Tag Archives: adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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When I heard this one was all about an alternate history where the US Government decided to farm hippos in the everglades, I had to have it…

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Well this is fun! Gailey has perfectly paced this rip-roaring alternate historical adventure that mostly features Winslow Houndstooth. However, this story is an ensemble piece where a group of hard-edged characters are assembled to undertake the caper, or operation, whereby they drive the feral hippos out of the Harriet, this enclosed area that was once one of the foremost hippo breeding farms in the States.

All these folk are people you wouldn’t wish to meet in a dark alley – tough and battle-wary as they are.
We also meet up with some of the domesticated hippos, the star being Ruby, who is small, dark-skinned, smart and loyal. She is a hopper – a hippo bred for wrangling the herds of larger hippos, but who actually is Winslow’s best friend. He is determined to pull off this operation with his hand-picked crew, as it pays extremely well while also planning a side-dish of revenge along the way. However, events rapidly spin out of control as Gailey isn’t afraid to off some of her leading characters – the sudden death of one in particular rather winded me.

This novella certainly packs a punch, with Gailey effectively handling the pacing of events throughout the narrative timeline so that the climactic scene works really well. This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos… Of course, there also has to be an antagonist in this scenario and Gailey provides us with someone suitably powerful and menacing with just the right amount of nastiness.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an original premise I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for A Taste of Marrow, due to be released in September.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

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All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic novel following the adventures of one of the few survivors after a terrible virus burns through humanity. But it’s a lot more grown-up than just charting the gritted determination of Jamie to survive in a world where everything has been so very changed. It’s a book that examines what she was expecting from life and the world – and what happens to her when those expectations are smashed after she experiences a tragedy far more common than the end of the world – a miscarriage.

Written in third person, this book gets right under the skin of the main character, warts and all. I didn’t like her very much – she is often quiet when she should say something and is awkward around humans. While she initially trained as a doctor, she moved sideways and qualified as a vet because she was a loss to know what to say or do when people, scared and ill, would proffer intimate details of their life to her. When she meets up with other survivors, she is clearly socially inept. During an argument on board a ship in cramped conditions, she flares at one of the other passengers, who is clearly suffering with her own mental problems – to the extent that I wanted to slap her just to shut her up.

Did I care for her, though? Oh yes. Corlett has written a character who doesn’t feel she fits anywhere. Who wants to reach out to the only man she thinks she’ll ever love – but can’t deal with the crowding that brings. Or his own demand for her to open up and release her sense of grief for their lost baby – something she simply cannot do. By the end of the book, we get to understand exactly why Jamie is as she is, while she undertakes a long journey, both literally and also emotionally with a small group of survivors, who are also shattered at the profound loss they have endured.

What this isn’t, is a completely bleak read. There are times when the situation lurches into farce, for instance when they encounter a group of elderly folk living in a stately home acting as if they are in the middle of a Jane Austen novel. And there is some nicely edged banter with the grumpy space pilot, who is clearly more comfortable carrying crates of freight than the group of traumatised passengers he ends up ferrying.

Corlett brings this tale to a satisfactory conclusion, including solving the mystery of what caused the virus in the first place. I closed the book, musing on Jamie’s journey – and wondering if I was left standing with everyone I cared about gone, what I’d do next. This is one I shall be thinking about for a while, I suspect. If you enjoy unusual books that raise hard, pertinent questions about why we are here and what we are doing, then track this one down.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 30th May, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
69%  Both Freddy and Sunshine seemed to accept Therese with an equanimity that Laura found infuriating. The troublesome presence of someone who was definitely dead and scattered in the garden should surely cause some consternation?

BLURB: Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

I have got a fair way into this charming, fey read with two plotlines running side by side. How they finally meet up will determine the success of this book. In the meantime I am really enjoying the characters and story progression – along with the dry humour.

Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

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

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During March, I read – um… no books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge. Nope – not a single one. I read plenty of books by women writers throughout March – the catch is that they were writers I’d read previously. So my yearly total of seven books so far is unchanged.

So surely I at least managed to clear a host of books from my TBR pile towards this year’s Tackling My TBR, given my sorry showing in the previous challenge. No… not really – just four – but it was definitely quality over quantity because every single one is a cracking read:

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
This science fiction whodunit blew me away and is every bit as good as the awesome Planetfall. It starts out as one sort of story and steadily morphed into something else, all the while giving us an insight into what makes Carlos tick. He is entertainingly grumpy about all authority figures – and then… something happens – a gamechanger that had me yelping in horror and unable to put the book down. And as for that ending – wow!

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

Blood upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater.
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy doesn’t suffer from any second book slump after Twelve Kings as we continue to follow Çeda’s fortunes while she seeks a way to get close enough to the kings in order to bring them down. But they are every bit as powerful as myths say they are… This is a compelling world riven with factions and deep, corrosive secrets and I loved it.

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete
Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . .
Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
After reading the hilarious How To Train Your Parents, it was a no-brainer that I would want to track down this sequel. Unlike many other children’s books, it puts Louis’s interaction with his parents right in the middle of the story. It makes for a funny, often poignant and engrossing tale with some shafts of wisdom about the intergenerational divide and modern family life.

So that is my March roundup. It’s early days in April – and already I’m doing better with the my Discovery Challenge. What about you – are there any challenges you’re undertaking during the year? I’d love to hear about it!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE novella Mira’s Last Dance Book 4 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to a chaos demon with twelve previous riders when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.

Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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When browsing NetGalley – which is becoming something of a vice – I noticed this offering and after thoroughly enjoying Cinders, I put in a request to read it.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of heartlessHearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

If you have read and enjoyed Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, then do consider tracking down this YA prequel to his madcap world. Catherine is a joy. I immediately bonded with her open-hearted approach to life and her interest in baking. Meyer has done an excellent job in depicting her privileged life that, nevertheless, is rather empty when it comes to close, loving relationships to the extent that her closest friend is her maid. This first person narrative is harder to pull off than Meyer makes it look, given that she also has to nail Carroll’s peculiar world.

For me, this is the book’s real strength – as a girl I loved the world Lewis presented and Meyer’s depiction of it is both clever and respectful. The kingdom of Hearts has its own quirky rules, which Meyer presents with minimum fuss or explanation so that we fully accept the idea of playing cards running around the place. Neither has she glossed or ignored any of that quirkiness – I enjoyed the Cheshire cat, whose sudden appearances and perceptive comments are entirely in keeping with Lewis’s world. While the account of the croquet game, complete with hedgehogs and flamingos, is funny and bizarre. This is a large part of the book’s charm – while there is a dark undertow, the amusing Lewis-inspired episodes throughout had me grinning, both at the humour and Meyer’s skill in weaving her own narrative within this complex and very odd world.

The catch with prequels is that you generally know the outcome, apart from some minor details, so there has to be something other than the plotline to keep you reading. The ongoing romance throughout this book was well handled – I cared for the couple and hoped they would prevail. Given I’m not a fan of lurve stories (yawn) the fact that I found myself rooting for this one is a testament to Meyer’s excellent writing. And part of the game in these retellings is recognising key characters that featured in the original classic and seeing what Meyer has done with them. Like the original, there is amongst the surreal oddity a sense of wrongness to this world which on occasions breaks into violence – the Jabberwock attacks are a shock in this mannered world where what you wear and how you wear it is the one of the yardsticks to social success. Meyer’s pacing, where she steadily increases the momentum of the story to that amazing climax, is pitch perfect, providing us with the world we now recognise from Alice’s own visit in Lewis’s classic. As you may have gathered, I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Heartless from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook of A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

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We are back at St Mary’s, a top secret, government establishment where historians travel back in time to investigate what really happened. It’s an exciting and dangerous occupation that requires a certain attitude, which our protagonist Max has in spades…

asymphonyofechoesThe sequel to the hit book Just One Damned Thing After Another. Follow the adventures of those tea-sodden historians at St Mary’s as once again they dance on the edge of disaster.

And there you have it – the blurb certainly doesn’t venture anywhere near spoiler territory, does it? Once again, Taylor’s punchy prose scoops the reader up into Max’s world and catapults us into the middle of St Mary’s, where Max feels she belongs for the first time in her life. If she didn’t have such a desert-dry sense of humour, this could be a very grim read as plenty goes wrong. I keep thinking, as I read all the sudden reverses and nasty surprises that constantly assail our adventurers, that this series would transfer very well to TV. In the meantime, it’s a joy to read it as the rain lashes down outside and I feel comfortably happy I’m not in the middle of these disasters.

A routine journey to check out the Hanging Gardens of Babylon goes wrong to the extent that I realised why so many of the time-travelling historians die and then an antagonist from the first book pops up, causing yet more mayhem. Having said that – Taylor has written this one, so that if you did pick it up unaware it was part of a series, you wouldn’t flounder for long.

For all her snarky asides – which I love – Max has had a dire childhood which has left her with scars and vulnerabilities and it is this mix of gutsy derring-do and sudden, painfilled fury that makes her such an engrossing protagonist. She regularly gets things spectacularly wrong and never fails to come out swinging when her back is against the wall, being brave to the point of foolhardiness.

Taylor keeps the pace up, often skipping the preparation or lead-up to an expedition so one moment it is being proposed – and the next we are right in the middle of Babylon or at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. I found myself at the end of the book with something of a jolt, wanting yet more and convinced the slight lull in between the action was merely a precursor to yet another hair-raising adventure. And it won’t be long before I return to this series, for it has wormed its way into my head so I often find myself thinking of Max, Leon and Peter and wondering what will next go wrong for them. If you enjoy time travelling tales with plenty of action, then don’t start here – go looking for Just One Damned Thing After Another, which is a quote about the way some historians view history, apparently. It certainly seems to be the case at St Mary’s.
10/10

Review of KINDLE book The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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This detailed and engrossing historical adventure novel is the start of a retelling of the King Arthur story, though not necessarily from any viewpoint you instantly recognise…

Sulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, whethekingspeacere the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.

Regular visitors to Brainfluff will know that one of my all-time favourite authors is Jo Walton, so why this offering has been languishing unread in my TBR pile for so long, I’m unsure. Walton has, once again, created a vibrant and rich world where upheaval, raids and constant food shortages are commonplace. Therefore the kind of attack Sulien is subjected to is also not infrequent – what is unusual is the fact that she survived and how she managed to do so. But it leaves scars that define the rest of her life and what she decides to do next. Once more, Walton’s writing swept me up so that I was immersed in a world where the new religion is beginning to force out the older, land-based beliefs. Where might is right is the way of life and those with the healing powers of the old gods regularly call upon them for help.

I love Sulien – an unusually powerfully built woman with strong reasons to dedicate herself to learning the craft of fighting. From her viewpoint as one of the most gifted fighters and battle commanders of her age, she tells the story of how she is part of a movement trying to restore a measure of peace to a land battletorn since the retreat of the Vincan Empire years before. As ever, there are layers of detail and political infighting within Walton’s writing that bring extra focus to the inevitable action scenes, with no guarantee of success. There are upsets and reversals that had me brimming with emotion and anyone who loves epic fantasy and has enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire should give this one a go.

The story ends with some of the major plotpoints dangling, though the current crisis has – sort of – been averted and it is a given that I shall continue reading this amazing historical fantasy series early in the new year.
10/10