January has slipped by quietly without very much going on, given that we are now back in full lockdown, again, while the Government grapples with this new, highly infectious variant. Meanwhile the vaccination programme is proceeding apace. Both sets of parents have had their first vaccination and my sister, who works in a pharmacy has had both her jabs. I’m hoping Himself will be getting his sooner, rather than later as he is a key worker who has to go out every day and regularly travels to London.
We have had the grandchildren staying over several times – including little Eliza, again. It was another successful visit where she seemed very happy to be with us. Right now, we are still coping with some hefty family issues, not improved by COVID and the lockdown. Thank goodness we are part of my daughter’s support bubble, so we can be there to help out when needed.
Reading I read fifteen books in January, and again, I can’t fault the quality of the books. I did DNF The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell, but that was because it was too dark for me to cope with – the writing was excellent. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Night Parade of 100 Demons – A Legend of the Five Rings World novel by Marie Brennan, and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.
My reads during January were:
Spirited by Julie Cohen – review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – review to follow.
The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster – review to follow.
Writing and Editing
I’ve made steady progress with Trouble with Dwarves, which is the second book in my Picky Eaters series, featuring grumpy old dragon, Castellan. I’ve now written the opening adventure featuring the ice giants and am now working on the closing chapters of the book, which I hope to have completed by the middle of February. I’ve also completed several editing projects and am continuing to work with my father-in-law on his memoirs.
Overall, I wrote just under 44,000 words in January, with just under 26,000 on the blog, just over 1,200 on lesson reports for Tim, and just over 16,000 on my writing projects.
Blogging January was a better month for the blog, as I wasn’t going anywhere and managed to get back into the rhythm. I’m still not doing very well at visiting other bloggers – and I will try to do better! In the meantime, I very much hope you are all able to continue to stay safe, while waiting for your vaccination. Take care.x
BLURB: A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery
Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
REVIEW: What is speedily apparent by the blurb alone, is that this swords and sorcery adventure takes place within a Japanese setting, using their pantheon of demons and otherworldly creatures. While the trained samurai dealing with the outbreak are two very different young men from completely different backgrounds. What might not be quite so apparent – I certainly hadn’t realised it while reading the book – is that the world is also part of a very popular role-playing game. To be honest, I offer that info-nugget more as a matter of interest. If it encourages you to go and out and get hold of a copy, then I’m delighted – what I don’t want it to do is discourage you from doing so. Because you’ll be missing out on a wonderful story.
This tale drew me in from the first. Told in third person viewpoint through the characters of the two samurai who end up in the village trying to help this desperate state of affairs, I loved the setup right from the start. Brennan’s brilliant characterisation and scene setting came to the fore – and then the plot grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m a tad tired this morning as I stayed up far too late into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put this one down. And I dreamt of it as I slept…
The plot is also a joy – I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and the growing relationship between the two young men is beautifully and tenderly handled. I’m not the most romantic soul – but from halfway into this book, I was willing both these likeable characters to get together. There is plenty of action and lots of tension as the stakes go on growing ever higher – so the appearance of a very sassy cat in the last third of the book was a welcome slice of humour, in amongst the threat and battle. All in all, this is an absolutely cracking read and comes very highly recommended to all fans of excellent fantasy – whether you’ve heard of The Legend of the Five Rings game, or not… While I obtained an arc of The Night Parade of 100 Demons from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I was expecting another quiet week, but my daughter was suddenly unwell and needed us to step in and look after the younger two children on Friday morning. As we are part of her support bubble, we were able to do so. To add to the pressure, little Eliza had the previous day been diagnosed with asthma and needed to get to grips with the medication – she’s two… Suddenly I was talking about the birds in the garden… the sun going to bed… our chiming clock – which fascinates Eliza… Basically having a ringside seat as a small person grapples with learning about the world around her. It’s a joy and a privilege, though I do need to get fitter! My steps counter on my phone went from 437 steps on Thursday to over 6,500 on Friday and recorded 15 flights of stairs…
The pics this week are of a bitterly cold trip to the beach on early Saturday morning with little Eliza. Right now we have the eldest, Frank, staying for a couple of days as the younger two went home last night. I’m glad to say that my daughter is now feeling a lot better.
