AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…
MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
MINI-REVIEW:I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world… 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We are still recovering from a nasty attack of Covid and it’s baby steps. I walked to my local supermarket yesterday – only the second time I’ve been out and about since the beginning of March. A journey there and back, including the shopping normally takes about half an hour, if it isn’t too busy. I took nearly an hour and only bought two items. By the time I staggered back through the kitchen door, I felt as if I’d run a marathon. However, it’s now four days since I needed to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Himself is back at work, but still battling with a horrible cough. We are both taking lots of supplements and ensuring that we are eating and drinking healthily.
The photos this week are of plants blooming in the garden. It hasn’t been warm enough to sit out, but one lovely sunny morning I couldn’t resist wandering around taking some pictures. Though the garden is in desperate need of TLC and neither of us feels up to tackling the weeds, so frankly it’s a disgrace.
Last week I read: The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.
Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.
Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life… I took a while to get invested in this dual narrative adventure, as initially I didn’t bond with any of the protagonists. But once things started to kick off, I was able to settle into this enjoyable space opera adventure and let the pages turn themselves. Review to follow.
The Russian Cage – Book 3 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire.
Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this entertaining alternate history series and appreciated learning more about the Holy Russian Empire and exactly how it became established. There is plenty of action and more of Lizbeth, which is always a bonus…
Railhead – Book 1 of the Railhead series by Philip Reeve Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor’s train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people – and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him.
This YA adventure, with its sentient trains that span galaxies, is great fun. Though poor Zen is plonked right in the middle of something far bigger and scarier than he initially realised. Review to follow.
The Eyes of Tamburah – Book 1 of the Archives of the Invisible Swords series by Maria V. Snyder Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed – an outcast, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess – she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artefacts, ancient maps and obscure historical documents.
Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestow great magic on their wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. But chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they’re found – and Shyla is blamed for the theft. I thoroughly enjoy the bouncy energy in Snyder’s writing – particularly now I’m feeling a tad embattled. So this cracking Sand and Sorcery adventure ticked all the boxes. Review to follow.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie The Hayden War has ended and now SOLCOM and the Alliance are face to face in talks, but neither side has the slightest idea what happened in the ultimate battle of the war. Amid political jockeying and diplomatic gamesmanship, Captain Sorilla Aida has been given an assignment : Find a weakness to exploit, buy SOLCOM time to learn just what the hell happened to Valkyrie, and make sure that the Alliance isn’t prepared to risk another conflict in the open.
Sorilla has problems of her own, however, and after losing so much in the war she isn’t as certain of her life choices as she used to be. Unfortunately for her, the Alliance, SOLCOM, and others don’t intend to let her have time to figure it out for herself. This offering is a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner with plenty of tension and action, despite the lack of full-on space battles that Currie tends to specialise in. Review to follow.
Anyone who is a regular visitor knows I’m a huge fan of Stroud’s writing – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the fabulous Bartimaeus trilogy, and my reviews of The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, and The Empty Grave. And yes… I know that Stroud’s writing is aimed at children and the YA market – but he’s one of those wonderfully talented writers who is simply too good to leave just to the youngsters. And I, for one, have never found that his writing ever to be anything other than clever, nuanced and demanding.
BLURB: Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety. This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.
REVIEW: It was interesting to read this one so soon after I’ve completed The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey, because the setting is very similar. A hostile post-apocalyptic England, where there are all sorts of wild beasts and cannibalistic tribes roaming around looking for an easy snack. Civilised settlements are small oases where food, clothing and supplies can be found, along with law and order and safety. But Scarlett doesn’t make a habit of spending much time in one of the settled towns – other than to rob the bank. She doesn’t like the Faith House network, which is constantly looking for people who have deviated from the physical and mental norms (think of John Wynham’s The Chrysalids). She is not afraid of a fight, being an excellent shot and very good in a scrap – she wouldn’t have survived in the wilds, otherwise.
