Tag Archives: apocalytic science fiction adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

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If you ever read and enjoyed H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds then this one might be for you, as this offering by established science fiction author, Stephen Baxter, is its sequel.

themassacreofmankindIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

So has Baxter been successful in keeping the tone and feel of Wells’ book? Yes, I think he has. Walter who was the main protagonist in The War of the Worlds, has spent his time since then exhaustively researching the Martians and is convinced they will return. He’s not the only one. Britain is quite a different place as society is more militaristic, poverty is widespread and life is a lot more drab as everyone has been impacted by the damage inflicted by the Martians. Julie, our protagonist who also made an appearance in The War of the Worlds, is shocked at how much England has been affected on her return. I really enjoyed the fact that Baxter has not just reprised a Martian invasion – he has also constructed an alternate history for Europe and America in the aftermath of the initial invasion.

Once it all starts to kick off again, the feel of the action with the pace, the tone and some of the characters from Wells’ apocalyptic adventure returning makes Baxter’s tale feel very familiar, in particular the artilleryman’s appearance is every bit as disturbing as before. Although there are some important differences – the Martians have learnt some vital lessons after their first unsuccessful attempt to conquer Earth, which transformed the familiar into an engrossing page-turner. Initially, Baxter emulates Wells’ action-filled chaos as the British military are all set to engage the invasion force – it shouldn’t come as a huge shock if I reveal the carefully laid plans by the best military minds don’t go to plan. I really enjoyed Baxter’s trick of using historical figures in his catastrophic scenario, such as Winston Churchill.

Like Wells, Baxter regularly cuts away from his main protagonist to other characters in key positions as the Martians tighten their grip on Earth by targeting cities around the world. Will humanity survive, or is Mankind doomed to unremitting slavery for the rest of millennia? We learn of other humanoid races who accompany the invasion force – and there is a real sense of shock when we learn who they are and where they come from. For the purposes of this book, Baxter has continued using the version of the solar system provided by Wells. So not only is Mars inhabited, but also Venus and Jupiter. As for the final twist that brings the Martian advance to a halt – it certainly provides an interesting outcome. I really enjoyed the idea once I got used to the notion, particularly as Baxter then builds upon it and gives a fascinating scenario.

There is scope for another book in this series and I’m very much hoping Baxter writes it – I found The Massacre of Mankind as compelling as The War of the Worlds and would love to read more set in this traumatised, alternative world.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Counterpart – Book 2 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone

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I read and reviewed the first book, Machinations, earlier this year. While there were issues with the worldbuilding, what made it stand out was Stone’s powerful, effective evocation of a cloned character. Would she sustain this fascinating character in the sequel?

Commander Rhona Long understands survival better than most. Killed in combat, she was brought backcounterpart to life using her DNA, and she’s forged a new, even more powerful identity. Now the leader of the resistance, she’s determined to ensure the machines are shut down for good. But victory is elusive. The machines have a new technology designed to overcome humanity’s most advanced weaponry. Despite Rhona’s peacekeeping efforts, former nations are feuding over resources as old power struggles resurface. Worse, someone inside the resistance is sabotaging the human cause—someone who, from all appearances, seems to be Rhona . . . or her exact replica.

The start of Machinations was one of the high spots of the book – that wrenching death scene right at the beginning of the story pitched us straight into the action and this book kicks off with similar action-packed drama. Could you fully appreciate it if you hadn’t read the first book? Yes, I think Stone’s writing and pacing is such that you could pick this one up and wouldn’t flounder too much, though in an ideal world you would read the first book before tackling this one.

While I enjoyed the first book, I did have difficulty envisaging exactly what the machines looked like. As a great deal of the action in Counterpart takes place in an underground citadel, which is very well depicted, this isn’t such a problem in this slice of the adventure, where we also get more information about how the machines operate, anyhow. And at no point does this book suffer from the classic second book slump – it grabs us at the start and the action doesn’t let up until the end. I reached the final page with a jolt of dismay, as we are left with something of a cliffhanger, although most of main plotlines running through the second book are brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

What Stone achieves magnificently throughout both books is to give us a ringside seat as a character struggles to come to terms with being a clone. This is a staple of science fiction and the normal way of dealing with it, is for the character to be a tad disorientated and grumpy about the whole business in the first couple of chapters, then snap into action, appreciating what this new body can do… Stone’s enjoyable, sympathetic character finds being a clone defines her as she struggles to get those closest to her to initially accept her. She also still has problems, due to not fully recollecting her former life. And once she hits her stride as humanity’s icon – the reason why she was cloned in the first place – there are several plot developments that have her on the back foot, again. I like her bravura, her constant patter of jokes, often at entirely inappropriate times. I like her hot-headed inclination to go plunging right into the middle of trouble.

Any grizzles? No – I found her relationship with Camus far more compelling and believable in this story. I read waaay into the early morning to discover what would happen next and am now eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.

