Tag Archives: book review

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik #Brainfluffbookreview #SpinningSilverbookreview

Standard

I’ve loved Novik’s writing for many years, being a fan of her fabulous Temeraire series – see my review of Victory of Eagles and I was also blown away by Uprooted – see my review here. So I was thrilled when Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy mentioned Novik had released Spinning Silver.

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

I’ve heard this one described as a retelling of the old fairytale ‘Rumplestiltskin’, but it isn’t that straightforward. Novik has taken elements of that story – just a few – and woven them into another, more detailed backdrop. The setting is a version of 19th century Russia, complete with isolated villages surrounded by hundreds of miles of thick woodland, nobility who have the power of life and death over their subjects and a simmering resentment against the Jewish community. They are the ones who lend money to those who need it, the ones who often also make music, jewellery and can read and write within their close-knit communities, so make a convenient target when those in power don’t want to pay back their debts. Add in the danger of the ferocious cold of a Russian winter, when the dreaded Staryk are more easily able to cross into the human world. These icy fae have mercilessly predated upon the humans who wander too far into their forests, killing and stealing from them – and when their actions further impact upon the protagonists in the story, these shadowy, terrifying beings end up at the heart of this story.

It’s a complicated tale with three main protagonists, Miryem, the moneylender’s daughter, Wanda, who becomes her servant and is desperate to escape her drunken abusive father and Irena, the Duke’s eldest daughter by his first wife, whose bookish nature and plain looks have been a constant disappointment – until the Tsar comes to visit…

The story bounces between these three young women as their fates increasingly become intertwined. There is a fair amount of explanation – with pages when Novik is telling the story rather than having her characters speak, which I normally dislike. But I’m going to give her a pass on this one – firstly because it didn’t jar with me. This is, after all, a fairy story, which is always told from the outside in. Secondly, because though there is a fair amount of exposition, it was necessary in this complex plot and it didn’t stop Novik from immersing us in the thoughts and fears of her main protagonists. Thirdly, it was a delightfully long book with an unusually dense story, which I loved.

I’m aware this is a Marmite book – those aspects I’ve listed above as pluses have also exasperated some readers, preventing them from bonding with this book. Normally, I love a story to unfold from the inside out, but I simply think this time around it wouldn’t have worked so effectively. All I would say is – give it a go and discover for yourself if this one is for you. If you enjoy it, you’ll thank me. This is one that has had me continuing to ponder it since I’ve read it – always a sign that a book has properly got under my skin and it’s recommended for fantasy fans who like detailed worlds with plenty of unexpected twists thrown in.
9/10

 

Advertisements

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder in the Dark – Book 6 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderintheDarkbookreview

Standard

This book cover looks creepy and rather horrific, but while there are murders and poor old Ishmael Jones is taking it all very seriously, this book has its tongue firmly in its cheek…

“The past is England’s dreaming, and not all of it sleeps soundly…”
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been despatched to assist a group of scientists who are investigating a mysterious black hole which has appeared on a Somerset hillside. Could it really be a doorway to another dimension, an opening into another world? When one of the scientists disappears into the hole — with fatal consequences — Ishmael must prove whether it was an accident — or murder. But with no clues, no witnesses and no apparent motive, he has little to go on. Is there an alien predator at large, or is an all-too-human killer responsible? Only one thing is certain: if Ishmael does not uncover the truth in time, more deaths will follow…

I’m not sure at what point I began to see the funny side of this adventure, but when I did, there was a fair amount that set me quietly chuckling. Green’s dark humour is more apparent and gory in his Deathstalker series, but I found this version more enjoyable.

If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor action adventure, then you’ll be disappointed. Apart from the body count, which rises alongside the tension as Ishmael tries to work out exactly who or what is annihilating the wretched team of scientists stuck on the hill on a dark, dark night, there isn’t a lot that actually happens. Think of a locked room mystery in the middle of the English countryside. However, there are plenty of possible suspects – including what may or may not be emerging from that creepy hole – and lots of enjoyable character clashes and conflicts, which Green writes very well. The bonus for those who have followed the series, is that during this investigation we get to know a bit more about Jones’ shadowy past and hints that it might be catching up with him.

One of the joys of this series is his relationship with Penny, his girlfriend and dauntless sidekick – it’s rare to find a truly happy couple in these sorts of adventures and I hope it stays that way. Their snarky exchanges and domestic bickering about Penny’s driving and lack of cooking skills somehow helps to highlight just how weird it’s all got – and won’t it be nice to get back to normality…

Highly recommended if you like a bit of humour thrown in with the paranormal shenanigans – and the bonus is that this is the sort of series that you can jump in anywhere without losing too much of the context. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Dark from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan #Brainfluffbookreview #EyeCanWritebookreview

Standard

This is a book my mother sent me after seeing twelve-year-old Jonathan interviewed on TV and looking up his story.

