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 – Kept From Cages – Book 1 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams – release date 22nd September
#supernatural thriller #quirky characters
BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows.
Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?
On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?
I thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he offered me the chance to read an arc of Kept from Cages, I jumped at the chance. Looking forward to this one, because Phil’s books are always peopled with interesting quirky characters who ping off the page. And they are all nuanced and three-dimensional – even the ones you love to hate…
Annddd… this is the last day that my space opera adventure, RUNNING OUT OF SPACE is FREE! Click on the title link, or the cover on the sidebar if you want to claim a copy from your nearest Amazon store
This one kept coming up on other book blogging sites – that it was a beast of a book… that it was a single-book epic fantasy adventure featuring dragons and pirates… that it was beautifully written… So I scooped it up to lighten those boring household chores I hate doing. I can’t deny the pull of that cover, either.
BLURB: A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens. The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
REVIEW: This is a hugely ambitious book and hats off to Shannon for even attempting it. In many ways, it follows many of the classic tropes within epic fantasy – political fragility at a time of increasing threat… historical accretion that messes with the people and objects destined to help deal with said threat… a handful of chosen heroes whose lives have been given over to step up and deal with this threat, when it finally emerges… So good, so familiar. But Shannon nicely shakes it up – I particularly enjoyed the storyline around Queen Sabran, which was the most successful narrative throughout the book, both in terms of coherence and pacing. I also liked how Shannon plays with reader expectations, and then upends them. The romance was particularly well developed, with a convincing depth of emotion – yet there were still edges as two powerful women specifically raised to fulfil entirely different roles grappled to try and come to terms with their responsibilities without also sacrificing their personal happiness. But I was also very relieved to see that Shannon didn’t push the facile trope that true lurve solves everything – the storyline of one of the main characters is a vivid demonstration of what happens when someone loves too hard and cannot let go.
The characterisation was the main strength of this wide-ranging story and certainly held me, when the pacing – the weakest aspect – either flagged, suddenly dropping away, or speeded up and rushed through a scene which had been given a big build-up. My other irritation is that Shannon clearly felt, or was told, some of her major supporting cast, should die. She also clearly hated doing it. This manifested itself in these deaths either occurring off-stage, or being glossed over. And while their nearest and dearest did mourn their going, there wasn’t really a sufficient sense of loss, which given how effective Shannon’s writing is in depicting her main characters’ emotions, I found rather frustrating.
However, neither of these niggles are dealbreakers. Nor is the fact that while Liyah Summers’ narration very ably depicted the wide cast of characters with an impressive range of different voices – she also misprounced the word bow throughout, along with one or two odd examples that momentarily yanked me out of the story. Overall, I loved the world and the complex, nuanced story Shannon laid out for me and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy, who appreciates reading the whole story in one large volume, rather than having it broken up into instalments spanning years. 9/10
I was delighted to see that this longed-for addition to this entertaining series finally made it. And no – I’m not going to join in the foot-stamping, eye-rolling chorus of angry fans who have been waiting for it. No author ever sets out to short-change their readership by making them wait for the next book. I’m sure the delay has been eating at Butcher’s soul – but sometimes Life happens and when it does, the first thing that goes is your ability to write. And it’s often the last thing that returns once Life is back on track, too. The question is, has that intervening length of time compromised this book’s quality in any way?
BLURB: When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?
REVIEW: Kudos to Butcher – this book picks up more or less from where Skin Game left off – and seamlessly takes the story onward. Not by so much as a flicker would you know that this one has been a long time coming… I read Skin Game the week before tucking into this one up, so would have immediately spotted any false notes – and there isn’t a single one. Characterisation, pacing, worldbuilding and plotting is all spot on – and I found it a solid pleasure to be immersed once more into one of the urban fantasy series that helped define the genre for me, before it turned very, very grim. I’m glad to say the overall tone of this is also a whole lot lighter than inGhost Story and Cold Days.
