Tag Archives: adventure fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford

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When I saw the blurb for this one, I couldn’t resist pressing the Request button. Did it live up to my expectations?

whatnottodoTurning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed. It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

The abbreviated blurb makes the whole process of becoming invisible sound far more controlled and straightforward than it actually is – which for me was one of the main selling points of this beguiling, funny book. All too often fantasy or paranormal books for children tip them into situations that would have most of us hiding under the duvet armed with a strong glass of gin and prosac – only for said children to accept the whole process without so much as a blink. While children may well be a great deal more adaptable than we oldsters, I was far happier to witness Ethel’s real shock when she looks down to see her hands isn’t visible.

In fact, Ethel is a wonderful protagonist. At a spiky twelve years old with a bumpy background, she is as wary as you’d expect – yet also with the vulnerabilities that come with being twelve. Having a twelve year old granddaughter, it’s an age I’m very familiar with and Welford has absolutely nailed it. There are a whole host of complexities that come with finding herself invisible, as well as a handful of desperate, harebrained opportunities that seem like a good idea at the time. I sniggered in an appalled way all through the Talent Show, while catching myself muttering, ‘Oh no!’ a couple of times.

The trick of writing good farce is for the people in the middle of the mess to take the whole situation utterly seriously – and there’s no reason why Ethel would want to find any of this remotely funny, anyway. The book teetered between making me want to laugh and cry, as I found myself invested in her situation. I guessed one of the main reveals very early on, but I don’t think it matters that much – it certainly didn’t stop me enjoying her slowly discovering who exactly her parents are.

The other issue that makes this book stand out for me, is the way Welford depicts the adults in Ethel’s life. She lives with her grandmother and regularly visits her great-granny, now living in a residential home. Welford shows the adults as doing the best they can in some tricky situations – a refreshing change when all too often adults are shown to be bumbling idiots or unthinking tyrants in otherwise excellent children’s books. I liked the fact that Ethel frequently refers to her grandmother’s sayings and ways of doing things as she evidently is trying to work out which of her opinions and approaches to life are applicable to herself.

The ending was one of the strengths of this book – it takes the story onwards and wraps up the main problems without being unduly sentimental or too tidy. All in all, this is an enjoyable adventure that packs an emotional punch and one I shall be introducing to my granddaughter in due course.

Receiving a copy of What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of The Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill

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Having all the depth of a pavement puddle, I’ll confess it was the beautiful cover that had me clicking the Request button on NetGalley for a copy of this arc…

everthehuntedSeventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known.

It’s an intriguing premise, though it could have so easily slipped into yet another Hunger Games imitation – and it didn’t. Britta is a strong, likeable protagonist and as I became engrossed in the story as she attempts to uncover the truth about her father’s killer, I relaxed into the narrative and enjoyed the ride. The inevitable romance was well handled, so while there was sufficient about her growing feelings for the object of her affection, it didn’t slow down the pace of the narrative or get in the way of the unfolding adventure. Meanwhile Britta’s search uncovers some shocks about her own family that she didn’t know. There were some moments of real poignancy with plenty of surprises along the way.

I didn’t guess who killed Britta’s father, though that doesn’t mean very much – I generally don’t bother to try all that hard, preferring to leave it to the author to reveal the suspect. My only slight niggle was that after a difficult hunt full of tension and adventure, I did feel the final act tidied everything away rather too hastily for the amount of effort it took to get there. However, it’s not a dealbreaker – I really enjoyed the vivid worldbuilding, the unfolding political situation and learning about Britta’s backstory, so that I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more books in this series. Receiving a copy of Ever the Hunted from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
8/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – November Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During November, I read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to thirty four books I’ve completed written by women authors I haven’t previously encountered.

Synners by Pat Cadigan

In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and thesynners external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

 

Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Mysteries by Mary Miley
renting-silenceCan 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.

While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.

As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.

 

Tackling my TBR
In a bid to try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Last month, I’m pleased to say, I managed to read four books languishing on my To Be Read pile:

Penric’s Mission – a Penric and Desdemona novella by Lois McMaster Bujold
Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on penricsmissionhis first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems and Penric is forced to use his own wits and resources. As well as those of the demon that lives alongside him in his body…
Firstly, avoid reading the blurb – it gives away far too much of the story and given this is a novella, there simply isn’t time for the narrative arc to recover from such a reveal. I’ve included a modified version that doesn’t contain any spoilers.

