BLURB: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.
Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over. She’s wrong.
A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions. Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.
I’m generally not a huge fan of space horror, as it’s often done badly, with scant respect for the actual science part of the fiction. This time, however, Wellington nails it. He has worked hard on his alien, so that the tension-filled build up is worth the wait. I found it hard to put this one down as the situation slithers out of control. And that ending is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended for fans of first contact adventures. 9/10
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear
BLURB: The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.
Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…
I loved the first book, – see my review of Hammered – but found it more of a struggle to get into this one. But I’m also aware that when reading this, I was extremely stressed, so that could have had a bearing on my ability to focus. However, I do think the crucial bonding moment with the main protagonist should have been differently handled. The first two opening scenes ought to have been the other way around. Or merged, so that if – like me – your memory is currently operating at the level of a concussed goldfish, enough of the ongoing story is fed into that initial scene so the reader isn’t scrabbling to make sense of what is going on, instead of relaxing into the strong, engrossing writing. Once I recalled the story and characters, I enjoyed the ongoing adventure and look forward to continuing with this series. If you pick this one up before reading Hammered – whatever you do, go back and find it. Bear’s fast-paced, immersive style doesn’t hang around for the bemused or floundering. 8/10
I read the audiobook of Ancestral Nightlast year and absolutely loved it, and thoroughly enjoyed Hammered – Book 1 of the Wetwired series. So when I saw this sequel was now available in the White Space series, it was a no-brainer that I’d treat myself to it…
BLURB: Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee. But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
REVIEW: Another twisty mystery that starts in deep space. This time, however, the crew are expecting trouble, because Dr. Jens is a search and rescue specialist on the ambulance ship I Race to Seek the Living. She starts the story by getting ready to jump out of the ship, to gain entry into a lost generational ship from Earth. I loved her feisty, can-do attitude, and the fact that she suffers from chronic pain and is a lesbian. However, it’s just as well I strongly bonded with the main protagonist, because – like Haimey in Ancestral Night – she does do a lot of musing about life in general throughout all the action. For the first two-thirds of the story, I didn’t think this was a particular problem, but when the action started picking up, I do think we could have done without some of Dr Jens’ monologues, especially as towards the end of the book she frequently wasn’t saying anything new.
There are also some lovely shafts of humour – banter between the crew and also some of the moments between aliens that I thoroughly appreciated. Jens also has a nice way of describing the characters around her that were often amusing. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Adjoa Andoh was masterfully done. Her range of voices and accents were brilliant and she brought all the characters to life in a way that meant I wasn’t as troubled by the leisurely pacing as I think I would have been if I’d been reading the ebook. As for the mystery – the initial puzzle was utterly gripping and held me, so that once we got back to Core Central – the huge hospital that attends to every species’ needs, so they receive the very best medical care, I wasn’t quite as invested in the direction that the story then took. But, given Jens’ passion and commitment to her beloved hospital, I grew to care about that, too.
Overall, however, I love the world, the detail of Bear’s backdrop – listening to this one as I cleaned, there wasn’t any stage when I didn’t have a clear visual picture of what was going on. I also knew exactly what Jens was thinking, feeling and whether she was in pain, or not. So the worldbuilding and characterisation were brilliantly realised.
If you like your space opera full of details about everyday life and anecdotes on the philosophy, the history and the societal structure of the worldbuilding through the viewpoint of a singular main protagonist, then track down this series. No one else writes quite like Bear – and while she isn’t for everyone – her immersive, highly detailed world has stayed with me and I want to return. I particularly recommend the audio version – the narration is excellent. 8/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
December was something of a blur – the first half of the month I was re-starting my Pilates and Fitstep classes and getting used to being out and about, again. I was also still in close touch with my daughter and her family, as we are part of her support bubble.
As usual, I was slightly behind and disorganised with my Christmas preparations – but that wasn’t a particular problem, I reasoned, as we were going to have a very quiet day with just Himself, me and my sister… Until the new measures that came in a handful of days before Christmas wiped out my daughter and the children’s Christmas plans – they were no longer able to go and stay with their other grandparents for a short mini-break. So I suggested that they come to us for the day. And was then rushing around to ensure we made it as enjoyable a day as possible, given particularly awful year they’ve had, with COVID just making a horrible situation a whole lot worse.
