Tag Archives: crime

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

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This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

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I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

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What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

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This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.

Sunday Post – 8th January 2017

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Christmas now seems a distant dream, but I’ve still been having a lovely social time as my sister has been staying for the past week. She lives in France, so it’s been brilliant catching up with her. As a result, I haven’t been online quite as much as usual – and have also been busy working on this term’s course at Northbrook, which starts on Monday.

On Tuesday I hosted my first blog tour, which was something of a milestone – I’d like to do more. On Wednesday, Mhairi came over for the day and we set our Shoot for the Moon targets together for the coming year and looked at how we’d done in 2016 – both posts I’ll be publishing in the near future. Readingwise, the start of 2017 has been mixed – I’ve read a couple of great books, but also encountered my first DNF of the year which was something of a disappointment as it doesn’t happen all that often these days. Hopefully, it will be an aberration.

This week I have read:
Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
martiansabroadPolly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever. Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high.

I really enjoyed this interesting school-based, science fiction YA offering. The twist with this one is the protagonist and her brother come from Mars, so find Earth with its heavier gravity and profusion of life very difficult. Some of their classmates aren’t all that friendly, either – so when stuff starts happening around them, they are dangerously isolated. I like Vaughn’s writing and this one is great fun – those of you who enjoyed Janet Edwards’ Earthgirl series may also like Martians Abroad.

 

The Falconer – Book 1 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
She’s a stunner. Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the thefalconerMarquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.
She’s a liar. But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she’s leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.
She’s a murderer. Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.
She’s a Falconer. The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother’s murder—but she’ll have to save the world first.

I’ve seen recommendations for this series by various bloggers and so was delighted when Himself brought it home from the library and plonked it front of me with a command to read it. He was right – it’s a storming read. May manages to balance the rarified life of a gently bred heiress with the vicious savagery of her regular battles very effectively. I’ve now ordered the second one and am waiting eagerly for its appearance.

 

Strangers by Rosie Thomas
strangersSometimes the victims of tragedy are the ones who survive. Annie and Steve are from different worlds. She is a wife and mother, he is a wealthy executive with a stream of broken relationships in his wake. They do not know each other exists until one morning, on a shopping expedition, they becomes victims of a bomb blast, thrown together in the debris to fight for their lives. As they lie in the darkness and the rubble, the hours slowly tick by. To ward off fear and death they talk: of everything they have to live for, of their disappointments, loves, failures and their hopes. And so a bond is created that binds them deeper than family, than friends, than lovers. With such strange intimacy, such strange trust, how can they get through the future without each other?

Well this book starts with a bang. Trapped in the debris of a department store, Annie and Steve are injured and afraid. But the bomb doesn’t just snare them in a nightmare scenario – it blasts apart their former lives and leaves them to pick up the pieces. Thomas’s vivid writing really captures the desperation and pain these two endure, however I did have difficulty in believing they wouldn’t have been offered counselling and help to get through the mental trauma they suffered.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 1st January 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin mysteries by Casey Daniels

BLOG TOUR – Freeks by Amanda Hocking

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

Review of Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

Friday Faceoff – Undernearth the spreading chestnut tree… featuring Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Edyth and Andrew kissing on top of taxis https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/edythe-and-andrew-kissing-on-top-of-taxis/
There is a steady stream of lovely photos from this quirky site – and this is one of them…

Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/tsundoku-the-art-of-not-reading/
For word nerds everywhere, but particularly those who are avid readers – and surely as we are all feverishly spending our book tokens, this is especially apt.

Caramel https://richardankers.com/2017/01/04/caramel/ Another thought-provoking micro fiction story from this insanely prolific author.

Happy Birthday Mabes! https://readlorigreer.com/2017/01/05/happy-birthday-mabes/ A poignant and beautifully written article about that most interesting and loaded of relationships – a young wife and her mother in law.

Five Fascinating Facts about The Merchant of Venice https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/06/five-fascinating-facts-about-the-merchant-of-venice/ Once more this informative site produces another readable article that teaches me something I didn’t know about a much-loved classic.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Waiting on Wednesday – 2nd November 2016

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Each Wednesday you get to highlight a book that you are really looking forward to holding in your hot little hands…

This week I’m keenly anticipating The Hanging Tree – Book 6 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich.

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The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

And the wonderful news is that I only have to wait another day for this one to ping onto my Kindle. Yippee!

Teaser Tuesday – 11th October, 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:
So Many Boots So Little Time – Book 3 of The MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
3% I took a right at the last stoplight on the edge of town and hit the gas a little harder on the long somanybootsstretch toward a dirt-road turnoff, anxious to find out what the hell was going on at home. I rounded a curve topping the hill that led into the valley where most of the ranch lay. It was mid-March, and everything was stretching and growing, shaking the crackly brown and gray, shedding the huddled posture of winter.

