Tag Archives: fantasy adventure

Top Ten Unique Reads…


Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

Teaser Tuesday – 18th October, 2016



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:
The Steerswoman – book 1 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
27% “I’m sorry, lady, truly I am. But I can’t tell you.”thesteerwoman

Rowan gazed at him for a long moment. At last she said, “As I don’t have much time to spare, you needn’t go into detail. The general idea will suffice.” And she waited, suddenly quite still.

The man agonized. “I just can’t.”

BLURB: If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman’s knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth. And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition’s contract — and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even your most casual question. And so, the steerswomen — always seeking, always investigating — have gathered more and more knowledge about the world they traveled, and they share that knowledge freely. Until the day that the steerswoman Rowan begins asking innocent questions about one small, lovely, inexplicable object… Her discoveries grow stranger and deeper, and more dangerous, until suddenly she finds she must flee or fight for her life. Or worse — lie. Because one kind of knowledge has always been denied to the steerswomen:


This is a blast from the past. Having read this book in the days before I was writing blogs and reviews, I was talking to Himself about it. For some reason, he hadn’t – and once he had a look on Amazon, he immediately bought the whole series – yippee! I decided to reread it – something I rarely do – before diving into the rest of the books. So far, my memory hasn’t betrayed me and I’m thoroughly enjoying Kirstein’s engrossing world…

Friday Faceoff – Our Four-Legged Friends


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week I have decided to go for an animal theme, featuring one of my favourite authors. Megan Lindholm, aka Robin Hobb, wrote the cracking duology The Reindeer People – see my review here. These are some of the covers for the first book.



This offering was published by Unwin in 1989. I think it is beautiful and accurately reflects the feel of Lindholm’s world.



This version was produced by in 2001, though I don’t know who the publisher is as Goodreads merely says it isn’t available. Whoever designed the cover did a really good job, in my opinion. Again, it gives a sense of what the book is about while being attractive and eye-catching.



This is the latest edition of The Reindeer People, published in 2011 by Voyager. It is the starkest cover, with a very simple font and an ungarnished image of reindeer, doubtless in consideration of the thumbnail necessary for Kindle books. It is certainly adequate, but doesn’t have the detail or beauty of both of the earlier covers.

My favourite is the first one, which I think absolutely captures the book while also providing a beautiful cover – though I’m sure it would not reduce to a thumbnail particularly well. Which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Simply the Best


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we decided to give ourselves a treat and go for our favourite book. I don’t have an outright, alltime favourite – there are a cluster of outstanding reads that will tick that box, depending on my mood and circumstances – but this one would always made that final cut – and these covers are all beautiful. So here are a selection of covers for Jo Walton’s extraordinary, award-winning book Among Others.


This one was produced by Tor in 2011 and adorns the copy I’ve got. I love the colours and the otherworldly feel of it, which most of the other editions emulate.



This version was produced by Corsair in 2013 and is more than a nod to the original, though the focus on the foreground, blurring the figure of the girl gives a beautiful sense of loss and poignancy which runs through the book.



The French edition, published by Denoël in 2014 has changed the title to the protagonist’s name – I rather like it. It certainly reflects the intense first person narration. Again, there are strong echoes of the first cover in the design and use of colour.



This Turkish edition, produced by İthaki Yayınları, has quite a different take with a departure from the tones of yellow and orange and depiction of a girl on the cover – but there is still the same sense of otherness and beauty.



This Polish offering, published in 2013 by Akurat, is the most accurate reflection of Morwenna. She walks with a heavy limp and is in almost constant pain with her leg – I particularly like the way the colour changes throughout and the sense of longing as the girl gazes into a landscape she no longer is able to access.

