Tag Archives: Jo Walton

Tough Travelling – Strongholds

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At the start of every month, Fantasy-Faction will lead you (yes, YOU!) on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché. Lest we become lost, we’ll be referring to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

I’ve know I’ve left it right to the last minute to jump on board with this enjoyable meme – but after seeing what fun several of my blogging friends have had with this one, I wanted to join in.

My choice for a stronghold is Kallisti, known as The Just City, which is a thought experiment dreamed up by Athene in Jo Walton’s fascinating book. And yes… I’ve cheated just a weeee little bit in that it is something of a mash-up between fantasy AND science fiction – but those robots could be made out of chocolate by a witch, right? And then it’s pure fantasy… I love this book which takes an off-the-wall idea, gives it some intellectual heft – Kallisti is run along the precepts laid down in Plato’s The Republic – and in the subsequent two books, Jo Walton takes that idea and stretches it into yet another level see my review here.

However she has crafted this marvellous series, Kallisti has to be one of the coolest strongholds ever built as it is set in Atlantis before it is swallowed up by the sea and everyone in the city strives to be the best they can possibly be. While I may not want to live there for my entire life, I would LOVE to be able to visit for a year or so.

Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.
FACTS FOR TRAVELLERS
Name: Kallisti
Nickname: The Just City
Population: 10,520 children, 300 philosophers, Sokrates, Athene, An unknown number of robots
Languages: Classical Greek, Latin
Location: Thera (aka Atlantis)
Climate: Mediterranean
Government: Philosophical Monarchy
Religion: Hellenistic Pagan (with onsite gods)
Sports: Wrestling, Running in Armour, Archery
How to get there: Read Plato’s Republic and pray to Athene. Or be a ten-year-old. Or be a god.
How to leave: You can’t.

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Top Ten Unique Reads…

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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.

Time Tag

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Many thanks to Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog for nominating me to take part in this lovely tag.

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
I love the Tudor period – it’s the period I studied for my History degree so I know a reasonable amount about the history of this time. But I also enjoy the Victorian time – events moved so very quickly during that it was a period of great upheaval and yet isn’t all that long ago. So… both these periods tend to snag my interest.

 

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
William Shakespeare. It’s a no-brainer. The genius that gave us a canon of marvellous plays and beautiful poetry must be worth sitting across the table and chatting to! Even if he only wants to grumble about the weather and the difficulties of finding a boy to adequately play Juliet – especially if he wants to grumble about that one, come to think of it…

 

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
It would have to be C.J. Cherryh’s Heavy Time. Her writing style and depiction of space just blew me away. My younger self would love to read this and derive a great sense of comfort to discover that books like that were in existence as I was getting increasingly disillusioned with many of the contemporary literary offerings I was ploughing through at the time.

 

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
I wouldn’t bother. My older self is going to be caught up with the books being published at the time, so my crashing into her reading patterns won’t probably be very welcome. I don’t take kindly to sudden surprises…

 

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
I have three… two based on Earth and one that sees us out in the among the stars. One of the most poignant and effective settings is the depiction of a nearly empty Paris, overrun by alien vegetation from portals drawn by Eric Brown in his novel Engineman. To be honest, the story itself isn’t quite as effective as the setting in my opinion – but I’ve dreamed of this landscape many times. The other futuristic setting I particularly enjoy is that in the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards, where Earth is largely uninhabited apart from those who are unable to leave due to a genetic quirk.

I also love the world that Lois McMaster Bujold has created in her Miles Vorkosigan series that sprawls across a chain of planets.

 

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I love several – Doomsday is a classic time travel book by Connie Willis that goes back to the medieval period. It’s a wonderful book and rightly regarded as a classic. Another book that I particularly love is the above mentioned Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh, but my favourite is Mendoza in Hollywood which is a dreadful title for an outstanding book by Kage Baker about a time-travelling biologist harvesting plants about to be pushed into the brink of extinction by the growth of the film industry. It is part of Baker’s amazing The Company series, which I think deserves to be known a lot better than it is.

 

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Only if I don’t intend to finish the book – otherwise what is the point of bothering to read it?

 

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Oh yes please! And now I’m going to sound incredibly boring… I’d like to use one like Hermione Granger so I could fulfil my teaching commitments, keep the house reasonably clean and clutter-free, be a better wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, while also writing full-time.

 

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
I cannot possibly pinpoint a single book, so I’ll follow Lynn’s example and recommend four, other than the ones already mentioned above:-
Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld novels by the late, great Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett’s time travel book – and one of his best, in my opinion, as Sam Vimes, the grumpy Commander of the Ankh-Morpork’s police force, is caught up in a magical storm and hauled back in time.

