Tag Archives: Joanne Hall

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

uprooted

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

mebeforeyou

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

anaccidentofstars

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.

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?

Sunday Post – 2nd October

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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.

100_5117Another fortnight has elapsed since I touched based with everyone here, as last Sunday we were travelling by car from Scarborough to our home on the south coast, after attending Fantasycon. Scarborough is a lovely town and The Grand, which was the main conference hotel, is a large, distinguished looking building. Sadly, the splendour didn’t extend to our room, which was dirty and reeked of cigarette smoke. The staff were completely uninterested in sorting out the situation, so we spent most of Friday evening after a long, long drive, trying to get some satisfaction. Eventually we moved out of the hotel and across to the Travelodge across the way, where the accommodation was warm, welcoming and spotlessly clean, with staff that genuinely cared. Inevitably, this put a dampener on our enjoyment of the Con.

We attended the Grimbold Book Launch and heard Jo Hall read an extract from her fabulous new novel100_5120 The Summer Goddess on Friday evening and later had a bop at the disco. During Saturday, I attended a couple of the excellent masterclasses laid on where industry professionals discussed the current state of publishing and answered 100_5145questions from the small audience. I also very much enjoyed a couple of excellent panels – the first on historical fantasy was moderated by Jonathan Oliver, with Steven Poore, Susan Bartholomew, Zen Cho and Jacey Bedford taking part. The quality of the discussion was excellent and wide-ranging. The second panel I very much enjoyed was entitled This Used to be the Future, chaired by Richard Webb, with Daniel Godfrey, Kim Lakin-Smith, Susan Boulton and Robert S. Malan discussing their approach to science fiction and where they think the genre is going.

We also managed to fit in a walk along the beach and a ride back up the tram up the cliff during a lovely 100_5137sunny afternoon. However, we still had the monster journey back and I was teaching on Monday, so reluctantly we took the decision to cut short our time and leave straight after breakfast on Sunday. We took it easy and managed to avoid the worst of the holdups caused by the accident on the M1, arriving home in the evening. However, we both agreed that we wouldn’t travel so far for a week-end conference again. It was too far to go in the time and left us both very tired.

This has been a busy week, as I am now back in the swing with teaching at Northbrook and Tim, while continuing with my Fitstep and pilates classes. I’m delighted how much I have improved in strength and agility since starting. We have also been busy sorting things out in the house as this week-end, when the grandchildren came to stay, we put them in separate bedrooms for the first time. Quantities of Lego had to be shovelled up and sorted out…

I’ve been editing Netted this week after the massive rewrite at the start of the summer, as well as thoroughly enjoying my reading this week:
The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall
thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.
Another excellent read by this talented author, with a plausible heroine put in a horrible situation and doing the best she can. This page-turner provides plenty of action and adventure with great character progression.

 

 

 

Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford
In post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hellaveline 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…

This is the first time I’ve come across this prolific, capable author but it certainly won’t be the last – I thoroughly enjoyed this gritty world and Aveline’s spiky personality, woefully misrepresented by the cover.

 

Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton
necessityThe Cities, founded on the precepts laid down by in Plato’s The Republic by Pallas Athena, are flourishing on Plato, and even trading with multiple alien species. 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 human ship in orbit around Plato–a ship from Earth.

This is the final book in this extraordinary series. Few authors could consider tackling such ambitious subject, never mind bringing it to such a triumphant close with this uplifting, fascinating book which I will be reviewing this coming week.

 

 

 

My posts last week:
Review of The Dark Dream – Book 4 of the Beaver Towers series by Nigel Hinton

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Friday Faceoff – The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn… featuring We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

22 Interesting Facts About Writing https://interestingliterature.com/2016/09/30/22-interesting-facts-about-writing/ Once more this favourite site comes up with a quirky, enjoyable article…

Bye, bye Rosetta – How To Crash on a Comet http://earthianhivemind.net/2016/09/30/bye-bye-rosetta-crash-comet/ Steph Bianchi charts the final chapter in this amazing slice of human exploration of space.

Awards News – The British Fantasy Society and the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy
http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2287

Of Flying and Writing http://melfka.com/archives/1962

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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Those of you who are regular visitors will know that I am a real fan of Hall’s writing – see my review of Spark and Carousel here. Would this latest offering also please?

thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.