I love them all – they’re all beautiful, every single one managing to evoke a sense of the book. And my favourite is the one I own. But that Polish cover comes a very, very close second. What do you think? Have you read the book?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Bright Blaze of Magic Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep


I saw this on the NetGalley shelves, read the premise and decided to go for it. It looked fun and besides, it had a nice cover that really drew me in…

brightblazeofmagicAs a thief, I’m good at three things: hiding in the shadows, getting in and out unseen, and uncovering secrets. I put these skills to work for the Sinclair Family, one of the magical mobs that run the tourist town of Cloudburst Falls. Everyone knows Victor Draconi wants to take over all the other Families – and kill every last Sinclair. What they don’t know is that I’m on to him, and no way will I let the man who murdered my mom get away with hurting all the other people I care about. Especially when I’ve got places to break into, stuff to steal, and Devon Sinclair fighting right by my side…

It wasn’t until I’d started the book that I realised I’d done it again… After all my best intentions – I’d crashed mid-way into a series as Bright Blaze of Magic is the third book in the Black Blades series. However, this wasn’t a problem as Estep is far too experienced and deft a writer to leave this clueless reader adrift. Without going into long, involved explanations, I was provided with all the necessary backstory to be able to get up to speed for this slice of the narrative arc. The process was helped by the fact that our feisty heroine bounces off the page with loads of personality and charisma. The supporting cast were easily distinguished and the antagonist was satisfyingly obnoxious – and as the story wore on, I learnt what had driven him to be the way he was. This was all delivered in a smooth, readable writing style that spoke of plenty of experience and ability.

I like the world very much. This swords and sorcery romp is set in the world with plenty of modern gismos, such as cars, mobile phones alongside capes, feathered hats and lots of sharp swords. Initially I raised my eyebrows, but it certainly seemed to work and once I became thoroughly engrossed, it didn’t matter. I also loved the monsters, including the Western-style pixie.

The climax was suitably enthralling, such that I stayed up reading far later than I should and really enjoyed the very satisfying ending. Though, if you like the sound of this – don’t repeat my mistake, go and track down the first book, Cold Burn of Magic, because this is a series that deserves to be read in the right order.

The ebook arc copy of Bright Blaze of Magic was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book

Teaser Tuesday – 12th April 2016



Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn 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:
Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estepbrightblazeofmagic
1%: Felix gave me a mulish look and started to cross his arms over his chest – until he realized that he was still holding on to his sword, the one he’d been swinging around like a machete for the past twenty minutes. He glared at me, but he finally slid the weapon into the scabbard belted to his waist. Well, that would cut down on some of the noise. Now, if I just had some duct tape for his mouth…

BLURB: As a thief, I’m good at three things: hiding in the shadows, getting in and out unseen, and uncovering secrets. I put these skills to work for the Sinclair Family, one of the magical mobs that run the tourist town of Cloudburst Falls.

Everyone knows Victor Draconi wants to take over all the other Families–and kill every last Sinclair. What they don’t know is that I’m on to him, and no way will I let the man who murdered my mom get away with hurting all the other people I care about. Especially when I’ve got places to break into, stuff to steal, and Devon Sinclair fighting right by my side…

Obviously, it’s early days yet, but the story is swinging along at a nice clip and I always enjoy a first person narrative. I’ll be reviewing this book on or near 26th April, when it’s due to be published.

Review of The Silvered by Tanya Huff


We had only recently finished reading The Enchantment Emporium – see my review here – when Himself tracked down this epic fantasy offering from Huff. He spent a couple of days completely engrossed and then recommended I read it at once…

The ancient mountain kingdom of Aydori is governed by werewolf Packs and their mage spouses, while the nearby Kresentian Empirethe silvered is ruled by a power-hungry emperor, prejudiced against magic in all its forms. When the imperial armies overrun the borders, using silver-seeded cannon which prevents defending Pack members from healing, Mirian Maylin a low-level mage and Tomas Hagen, a scout for the Pack, band together amongst the chaos.

