Tag Archives: KINDLE ebook

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE novella Mira’s Last Dance Book 4 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to twelve demons when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.

Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

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I’ve absolutely loved the Rebel of the Sands series – see my review of The Rebel of the Sands and after the thrilling ending to Traitor to the Throne, I became a bit desperate for some more desert fantasy to whisk me away from cold, dreary old February, so turned to this likely looking candidate for more sand and heat…

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven. Çeda is a really interesting character – initially, she seems yet another sword-waving heroine, who manages to somehow overcome normal female behaviour to give us an unlikely-yet-equally-badass-protag that is rapidly becoming the norm in fantasy novels. I do get a tad exasperated at times by the ease with which these girls get access to expensive weaponry and the training to go with it – but, hey, this is fantasy, right?

However, Bradley then devotes a large chunk of this long novel – nearly 600 pages long, though it doesn’t feel like it – to showing us exactly how she has got to where she is. And a hard old road it’s been… Alongside Çeda’s amazing journey, we also follow the fortunes of the young street kid who befriended her and was her partner in mischief for most of their childhood. Emre doesn’t have Çeda’s reckless streak and often feels inadequate that his instinct is to back off just when she surges forward to get stuck in. Though as far as I can see, his is the more intelligent move… He is also on a journey throughout the book, which is mostly dual narrative, charting the different paths these young people take in a brutal society forged by the demands of the desert.

Bradley’s world is intricate, vivid and engrossing. I love the layers of society and power he has built against this unforgiving backdrop – and the magical elements are woven in with skill to provide plenty of impact when we finally get to learn what exactly is going on during the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. While there are frequent flashbacks, I didn’t find them jarring, as they helped us to understand the motivation of our two main protagonists, who I became very fond of throughout the book and am looking forward to getting reacquainted with in With Blood upon the Sand. If you enjoy quality epic fantasy set in the heat and drama of a desert backdrop, then this one comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Very Important Corpses – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

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I’ve read a couple of books by the author before – see my review of The Man With the Golden Torc – and know that I enjoy his writing, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I couldn’t resist.

veryimportantcorpsesThe Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed.

I’ve done my usual trick of dropping into the middle of a series, but while I was aware there was something of a backstory that I didn’t know, most of the action and focus was on the current situation so it wasn’t an issue. Ishamael is certainly an intriguing figure. Endowed with superhuman powers, he is used to dealing with the nasties coming from other dimensions. Neither is he wholly on the side of the angels – he’s been involved in plenty of dirty operations in the past, although he’s doing his best to clean up his act, these days. So he isn’t an operative who would usually be in evidence for this kind of assignment, where he is dealing with VIPs who require some finesse when dealing with them. But a colleague has been brutally murdered, so he has been sent, along with his pretty young colleague Penny, to sort it out.

This story is the equivalent of the locked room puzzle, except it is a locked house tucked away on the shores of Loch Ness, with a shadowy creature roaming around in the grounds – and a savage killer in their midst. Ishmael stomps around thoroughly upsetting everyone, while Penny smooths them over. Meanwhile, the bodycount is rising and so are the stakes… This is an enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit with plenty of plot twists and turns. No, I didn’t guess who the villain was as I just tucked in and went along for the ride. If you enjoy your whodunits with a paranormal twist, then have a go at this one – it’s fun.

While I obtained the arc of Very Important Corpses from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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There has been a buzz about this book among the bloggers I mix with, so I bought this one with some of my Christmas book tokens. I’m so very glad I did…

allthebirdsintheskyPatricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

And no – you won’t find the above blurb anywhere, but when I read the version on Goodreads it contained far too many major plotpoints over far too much of the story arc. What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

Both Patricia and Laurence are vulnerable and likeable. But both are also capable of being self-obsessed and judgemental and Laurence, in particular, is frankly something of an arse at times. However, I never stopped caring for both of them and hoping they would somehow prevail.

It’s difficult to discuss this one in any detail without giving away some of the plot progression and as I plunged into this one without any preconceptions, other than it had a cool cover about birds – I’d very much like other readers to do the same. What it isn’t, is a book solely aimed at speculative fiction fans – Anders’ sharp observations about all sorts of details in her very near-future world would chime with anyone.

