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 covers with Roman warfare images. I’ve selected The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 of The Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe.
This edition was produced by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in September 1993. It has grown on me, as I like the artwork, which is clear and works well in thumbnail. My main grizzle is that eagle standard, which seems to be propped up against the main character’s shoulder in rather a peculiar way. I find it distracting. And I’m not all that keen on the highly stylised font, which says 1920s and 30s, rather than taking me back to Rome.
Published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), this looks to me to be a cover tie-in to the film. The protagonists look suitably grim and grubby and I like the epic sense of the battle going on in the background, rather than just a few chaps waving shields and pilums around. That is also a wonderfully threatening sky… However, I am disappointed in the choice of font, which blends far too well into the background to effectively stand out or draw the eye.
This edition, published by Oxford University Press in March 2000, has chosen to focus on the famous legion standard – the golden eagle. It looks fabulous, especially as it has been angled to catch the light and look suitably dramatic. So it’s a crying shame that all that impact and awesomeness is then promptly squandered by cluttering up the cover with that block of unnecessary chatter. WHY couldn’t the bit about the one million copies sold go on the back, under the blurb? This is so nearly my favourite…
This Dutch edition, produced by Clavis in 2003, also features the legion’s standard. This design has deliberately chosen to reproduce the sense of the 1950s – this book was first published in 1954 – with the textbox and artwork. While I’m not a fan of textboxes, I respect the care and thought that has gone into this one and it is so very nearly my favourite. I particularly like the red font, which pleasingly picks up the shade of tassels flying from the standard. It’s details like this that make a cover eye-catching.
This German edition, published by dtv in 1971, is my choice for this week. I love the vintage feel of the artwork and the clean, uncluttered look. Other than the author and title font, the only other detail is the publisher’s logo – what a lovely change to see the whole of the cover design unimpeded by blobs or chatter! I read this series when I was at school and while this isn’t the same cover as the copy I had – it’s not that different. Which is your favourite?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been another quiet week. Weather-wise, it’s been drier and we have actually had several sunny days, which has been wonderful. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed seeing the sun! Himself had Tuesday off, so we went for another lovely walk along the beach, which we both enjoyed. Other than that, it’s been the usual routine.
I don’t often mention my TV viewing, but this week I watched a wonderful programme on BBC 4 – The Secret Life of Waves, which gave all sorts interesting scientific facts about what waves are, which were fascinating enough. But then it widened out into discussing how the life cycle of waves mirrors our own existence in a poetic, philosophical and highly personal way, which I found very moving. If you like that kind of programme, I highly recommend it.
I’ve now finished the first main edit of Flame & Blame and written the opening scene for Council of Dragons. It put up a bit of a fight – I needed three goes at it before I felt I had the right balance of character-bonding, explanation and action. But I’m now happy to continue onwards, so I hope to get going with it during the coming week.
The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday along the beach at very low tide.
Last week I read: Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears.
And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever … I thoroughly enjoyed this charming, engrossing book featuring plucky Terra. Benn’s writing style was confiding and accessible, without being patronising – which is harder to achieve than he makes it look.
NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.
Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.
I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
Well this is different! Dark, punchy and funny – I think this is exactly the right length. Once again, Tchaikovsky manages to produce something completely different, yet thought provoking and interesting. Review to follow.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever. I loved A Memory Called Empire – it was one of my favourite books of last year. So I was thrilled to be able to tuck into this sequel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Though there was one jarring note… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder Chronicles As a professional finder, Fergus Ferguson is hired to locate missing objects and steal them back. But it is rarely so simple, especially after his latest job in Cernee. He’s been recovering from that experience in the company of friends, the Shipmakers of Pluto, experts at crafting top-of-the-line AI spaceships.
The Shipmakers have convinced Fergus to finally deal with unfinished business he’s been avoiding for half his life: Earth. Fergus hasn’t been back to his homeworld since he was fifteen, when he stole his cousin’s motorcycle and ran away. It was his first theft, and nothing he’s stolen since has been anywhere near so easy, or weighed so heavily on his conscience. Many years and many jobs later, Fergus reluctantly agrees that now is the time to return the motorcycle and face his family. Whatever you do – don’t read the rest of this very chatty blurb, as it goes on to produce a slew of plotpoints which you should be reading within this excellent, action-packed story. Fergus is rapidly becoming one of my favourite protagonists and I’m thrilled the next book in this entertaining series is coming out in May… Review to follow.
I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining series – see my review of The Monster MASH – and when I saw this offering pop up on NG, I immediately requested it. Though I was a tad disappointed to see that it was the third, rather than the second book, in the series.