Mantivore Dreams, the first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy, is now free for the rest of the day – just click on the link or the cover in the sidebar, if you’d like a copy. It is an adventure based on a colony planet featuring a teenager whose harsh life is softened by a pretend friend – an ancient alien who offers comfort when things get tough…
Last week I read:
By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.
With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.
Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy? This is a packet of fun! I have a real weakness for good sand and sorcery tales so sniggering at the snark between Veelk and Kamira, while ferocious demons scheme and plot in the background was a wonderful treat. I’m now really looking forward to reading the next book Scars in Stone, which is due to be released later this year.
The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a novel in A Legend of the Five Rings World by Marie Brennan A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery
Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Seibo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil. I hadn’t been aware that this riveting fantasy story in a Japanese setting was also in the world of a popular role play game Legend of the Five Rings until I sat down to write the review. And frankly, I’m only tossing that info-nugget at you as a matter of interest, because as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The book is one of the best I’ve read of the year so far, as Brennan weaves her usual magic. Review to follow.
Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge August 1940. On the streets of London, locals watch with growing concern as German fighter planes plague the city’s skyline. But inside the famous Ritz Hotel, the cream of society continues to enjoy all the glamour and comfort that money can buy during wartime – until an anonymous man is discovered with his throat slashed open.
Detective Chief Inspector Coburg is called in to investigate, no stranger himself to the haunts of the upper echelons of society, ably assisted by his trusty colleague, Sergeant Lampson. Yet they soon face a number of obstacles. With the crime committed in rooms in use by an exiled king and his retinue, there are those who fear diplomatic repercussions and would rather the case be forgotten. With mounting pressure from various Intelligence agencies, rival political factions and gang warfare brewing either side of the Thames, Coburg and Lampson must untangle a web of deception if they are to solve the case – and survive. This was another highly enjoyable read. DCI Coburg is an engaging protagonist battling to do his job during one of the most difficult, stressful times in London’s history. I loved the confident evocation of WWII and the nicely twisty plotting. Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Mantivore Dreams is free today! https://mybook.to/MDJan21The first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy is free today on a giveaway that ends at midnight. Just click on the universal link above or the cover on the sidebar which will take you to your local Amazon store.
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan – release date 2nd February, 2021.
#epic Japanese fantasy
BLURB: Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.
The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.
The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small Angry Planetand A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.
The Witchlands by Susan Dennard Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.
Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky The Tiger and the Wolfand The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…
The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May The Falconer; The Vanishing Throneand The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.
The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.
Planetfall by Emma Newman Planetfall andAfter Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Luna by Ian McDonald New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.
Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold Penric and the Demon;Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.
Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.
The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…
There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.
I was beguiled by the first book in this excellent series, The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice, which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. In any other year, it would have made my list for Outstanding Reads as it missed the cut by the merest whisker – but the standard of books I read last year was extraordinarily high. Would I enjoy Emperor of the Fireflies as much?
Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
No, I didn’t like this offering as much – I loved it a whole lot more. Now I’m thoroughly acquainted with the cast of characters and the Japanese culture, it took no time at all to slide back into this world, where the stakes are higher than ever. Hotaru and his new bride are busy accustoming themselves to their new roles. Kai and Masao, harnessed to the tides, find themselves steadily losing their mortality as they seek some way to break free of the curse. While the feisty little kitsune struggles to save the sacred mountain from the depredations of a ravening fire dragon.
In less skilled hands this multi-viewpoint epic fantasy could have easily turned into a muddled mess, but Ash’s clear, unfussy style delivered the story with such vivid clarity, I could easily visualise the imperial court and the daily power struggles unfolding between the rival clans and factions, in addition to the magnificent tide dragons as they transformed from the victims of the ancient curse. This was one of those delightful reads where I was caught between turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next, yet not wanting this one to end. It was with a real sense of loss as I finally came to the end of this marvellous story which was brought to a fitting, bittersweet close.
If you enjoy epic fantasy and would welcome something different from the usual medieval era, then I recommend you track down this excellent duology which deserves to be far better known. The added bonus is that the Kindle edition for both books represents excellent value for money.
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.