BLURB: “You need to stop all this yoga crap and find your inner badass again.”
Old love. New Love. A love you wish would just die. A kinder, gentler Lilly? Small-town lawyer Lilly Atkins has calmed down. She’s doing yoga, her hair is relatively tame, and she hasn’t shot anyone in a while.
But with bad boy Cash Stetson out of rehab, former FBI agent-turned-attorney Spencer Locke dogging her steps, and a ghost from her past who just won’t go away, her trigger finger is starting to itch. When cattle rustlers hit a little too close to home, and she’s forbidden to investigate, the only thing to do is get up off the yoga mat and grab her gun. Will Lilly stay zen? Or get her groove back?

As you can see, this is very early days with this latest read. And it is completely different from my usual fare – but I was beguiled by the blurb and felt the need for a change. So far I’m enjoying the humour and Chapman Lloyd’s snappy prose. I just hope she can also write anjoyable mystery…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Telepath – Book 1 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

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Both Himself and I are solid fans of her very successful series Earth Girl – see my review of the first book, Earth Girl. So we were delighted to hear that Edwards had produced the start of another series.

telepathAmber is one of over a million eighteen-year-olds in one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. She’s about to enter the Lottery of 2532, which will assess her abilities and decide her hive level, her profession, her whole future life. Amber’s dream is to be level 10 or above, her nightmare is to be a level 99 Sewage Technician. When Lottery discovers Amber is a rare and precious telepath, she must adapt to a new life protecting the people of the crowded hive city. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but she doesn’t know she’s being hunted herself.

Amber is every bit as enjoyable and sympathetic as Earth Girl Jarra – but I found her key position at the top of the pile even more credible. Telepaths provide a vital function in sensing lawbreakers – preferably before they commit crimes – and then their teams spring into action to scoop up the criminals. But these crack teams are a very well-kept secret and even her parents do not know what she does – only that she is a Level 1, living in luxury they can only guess at. Her warm, approachable first person voice means she avoids any hint of smugness and her chatty style gives us all sorts of important details about the world, without lapsing into ‘tell’ mode. It’s harder to pull off than Edwards makes it look.

Amber is supported by a team, which I enjoyed getting to know as we follow the tense action while they attempt to prevent a variety of crimes, producing plenty of page-turning excitement. Another strength in this entertaining read is the pacing. From following Amber as she goes through the barrage of tests she experiences to discover how she will spend the rest of her life, we then are immersed in her training programme, followed by the action of real crime-fighting. Which is when a major wrinkle occurs… I’ve no intention of venturing into Spoiler territory to reveal the major plot twist in the book. I loved this – not only does it satisfactorily raise the stakes and hooked me into reading faaar later than I should, given I was in major granny mode – but it reveals yet another layer of this far future world. It’s very nicely done.

The climax wraps up the action, though there is a dangling plotpoint which I’m looking forward to seeing addressed in the next book. All in all – another cracking read and the start of an exciting series from a writer who continues to produce thought-provoking and entertaining worlds.
10/10

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant

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When I saw the cover and the blurb for this book, which was released last month, I immediately requested it from NetGalley. I’m quite happy to read about youngsters coping with all sorts of adventures while assailed by self-doubt and first love – but as a woman of a certain age, the prospect of reading about my contemporaries zipping through the sky was irresistible. Would I be disappointed?

changeoflifeWith great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home.

The cover led me to think that this would be a humorous take on the superhero sub-genre, but while there are a few comedy moments, Bryant is focused on delivering a full-on adventure. It took me a little while to work out what was happening to whom, because I did my usual trick of picking up the second book in the series, as the first book, Going Through the Change, clearly ended on something of a cliff-hanger.

But once I worked out what was going on with all four of the women who have been changed, the story started to fall into the place and I was intrigued by Bryant’s quirky take on the superhero genre. One grumpy elderly woman has been transformed into a flamethrower – so how does she control this lethal superpower? Poorly is the answer. Jessica can fly – or can she? She leaves the ground, but is finding it very difficult to do anything other than bump along the ceiling, or tumble helplessly without extra help. Whereas Linda, who has also changed gender as she comes to terms with her super-strength, is finding her marriage is being tested. No… David, her husband, is able to cope with her gender change, but isn’t so impressed that now she is fighting super-villains, the household chores are being neglected and she isn’t there to make his supper.

I love this notion that just because these women have been given these great powers, they don’t get a pass on basic physics or everyday problems. Life doesn’t get any easier – especially when you factor in the fact that there is also a couple of sinister characters who are kidnapping individuals with remarkable abilities to use for their own ends.

There are a few issues with the narrative – at times the pacing loses momentum while the storyline is pieced together. Within the different viewpoints and plotlines, there is some repetition and backtracking which, ideally, could be smoothed out. But I was surprisingly tolerant of these glitches – unusual for me, as this is something I normally very much dislike. However, I really enjoyed these characters and was prepared to go on reading to discover what would happen next. Though, I should warn you, while the main story is resolved, there is a major plotpoint still dangling. Will I be looking for the next slice in this adventure? Oh yes – I’m also going to track down the first book in this unusual, quirky series. I received a copy of Change of Life from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

8/10

Review of The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

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This book came with a highly recommended by Himself who was completely caught up in the story, both laughing aloud and weeping while reading it.

thenothinggirlKnown as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

Jenny has the harshest of starts and the beginning of the story yanked me in. I loved the dry humour of the first person narration in Jenny’s voice and initially thought the golden horse meant a paranormal adventure, but this tale is more Cecelia Ahern than Kelley Armstrong. Thomas, who only she can see, is her constant companion and accompanies her after her thwarted suicide attempt throughout her very isolated and boring life. She is still living in her aunt and uncle’s attic, largely ignored, until aged twenty-eight, when the world crashes into her humdrum existence.