BLURB:In The Heat Of Battle The hard-won cease-fire between the battling immortals doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, human surgeon Dr. Petra Robichaud is back on the frontlines, and starring in yet another of the oracle’s prophesies. As the only healer who can talk to the dead, Petra doesn’t have much choice about her role—even when her breathtaking ex-lover shows up at exactly the wrong time…
REVIEW: The above isn’t all the blurb, as it seemed a tad chatty in the second half, without adding anything the reader needs to know. For starters, anyone who recalls M*A*S*H, the 1970s and 80s hit TV series, will immediately understand the vibe that runs through this entertaining fantasy story. Petra Robichaud is a surgeon who works in a military hospital that patches up humans, gods, monsters and demi-gods fighting in the never-ending war between old and new gods. It so easily could have been a bleak, angsty read – but it isn’t. Without being tasteless or inappropriate, there are plenty of humorous moments that had me grinning in this finale that ties up this entertaining trilogy.
Petra is struggling to commit to Marcus, the love of her life who she’d mourned – until demi-god Galen crashed into her life. However, he had to return to the front, and because he’d helped her in the first book, his punishment was to be turned into a mortal. They had agreed that their love for each other was probably doomed, so agreed to move on… The romance probably features a bit more in this slice of the adventure – but there is also so much else going on, it didn’t slow the pace and detract from the madcap quality of the humour. It’s always a tricky balance, to successfully pull off comedic moments, without reducing a full-on action adventure story to a farce. However, I think Fox has managed to produce a steady stream of humour – not necessarily laugh-aloud episodes, but certainly they had me grinning throughout – and keep the tension and stakes sufficiently high that the pages flew by as I stayed reading longer than I should to discover what happens next. The only slight niggle I have, is that I’m not sure what the title has to do with anything – this isn’t set in London and while a werewolf certainly features, the main narrative isn’t centred around him. But I’m not going to quibble about it – if Fox wants to use 1970s pop song titles for her books to go with the M*A*S*H theme, that’s fine by me…
All in all, this is an entertaining and satisfying ending to this original, quirky fantasy tale and I’m very glad I picked it up. Recommended for fantasy fans, who like their action-adventure tales accompanied by a dollop of romance and plenty of humour along the way. While I obtained an arc of Werewolves of London from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
BLURB: Lieutenant Sorilla Aida has a new mission and new allies, gear, and support as she is tasked with a job that could ensure that the human race stands a chance of reaching a technical parity with the mysterious alien alliance. Humans and SOLCOM are not the only ones making moves, however, and the Alliance has brought up their varsity to end the little side war before it gets out of hand. Are they really interested in humanity or human worlds, however, or is something more at play?
REVIEW: If you have encountered this offering before reading any of the previous books in this series, my firm advice would be to park it and then go and get hold of On Silver Wings, the first book in the series. This is essentially one long story broken up into smaller sections, despite the time lapses between each adventure. So you will be missing far too much of the context and by the time you are able to pick up sufficient knowledge of who is doing what to whom, the chances are you won’t be in a position to fully appreciate what is going on anyway.
I appreciated getting more of Sorilla and her new challenges with her latest piece of tech. As she was the principal protagonist in the first couple of books, it has been something of an adjustment as the focus of the story shifts into a more epic narrative with viewpoints from both human and alien commanders. The science is very well handled, with sufficient detail to satisfy the nerd in me yet without being overwhelming or silting up the narrative pace. And I don’t think that anyone does space battles better than Currie, including the build-up and making sure his readers are aware of the stakes. It is this superpower of his that makes me happy to overlook the fact that some of his aliens think and act uncannily like their human counterparts. The only other niggle is that this book could do with a bit more editing, as there are too many misspelt words. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, as years of reading arcs with shocking formatting issues has trained me to cope with such glitches without throwing up my hands.
Overall, this is a cracking addition to an enjoyable adventure and I am happy to report that you can ignore the comments about this being the final book in the series – it isn’t. Which is just as well, as it does leave everything on something of a cliffhanger ending. I am also happy to report that I have the next book in the series already lined up on my Kindle, waiting to be read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable military science fiction. 8/10
Obviously I have heard Pat Barker’s name, but when I saw this offering last year I couldn’t resist it. And after having read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles – see my review, I recalled I also had this one in my TBR, so dived in and retrieved it. I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.
When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.
REVIEW: Before I go any further, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence against women – although neither are depicted in any great detail, the writing is powerful and moving. I was gripped from the very first sentence.
Rather stupidly, I started reading this late one night, intending to get into the story and then put it down after the first chapter. No chance. When I’d finally got to the stage where my Kindle kept falling out of my hands because I was so tired, it was in the wee small hours and I was halfway through the book. Told in first person POV, Briseis tells the story of how she became a pivotal part of the siege of Troy. Having only recently read Miller’s book, her name was immediately familiar and it was interesting to compare that cosier version of Briseis’s fate to the harder, bleaker narrative told by Barker.
