonderful body of work has to be one of the major starting points for any speculative fiction fan. And why Corporal Carrot out of the cast of Discworld characters? Because if anyone is liable to suddenly march out of obscurity and into a Hero’s storyline, then it’s got to be Corporal Carrot. And I’m betting even an ordinary day in his life is probably rather more event-filled than most folks – particularly if he and Angua ever get around to producing offspring…
2. Johan Eschback from the Ghosts of Columbia series by L.E. Modesitt Jr – This fascinating series is set in an alternate world where America was settled by the Dutch – and large parts of the world are uninhabitable because whenever anyone suffers a violent death, they return as ghosts able to cause havoc to the living. Johan Eschback is a retired secret agent, now happily remarried to an opera singer, who finds himself unable to turn down an offer to resume his former career in a series of enthralling adventures. I’d love to peep back into his life and ensure that he and the lovely Llysette are still thriving…
3. Jarra from the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards – This YA science fiction trilogy follows the adventures of Jarra, who is part of a minority of humans trapped on Earth due to an allergic reaction she suffers whenever travelling offplanet – leading to discrimination by the majority of humanity who have now relocated to more desirable planets. Is Jarra enjoying her new role? I really hope she retains all her energy and enthusiasm which makes her such an engaging protagonist.
4. Tintaglia from The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb – This series of four books set in Hobb’s world concentrates on the dragons and their keepers struggling to find the fabled dragon city. Tintaglia has to be the most defiantly self-centred and arrogant protagonist I’ve ever cared about – and I’d love to know if the beautiful blue dragon is still engrossed in her own affairs to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.
5. Sookie Stackhouse from the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris – I read all the books and Deaduntildarkeven followed the first couple of series on TV until I decided that it was all a bit too gory. While the TV series followed the storyline of the books reasonably closely, it couldn’t successfully recreate the dry humour that ran throughout Sookie’s first person narrative, which makes her a solid favourite of mine. Is she still well and happy? I’d love to drop in and find out.

6. Nadia Stafford from the Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong – This entertaining trilogy features an ex-policewoman who embarked on a career as a hit woman after being kicked off the force for taking the law into her own hands. The story arc over this enjoyable thriller/whodunit series with a difference is a cracking read – and I’d love to know that if the choices Nadia finally made are still working for her…
7. Jon from the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name – This science fiction romp is about a duo, so I suppose I should have also added Lobo’s name. Jon is an ex-labrat who has done some fairly awful things in his time – and teamed up with Lobo, a mouthy AI. Together they are a formidable twosome who try to provide might for the right. With mixed results… I love the non-stop action and sharp dialogue that accompanies this entertaining, well written offering. And would like to think that Jon enjoys a measure of peace in his life – though I have my doubts, given he has Lobo alongside…
8. Matthew Swift from the Midnight Mayor series by Kate Griffin – To say that Matthew is a troubled soul is something of an understatement, given that he’d been murdered and spent two years living in the wires cris-crossing London before being reincarnated as the spiritual saviour of the city. I’d like to think he is now putting his feet up – but somehow have my doubts. He does occasionally put in an appearance in Griffin’s spinoff series – and I wait patiently to see if he settles down. Or better still, steps away from the gruelling post of Midnight Mayor.
9. Lila from the Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson – This genre mash-up is a tour de force and I still find myself sliding back to considering these remarkable books. The premise is that a quantum bomb has allowed creatures from other realities to bleed through into our world without anyone really noticing… And yes – you’re right. It sounds mad, but Robson makes it work. I’d love to know that Lila is still raising hell somewhere. Preferably a safe distance from where I am.
10. Devi from the Paradox series by Rachel Bach – This enjoyable space opera romp featuring adrenaline œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIjunkie Devi, who gets into more scrapes than I’ve had hot dinners, is a blast from start to finish. And I’d like to think that she and Rupert are still dancing around each other and causing sufficient chaos to keep them happy, though probably – knowing Devi – she’s probably up to her eyebrows in trouble.

Those are my choices for protagonists I got to know and would love to be able to just peep into their futures and ensure everything is still going smoothly for them. Who would you like to revisit and check out?

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

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Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?