Obviously, so far into the series, there isn’t much I can say about the story or plot progression before I’m in Spoiler country, but I will say that one of the strengths of these books is not just what happens to Harry, but the way Butcher weaves such strong plot points for his supporting characters. Not only do I really care about Harry, but I am also rooting for Karin, Maggie, Michael, Molly and Butters. And I find it interesting that some of those characters are tested in different way. We also see progression in the antagonists, too. Queen Mab is someone I love to hate – so it was something of a shock when I witnessed an event in this book that had me actually feeling a bit sorry for her…
All in all, once I started this book, the old magic swept me into the story once more and I didn’t want to put it down again until I reached the end. Which – just so you know – ends on something of a cliffhanger. However, Battle Ground, the next book in the series is due out in October 2020 so there isn’t going to be the same wait for the next one. In the meantime, Peace Talks comes highly recommended for Dresden fans, or anyone else who wants to take a crack at this series, though whatever you do – please go back to the beginning and start with Storm Front. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Most of the week slid by routinely – until Friday. I was due to meet up with my sister for the first time in a while. But while getting ready, I had news from my father that my mother had been taken to hospital after becoming ill early in the morning. After an anxious wait, it transpired that she has very high blood pressure. I spent part of that wait with my sister, who has been enjoying a week’s holiday, catching up over a sticky bun and cup of tea. And on returning home, my lovely daughter had just arrived with a bunch of roses for me, knowing that I’d be worried about Mum, after hearing the news that she’d been taken ill. We sat in the garden together for a while, enjoying the sunshine before she drove back to Brighton.
On the blogging front – I’m still stubbing my toes on block editor and its irritating limitations, which I’ve found time consuming and unsatisfactory. Writing-wise, I’ve been updating the front matter on my books, which has taken a surprising amount of time, as well as continuing the editing process of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now completed the cover design, needless to say I’m delighted with it. I’m aiming to have the book ready for publication by the end of August.
The pics this week are featuring the different types of foliage I have in the garden. While I’ve been snapping the flowers, I love plants with coloured leaves, ranging from my black-leaved elderflower, the red-leaved robinia, the little black-leaved grass and my lovely tradescantia.
Last week I read:
Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of the Protectorate series by Megan E O’Keefe
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. She awakens later on a ship to find herself in an unimaginable situation… Whatever you do, don’t read the blurb which ruins the amazing opening in this entertaining space opera. I’m currently reading the second book in this series.
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. It was with some sadness that I picked this one up – my ongoing adventure with Alisa and her eccentric crew was coming to an end. And I was also a bit worried in case the ending was a letdown – but Buroker nailed it. I’ll definitely be reading more of her books. Review to follow.
Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear? I was very glad that I’d read Skin Game last week, as this one hits the ground running. My firm advice is that if you haven’t read Skin Game recently, then refamiliarize yourself with it before you pick this one up. Review to follow.
I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.
The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.
I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended. 10/10
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 for BODICE RIPPERS. I’ve selected Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier.
This offering was produced by Pocket Books in 1964 certainly shows its age. The artwork is cramped and underwhelming, while the dreaded textbox is boringly white. Not even the infusion of a bit of colour for the author and title fonts can liven this one up. Apart from anything else, it looks as if our dashing Frenchman is sitting reading milady a bedtime story, rather than sweeping her off her feet.
Published in December 2013 by Little, Brown and Company, this cover is a lot more modern, which is why it’s even more of a shame that it has ended up being quite so vanilla. This cover gives no hint of the colourful romantic adventure within its pages. While I like the depiction of Lady Dona – especially that we don’t see her face – the pallid author font and charmless textbox manage to turn what could be a mysterious, intriguing cover into a boringly bland affair.
This Slovak edition, published by Slovenský spisovateľ in 1992 is at least trying to enter into the spirit of the thing. I really like the idea – the torn insert featuring a lady in a crinoline gown dejectedly reclining in what looks like an old barn. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity in either the outside image or some of the details around her skirt prevents the storytelling going on here being as effective as I’m sure the actual cover depicted would have shown, given it was created in the days before ebooks were thought of. And why there is a scallop shell containing an oversized pearl is also something of a puzzle… Nonetheless, at least this cover gets marks for effort.