This week was full throttle as I started back at Northbrook with the new term – the first session is my least favourite as we always have a mound of admin to wade through, but it was lovely to see everyone again. I also resumed my exercise classes – more fun and I wasn’t as stiff and sore as I thought I’d be, which was also a bonus! On Wednesday evening, I went to see a film of the live performance of The Tempest by the RSC at Stratford at the Connaught in Worthing. It was amazing – the special effects and the performances were stunning and filled me with the desire to see the real thing at The Barbican. I should have gone to the monthly West Sussex Writers’ meeting on Thursday night but the weather had other ideas. The rain turned to sleet with the forecast for snow later in the evening and I decided not venture out – I don’t do driving in snow if I can possibly avoid it. This week-end I’m grannying again, which is lovely as ever.
This week I have read: A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.
But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.
This time-travelling adrenaline-filled adventure is every bit as foot to the floor as the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. I enjoyed following the exploits of Max and her fellow historians as they witness and chronicle some of the most famous events in History at great risk to their lives and look forward to continuing with this series.
Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
Sakami, Kai’s lover, has become a kitsune, a fox spirit. She is determined to do all in her power to save him – but is Hotaru, aided by his treacherous shikigami, Kurika, just too formidable an opponent to overcome?
This is a joy. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this vividly depicted Japanese world and quickly got swept back up into the story from where The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice left off. I love the fact that we not only get a ringside seat at what is going on with the protagonists, but we also get to know what is driving the main antagonists, too. It makes for an enjoyably nuanced tale. I’ll be reviewing it in due course.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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: Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash 4% Kai swivelled his head around to try to make out what had become of Masao. And as the inexorable pull of the outgoing tide tugged Kai further out to sea, away from the contours of the familiar shoreline, he saw a white-haired man crawl out of the receding tide. Naked, water streaming from his body, the distant figure pushed himself up to hands and knees on the damp sand. As Kai stared, he saw color flood into the man’s long white hair, turning it as dark as if someone had poured a pot of ink over his head.
BLURB: Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons’ Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
Sakami, Kai’s lover, has become a kitsune, a fox spirit. She is determined to do all in her power to save him – but is Hotaru, aided by his treacherous shikigami, Kurika, just too formidable an opponent to overcome?
I read and reviewed the first book in this Japanese epic fantasy adventure here, so when Sarah Ash let me know the second book is now available, I rushed over to Amazon and snapped it up. Now I’ve reacquainted myself with the story and the stakes involved, I’m settling in for another slice of this wonderful world.
I read The Lost Child longer ago than I care to recall and loved it, so when I went online and found this recent offering, I snapped it up. Would Ash’s ability to spin a great story and interesting world still hold me?
Two rival clans. Two sacred pearls, the Tide Jewels, that can summon the Tide Dragons to protect the empire. Two young men, Kaito and Naoki, one a Black Crane healer, the other a Red Kite shinobi, are sucked into an ancient, unresolved conflict between the gods of land and sea, when the exiled Red Kites steal the Tide Jewels and re-ignite a bitter clan war. Kaito must find a way to restore the emperor’s jewels – but how can it be done without betraying his own clan or angering the gods?
The magic persists. I was immediately pulled into this engrossing, beautifully depicted world that is clearly based upon the closed society of Japan, as the book starts with a bang and the pace doesn’t let up. This epic story cris-crosses the country as the main characters Kaito and Naoki find themselves pitch-forked right into the middle of a family feud, with devastating consequences for all concerned… The story is told in multiple pov, as others also become embroiled in this clan war.
This isn’t a simple good versus evil conflict, where some shadowy nasty villain lurks whose motives are as murky as his scheming, for we are taken into the heads of sympathetic protagonists on both sides of this vendetta. I cared about all the people in the story and could see where they were coming from – even the wilful, high-handed Naoki.
The other dynamic I thoroughly enjoyed is how things are not as they initially appear. So while we are presented with what seems to be the facts at the start of the book, as the plot progresses, we begin to realise that there are other forces at play. Done well, this tactic never fails to have me humming with pleasure as I delve ever deeper into the world, absolutely hooked and wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery. And this deftly balanced plot pulled me along to the climax, with me reading waaay longer than I should to find out what happens next.
The initial storyline is all wrapped up satisfactorily – but there are a whole lot of dangling plotpoints and I’m fervently hoping the second book in the series is on the verge of being released – because I need to know what happens next! I’ll be buying more of Ash’s books – and if you are looking for a really strong, exciting fantasy story with plenty going on, that doesn’t descend into too much gore, then give it a go.