My Top Ten Fantasy Reads (including series)

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Thanks to Anastasia’s blog, which I reblogged here, there was a fair amount of interest in favourite fantasy books – many thanks Dylan Hearn for going to the trouble of giving us your list as well. So here is mine, in no particular order:-

1. Among Others by Jo Waltonamong others
This is an amazing book. In fact, ALL of Walton’s books are amazing, from Tooth and Claw right through to My Real Children. But Among Others has an extra dose of awesomeness. I happen to think she is one of the finest speculative fiction writers of this generation. I met her once, before I’d read any of her books and now fervently hope I get a chance to meet her again, though I’d probably embarrass myself with inappropriate fangirl noises.

2. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart
A firm family favourite, I just love the writing in this small children’s book – and even having read it aloud at various times to various classes and my own children and grandchildren, the ending still brings a lump to my throat…

3. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, starting with Storm Front + 14 others…
Set in Chicago, this urban fantasy series is about a snippy wizard who has trouble with authority and takes it on himself to try and right supernatural wrongs. It’s funny, sharp and entertaining.

4. The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, comprising The Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
I absolutely second those of you who nominated this wide-ranging, epic series – wonderful and magical slice of fantasy building…

5. The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London + 4 others so far…
This sharp and interesting crime fantasy series took this sub-genre and nocked up the quality a notch. Though at times London descriptions occasionally become a little OTT, Peter Grant is a wonderful character and the narrative arc is going off in a fascinating direction.

6. The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin – Stray Souls and The Glass God so far…
This London-based urban fantasy series is a spinoff from Griffin’s the Midnight Mayor series and has all the superb descriptions we grew to love in those particular books, but with more wonderful humorous touches that regularly has me laughing out aloud. If you haven’t ever read her – do so, she’s a treat.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods
When I first picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this wonderful writing and the sheer originality of the worlds. And years later after first reading it, the world still resonates in my head…

8. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Like Jo Walton’s offering, this is simply a remarkable book with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read…

9. The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn – Touchstone, Elsewhens and Thornlost so far…
Again, an awesome, original series that has enriched my inscape and every book has me pining for more, as this magical theatrical cast manages to create something unique and special…

10. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, starting with The Colour of Magic + 39 others…
colourofmagicI’ve read ‘em all, loved most of them – and I don’t think any serious list of fantasy books could leave the Great Man off. He took the genre by the scruff of the neck, shook it thoroughly and left it forever altered. May he rest in peace…

Because it’s my blog, I can ALSO mention Fantasy authors it HURT to leave out – Juliet E. McKenna, Diana Wynne Jones, Miles Cameron, Cressida Cowell, Charlaine Harris, James Lovegrove, Sharon Lee and Tanya Huff…

Review of Fractal Prince – Book 2 of The Quantum Thief series by Hannu Rajaniemi

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On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrődinger box. He is doing the job for his patron, and the owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not. The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack. The thief is nearly dead, being is being eaten alive. Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him. And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

fractalprinceAnd that is the blurb for the follow up to Rajaniemi’s award-winning novel, The Quantum Thief which I whipped off the shelves when it caught my eye – would I enjoy this hard science fiction adventure? Rajaniemi is a Finnish writer with a PhD in String Theory – and his scientific knowledge permeates the world building in this remarkable book.

The thief’s viewpoint is in first person, while Mieli and the adventures of disgraced sister, Tawaddud, the other two protagonists, are told in third person viewpoint. While the thief struggles to open the box, Tawaddud is striving to assist her father in his political manoeuvring by entertaining influential individuals and then roaming the poorer parts of the city and helping those infected with the wildcode. The characters are reasonably successful, although I found I empathised more with Tawaddud and Mieli than Jean, whose enigmatic, tricky persona made him less easy to know and care about.

The other layer of structure running through the book is that much of the narrative is told in the form of stories in the same style as Scheherazade’s tales of a thousand and one nights. I know – it sounds bonkers. And yet, for me, this aspect was one of the main successes of the book. Rajaniemi isn’t a believer in spending time on explaining his world or how it works to the reader – the gismos and terms describing aspects of his world, such as Sobernost, zoku, mutalibun all have to be gleaned through the context of the prose. I would have been cravenly grateful for a glossary, especially in the early stages of the book, given I haven’t read The Quantum Thief. But in the stories – which partly advance the plot and partly highlight the recurring themes of betrayal and revenge, loyalty and power which weave through the book – there is some background and explanation, particularly about Tawaddud and Mieli.