I love Asta’s character. She is plunged into the middle of a horrific situation and copes brilliantly, without turning into a Mary Sue, which is a far harder balancing act than Hall makes it look. As she is pulled into the middle of the politics of two colliding societies she knows very little about, she has to exist on her wits to cope. Fortunately, Asta is intelligent and resourceful – and she also has her brother’s spirit to aid her. However, this proves to be a mixed blessing… One of the things I really enjoy about Hall’s writing is the sharp-edged reality to her writing. While this isn’t the type of grimdark where every other word is an expletive and the overall tone is sharply sarcastic and bleak, it doesn’t give any quarter. So Finn, Asta’s brother, has sibling issues that now have far greater resonance given that he’s inside her head and they regularly squabble. While sometimes there is affectionate humour in their exchanges which helps Asta cope, there are also occasions when their quarrels get in the way of her ability to deal with her situation.

As the adventure gallops forward and Asta is catapulted into the middle of a complicated political situation, I appreciated how Hall completely side-steps the inevitable info-dump. Asta discovers the nuances going on around her the hard way – if she gets it wrong, she’ll be beaten or worse, as we learn what is going on alongside her. It’s a nifty trick to pull off  successfully. Her search for her nephew takes her into some dangerous situations and we meet a cast of supporting characters who ping off the page with their vividness and varying attitudes. No one is portrayed as completely good, or all bad, as Asta also makes some major mistakes along the way, too. This nuanced approach particularly applies to the major antagonist, who I found myself pitying even while hoping Asta is able to escape his clutches.

During the fight scenes, I was holding my breath – for Hall isn’t afraid to kill off some of her more major characters and a couple of times the death of a character caught me unawares. So at no point could I predict what would happen next. The story held me right to the end, where it was tied up without being too neat. You don’t get the sense the survivors will live happily ever after in Hall’s world, as Life is too precarious and chancy for any such tidy ending. This story is standalone, although it does loosely connect with Hall’s  The Art of Forgetting duology. For me, this is the best book yet. I loved this adventure and it comes very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic Fantasy at its sizzling best.

My copy of The Summer Goddess was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
10/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – July 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. After a rather paltry effort last month, during July I read and reviewed 6 Discovery Challenge books. Four are science fiction reads, one is contemporary and another is a YA paranormal thriller. This takes my yearly total so far to 28 books read and reviewed by women I haven’t previously encountered – and so far this year has been a fantastic year for really good books.

Speak by Louisa Hall
speakIn a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

It is a very neat idea – to bind up the voices and slices of people’s history inside a discarded AI, struggling to conserve her battery as she is stored in a warehouse with other bots for the crime of being too lifelike. I have a feeling this book is one that will stay with me for a long time.

 

 

Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
InbornRosamund Brandt has had a semi normal life for sixteen years. Well, semi normal for a family descended from aliens. Sure, she could create portals and her family had a secret basement. But she went to school, had a best friend, and got her driving permit like every other teen. However, her definition of “normal” unravels when a killer with multiple powers and an agenda steps into town. When Rosamund herself becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few, or getting to the core of the murders and stopping them for good. Rosamund’s choice will save everyone she cares about–or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.

This story tips us right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the book, as Rosamund immediately is pitchforked into the initial action that triggers the cascade of events that then continually ricochet through the book. I would have enjoyed it more if there had been less foot-to-the-floor action and bit more of a chance to get to know all the characters better – particularly the antagonist. However the premise is intriguing and I think this series could settle down to be really strong.

 

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

This book thoroughly and effectively explored what it means to be a clone, both for the cloned person and those around her. For all it being used as a regular plot device, I cannot recall another book that deals with the fallout of cloning better. While there are some issues around the worldbuilding and the depiction of the machines and Rhona’s role near the end of the book, I look forward to reading what happens next in this intriguing series.

 

 

Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
womanofthehourLiz Lyon is Head of Features at StoryWorld TV. It’s exhilarating and sometimes glamorous work, but as a single mother with a demanding career, her life is a constant balancing act. Then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a web of rivalry, manipulation and deceit. If she trusts the wrong person, she could lose her job. But with everything she thought she knew crumbling around her, can she even trust herself?