By contrast, Arthur Brown is a walking disaster. He has no instinct whatsoever for keeping himself safe and is liable to fall over his own feet, or get distracted by some pretty-looking seed pods or butterflies, rather than pay attention to the business of keeping himself alive. When chance brings these two together, Scarlett’s one instinct is to offload such a liability as fast as she possibly can – and the growing relationship between them was beautifully handled. It could have so easily puddled into sentimentality or lurve – and it does neither of those things.
Along the way, all sorts of adventures happen to this unlikely duo which steadily reveals more and more of this fascinating, blighted world. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed Carey’s Rampart trilogy. It’s sufficiently different to be enjoyable in its own right – and certainly provides an interesting backdrop to two fascinating, complicated characters and I can’t wait to see where Stroud will next take this adventure. While I obtained an arc of The Outlaws Scarlett & Brown from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this engaging YA far future adventure Navigating the Stars, featuring bouncy disaster-magnet Lyra Daniels – see my review. So I was happy to snap this one up when it became available.
BLURB: Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows. While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).
A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before Jarren learns I’m not dead and returns to finish what he started. There’s no way I’m going to let Jarren win. Instead I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas…
REVIEW: I also enjoyed the blurb, which gives a strong indication of the narrative voice and the stakes involved, without then giving away major spoilers. I won’t deny that Lyra is something of a Mary Sue – she has major skills that no one else possesses, which also puts her right on the front line of the trouble they are facing. But this time around, that didn’t bother me, especially as Snyder does give us solid reasons why she is particularly outstanding, and it works with the plot.
What also works particularly well is the steady rise in the tension throughout, as the enormity of the threat that Jarren poses continues to impact the lives of the community. We learn a bit more about what the mysterious terracotta warriors can do and how they interact with the deadly shadow aliens. I would just mention that in order to fully appreciate this book, I think you would need to have read Navigating the Stars, as they are essentially the same story with the same overarching narrative arc, so not only would you be floundering in far too many places – there are events in the first book that have a direct bearing on the characters and ongoing plot.
The ongoing romance isn’t an aspect of the book that particularly interests me, but I’m not the target audience – and it is generally well handled. Sweet, without being too cloying, with just the right amount of passion suitable for the age group, it evokes the strong emotions of first love very well. It also neatly underlines what is at stake. This one comes highly recommended for fans of far future adventures featuring a feisty heroine – though do read the first book before picking this one up. 8/10
BLURB: Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface is a standalone novel set in the world of New York Times bestsellers Little Brother and Homeland. Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.
Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable. When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.
REVIEW: I haven’t read Little Brother and Homeland – though given they are set in the same world and Marcus Yallow makes more than a walk-on appearance in this story, I’m going to track them down. But that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this thought-provoking read about some of the consequences caused by our love of social media and mobile technology. And exactly how repressive regimes can use this technology to keep their population under their boots…
Masha is a smart, edgy protagonist whose brilliance has led her into working for some murky organisations. I love the fact that she isn’t presented as some helpless, bewildered victim who has been coerced into making her dodgy decisions, but realises all too well that what she is doing has bad consequences. I also enjoyed her pride in the money she’s making and the status she’s accrued – after all that is the American dream, right? Her mother struggled all her life to provide sufficient money to educate her clever daughter, so it’s not surprising Masha highly values her wealth and the ability to buy the best. It makes her struggles with her conscience more plausible and visceral – and snagged my sympathy far more effectively than if she’d somehow been bamboozled into putting her brilliance to work for people who are now not on the side of the angels. Though given that this is aimed at the YA market, I’m intrigued to see how this plays out with that age-group, given that teens tend to see things as more black and white.
As for the technology – inevitably there needs to be a fair amount of explanation about what some of the programs Masha is dealing with can do. I’m guessing that youngsters probably won’t have to flog their brains into following said explanations as hard as I did, because they’ve been born into this world. However, I didn’t find it unduly hard to follow what was going on and neither was it a problem – because it was far too chillingly plausible and made for instructive reading.
