I was intrigued by the premise – and my attention was sharpened when I read glowing reviews from the likes of The Cap from Captain’s Quarters, so I bought myself this one as a birthday pressie from me to me.
BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
REVIEW: What a delightful premise – an alternate history that forces humanity to engage with space travel because of a serious meteor strike. Given this was the event that did for the dinosaurs and we’re overdue another one, this is all too chillingly plausible. Kowal’s engaging protagonist drew me right into the story – I love Elma. Her geeky cleverness, horribly dented by enduring years of social ostracization, nevertheless shines without managing to make her sound unduly entitled or smug. Her ongoing anxiety in certain situations is also completely understandable and gives her character sufficient vulnerability, so that she doesn’t end up being implausibly and insufferably perfect.
Kowal’s description of the institutional racism and sexism is also all too realistic. The weary resignation of many of the black characters over the fact that all the highest status jobs were out of their reach made my heart hurt. As for the determined devaluation of women when they excelled at anything regarded as within a man’s province – that was something I recall as still being firmly in place during the 1970s. I thought the ongoing Space Programme worked well, taking into account the limits of the technology of the time and I enjoyed the occasional news items that provided an effective insight into how the effects of the meteor strike on the climate were playing out around the world. It was nicely judged – much more, and it would have impacted on the pacing and narrative arc.
All in all, this is a classy, well written alternative history where Humanity’s effort to reach the stars has been given much greater impetus. I will be getting hold of the second book in the series in short order, especially as the third book, The Relentless Moon is due to be released later this summer. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written science fiction. 9/10
BLURB: At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume. Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College? As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards: a new family who recently moved in. Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.
REVIEW: Kellan is an engaging, likeable protagonist with a lot on his plate. On top of his academic duties at Braxton University, he is also trying to bring up his small daughter with the help of his beloved grandmother, Nana D. But his habit of tripping over dead bodies also means he gets caught up into trying to sort out who was responsible for these untimely deaths. A cosy murder mystery needs a few vital ingredients to be a truly enjoyable, engrossing read – there needs to be a sympathetic protagonist we enjoy following. Kellan certainly ticks that box.
We also need a steady supply of suitably plausible suspects with a sufficiently strong reason to off our murder victim. And this is why cosy murder mysteries are often set within small communities, where there are a pool of people at hand. Cudney is very good at this aspect – far too often the mystery component is rather neglected. But every single one of his books has been exceptionally well plotted.
The other tricky part of this demanding genre is ensuring that despite the fact we are dealing with a murder, the tone doesn’t get too dark or gritty – yet, neither can the mood be unduly flippant or descend into outright comedy. After all, there has been a murder. This balance is far harder to negotiate than Cudney makes it look – largely thanks to his knack of writing a varied cast of characters who are largely likeable, yet with edges that mean they aren’t too cute or unrealistic. And once again, the murder mystery part of this story is nailed, with plenty of twists and turns.
I also love the ongoing progression of the story, which also puts this series a cut above many others. Kellan’s relationships with some of the key characters in this community continues to evolve and develop, which gives readers of the series an extra reward that isn’t there for those who crash into it. That said, if anyone wanted to, there is no reason why this one wouldn’t work perfectly well as a standalone, or a prospective entry point. Although there is an ongoing major issue that Kellan is wrestling with regarding his personal life. And I was delighted to see that it is creating a fair amount of havoc – and leaves this story on a doozy of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the fourth book, Mistaken Identity Crisis is available, so I will soon be diving back into this engaging world. Highly recommended for fans of well-written, cosy mystery murders. 9/10
This one was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies and I scampered across and pre-ordered it. I’m so sorry – I cannot recall who it was who suggested it! So… did I enjoy it?
BLURB:Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter. Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
REVIEW: This epic fantasy is set in an African landscape, where the warring tribes and kingdoms are firmly nested within the culture and magic of the continent. I absolutely loved it, particularly as Rwizi tips us into the world and expects the reader to work a bit to put it all together. I always enjoy SFF that presents a strong three-dimensional world, full of nuances and strong characters – and if I have to pay attention to work out exactly how it all fits together, then that’s fine.
I quickly fell in love with Salo, the apparently timid boy who is paralysed with fear when facing dangerous creatures and can’t fight all that well. Having become very familiar with the dynamic where women and girls are ostracised for wanting to move out of the domestic sphere, I found it a refreshing change that Salo is shunned for not being a warrior, instead being drawn to magic – normally the preserve of the women of the tribe.
