Tag Archives: magic

Teaser Tuesday – 21st February, 2016

Standard

tuesdayTeaser 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:

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
3% I walked up the porch stairs and petted the pale column. “He’s a rude idiot. Don’t pay him any cleansweepattention. I think you’re charming.”
The house didn’t answer.

BLURB: On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

As you can see, I’ve only just started this one, but it does sound very promising. I like the writing and I’m already interested in the protagonist and the intriguing premise.

Sunday Post – 29th January 2017

Standard

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.

It hasn’t been a busy week as I’ve not been very well, trying to cope with a persistent, low-grade headache. It started on Sunday and I struggled on through teaching on Monday and Tuesday – I also had one of my lovely writing groups over for a meal and feedback on Tuesday night. But come Wednesday, I’d had enough. I declared myself beaten and retreated to bed where I’ve been mostly sleeping and reading and occasionally facing the computer, which has made me feel sick again. Feeling better now, though still getting tired far too easily. Hopefully I’ll be feeling a lot better next week.

Number One Son flew out the States on Monday and it was relief when I heard he’d arrived safe and sound. God bless modern communication technology.

I’m officially fed up with winter. The nights have been so wretchedly cold and Monday was horrible with freezing fog, having to drive into Northbrook College at night. But at least it hasn’t snowed this year, yet, so I must be grateful for small mercies.

This week I have read:
A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, aclosedandcommonorbitfollowing a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chambers’ first book in this series The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but I preferred this offering. This dual narrative switches between Lovelace and Pepper, both engrossing and interesting layered characters. I shall be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
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.

This offering is the approved sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Baxter has triumphantly evoked the tone and feel of the original classic invasion story, while injecting plenty of original action and excitement. If you are a fan of Wells’ book, I recommend you have a go at this one – it’s a blast with a delightful twist at the end.

 

Radio Boy by Christian O’Donnell
Meet Spike, aka Radio Boy: a new Adrian Mole on the radio for the internet generation.radioboy

Spike’s your average awkward 11 year old, funny and cheeky and with a mum to reckon with. When he becomes the first presenter ever to be sacked from hospital radio, he decides, with the help of his father and two best friends, to take other steps. However, it all spins out of control…

This is an amusing children’s book with an engaging protagonist and plenty of action with some important underlying messages without being preachy or stuffy. Ideal for newly independent readers and one that I shall be reading to my granddaughter.

 

Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

The above blurb takes you to the start of this engaging sequel, so my firm advice is to get hold of Truthwitch before tucking into this enjoyable, YA epic fantasy. As might be deduced by the title, this offering focuses on Prince Merik, however we do still follow the fortunes of Safi and Iseult. The narrative comes to a dramatic ending but there are still plenty of dangling plotlines all waiting to be tied up in the next book.

 

Old Bones – A Detective Inspector Slider Mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
A young couple discover human remains buried in the garden of their new house: could this be oldbonesthe resting place of 14-year-old Amanda Knight, who disappeared from the same garden two decades before, and was never seen again?
The problem comes almost as a relief to DCI Slider, still suffering from the fallout of his previous case. He is not popular with the Powers That Be, and his immediate boss, Detective Superintendent Porson, reckons that at least this little puzzle will keep Slider out of trouble. After all, with a murder twenty years in the past, this is the coldest of cold cases. Most of the suspects and principal players are now dead too, and all passion is long spent … Or is it?

Well this is fun! I haven’t read any of Harrod-Eagles writing before and I’m now a solid fan of this popular, prolific author. This established series is definitely going to be one I shall be revisiting. I loved Slider’s grumpy, desert-dry humour and while I guessed some of the elements of the mystery, it didn’t matter because I was so caught up with the characters, I was in for the duration.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 22nd January 2017

Review of Emperor of the Fireflies by Sarah Ash

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

PREVIEW of Empire Games by Charles Stross

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Friday Faceoff – A Room Without Books Is Like a Body Without a Soul featuring The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands by Susan Dennard

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry & Gene Autry chase Ghost Riders in the Sky – https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/01/26/johnny-cash-debbie-harry-gene-autry-chase-ghost-riders-in-the-sky/
In this delightful article, Thom gives us various versions of this classic song, after explaining why it matters so much to him. If you enjoy reading lyrically beautiful prose in praise of music, then this is must-read blog.

