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Review of KINDLE Ebook Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre

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I read and reviewed the first books in this excellent series a while ago – see my review of Grimspace.

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. With no tolerance for political diplomacy, she quits her ambassador post so she can get back to saving the universe the way she does best—by mouthing off and kicking butt.

I’ve omitted the rest of the blurb as it is rather chatty. It has been far too long since I read the third book in this series, Doubleblind, and my recollections of that story are somewhat hazy, so I was interested to see if I’d flounder at all. I didn’t. Therefore, I would suggest that if you want to crash midway into this series (though I’m not quite sure why you would as the first three books are great reads) this would be a good spot to do so.

Sirantha Jax is an excellent protagonist. Uniquely gifted due to an unusual set of circumstances, with a very colourful past, she is strong-minded and confident to the point of arrogance – which makes a nice change from the plethora of young, uncertain protagonists we often get. That said, she also has her vulnerabilities and the people she deeply cares about – and thanks to the dire situation humanity is now facing, there is good chance none of them will make it. Aguirre depicts the stresses causes by continual combat very well, while the action scenes are well handled with plenty of tension. The stakes steadily rise throughout the book and I found this one difficult to put down as the story drew me in.

There is a strong supporting cast of likeable characters, including Sirantha’s partner and pilot, March, who has telepathic powers and a young Jumper called Angus who she is training. I held my breath throughout the combat scenes, hoping none of my favourites would die, as Aguirre is quite capable of killing off established characters, which is a measure of how much I empathised with the world and its inhabitants.

As for the ending, while it wraps up the current storylines it does leave the situation on a cliff-hanger ending and I am very glad the next book, Aftermath, is already available – and I certainly won’t be leaving it so long before tucking into it.
9/10

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Review of Indie Ebook Raven’s Children – Book 2 of the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase

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I loved the first book in this series and while I generally like to space out reading a series so I don’t lock onto an author’s writing tics, this time around I couldn’t wait so dived back into this book.

Moire Cameron, former NASA explorer and web pilot, now has a working ship, a loyal crew, an unexpected son, and a valuable Earthlike planet to protect from the clutches of Toren. However, her enemies won’t give up – and then, there’s the children…

I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb and my advice is not to read it as it gives away far too much of the storyline. Moire is a strong protagonist, though this book doesn’t focus quite so much on her storyline as there is a lot going on around her. I love the fact that Chase drives forward the story, crackling with action and tension. If there is any grizzle, it is perhaps Moire’s character is slightly swamped by everything happening around her as events continue to teeter on the edge of disaster. There are moments when it would have been nice to slow down just a tad to fully appreciate how all the changes carrying on around her are fully impacting upon her. That said, it is a really picky point and is only engendered by my love for the character. As for the relationships around Moire – while she is rebuilding her life in this new world, she hasn’t the luxury of spending much time and energy to lavish on the people who she cares about. Apart from anything else, she is terrified of dragging them into the danger she is in.

I really enjoyed the way the story unfolds and the constant suspense and surprises that Chase manages to deliver. Some of the plot progression I could see coming – but a whole lot more caught me unawares and I enjoyed sinking into the rhythm of the story and going with the flow. The supporting cast around Moire also continue to develop, helping to power the story. The most intriguing plot thread concerns one of the salvage ships they find drifting, damaged and abandoned – and this particular discovery overrides all other concerns. This is cleverly handled by Chase, whose worldbuilding is very effective and is one of her strengths in this engrossing series. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the final book in the trilogy.