Christmas Day went off well – and then we were lucky enough to have all three children stay over for a couple of nights, which was full-on, given it was the first time two-year-old Eliza had ever stayed with us. But that was a success, with her remaining happy throughout.
Reading I read sixteen books in December, with more wonderful reads qualitywise. My Outstanding Book of the Month was Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey.
My reads during December were: AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear. Review to follow.
Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. Review to follow.
Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom – Outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.
Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. Review to follow.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen Novella by Aliette de Bodard. Review to follow.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey – Outstanding audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of A Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. See my review.
The Woman in Blue – Book 8 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Min-review to follow.
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. See my review.
Guilt at the Garage – Book 20 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK In the Market for Murder – Book 2 of the Lady Hardcastle mysteries by T.E. Kinsey. Mini-review to follow.
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley. Review to follow.
Writing and Editing Given everything else that was going on – you won’t be surprised to learn that my work on Trouble with Dwarves, which is the second book in my Picky Eaters trilogy, featuring grumpy old dragon, Castellan, slowed down somewhat, though I’m happy with what I managed to achieve. I also completed a couple of editing projects for other folks, as well as continuing to work on my father-in-law’s project of writing his memoirs.
Overall, I wrote just under 30,000 words in December, with just under 14,500 on the blog, and just under 13,5,000 on my writing projects. This brings my final yearly wordcount to date to just over 506,000 words. I’m very happy with that – it’s been quite a long time since I was able to break the half-a-million word barrier for the year, and just goes to show how much my teaching duties had impacted my creativity.
Blogging It was a frustrating month. I’d begun to really get back into the swing of my blogging rhythm – and then the last-minute flurry around Christmas, as well as some really miserable family stuff, and I went AWOL again. Apologies for the delay in replying and not visiting as much as I should! With everything going on right now, my blogging is going to be a bit hit and miss for a while. In the meantime, I very much hope you are all able to continue to stay safe, while waiting for your vaccination. Take care.x
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Last night’s press conference by the PM regarding the new strain of COVID has wiped out Christmas plans for so many folks – my heart goes out to you if you were in the middle of preparing to see family you hadn’t laid eyes on for such a long time. We’re in Tier Two, so we have avoided the latest Tier Four measures – for now, anyway. Himself and I had our flu jabs during the week and I was mightily impressed at how quickly and efficiently the whole operation was organised. And our surgery has also contacted us to inform us that in due course we will be notified about the COVID vaccination programme being rolled out, which is a glimmer of hope.
Watching the Strictly Come Dancing final last night was quite an emotional experience – all those folks had worked so hard, isolating themselves from their families to take part. And each of them danced with their hearts, as well as their bodies. I’ve watched all the finals to date and this one was different and special.
On Wednesday, our Writing Group met on Zoom, and instead of our usual pre-Christmas bash in a restaurant, we offered up our lyrics for a 1980s pop song for Liz, who is writing a play about two women who were a pop duo. It was hilarious and full of laughter, tempered by the fact that one of our group is isolating, as he has tested positive for COVID. He runs a shop and during the busiest week of the year for him, he’s had to close.
The pics this week are an assortment of our decorations – apologies if you decorate your house with any kind of theme or taste, because I don’t. If it sparkles garishly, or sings a cheesy song with a cracked electronic voice while jiggling slightly inappropriately, then I’m up for cramming it onto a mantlepiece or other suitable surface, all the better to penetrate the seasonal gloomy weather.
Last week I read: Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: a Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship…. Writing a successful novella takes a particular skillset, which de Bodard clearly has. I’ve read a couple of books in this series, but it was a while ago and although I enjoyed the conspiracy and the insights into this particularly cutthroat world, I was aware I probably would have appreciated it more if I’d recently reconnected with this series.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.
Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first… Although I’d read the first book relatively recently, I found it quite difficult to get back into this world and fully bond with Jenny again. However, once I was back in the flow, I enjoyed the action-packed storyline with several major twists. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.
But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…
As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country. Himself recommended this one – the rest of the audiobooks on my Kindle were too bleak for now – and it was just what I needed. A beautifully narrated, humorous and well-crafted murder mystery. Review to follow.
Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of A Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss is tired of petty criminals, and a new job at a glitzy Los Angeles law firm seems the perfect career move. Putting 3,000 miles between her and her ex-boyfriend is just an added bonus.
But on Sandy’s first morning as a family attorney, she inadvertently kills her new career stone dead when she offends her boss during a meeting with the firm’s top celebrity client, charismatic TV star Patrick McNabb. But that’s not as dead as Patrick’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Patsy, is that evening, when she’s discovered shot by an arrow, her husband standing over her. Did Patrick really kill his wife in a dispute over a pair of shoes? All signs point to yes. But Patrick is determined to clear his name, using all the legal skills he’s learned from playing a lawyer on TV, and to Sandy’s deep dismay, she’s the only person he’ll allow to help . . . This was a joy – I haven’t encountered this author before but it appears he’s written other murder mystery series, not that I needed telling. The writing was too accomplished and confident to be a newbie – while the plotting was masterfully done. Review to follow.
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. If celebrating, I hope you and yours have a chance to enjoy the holidays – and whatever is going on in your life, may the coming week be a peaceful, healthy one. Take care.x
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been another really busy week. I was able to attend my first session of Fitstep in over a month and I’m hoping to start back at Pilates, now that our second lockdown has eased and we are designated as a Tier 2 risk. It’s not the same as we have to dance within separate squares and be socially distanced, but flinging myself around to music again was a real treat. This week was dominated by Tim’s annual review and getting the paperwork up together for that, as well as conducting a conference call instead of the usual meeting. And yesterday was my mother’s birthday. We sent her a bouquet of flowers and a card and spoke to her on Skype. She looks marvellous, which is a comfort, but it’s not the same as seeing her…
The photos this week come from a walk along the beach with Himself on the last day of his holiday, before he returned to work on Wednesday. Just look at the millpond smoothness of the water…
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.
But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths. I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Dr Jens as she tried to uncover exactly what was going on. Mystery thrillers set in space are always enjoyable – and though Jens does spend quite a lot of time musing about Life, the Universe and Everything – it was only in the later stages of the mystery that I wanted the pace to pick up. Review to follow.
Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. The penultimate book in this series, it certainly has a sense of cranking up the stakes as high as they could possibly go. I like the fact that despite there being a lot of battle scenes – Verus still very much minds about the fact that he is causing the deaths of a lot of people. Review to follow.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher Halla is a housekeeper who has suddenly inherited her great-uncle’s estate… and, unfortunately, his relatives. Sarkis is an immortal swordsman trapped in a prison of enchanted steel. When Halla draws the sword that imprisons him, Sarkis finds himself attempting to defend his new wielder against everything from bandits and roving inquisitors to her own in-laws… and the sword itself may prove to be the greatest threat of all. This was such fun! I have previously read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which I’d loved and when I saw Himself had added this one to our TBR, I was delighted. I shall be reading more of this author in the coming year…
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Elizabeth Bear’s covers. There is a mix of fantasy and science fiction series here – and I’m really excited at just how much of her canon I have yet to read, given that I’ve recently read and loved Ancestral Nightand Hammered. She is very fortunate to have had a series of fabulous covers over the years – just look at these beauties. Which are your favourites?
Whatever else it’s been, 2020 has been a marvellous year for science fiction reads, particularly space opera. So what am I looking forward to reading in 2021? I’ve determined to become more disciplined and complete series that I’ve started, thoroughly enjoyed – and then dropped again because the new shiny drew me away… This is the final post that I’m linking to #Sci Fi Month 2020. So in no particular order:
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky Anyone who has been on this site for a while knows I’m a huge fan of his writing – and I was delighted to learn that this sequel to the thought-provoking novella Dogs of War – see my review – is due out in early January 2021.
