Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers, aka Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Charles Stross’ covers in honour of his release of Dead Lies Dreaming, a novel of The Laundry Files series. If you are interested in learning more about this unique series, here are my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex, The Rhesus Chart, The Annihilation Score, and The Nightmare Stacks. I have also provided reviews of Glasshouse, a standalone time-travelling adventure and The Family Trade, Book 1 of his portal fantasy, The Merchant Princes, which I recall absolutely loving – and I want to revisit this series and complete it. My reviews of The Labyrinth Index and Dead Lies Dreaming will shortly be available. I’ve chosen the Brit covers, because I think they absolutely rock and I love the unique branding they provide for this series. Which is your favourite?
I love the cover on this book and, craving something with plenty of humour, I requested it, hoping for mayhem and nonsense in amongst the whodunit…
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
REVIEW: The strapline for this one is: Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. And it’s spot on. Toni is a quirkier, younger version of Agatha, while the paranormal backdrop, though firmly set in rural England, is peopled with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. There is also a similar amount of heat in Grave Secrets as in Charlaine Harris’s books, which means that while it is considerably less explicit than the HBO True Blood series – it still contains several raunchy scenes. This isn’t usually an ingredient I look for in my reads, but it’s done well. Toni’s strong attraction to Oscar is convincingly portrayed – along with her ongoing concerns about his suitability, until she sees him again when once again, she’s swept off her feet.
But what really beguiled me is the strong first-person voice. A breezy, generally can-do attitude, combined with a sharp-edged Brit humour that had me sniggering throughout and a couple of times made me laugh aloud. The vampires are suitably arrogant and entitled, so no surprises there – though I also like the fact that they come in shades of nastiness and some make a real effort to be more caring of the humans in their coterie. I also really like Toni’s relationship with Peter, the other human who is in Oscar’s coterie. James has the ability to write her characters with warmth along with the snarky humour, so it didn’t descend into an adventure where poor put-upon Toni is ranged against all the powerful nasties without any help. To counter-balance the vile behaviour of the antagonists, there are also a number of people happy to assist Toni.
Another plus point – the fact that Toni is a necromancer, who has been raising the dead since a small child. They are normally portrayed as chilling creatures, whose repellent habits make them as unwholesome as the zombies they create – so Toni’s portrayal as a bubbly, impetuous young woman full of strong views on what is Right and Wrong comes as an enjoyable change. As you may have gathered – I was charmed by this one, so I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Grave Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
I’m linking this week’s fantasy offering with Wyrd and Wonder 2020.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Grave Secrets: the Lavington Windsor Mysteries – Book 1 by Alice James – release date, 1st September, 2020
#English urban fantasy #mystery #vampires
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent.
All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies.
Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. It can’t be the best decision she’s ever made, but he’s so pretty.
Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
I love the look of this one – and the idea of an urban fantasy murder mystery set in the English countryside meant I had to have it! I’m looking forward to tucking into this one, which looks like it is going to be an enjoyable, suitably frothy read. And I’m yearning for froth, right now…
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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring ROMANTIC covers. I’ve selected Club Dead – Book 3 of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.
This edition was produced by Orbit in May 2006 and is quite quirky – and evidently before the True Blood TV series, which focused less on the comedic aspect of the story and ensured the bedroom scenes were far more graphic than Harris wrote them. Not sure I like this one all that much – I think the vampire looks odd. But I do like the font and think this effort captures the tone and feel of the book far better than the True Blood tie-ins.
Published in April 2003 by Ace Books, this cover is essentially the complete version of the previous offering and as such, works a lot better, I think. Again, the tone and feel of this cover very much reflects the book. My grizzle is that that mood and quirkiness is undercut by the chunks of chatter scattered about the cover – but despite that issue, this one is my favourite.
This edition, published by Ace Books in June 2010, is clearly in the wake of the True Blood series, and while it certainly reflects the tone of the TV series, I question whether it is an accurate portrayal of the book. I don’t like it much, to be honest. If I hadn’t already been a solid fan of the series, I wouldn’t have touched this with a bargepole, based on this cover, which gives the impression this is a dark fantasy book with a strong horror element.
This Spanish edition, produced by Punto de Lectura in May 2009, is also significantly influenced by the True Blood series. I’m trying to work out why you’d want to kiss someone with blood all over their lips – all I thought was, “Eww!” But perhaps I don’t have sufficient vampiric tendencies…
This Swedish edition, published by Månpocket, takes the design of the 2010 Ace Books and turns it into a drawing, rather than featuring the actual cast of the True Blood series. I prefer the effect on the design, which I think gets nearer to the tone and mood of the books, rather than the TV show. Which is your favourite?