What I do feel this book carries is a strong message. In the hard days to come when we will be facing a series of environmental and resource crises brought about by over-population and pollution, we – humankind – need to guard against the instinct to go for the Big Fix. We also need to keep listening out for possible solutions from unlikely quarters and not get locked within our own echo-chamber – a particular hazard for those of us who enjoy social media.

A wise, witty book with an engaging story and some apt advice for the future, this book comes with a very strong recommendation. Read it.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry

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I had previously read and reviewed the prequel to this series, Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell, so when I was approached by the publishers and asked if I would like to read and review this book, I thedemonicarcticexpeditionimmediately agreed.

Fast-paced, action-packed and funny, perfect for reluctant readers. The Demonic Arctic Expedition is the fourth in a series of MIDDLE GRADE books for fantasy-adventure loving readers. This book contains a scowling demon, an ancient weapon, an adorable Hound of Hell, a sort of angel, a dragon, an ordinary boy and an extraordinary castle. And a not so cuddly polar bear…

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest addition to this reading series, designed to enthuse reluctant readers. As an ex-teacher, I have a clear idea of what books will persuade a book-shy youngster (usually a boy) to pick something off the shelves. It cannot be too long; the print has to be reasonably large and clear without looking ‘babyish’; the vocabulary cannot be too wide-ranging and there needs to be plenty of word repetition without making it obvious; there needs to be lots of action and loads of pace. So does Mulberry succeed in ticking all these boxes? Oh yes.

In addition, she also has provided an entertaining Prologue in the first person narrative of Jack, the main protagonist for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the previous books, so our reluctant reader isn’t tipped into the middle of an adventure and left floundering. Essentially Jack and Brink are on the hunt for gold, which leads them to the Arctic where they believe there is a great hoard so they can pay off the Collector, who is on their trail looking for the money Hell charges for hiring out a demon, namely Brink.

Yes… the plot is every bit as surreal and whacky as it sounds. There is also an enchanted sword and a dragon, who spends most of the time coating the dungeon in dragon snot as he has a cold, which he has given to the guardian angel… Mulberry has a trick of pulling in all sorts of classic characters and themes from fantasy and subverting them in her Skycastle adventures.

There isn’t huge depth of character as action and pace are king here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about Brink or Jack – there is an edge of anarchy in these stories that means I’m not completely sure where they are going to end up and I certainly didn’t see the outcome of this particular story coming. Mulberry does exactly what it says on the tin – and if you have a child between 9-12 who isn’t overly enthusiastic about picking up a book, consider this one.

8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris

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I really liked the blurb for this children’s mystery based on the supposed adventures of the young Arthur Conan Doyle. Would the charm persist beyond the book’s description?

thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

We are immediately plunged right into the middle of this mystery as Artie and his friend and sidekick, Ham, have a spooky encounter in a churchyard, which persuades Artie that the young trainee doctor lodging at their house is up to no good. Harris has managed to layer the character rather effectively. While watching Artie in action, I’m forcibly reminded of a juvenile Benedict Cumberbatch – opinionated, bossy and invariably convinced he is superior to those around him. More endearingly, Artie is prone to make more mistakes and go blundering more haphazardly into situations than his supercilious sleuth.

The historical feel of the period is effectively depicted with the occasional old fashioned word, such as ‘kirk’ instead of church, for instance but reading the context, I think most young readers could work out what the word means. We also have a number of interesting characters. I like the fact that Artie’s family is rather dysfunctional, with a father suffering depression in a time when there is no sickness benefit or safety net for those struggling on the poverty line. Ham also has a difficult background, with a father who has died and a widowed mother trying to cope.

There is plenty of banter between the two boys, as Ham is reluctantly dragged along in Artie’s wake. Most of the time he goes along with it – but just occasionally his pointed remarks regarding Artie’s tendency to go crashing into a situation make him pause and reconsider. I was pleased it is Ham’s contribution to the adventure that is the major gamechanger during the climactic final flurry of action.

Any niggles? I could have done without Artie’s jabs about Ham’s size. This is particularly unfortunate, I feel, in a book aimed at the children’s market when there are now significant numbers of youngsters heavier than is healthy. Surely, in an escapist adventure overweight children are also entitled to be able to enjoy the fun without such reminders of their problems?

That apart, I enjoyed this romp and I think many youngsters will do, too. There is plenty of action and some creepy moments without slipping into anything too horrific for newly independent readers, or those having this one read to them.