 

The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Saga of the Exiles by Julian May

This first book in a remarkable, ground-breaking series features Elizabeth who travels back in time to escape the trauma of having lost her metaphysical abilities. Ironically, her journey – in which she encounters a humanoid alien race who have made Earth their home – causes her abilities to manifest themselves once more. Which draws down a lot of unwelcome attention upon Elizabeth…

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes

This standalone children’s book is a joy. A brother and sister cryonically suspended are accidentally woken up fifty years later by another brother and sister, while exploring an underground building at the bottom of the garden. The resulting adventure is both funny and very revealing about how customs have changed during the last fifty years – for both good and ill.

 

 

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

This is a remarkable time travel experiment designed by the goddess Athene to test the principles set down by Plato in his book The Republic. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything quite like it.

 

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Discworld novels! They define a part of my life and if I could bottle the sheer excitement of opening up a new one, laughing at the Pratchett jokes for the first time again, that would be a wonderful treat.

I’m not going to nominate anyone in particular – but do please have a go if this Time Tag appeals to you as a fan of historical settings or time travelling adventures. I’d love to hear your choices!

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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

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

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

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Review of KINDLE book The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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This detailed and engrossing historical adventure novel is the start of a retelling of the King Arthur story, though not necessarily from any viewpoint you instantly recognise…

Sulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, whethekingspeacere the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.

Regular visitors to Brainfluff will know that one of my all-time favourite authors is Jo Walton, so why this offering has been languishing unread in my TBR pile for so long, I’m unsure. Walton has, once again, created a vibrant and rich world where upheaval, raids and constant food shortages are commonplace. Therefore the kind of attack Sulien is subjected to is also not infrequent – what is unusual is the fact that she survived and how she managed to do so. But it leaves scars that define the rest of her life and what she decides to do next. Once more, Walton’s writing swept me up so that I was immersed in a world where the new religion is beginning to force out the older, land-based beliefs. Where might is right is the way of life and those with the healing powers of the old gods regularly call upon them for help.

I love Sulien – an unusually powerfully built woman with strong reasons to dedicate herself to learning the craft of fighting. From her viewpoint as one of the most gifted fighters and battle commanders of her age, she tells the story of how she is part of a movement trying to restore a measure of peace to a land battletorn since the retreat of the Vincan Empire years before. As ever, there are layers of detail and political infighting within Walton’s writing that bring extra focus to the inevitable action scenes, with no guarantee of success. There are upsets and reversals that had me brimming with emotion and anyone who loves epic fantasy and has enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire should give this one a go.

The story ends with some of the major plotpoints dangling, though the current crisis has – sort of – been averted and it is a given that I shall continue reading this amazing historical fantasy series early in the new year.
10/10

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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I’m not quite sure how it happened, but despite December being a really busy month I managed to continue reading more than two books a week. As for my Discovery Challenge, which I undertook after reading this post by Jo Hall to read and review at least two books a month by women authors previously unknown to me – I managed to read and review five books during December, though one of those reviews hasn’t yet been published.

Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the World series by Tessa Elwood
splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?
I really enjoyed this one. Foot-to-the-floor, action-packed dystopian sci fi adventure with an appealing spiky heroine, I was scooped up into the middle of this world and didn’t want to pull away until the last page. Great fun – see my review here.

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from, as she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”.
There has been a real buzz about this YA desert fantasy offering, and I can see why. Hamilton tips us right into the middle of the action from the first page as Amani’s spiky first person narrative pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. It is a foot to the floor, non-stop adventure where she careens through the vividly depicted landscape that borrows much from eastern influences. It’s a delight and I’m now hoping to be able to hunt down the sequel. See my review here.

Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her everthehunteddays tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart.
It was pure chance that I read two YA fantasy adventures back to back. They both featured teenage female protagonists on the run, both had secrets and issues they knew nothing about at the start of the adventure. Both had a romantic sub-plot. Both are cracking reads. However, Britta isn’t so carelessly, gloriously reckless as Amani – she is wary and untrusting of everyone. The pace in this one isn’t quite so full-on, either, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale set in a more traditional medieval fantasy setting. There were some pleasing plot twists in this adventure I didn’t see coming – and I certainly didn’t guess who had murdered Britta’s father. See my review here.

The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
thecityoficeDeep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.
It took me a while to get into this genre mashup, where epic fantasy meets a steampunk-type world using magic to power machinery. However there are unforeseen consequences to harnessing such power in that particular way… I love the intricate, layered world with a number of interesting creatures including the tyn, powerful godlike rulers who nevertheless are somewhat down on their luck – and a number of ambitious humans trying to get what they can. Altogether, this becomes an engrossing world with a number of fascinating stories – I’m definitely going to be looking out for the sequel. See my review here.