That Rajaniemi is an original writer, pushing the boundaries of science fiction and how narrative works is undisputed. Once I managed to grasp more or less what was going on, I found this an enjoyable read filled with entertaining concepts and underpinned by a story with plenty of tension. However, I do feel Rajaniemi could have, at times, thrown a few more lifelines to his readers that needn’t have compromised his narrative and would have enhanced the reading experience – the longed-for glossary, for example. That said, I recommend you seek him out – but do yourselves a favour, don’t start with Fractal Prince, track down The Quantum Thief. My bad habit picking up a mid-series book as my starting point certainly didn’t help in this case.
8/10

Review of My Real Children by Jo Walton

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This is the latest offering from one of my favourite fantasy authors – would I like it as much as her other work?

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan’s world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
‘Yes.’
‘No.’
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and… her memory splits in two.

my real childrenThis book is different from anything else that Walton has written – but then books with a storyline like this aren’t exactly crowding the bookshelves. By a spooky coincidence, I’ve recently read and reviewed Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which is the nearest book to My Real Children that I’ve come across – although there are some important differences. Patricia’s life apparently divides at a particular point in her life, when a single event and two decisions cause two different futures to come to pass – so this is more Sliding Doors than Groundhog Day.

There is also a real sense of ambiguity about the whole business – Patricia is suffering from dementia and has been battling with it for some time. So… is this a complex illusion brought about by a damaged brain? At this point, the two alternate lives seem to collide – she gets muddled as to which nursing home she is living in and although she hasn’t yet mixed up the children, she knows it will only be a matter of time. The impact of her different lives doesn’t just affect her family – the world is quite a different place and I found this to be a fascinating consequence. Intriguingly, it wasn’t the life where she was fulfilled and happy that had the best outcome…

This isn’t a doorstop-sized tome, so of necessity – given the span of years that it covers – Walton has had to skim over quite a lot of important events in order to fit it all in. But I didn’t feel that I’d been short-changed in any way. Like Life After Life, there are some bleak, miserable periods and terrible events interspersed with shafts of happiness and examples of human goodness. Unlike Life After Life, the worst of the savagery isn’t always visited upon Patricia. Walton is excellent at summoning up the feel of an era and I was intrigued to note how nostalgia steadily drifts into alternate history, as political events increasingly diverge from our own timeline. Focused as I was on Patricia’s personal story, it took a while for the penny to drop – but when I went back and reread the sections, I was able to appreciate the subtlety Walton employs with occasional mentions of events, before the shock of the major crisis which changes the whole political backdrop forever…

Walton always writes with intelligence and coherence, giving this story an interesting twist at the end arising out of her misery when trapped in her miserable marriage, thus making a remarkable and memorable read even more so. I found it fascinating that Patricia’s greatest contribution was when she was most oppressed – a stark contrast to all those feel-good lifestyle coaching gurus, whose starting point is that in order to fulfil a destiny, we need to be personally fulfilled and happy. If you enjoyed Life After Life, track down My Real Children – it is every bit as engrossing, with a stronger more convincing ending. Walton just goes from strength to strength and this book establishes her as one of the foremost and most interesting writers of her generation in any genre.
10/10

Review of Elsewhens – Book 2 of The Touchstone series by Melanie Rawn

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This is the sequel to the fabulous Glass Thorns I recently reviewed here. Would it live up to the very high standard Rawn set in her first book of the series?

Touchstone, the magical theatre troupe, continues to build audiences and wherever they go and worldly success follows. But after anelsewhens apparent loss in the Trials, the four are chosen to travel from a kingdom populated with Wizards, Elves and Fae to the continent, where magic is forbidden and non-human races are met with suspicion.

As strains within the group threaten to fracture it, playwright Caydon is further troubled by his ‘elsewhens’ the uncontrolled moments when he is plunged into visions of the death of his closest friend, the troupe’s reckless and brilliant glister Mieka. Cade fears that his Fae gift will forever taint his friendships, while others fear that his increasing distance will destroy him.

