Tag Archives: Marie Brennan

Sunday Post – 21st May 2017

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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.

Last Sunday was another major gathering of the clan – my parents, both sisters, along with my brother in law and two nephews met up at The George pub at Burpham for a birthday meal to celebrate my sister’s birthday. It was an additional celebration – she is returning next month to England and will be settling in Littlehampton just up the road. We had a lovely time all catching up with each other with lots of laughter and good food.

This week has been a better one, in that I have started to catch up on my admin backlog from when I was ill and feel that at last I’m regaining my energy levels, although I did miss my Pilates session again this week, as I still felt less than my shiny best. This afternoon, we’ve been invited up to a BBQ at my daughter’s house – and I’m providing the vegan pudding… So I won’t be around to nteract though I’ll catch up later.

This week I have read:

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Jen Williams’ first series, The Copper Cat – see my review of The Copper Promise made a great impression. She has an energy and buzz that has her writing crackling off the the page and this post-apocalytic sci-fi/fantasy swords and sorcery mashup ticks all the boxes for me. The worldbuilding, in particular, is outstanding…

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
It’s been longer than I’d planned since I read the first book – see my review of Clean Sweep in this original, quirky fantasy/sci fi portal adventure and it was every bit as enjoyable as I’d hoped. It’s a really nifty trick to be able to effectively portray an multi-world epic from a normally quiet inn in a half-forgotten corner of America, but Andrews pulls it off.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This takes writing chops to effectively depict a woman warrior who knows nothing about who she is or where she came from, only that she is bound to complete a mysterious quest for the people who summoned her. Marie Brennan pulls it off and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment, Lightning in the Blood at the end of the month.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 14th May 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of the Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

Teaser Tuesday featuring Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan

Review of Goldfish from Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay

Shoot for the Moon 2017 Challenge – April Roundup

Friday Face-off – Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo – featuring No Highway by Nevil Shute

Review of The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

 

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

John Fogerty, Johnny Winter & James Burton hit that Riff! : Susie Q! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/05/20/john-fogerty-johnny-winter-james-burton-hit-that-riff-oh-susie-q-oh-susie-q-susie-q/  Thom’s wonderful, indepth articles about music are always worth reading. And this one is a delight – the Johnny Winter version is my favourite, for what it’s worth…

10 of the Best Poems About Gardens  https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/19/10-of-the-best-poems-about-gardens/ The day when all the marvellous BBC coverage from Chelsea Flower Show starts seems apt to consider poems about the garden.

Thoughts on writing and publishing, from me and others  http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2586 Juliet McKenna’s blog is always worth reading, but this article also includes links to other interesting, articulate authors

Seven Steps to Honoring Your Reality  https://diymfa.com/writing/seven-steps-to-honoring-your-reality#disqus_thread This excellent article by Sara Letourneau certainly arrived at my Inbox in time to remind me not to panic as I’m trying to catch up after a spell of not feeling my best…

Oceans of Life? The Solar System and beyond  http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/05/17/oceans-life-solar-system-beyond/ Another superb roundup about what is going on in the scientific community – and it has never been more exciting…

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

Teaser Tuesday – 16th May, 2017

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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:

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
2% The sound of the horn pierces the aperion, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.

BLURB: At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

This is the opening of this novella from an author I have fallen in love with. Himself bought it a couple of months ago and has recommended it, so I’m tucking in as the second book in this series comes out at the end of the month. I don’t yet know if I like it or not as I am just beginning this one, though I am very much looking forward to it.

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

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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’s been all about the grandchildren this last week, as they have been with us again. Unlike most of their recent stays, the weather has been grand – though the fly in the ointment has been poor little Oscar’s hacking cough and heavy cold. So instead of trips to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, along the beach and to the bluebell woods, we had to rein in our activities. We did manage a couple of trips to the cinema – the first to see Beauty and the Beast which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Oscar and I returned to see a truly dreadful Smurf film yesterday instead of the proposed trip to the climbing wall, which was vetoed by me because of his cough. We did manage a visit to Highdown Gardens on Thursday. It was a beautiful morning – bright sunshine without the easterly wind and I decided we all needed some fresh air and the added pick-me-up of a wonderful display of Spring flowers. As ever, it was lovely and the children had fun running around together.

 

This week I have read:

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
Once again, I loved being swept off to the steamy humidity of the jungle where Lady Trent finds herself confronted with a lot more than the savage swamp-wyrms. Brennon’s plucky adventuress leaps off the page with her frankness in how she defied social conventions to follow her passion to discover more about dragons.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.
This far-future murder mystery is a classy, accomplished noir whodunit set on a miserable planet with too much gravity and weather, as Rause returns to Magenta to confront unanswered questions about the bombing incident in which his wife died. And uncovers a whole lot more…

Goldfish From Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay
Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?
Well, this is a hoot! I love the premise that Joe’s magical amulet given to him by his archaeologist uncle means that undead animals look to him to solve their unresolved problems. Fizz the goldfish is definitely on the warpath after being flushed down the toilet and determined to discover who perpetrated the crime.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 16th April 2017

Top Ten Unique Reads…

Teaser Tuesday featuring From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

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

Seven of the Best Epic Poems by Female Poets https://interestingliterature.com/2017/04/19/seven-of-the-best-epic-poems-by-female-poets/ Once more this excellent site has come up trumps with another informative, interesting article.