While I obtained the arc of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

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I’ll make time for anything Reynolds has written – even his least stellar efforts are characterised by wonderful imaginative leaps and at his best, he weaves worlds of wonder that have lodged in my head years after reading them. See my review of Revenger.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

Scur is an intriguing protagonist, having been unfairly conscripted to punish her father for his political activities against the regime. She is on her way back home, eager to see her parents and reassure them that despite some of the things she has been forced to do during the war, she is still okay and it isn’t their fault… Only during her homeward journey, she is once more overtaken by circumstances beyond her control and finds herself in a very tricky situation.

The slow bullets of the title are a type of chip implanted deep in the body such they are unable to be removed without killing the recipient, but nevertheless, they can still be read. Details of a person’s life can continue to be fed into its memory, along with images of people who matter in their lives, where they have worked or served. All soldiers have a slow bullet inserted as a matter of course, along with a portion of civilians. And prisoners…

So is someone the sum of what is on their slow bullet? Does that completely encompass who they are and what they are capable of? These are some of the questions behind this engrossing space opera adventure. Scur finds herself in a leadership role, despite not wanting it, because her driving concern is to return home and she cannot see how they are going to do so if she lets the one technical civilian continue to drift, locked in horror when he discovers the enormity of the jam they are in, when things go wrong on the transport ship. That said, he is also the person who manages to solve a whole lot of problems along the way – they probably wouldn’t survive without his input.

As well as raising some interesting issues, Reynolds also provides a real page-turner – over the years I have read one or three space opera adventures and I sort of guessed where this one was going. Until it took a left turn and went in an entirely different direction altogether, leaving me agog and desperate to know how the whole mess was going to pan out. So once the story steps completely over any of my expectations, does Reynolds bring this one to a satisfactory conclusion?

Oh yes. I think this one is going to reverberate around my head for a while, given the unsettling final section. Small wonder Slow Bullets won the Locus Award for Best Novella 2016 and was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Slow Bullets from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Regulars to this site will know that Tchaikovsky is a favourite author of mine and last year I read and reviewed the first book, The Tiger and the Wolf, in this latest epic fantasy offering and loved it.

Maniye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown thebearandtheserpentof the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

For those of you tempted by the cool cover to plunge in and pick up this one without reading the first book in the series, my advice would be don’t. Though Tchaikovsky provides a ‘Story So Far’ – a development that I thoroughly approve of – the first book is a tour de force and you’ll miss far too much of the wonderful richness of this amazing world. A world where people are defined by their clans and what they shape-shift into when they reach puberty. A world riven by constant wars and fights between the clans. A pre-agrarian society, where the secret of smelting iron belongs to the Wolf and the rest of the clans make do with bronze weapons.

While The Tiger and the Wolf mostly features the adventures of Maniye, the outcast child of the Wolf, this sequel branches off and we have another main protagonist, the Champion of the Bear, Lord Thunder. He has been dragged unwillingly right into the middle of the ferment caused when catastrophe overtakes the Seal people. A rather grumpy character possessing great strength and a short temper, he has no desire to become any kind of leader. I like the humour that comes from his struggles to deal with the political in-fighting, while he yearns to retreat once more into solitude – though that humour is tempered by the undertow of threat that runs through the book.

In common with much epic fantasy, there is Something Nasty and Worldchanging the prophesies are all saying is just around the corner. And indeed, Tchaikovsky’s talent for writing gripping action scenes and battles comes in handy as the book builds up to a page-turning climax that meant I read far into the wee small hours to discover how it all turns out. Anyone who has read Tchaikovsky’s Spiderlight and Children of Time will know he’s the master of unintended consequences, and while the main storyline is satisfactorily concluded in this action-packed book, there are some intriguing plotlines left dangling for the next in this series. Classic epic fantasy isn’t my favourite sub-genre, but Echoes of the Fall has a place in my heart – I dreamt of it when I finally fell asleep. So it comes very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Bear and the Serpent from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

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As soon as I caught sight of this one on the NetGalley catwalk, I knew I had to have it. Like many fantasy fans, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Hollows series – see my review of Every Which Way But Dead – where in each book Harrison invariably alludes to the game-changing catastrophe that brought the Interlanders out from the shadows. It is now a delight to have that keynote time actually charted in this entertaining read.