Fairly rapidly, Penric’s mission is in trouble and from then on, he is forced to think on his feet. I really like the way Bujold sets this up as one kind of story – and then suddenly changes everything around. I had intended to begin this book this morning and break off to complete it later tonight – except that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the end. Once more, Penric’s wry humour, his self-effacing manner and the real danger he and his companions find themselves in hooked me in and wouldn’t let go.

 

Bloodrush – Book 1 of The Scarlet Star trilogy by Ben Galley
bloodrush“Magick ain’t pretty, it ain’t stars and sparkles. Magick is dirty. It’s rough. Raw. It’s blood and guts and vomit. You hear me?”
When Prime Lord Hark is found in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his halls, Tonmerion Hark finds his world not only turned upside down, but inside out. His father’s last will and testament forces him west across the Iron Ocean, to the very brink of the Endless Land and all civilisation. They call it Wyoming.
This is a story of murder and family.
In the dusty frontier town of Fell Falls, there is no silverware, no servants, no plush velvet nor towering spires. Only dust, danger, and the railway. Tonmerion has only one friend to help him escape the torturous heat and unravel his father’s murder. A faerie named Rhin. A twelve-inch tall outcast of his own kind.
This is a story of blood and magick.
But there are darker things at work in Fell Falls, and not just the railwraiths or the savages. Secrets lurk in Tonmerion’s bloodline. Secrets that will redefine this young Hark.
This is a story of the edge of the world.

I immediately liked the premise of a fantasy set in the Wild West as the railroad is being built and very much hoped the book would live up to the punchy blurb. It does. Merion is a really appealing protagonist – a suddenly orphaned thirteen-year-old, who is uprooted from all he knows and shipped out to the wilds of the frontier to live with an aunt he’s never met.

 

Synners by Pat Cadigan
See above – this offering also had languished on my TBR pile FAR too long…

 

The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a thebanishedcraftsecret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

So that’s where I am so far on Tackling my TBR challenge. Once again, November was a far better reading month than I’d expected and my Discovery Challenge target, which was twelve books now looks stupidly unambitious, but then I’d expected to be doing a great deal more writing this year. How are you getting on with your reading challenges now the year is rapidly drawing to a close?

FILM REVIEW of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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This long-awaited spinoff from the Harry Potter franchise with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and David Yates, director of four HP films, at the helm has finally hit the screens. And we were in the cinema last Friday at 10 am to see it. Was it worth the anticipation?

fanbeastsOh yes. Rowling made the smart decision to take the time and place well away from Hogwarts and has set this adventure in New York during 1926. So we are treated to wonderful 1920s fashions, vintage cars and New York in its heyday before it became gridlocked by traffic. Into this setting shuffles a very diffident Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander fresh off the boat from England, clearly not comfortable dealing with New Yorkers. He is carrying a rather battered suitcase – and it is when the contents of said suitcase inconveniently escape that it all starts to kick off. At the worst possible time, too. For there are increasing tensions between the Maj and Non-maj communities, forcing Madam President of the US wizarding world to get ever more hardline in dealing with forbidden interactions between the two.

There is much here that is comfortably familiar for HP fans – intriguing settings, quirky characters fanbeasts1both human and otherwise, fantatical/wrong-headed/power-grabbing antagonists and plenty going on. With the cream of British actors appearing in the extensive cast lists over the years, the acting quality has always been very high – and Redmayne’s portrayal of a shy, sensitive soul fascinated by magical creatures and scoured by years of bullying and/or misunderstanding certainly ticks that box. He is ably supported by Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, along with Katherine Waterston as Tina, a witch-policewoman and her memorably beautiful mind-reading sister, Queenie, played by Alison Studol.

fanbeasts2We see the divided nature of the society, with feelings running high as something large and lethal is laying waste to buildings and killing people. The MACUSA, (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) are in a spin with Chief Investigator Percival Graves desperately trying to track down the cause of all the damage. The special effects are amazing – seeing swathes of New York come crashing down in showers of rubble was impressive, but more so was watching them magically go back together again.

