Tag Archives: Connie Willis

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 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 a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.

 

Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.

 

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.

Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…

Review of AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis #Brainfluffbookreview #ToSayNothingoftheDogbookreview

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I always enjoy this author’s writing – see my review of Crosstalk and her masterful book, the first in this series, Doomsday Book. So when the Cap from Captain’s Quarters reviewed this book in glowing terms – I needed to track it down, and when I saw there was an audio version of it, I promptly bought it. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

This is a complete joy, perfectly narrated by Stephen Crossley. Poor Ned finds himself on a river trip that borrows a lot from Jerome K Jerome’s wonderful classic Three Men in a Boat – to the extent that Ned even has a fleeting meeting between the characters featured in the book and himself. Humour is highly subjective and I’m always a bit hesitant when the blurb blithely assures me I will find this book hilarious, as far too often I find it just annoying. But Willis’s lovely humour runs through this book in a rich vein without ever expecting it to prop up the story or be an adequate replacement for a decent plot – something far too many comedic books try to do. In fact, the plotting of this offering is one of its major strengths. Lady Sharples has tasked Ned to find a piece of artwork called The Bishop’s Bird Stump, which is supposed to have survived the WWII bombing of Coventry Cathedral. While boating up the Thames, Ned finds himself caught up in an entanglement caused by another historian who manages to save a cat and bring it forward in time – something not supposed to happen. Time travelling can be problematical as a plot device, but I really like the fact there are strict rules regarding what can and cannot happen in this version of time travel.

Events spiral out of control as there is one muddle and misunderstanding after another, all perfectly paced so that I didn’t get tired or fed up with any type of improbability. Apart from anything else, the characters are all the joy with their quirky eccentricity and sheer likeability. All in all, this is one of my favourite reads of the year and gave me some wonderful shafts of humour at a time when I really needed it. I love it when books do that.

Very highly recommended for fans of time travelling stories, or anyone with a fondness for Three Men in Boat.
10/10

Sunday Post – 8th December, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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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’m sounding like a cracked record, I know – but it’s been another busy week… A real mixture, to be honest. The grim bits – my dental appointment, though it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, even if the bill was. And the funeral of my cousin, who died too soon, cut down by cancer. We weren’t close, hadn’t been since we’d played together as children. But it’s a body blow nonetheless. The service was very simple, but also warm and moving as his friend recalled his generosity and madcap humour. While outside the wind howled and the rain fell sideways…

The much better bits – and while I’m aware some of these may sound trivial in comparison, I’ve learnt to hold onto and treasure the little things that can cast a bit of a glow against winter storms and loss… I had a much-overdue hair appointment, so I now no longer look quite so bedraggled; singing Happy Birthday as my eldest grandson blows out fifteen candles on his birthday cake; watching my mother unwrap her birthday presents over a very nice meal and laughing with my parents over a piece of nonsense; Himself’s steady recovery from his shoulder injury and a lovely walk along the beach with him; a meal with my sister and nephew son to celebrate her move; my son unexpectedly coming to stay for the weekend…

Last week I read:

Night Train to Murder – Book 8 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
When Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are asked to escort a VIP on the late-night train to Bath, it would appear to be a routine case. The Organisation has acquired intelligence that an attempt is to be made on Sir Dennis Gregson’s life as he travels to Bath to take up his new position as Head of the British Psychic Weapons Division. Ishmael’s mission is to ensure that Sir Dennis arrives safely. How could anyone orchestrate a murder in a crowded railway carriage without being noticed and with no obvious means of escape? When a body is discovered in a locked toilet cubicle, Ishmael Jones has just 56 minutes to solve a seemingly impossible crime before the train reaches its destination.
This paranormal thriller is another enjoyable addition to this series, where nothing is as it seems, including the mysterious Ishamael, and the drama is lightened by enjoyable splashes of dark humour. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.
This audiobook has been a complete joy. Engrossing, funny and very clever without leaving the listener stranded – I love Ned and Verity and the rest of the quirky characters that get snarled up in this farcical adventure. Review to follow.