Though this form of sorcery isn’t for the faint-hearted. Mastery of magic requires pain and sacrifice and in order to access some of the more powerful layers, lines have to be crossed. It rapidly becomes a lot darker, when the requirement becomes what you have to offer up what you love most… and no, we’re not talking about your favourite item of clothing or jewellery. I was a bit shaken at the brutal cost of it. However, I thought about my reaction and wondered why this magical system struck me as particularly violent. Because it’s not as if European fantasy is remotely cosy, either – but I’ve grown up with that dynamic and am accustomed to how it works. Ditto the stories of sand and sorcery I’ve been reading recently, such as the Daevabad trilogy – just think of Dara’s bloody backstory – but I was acclimatised to tales about djinn since I was a girl. Not so with African magic, which I know very little about. Aspects of it are bloody, coercive and thoroughly dark – like magic systems everywhere else and I think it’s the unfamiliarity of its workings that makes it seem particularly grim.
My mention of S.A. Chakrobarty’s Daevabad trilogy isn’t accidental – the immersive worldbuilding, strong characterisation and complex magical system in Scarlet Odyssey reminded me of many aspects of The City of Brass – see my review – including the long, eventful journey. The major difference is the lack of a romantic thread, which I don’t mind at all. I am so impressed with this debut novel – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in an African setting. 9/10
BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.
I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.
While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.
I have to declare an interest regarding this book – Caron was one of my Creative Writing students at the Worthing campus of the Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and I have seen earlier drafts of After Seth. It was another student who contacted me to say that she had published it, and it was available on Amazon. Naturally, I was keen to read the final version – and then felt I wanted to spread the word about this gripping, intense read. This is my honest unbiased opinion of the book.
BLURB: At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world. •Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse. •Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience. •Imogen – obsessed and delusional. And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified?
I really enjoyed reading this one. All too often, it is those who wreak the damage that somehow seem to prevail by kicking over the rules that keep society and individuals civilised, but while Garrod doesn’t flinch from showing some of the darker consequences of Seth’s actions, I enjoyed the powerful feeling of hope in what could have otherwise been a bleak read. It doesn’t hurt that both Roz and Eleanor both have a wry sense of humour that comes to the fore when the going gets tough.
Of course, this is ultimately a murder mystery. Or is it? Has Seth actually been murdered? Even that is up for debate, and it is only as the book progresses and Billie Nixon continues taking the statements of the women involved in Seth’s life, that she learns the truth. There are some nice twists, particularly as the story progresses, that gives the reader an entirely different take on what is happening, which is always satisfying in a whodunit. I think the ending is beautiful – it not only ties everything up entirely satisfactorily, but left me with a lump in my throat.
Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers with a whodunit mystery. 9/10
BLURB: Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.
I was just in the mood for this intriguing fantasy story all about identity in a world where both witches and bounty hunters are brought up in sequestered surroundings involving intensive training. Clearly both professions allow women above average freedom in this medieval-sounding era where horseback is the main form of transport, while swords and arrows the main type of weapons.
Brennan manages to give each young woman a distinct identity in this dual narrative, which is harder to do than you might think, given the strong similarities between them. I loved the premise and was interested to see where the author would take this one. Full of incident, with plenty of intrigue and surprises, the pages flew past as I wanted to know what would happen next. And – no… I certainly didn’t see that ending coming! There is also a strong supporting cast, particularly Eclipse, who is a companion and graduated alongside Mirage. The fight scenes are enjoyable and clearly written. I liked the fact that neither Mirage or Miryo took deaths for granted, although they are a regular part of Mirage’s job. Recommended for fans of entertaining and well written swords and sorcery. 8/10
I was very impressed with the first book in this series, A Plague of Giants – to the extent that I pre-ordered this one, which is something I don’t do all that often.
BLURB: SOLDIER AND AVENGER
Daryck is from a city that was devastated by the war with the Bone Giants, and now he and a band of warriors seek revenge against the giants for the loved ones they lost. But will vengeance be enough to salve their grief?
DREAMER AND LEADER
Hanima is part of a new generation with extraordinary magical talents: She can speak to fantastical animals. But when this gift becomes a threat to the powers-that-be, Hanima becomes the leader of a movement to use this magic to bring power to the people.
SISTER AND SEEKER
Koesha is the captain of an all-female crew on a perilous voyage to explore unknown waters. Though Koesha’s crew is seeking a path around the globe, Koesha is also looking for her sister, lost at sea two years ago. But what lies beyond the edges of the map is far more dangerous than storms and sea monsters. . . .
Firstly, if you haven’t yet read A Plague of Giants, then whatever you do – don’t start here. You’ll be flailing around in a welter of names and places that mean nothing to you for far too long to make sense of what is happening. This is, after all, a multi-viewpoint, epic fantasy which sprawls across continents as the natural disaster causes a massive invasion of a displaced people, creating havoc and aftershocks in its wake. I’ll be honest – this isn’t generally my favourite sub-genre, as too often plotting and scene-setting trump strong characterisation. However Hearne has hit upon a nifty way to sidestep some of the limitations of an extensive cast and numerous settings, by having the story told through a bard with magical abilities to take on the characters he is depicting. So we always get a first-person viewpoint and as the bard gives an introduction to his audience, we also get a brief reminder of the character he is about to personify. I think it’s a device that works exceptionally well – particularly as the bard’s abilities are nested within the magical system that runs within the world, anyway.