All of the above are fabulous – the film wouldn’t be what it is without those components. But for me, the scene stealers were those fantastic beasts. Vicious, naughty, lovelorn or despairing – the creatures look wonderful, the special effects are amazing and I found myself with tears in my eyes over a creature that doesn’t exist at the thought of its extinction… Redmayne’s interaction with them is impressive – he must have spent hours chatting to and stroking green screens, but it was certainly worth it. Halfway through, I recall gripping Himself’s hand and hoping the film wouldn’t end for a very long time and the last time I felt like that about a movie was during The Fellowship of the Ring. Both films took me to another time and place, making me both laugh and cry during the journey and providing me with plenty to think about afterwards. Highly recommended.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Toil and Trouble…

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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 week we are looking at covers celebrating Halloween and I have chosen Equal Rites by the wonderful Terry Pratchett.

 

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This is the cover that I own – published by Corgi 1989, I think it is the best cover by a long country mile. Yep. I’m aware I probably come across as a bit of a fossil here, ranting about, ‘Back in my day…’ but in this case I’ll stand by it. This cover brims with mapcap energy and fun – just like the book. Love it, love it, love it…

 

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This offering is, produced by Harper Torch in 2000, is obviously aimed at women with the natty female gamete symbol zipping across a tasteful mauve cover with an equally tasteful colour-matched hat. Really? Equal Rites is a GIRLY read? It’s for EVERYONE people! It ridicules sexism by poking fun at it – surely men need to get that message, too?

 

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Harper Perennial in 2005 are still ALL about gender-specific covers. The F-word even appears in the strapline *sigh*. Course THAT’S going to encourage all the blokes to read it, isn’t it? Again we have the tasteful mauve cover – this time with a witch wearing a tablecloth and an awkwardly positioned hand holding a globe/world/who cares covering her face. Another ghastly, lack-lustre effort that doesn’t begin to hint at the quirky, off-beat humour and general craziness Pratchett has to offer.

 

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And now we lurch from politically correct to stygian gloom… You’d think this was a horror or dry literary offering, wouldn’t you? WHY the anvil?? I’ve reread this book twice and I cannot recall a hammer featuring. The wizard’s staff – yes! Hilarity and daft footnotes – yes! Gloomy anvils – not so much… For shame, Transworld Digital – this is plain DREARY.

 

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At least Gollancz in 2014 has managed to move away from insisting this book is exclusively for women – or attempting to market a madcap comedy to horror or literary fans. Again with the mauve – a colour I’m learning to HATE, by the way – they are at least flagging the fact it’s funny. But the figures are crude and simplistic, something that Pratchett patently isn’t and once more the book is woefully betrayed by a sub-standard cover that doesn’t begin to hint at the riotous fun within.

Happy Halloween, by the way…

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Steerswoman – Book 1 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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I read this book longer ago than I care to recall and when I discussed this with Himself, it transpired that somehow this one passed him by. On my recommendation, he bought the ebook which meant I could revisit it – yay!

thesteerwomanSteerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen’s ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

This is a delight – an adult fantasy with a nuanced, capable heroine who is comfortable with who she is and commands respect without being a Mary Sue. The world is sharply depicted, mostly through Rowan’s viewpoint without any info dumps and I enjoyed the way the pace steadily picks up as her interest in the jewels begins to attract the wrong sort of attention. The supporting cast are also excellent – no one is depicted as being entirely evil and the gulf between wizards and the rest of the populace is well demonstrated. I love how Kirstein manages to portray the ‘magic’ so the reader is immediately aware of how it works, while it continues to flummox the characters within the story. It’s one of the many deft little touches that continued to please me throughout this well written and thoroughly enjoyable story.

Plenty occurs throughout and the pacing is beautifully judged as the consequences of Rowan’s initial curiosity about those gemstones continue to snowball. By the end, it became an effort to put the book down and I read far later than I should to discover the denouement. I’m aware this is part of a series and couldn’t quite recall how it ended, but was concerned that there might have been the dreaded cliffhanger.

However, the storyline running through the book is satisfactorily tied up, while leaving a couple of major plotpoints dangling for the next book. I’m delighted that Himself decided to buy the other books in the series, so I won’t have to wait before diving back into this enjoyable and fascinating world.
10/10

Review of The Dark Dream – Book 4 of the Beaver Towers series by Nigel Hinton

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Oscar and I finally completed our time with Philip and his talking animal companions with the fourth and last book in this series. Would it sustain the standard set by the other books? See my reviews of Beaver Towers and The Witches Revenge.

thedarkdreamIn this fourth Beaver Towers adventure, Philip and old Mr Edgar set off on their travels so that Philip can learn how to use his powers to fight evil. But while they are away, the island itself is under threat from a strange creature named Retson. This time it is up to Baby B, the little beaver and Nick, the hedgehog, to save the day.