Can you imagine not being able to speak or communicate? The silence, the loneliness, the pain. But, inside you disappear to magical places, and even meet your best friend there. However, most of the time you remain imprisoned within the isolation. Waiting, longing, hoping. Until someone realises your potential and discovers your key, so your unlocking can begin. Now you are free, flying like a wild bird in the open sky. A voice for the voiceless.

Jonathan Bryan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of speech or voluntary movement. He was locked inside his own mind, aware of the outside world but unable to fully communicate with it until he found a way by using his eyes to laboriously choose individual letters, and through this make his thoughts known.

I knew this was a special book, but was unprepared for the emotional impact. It is a book of two halves – the first part is written by Jonathan’s mother and charts the events leading up to the accident that caused Jonathan’s problems. The list of life-threatening difficulties he has endured is shockingly long, as is the number of medical interventions and trips to hospital he had needed. His gritted courage and determination were evident in the fact that he simply hung on in there and refused to die when the odds were stacked against him, time and time again.

But what for me was a source of heartbreak and intense frustration was his treatment at the special school where he was simply being warehoused. It brought back far too many unhappy memories of another bright boy whose education was severely compromised because expectations about his ability were set far too low. This book is a testament to Jonathan’s own intelligence and passion, as well as a tribute to a mother who refused to listen to the experts and was guided instead by her own instincts about her son. She taught him to read and over time, they found a way to allow him to express himself, even though it is laborious.

Jonathan’s own feelings about being trapped within his body without any way to express himself, while forced to watch the same TV programme designed for developing infants should be a wake-up call for everyone in Special Needs education. I very much hope the politicians he has met will take note of what he is saying and realise that while he is remarkable, there are probably many other children and adults with active, creative minds also trapped by their bodies. I’d like to think as a country we will take on board Jonathan’s plea that everyone should be taught to read and write, using all the technology available, unless it becomes apparent that it isn’t appropriate, which is not the case now.

In the meantime, go and track this book down. It is an emotional read, but also very uplifting. Jonathan’s poetry will stay with me for a long time…
10/10

#Sci Fi Month Review of INDIE Ebook Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland #Brainfluffbookreview #IntotheDarkbookreview

Standard

I had asked Himself for recommendations for more military space opera in honour of Sci Fi Month and he immediately suggested this one…

At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few. She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.

This is essentially Hornblower in space – and very well done, too. Sutherland has taken the idea of solar sails and provides some vivid space battles that are reminiscent of the 17th and 18th century man o’war tactics. To be honest, some suspension of disbelief is required – I happily believed that the solar sails were useful and that they needed human crews rather than robot labour, but there were a few touches that stretched my credulity.

However, the plight Alexis faces if she stays on the planet is inescapable – she will be forced to marry someone she hates and despises. She is a tough energetic girl, caught up with the day to day running of the holding and takes to the rigour of life in the Navy like a space duckling takes to zero gravity. I like her straightforward character and the fact that Sutherland is mindful not to make her too much of a Mary Sue – she struggles badly with navigation.

What she has in spades is plenty of physical energy, the ability to think quickly on her feet and a fundamentally nice disposition without it becoming sickly, which is harder to do than Sutherland makes it look. Did I believe in her ability to handle the situations that she is confronted with? Yes – she is raised in a tough, colonial environment. As a historian, I have read accounts of what young men and women achieved when homesteading in the States, or working on a small farm in the UK and their physical fortitude and strength puts us all to shame. Nothing to say that can’t happen again…

I very much liked the story development and overall the worldbuilding – though I do find it difficult to believe that flogging would still be a thing in a futuristic setting, given that we know the faultlines that ran through the Royal Navy of the time and why they needed to use such extreme brutality. It was a reflection of the harsh social situation for most people at the time – I’m not sure I’m so convinced that prevails to the same extent in this particular future world.

It doesn’t stop me being keen to pick up the second book in this entertaining series as I want to know what happens next to Alexis, given there is a real twist right at the end of the book.
8/10

#Sci Fi Month – Review of INDIE Ebook The Scent of Metal – Book 1 of the Argonauts of Space series by Sabrina Chase #Brainfluffbookreview #TheScentofMetalbookreview

Standard

Himself reads a lot more than I do – and when I asked him for more science fiction adventures to read in order to celebrate Sci Fi Month, he recommended this book, and given that it’s by the author who has written the enjoyable Sequoyah trilogy – see my review of The Long Way Home here, it was a no-brainer that I’d tuck into this offering.