All in all, this book ended far too quickly and I can guarantee that it won’t be long before I also dive into the final book, Queen of Chaos, to find out how Chase wraps up this story. Recommended for fans of character-led space opera with a strong story.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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I wanted to read and review more YA and children’s books this year, so when this one caught my eye due to the interesting premise, I requested it and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a delight…

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, things don’t go as planned…

This steampunk adventure is huge fun that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. Emmeline is brought up a solitary child in a creepy house infested with all sorts of dangerous creatures and is more or less left to get on with it as her scientist parents have to do a lot of travelling. Until a fateful day when everything goes wrong… Do try to avoid reading the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more of the plot than is necessary. That said, there is plenty of plot in this action-packed story brimful of interesting, likeable characters. Generally I am not a huge fan of stories where yet another set of new characters pop up in each scene, but somehow O’Hart manages to pull it off. Other than Emmeline, whose gritty self-assurance gets her through all sorts of tight spots, my favourite character has to be Thing, the vagabond boy she encounters on the liner. But there are plenty of other enjoyable, strong-minded characters to choose from as steampunk tends to roll along with lots of action and relatively little angst. It was when Thing had a wobble about his grim childhood that I bonded with him and felt that vulnerability gave him more reader-appeal.

There is also a pleasing number of unpleasant villains ranged against Emmeline and the people trying to prevent the impending apocalypse – my favourite is Doctor Siegfried Bauer as he is so magnificently horrible, especially to poor Emmeline. But the North Witch is also a thoroughly nasty character who poses all sorts of problems. Once the action really takes off, we have the two main protagonists, Emmeline and Thing alternating in telling the story, occasionally interspersed by other members of the supporting cast. O’Hart’s strong writing and deft handling of the rising tension makes this a really gripping read that didn’t want to let me go when I should have been up and about instead of finishing the book.

The denouement has to deliver after so much energy and tension has been expended during the rising action and in this case, it does, while all the dangling plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied up. I’m very much hoping that this book does well, because although I cannot see any sign of this being the first in a series, I’d love to read more about Emmeline and her family in another madcap adventure. Recommended for precocious readers from 10/11 years old onwards.
9/10

Review for Running Out Of Space (Sunblinded: 1) by S. J. Higbee

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I was delighted to get this review from Donna – particularly as she didn’t pick up the book feeling especially enthusiastic about it, but then got drawn into Lizzy’s problems, anyway. Thank you Donna, for an honest review:)

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I can’t recall whose idea it was. Just that me and mis amigas were sick of wading through yet another unjust punishment detail. So we decide to take ourselves off on a short jaunt to the lower reaches of Space Station Hawking to prove that fertile Iberian girls can also deal with danger.

The consequences of that single expedition change the lives of all four of us, as well as that of the stranger who steps in to save us down in lawless Basement Level. Now I have more excitement and danger than I can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

BUY IT FROM AMAZON HERE      ADD IT TO GOODREADS HERE

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When I first started reading this I found it kind of hard to connect and get involved in the story. It was slow going. But, I have to say this may be…

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Keeper of the Watch – Book 1 of the Dimension 7 series by Kristen L. Jackson

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This one caught my eye owing to the fabulous cover and the idea of time travelling via a tatty old watch.

Chase Walker is beginning to doubt his own sanity. From the moment he turned eighteen, a strange paranoia has taken over his mind. It all started the moment he discovered his uncle’s old watch… The watch calls to him. Though it beckons, he resists. His body strains toward it, blood pulsing, heart pounding in a mysterious and primitive need to connect with his uncle’s old beat up watch. When sexy and mysterious Alyx saves his life, she promises answers. She talks of dimension travel, and wears a magical watch of her own…

I’ll be honest, I really struggled in the beginning stages of this one. The dialogue is rather clunky, which inhibited the characterisation, while both Chase and Alyx seem far younger than the average eighteen year old. I’ll accept that Alyx might be rather young for her age, but it was Chase’s character that appeared to be all over the place. And just as I was about to seriously consider consigning it to the DNF pile – the action finally kicked off and the book sprang to life.

Jackson’s writing tightened up and as she described the grim transformation in the parallel dimension, with the horrifying event that defines the rest of the narrative, I didn’t want to put this one down. Chase’s shock and gritted determination to fight back gave his personality a strength of purpose and clarity he had previously lacked, while I really enjoyed Alyx’s rather peeved response to his reaction. This sets up an interesting dynamic between them, which hooked me in and had me caring.

