I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.
BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.
REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.
I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.
Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist. 9/10
I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…
BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.
The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…
I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen. 10/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with something TORN.
I’ve selected How To Break a Dragon’s Heart – Book 8 of the How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.
This offering was produced in August 2009 – though I cannot find out who published this edition. I really like it. The large red dragon, surrounded by the forest with the huge moon in the sky is a scene from the book and makes an attractive, eye-catching cover. But there’s a dealbreaker here. The title and author fonts are displayed clearly and in a suitably quirky style – but NOT the series number! Given there are twelve books in this series, and they all follow on, one from the other, so need to be read in the right order – this is a real issue. We got muddled, thanks to this omission and ended up reading a couple of the books the wrong way around – and yes, it spoilt it for Oscar, who hasn’t gone back and properly completed the series.
Published in November 2011, by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, this is another attractive, eye-catching offering. Poor old Hiccup being held in the palm of the Dragon Furious doesn’t look all that comfortable – and I rather like the fact that a series initially aimed at young boys features a pink background. Even more importantly, this edition has the series number clearly displayed.
This edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s books, is the cover that came to mind when I was searching for TORN covers. I love this one – the ripped section showing the huge dragon on the other side of the rather battered covering. Cowell initially wanted the covers to look rather scruffy and blotted, as so many boys cannot produce neat tidy work. Hence the spattered, rather scribbly nature of the drawings inside… But, despite loving the design, I’m not choosing it. Because book covers should aid the reading experience by giving all the necessary information. And this one doesn’t fulfil the brief.
This German edition, published in March 2016 by Arena Verlag, is my least favourite. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with it, other than it reminds me far too much of the vanilla film franchise, where Hiccup is cool and good-looking, with Toothless as a special, rare dragon and he has a little group of admirers who generally follow his escapades. So unlike the books and the ethos behind them – where Hiccup is one of the awkward, nerdy kids that regularly gets bullied by Snotlout and his gang. And Toothless is constantly naughty and far too small to ride. But I can’t deny that it is an attractive cover, if rather generic.
This Russian edition, published by Азбука, Азбука-Аттикус in 2015, is my favourite. I love the look in the dragon’s eyes as Hiccup offers him his freedom. Part amusement, part contempt, part loathing… And all the relevant, important information is suitably displayed. I also like the slight grubbiness of the background – this isn’t supposed to be a book that looks too shiny and finished. What about you – which is your favourite?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
After having been away for a couple of weeks, this last week has been a blur of catching up – but also resuming activities I haven’t done since before Lockdown in March. Like attending my first Fitstep session on Wednesday, and teaching Tim on Friday. I am very thankful that I’d had those two weeks away in Bexhill, where we went out every single day for at least a walk along the seafront and occasionally for a coffee or lunch at the wonderful art deco Pavillion, where their safeguarding measures are the best I’ve seen, anywhere. My pictures this week come from Bexhill, again…
So I’ve lost the tight-knit knot of fear that used to appear every time I’d walked through my back gate, masked up to face a world full of jagged differences. Just as well, really. Last Sunday, I drove to Basingstoke accompanied by my younger sister to visit our youngest sibling, who was celebrating her 50th birthday. Instead of having the large family celebration she’d wanted, we all took turns to pop in to see her to ensure we didn’t break the Rule of Six and she had an ongoing series of visitors over the weekend, all organised by her husband. So it was a complete surprise to her as to who would be turning up on her doorstep. The catch was that the road we normally take was closed for some reason – so while we got there on time, we’d wandered down some very, very narrow roads via the detour. On the way home, while following an alternative route, we managed to get magnificently lost. However, the journey was on A-roads that wound through open countryside and through tree-covered tunnels, with rich, buttery Autumn sunshine slipping through the greenery. It was absolutely beautiful – and even though I didn’t have a clue where we were, I recall looking around feeling very glad to just be there. Fortuntely, soon afterwards, we arrived on the outskirts of Chichester and just half an hour from home on familiar roads.
On Thursday, I drove over to see my daughter and grandchildren which was lovely – it seemed far too long since I’d seen them. I couldn’t get over how many more words Eliza now has – she’s a real little chatterbox, so very much like her mother at the same age! On Friday, Himself and I returned to pick up Frank after school and bring him to stay, so I had a chance to catch up with him. It’s his GCSE year, so he’s working hard towards his mock exams in a year where everything is so very different.