I’m not saying more, as I’ll be venturing into Spoiler territory, but this accomplished, unusual book manages to successfully produce a tongue-tied, stuttering heroine who isn’t boring or victimised. There is also the charismatic, charming Russel who is selfish, unreliable and headstrong – whom I really enjoyed. Taylor is very adept as using humour throughout, including the various arguments, which meant I read chunks of this book with a grin on my face. And then near the end, I also had a big lump in my throat… There are only a handful of books that are able to evoke that spectrum of emotions.

It is something of a genre mash-up as in amongst all the general chaos that becomes Jenny’s life, a crime mystery gradually emerges. It is neatly done with an enjoyably satisfying and unexpected denouement. This is a real roller-coaster of a book and if you are feeling a tad jaded, or have emerged a little shaken from the full-on shocking thriller/horror/wrenching non-fiction disclosure – then give yourself a treat and have a go at this one.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Like One, That on a Lonesome Road

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This is a new meme started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is to find two eyecatching covers featuring a road.  This book seemed the obvious choice…

 midnightcrossroaduk

 This haunting UK cover of Midnight Crossroad was produced by Gollancz when the book was published in 2014. I’d enjoyed the Sukie Stackhouse series and pounced on this offering with joy, when I realised I could lose myself in yet another Harris world. While it does give a sense of the book, Midnight Crossroad is not quite as dark and creepy as the cover suggests.

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The US version was produced by Ace, also published in 2014. While it doesn’t have quite the intensity and power of the UK cover, it does communicate the quirky sense that something isn’t quite right about this roadside settlement.

            This week, I’m really torn. I love the arresting image and sense of menace of the UK cover – and it’s the one I associate with the book. But I think in many ways, the slightly skewed perspective of the US version better represents the book… Nope – I think the UK cover just edges it for me. What about you?

 

 

 

Review of The Executioner’s Heart – Book 4 of the Newbury and Hobbes Investigations by George Mann

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This is the fourth full-length novel in this entertaining series featuring the pair of Victorian sleuths battling all manner of evil-doers, with gothic overtones and all manner of intriguing steam-powered contraptions. I have really enjoyed the books up to now – see my reviews of The Osiris Ritual and The Immorality Engine – so will I enjoy this latest instalment?

theexecutionersheartWhen Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, is called to the scene of the third murder in quick succession where the victim’s chest has been cracked open and their heart torn out, he sends for supernatural specialist Sir Maurice Newbury and his determined assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes. The two detectives discover that the killings may be the work of a mercenary known as the Executioner. French, uncannily beautiful, her flesh covered in tattoos and inlaid with precious metals, the Executioner is famed throughout Europe. But her heart is damaged, leaving her an emotionless shell, inexplicably driven to collect her victims’ hearts as trophies.

This book immediately plunges us into a tension-filled scene where we witness a terrible event overtaking one of the main protagonists – and then the narrative timeline jumps backwards to the events leading up to it… We regularly see this device in the CSI franchise, but it occurs less often in books. It certainly works here. The character in questions happens to be my favourite, so I was gripped by the need to discover exactly what went on and ensure that this major character emerges from her terrible experience unscathed.

I also liked the fact that we were taken into the world of this shadowy assailant, learning of her tragic past and how she turned into this merciless, brutal killer. It is always a bonus when the main antagonist has a convincing backstory which gives us an insight as to how she becomes a heartless murderer.

Alongside this ongoing investigation, is the ongoing tension from the overarching narrative arc and the continuing shockwaves from the shocking denouement from the previous book, The Immorality Engine. All series deserve to be read in the correct order, and while you could crash into the middle of this one (for once, something I didn’t do…) because of the characters’ journey and development, it really pays to read these in sequence.

I enjoy this world – steampunk at its best can be great fun, and Mann has Queen Victoria hooked up to a steam-powered life support machine, growing ever more paranoid and lethal. As those tasked with keeping law and order in her capital city, Newbury and Hobbes are unavoidably caught up in her machinations. But the newly emerging Secret Service is also causing concern – are they a nest of traitors, colluding with the German agents plotting for the Kaiser to overthrow Victoria? She certainly thinks so.

This could all collapse into a real mess if not handled with skill. It doesn’t. The climax is every bit as shocking as the explosive finish to The Immorality Engine and leaves the book on something of a cliffhanger. I’m not going to say more, but I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment The Revenant Express, due out next year.

9/10