The expedition ship Kepler races to Pluto, intent on uncovering the secrets of the alien structure recently discovered under the ice. Computer scientist Lea Santorin can’t wait to figure out the alien technology. Instead, she wakes it up … and it continues its long-interrupted journey across the galaxy, taking Lea and Kepler with it.

I really liked Lea, which is important as she is the character that we are connected to throughout this adventure. Chase does a good job of thoroughly establishing Lea’s personality in the opening stages of this book, which I increasingly appreciated as stuff became seriously weird. Lea somehow becomes linked to the alien entity which is Pluto, and there is a nicely creepy section where we are unsure exactly what is going to happen next. I do enjoy space opera adventure when it goes down this path, however, the catch with upping the stakes so that we are increasingly invested in discovering what is going on is that the reveal has to be worth the journey. I’ve read far too many of these types of books where it wasn’t. Fortunately Chase is too experienced and skilful to fall into that trap, so that as the adventure progresses and we get to know more about what is going on, she keeps providing sufficient twists and turns. I love her explanation for why Neanderthals disappeared so abruptly from our planet…

There is also another plotline involving the military detail assigned to look after Lea and the other scientists investigating Kepler, which also gives this adventure more of a military sci-fi feel. The two plotlines merge nicely towards the end and I definitely want to know what happens next, given the rather chilling threat that is revealed at the end of the book.

Chase provides plenty of thrills, spills and nicely nuanced characterisation that held me until the end and definitely makes me want to read on – in short, all the ingredients that make me such a fan of modern space opera. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
8/10

#Sci Fi Month – Review of INDIE Ebook Star Nomad – Book 1 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsey Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #StarNomadbookreview

Standard

In honour of Sci Fi Month, I asked Himself for recommendations and this was one series he mentioned – he really is a keeper…

The Alliance has toppled the tyrannical empire. It should be a time for celebration, but not for fighter pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko. After barely surviving a crash in the final battle for freedom, she’s stranded on a dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her young daughter. She has no money or resources, and there are no transports heading to Perun, her former home and the last imperial stronghold. But she has a plan…

I love it that the reason driving our gutsy heroine is a desperate drive to be reunited to her daughter, now living with her sister-in-law. Once more I’m enjoying that it is family relationships pushing the plot forward in this space opera adventure. It immediately made me sympathetic to her mission, especially in that fabulous opening sequence in the feral scrapyard, inhabited by all sorts of nasty critters – including rats the size of small dogs, as well as the more unpleasant two-legged scavengers.

Alisa isn’t alone, though. Her partner is fellow soldier and brilliant engineer, Mica – and next to Alisa, Mica is my favourite sidekick. Her snarky, deadpan take on the world is both funny and insightful – while being unswervingly loyal to Alisa, even though she often doesn’t agree with some of Alisa’s riskier moves. Because one of Alisa’s early decisions in this book is to throw her luck in with the cyber-soldier who has taken up residence in the abandoned spacecraft, where she left it after her mother’s death.

Leonidas, the name the cyber-soldier eventually gives Alisa, was part on a lethal, elite unit who fought for the Empire, against Alisa and the Alliance. He clearly still isn’t happy to have been on the losing side and Alisa regrets having him on board as a passenger. You won’t be shocked to learn that their travel plans don’t work out. The research laboratory where Leonidas wants to be dropped off presents some unexpected, unwelcome surprises and the action was well-handled to the extent that I couldn’t put this one down. I haven’t read anything by Buroker before, but obviously I’ve heard of this prolific writer – and I now know why she is so popular.

I’ve been reading a shedload of sci fi, space opera during the last few weeks, but this one stands out for all the right reasons and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next one in this series. Very highly recommended for those who love good quality, character-led space opera adventure with plenty of humour.
10/10

#Sci Fi Month – Review of INDIE Ebook Battle Cruiser – Book 1 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #BattleCruiserbookreview

Standard

I spotted this one on my Kindle while looking for a good sci fi read and dived in. I’m so glad I did – and I’ll be linking it up with this month’s reading challenge – Sci Fi Month

A century ago our star erupted, destroying Earth’s wormhole network and closing off trade with her colonized planets. After being out of contact with the younger worlds for so many years, Humanity is shocked when a huge ship appears at the edge of the Solar System. Our outdated navy investigates, both curious and fearful.