It was also a good month for my other reading challenge of the year – Tackling my TBR as I read and reviewed five books from my teetering To Be Read pile, which were:-

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
The story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. When thornyholdthe child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…
An enjoyable, initially slightly eerie read that becomes a more conventional romance – as ever Stewart’s writing is a joy. See my review here.

 

 

A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.
This was recommended to me by the wonderful Kitvaria Sarene during an intense evening at Bristolcon talking books, so I made it a top priority on my TBR list and decided to treat myself this week. And I’m delighted I did – it’s a gem and you can find review here.

Judged – Book 3 of the Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jagar
judgedKit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . . Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop. In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.
I really enjoyed the previous two books in this series, Vowed and Banished so was pleased to be able to wrap up Kit’s adventure before the end of the year. Though whatever you do – don’t start with this book, go back to the start and experience this charming series in the right order. See my review here.

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

“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a jsutonedamnedthingdifferent kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.
This is time-travelling adventure is a joy. Funny, anarchic with a reckless sense of derring-do, this tale is told in first person viewpoint by Max as we follow her initial introduction to St Mary’s, training and early adventures. That said, the attrition rate is high and a number of folks die in this – some of whom I was really sorry to see go… I think this would make a marvellous TV series, however – not yet. There are a raft of these books out there and I want to read them all, first.

The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
thekingspeaceSulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.
I loved this version of the King Arthur story. As ever, Walton took me somewhere different and engrossed me in the life of someone with other values and ideas. Another great addition to a wonderful reading year…

What about you – how did your December reading targets go?

Sunday Post – 1st January 2017

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Sunday Post

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

Like many of you, I’ve been busy catching up with family and enjoying the festive season. It’s been a wonderful Christmas – better than I dared wish for. We spent Christmas with my in-laws, while staying at a nearby hotel – an arrangement that worked very well. I also got a chance to pop in and see my parents and sisters and their families. On Boxing Day we returned home, then travelled on to my daughter’s house for a meal and picked up my son who stayed with us for a few days. It was all lovely. On Friday afternoon I chilled with a couple of friends at a local spa, catching up with them and enjoying the sensation of being toooo hot in the sauna – bliss! Today we’re hosting a New Year lunch with writing buddy Mhairi and her mother as well as my sister, while last night we saw 2017 in quietly, just the two of us. I hope you, too, all had a great Christmas and here’s to a better year.

This week I have read:
The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
thekingspeaceSulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace.
Walton’s writing never disappoints. This retelling of the King Arthur legend took me back to a world where might is right and a wartorn, battle-weary people long for some stability. As one of the great warriors of her time, Sulien helps to deliver it. I loved this one and as I received some book tokens for Christmas – yippee! – I shall be acquiring the other two books in this wonderful series.

 

What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford
Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel whatnottodoLeatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed. It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?
Ethel is tipped into a series of farcical adventures once she becomes invisible and Welford has absolutely nailed this spiky twelve-year-old protagonist. I was caught up in her problems and at times teetered between wanting to both laugh and cry at her struggles. This is a book I shall be reading to my granddaughter in due course.

 

Freeks by Amanda Hocking
freeks1Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act… Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night. When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing. Until things start going wrong…
This YA paranormal tale of a travelling show starts with a bang and then pulls back to steadily ramp up the sense of unease, culminating in a shocking denouement. Mara is an appealing convincing protagonist in this enjoyable this page-turner.

 

Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels
Pepper Martin, now Community Relations Director of Garden View Cemetery, is contacted by the ghost graveyardshiftof Eliot Ness, one of Cleveland s most famous dearly departed. According to Ness, the ashes scattered at the ceremony twenty years earlier weren’t his. His were stolen prior to the ceremony by a Ness groupie, and he cannot rest until those ashes are found. Luckily, Pepper has an idea where they may be. But, this being Pepper, it isn’t going to be that straightforward…
The fact this is the tenth in the series simply doesn’t matter. Daniels whisked me into the middle of the action without any difficulty as Pepper’s first person pov popped off the page. She’s funny, slightly lazy and not adverse to spinning a yarn or two to ease her way through life – and thoroughly likeable. So it mattered as murder, ghostly attacks and her mother’s slightly demented attempts to get her married all kicked off. This was an amusing, enjoyable addition to my holiday reading and I shall be reading more of this series.

My posts last week:
Teaser Tuesday featuring Freeks by Amanda Hocking

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of The Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley

Friday Faceoff – Ho, ho, ho to the bottle I go… featuring Dandelion Wine – Book 1 of The Green Town series by Ray Bradbury

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Looking Back – And Forward https://inesemjphotography.com/2016/12/30/looking-back-and-forward/ Inevitably there are a host of articles on this subject at this time of year – but this one is exceptionally good…

SFSF Awards 2016 https://sfsfsocial.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/sfsf-awards-2016/ I looked down this list with approval and if you are wondering what good modern science fiction and fantasy books to next tackle, this is an excellent starting point.