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the theturnseries that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before! Can science save us when all else fails?

I reserve the right to abbreviate book blurbs as I see fit, as far too many toss one spoiler in after another. But I’m not even giving you the beginning of the this one, as it immediately lurches into Spoiler territory – unnecessary as I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who have never read Kim Harrison and this is an excellent starting point. So long as you haven’t already been told half the story, already.

We are in the viewpoint of Trisk, a female dark elf and brilliant geneticist whose outstanding work is consistently passed over due to her gender – and her swarthy looks and lack of breeding. Elves are supposed to be blue-eyed, pale-skinned and blonde, like Kal, the spoilt, entitled jerk who made Trisk’s life at school a complete misery. Given that he, too, has gone on to study genetics, he continues to blight her life. And then they go their separate ways – until she makes a major breakthrough in a relatively small, human lab. Could this save the elves from the genetic damage inflicted by demonkind?

I loved this one. Harrison excels at writing nuanced, driven characters who frequently make disastrous mistakes. The worldbuilding is brilliant and the supporting cast every bit as charismatic – for Harrison fans, half the fun of this book is seeing familiar characters pop up at the start of their journey – or their ancestors. I loved Orchid, the gutsy pixy, desperately looking for a buck and refusing to believe that she is the last of her kind and seeing how the imperturbable Quen was before he got to be that way. While vampires regularly appear in urban fantasy reads, few writers manage to evoke the sheer terror and unpredictability of this creepy species the way Harrison does. As for Kal – I keep banging on about how important it is that we have a clear insight as to why the antagonist behaves the way he does and this is a masterclass in how to write one. He has been gifted with so much, but he knows only too well that what he lacks is that touch of brilliance Trisk brings to her work.

The way this book leads up to the disaster that overtakes the world and what happens next is masterfully handled. I very much hope that Harrison will be writing another in this series. I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

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If you ever read and enjoyed H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds then this one might be for you, as this offering by established science fiction author, Stephen Baxter, is its sequel.

themassacreofmankindIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

So has Baxter been successful in keeping the tone and feel of Wells’ book? Yes, I think he has. Walter who was the main protagonist in The War of the Worlds, has spent his time since then exhaustively researching the Martians and is convinced they will return. He’s not the only one. Britain is quite a different place as society is more militaristic, poverty is widespread and life is a lot more drab as everyone has been impacted by the damage inflicted by the Martians. Julie, our protagonist who also made an appearance in The War of the Worlds, is shocked at how much England has been affected on her return. I really enjoyed the fact that Baxter has not just reprised a Martian invasion – he has also constructed an alternate history for Europe and America in the aftermath of the initial invasion.

Once it all starts to kick off again, the feel of the action with the pace, the tone and some of the characters from Wells’ apocalyptic adventure returning makes Baxter’s tale feel very familiar, in particular the artilleryman’s appearance is every bit as disturbing as before. Although there are some important differences – the Martians have learnt some vital lessons after their first unsuccessful attempt to conquer Earth, which transformed the familiar into an engrossing page-turner. Initially, Baxter emulates Wells’ action-filled chaos as the British military are all set to engage the invasion force – it shouldn’t come as a huge shock if I reveal the carefully laid plans by the best military minds don’t go to plan. I really enjoyed Baxter’s trick of using historical figures in his catastrophic scenario, such as Winston Churchill.

Like Wells, Baxter regularly cuts away from his main protagonist to other characters in key positions as the Martians tighten their grip on Earth by targeting cities around the world. Will humanity survive, or is Mankind doomed to unremitting slavery for the rest of millennia? We learn of other humanoid races who accompany the invasion force – and there is a real sense of shock when we learn who they are and where they come from. For the purposes of this book, Baxter has continued using the version of the solar system provided by Wells. So not only is Mars inhabited, but also Venus and Jupiter. As for the final twist that brings the Martian advance to a halt – it certainly provides an interesting outcome. I really enjoyed the idea once I got used to the notion, particularly as Baxter then builds upon it and gives a fascinating scenario.

There is scope for another book in this series and I’m very much hoping Baxter writes it – I found The Massacre of Mankind as compelling as The War of the Worlds and would love to read more set in this traumatised, alternative world.
10/10