I liked both the cover and the blurb, though if I’d known the author was also an actor, I may well have not requested this one. But I’m very glad I did…
BLURB: I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came… I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.
Imagine a place peopled by a host of magical creatures, who one day had their magic ripped away from them. What is left isn’t pretty – and in the chaos and mayhem that ensued only six years earlier, Sunder City is busy trying to put itself together again. Well… parts of it are – other parts are full of the maimed and disfigured trying to struggle from one day to the next. Fletch Phillips owes quite a lot to the classical crime noir detective Phillip Marlow, with enough personal baggage to fill a luggage carousel at an international airport. His first-person point of view bounces off the page as we learn about the characters and the tattered remains of what Sunder City has become. As for that last smile in the title – I am not going to Spoil exactly who is wearing that smile and why – but it left a lump in my throat…
As for the crime aspect – Fetch is trying to discover the whereabouts of an elderly vampire professor, who teaches at a cross-species school. His search takes him into all sorts of places around the city, and he regularly finds himself in difficult, dangerous situations. I thought the plotline concerning the mystery around this missing professor worked well and was satisfactorily concluded – and I certainly didn’t see the denouement coming before Fetch did.
Any niggles? There are some pacing issues, especially in the second half of the book. There are several important flashbacks which are gamechangers and certainly need to be included – however, there is too much repetition of the ongoing situation. And as the book wore on, Fetch’s on-going misery became an issue, which was a shame. While the crime noir convention requires the protagonist to be suffering, he tends use to ironic humour to prevent his pain turning into self pity, which Fetch didn’t do, so the narrative drive stuttered and I became a bit impatient with him. I’m hoping it’s a beginner’s mistake and I’m rather disappointed in the editing, which certainly should have caught such a fundamental error. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker and the book has still garnered a very creditable score, as it’s still an entertaining read and I’ll definitely be getting hold of the next one in the series. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who appreciate something different. The ebook arc copy of The Last Smile in Sunder City was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…
During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.
Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.
Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.
Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.
Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.
Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.
Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.
Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.
Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…
I absolutely love this sci fi/fantasy mash-up, as it is so funny, smart and cleverly plotted – see my review of Clean Sweep. It has also stuck in my head, so I was absolutely thrilled when I saw this one was available – and treated it to myself once I’d completed the major rewrite of Mantivore Prey. I’m linking this review to the @SciFiMonth2019 event.
Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn’t in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her. Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had sworn off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.
This is something of a spinoff, as this is the first book that doesn’t feature Dina, the young innkeeper, but instead follows the fortunes of her sister, Maud. We first meet with her and the adorable Helen in the previous book, but to be honest if you haven’t read any of the other innkeeper books, this would be a good entry point.
I love the fusion of fantasy and sci fi – because these vampires aren’t the blood-drinking batlike creatures that regularly turn up in urban fantasy, they are a space-faring alien species with a martial culture honed by spending generations battling a ferocious species intent on decimating their kind, while snacking on their children. They are larger and stronger than humans and value strength, cunning and awesome fighting skills. Maud happens to have those. And yes… there were times in the book when I was frankly sceptical at her fighting ability – until a certain point when it becomes clear how she manages to hold her own against these hulking fighters. It’s neatly done and if you don’t register it, there’s no explanation – you, the reader, are left to join up the dots.
The romance between her and Arland is well handled, given it is something of a slowburn affair, given that Maud had already been swept off her feet by a vampire warrior and it didn’t end well. There are reasons why she isn’t about to rush off into the sunset with yet another gorgeous vampire, no matter how well connected he is, or how attracted she is to him. After all, she now has a young daughter to consider, and she doesn’t want to end up exiled on another dusty hellhole struggling for survival, again. And yes – this made her one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve encountered in a while. I burned through this one far too fast and though the next book on my list is a cracking read, it’s taken longer to bond with it than it should, simply because the protagonist isn’t Maud and the world isn’t peopled with sharp-toothed predators who like fighting for fun…
Highly recommended for fans of both fantasy and science fiction adventure stories with a splash of romance.
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 meme is now run by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is HAIR. I’ve changed things around this week – I’ve selected the series of covers produced for The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearn, which I’ve always thought were so very well done. I love the fact it’s the same model throughout and that his hair is fabulous…
Hounded, the first in the series, was produced by Del Rey in May 2011 – and set the tone and style for the rest of the series. I love the fact he’s in a t-shirt, featuring THE sword and not even looking at us. And the way the light plays through that adorable blond hair is just so effective… This is Atticus as I’ve imagined him throughout the books.