 

The Festival Murders – Book 1 of the Francis Meadowes mysteries by Mark McCrum
At the start of one of the English summer’s highlights, the annual literary festival in the pretty little country town of Mold-on-Wold, famous critic Bryce Peabody is found dead in his bed at the White Hart Hotel. At first it seems as if fifty-something Bryce might have succumbed to a heart attack, but the forensics team soon uncover evidence of something more sinister. Bryce had made many enemies in the past, with his scandalous private life and scathing reviews. Could it be that one of the many writers he insulted in print has taken a bitter revenge? Or perhaps there’s a more personal reason? Unable to help himself, crime writer Francis Meadowes, who is also staying at the White Hart, is drawn into a role he knows only from his own fiction, that of amateur detective.
A classic whodunit featuring a steady steam of likely suspects, a likeable protagonist – and it’s set at the literary festival. How could I resist? Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of AUDIOBOOK Fledgling – Book 2 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper

Friday Faceoff featuring Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

Review of The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams

Review of The Bear and the Mermaid by Ailish Sinclair

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Festival Murders – Book 1 of the Francis Meadowes mysteries by Mark McCrum

Review of Trail of Lightning – Book 1 of the Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Sunday Post 1st December 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

New Christmas Music of 2019 https://comfortreads13.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/new-christmas-music-of-2019/ There – I’ve finally mentioned the ‘C’ word. And Jess has rounded up some new festive tunes if you’re sick of some of the old standards…

The Interesting Meaning and History of the Phrase ‘Raining Cats and Dogs’ https://interestingliterature.com/2019/12/07/meaning-history-phrase-raining-cats-and-dogs/ Given the rainy weather we endured throughout November – and that ferocious storm that raged through Friday – I thought this was both apt and fascinating.

Five Holiday Challenges Only Writers Will Understand https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/12/holiday-challenges-writers-understand/ While Kristen may have directed her comments at writers – I think a number of introverted readers could also empathise…

…Christmas joint blog tour and giveaways… Oh come all ye faithful readers… https://seumasgallacher.com/2019/12/03/christmas-joint-blog-tour-and-giveaways-o-come-all-ye-faithful-readers/ Indie author and fellow blogger Seumas Gallacher has teamed up with other successful authors to offer a festive package of books…

7 Nonfiction Gift Ideas that Will Win the Holidays this Season! https://amanjareads.com/2019/12/01/7-nonfiction-gift-ideas-that-will-win-the-holidays-this-season/ Amanja has come up with a delightfully quirky list of amusing non-fiction books that might provide the perfect gift those difficult-to-please members of the family…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Friday Faceoff – Checkmate

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is black and white covers, so I’ve chosen Blackout – Book 1 of the All Clear series by Connie Willis.

 

This cover produced by Spectra Books in February 2010 is the original. I love the way we get small bubbles of action in amongst the shifting dark pattern – an attractive design that nicely echoes the content of this time-travelling adventure. This one is my favourite.

 

This offering was produced by Gollancz in June 2011 and is another strong contender. The cloud revealing the London skyline from the surrounding black cover is another strong, simple design that is both eye-catching and effective.

 

This French edition was published by J’ai lu in March 2014. The iconic view of Westminster surrounded by smoke smearing the sky would certainly make me look again and though I’m not a fan of solid blocks of colour as a backdrop for the title and author, this time the blue works very well.

 

Produced in September 2010 by Allen and Unwin, this Kindle edition is another successful effort. The greyscale shading works well as the girl is unmistakeably from the late 1930s/early 1940s. The red tinge near the top of the cover just behind the ruin gives a slight sense of menace – and a big clue as to the setting of the book.

 

Published in February 2010 by Spectra Books, this hardback edition is the most generic of the covers and my least favourite. It has clearly been taken from a photograph of the time and I think the overall design is further weakened by a rather limp title font. Which cover do you like best – and which is your least favourite?

 

Favourite Time Travelling Novels – Part 1

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Loreen had posted a number of time travelling novels – which was when I recalled that I’m really fond of this genre and wanted to share my own selection with you…

Doomsday Book – Book 1 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as doomsdayreceiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received. But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

This is one of my outstanding reads, ever. I love this book – it is such an intelligent, layered read, with splashes of dry humour amongst the fear and terror. See my review here.

 

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
thetimetravelerswifeClare, a beautiful, strong-minded art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock randomly resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable, and lend a spectacular urgency to Clare and Henry’s unconventional love story. That their attempt to live normal lives together is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control.