Tips For Helping Me Blog – https://onereadersthoughts.com/2017/01/27/ff-tips-for-helping-me-blog%ef%bb%bf/
Emma gives some useful tips in order to help keep our blogging schedules straight.

Never Press DELETE http://melfka.com/archives/2068
Joanna provides some useful advice for writers that I regularly find myself saying to my students – while horrified at how many who throw away or delete their own work…

Win 50 Books for a School or Library https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/win-50-books-for-a-school-or-library/
I thought I’d spread the word about this competition – let’s face it we all know schools or libraries which could do with 50 more books…

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest
https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/27/five-fascinating-facts-about-shakespeares-the-tempest/ I found this article particularly interesting as I’m in the process of rewriting my novel which is a sequel, exploring what happens to Miranda and Prospero once they leave their enchanted island…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

Standard

I was beguiled by the first book in this excellent series, The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice, which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. In any other year, it would have made my list for Outstanding Reads as it missed the cut by the merest whisker – but the standard of books I read last year was extraordinarily high. Would I enjoy Emperor of the Fireflies as much?

emperorofthefirefliesKai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.

No, I didn’t like this offering as much – I loved it a whole lot more. Now I’m thoroughly acquainted with the cast of characters and the Japanese culture, it took no time at all to slide back into this world, where the stakes are higher than ever. Hotaru and his new bride are busy accustoming themselves to their new roles. Kai and Masao, harnessed to the tides, find themselves steadily losing their mortality as they seek some way to break free of the curse. While the feisty little kitsune struggles to save the sacred mountain from the depredations of a ravening fire dragon.

In less skilled hands this multi-viewpoint epic fantasy could have easily turned into a muddled mess, but Ash’s clear, unfussy style delivered the story with such vivid clarity, I could easily visualise the imperial court and the daily power struggles unfolding between the rival clans and factions, in addition to the magnificent tide dragons as they transformed from the victims of the ancient curse. This was one of those delightful reads where I was caught between turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next, yet not wanting this one to end. It was with a real sense of loss as I finally came to the end of this marvellous story which was brought to a fitting, bittersweet close.

If you enjoy epic fantasy and would welcome something different from the usual medieval era, then I recommend you track down this excellent duology which deserves to be far better known. The added bonus is that the Kindle edition for both books represents excellent value for money.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Underneath the spreading chestnut tree…

Standard

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week I have chosen Uprooted by Naomi Novik – one of my favourite reads of 2016.

 

uprooted

This is the cover produced by Macmillan in May 2015 and is the cover of the book I read. I like it – the way the tower dominates the isolated village very effectively depicts the storyline. The colour also makes this an attractive, eye-catching cover – the downside is the very simplistic artwork initially made me think this was a children’s book, when it’s nothing of the sort.

 

uprooted1

This is the cover produced by Del Rey in May 2015. I think this is a really good candidate – the medieval flavour is well depicted and I like the nod in the direction of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The title font is lovely.

 

uprooted2

This edition is published in May 2016 by Pan Macmillan and reverts to the very simplistic design, without the attractive colouring. I think this is a rather drab, downbeat effort – a shame when considering what a cracking read the book is.

 

uprooted3

This Spanish edition, produced in March 2016 by Planeta, is beautiful. I love the detail of the red etched trees highlighted against the black background, which is still simple but so very effective. This is my favourite cover.

 

uprooted4

This German edition, produced in November 2016 by cbj, has chosen to feature the trees in a more figurative way. It is well done and evokes the mystery and era of the story, but does not quite have the punchy eye appeal of the previous cover. What do you think – which is your favourite?

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton

Standard

I’ve seen this gorgeous cover and read enthusiastic reviews of it throughout second half of the year, so I thought it was high time I saw for myself what all the fuss was about…

rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from, given she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”…

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m prepared to share – the rest of the plot is unspooled with such skill and pace it would be shame to give you any spoilers that would interrupt your own enjoyment. The first person narrative sucked me in from the opening lines as this desert-based YA fantasy adventure starts with a bang and doesn’t let go. Amani, orphan and skilled shot, is desperate to leave the scruffy, dead-end town where she grew up in the desert.