While the worldbuilding in the alternative dimension is rather sketchy, with very few details as to how the USA was so quickly conquered, I was prepared to give the author a pass on that one, given the real drama she managed to create. In the meantime, the long-running battle between the Hunters and Keepers goes on and the story is brought to a satisfying ending.

This story is recommended for fans of multi-dimensional travel at the younger end of the YA age range.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Shadow Play: A British Police Procedural – Book 20 of the Bill Slider Mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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It was the author’s name who caught my eye when trawling through Netgalley – Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is my mother’s favourite writer and when I reviewed her book The Hostage Heart, I was favourably impressed, although it isn’t normally the type of book I read.

When the body of a smartly-dressed businessman turns up in the yard of Eli Simpson’s car workshop, DCI Bill Slider and his team soon surmise that the victim was someone’s ‘enforcer’. So who was Mr King? Who was he the muscle for? And what did he know that made someone decide to terminate the terminator?

This isn’t a cosy mystery – the cover makes that very plain. But neither is it some grimy, downbeat murder misery, where the main protagonist is fuelled by anger as he wades through a depressing cityscape awash with social deprivation. There isn’t anything wrong with the above – I just want to make it plain exactly what this book is about, because I’m not sure the cover fully conveys that.

Bill Slider is happily married to a musician, so he occasionally has to work from home when she is off playing in an orchestra somewhere. I like the fact that he isn’t some drink-soaked depressive with no home life – and that he also has a reasonable relationship with his superior, who he mostly likes and respects. There are likeable, chirpy characters in his team, who we learn about while they trudge through the various leads.

As for the murder – it’s a while before the team manage to get their teeth into this one and as I haven’t read the previous 19 books, I would suggest this is a useful entry point. I had time to get my bearings and work out what was happening to whom before the plot really took off. Though this isn’t a foot-to-the-floor action thriller, it’s far more the steady accumulation of clues through hard graft and constant checking.

I found the actual unravelling of the mystery unexpectedly engrossing as we begin to learn snippets about this rather shadowy character. By the time I’d reached the final quarter of the book, it was something of a struggle to put it down, while I read far longer than I’d intended to get to the end and discover whodunit. Harrod-Eagles writes characters very well as the final denouement produced a satisfying end to a solidly good murder mystery.

The next time I need a fix of a quality murder mystery, I shall definitely be going back to this series and sampling more of Bill Slider’s adventures – it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Keeper by Kim Chance

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I really liked the look of the cover – and the words witch and bookworm turning up in the same paragraph meant I was scurrying to request this YA offering.

When a 200-year-old witch attacks her, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. Even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to believe it—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

As the rest of the blurb is somewhat chatty, I have decided to leave it out. Lainey is an endearing protagonist whose genuine shock upon finding a hidden layer of her life had me immediately on her side. The inevitable loss of pace as she struggles to come to terms with what is happening to her is nicely mitigated by her loyal, geeky friend who and watches scads of supernatural/superhero stories and is beside herself with excitement to find that her life is suddenly mirroring those of her heroes. Chance is deft with the humour while keeping up the pace and tension. And indeed, the pace never truly lets up as Lainey is confronted with one disturbing truth after another, as the situation becomes ever more desperate. For she is confronted with a truly horrible antagonist. I very much like the fact that despite never leaving Lainey’s viewpoint, we become fully aware of just what a nasty piece of work The Master is. We are also very clear as to why he is so strongly motivated to get hold of her and while she is ‘the chosen one’ that rapidly becomes far more of a life-shortening burden as Chance relentlessly continues to ramp up stakes. This book became quite difficult to put down once we reached a certain stage.