This slice of the action is a strong continuation of the story that started so successfully in A Plague of Giants, and we get a further progression of the unfolding drama, with more insights into the main characters – good and bad. I also appreciated that we got to know more about the kennings – the magical abilities that some folks have; how they manifest, their limitations and the costs of such magic.
This is a hefty read at over 500 pages, but they flew by as I always picked up the book keen to dive back in and find out more. I’m looking forward to A Curse of Krakens and this one comes highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy peopled by well-depicted characters.
BLURB: Lizbeth Rose is hired onto a new crew for a seemingly easy protection job, transporting a crate into Dixie, just about the last part of the former United States of America she wants to visit. But what seemed like a straight-forward job turns into a massacre as the crate is stolen…
The blurb goes on for a bit longer, but you get the gist. I love Rose and the way we are right inside the character from the first page – Harris has a knack of drawing me right into the middle of her worlds in no time flat and this time around was no exception. This dystopian, alternate history where the Russian monarchy managed to flee before they were all massacred and are now living in a corner of a very different America, works really well. The magical element is also deftly introduced and I enjoy the tension and dislike that surrounds these magic-users, which makes complete sense.
I was hooked and read late into the night and early morning to discover what happened next. Rose teams up with a former colleague while plot twists come thick and fast as they fend off a variety of threats. In the meantime, there is also an interesting romantic thread running alongside the adventure which somewhat complicates things for Rose. One of the delights of this one, is that I simply didn’t know what was going to happen next.
However, I wasn’t completely won over by the MacGuffin that very abruptly stopped all the mayhem and violence. I recently had a rant about female protagonists in fantasy books who suddenly are riding into battle alongside the men, without there having been any real attempt to explain what dynamic has changed to make this possible. I felt in a similar fashion here, that a whole bunch of deep-seated, difficult issues in the small town of Sally were given a flimsy makeover in order to bring the story to a rather unsatisfying conclusion that didn’t convince me. It didn’t mean the book went flying across the room, and I still very much enjoyed Rose’s personal journey, which was brilliantly explored throughout the book – but I have knocked a point off for the way the main plot gets wrapped up. That doesn’t prevent this being an action-packed, western-flavoured fantasy adventure well worth picking up – and we’ll certainly be pre-ordering the next instalment.
I loved Robinson’s Mars series and have also enjoyed some of his subsequent work, as he is an ambitious writer, willing to push the envelope in what he does – see my review of 2312.
BLURB: Our voyage from Earth began generations ago. Now, we approach our new home. AURORA.
And that’s it – the blurb. How refreshingly short and to the point… As you may have gathered, this is a generational ship adventure in the closing stages of its long, long journey. I was impressed at the strength of the characterisation of the main protagonist, Freya, who is the daughter of the main engineer striving to keep Aurora, their ship, in one piece long enough for the arrival at Tau Ceti. Roberson writes on the harder side of science fiction, so there is a fair amount of technical detail regarding keeping the ship and all the systems running. I found a lot of the problems thrown up by trying to keep a small biome running really fascinating – of course, this is fiction rather than science, but many of the issues Robinson raises did sound scarily plausible.
While many of the problems around a generational ship were interesting, I am always all about the story and that means characters. There have been times when I have found Robinson’s characterisation a little thinner than I would have liked. Not so here. I loved Freya and I thought his depiction of her development from a young girl, through the main relationships throughout her life, until she is facing the historic events around the arrival at Tau Ceti absolutely convincing.
The other strength in this narrative is the way the plot twists kept coming. I simply didn’t predict the way events unspooled on the arrival to their longed-for destination, and was unable to put the book down as I was utterly engrossed in finding out what would happen next. That is about all I’m going to say about the plot as I would hate to provide any spoilers – this is one that needs to be read with the minimum amount of foreknowledge. That strong narrative kept me turning the pages, so that I read faaar into the night.
Any niggles? Robinson is fond of slowing the pace right back down at times, and there were long – and I mean long – passages where he muses about the philosophy surrounding the ship’s consciousness, which I felt tipped into self-indulgence. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. There is so much in this book that I loved and I know that Aurora will stay in my head for a long time to come. Highly recommended for fans of excellent generational ship adventures.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:
Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan 67% The ride was crazy. Miryo wondered whether being a Hunter was always like this – skulking about, climbing through windows, and leaving town in the dead of night. And whether being an Air witch was anything like it. If so, her life was going to be very hard on the nerves.
BLURB: When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives?
Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic.
Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.
I’m thoroughly enjoying this interesting premise. The alternate viewpoints between Mirage and Miryo works really well and the story is racketing along at nice clip with a well depicted world, strong rules for the magic and lots of lovely, layered infighting. What’s not to love?