This is fun! William Sparhawk is an interesting protagonist. Rigid and an unbending follower of the rules, he isn’t your average swashbuckling rebel – or is he? When you put him into the context of a stagnating society with his father the head of one of the main political parties who are arguing hard to cut back on the Star Guard who patrol the solar system. William is expected to serve as his father’s intern, ready to position himself as his father’s successor – after all, he had been partly cloned from his father’s genes. Instead, he joins up the Guard, persisting in serving despite the obvious and continued hostility from his superior officers who are convinced he is spying on behalf of his famous father. However, he isn’t – he genuinely believes in the values and purpose of the Guard and the obstacles placed in his way only harden his resolve to continue serving.

And then a particular mission takes a left turn into the weird… Larson is an experienced, skilled writer and it shows. The pacing, character progression and blending of action and explanation of the world works really well. To be honest, for those who like their worldbuilding detailed, this one will feel a bit fractured as we only see it from William’s viewpoint. But I’m fine with that – this is, after all, a trilogy so there is clearly more to come.

The action sequences in space work really well and as the classic fight against all overwhelming odds kicks off, Larson makes it both believable and gripping. I was genuinely relieved when some of the supporting characters also made it through, as I have a hunch that Larson won’t mind too much if a couple of said characters don’t make it through. As for the romance – I wasn’t quite so invested in it as I didn’t particularly warm to the object of William’s affections. However, that may well be intentional. I’ll find out in the next book – because I’m definitely going to be tracking down the next book in this entertaining series.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook The Long Black – Book 1 of The Black Chronicles by J.M. Anjewierden #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLongBlackbookreview

Standard

I’ll be honest – the main reason this one caught my attention was the striking resemblance to my own cover for Running Out of Space. Looking it up on Goodreads showed that it had garnered a lot of positive reviews, so I decided to check it out for myself and have linked my review up to Sci Fi month

Morgan always assumed that if she could survive growing up in the mines of Planet Hillman – feared for its brutal conditions and gravity twice that of Earth – she could survive anything. That was before she became a starship mechanic. Now she has to contend with hostile bosses, faulty equipment, and even taking care of her friend’s little girl. Once pirates show up, it’s a wonder she can get any work done at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s science fiction after my own heart – featuring a strong female protagonist with a rocky start and faced with all sorts of challenges in an interesting world where lots can go wrong very quickly… Firstly, Morgan – because she is the engine that drives this book forward and if you can’t care for her, then it simply doesn’t work. I very much liked the fact that she had loving parents who wanted the best for her – and that best becomes taking a huge risk on her behalf… Her tough early years and the family’s plight quickly drew me into the story, so I was invested in the character and found myself turning the pages to find out what happens next.

I like the fact that this didn’t plane out exactly like so many other science fiction tales – family issues still dominate this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t recall when childcare is a major deal in a space opera adventure and it was a delightful change to find it was a problem that Morgan finds herself coping with.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that this is sci fi kitchen sink drama – it isn’t. There are still many of the classic themes space opera fans relish – ftl travel; arriving on different planets and acclimatising to other worlds; hostile attention; bad people with bad intentions… they are all here.

The worldbuilding was enjoyable and worked as a strong backdrop to Morgan’s adventures and there is also an interesting cast of supporting characters, who I’m hoping will continue to develop alongside Morgan in the future. I’m delighted to see there is already a second book out in this series – indeed, I’ve already got hold of it. Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
9/10

#Sci Fi Month Review of INDIE Ebook On Silver Wings – Book 1 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie #Brainfluffbookreview #SciFiMonthOnSilverWingsbookreview

Standard

I’ve enjoyed Currie’s writing – see my review of Heirs of Empire – and this is a series Himself has been nagging suggesting that I read for a while now, so I’m linking my review with Sci Fi Month…

In the future, mankind has colonized other worlds, mined asteroid belts, and sent ships so far into the blackness of space that light from their drives won’t reach Earth for centuries. Through it all, life has been found in almost every system we visited and yet we’ve never encountered another intelligent species. Until now.

When the Colony on the planet known as Hayden’s World stops transmitting on their CASIMIR FTL system, a Solari Fleet Task Force is sent to investigate. When they arrive there are enough oddities in the situation that they in turn send in a special operations unit to contact the colonists and determine what happened. Only one of those operators survives to make planetfall. Sergeant Sorilla Aida finds herself against an alien force of unknown power and capability. Her only assets? A depleted suit of power armor, her rifle, basic kit, and a few hundred Hayden born civilians looking to take back their home. Just what she was trained for.