This remarkable book is not just about Henry – it’s main protagonist is Clare, who is scooped up in the middle of this adventure before she is old enough to make a choice. An issue that she eventually resents… I love Niffenegger’s leap of imagination to consider how it must be to live alongside someone with this ability. The film doesn’t come close in doing justice to the book, by the way.

 

 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
“I’ve had a most amazing time….”thetimemachine
So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him his reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well. Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight, The Time Machine will continue to enthral readers for generations to come.

I read this first when I was a teenager and I reread in my 20s, still impressed with Wells’ prescience. If you haven’t encountered this one, I highly recommend it.

 

 

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
tomsmidnightgardenLying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

Like many children’s classics, this haunting, bittersweet book is worth reading no matter how old you are. I have often thought it’s because both protagonists are children is the main reason why it has ended up in that genre. Tom, the visitor from the future, and Hannah, the imperious Victorian girl who always seems to be playing alone in the garden, no matter the weather have lodged in my mind ever since I encountered this book when I read it to a class a long time ago.

 

 

Lightning by Dean Koonz
In the midst of a raging blizzard, lightning struck on the night Laura Shane was born. And a mysterious lightningblond-haired stranger showed up just in time to save her from dying. Years later, in the wake of another storm, Laura will be saved again. For someone is watching over her. But just as lightning illuminates, darkness always follows close behind.

I haven’t read all that much Koonz, but I really enjoyed this time-travelling thriller, where it is the shadowy character who keeps appearing to keep Laura safe who is the most intriguing person – see my review here.

 

 

In the Garden of Iden – Book 1 of The Company novels by Kage Baker
inthegardenofidenThis is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company

This remarkable series is part of brilliant premise that is played out over seven novels and the first five are stunningly good – the dreadfully named Mendoza in Hollywood is one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you enjoy time-travelling books then get hold of this series – while the final two do get a bit silly, it’s worth it for Mendoza’s fantastic story up to that point.

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – September Roundup

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This is the month where the summer break finishes and I resume my teaching at moonNorthbrook College and with Tim. It was also busy as I had a long week-end away at my mother’s where we caught up and enjoyed a bit of retail therapy then at the end of the month, J and I travelled up to Scarborough to Fantasycon 2016.

• While I, inevitably didn’t read so many books during September, completing thesummergoddessonly nine, the lack of quantity was more than made up for by the quality. Another joyous month with a slew of wonderful reads. I loved E.D.E. Bell’s The Fettered Flame – her worlds are intriguing and post pertinent questions about what happens to those who aspire to step outside the norms of society. Crosstalk by Connie Willis was huge fun with a serious message under all the mayhem, necessitywhile Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger piratical space opera tale was engrossing. But my standout reads this month were Joanne Hall’s The Summer Goddess and the final book in Jo Walton’s amazing Thessaly Trilogy, Necessity.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me. I nailed this challenge last month, but am pleased the Netgalley arcs I’ve requested continue to delight. I was also delighted to have a line from one of my reviews appear on the paperback edition of Lesley Thomson’s best-selling novel The House With no Rooms. And last week, Netgalley have informed me I have reviewed 80% of the arcs I’ve requested.

• I have continued to submit my work. Hopefully, my main rewriting project, of the summer is on the final lap – I started editing Netted in the last week of September and should have it ready to resubmit by the end of this week. I also received detailed, very helpful feedback on Miranda’s Tempest. I can now see how to improve it, so will be starting on a major rewrite of that manuscript as soon as I have the time.
Challenge – To continue to submit my work.

I had hoped to have made a start on Bloodless – that was in the plan I made at the start of the year, anyhow. However, I hadn’t factored in the major rewrite of Netted or major surgery on Miranda’s Tempest. While rewrites don’t take up quite the amount of time and effort of a first draft, I certainly cannot consider writing one book and editing another – I wish I could, but I’m too much of a mono-tasker, sadly.

I wrote just over 10,000 words on my blog in September and more than 15,000 words on my course notes and teaching admin, so my monthly wordcount came to just over 25,000. This brings my total for the year so far to just under 227,000 words. Have you had any schedules or plans for reading, writing or blogging this year go peelie-wally?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Crosstalk by Connie Willis

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Connie Willis is in that special category of writers as having been the author of one of my all-time favourite novels, Doomsday Book – see my review here. I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted this offering on Netgalley and was blown away when my request for the arc was accepted.

Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept crosstalk(‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings. Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her – he wants her to feel it. Everything is perfect. The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD – which they will – they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later. Only Apple are poised to deliver an amazing new product and she has to be one step ahead …if she can only persuade their tech genius, C. B., to drop his crazy ideas about a ‘privacy phone’ with its ‘do not disturb’ settings, and focus on what people really want: more efficient, instinctive and immediate ways to communicate. The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and – for Briddey – a chance for love at the heart of it all.

For those of you who have read Doomsday Book and fear this is yet another slice of armageddon, this story ticks at a fair clip with plenty of laughs along the way. We are immediately whirled up into the world of corporate gossip and concerns about how the latest launch will impact on jobs – as well as the carnivorous interest shown in fellow workers’ love lives. Especially when the latest happy couple both work for the same company. But Briddey is also fending off her family’s less than delighted reaction at her plans to commit to new boyfriend, Trent, by having a cutting-edge procedure that will make them neutrally more sensitive to each other’s emotions. However when they get bumped to the top of the very long waiting list and the operation comes around far more quickly, Briddey finds there are some unintended consequences.

The plotting is pitch-perfect. We are tipped right into the middle of Briddey’s busy, connective world where she constantly juggles a number of conversations, both private and professional. As the story picks up pace and shoots off in directions I didn’t see coming, I found the book increasingly hard to put down and whenever I thought about it, I found myself grinning. That said, don’t go away that this is a piece of happy fluff, because there are compelling scenes full of terror as Briddey teeters on the brink of destruction and madness. And help comes from an unexpected quarter – except that it isn’t remotely unexpected. Anyone who has ever read a romantic comedy will know the bloke with messy hair is going feature in some way.

What is far less predictable is where the story about mental connectedness is going – and I loved the twists and turns, as well as the science behind it that Willis slips into the narrative. Any grizzles? Well, Briddey’s intrusive extended family includes a very precocious nine-year-old niece. Given the nature of her role in the story, I felt she should have been at least eleven – while she is clearly exceptional, my experience of nine-year-olds under pressure is that those two extra years make a huge difference to a child’s confidence and sense of self.

That said, it isn’t a dealbreaker and I also love that under the mayhem and comedy, Willis is raising some pertinent and searching questions about our current obsession about staying in touch with each other. A highly recommended read.

I received the arc from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 20th September, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
76% Set me up is right, Briddey thought as he shut the door behind her. She went over to the table. On itcrosstalk were a pair of headphones, a microphone, a pencil, and a sheet of paper with numbers down the side.

BLURB: Briddey is about to get exactly what she thinks she wants . . . Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept (‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings. Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her – he wants her to feel it.

Everything is perfect.

The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD – which they will – they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later.

The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and – for Briddey – a chance for love at the heart of it all.

This very-near future romantic comedy is an absolute joy. Yes – it’s funny, brimming with vivid characters and a typical twist in Briddey’s personal life that has me firmly onside and hoping she ends up with the right chap. But underneath all the amusing mayhem, Willis’s gimlet focus is gunning for our current obsession to be connected 24/7 to the world around us. Sooo… what would happen if that was really possible?

Friday Faceoff – Dead Men Tell No Tales

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This is a new meme started by Books by Proxy, to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the better. This week I’ve taken the idea in a slightly different direction – the book I’ve selected is a classic which has had a series of covers over the years, so I decided to pick the best.

I encountered Doomsday Book by Connie Willis in early 2013, and was blown away by the book – and it was from the library in this SF Masterworks series. I really love the striking difference of the cover, with the grim figure on the front. If I have a quibble, it is that it doesn’t convey the touches of humour that run through this outstanding read.

doomsday

And here is the SFBC 50th Anniversary edition, published in 2007. There are a variety of other covers for this book, but for me – this is the winner. Yes… there is still the brooding menace of death in this, but this cover also manages to convey more effectively the time travelling element and other major story strands. I think it is beautiful and unusual – and entirely apt. And this is the cover that wins it for me.

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What about you – do you agree with me? Have you read this book? If you haven’t, I strongly recommend it – it isn’t the bleak, miserable trudge you might imagine looking at the title and cover. In fact, it is a gripping time travel adventure with a fair amount of humour – and one of my all-time favourite reads.

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.