Those who have been following the series will immediately realise there is a major difference with this book – the major protagonist throughout the other books, Philip, is missing from the main adventure. This story is told through the viewpoint of Baby B and Nick, the little hedgehog. This wasn’t a concern for us, as Baby B had already stolen much of the limelight by this part of the tale. Philip is now growing into his magical powers and I think Hinton’s decision to remove him and Mr Edgar from the scene, leaving the two small animals at the centre of the adventure was a shrewd move. It also prevented this story falling into any kind of formulaic pattern, especially as Baby B and Nick become rather conceited and full of themselves regarding their magic – with consequences that impact on the rest of the story.

Hinton also produced yet another scary and all-too-plausible villain who poses a real threat to the inhabitants of Beaver Towers – to the extent that Baby B and Nick are forced to go on the run. The tension as the frightened animals flee through the hidden tunnel pings off the page and I was quite relieved when Oscar asked me to complete the story the following day during the afternoon. It wasn’t necessarily one to settle him down to sleep. That apart, we both were drawn into the adventure and I genuinely wanted to know what would happen next.

Retsnom’s power is in danger of overwhelming everyone left in Beaver Towers, so Baby B and Nick decide to return to try and save them. Oscar and I discussed whether this was a good idea – before returning to the action. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and the ending, once more, emphasised the importance of courage and kindness and looking out for each other, without sounding overly preachy.

All in all, it was once again, a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read that ended on a positive note and while there were scary moments, six-year-old Oscar didn’t find it too daunting. We agreed it was another really good book and a suitable end to the series.
8/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – May Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in May?

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him. But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

This twisting thriller cracks along at a fair pace and delivers plenty of surprises along the way. Read the full review here.

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Even though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re floating through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. For a while he becomes the Sun for her; and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. Being with him flaunts every rule designed to keep their home in order, but to lose him would be like losing herself. In the end they must decide what is most important: loyalty to the only home they’ve ever known, or to each other?

This a romantic science fiction tale set on a generational ship – with heavy emphasis on the romance bit. Despite the fact that isn’t my go-to genre, the scene setting and shipboard environment is well depicted – read my full review here.

 

Banished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de JagerBanished
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself… Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

This Fae story is well written and engrossing – I really enjoyed the fight scenes, which were vividly depicted and the real nastiness of the foes. I’ll be reviewing this in due course.

 

thenothinggirlThe Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

This book made my husband laugh and cry and he forcefully recommended it – so I read it… This contemporary/family/crime/mystery/romance is something of a genre mash-up, with a hefty dollop of humour and sadness thrown in. Have a go – you won’t have read anything else quite like it. My review is here.

 

Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryantchangeoflife
With great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home

I expected this to be a parody of the superhero genre, but it follows most of the genre conventions – except the protagonists are women of a certain age… There are some amusing touches and I love Bryant’s original take on what superpowers can endow. See my review here

This month, I more than doubled my original target with five books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered and of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, 30 are by authors new to me. Once more, I have to thank the NetGalley arcs for introducing me to many of these writers. While I cannot see myself able to sustain this throughout the year – I’ve too many other things on my plate – I’m delighted I’ve managed to make such a strong start to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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I was keenly anticipating this book – to the extent that I pre-ordered it on Amazon and we don’t do that all that often. So did it live up to expectations?

burnedDiviner Alex Verus finally made one too many enemies on the Council of Mages, and now one of them is angry enough to have him executed. Fighting for his life is nothing new, but this kill order also calls for the death of Alex’s dependents—and there’s no way that he’ll let Luna, Anne, and Vari take the heat. With only a week before he’s history, Alex will have to figure out how to disassociate himself from his friends, scrounge up allies on the Council, and hopefully keep his head attached to his body.

No hanging about with this slice of the Alex Verus storyline – we are immediately confronted with the death sentence that has been passed by the Council of Mages. This single act turns Alex’s life upside down and we get a ringside seat in first person viewpoint as he battles to cope with the consequences of this latest problem. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Jacka’s take on Alex’s divination gift. He is not a particularly powerful mage, but with focus born of years of practice, during a fight he can sort through a variety of possible futures and find the few where he survives. Of course, it’s all well and good setting up this dynamic, but it only really works if it is effectively written, which is a lot harder to do than Jacka makes it look. He has to keep up the pace and tension during the action scenes, as well as giving us Alex’s desperate attempts to sift through the various options allowing him to stay alive. Fortunately, he is very successful at managing this trick.

