Tag Archives: contemporary fantasy

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018 #Brainfluffbookblogger #MyOutstandingReadsoftheYear2018

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It’s been another great reading year with loads of choice within my favourite genres, so I ended up reading 162 books with 125 reviews published and another 23 in hand. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out from the rest in the best way. Some of them might not even have garnered a 10 from me at the time – but all those included have lodged in my head and won’t go away. And none of this nonsense about a top 10 – I can’t possibly cope with a limit like that.

The Stone Sky – Book 3 The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The whole trilogy is an extraordinary read – a mash-up between fantasy and science fiction and sections of it written in second person pov. It shouldn’t work, but it does because her imagination and prose fuses together to make this more than a sum of its parts. See my review.

 

Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
I like this author’s writing anyway and I’m a sucker for a well-told space opera adventure, so I read a fair few. However, something about this one has stuck – I often find myself thinking about those passengers on the space liner and the crew looking after them, while marooned by a malign presence. See my review.

 

The Cold Between – A Central Corps novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This is the start of a gripping space opera adventure with interestingly nuanced characters, whose reactions to the unfolding situation around them just bounces off the page. I love it when space opera gets all intelligent and grown-up… See my review.

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E. McKenna
This fantasy adventure is set in contemporary Britain with the protagonist very much hampered by his fae ancestry and trying to discover more about that side of his family. It gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end, when I sulked for days afterwards because I wanted more. See my review.

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
This is such a smart, clever premise. The paralysed young protagonist is able to live a nearly-normal life because his consciousness is uploaded into a robot, when he pursues a career fighting crime. Science fiction murder mysteries are one of my favourite genres, when it’s done well – and this is a great example. See my review.

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been an outstanding series – and this tight-wound thriller is no exception. I love the fact that Newman tackles the subject of motherhood, which isn’t a subject that comes up all that often in science fiction. See my review.

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
I’ve been haunted by this book ever since I read it. It’s not long and the language is very simple. The little boy telling the story is bright and funny and not remotely self pitying. When I started reading it, I assumed it was set in a post-apocalyptic future – and then discovered that it was set right now and is the distilled experience of children from all over the world. And I wept. See my review.

 

The Wild Dead – Book 2 of The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn
This was the most delightful surprise. This is another murder mystery set in the future – this time in post-apocalyptic America once law and order has been re-established. I loved the atmosphere, the society and the above all, I fell in love with Enid, the no-nonsense, practical lawgiver sent to sort out the puzzle of a body of a girl that nobody appears to know. See my review.

 

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
As well as being a story of a family, this is also a homage to Alaska and a time when it was a wilder, less organised place. It isn’t one of my normal reads, but my mother sent me this one as she thought I’d love it – and, being my mum, she was right. See my review.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee
I’ve come to know the author from her amazing blog and was happy to read a review copy of her book – what I wasn’t prepared for was the way her powerful, immersive style sucked me right into the skin of the main character. This contemporary fantasy is sharp-edged, punchy and very memorable. See my review.

 

Eye Can Write: a memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging by Jonathan Bryan
This is another amazing read, courtesy of my lovely mum. And again, she was right. This is a non-fiction book, partly written by Jonathan’s mother and partly written by Jonathan himself, whose severe cerebral palsy locked him into his body, until he found a way to communicate with the outside world using one letter at a time. See my review.

 

Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
This remarkable colony world adventure is about a girl yearning to break into the closed community of flyers – and what happens when she does. I love a book all about unintended consequences and this intelligent, thought-provoking read thoroughly explores the problems, as well as the advantages of throwing open this elite corps to others. See my review.

 

Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 of Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor
I loved her first trilogy – but this particular book has her writing coming of age. The lyrical quality of her prose and her amazing imagination has her odd protagonist pinging off the page. See my review.

 

Battle Cruiser – Book 1 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson
This is just such fun. William Sparhawk is a rigidly proper young captain trying to make his way in the face of enmity from his superiors due to his family connections, when he’s pitchforked right into the middle of a ‘situation’ and after that, the tale takes off and buckets along with all sorts of twists and turns that has William becoming less rigid and proper… See my review.

 

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
That this author is a huge talent is a given – and what she does with a tale about a vampire on the run in a city that has declared it is a no-go area for the destructive creatures is extraordinary. Review to follow.

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I’ll be honest – I liked and appreciated the skill of this book as I read it, but I didn’t love it. The characters were too flawed and unappealing. But it won’t leave me alone. I find myself thinking about the premise and the consequences – and just how right the setup is. And a book that goes on doing that has to make the list, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Review to follow.

Are there any books here that you’ve read? And if so, do you agree with me? What are your outstanding reads for last year?

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#Sunday Post – 27th May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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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.

This week has been good, but busy. Tim is working well towards his writing exam – I am so impressed at how well he rises to each occasion. We have been also discussing the Star Wars films as he has recently become a big fan and we are both eagerly anticipating Solo.