I received a free arc of Counterpart from the publisher via Netgalley, which has not affected the content of my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ghoul King – Book 2 of the Dreaming Cities series by Guy Haley

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When I requested this one from NetGalley, I wasn’t aware that it was a novella or part of a series. However I’m glad about that, because I probably wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise, which would have been a shame.

theghoulkingThe Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory. After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot. But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…

I’ve recently read The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic tale of a ruined America struggling to cope after a plague of cannibalistic creatures that were once human – see my review here. This adventure has many similarities – set in a post-apocalypse America where nests of vampire-like ghouls lodge in derelict buildings. The difference in The Ghoul King is that surviving humanity is ruled by fearsome angelic beings, who decree that no technology is allowable for any reason – and back up that edict with terrible punishments.

The fact I hadn’t read the first slice of this adventure didn’t matter – I was quickly swept up into the action, following Quinn as he was plunged in the middle of an action-packed quest. Haley writes with pace and economy, managing to pack a great deal in a short amount of time. I didn’t particularly bond with Quinn, but then I don’t think we’re supposed to. However, I really liked Jaxon, the healer driven to rebel as he finds himself treating patients who are dying of illnesses entirely preventable – if only he had access to some of the old, forbidden knowledge. The story is told in first person viewpoint as Jaxon is interrogated by the authorities.

There are some interesting twists along the way  and the ending satisfactorily tied up the story arc, while leaving a couple of dangling ends in readiness for the next instalment in this desperate, ruined world. I have found myself thinking about it at times, while supposedly working on something else, which is always a sure sign that a book has ticked all the boxes. If you are a Justin Cronin fan, then consider tracking down this bite-sized post-apocalyptic world – it is worth it. I received an arc copy of this novella from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 7th June 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
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 Passage – Book 1 of The Passage series by Justin Croninthepassage
page 346: He couldn’t have said how old she was. Thirteen? Sixteen? Her hair was long and dark, and thick with mats; she was wearing a pair of threadbare gaps cut off at the ankles and a T-shirt stiff with dirt, all of it too large on her boyish frame.

BLURB: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is.

Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong.

FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

I picked this one up at Fantasycon a couple of years ago and it’s been stacked in my TBR pile ever since. And if I hadn’t requested City of Mirrors from NetGalley, it would probably still be there, but I thought it might be a refreshing change to read a series in the right order… If your taste runs to apocalyptic science fiction, then this is the daddy, coming in at 766 pages and – as you might imagine – not brimful of fun. But the writing is spare, pacey and lyrically beautiful. It’s a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time.

Weekly Wrap-Up – 17th April 2016

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Fritillary & bee on rudbeckia1

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.
This week I only read two books, which I’ll be reviewing when they are due to be published as they are both NetGalley arcs. For the rest, I have been up to my neck in paperwork, preparing for my summer term Creative Writing course, which seems to have come around insanely fast.

I also held a Filking Workshop at West Sussex Writers on Thursday evening, which also took some preparation and organisation. I’ve never done one of those before – but everyone responded brilliantly and we had a really enjoyable evening, ending up with a singsong.

The books I read were:

 

brightblazeofmagicBright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blades series by Jennifer Estap
This adventure fantasy is a swords and sorcery fully of incident, featuring a smart heroine who is capable of taking care of herself. This deftly written story is brimming with strong characters and interesting monsters. I’ll be posting a review on or about 26th April, which it is due to be published.

 

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walkerendoftheworldrunningclub
This apocalyptic road tale is set in Edinburgh. Ed, the protagonist, is overweight, under-exercised and wearily cynical. He drinks too much and doesn’t spend enough quality time with his small daughter and baby son. And then the world ends – and he is in the position of having to fight for them. I’ll be reviewing this one at the beginning of May, when the book is published.

My posts last week were:-
Weekly Wrap-Up – 10th April

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – March Roundup

Teaser Tuesday – Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blades series by Jennifer Estap

Review of Deceptions – Book 3 of the Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong

Review of Beaver Towers – Book 1 of the Beaver Towers series by Nigel Hinton

Friday Faceoff – UK vs US books covers of The Forever Watch by David Ramirez – see my review here

Review of Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

I’m hoping to be able to get back to my editing schedule this coming week for The Sunblinded trilgoy. In the meantime, many thanks for everyone who has visited and commented on my posts – I really appreciate it. Have a great week.

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016

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Given I am now reading and reviewing more frequently, I thought I’d follow Hayley’s suggestion over at RatherTooFondofBooks – check it out, it’s a really good book blog – and write a short summary of my week to share with other bloggers, inspired by the Sunday Post meme from the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

This week I completed and wrote reviews for three books:-

Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of the Luna series by Ian McDonaldluna
This was a vivid, entertaining read about runaway development in a viciously capitalist structure that has the Five Dragon ruling family battling for ascendancy. I’ve already posted the review here.