Science fiction can provide the escapist fun of the far future, but it can also sound warnings about where we’re headed and provide scenarios to show the consequences of what will happen if we don’t change our ways. Cli-fi has been doing this for years. This is another of those books that shows how technology designed for our convenience and ease of communication can be put to far darker use. More imaginatively though, Doctorow also provides a solution to the problems he raises and this book ends on an inspirational, upbeat note that left me feeling empowered and slightly buzzed. This would be an excellent book to be studied in schools, as it raises all sorts of issues our youngsters will be grappling with for years to come – as well as suggesting how they should be dealt with.
Highly recommended for fans of thought-provoking, near future sci fi – though do be aware that Doctorow’s politics and views won’t be for everyone. While I obtained an arc of Attack Surface from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This week’s deja vu review is from 24th October, 2012…
I met up with Janet Edwards at last year’s Fantasycon, when she told me that Earth Girl was due to come out in the coming year and we also exchanged a few words at Eastercon, when I heard enough about the book to put it onto my reading list. So I loaded it onto my Kindle for the journey to Brighton for this year’s Fantasycon.
BLURB: In the far future, the universe is divided into two different groups: the Norms, who can portal between planets, and people like Jarra, Earthgirlthe one in a thousand born with an immune system that doesn’t allow them to survive anywhere but Earth. Norms come back to Earth for one reason: to study human history – like the ruins of what was once New York City. But only if they don’t have to interact with any Apes along the way. 18-year-old Jarra has a plan to change that.
REVIEW: This debut novel is a delight – it is marketed as YA, but this adult science fiction fan found it completely engrossing, as did my husband. Jarra is a strong protagonist – spiky, yet believably vulnerable. About halfway through the novel, there is an episode that appears to have split Earth Girl readers into those who feel that it is unrealistic and those who don’t. I’m in the latter camp. The series of events leading up to the shock that catapults Jarra into behaving as she does is entirely convincing – as is her reaction.
So Edwards has set up a strong female character and an intriguing situation – has she also managed to depict a sufficiently detailed and complex future? Absolutely. One of the characteristics of YA fiction – which is probably why you see a lot more Urban Fantasy, rather than Science Fiction in this genre – is that it is generally fast-paced. So it is a big ask for authors working with a primary world where the surroundings and customs are significantly different from our own time – unlike most urban fantasy offerings which are mostly set in modern cities with a few extra supernatural touches laid over the familiar landscape – to produce a satisfactory setting without holding up the narrative drive.
Edwards manages to provide plenty of interesting insights into her future world as part of the plot progression – an achievement a whole lot more difficult than the author makes it look. In fact, the world and the reasons why archaeological teams are frantically mining these decaying cities was – for me – one of the main treats of this book.
Any grizzles? Well – it is a minor niggle, but I did feel that I would have liked the ending to be slightly less… tidy. But that observation doesn’t detract from the fact that Earth Girl is a thoroughly engrossing read by a talented author, who is definitely One to Watch. 9/10
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 depicting POTIONS. I’ve selected The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward.
This offering was produced by Simon & Schuster in July 2015 and is the default cover. It certainly ticks all the boxes – the title is clear with a quirky font and the whole design is straightforward and gives a strong sense of the genre. But while I think it’s okay – I don’t love it, or even particularly like it. It just doesn’t speak to me.
Published in September 2015 by Simon & Schuster, this hardback edition – rather unhelpfully – has been renamed. My guess is that it is referring to the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply. As a design, I think it works really well. I love the rich pinks and purples of the potion-effect backdrop, which allows the thin, scratched-out effect of the design and lettering to really pop, even when in thumbnail. While I admire this offering, and think it’s clever and apt – this cover isn’t my favourite, though it comes mightily close.
This Spanish edition, published by Nocturna in March 2016, is using the classical idea of potent potions as the main reference. The hand, wreathed in ominous smoke and vivid lightning is dramatic and beautiful – but although the nails are wearing nail varnish, I’m still unsure if the tone of this cover gives a sufficiently modern vibe. That lettering looks far too like something from Arabian nights. That said, I’m aware it’s more of a niggle and this one is a close contender.