The inevitable romance was well handled, though I was intrigued when Lainey’s ear tips kept getting hot every time she was too close to her heartthrob. I was pleased to see that the romance stayed firmly within the bounds of the YA genre and didn’t stray into New Adult territory. As ever in a successful fantasy adventure, the supporting characters were also key to providing a rounded, entertaining story that kept the pages turning. And just when I thought I knew where this one was headed, it took off into another direction.

At present, it is being presented as a stand-alone, however, I really would like to see what happens next, and I am hoping this story is sufficiently successful that the publishers will request another book. I, for one, want to read more about Lainey and that grimoire…
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc We Care For You by Paul Kitcatt

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When I read what fellow book blogger, Ana, from Ana’s Lair had to say about this offering, I immediately hightailed it over to NetGalley to request it. I was delighted when I was approved and bumped it up to the top of my pile because I was so keen to read it.

Margaret Woodruff is slowly dying in a care home. When her son is presented with the chance of exceptional care in her final months, he finds the offer hard to resist. Winifred is assigned to Margaret’s care. She’s a Helper: a new kind of carer that’s capable, committed and completely tireless – because she’s a synthetic human being.

This is ambitious book is not only a gripping story about what happens to an old lady in a care home, but it is also a discussion about what it means to be human. Kitcatt isn’t afraid to hold up the pace of his unsettling story to provide detailed conversations between Margaret and Winifred, which have stayed with me since I finished reading the book. I’m not sure if I agree with the conclusions he comes to, but they are certainly food for thought and I do thoroughly agree with the prevalent view throughout the book that the life experience gained by the elderly is essentially thrown away in our modern society. This is in sharp contrast to almost every other culture throughout history, where the wisdom of the aged is valued and held in high regard. Although the conclusions that Winifred come to are somewhat worrying…

Any niggles? Well, I do have one. I’m still scratching my head as to why Kitcatt has set the book in 2022, given the sophistication and real-life appearance of the robot. That is only four years away and I simply don’t believe we are anywhere near producing an artificial being with that sophistication and complexity to be rolled out and fully interact with a very fragile human being in the manner described in the book. To be honest, when I saw the date I nearly didn’t continue, being rather nerdy about this sort of thing. While I’m aware, great strides have been made in the field of AI and robotics. I simply don’t believe we are within touching distance of the likes of Winifred and her hub.

However, the writing is sufficiently good and the book has been produced to a high standard with solid formatting, so I decided to proceed and give the author a pass on the unrealistic timeline. Other than that, this is an engrossing read with some important things to say about what we value as a society and a species, and though I thought I knew exactly what the ending would be, that final twist did leave me with a shiver up my spine. All in all, this is a memorable and unsettling read, recommended for anyone who enjoys near future science fiction relating to our current society.
8/10

Review of Indie KINDLE Ebook Subversive by Paul Grzegorzek

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London, 2123. A century after ebola-bombs decimated the population, PC Sean Weaver of the Combined Police Force is a drone operative tasked with enforcing the Government’s dictatorial rule. Nearly anything and everything is considered Subversive and the people huddle behind ever-watched walls, under threat of forced labour on The Farms for the smallest infraction. Trust is nearly impossible to come by and terrorists could be anywhere. Trapped within this oppressive regime, Sean has to make do with small, secretive acts of rebellion lest he end up on The Farms himself. Until, that is, the day he witnesses the mass murder of hundreds of civilians. Events quickly spiral out of control, propelling him into a bloody and brutal conflict where he finds himself faced with the ultimate choice. Accept his fate and bury the truth, or fight back and become… Subversive.

I reviewed Grzegorzek’s apocalyptic adventure Flare – see my review here – which I thoroughly enjoyed. But this sci fic dystopian thriller hits the ground running and the pace doesn’t ease up until the climactic ending. Sean is one of the novel’s strength’s – he is a likeable chap who can certainly handle himself in a scrap and quite right, too, as he is a trained PC. However, while he is at the heart of all the action and manages to attract trouble like a magnet attracts iron filings, Grzegorzek manages to avoid his depiction of Sean becoming too invincible. While he is horrified at the wanton slaughter of fellow Londoners and wants to do the right thing, he is also reluctant to risk his own family or endure too much physical pain. In other words, he is just like you and me – which made me warm to him and care about what happens to him.