Jane worked as a head researcher for breakfast TV for some fifteen years – and her wealth of experience bounces off the page in this original, thoroughly enjoyable story that wouldn’t let me go as I read it in one greedy gulp. I’m going to be tracking down the next instalment, too.

 

 

shiftShift by Em Bailey
Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.
She obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After “the incident,” Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past.
This YA psychological thriller with a paranormal twist started very strongly with laugh-aloud moments as Olive’s snarky commentary on her life pinged off the page. It slightly lost momentum in the middle, as Miranda’s unfortunate effect was far too clearly signposted so that I knew what was coming. However, the ending held a couple of further twists that I found enjoyable.

 

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
anaccidentofstarsWhen Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

This portal fantasy adventure is a delight – it was great to read female characters who weren’t necessarily young, beautiful or ‘chosen’ who had risen within the society. Characters who despite being brave and prepared to die trying to do the right thing, are also manipulative and lethally sarcastic… This book is my favourite of my Discovery Challenge reads in July and I will now be on the lookout for other Foz Meadows’ offerings.

 

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!

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and mebeforeyouhome. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

This was one recommended by one of my Creative Writing students a while ago and I’m not sure why I didn’t immediately read it after having acquired it – but once I got hold of the sequel, it made sense to read it first. I’m very glad I did… It is an emotional, engrossing read that manages to deal with some very gnarly subjects without lapsing into sentimentality.

 

 

Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
nicedragonsfinishlastAs the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

This draconic twist on the usual urban fantasy tropes is such fun – I thoroughly enjoyed this one and look forward to reading the next in the series. Happily, that is also stacked up on my teetering TBR pile…

 

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.thefifthseason
A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Yes… Essun starts out desperately trying to come to terms with an unthinkable family tragedy and the apocalyptic world is undeniably grim. But this is so much more than a retread of a nasty slide from civilisation into chaos – there is also a gripping backstory about a small group of people feared and harnessed for their vital skills. And the twist at the end is a doozy… I haven’t yet released my review of this book – but it was my favourite read in a month characterised by a slew of really good books. And I’m now eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel, which will NOT be languishing on my TBR pile for the same length of time.

Review of Kindle EBOOK The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall

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I noticed that Rider is currently on a special offer – it’s FREE at Amazon, so I thought I’d reblog my review of this excellent book, in case you are looking for a really interesting, good quality read this week-end…

A young boy leaves his village to become a cavalryman with the famous King’s Third regiment; in doing so he discovers both his past and his destiny. Gifted and cursed with a unique memory, the foundling son of a notorious traitor, Rhodri joins an elite cavalry unit stationed in the harbour town of Northpoint.

riderRhodri bounces off the page right from the opening sequence and his grip wouldn’t let me go until I reached the final paragraph. Although I was in for a whole lot than I initially realised. I thought I was in for a coming-of-age adventure story in the style of L.E. Modesitt’s first book in his Imager Portfolio series. But this is a lot grittier and sexually explicit – so do be warned that if you have youngsters interested in your reading matter, I’d advise you vet this one first.

I was initially slightly caught off-balance. Having expected a particular type of book, it was something of a shock to find what I was reading was a lot more demanding. The easy, readable writing style, action-packed narrative pace, strong characterisation and familiar feel to the world initially had me sure of what I would continue to experience. And then Hall started delivering some smart surprises. I’m allergic to spoilers, so I’m not going to divulge the nuts and bolts of those surprises. However, the elite nature of the troops didn’t stop many of them being fairly unpleasant characters with a tendency to violence… This is fine on the battlefield, of course. But what if they are quartered in a town? And what happens when a large number of very fit, active young men want some female company? Without being remotely moralistic, Hall thoroughly explores this dynamic with uncomfortable consequences for all concerned.

And the curved balls kept coming… Aston’s narrative arc had my jaw dropping. While I was still reeling from the fallout to that shocker – Rhodri finds himself heading into action. But that action ends up taking a form that he could never have predicted – I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Throughout all of this, Rhodri is absolutely convincing. He yearns to find his father to help him sort out his own identity and while he may be the protagonist of the story, with a talent for calming horses and total recall, what he isn’t is a classical hero. He makes a multitude of mistakes – some of them are catastrophic. So many young main characters written by older authors show a chippy surefootedness that anyone who has spent time around real teenagers knows is not remotely realistic. Real teenagers are a mess of moody contradictions, poor impulse control, while capable of judgement errors that would have their ten-year-old selves rolling their eyes in disgust. Which is exactly how Rhodri and his fellow cadets behave a lot of the time.