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
manyselvesofkatherineThis Netgalley arc is a remarkable read about a young girl who jumps into premade animal bodies – Ressies – in order to better understand the habits and lives of the wildlife around us against a backdrop of climactic change. As a YA dystopian science fiction adventure, this book has far more science content than the average YA read, and the character is complex and nuanced. I featured this book in this week’s Teaser Tuesday. My review will not be appearing until June, however, when the book is due to be released.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This is another storming read – I LOVED this fantasy offering. The magic system is great, the uprootedprotagonist punchy and spirited, but what for me sets this book apart is the nature of the Wood, whose implacable opposition to humanity blights the lives of all who have to live near it. I shall be posting the review in due course.

I posted a blog every day, with one reblog from the marvellous Lizzie Baldwin’s entertaining book blog. My most popular post was this week’s Teaser Tuesday, as Emma Geen’s book attracted a lot of attention, with the next most visited post this week being my article Favourite Space Operas – Part 1.

I’m grateful to everyone who popped in and an especial thanks goes to those of you who took the trouble to comment – I still get a thrill at being able to share my reading passion with like-minded souls. Happy Easter to you all!

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

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I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

Is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

2016 Discovery Challenge – February

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did I get on last month?

Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling novels by Nalini Singh
I scooped this offering off the shelves because the notion of reading a Psy-Changeling series was intriguing and I also loved the cover. The narrative engine of this story is the tale of Kaleb and Sahara. heartofobsidianThat they have a tangled and rather fraught past is complicated by the fact that Sahara, for a variety of complex and spoiler-connected reasons, cannot recall this past. Another difficulty is that Kaleb is insanely powerful, with a mind that can teleport him anywhere on the planet in the blink of an eye. So what can undermine and cause havoc to such a very powerful protagonist? His fierce, single-minded love for a girl who may grow to hate him, once she becomes well enough to remember what he has done, that’s what. It’s a nifty plot device.

Singh writes with the brakes off, her prose is drenched with emotion and the tumult of her conflicted main characters. In less skilful hands, this could have descended into a parody of itself. But Singh manages to pull it off, because she writes with focus and conviction. This is mainly a love story and while I generally avoid books featuring romance, I was held by this particular narrative due to the sheer originality of the setup. Read my full review here.

 

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
I enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own.

radianceSeverin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes. Read my full review here.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
I hadn’t heard of this intriguing series, until Himself stumbled across it and recommended it to me. Though since then, I have learnt that she was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2010 for Rosemary and Rue. Subsquently, she has also gone on to write the successful Newsflesh series under the name Mira Grant.

October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

Oh yes. McGuire has absolutely nailed this one – and it is a lot harder to achieve than she makes it look. A half-breed not entirely welcome in either the human or Fae world, who is driven onto the streets in her teens makes for a feisty, interesting heroine. And right at the beginning of the book there is an incident that had my jaw dropping – it is a major game-changer that changes the whole tenor of the story and Toby’s subsequent life. Read my full review here.

What stands out for me looking at these three books, is just how very different they are. Nalini Singh’s romantic science fiction adventure has more in common with McGuire’s fae private investigator, than with Valente’s fractured narrative and various viewpoint modes in her literary space opera. All three novels were rewarding, satisfying reads. In fact, so far this year I haven’t abandoned a single book because I didn’t like it – which is the first time I can recall that happening. And if you are looking for something well written and enjoyably different – all these books definitely tick that box.

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* KINDLE ebook – Review of Gold, Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

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This is a much-anticipated debut novel from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. Ray and Luz are drifting through the remnants of other lives as they squat in the mansion of a former starlet, using her belongings as they see fit. That Watkins can write is apparent from the first line. Her prose is extraordinary and she has the capability to push boundaries and take her readers with her to a heightened vision of this desert world.

While the people flail around, trying to fit into this brutal new environment, the main protagonist in this book is the setting. The huge, super-dune called the Amargosa that is sprawling out of the Mojave Desert and swallowing everything in its way has a forest of stories, legends and conspiracy theories sprouting up around it. When Watkins gets it right – such as Ray’s trek with heat-seared eyes, the writing is poetic, apt and astonishing. During a chilly January night, I felt and tasted the sweat, gritty dust and sweltering heat.

But, there is an unevenness throughout that prevents this thought-provoking book from becoming a great novel. While the literary genre does allow for a slower pace and more experimentation with story structure, all too often, the descriptions are a page or two too long; minor characters suddenly take centre stage, distorting the narrative arc; and character viewpoint goes completely haywire, as in the runup to Ray’s beating. Technical flaws such as these graunched, given how much is triumphantly successful about this offering.

Watkins gives us a mesmerising insight of Ray and Luz’s relationship, which kept me caring about both of them, even as they lurched from one self inflicted crisis to another – and I certainly didn’t see the ending coming. I’m still undecided whether I think it works or not. However, while I’m not sure I enjoyed Gold, Fame, Citrus, I’m very glad I read it and if your tastes run to apocalyptic scenarios, then track this one down. I’ll guarantee you’ll remember it.

My ARC ebook was supplied by Netgalley via the publisher, in return for an honest review.
7/10