And there you have it. The start of an epic adventure that whisks up the two young protagonists who face prejudice and overwhelming force as they sort out their own relationship and grapple with Mirian’s peculiar mage powers. The other main protagonist is Captain Reiter, who has a secret mission behind enemy lines sanctioned by the Emperor himself. A mission that requires a different skill set from that of an ordinary soldier – a mission he increasingly finds difficult to justify…

Huff has created an interesting world with a clear sense of the rules and how they affect the people living in her worlds, which is one of her strengths. While I enjoy epic fantasy, there are times when the scale of the narrative gets in the way of becoming fully involved in the journey of the protagonists. Not so this time around – Huff once more apparently effortlessly pulls off one of those tricky problems that hobble so many other epic fantasy authors. She manages to create a scenario where the fate of a race, a country, an empire – not to mention the protagonists – all hinge on one particular storyline. This means we are not dotting all over the place, scrambling to figure out who is doing what to whom amongst a huge cast of characters.

So I was completely caught up in the action alongside the main characters, unable to put it down. Huff should come with a health warning – highly addictive author. After being immersed in the book for most of the morning, instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting on with a host of chores, did the denouement satisfactorily round off the story? Oh yes. There was plenty of excitement and surprises. It doesn’t seem that Huff has any plans for writing a sequel – she is busy working on the Confederation series and completing the Enchantment Emporium series. But I would love to see more books set in her epic fantasy setting she has created here – and hope that this prolific and highly talented author continues to produce books of this impressive standard.

Review of The Black Lung Captain – Book 2 of The Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding


This Fantasy swashbuckler is a steampunk novel with all the manic energy and larger than life characters we are used to seeing in that particular genre.

Darian Frey is down on his luck. He can barely keep his squabbling crew fed and his rickety aircraft in the sky. Even the simplest blacklungrobberies seem to go wrong. It’s getting so a man can’t make a dishonest living any more. Enter Captain Grist. He’s heard about a crashed aircraft laden with the treasures of a lost civilisation, and he needs Frey’s help to get it. There’s only one problem. The craft is lying in the trackless heart of a remote island populated by giant beasts and subhuman monsters.

Dangerous, yes. Suicidal, perhaps. Still, Frey’s never let common sense get in the way of a fortune before. But there’s something other than treasure on board that aircraft. Something that a lot of important people would kill for. And it’s going to take all of Frey’s considerable skill at lying and stealing if he wants to get his hands on it…

The blurb gives a good sense of the sort of story – full-on adventure and more than a hint of the nice touches of humour that run through the book, adding to the enjoyment. However it doesn’t give a sense of the strong characters peopling this tale. Wooding is not just capable of writing an action-packed adventure in an alternative world – he also manages to provide his readers with a ringside seat to the issues haunting Darian Frey and his odd crew, which include a demonologist, a fighter pilot suffering from post- traumatic stress syndrome, and a navigator with some inhuman qualities. In addition, we get an insight into Frey’s relationship with the woman he jilted – Trinica Dracken – with some genuinely moving moments in amongst all the battles, plots and double-crossings.

Although, once more, I’ve started a series in the wrong place  the story is sufficiently self contained, which allowed me to enjoy the adventure to the full.  This entertaining read held me throughout – and it is a substantial book nudging five hundred pages. So, given the fact that Wooding pulled me into his world and provided me with a lot of conflicted fun and high jinks, does he also succeed in nailing the ending, so that it brought the whole adventure to a satisfactory conclusion? Yes – he got that right, too.

If you want a late-summer treat, track down this book and lose yourself in the escapades of The Ketty Jay’s crew – with the addition of ice-cream, Life is as good as it gets…

Review of Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb – Book 4 of The Rain Wilds Chronicles


If you have just picked up Blood of Dragons without reading at least the previous three novels in this fine series – don’t. Give yourself a real treat, go back to the first book, The Dragon Keeper and immerse yourself into this wonderful world so that you can properly appreciate Hobb’s creation.

blood of dragonsDragon blood and scales, dragon liver and eyes and teeth. All required ingredients for medicines with near-miraculous healing powers. The legendary blue dragon Tintaglia is dying of wounds inflicted by hunters sent by the Duke of Chalced. If Tintaglia perishes, her ancestral memories will die with her. And the dragons in the ancient city of Kelsingra will lose the secret knowledge they need to survive. Their keeprs immerse themselves in the dangerously additive memory-stone records of the city in the hope of recovering the Elderling magic that once allowed humans and dragons to co-exist. In doing so they risk losing their own identities, even their lives.
And danger threatens from beyond the city, too. For war is coming: war between dragonkind and those who would destroy them.