Does it work? Oh, absolutely. This storming start to the series is an unusual, challenging read for all the right reasons and I shall definitely be tracking down the second book, Nomad. (Which I did – see my review here)
10/10

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one 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 understood 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.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

Shoot for the Moon 2016 Challenge – January Roundup

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Mhairi Simpson, and I have set ourselves some crazy writing-related goals over the last several moonyears with variable results. But I have found the experience so very helpful in keeping my focus throughout the year, it was a no-brainer as to what I’d be doing as 2015 sputtered to a close in a flurry of fireworks. So what goals have I set for 2016?

• Publish the Sunblinded trilogy
As some of you know, I was all set to go with this target, having planned to release Running Out of Space in time for Fantasycon 2015 at the end of October – and fell at the last hurdle because I had major problems formatting the book to a suitable standard. And then was ill throughout November with a dreadful cold that would not lift – chiefly due to exhaustion.

However, my clever son has sorted out the formatting issues for me, so I’m hoping to have both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space released together in the first half of 2016, followed by the final book in the trilogy, Breathing Space, in the autumn. I have learnt my lesson, though. No spreading the word about release dates until I have everything set up and ready to go!
It was huge breakthrough to understand what went so wrong and why – not something I’m going to bore you with, seeing as it’s an arcane techie niggle. But it means I should not run into the same problems again!

• Write the first draft of Bloodless, my space opera crime novel, featuring Jezell Campo, my protagonist who features in The Sunblinded Trilogy
I have the plot outline sorted out and I’m going to have a go at writing this one, while editing Dying for Space and Breathing Space. It may not work as I’m the ultimate monotasker, but I won’t know until I try, will I?

• Complete Chaos in New Cluster
This is the novel my writing pal, Michael Griffiths, and I started in 2014. We still haven’t managed to finish it, but perhaps this will be the year when we can get it completed. It’s not a priority as we both have plenty else to be getting on with.

• Complete Picky Eaters
This is the novella that mushroomed from my short story, published at Every Day Fiction longer ago than I care to think. Another story that wouldn’t rest in my head until I completed the whole tale… While reading it to the grandchildren over the Christmas holidays, I realised there were another couple of plotpoints that needed tidying up, so I have it pencilled into my editing schedule during the summer when I’m not teaching, to have a go at getting it to a publishable standard. All being well, I intend to see if I can self-publish it at the start of December.

• Edit Miranda’s Tempest
This is one of the successes of last year. This novel has been burning a hole in my brain for the best part of a year, after I made a couple of false starts. When teaching The Tempest, I always felt that Miranda sailing off to marry Prince Ferdinand was never going to work – she’s been running around an enchanted island in her father’s cutdown robes since she was a toddler, which simply will not prepare her for surviving life as a 15th century Italian princess. And I finally managed to complete it while I was ill during November, given that I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t seem to concentrate on reading. I now need to knock it into shape so I can send it out to some agents.
I am working through it right now, as it still won’t leave me alone. I’m more than halfway through the manuscript and so far have lost 8 pages as I’m tightening it up and ensuring the language is appropriate for the Shakespearean period. It’s a balancing act to keep the feel of the language without too many forsooths and I prithees cluttering up the narrative drive…

• Submit Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above
While submitting my work still happens in fits and starts, rather than the smoothly rolling process I’d planned in theory, it hadn’t been completely discouraging. A number of agents requested to see the full manuscript of Mantivore Dreams and said nice things about my writing. Meanwhile Netted is under consideration by a publisher. I don’t want to say more at this stage, but I plan to send out Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above as soon as they are suitably shiny and good to go.

• Write at least 100 reviews for my blog
As 2015 was the second year in a row that I nailed this challenge, I’ve decided to fine-tune it. While I don’t want to extend the number of books I read and review, I am going to apply for more Netgalley ARCs and read and review more new releases. There is a real buzz about doing this – and as reading is my main hobby, increasing the excitement and fun can only be a good thing. I’ve also already signed up to the Discovery Challenge, thanks to Joanne Hall’s thoughtful post – read it here – which is to read and review at least one female author I haven’t read before per month, then report back in a specific blog, which should keep me on the ball…
I wrote 12 reviews during January, which came to just over 10,915 words. Half the books I completed were by authors I hadn’t previously read and five were new releases. I don’t think for a second that I shall be able to sustain those shiny stats – the slew of new releases were affordable due to Amazon vouchers and book tokens as Christmas gifts. But I am hoping to be able to continue to read and review at least two female authors new to me every month.

• Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2016/17
I have next year’s courses sorted out, but during the second half of the term I will be submitting them for approval to Northbrook College. I really would like to have the course notes and plans written by the end of the summer holidays, and so long as I work hard, that should be doable.
So far this term is going well – although a number of students have gone down with various bugs and illnesses and I’ll be glad when they have all recovered!

• Work on the teaching syllabus for TW
Since taking on teaching my friend’s son, County have given the go-ahead for the current situation to prevail. So we are now getting organised to start teaching him the English GCSE syllabus and I will be taking responsibility for the planning and delivery of both the English Language and Literature. This is hugely challenging – but also extremely exciting as only a few years ago, no one would have thought he would be in a position to consider taking such qualifications due to his autism.
This is, obviously, going to take priority as it becomes necessary.

• Continue to improve my fitness
I suffered a major back injury back in early 2005, which left me with ongoing sciatica that meant I was a constant visitor to the Physio. Doubtless spending hours in front of the computer aggravated the situation, but I found I couldn’t go on long walks, swim or spend an undue amount of time gardening. Then last year, Mhairi suggested I get a TENS machine to see if it would improve the nerve pain during yet another flare-up that was making my life a misery. It worked! Last June, I spent the day at Kew Gardens for my birthday treat, walking up the stairs in the Palm House and around the grounds without so much as a twinge.
I’ve now been signed off by the Physio and am on my second course of Pilates – yay! Himself and I have also started hiking again, albeit gently. But it’s marvellous – I feel I’ve got my life back. My ambition is to resume my regular swims, which I used to enjoy and increase the distance I can walk. And in case you’re wondering how this impacts my writing – it’s huge. I used to battle through the nerve pain to write, and now I don’t have to, it is such a wonderful relief…

Those are my 2016 Shoot for the Moon Challenges. Wish me luck!

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Spark and Carousel by Joanne Hall

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This is the latest book, released at Bristolcon this year, from Joanne Hall, whose duology, The Art of Forgetting, so impressed me – read my review of Rider here. My copy of  Spark and Carousel was provided by the author on the understanding that if I enjoyed the book, I would review it, but did I enjoy it as much as her previous work?

Liathan is struggling to care for his master and mentor, who is slowly losing his mind. Carousel, street dancer and acrobat, is excited at the prospect of being allowed to work in one of the bawdy houses in the dry and wearing pretty clothes – how hard can it be? Allorise is desperate to avoid marrying an old man with rotting teeth and a big gut, just to advance her father’s schemes. These three characters come together in an explosive mixture that engulfs a city and threatens the Kingdom…

spark&carouselI’ve taken liberties with the rather chatty blurb because Hall’s plotting is too enjoyable to be Spoiled by prior knowledge of what is going to happen. From the start, we have enjoyable, sympathetic characters with engrossing problems, along with a fair dollop of humour. But do be warned. Hall’s smooth, readable style is deceptive – she reels you into her world and then suddenly ambushes you with an unexpected twist you don’t see coming. I found Carousel’s journey, in particular, a hard one to follow at times…

While the scenario is a familiar one, with a powerful, yet unskilled magic-user causing major damage – the vividness of the world-building, the strong characterisation and the accelerating pace as the story gathers momentum makes this offering stand out. I’m reminded of Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise in the sheer energy of the writing and intelligent plotting.

Hall has the knack of providing interestingly nuanced characters – no one is whiter than white. So our protagonists all have their flaws and the main antagonist, Allorise, is clearly charming and facing a miserable existence. The fact that her way of dealing with it is extreme and leads her down a steadily darker path is both believable and jaw dropping. However my favourite character is Carousel, the spiky street kid, who is negotiating becoming a woman in a mileu where that process is a commodity – something Hall doesn’t flinch from.