This edition, published by Triangle Books in 1946, has finally produced the goods. Our Lady Dona swooning in the arms of her French pirate during a moonlight tryst, with a galleon in full sail in the background, improbably festooned with numerous fleur de lys – just in case we don’t get the fact that he is French from that shifty, foreign-looking moustache… The title and author fonts are suitably clear, without cluttering up the artwork and this is my favourite.
This edition published by Doubleday Books is so nearly a contender. To be honest, I prefer this Frenchman – far more dashing and piratical than the previous version. But points are knocked off for the lush jungle backdrop. And yes… I know Cornwall has a microclimate where all sorts of tender plants can grow, but this setting isn’t giving me any West Country vibe. And while they are clearly flirting, I want to see a bit more passion… Which is your favourite?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, retelling the adventures of Odysseus in the first two books, Athena’s Champion – see my review here; and Oracle’s War – see my review here. So I was delighted to be able to get hold the final book, hoping it would do justice to this intelligent and gripping action-packed version of Odysseus’s adventures before the Trojan War kicked off… I am linking this to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.
BLURB: Prince Odysseus and the daemon Bria must penetrate the haunted caverns beneath Dodona, seeking a way to save their doomed nation, Achaea, from the might of Troy. The startling revelation that follows will set Odysseus on his most daunting mission yet, as he seeks to reunite the divided Achaean kingdoms before the rapacious Trojans strike. His journey will pit him against wrathful gods and legendary heroes, in a deadly contest for the hand of Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus, upon whose choice the fate of Achaea rests…
Once again, I was swept up in Odysseus’s adventures, narrated in first person viewpoint, which helped to make it far more immediate. He comes across as a clever, resourceful character, though with a unique talent for annoying powerful people, who would like to see him dead. However, while I do think he makes an excellent main character, it is the worldbuilding and the Hair/Mayo take on what powers the gods and motivates them to act in the way they do that, for me, makes this series really stand out. It isn’t a new idea – the gods are only as powerful as the number of worshippers they can muster – but works extremely well in this series.
However, I would just mention that if you have somehow managed to get your hands on a copy of Sacred Bride without having first read the first two books, put it back on the shelf and read those first. As an experienced mid-series crasher, I’m here to tell you that too much of importance to the events in this book has previously happened for you to be able to get away with that kind of malarkey this time around. And it would be a real shame to short-change a series of this calibre, anyway.
As for the ending, Hair and Mayo have successfully brought this trilogy to an appropriate close. Though I don’t think I’m providing too much in the way of spoilers if I say that the peace Odysseus has been responsible for engineering is somewhat fragile. I am very much hoping that Hair and Mayo are going to continue working on Odysseus’s adventures during the Trojan War – the cast of characters are so vividly drawn and well presented, it would be a joy to read their telling of such a keynote event. Highly recommended for fans of well written and researched Greek retellings. 9/10
I picked this one last year during a Book Funnel sales promotion, when the cover and blurb caught my eye. Would I enjoy it?
BLURB: The New Gaian Empire is crumbling. An undefeatable enemy from the outer reaches is sweeping across the frontier stars, slagging worlds and sowing chaos. Soon, they will threaten the very heart of civilized space. James McCoy never thought he would get caught up in the Hameji wars. The youngest son of a merchanter family, he just wants the same respect as his older brother and sister. But when the the Hameji battle fleets conquer his home world and take them away from him, all of that is shattered forever.
So… a younger brother manages to flee the ruthless invaders along with his father, but then is determined to return to rescue his older brother and sister. This one is told in multiple viewpoints where we learn of James’ desperate efforts to get back to Ben and Stella, in between discovering what happens to them. The risk in swinging around the viewpoints is that the reader will identify more with one storyline and skimread the others. I have to say that Stella’s story particularly held me as her character developed from the panicky, desperate teenager quite rightly terrified by the prospect of what lies ahead of her, so at times I did whip through the other plotlines to get back to her. However, as the story moved forward, I found I was doing that less and less as Vasicek is good at showing character development and peopling his space opera adventure with characters I cared about, even some of the bit players. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the eunuch detailed to serve Stella in her new life, since I finished the book.