The other outstanding aspect of this book is the twisting plot, which kicks off when Sean sees something he shouldn’t. Immediately, he finds himself hauled into the middle of a plot to wipe out the terrorists who are held responsible for the incident and I settled into the book, thinking I knew how it was all going to play out – only to find within the next handful of pages, it all flips around and something else is going on. The speed at which Sean experiences reverses and finds himself in the middle of desperate situations reminded me of Darrow’s struggles in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series.

Grzegorzek’s depiction of a ravaged London, particularly the grim state of the underground stations, are memorable and provide a suitable backdrop for the desperate battles that are played out. The technology is believable and I was also pleased at Grzegorzek’s explanation of why a fair proportion of the population are now behaving like mindless sheep and showing slavish obedience to a corrupt and unpleasant form of government.

All in all, this was a cracking read – and as the first book of 2018, I was delighted it was such an entertaining book. Recommended for fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic thrillers.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Ranter’s Wharf by Rosemary Noble

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Rosemary Noble happens to attend my Fitstep class and when we discussed our relative projects, I tracked down her book as it sounded really interesting…

This is a family saga about love, loss and betrayal. It is an intimate portrayal of a family dealing with big ideas of the times. The backdrop is the decaying, coastal town of Grimsby trying to reinvent itself amid the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, dissenting religion and the fight for voting reform.

When Betsy, a strong and determined spinster of independent means, adopts her motherless nephew, she doesn’t mean to fall head over heels in love with the child. When she plucks William from the bosom of his family, she does it out of self-interest, hoping to thwart unwelcome suitors. Her plans to raise William as a gentleman, allowing his respectability to rub off on herself, almost works. But things don’t always go to plan…

I’ve somewhat tweaked the very chatty blurb which gives away far too much of the story – but this is a historical novel loosely based on Noble’s own family history. She has clearly assiduously researched the period and knows a great deal about living conditions, the geography and weather conditions. As a fellow historian, I am full of admiration for her close attention to detail – but in order to write an entertaining story, there needs to be strong characters that ping off the page the reader can identify with and a page-turning story. So has Noble also managed to people her vivid depiction of a by-gone age with sufficiently readable characters and an engrossing tale? Oh yes.

I particularly loved the opening section of the book when we see Betsy visiting her stricken brother on the day of his wife’s funeral with a proposition to take one of his children and raise him as her own. As a point of information, this arrangement was far commoner than you might think. Time and again, records show that one child from a large family is taken off to be brought up by aunts, uncles, grandparents and in quite a lot of examples, older married siblings. What those records don’t report is how it turned out. Betsy becomes devoted to the bright, intelligent little boy, who grows up to be able to first rent and then buy a small dairy farm. It may not seem much, but is a world away from the labouring jobs that were his father’s lot.

We then follow the fortunes of that small boy – William – and what happens to him and his children, as well as charting what becomes of the family he left behind. As well as the personal family drama, what I found particularly fascinating is how Noble also situates the family’s fortunes within the political situation of the time. She shows us William’s involvement in the Primitive Methodist movement which also gives us an insight into how working men coped with the dreadful conditions they found themselves confronting after the Napoleonic War ravaged the economy. The following generation becomes even more embroiled in the politics of the day when his son John gets increasingly caught up with the Chartists.

Reading of this particular family dealing with the fallout, brought home to me just how high the price was and how our social history was sculpted by brave, forward-thinking men and women whose consciences wouldn’t let them rest when so many around them were suffering such acute privation. It also makes it easier to understand how some of the modern faultlines in our Parliamentary and class system came into being.

Noble provides a highly readable account of a turning point in the political life of the country and is recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction that gives an insight into who we are now.
9/10