Tag Archives: apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy

Top Ten Unique Reads…

Standard

Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – February Roundup

Standard

After reading Jo Hall’s post 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 February I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, making my yearly total seven books so far.

My February books are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This book is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
Addy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah. Her mortal enemy Meredith, otherwise known as the Death Starr, breaks out in a severe and inexplicable case of butt boils. Addy might not know what’s going on, but she definitely wants a certain sexy demon hunter by her side when it all goes down. . .

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures. Meanwhile, she plays with the trope of the good Southern girl, looking for a husband, concerned with her appearance and intent on putting on a good front for the neighbours.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

 

This month I managed to clear five books from my teetering TBR pile – they are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
See above.

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
See above.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
See above.

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side. She has lost her parents, who disappeared from their thriving Inn and though she has spent years trying to track them down, all her efforts have ended in failure.

 

Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven.

Review of KINDLE Ebook All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Standard

There has been a buzz about this book among the bloggers I mix with, so I bought this one with some of my Christmas book tokens. I’m so very glad I did…

allthebirdsintheskyPatricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

And no – you won’t find the above blurb anywhere, but when I read the version on Goodreads it contained far too many major plotpoints over far too much of the story arc. What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

Both Patricia and Laurence are vulnerable and likeable. But both are also capable of being self-obsessed and judgemental and Laurence, in particular, is frankly something of an arse at times. However, I never stopped caring for both of them and hoping they would somehow prevail.

It’s difficult to discuss this one in any detail without giving away some of the plot progression and as I plunged into this one without any preconceptions, other than it had a cool cover about birds – I’d very much like other readers to do the same. What it isn’t, is a book solely aimed at speculative fiction fans – Anders’ sharp observations about all sorts of details in her very near-future world would chime with anyone.

What I do feel this book carries is a strong message. In the hard days to come when we will be facing a series of environmental and resource crises brought about by over-population and pollution, we – humankind – need to guard against the instinct to go for the Big Fix. We also need to keep listening out for possible solutions from unlikely quarters and not get locked within our own echo-chamber – a particular hazard for those of us who enjoy social media.

A wise, witty book with an engaging story and some apt advice for the future, this book comes with a very strong recommendation. Read it.
10/10