My New High Maintenance Boss https://readlorigreer.com/2016/12/28/my-new-high-maintenance-boss/ This one had me chuckling with sympathy and recognition…

Space Features of the Week (25th December) http://earthianhivemind.net/2016/12/25/space-features-week-25-december/ Once again, Steph provides us with an excellent roundup of some of what is happening offplanet, complete with links.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week. Happy New Year, everyone!

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – September Roundup

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This is the month where the summer break finishes and I resume my teaching at moonNorthbrook College and with Tim. It was also busy as I had a long week-end away at my mother’s where we caught up and enjoyed a bit of retail therapy then at the end of the month, J and I travelled up to Scarborough to Fantasycon 2016.

• While I, inevitably didn’t read so many books during September, completing thesummergoddessonly nine, the lack of quantity was more than made up for by the quality. Another joyous month with a slew of wonderful reads. I loved E.D.E. Bell’s The Fettered Flame – her worlds are intriguing and post pertinent questions about what happens to those who aspire to step outside the norms of society. Crosstalk by Connie Willis was huge fun with a serious message under all the mayhem, necessitywhile Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger piratical space opera tale was engrossing. But my standout reads this month were Joanne Hall’s The Summer Goddess and the final book in Jo Walton’s amazing Thessaly Trilogy, Necessity.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me. I nailed this challenge last month, but am pleased the Netgalley arcs I’ve requested continue to delight. I was also delighted to have a line from one of my reviews appear on the paperback edition of Lesley Thomson’s best-selling novel The House With no Rooms. And last week, Netgalley have informed me I have reviewed 80% of the arcs I’ve requested.

• I have continued to submit my work. Hopefully, my main rewriting project, of the summer is on the final lap – I started editing Netted in the last week of September and should have it ready to resubmit by the end of this week. I also received detailed, very helpful feedback on Miranda’s Tempest. I can now see how to improve it, so will be starting on a major rewrite of that manuscript as soon as I have the time.
Challenge – To continue to submit my work.

I had hoped to have made a start on Bloodless – that was in the plan I made at the start of the year, anyhow. However, I hadn’t factored in the major rewrite of Netted or major surgery on Miranda’s Tempest. While rewrites don’t take up quite the amount of time and effort of a first draft, I certainly cannot consider writing one book and editing another – I wish I could, but I’m too much of a mono-tasker, sadly.

I wrote just over 10,000 words on my blog in September and more than 15,000 words on my course notes and teaching admin, so my monthly wordcount came to just over 25,000. This brings my total for the year so far to just under 227,000 words. Have you had any schedules or plans for reading, writing or blogging this year go peelie-wally?

2016 Discovery Challenge – September Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During September, I managed to read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to twenty seven books read by women I haven’t previously encountered.

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals.

I really enjoyed the intriguing world Bell has set up. Two worlds have been accidentally sundered by one of Mother’s children while she was observing them. One is peopled by humans and the other by talking dragons who adorn themselves with jewellery and scarves, each believing the other a myth. Both societies are intolerant and prejudiced – the human society refuses women any agency other than staying at home and raising children, while the dragon society is ruled by the paranoid and aging Zee. As the two worlds become increasingly shaken by earthquakes and natural disasters, their societies are also churned up and Cor, a female scholar with an outlawed tattoo on her midriff teams up with Atesh, a dragon who manages to travel through a portal between the worlds.

Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford
avelineIn post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly. Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Aveline’s skills as an assassin may have kept her alive to date – but she’ll need every ounce of ingenuity and grit to keep herself safe once she enters the household of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas…

Ignore the misleading cover – this is no soft-focused lurve story, this is a gritted battle for survival by a gutsy heroine who had me hooked from the first page.

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Again, I’ve only managed one book during September that wasn’t a Netgalley arc:-
Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton
The Cities, founded on the precepts laid down by in Plato’s The Republic by Pallas Athena, are necessityflourishing. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Pytheas dies as a human, returning immediately as Apollo in his full glory. And there’s suddenly a ship approaching, wanting to make contact…

I finished the book feeling enormously moved and excited. I can’t recall the last time I felt like that over any book. And all through the year, since reading The Just City I’ve found this series has stolen into my head and taken up thinking space, often when I should have been considering other things. That doesn’t happen all that often. It is the glory of reading – where marks on a page can transform, terrify or anger you. Or, in this case, have me pondering about why we are here, what is our purpose and what should we be striving for.