The other strength of this story is that while events unspooled reasonably predictably at the start – they had to in order for the premise to work – Vasicek quickly allowed his plot to take several left turns into something for more edgy, so that by the time I was in the middle of this one, I genuinely couldn’t work out how it was going to end. Which was also something of a shock.
All in all, this pacey, well-crafted space opera adventure served up some real surprises and laid a strong groundwork for this series. Recommended for fans of space opera adventure, where the plot doesn’t go according to plan. But be advised the storyline involves forced abduction and rape, although that isn’t depicted in any detail. 8/10
BLURB: Once an outlaw spellslinger, Kellen Argos has made a life for himself as the Daroman Queen’s protector. A little magic and a handful of tricks are all it takes to deal with the constant threats to her reign. But when rumors of an empire-shattering war begin to stir, Kellen is asked to commit an unimaginable act to protect his queen.
To be honest, I have been putting this one off. I did have some issues with the previous book, Queenslayer, and given that Crownbreaker is the final book in the series. I was concerned in case de Castell didn’t bring this memorable series to a fitting conclusion. However, my worries were soon put to rest when I encountered that amazing opening to the book, signalling that de Castell was back to form. When he is at his best, there aren’t many who can rival his twisty plotting and the ingenious methods Kellen finds for getting out of difficult situations.
Of course, given that it is the last book in the series, there needs to be an even bigger threat to overcome and it is posed in the form of an incipient war. Everyone is keen for Kellen to step up and assassinate a key player on the grounds that this will prevent the political situation from escalating further. Kellen, despite having killed a string of people, is very reluctant to take on the job. While he has high-flown ideas about his refusal, I’ve noticed throughout the series that when someone requires him to undertake a task, he often finds reasons not to accede to their wishes – it’s called demand avoidance and it’s a trait teachers are only too aware of…
Despite the raised stakes, it’s striking that even in this final slice of an event filled, action-packed series, the tone hasn’t darkened appreciably since the first book, which is unusual. Normally several books down the line, everything is a whole lot more sombre – just think of the Harry Potter series, for instance. I appreciated the same chirpy interplay between Kellen and his murderous squirrel cat, which is largely responsible for keeping the tone lighter. The difficult relationship Kellen has with his family also comes to a head and is resolved in this book, in a totally unpredictable manner. I thought the ending worked well and all the plotpoints were tied up satisfactorily. And while I am sad that I will no longer be going on any more adventures with Kellen, I celebrate the fact that the whole series was safely brought home in a manner that does justice to such a quirky, enjoyable protagonist. 9/10
A reminder that the Kindle edition of Running Out of Space is still FREE – just click on the cover on the sidebar to claim it
This is the most surreal Easter I can recall. The sun is shining… the long weekend is upon us. And we’re all going NOWHERE and seeing NO ONE.
My instinct is to tuck myself away with a good book in a sheltered nook of the garden. For anyone else who would like to join me, I offer you my escapist read, the KINDLE edition of Running Out of Space which is the first book in The Sunblinded trilogy, charting the adventures of young Lizzy as she tries to follow her dreams… It will be free over the period of the weekend, until Tuesday 14th April. Just click on the cover of the book below, or on the sidebar, and it will take you to your Amazon store where you will be able to get hold of it. Happy Easter, and may you all stay safe.
Lizzy Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything… Lizzy and her friends weren’t looking for trouble – all they’d wanted was to prove that fertile English girls could handle themselves when on shore leave without being accompanied by a sour-faced chaperone and armed guard. Looking back, maybe taking a jaunt off-limits on Space Station Hawking wasn’t the best idea – but no one could have foreseen the outcome. Or that the consequences of that single expedition would change the lives of all four girls, as well as that of the stranger who stepped in to save them.
Now Lizzy has more excitement and danger than she can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.