As the consequences of her escape plan catch up with her, Hamilton takes us on a journey across a vividly depicted landscape peopled with ghouls and other monsters. This is a world of djinni, sand horses and half-breed godlings with forbidden magical powers. The desert is almost a character in this richly drawn world with a real otherworldly feel as Hamilton has heavily borrowed from Eastern myths and legends. As Amani careens through the parched landscape, constantly on the run, we learn more about her backstory, the current political situation and more details about her mysterious travelling companion also emerge.

There are major reveals along the way that continue to notch up the stakes and increase the tension, further locking me into the story until this one was a constant struggle to put down until I finished it in three greedy gulps. The climax is well handled with the ending leaving me wanting more of this world and to discover what happens next to Amani. Fortunately I don’t have to wait too much longer, as Traitor to the Throne is due to be released in February 2017. I look forward to tucking into the next slice of this excellent adventure, which comes highly recommended. Receiving a copy of Rebel of the Sands from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 29th November, 2016

Standard

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
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:
The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bellthebanishedcraft
75% WHAT ARE THESE CREATURES DOING? I MUST TRY HARDER TO REACH THEM. WHATEVER THEY HAVE DONE, THEY ARE ON A COURSE TO DESTROY THEMSELVES FASTER THAN I WOULD HAVE IMAGINED.

I AM SORRY, LITTLE CREATURES. I AM SORRY.

BLURB: Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it.

A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

This is another offering from my TBR pile. I reviewed the sequel, The Fettered Flame, to this genre mash-up earlier in the year. This epic science fiction/fantasy adventure is set across two worlds, which have been accidentally sundered by one of the children belonging to Mother, who is featured in my teaser. I really enjoyed the quirky otherness of The Fettered Flame – and although I’m reading them back to front (not necessarily to be recommended) once more, I’ve fallen under the spell of Bell’s unusual take on the fantasy genre.

FILM REVIEW of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Standard

This long-awaited spinoff from the Harry Potter franchise with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and David Yates, director of four HP films, at the helm has finally hit the screens. And we were in the cinema last Friday at 10 am to see it. Was it worth the anticipation?

fanbeastsOh yes. Rowling made the smart decision to take the time and place well away from Hogwarts and has set this adventure in New York during 1926. So we are treated to wonderful 1920s fashions, vintage cars and New York in its heyday before it became gridlocked by traffic. Into this setting shuffles a very diffident Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander fresh off the boat from England, clearly not comfortable dealing with New Yorkers. He is carrying a rather battered suitcase – and it is when the contents of said suitcase inconveniently escape that it all starts to kick off. At the worst possible time, too. For there are increasing tensions between the Maj and Non-maj communities, forcing Madam President of the US wizarding world to get ever more hardline in dealing with forbidden interactions between the two.

There is much here that is comfortably familiar for HP fans – intriguing settings, quirky characters fanbeasts1both human and otherwise, fantatical/wrong-headed/power-grabbing antagonists and plenty going on. With the cream of British actors appearing in the extensive cast lists over the years, the acting quality has always been very high – and Redmayne’s portrayal of a shy, sensitive soul fascinated by magical creatures and scoured by years of bullying and/or misunderstanding certainly ticks that box. He is ably supported by Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, along with Katherine Waterston as Tina, a witch-policewoman and her memorably beautiful mind-reading sister, Queenie, played by Alison Studol.

fanbeasts2We see the divided nature of the society, with feelings running high as something large and lethal is laying waste to buildings and killing people. The MACUSA, (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) are in a spin with Chief Investigator Percival Graves desperately trying to track down the cause of all the damage. The special effects are amazing – seeing swathes of New York come crashing down in showers of rubble was impressive, but more so was watching them magically go back together again.