If you have managed to get your hands on a copy of Elsewhens but haven’t got around to reading Glass Thorns – my firm advice is to put Elsewhens on one side until you’ve read Glass Thorns. This is a fairly densely written world, without any sort of ‘story so far’ prologue to help out readers who are reading this out of sequence. I’m assuming that if you have gone to the trouble of tracking down Elsewhens, you are a Fantasy fan that thoroughly enjoyed the first instalment of this wonderful world. It seems to be something of a Marmite series – readers seem to either love or dislike it. I loved it.

Now that Touchstone are busy establishing their reputations, this book explores some of the darker side of performing – the demons that regularly afflict those who are driven to display slices of their personality to entertain others. Though Rawn’s performers are magical beings, some of the impulses that drive them are all too human. And the troupe’s hard drinking, womanising and drug use is very familiar – anyone who knows actors or musicians will recognise aspects of their behaviour in Rawn’s performers in this original and fascinating Fantasy tale. Their post-show behaviour regularly slides into bursts of high-spirited pranks – the sort of high jinks that rock and roll groups have indulged in, when the adrenaline burst necessary for a performance doesn’t ease down quietly, but goes on buzzing long after the show is over…

Mieka, their mercurial glister, pulls out the emotion that Cade carefully weaves into the glass withies and gives his magical crafting colour and intensity that leaves audiences breathless and wanting more… But Cade is still tormented by the visions of various futures in which a drug-ravaged Mieka self-destructs – or Cade, twisted into a coldly aloof version of himself, rebuffs the emotionally needy Elf… And he desperately tries to make his own decisions to ensure some of the nightmare futures don’t come to pass – while keeping the other options to himself so that he doesn’t influence any of the others, especially Mieka.

If your taste runs to character-led stories where the author allows the world to develop through her protagonists’ hopes and fears… Where constant politicking goes on around the main characters, while they are oblivious, wrapped up in the latest performance… Where their drive to be the best they can be ignites creative fires they struggle to control… then this is a read I cannot recommend highly enough.

And as for the ending – well I didn’t see that coming. And it’s a long old wait for the third instalment. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to see one of the Fantasy greats back to her old form – welcome back Melanie!
10/10

Review of The Islanders by Christopher Priest

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Christopher Priest’s work is always a challenge. He regularly pushes the envelope with his beautifully written prose, as in The Separation, which I reviewed here. And this offering is no exception. So would I enjoy this book more than I enjoyed The Separation?

islandersThe Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across the waters. The Islanders serves as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands, an intriguing multi-layered tale of a murder and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator.

Whether this book could be called a novel is a matter for debate – the overall narrative spine of The Islanders is a visitor’s guide to some of the islands within the Dream Archipelago with a series of short, factually concise guides to a range of islands. At the same time, we become increasingly aware that this task is doomed to failure. Because of temporal anomalies that are now routinely used by aircraft to shorten flights, it is very difficult to accurately map large sections of the Archipelago. It gets worse – even trying to standardise the names of these islands proves a challenge as there are frequently anything up to three alternatives names for each one. And at least one of the poorer, less attractive islands appears to have appropriated the name of one of its more prosperous, popular neighbours in the hope of attracting a section of their tourist trade.

Who has embarked on this project of writing a gazetteer? We are never told. At least we are on solid ground at the beginning of the book – the famous novelist, Chaster Kammeston has written the Prologue – an oblique and rather qualified approval of the whole undertaking. However, one of the sections near the end of the book describes Chaster’s death – so how can he have read and approved of the manuscript sufficiently to have written the Prologue? Again, don’t expect Priest to provide any answers.

If the book had merely contained a series of tourist guide details about a bunch of non-existent islands, it would have joined my growing pile of DID NOT FINISH books on the grounds that Life is too short. But Priest is a fine writer – and mixed in amongst the clipped, impersonal island descriptions are a number of vivid characters, some amusing, some dark and some plain sad. A handful of these characters, including Chaster, constantly keep appearing and reappearing, building up a drifting, insubstantial plot that shifts as soon as you start to rely on it as the thread that will pull this book into a coherent whole. Even the chronology jumps around – nothing is certain.

So… did I enjoy The Islanders? Oh yes. Priest’s evocation of a vast, shifting population of islands that are resistant to any firm cataloguing is a temptingly attractive backdrop to his flickers of characterisation and drama. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
10/10