So you have it – the scenario that awaits the cast of characters we have been following. Does Hobb manage to successfully wrap up the multiple character arcs and sub-plots that her readers have avidly followed since the start of this story – and in some cases, from before that? Even for a writer of Hobb’s experience and talent, this is a big ask.

As far as I am concerned, the answer has to be – absolutely. I am a sucker for character-led books and Hobb’s books always tick that box. Her strength as a writer is to give her readers a ringside seat while her characters battle against a slew of misfortunes and character traits that hamper them, providing plenty of tension. Mostly because I find that really care, as she shows her protagonists in three-dimensional detail. Although, for once there was one character who was in danger of sliding into the realms of pantomime villain – not normally Hobb’s style. Her depiction of Hest did slightly jar, while set amongst so many other nuanced, well depicted characters.

I particularly enjoyed the unflinching arrogance and self-absorption of the dragons and the sense of loss experienced by those who devoted themselves to looking after them – some of the keepers would be forever slightly adrift. Hobb provides satisfying conclusions to most of the individual stories running through this series, but that does not guarantee happiness for everyone. However, this book held me throughout and when it finally finished, I put it down with a bittersweet sense of loss that I had finally reached the end of this particular journey that started with The Dragon Keeper – and a rush of thankfulness that I had found such a wonderful world in which to lose myself. And in the unlikely event of finally getting a summer worth the name this year, I’ve already made a promise to myself – to stretch out on the garden swing with the four books in this series and reread the lot, while basking in the heat…

Review of The Lake of Destiny by Susan Bartholomew


This fantasy adventure starts somewhat uncertainly, but my advice is to keep with it and you will be rewarded by a page-turning adventure.

lakeofdestinyIn medieval England, early Christians battle the forces of magic and the dark forests are filled with wolves. Laura, an eighteen year old convent girl, is chosen for a dangerous question. She must find a magical weapon of mass destruction and keep it safe from war-mongering demon hordes. She has a rival in her quest; Ciaran, a young wizard, longs to possess this instrument of power. They meet by chance and for a time they travel together, helping each other to face the dangers that wait for them on the path through the forest. But unknown to Laura, Ciaran is hiding something – or is it something hiding deep within Ciaran?

The notion that a young convent girl in medieval times is allowed to regularly practice with a sword, initially jarred with me. However, we do know that some women rose to positions of power within the early Christian church – and history is dotted with women who dressed up as soldiers and sailors and served alongside men in close quarters for whole campaigns without being discovered. There are even reports of Pope Joan, who ruled during the Middle Ages, and was only revealed when she gave birth… When all these facts are taken into account, then young Laura’s skill with a sword may not seem so surprising. And after a relatively short time, I stopped caring anyhow, as I got swept up in the plot. Another piece of advice – don’t judge this particular book by its cover… The soft focus and beautiful scenery led me to believe that I would be reading a fantasy romance and while there is a love interest in the book, it is not the engine that drives this story. This book is far sharper with a lot more action and sword-swinging adventure than I expected.

Bartholomew produces an event-filled plot. Her characterisation, though adequate, could be fuller and at times the dialogue is a tad clunky – but I’ll forgive her all that because she whips the story along at a fair clip, not forgetting to tie up all the trailing ends. She is also adept at setting the scene without holding up the action – something more experienced authors often seem unable to do – and while I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, it soon took off in an entirely new direction that had me sitting up late at night to discover what would happen next.

So, having taken us on this enjoyable fantasy adventure, does Bartholomew successfully manage to bring her story to a satisfying end? Yes, she does. I understand that there is a sequel is in the pipeline and I will be on the lookout for it in due course.