Last week I read: The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths PS: thanks for the murders. The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death. But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her… And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to… And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure… Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all. This intriguing murder mystery continues the literary theme started in the previous book. It isn’t a cosy, but it certainly seems to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s type of whodunit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Lost Hero – Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan JASON HAS A PROBLEM. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything—except that everything seems very wrong.
PIPER HAS A SECRET. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.
LEO HAS A WAY WITH TOOLS. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts? Well this was huge fun and nicely filled the gap left since I finished listening to Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. And I’m delighted to see that we have all the books – so I shall be enjoying more of these, too. Review to follow.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. This is a brilliant read. I absolutely loved it, but I did find it something of a struggle, as the poor Eastwood sisters had a very rough time of it and I’m not really in the place to read such grim grittiness. But that isn’t the author’s fault – and I will be reviewing it in due course.
It’s been a crazy week – full of resuming threads of my old life, as well as catching up. What I’m no longer doing is sitting at the computer until stupid o’clock to continue working. So no posts to recommend again this week, I’m afraid. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with SPIDER WEBS. I’ve selected Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series and Book 35 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
This edition was produced by Corgi Childrens in July 2010. This is the cover that caused me to choose it for this theme, given that the scene is swathed in spider webs. I do have a soft spot for this cover as it is the one I have on my own copy of the book – and given that this story holds a special place in my heart, I have a real fondness for it. But it isn’t my favourite.
Published in October 2006 by HarperTempest, this is another strong contender. I really like it – the snowflakes make an attractive addition and the fact we don’t see Tiffany’s face gives it a sense of mystery and allows me to continue with my own imagined appearance for one of my favourite young protagonists. I’m also delighted that one of the Nac Mac Feegle makes an appearance. When my grandson was reading this series, ‘Crivens!’ became a favourite family exclamation…
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in September 2007, is my favourite. It encapsulates the style of the original Discworld covers – and again we have three of the main Nac Mac Feegle warriors – Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie and Big Yan. I love the font and overall design. And while I’m aware that Pratchett’s name doesn’t appear to be very visible – it is highly likely to be embossed, seeing as it is on all our covers.
This edition, produced by HarperCollins in September 2015 is the only one not featuring any of the colourful characters from the story. But nonetheless, it is an attractive cover. I love the three-D effect of the title font with the green leaves twining through it and the author font is nicely balanced. The deep blue shading into the black works well with the sense of chill and coldness evoked by the title. My only misgiving is that this title doesn’t convey the humour of this story – unlike all the other designs.
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in May 2017, is also a contender. I love this one. Lots of drama and movement, with a cool graphic novel treatment of Tiffany Aching on her broomstick, giving those Nac Mac Feegle a lift. The snowflakes, flowing cloak and antics of those naughty blue men provide sufficient appeal for the younger market – though this one is too good to just leave to the children. It was so nearly my favourite, but I did feel the title was just a bit too small. Which is your favourite?
BLURB:A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.
However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.
The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I am still struggling with my energy levels – it feels as though I’m wading through treacle. So it’s been a quiet week, other than a meeting on Friday with Sally and Tim to discuss his upcoming year. He has worked on an impressive number of projects since Lockdown started and it was lovely seeing him. I’m looking forward to teaching him again.
The photos this week are from our 25th Wedding Anniversary visit to the Ashdown Forest, when we got lost. I look that the bright sunshine with wistful yearning. The second half of the week has turned really chilly with a biting northerly blowing and I want the warm weather back!
Last week I read:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage… This is a cracking historical murder mystery and I particularly enjoyed the denouement, which was extremely well done. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Lies Sleeping – Book 7 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.
But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees. It’s been a while since I read any books in this series – but I loved the fabulous narration by Kobna Holbrook-Smith, who did a stunning job in bringing Peter Grant to life. Review to follow.
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war. I loved this one! Elliott’s gift for producing compelling characters and intriguing worlds worked really well. There are also a couple of cracking battle scenes, too… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island.
Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet . . . This is yet another gem from Frank’s Audible backlist – I absolutely loved it and was definitely in the mood for the quirky humour and series of mishaps that follow Harry and Uncle Tristram. Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Managing Expectations, One Book at a Time https://writerunboxed.com/2020/09/24/managing-expectations-one-book-at-a-time/While this is aimed at writers, I also think is something that is something that readers should consider. That famous second-book slump might also be partly caused by our feverish anticipation to be transported back to that surprising, new place we’d discovered – only to find the excited expectation leads to disappointment…
I put this one down feeling rather conflicted. It’s an ambitious book in its scope, as Stivers attempts to take the classic apocalyptic lethal plague scenario and give it an interesting twist.
BLURB: The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?
REVIEW: After I started reading this one, I discovered that Stivers is a scientist – which is evident by all the techy details she became engrossed in, which as far as I was concerned, slightly held up the pace. This book isn’t presented as a hard sci fi read – and the fact that a lot of the science surfaced at several crucial points, where the pacing should have been increasing didn’t help my bonding with the main characters. I think this book had the potential to be a truly great read – but Stivers hasn’t quite pulled it off and that is because the story can’t make up its mind what it’s trying to do. It could have been a quirky, hard sci fi adventure about how saving the species got messed up from the viewpoint of the key scientists as the survivors desperately try to outwit the lethal robots protecting them. Or it could have been a gritted survival adventure from the viewpoint of the children battling to stay alive in the desert, accompanied by their robotic mothers. But what Stivers tried to do was straddle both stories and the result is a bit of a hot mess, particularly by the end.
I found it a rather frustrating read, because just as I was starting to care about one of the characters, the viewpoint shifted yet again, which meant that I didn’t bond with anyone in the book, though I came close to caring about poor little Kai and James Said. It didn’t help that I’m not a fan of the apocalyptic scenario where there is a steady attrition of main characters, but in fairness to me – this one wasn’t marketed as that kind of book. It’s a shame, because Stivers isn’t a bad writer and if only she’d had an editor who had given her more clarity as to what she really wanted to do with this story, it could have been awesome. Apparently, Stephen Spielberg has bought the rights to the story, and I’ll be interested to see if he’ll tell the more interesting, quirkier story – or turn it into a Hollywood cliché.
Recommended for fans who enjoy their apocalyptic adventures with a dollop of hard sci fi. The ebook arc copy of The Mother Code was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 7/10
I have been listening to this series throughout 2019 and thoroughly enjoying this modern take on the Greek myths from the perspective of a dyslexic demi-god, who is aged twelve when the series starts with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
BLURB: All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of a victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.
REVIEW: If you’re thinking there seems to be some striking similarities to Harry Potter, another magical youngster, you’d be right – there are. But there are also some important differences. Riordan’s stitching of Percy’s rather fractured family life and learning difficulties onto the ancient Greek myths is the vital ingredient that lifts this series into something really special. I think it’s been done very well, so that now Percy is approaching his sixteenth birthday, which is surrounded by a particularly doom-laden prophesy, just as the gods and titans are set for a bloody rematch of their first apocalyptic battle – you’ll realise the stakes couldn’t be higher. Whatever you do, don’t plunge into this book without reading at least the previous two first, although ideally you’d go back to the beginning, as there is a linked narrative running across the books. While each story encapsulates a single adventure, there is an ongoing progression all leading towards this, the final book.
This means the scene-setting and battles all have to be sufficiently climactic and engrossing to satisfy the reader’s raised expectations, or this series will end with a whimper, rather than a bang. Riordan triumphantly achieves this by writing a series of fabulous battles in Manhattan, not just featuring Percy, but also satisfactorily concluding the narrative arcs of all the main cast that have accompanied Percy on his journey. In amongst the mayhem and desperate fighting, with inevitable losses and heartbreak, there are a steady stream of sardonic asides that provide welcome shafts of humour throughout.
As this falls somewhere between a children’s and YA read, there is also a bit of romance, which has been bubbling away in the background through the previous two books, in particular. There were two girls Percy was attracted to – not that he did all that much about it, so thank goodness we have no dreaded love triangle. I find it endearing that our skilled swordsman turns into a clammy mess in the presence of the girls in his life… Needless to say, that strand is also wrapped up. Overall, this is a really strong conclusion to an entertaining series that also teaches a fair bit about the ancient Greek gods along the way. Highly recommended for children of all ages. 9/10