There are times when I read a fantasy world and wish I were there, however I surface from an Alex Verus novel profoundly relieved I am me, living right here. While there are Dark and Light mages, the difference between them is not as wide as you might imagine. The Light mages are not all about sprinkles, unicorns and doing the Right Thing – they are about keeping more or less a status quo where magic-users have a measure of independence and trying to work together. However powerful magic-users have about as much team spirit as a clowder of cats, so they spend a great deal of time negotiating and squabbling with each other. While the Dark mages are all about acquiring power. So the majority of people within the magical community align themselves to one or other in order to survive. Verus, after escaping his abusive apprenticeship with one of the most lethal Dark mages, vows never to join any faction. And in doing so, immediately sets himself against a range of powerful, vested interests.

I love the intricacies of this world and as with any successful long-running fantasy series, there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. My current favourites are Luna, Alex’s chance-cursed apprentice and Anne, a life mage. There is also an impressive range of lethally inventive and powerful enemies ranged against Alex, and this is the book where they all seem to finally gain momentum to thoroughly upset his current existence.

As for the ending… well, I didn’t see THAT coming! Without encroaching into Spoiler territory, suffice to say it is a major gamechanger that will test Alex in ways he has never been tested before. So the Higbee household are now eagerly anticipating the release of the next book. In the meantime, don’t rush out and get hold of Burned if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous six books – instead tuck into the first book, Fated. This enjoyable series deserves to be read in order as it goes on delivering.
10/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in March?

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
I have to thank NetGalley for this book, as I would never have considered it otherwise. But I’m so glad I read it.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process. Read my full review here.

The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
Shea Kelly had a brilliant career in technology, but after refusing to implant and invasive government device in her body she was sent to a modern-day reservation: a Non-Compliance sector, a lawless the sectorcommunity run by thugs and organised crime. She’s made a life for herself as a resourceful barkeep, and hacks for goods on the black market with her best friend Wynne, a computer genius and part-time stripper. Life is pretty quiet under the reigning Boss, apart from run-ins with his right hand man, the mighty Quinn: until Danny Rose threatens to take over the sector. Pushed to the edge, Shea decides to fight back…

Set in a dystopian near-future, where a series of environmental disasters and illness have swept through the population, an increasingly controlling government decides to chip everyone. The story is unrolled with the punch and pace normally reserved for urban fantasy, right down to the first person viewpoint and feisty, kickass character. I really enjoyed this one and tore through it far too fast – although that won’t be a problem, as we do have the other two books in the series. Read the full review here.

Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – a prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
Make no mistake, the Underworld is not a cheerful place. Brinkloven Crowley the Third is a Prince of brinksunfortunateescapeHell and he does NOT like living among his kind. He searches tirelessly for a way to escape. Then an escape finds HIM, and it is most unfortunate… Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell is the prequel to the middle grade series Skycastle, the Demon, and Me.

Brink is a protagonist I found it easy to sympathise with in this chirpy Children’s Fantasy offering. It is easy to understand why he’d hide away and read, given the unpleasant characters wandering around Hell – not least his large, loud-mouthed brother. I found the latter scenes in the book easier to visualise than the earlier ones where he is scurrying through Hell and the grey demon Torque was one of my favourite characters. And the final interchange between Jack and Brink suddenly brought the story to life in a way that made me want to check out the first book in the Skycastle series. Read the full review here.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone…manyselvesofkatherine

Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

Geen’s writing is amazing as she immerses us in Kit’s projections into a variety of animals in the beautifully depicted first person viewpoint. This is firmly in the realm of science fiction, so we have a ringside seat as Kit struggles to acclimatise to the new body – there is even a plausible-sounding name for the sensation overload – Sperlman’s syndrome – as her human sensibilities have to adapt to the new sensory input produced by different bodies. Geen’s prose gives us a masterclass in sensory writing at its best. I will be posting this review in early June, when this book is released, but I featured it in the Teaser Tuesday here.

Once more, I managed to exceed my target – in fact, I doubled it by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. So far, 2016 has been a remarkable reading year – and this Discovery Challenge has been a major factor in ensuring I continue to read more enjoyable, well-written books by talented women authors.