The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky The Expert System’s Brother is one of those books that hasn’t left me alone since I read it – see my review. So I was so excited to learn that we have now the opportunity to follow what happened next to poor old Handry after his previous adventures.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and am thoroughly enjoying Machine, so got hold of Hammered – see my review – for more Elizabeth Bear goodness. And I want to continue with this series, seeing as I had such fun with the first book.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine After the acclaimed A Memory Called Empire – see my review – I’m sure I won’t be the only desperate to get my hands on this sequel. And the good news is that we won’t have all that long to wait…
Endgame – Book 6 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre I started this series far too long ago and have loved the progression of Jax. So one of my Christmas presents from me to me, will be a copy of this one, seeing how much I enjoyed Grimspace, Killbox and Aftermath – review to follow.
Network Effect – Book 5 of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells I loved All Systems Red – see my review – but given that the novellas aren’t all that long and I read quite fast, I simply couldn’t justify the expense of following the rest of the novella series. The first novel, however, is a different proposition and I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one next year.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie I’ve loved following super-soldier Sorilla Aida on her adventures in On Silver Wings, Valkyrie Rising, Valkyrie Burning and The Valhalla Call. But, again, this is a series that has simply taken too long to catch up. So I’ll be tucking into this one sometime in January or February.
Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder series by Suzanne Palmer I loved listening to Finder earlier this year – see my review. So I have decided to treat myself to the audio version of this one, so I have another space opera action adventure to keep me company while cleaning the house.
Lines of Departure – Book 2 of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos I loved the first book, Terms of Enlistment – see my review – and fully intended to tuck into the second book , which I have on my TBR, much sooner. As it is, better late than never. So this is another offering I intend to read in the early part of 2021…
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat, bouncy vibe of young Ara has she faces off the creepy alien shadows and a nasty crime synicate in Navigating the Stars and Chasing the Shadows – review to follow. So I’m keen to see how this all plays out in the final book of the series.
Fleet of Knives – Book 2 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Embers of War – see my mini-review. The sentient ship Trouble Dog rather stole the show for me and I’m only too happy to read more about his ongoing adventures.
And there you have it – 12 science fiction reads I have lined up to get me through the miserable months of January, February and March, in amongst my fantasy and crime reads. Are there any books here that you are intending to also read? Or others you would like to recommend? I’ve loved taking part in #Sci Fi Month 2020 – it’s been a joy to browse through the master schedule and make a note of books I want to get hold of. But I am trying very hard to be adult about this – and work on completing more series that I have already started. Wish me luck!
It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong.
A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information. When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever. Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.
Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.
Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe. Just how much can one lone spaceship do? This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…
The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice? I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation. I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.
Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance. Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you. This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.
The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – The Relentless Moon is to follow.
I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and then realised that was the first book I’d read by this remarkable author. I clearly needed to fix that one, so I was delighted when I discovered this series available. I have linked this review with #Sci Fi Month.
BLURB: Jenny Casey is a former Canadian special forces warrior living on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062. Her artificially reconstructed body is failing her, but a government scientist from her old life thinks she is perfect for his high-stakes project. Suddenly Jenny is a pawn in a battle being waged on the Internet, the streets, and in the complex wirings of her man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.
REVIEW: There is so much to love about this book, starting with the heroine. I love the fact that we jumped into her life after she’d already endured a lifechanging series of events that had left her physically and emotionally compromised. I love that she turns fifty in the middle of the novel – how cool to have a major middle-aged female protagonist in a science fiction cyberpunk thriller!
This near-future dystopian view of Earth has climate change having redistributed the political power dynamic and you won’t be surprised to learn that government departments are every bit as ruthlessly determined to get hold of the latest tech to give their struggling countries some advantage. Jenny is a casualty of a previous entanglement and has been living with the consequences, ever since. Facing premature death from a systemic failure in her cybernetic implants, she is determined to end it herself before she is left a drooling dementia patient. But that is before people from her old life crash back into her current existence. Bear’s writing style grabs my head and heart and won’t let go until the end. I’m aware that there are places where the pacing could be tighter, but I didn’t care. I am pulled into this world of shifting loyalties, where old fury and hurt is hauled into the light and re-examined in the light of new priorities.
For me, the triumph of Bear’s writing is that in a sub-genre exploring the interface between Man and machine, it’s the humanity of her characters that leaps off the page, in all their complexity and differing needs. It’s one heck of a trick to pull off and while this isn’t a flawless book, it is a glorious read. Highly recommended for fans of intelligently written near-future sci fi adventures. 9/10