If you like your fantasy intelligently written with fully rounded characters and a full-on scenario, then track down this offering. I’ve read a crop of really good fantasy recently and Spark and Carousel is right up there with the best of them.
9/10

Fantasycon 2015

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nottingham_venue_headerThis year Fantasycon was held on the outskirts of Nottingham at a spiffy Conference Centre with the adjoining Orchard Hotel available for those attendees wanting to stay for the duration.
As ever, the event was well organised, with plenty going on during all three days so that I found myself yearning, once more, for that clone to be able to attend more than one panel/reading/discussion.

Highlights
The overall quality of the panels was very high, with moderators well prepared and the contributors knowledgeable and articulate. I’m a sucker for this aspect of cons, as I love listening to good discussions. The standout panels I attended were:-

Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
Clifford Beal, Juliet McKenna, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jo Thomas and Dani Ware, moderated by James Barclay Fantasycon-bannerdiscussed all aspects of fighting, using magic, sharp pointy things and techie gismos. It was a wide-ranging, often funny and insightful exchange, ably facilitated by James Barclay. This was the gold standard of panels…

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History
Moderated by Susan Bartholomew, the panel of Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E. McKenna and Toby Venables discussed how they use history or historical events within their writing. Again, this was an excellent panel where the contributors were knowledgeable and entertaining.

Sounds Like a Great Story: the Science and Psychology of Audio Fiction
Alisdair Stuart moderated and the contributors were Emma Newman, Chris Barnes and James Goss. This was a gem, and uncovered a whole world of podcasts that so far had completely eluded me… I came along because I spend a chunk of my hard earned dosh on audio books, principally for my dyslexic granddaughter, and was intrigued to learn how they are produced. But as with the best of panels, I came away with a whole lot more than I’d expected. Awesome stuff.

Round Robin Poetry Slam
Once more the wonderful Allen Ashley organised this event, which this year was held on Friday evening. The standard was higher than ever, with a great range of material and some amazing deliveries – I’m not going to forget the Moby Dick rap in a hurry… I read my poems ‘Sunspots’ and ‘Desertification’.

Readings
It’s always a pleasure to hear authors read their own work. This year I managed to hear Adrian Tchaikovsky read an111_4650 extract from a new shapeshifting fantasy series which sounds fantastic; Janet Edwards read from Earthgirl, which reminded me how awesome it is all over again – read my review of it here. Joanne Hall read from her latest novel Spark and Carousel which is next on my TBR list. And Frances Kay read extracts from her books Micka and Dollywaggler – a clearly accomplished and interesting writer. I also read an extract from Running Out of Space, my space opera adventure novel due to come out soon. Many thanks for those kind souls who turned up to support me during my reading. I was ridiculously nervous, but very glad to get it over with. Hopefully next time won’t be such an ordeal.

Conferences are all about meeting friends and making new ones. It was great to meet up with Janet and John Edwards again, catch up with Susan Bartholomew who was the very first person I spoke to at my first conference back in 2011, and talk to the actual versions of Joanne Hall and Sophie Tallis who I regularly chat with in bloggerland. It was a delight to make new friends, too, such as the awesome Carlie Cullen.

The Dealers’ Room
Packed with gorgeous books to drool over – and buy. Himself and I peeped in promising each other that we wouldn’t weaken and acquire anymore. After all, we ran out of places to put new books sometime last year. Until we came across several we couldn’t resist… It was something of a shock to find we’d come home with 35 additions to our book piles.

Regrets
There were, inevitably events I missed that I wish I hadn’t. The Atrocity Exhibition sadly clashed with the Poetry Round Robin – a shame, it sounded just up my alley. I am also more than a tad devastated to have missed teaandjeopardythe live edition of Tea and Jeopardy with Brandon Sanderson, after checking out the podcasts – marvellous geeky fun. If, like me, you were visiting the Moon when Emma Newman’s wonderful tea lair and her guests were being given crazy things to do, then do track it down. Beats Radio 1 hands down.
Also deeply saddened to have missed Adrian Cole’s lecture on Zombie Sky Sharks and the Fantasycon version of Just A Minute. Ah well, maybe next year…

Many, many thanks to all those hardworking folks who make Fantasycon possible – the organisers, the contributors, the panellists and other attendees. In particularI’d like to give the redcloaks a special mention – those willing souls were always on hand to help out in any way. Fantasycon 2015 was, as ever, a fabulous, friendly event for SSF fans that has come to be one of the high spots of my year.