All of the above are fabulous – the film wouldn’t be what it is without those components. But for me, the scene stealers were those fantastic beasts. Vicious, naughty, lovelorn or despairing – the creatures look wonderful, the special effects are amazing and I found myself with tears in my eyes over a creature that doesn’t exist at the thought of its extinction… Redmayne’s interaction with them is impressive – he must have spent hours chatting to and stroking green screens, but it was certainly worth it. Halfway through, I recall gripping Himself’s hand and hoping the film wouldn’t end for a very long time and the last time I felt like that about a movie was during The Fellowship of the Ring. Both films took me to another time and place, making me both laugh and cry during the journey and providing me with plenty to think about afterwards. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

Standard

Every so often you come across a book that takes an established genre, gives it a thorough shake and tips it on its head – and this is what Houghton has done to epic fantasy…

songsofseraphineSome battles bleed so much, and for so long, that the earth never truly forgets their dead. Some battles are born of oppression, and some of greed, and some simply because it was written in the stars. Three sisters—Charlemagne, Cairo and Pendragon Agonistes—are sent from America to England to live with their eccentric grandparents after their mother disappears and their father falls to pieces. But before the girls have time to find their feet, Charlemagne is married off to a dead man, Penny takes a nap and wakes up as a boy, and Cairo is swept into a dangerous romance with a man who wants her for more than her considerable charm. With the girls wrapped up in a conflict they barely understand, they don’t notice that their grandmother is transforming, or that the two demigod assassins who took their mother are now coming for them—if one of them can get over his crisis of conscience.

This is a portal world story where a deadly war on one world bleeds into the lives of a family struggling to rebuild their shattered existence on another world. We regularly read tales of dreadful battles where whole races are wiped out in epic fantasy tales, except for a desperate remnant. This story isn’t really about that – this is more about the aftermath, when those wars have slipped into history. Except in this case, the war isn’t done and forces beyond these three sisters are determined to shape their destinies.

I loved it. Family dynamics within speculative fiction always grabs me and when these three sisters go to live with their grandparents, I was completely hooked by the building sense of something radically wrong and getting worse. The flashbacks the girls experience are all very clear and deftly handled and Houghton’s depiction of the three very different characters all coping in their own way worked well. He doesn’t sentimentalise them – something that would have been easy to do – and while the writing is slightly heightened in the manner of epics, it works well. I also like the way the magical element works. In Houghton’s world, whenever power is wielded there is a price and all too often the price is far too high. There were moments when I was winded at who got damaged and who died… But that surely made me pay attention for the duration.

The only major concern I have is that this book has ended on something of a cliffhanger and I’m really, really hoping Houghton has plans to write a sequel. This disturbing, rich and original world is one I’m desperate to visit again.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric’s Mission – a Novella in the World of the Five Gods

Standard

I’ve had the delight of reading the two previous novellas in this series – Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman. So when Himself said that Penric’s Mission was about to be released, it was a no-brainer that we’d scoop it up.

penricsmissionLearned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems and Penric is forced to use his own wits and resources. As well as those of the demon that lives alongside him in his body…

Firstly, avoid reading the blurb – it gives away far too much of the story and given this is a novella, there simply isn’t time for the narrative arc to recover from such a reveal. I’ve included a modified version that doesn’t contain any spoilers. Fairly rapidly, Penric’s mission is in trouble and from then on, he is forced to think on his feet.

I really like the way Bujold sets this up as one kind of story – and then suddenly changes everything around. I had intended to begin this book this morning and break off to complete it later tonight – except that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the end. Once more, Penric’s wry humour, his self-effacing manner and the real danger he and his companions find themselves in hooked me in and wouldn’t let go.

A significant amount of time has elapsed between Penric and the Shaman and this offering – and we learn of what has befallen Penric during that interim as the adventure unfolds. Bujold manages to unpack the plot, throwing out small extras for those who have read the previous books, yet keeping the story sufficiently accessible so that newcomers to her world can also enjoy it. Nobody does it better – but then not many writers have had more practice at garnering new converts to a long-running series than Bujold, who is best known for her hugely successful Miles Vorkosigan series – see my review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

Once again, she wraps up the story leaving me a tad wrung out and completely satisfied with the outcome. And hoping that we will get another slice of Penric in due course…
10/10