The Creative Writing courses are going well, as my students are producing a marvellous range of favourite pieces of writing, both poetry and prose, to present to the rest of the group, in addition to their own work. On Thursday, Mhairi, my writing buddy and marketing guru came over and ensured that I am now GDPR compliant – she is a wonder! This weekend, the grandchildren have come to stay – and unusually, the weather stayed absolutely fabulous. On Saturday evening, my sister came over to have a roast dinner and while Himself toiled in the kitchen, we sat on the garden swing, watching the children playing a lively game of boules and basking in the sun, admiring the swaying mass of aquilegia – or grannybonnets, which is their country name.

This morning, I’m taking them over to the local leisure centre, along with Tim, for a clip’n climb session. We’ll be returning them home this evening – the weekend has zipped by far too fast as they are such good company. I hope you all have a great week and for those of you also enjoying half term, let’s hope the hot spell lasts…

This week I have read:

Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by Claire Legrand
When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first. A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.
This epic fantasy caught my eye – first due to that amazing cover – and then when I realised that the main protagonists were women. It is an enjoyable, well written tale, full of incident and emotion – along with a nice leavening of humour.

 

The Watchmaker’s Daughter – Book 1 of the Glass and Steele series by C.J. Archer
India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch…
This entertaining romantic historical fantasy has one of the best opening scenes I’ve encountered in a long while – both humorous and desperate. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, despite not being a huge fan of romance. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe
Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student. It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture…
This YA fantasy is both dark and funny. Zircon makes a wonderful protagonist and I’m hoping that Crowe produces more in this world – it is a joy. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 20th May 2018

Review of A Pair of Docks – Book 1 of The Derivatives of Displacement series by Jennifer Ellis

Teaser Tuesday featuring Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Drop by Drop – Book 1 of the Step by Step by Morgan Llewelyn

Buddyread Review of Willnot by James Sallis

Friday Face-off – Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going… featuring Feet of Clay – Book 19 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by Claire Legrand

 

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

Steve Earle, Patty Loveless, The Proclaimers & Eddi Reader – My Old Friend The Blues https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2018/05/10/steve-earle-patty-loveless-the-proclaimers-eddi-reader-my-old-friend-the-blues/ Thom’s wonderful blog is a must-visit experience for anyone who enjoys music and this article is another gem…

Monday Funnies… https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/monday-funnies-4/ It doesn’t have to be Monday to have a laugh.

Kathpulis or puppets show https://historyofkingpanwars.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/kathputlis-or-puppets-show/ I loved this article about something I knew nothing about…

Conducting Informational Interview for Story Research https://writershelpingwriters.net/2018/05/conducting-informational-interviews-for-story-research/ A wonderful, informative article about how to go about this by my great writing friend, Sara Letourneau…

What times we’ve lived through. https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/what-times-weve-lived-through/ Jacey Bedford describes how her investigation into her past also informs and enriches her writing as well as her life…

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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I requested this book from Netgalley far too long ago with the intention of reading and reviewing it – but got a tad overwhelmed. Better late than never…

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought. . . On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. And on the journey Denizen discovers there are things out there that by rights should only exist in storybooks – except they’re all too real.

knightsoftheborroweddarkThat’s the slightly tweaked blurb – the original version gave away nearly a quarter of the plot, which is a shame because this tightly constructed, page-turner doesn’t deserve to be to be compromised by spoilers. Denizen is a cagey, awkward character who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve – unsurprising, given the orphanage doesn’t come across as a place where much nurturing takes place. But I thoroughly enjoyed him as a protagonist.

His reaction to all the danger and the worn warriors he finds himself alongside is realistic and understandable. I really liked the fact that while he admires them, he is also resentful and grumpy at times, particularly with his elusive aunt who makes a point of avoiding him. This particular order of knights wear armour, wield swords and practice battle skills and aggressive spells ceaselessly. But they are also to some extent traumatised and exhausted, expecting to die in battle at some stage and while Denizen stays with them, several of the order try to persuade him to leave and lead an ordinary, safe life.
This is a very gritty fantasy, with some genuinely terrifying creatures oozing out of the woodwork and terrorising folks simply because they like inflicting fear and hurt. This enjoyable book may ping with tension and be full of adventure and action – but this isn’t some blithe swords and sorcery romp. Alongside all the mayhem and danger, the notion of loyalty is explored, as well as the ultimate cost of violence and revenge, which is shown to be very high. Everyone who takes part in this struggle pays a price and Rudden isn’t afraid to damage and kill some of the supporting cast.

As a result, I wasn’t really sure how this was going to end, despite the fact it is a children’s book and was gripped right to the end, which was both satisfying and provided a couple of major twists I didn’t see coming. This offering will appeal to early teens who enjoy gritty fantasy with an appealing, believable protagonist.