She spends years in the Greek camp outside Troy’s walls as a slave girl to Achilles. She is then caught up in a quarrel between Achilles and the commander of the Greek armies, Agamemnon, when he demands her as a prize. I am not giving away too much of the plot, given this is also mentioned in Homer’s, The Iliad. There is, however, an interesting departure from The Iliad, whereby Agamemnon swears upon the god Zeus that he has left her untouched. Her version of events is quite different – but then she is a mere woman and no one wants to hear what they have to say.
I have been reading quite a lot of Greek retellings recently, as well as Stephen Fry’s excellent Mythos and Heroes – see my review. I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the misogyny embedded within our Western culture directly stems from the Greeks, who probably prized a good warhorse above most of the women in their household. I would love to treat Barker’s tale as a slice of history that has no relevance in modern times. I would love to be able to claim that girls around the world were no longer experiencing the treatment meted out to Briseis on a daily basis. And of course, I can’t. In all the versions of the Greek myths I’ve read and heard, that there isn’t a single one told by the women being chased, harried and routinely raped. For the Greeks prized silence in their women, apparently. Thank goodness we have Circe by Madeline Miller – see my mini-review – and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, along with other feminist retellings of the ancient Greek myths. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in reading a different version of this era. 10/10
BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines…
REVIEW: This is a really interesting book and one I think will stay with me for quite a while to come. Emily’s family have fallen on hard times since her father’s abrupt suicide, caused by a ruthless business rival who set out to ruin him. As the eldest child, it has fallen to Emily to try and hold everything together in increasingly straitened circumstances while trying to keep up appearances. You won’t be surprised to learn the war only makes a bad situation a whole lot worse.
By the time Emily becomes involved in the fighting, we are already solidly on her side and know her to be courageous, intelligent and thoughtful. The opening section put me in mind of Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment without the sardonic humour, but once Emily arrives at the front that abruptly changes. Tchaikovsky is masterful at slowly developing a character who is under immense pressure without them coming across as unduly whiny or implausibly brave – it’s harder to do than he makes it look. Emily’s steady progress in a nightmarish situation makes absolutely gripping reading so that I burned through this 658-page tome far more quickly than usual.
Because that is Tchaikovsky’s other superpower – his ability to throw a curved ball right into the middle of a scenario, abruptly changing the whole dynamic of where you thought the plot was going, and turning it into something else completely. It’s one reason why I love reading him so much. He manages to do this on several occasions without ever making me feel that I am being unduly manipulated and the resultant story is a joy. And that ending… oh my goodness! I didn’t see THAT coming. Once again, Tchaikovsky delivers a thought-provoking yet thoroughly entertaining read that gripped me throughout and leaves me pondering it with a slight sinking feeling, because I’ve now finished it and am no longer in the world. Very highly recommended for fans of good action fantasy, featuring a likeable heroine. 10/10
I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!
Reading I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:
Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Writing I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.
I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.
So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.
I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x
I was blown away by Circe last year, which made my list of Outstanding Reads 2019. So treated myself to the Audible edition of this offering, hoping I’d like it as much. I am including this review in the Wyrd and Wonder 2020 event.
BLURB: Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess…
I’ve truncated the blurb, because I’m not going to assume that everyone who reads this review knows the complete story of the Trojan War and if you don’t, then the second half of the blurb gets far too spoilery, in my view. I loved the narration – Frazer Douglas does a stormingly good job of depicting awkward, sensitive Patroclus, who is the opposite of Achilles in almost every way. I always enjoy a story told in first person viewpoint if it’s done well – and Miller’s writing is sublime. We see, taste and smell ancient Greece without sacrificing any of the narrative drive or characterisation. I particularly loved how Douglas portrays the other characters, such as Chiron, the wise centaur who taught the boys on Mount Peilion, and particularly, smooth-tongued Odysseus.
There was a point in the story, given it is told in Patroclus’s viewpoint, where I wondered how Miller was going to cope with taking the story forward. But she dealt with it extremely well and made it entirely believable. In short, this was another masterful retelling, that had me gripped right to the end. And given that I knew what was going to happen – that’s a huge achievement. This book has garnered a great deal of attention and praise, which is richly deserved. I’m conscious that I’m late to the party, probably only next door’s dog hasn’t yet read this one, but in the unlikely event that you haven’t yet manged to fit it into your reading schedule, I highly recommend it – whether you enjoy Greek myth retellings or not. 10/10
The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.
The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.
Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprisingA Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.
No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack,Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.
The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition toThe Poison Song. Very highly recommended.
The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mageand The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.
AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.
A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queenand Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.
AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well asHow to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…
The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.
AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.
AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.
These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?