That is the starting point of the book and the opening sequence is punchy and full of drama. I love Sorilla and the cool high-tech toys she has to play with. I also enjoy the fact that the medical tech is also very whizzy and high-functioning so we don’t have a single soldier going up against a powerful alien enemy with a collection of serious injuries when by rights she shouldn’t be moving from a hospital bed. That’s a scenario I get a tad tired of in this sub-genre at times. Currie is careful to ensure the physical limits of his super-soldier are sufficiently realistic so that while I’m sympathetic and concerned about her pain – I’m not rolling my eyes at being yanked out of the story at the unfeasibility of it all.

Currie also handles the scene changes and inevitably wide cast of characters that have to be involved in this type of scenario without holding up the pace with lengthy info-dumps or those wincing, ‘As you know, Bob…’ conversations. I found some of the early engagements both exciting and the aftermath genuinely poignant. The outcomes matter – not just on an epic Earth-is-at-stake scale, but on the personal level where friends and lovers are lost.

There is plenty of action and tension to make me continue turning the pages in order to find out what happens next in this exciting military sci fi adventure. One of the reasons I wanted to continue turning those pages was to find out more about the mysterious aliens and their terrifying weapons. Currie’s deft handling of the steadily increasing bank of knowledge about these creatures was a major contribution to this enjoyable opener to this series. I now know why Himself kept banging on about it.

Highly recommended for fans of epic and engrossing military science fiction.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle #Brainfluffbookreview #Windhavenbookreview

Standard

While I cannot get on with his sprawling epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, I am a real fan of much of Martin’s writing – see my review of Tuf Voyaging here, and I also enjoyed Lisa Tuttle’s The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – see my review here. So it was a no-brainer that I would pounce on this one when I spotted it. I’m so glad I did – and I’ll be linking this review to Sci-Fi Month.

The planet of Windhaven was not originally a home to humans, but it became one following the crash of a colony starship. It is a world of small islands, harsh weather, and monster-infested seas. Communication among the scattered settlements was virtually impossible until the discovery that, thanks to light gravity and a dense atmosphere, humans were able to fly with the aid of metal wings made of bits of the cannibalized spaceship.

Many generations later, among the scattered islands that make up the water world of Windhaven, no one holds more prestige than the silver-winged flyers, who bring news, gossip, songs, and stories. They are romantic figures crossing treacherous oceans, braving shifting winds and sudden storms that could easily dash them from the sky to instant death. They are also members of an increasingly elite caste, for the wings—always in limited quantity—are growing gradually rarer as their bearers perish. With such elitism comes arrogance and a rigid adherence to hidebound tradition. And for the flyers, allowing just anyone to join their cadre is an idea that borders on heresy. Wings are meant only for the offspring of flyers—now the new nobility of Windhaven. Except that sometimes life is not quite so neat…

The story charts the fortunes of Maris, who we first meet as a small child, foraging for anything of value on the beach when she makes a life-changing encounter. She meets a flyer called Russ who picks the child up and treats her dream of being a flyer as something more than just the imaginings of some land-bound brat. He eventually adopts her and trains her – until unexpectedly, he has a son. Maris helps to bring the motherless boy up, until the terrible day when she is forced to hand over the wings she has been flying with. For she is not entitled to keep them – they belong to Coll, Russ’s son, even though he yearns to be a singer and has already caught the eye of one of the best professional singers on Windhaven, who wishes to train him. But tradition says that Coll must follow Russ as a flyer, despite his inability to feel the wind.

As we follow Maris and her battle to continue to fly, we also learn of the original colonists and how they accidentally encountered Windhaven. The worldbuilding is excellent with wonderful descriptions of the storms that regularly sweep the planet and the air currents that generally keep the flyers in the sky – and occasionally fling them into the sea. It is a hard, dangerous life and flyers keep to themselves, forming close ties with each other, while despising those who are not able to fly.

A particular decision is made that overturns a tradition that has begun to cause problems – and in a less nuanced, clever book, we would get a variety of adventures involving talented flyer Maris and that would be that. However in this book, decisions have consequences that no one foresaw. The rest of the book continues to follow what befalls Maris, while also exploring the fallout from those decisions and how they impact upon the traditional way of life on Windhaven for both flyers and land-bound alike. I love the way this plays out and how the previous faultlines in society are not only heightened but previous prejudices are also strengthened.

This is a clever, thoughtful book that nonetheless also delivers an engrossing story full of adventure and incident, featuring a sympathetic and believable protagonist. Highly recommended for fans of quality colony adventure… quality fantasy… quality books, basically. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
10/10