My arc copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark provided by the publishers via Netgalley has not influenced or biased my review.
8/10

Review of The Radleys by Matt Haig

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This intriguing take on vamps is one of the selections of More 4’s TV Book Club 2011. Although, I had to grit my teeth as Jo Brand et al hastily assured us with much eye rolling and disgust-gurning that initially the vampire aspect had them all terribly worried, as who’d be caught dead reading anything with vampires? I think Jo even shuddered… But once the unedifying spectacle of such literary snobbery was put to one side and our plucky panel actually picked up the damn book – surprise, surprise, they all loved it…

theradleysLife with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self denial. Loads of self denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clare gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50.  With a visit from their lethally louche uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe is about to change. Drastically.

Sookie Stackhouse it ain’t. Haig manages to encapsulate the sheer predictable dreariness of British middle class life for local G.P. Peter Radley and his stressed wife Helen. Meanwhile, Clare and Rowan struggle not to get bullied at the local comprehensive for being prone to headaches, skin rashes and feeling constantly sick in the sunshine. As Jo was at pains to emphasise – the vampirism of the Radley family is a cipher for any kind of difference within a community. Or not. I don’t really care.

What I do know, is that the writing is aptly sharp with a thread of black humour running through the book. Haig’s descriptions are vividly arresting, as the gripping storyline keeps the pages turning until you reach the end. If you wish to regard the vampires as some kind of extended metaphor because your literary friends will look down their pointy noses at you if you don’t, then by all means go ahead. I don’t get the feeling that Haig was sweating over such distinctions all that much – he was too busy having fun with wicked, wicked uncle Will, while peeling back the hypocrisies and misunderstandings of daily life, highlighted in stark relief as the protagonists stumble through their days and nights in the grip of a terrible addiction. The extracts from The Abstainer’s Handbook are funny and poignant. The ending is very well executed, providing a really satisfying conclusion to this dark edged drama and nicely tying up any trailing ends.

All in all, reluctant though I am to find myself agreeing with Jo Brand – this, after all, is the woman who claims 1984 is her favourite book, while professing to hate science fiction as a genre – I found The Radleys a highly entertaining, darkly enjoyable read.
9/10

Review of Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee

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I’ve been increasingly impressed at the quality of writing coming out of Baen – so when I noticed this book on the library shelves, I immediately picked it up.

The hidden world lurking in the shadows of coastal Maine outside the tourist season, is where Black Dogs hunt the night and selkies carousel tidestoss unpleasant truths over their shoulders before diving into the next wave. In the center of this, Kate Archer tends and guards one of the spookiest carousels this side of Ray Bradbury and wonders what has happened to her grandmother. The old woman sent her a letter, left papers deeding over the carousel, house and Land (meaning much more than property), and vanished, telling the spirits of the land and sea that she expected to be back before the turning of the year.  Now March has come and gone and Kate must return from self-exile to take up powers and responsibilities she has renounced, or dying will be the least of her problems.

Whether this is magic realism, or contemporary fantasy is a call for someone else – what it definitely isn’t – is a crime/thriller set in a modern city where the protagonist is ranged against vamps/weres while fighting an undeniable physical attraction with said supernatural beasties… In other words – it is different from the general run of modern fantasy – to the extent that I would be very reluctant to park it on a shelf labelled Urban Fantasy.

Kate Archer relinquished her responsibilities to the Land and walked away, believing that it was her duty to do so. She has returned with reluctance, ailing and angry, to find that everything is not as it should be. Right from the start, Lee plunges us into the action in this atmospheric corner of Maine and has us completely identifying with her protagonist as Kate has to confront a range of enemies, some human and some definitely not…

The world is beautifully conveyed with cinematic sharpness without any loss of narrative pace – not an easy thing to pull off. However, it all appears effortless in the capable, talented hands of Lee. From the first page, I realised that I was in for an enjoyable ride in an engrossing world, peopled with a cast of interesting, eccentrically different people. The mention of Ray Bradbury isn’t as random as it might appear – I was reminded of the Great Man in the characterisation and feel of this story – the batwing horse is definitely one I’m going to remember for a while… Lee is clearly thoroughly familiar with this area of Maine, although the actual town of Archers Beach is a conglomeration of a number of similar places. Not only does she know this part of the world – she loves it. That affection resonates throughout the book, giving her writing an extra depth and grounding.

The plot whisks along at just the right pace – not so much that we lose out on the wonderful setting and interesting characters, but providing plenty of impetus to turn the pages… I should have stopped reading and settled down for an early night – but I read on until the small hours to discover what happened. And these days, I don’t do that very often.

This enjoyable gem will linger in the mind for a long time with a grin of pleasure to accompany it – and let’s face it, with the constant bad news crowding our papers and tv screens – anything that can achieve that is worth reading.
10/10