Published in June 2011 by Del Rey, that hair is now being blown across his face as he faces off against a foe we can’t see. Interesting to note that this series started off being released so quickly…
This, the third in the series was released in July 2011 by Del Rey. I’ll be honest, this is probably my least favourite of all the covers. I don’t like the fact that the lower half of the cover is so very dark, effectively chopping poor old Atticus off at the waist. Still think the hair is awesome, though😊.
The fourth book was released in April 2012 by Del Rey – and now we see Atticus use his magic. I love the drama of this one and the lurid lighting – I think it’s one of the most eye-catching and attractive of them all.
This fifth book, released in November 2012, is a real contender as my favourite for the series – and to be honest, was the cover that popped into my mind when I saw that HAIR was this week’s theme. Two wonderful heads of hair for the price of one…
This one, published in June 2013, has Atticus once more brandishing his sword as he battles lethal gods and goddesses that he’s annoyed, with those storm-tossed blond locks looking so fabulously disarranged.
And – this cover is my favourite. Released in June 2014, I love the determined expression on his face… the way the light plays around his sword… the runes in the air… and of course, that hair.
This, the eighth book in the series clearly took a bit longer to write as it wasn’t released until January 2016 – and hats off to them that they still managed to feature the same model they’ve used throughout. I just wish the title font wasn’t quite so large, so we could see more of those stakes.
The final book in the series manages to produce a cover that defines the series – poor old Atticus still swinging that sword of his, looking seriously worried. Revisiting these covers has brought back a raft of really happy reading memories.
While I loved them, the only niggle I have is while there is a fair amount of angst, there are a lot of laugh-aloud moments in all the books, courtesy of Atticus’s greyhound, who has a telepathic link to the druid and a penchant for attractive female poodles and sausages. And there isn’t a hint of that humour in any of the covers. Ah well, they feature a gorgeous blond bloke – I suppose you can’t have everything… Which is your favourite cover?
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:
Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
81% A moment passed.
The sticky coffee slid down her neck, dripping from her hair.
Seveline bared her fangs in a vicious grimace, spun on her heel, and stomped off. The door hissed shut behind her.
Maud sat very still. This could still go bad. If they came at her now, her best bet would be to jump out the window. It was a thirty-foot fall to the ledge below, but she could survive it.
Kavaline opened her mouth. Every pair of eyes watched her.
“My lady, we are dreadfully sorry. I do not know what came over her.”
“Clearly,” Maud said, her tone dry, “some people just can’t handle their coffee.”
BLURB: Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn’t in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she’s sworn off all things vampire.
Except… In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can’t just walk away from Arland…
I love this world. I love the characters… the adventures… the non-stop action and excitement… and the humour. I was so excited when I realised there was another book in the series and promised it to myself as a treat when the rewrite to Mantivore Prey was finished. So – here I am, treating myself:).
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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is MAGICAL THINGS, so I’ve selected A Discovery of Witches – Book 1 of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, despite the fact that only two of my covers feature anything remotely magical – those runes and the grimoire…
This edition was produced by Viking Penguin in February 2011 and is clearly the default cover. I really like the graduated night sky as a backdrop and the iconic Oxford cityscape and well as the effectively eye-catching title font with that enjoyable flourish on the A. However, there are some decisions that have compromised the impact of this classy effort. Why all that chatter had to be crammed under the author is a mystery – why can’t it go on the back cover, along with the blurb? And plonking the Penguin right by the rune seems a bizarre move. Instead of focusing on the book, I found myself wondering why the logo wasn’t tucked neatly right in the bottom left or right-hand corner as is more usual…
Published in February 2011 by Headline, this cover is set during the day, though still featuring the cityscape, especially the Bodleian. Instead of magical runes, this time there is a red aura/magical miasma wafting across the sky. The less cluttered approach works better and though I’m not sure I prefer this design, I do think this cover has more eye appeal than the previous one.
This edition, published by Headline in September 2011, has done away with Oxford as part of the backdrop and this time around has gone for a matt black background with that red magical aura wisping across the cover. The author’s name nearly disappears in thumbnail, given the dark red doesn’t exactly ping off the background. This generic approach is a disappointment, especially compared to the previous two covers.
Produced by Orbit in May 2011, this French edition takes a completely different tack. The monochrome colours work well and I’m pleased to see Oxford feature once again. However, I think the silhouetted girl looks far too young and uncertain to be Diana Bishop. Given this is set in 2009, what is she doing wearing a mini-skirt?
This Croatian edition, published in 2011 is my favourite. I love the fact we are right in the middle of Oxford, right outside the Bodleian library in the middle of the night. And right in the foreground is the book that kicks off this story, pages fluttering and moonlit… So cool and appropriate. Which is your favourite?