Cbj, the German publishers for this edition in July 2016 decided to go all out for the cute and feminine, hoping it would appeal to their YA readership. Could it be any pinker? Blossoms… a heart-shaped bottle – and just in case anyone didn’t get that it is aimed at a young, female audience, they also threw in some gold sparkles, too. I don’t think anyone told the designers that less is more… That said, it’s very pretty – but I’m guessing from the blurb, the book is a bit more edgy than this Disney-princess treatment might suggest.
This Czech cover is a far darker take on the story. Published in March 2018 by Talpress, this cover is clearly set in a laboratory. I love the details of other bottles and that tap in the background, while the trapped mermaid glowing in the glass is beautiful and eye-catching. Normally, I’m not a fan of textboxes, but given that this one is so clearly designed as a label to place on a bottle – it gets a pass. This is my favourite – I think it’s attractive, punchy and very well done. Which one do you prefer?
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 depicting TUNNELS. I’ve selected Tunnel in the Sky – Book 9 of Heinlein’s Juveniles by Robert A. Heinlein.
Well gosh! This spiffy adventure is a real blast from the past and this range of covers are either celebrating its age, or attempting to update its appeal to a new generation… You decide which option works best. This first offering, published by Pocket Books in April 2005 is firmly in the latter camp. There is definitely a tunnel there – in a very techy, cool way… It’s the cover that attracted me to this book for this subject in the first place and I do love the colours and the visual effect – if it was a book designed for adults.
Published in October 1987 by Ace Books, this cover is definitely of its time. I have a really soft spot for it – I love the determined look on the young man’s face. He is definitely out to subdue this landscape, rather than work with it! No environmental concerns in evidence here… I also like the sci fi font, which works well with the design, though I’d prefer the title font to be just a tad larger.
This edition, published by Ace Books in January 1972 is a real contender. I am always a sucker for spacescapes and I love the planet in the background as our plucky young protagonist stands on the edge of his adventure. I also like the way the author font matches the colouring in the planet, which gives strong visual coherence to the overall design. And though there is persuasive chatter in evidence – for once someone has given thought to how to present it so that it works with, rather than detracts from, the overall visual effect.
This Russian edition, published by Эксмо in November 2015, highlights the difference between the modern approach and the vintage covers. It’s far more about the technical equipment making this journey possible, full of cool-looking details. And I love that beam lighting up the backdrop, providing a really beautiful effect… It is a wonderful effort. And then some fool went and plonked that nasty acidic yellow blob in the middle of it, presumably assuring prospective readers that it is worth picking up. Really?? Why do publishers assume readers aren’t capable of judging a book’s merits by checking out the opening pages, or reading the blurb? Not that this winds me up. At all…
This audiobook edition, published by Brilliance Audio in March 2015, is the only one to feature the young protagonist as black – which is how Heinlein wrote him. Kudos to Brilliance for not whitewashing him. I also like the colourful backdrop, with plenty of pleasing detail, while the portal is effectively depicted, too. And while I wince at the ugly black strip across the top, at least it is difficult to ignore the important message – that this is a CD audiobook. This design, with its nod to the vintage feel of the story and picking up many of the important elements with respect, and presenting them in an exciting, visually appealing design, is my favourite. Which is yours?
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.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi – release date, 1st July, 2020
#fantasy series #YA
BLURB:Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
Salo’s queen is surprisingly accepting of his desire to be a mystic, but she will not allow him to stay in the tribe. Instead, she sends Salo on a quest. The quest will take him thousands of miles north to the Jungle City, the political heart of the continent. There he must gather information on a growing threat to his tribe.
On the way to the city, he is joined by three fellow outcasts: a shunned female warrior, a mysterious nomad, and a deadly assassin. But they’re being hunted by the same enchantress who attacked Salo’s village. She may hold the key to Salo’s awakening—and his redemption.
Someone strongly recommended this one to me, to extent that I’ve got it on pre-order. Though having the memory of a concussed jellyfish, I cannot recall who it was… if you remember our conversation – do please feel free to mention it in the Comments and I’ll namecheck you! I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one and hope I will enjoy it. Have you got this one on your TBR?