How To Fail Dismally at Book Blogging http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/how-to-dismally-fail-at-book-blogging.html?spref=tw I loved this funny, helpful guide on how avoid some of the pitfalls that can stall your book blog.

Meeting Deadlines – Remember to Breathe! https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/meeting-deadlines-remember-to-breathe/ Fellow Grimmie author and all-round thoroughly nice person Sophie has had a real roller-coaster month – and a cautionary tale for freelance artists…

It’s a Dog’s Life https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/its-a-dogs-life/ I laughed out loud at this quirky, funny story – if you want some light relief swing by and enjoy this one.

Why Not More Love for the Brontë Sisters? https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/why-not-more-love-for-the-bronte-sisters/ Having been a fan of their writing for a very long time, it has often puzzled me why Charlotte, Emily and Anne are not a lot more popular, given the rise and rise of nostalgia for classic reads.

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

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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

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

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

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyou

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

thesummergoddess

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

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

songsofseraphine

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

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I’ve already blogged about the favourite series I completed during 2016 here. Today I want to talk about the series I have started and want to continue reading in 2017.

WAYFARERS SERIES BY BECKY CHAMBERS

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Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

This is the blurb for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as I’m allergic to providing spoilers for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. If you enjoyed Firefly on TV, then you’ll probably like this one. I loved it and for some reason missed requesting A Closed and Common Orbit from NetGalley, so have promised myself the pleasure of this one in the early new year as long as I have managed to get my TBR pile down a bit more.

 

THE STEERSWOMAN SERIES BY ROSEMARY KIRSTEIN

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Steerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen’s ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

This is a delight – a clever, nuanced world with a confident mature woman at the height of her powers who enjoys exploring and learning. While there’s nothing wrong with the slew of coming-of-age books out there, it makes an enjoyable change to read of a protagonist who is wholly comfortable in her own skin. I have the other books on my Kindle and will have the pleasure of reading them and completing this series during 2017.

 

PLANETFALL BY EMMA NEWMAN

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Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

I loved Planetfall – it’s one of my favourite books of 2016 and yet haven’t managed to get around to reading After Atlas. So this is one I’m going to track down and read this year.

 

EARTHCENT AMBASSADOR SERIES BY E.M. FONER

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Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

I was charmed by the quirkiness of Date Night on Union Station and have promised myself to tuck into more of these enjoyable science fiction novellas which are as much a comedy of manners as anything else. So I’m making a date with Union Station in 2017 to read at least a couple more – particularly when in need of some light relief.

 

THE MEMOIRS OF LADY TRENT SERIES BY MARIE BRENNAN

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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.

I recently read The Natural History of Dragons and absolutely loved it – so I’m determined to read more in 2017. A plucky Victorian lady battling convention to learn more about dragons by travelling to wild and inhospitable places – what’s not to love?

 

THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S SERIES BY JODI TAYLOR

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“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different 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.

I’ve recently finished reading the first book in this time-travelling series and absolutely loved it. Taylor’s writing is punchy and fun and her protagonist Max is a delight. The plot had so many twists and turns, I cannot quite imagine where the next book will take the story, but I’m betting there’s a fair amount of mayhem and chaos in the process. A must-read series for 2017!

And there are series I plan to continue reading in 2017. What published series have you promised yourself to dive back into during the coming year?

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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Regular visitors to my blog will recall my attendance at Bristolcon this year, where I had one of the best evenings of my life, talking books with similarly passionate readers. One of these marvellous people – Kitvaria Sarene highly recommended this series as one of her favourite fantasy reads. When Himself hit a reading slump a few days later, I suggested he get hold of this one. Once he did so, he then bought the rest of the series. So would I also become a huge fan?

anaturalhistoryofdragonsEveryone 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 is gem is a must-read for those smitten by dragons. It is set in the Victorian era in a parallel world where a high-spirited, intelligent girl makes a habit of sneaking into her father’s study to read his learned tomes deemed unsuitable for well born young ladies. And she encounters the book A Natural History of Dragons and falls in love with them. From then on, she is determined to try to learn more about them in any way and this story charts her efforts to do so.

What I would caution is that Brennan does couch the language in an approximation of 19th century prose – however, it is only an approximation. There is nothing like the pages of intense description or long, involved passages of exposition you’d find in a novel written by Dickens or Mrs Gaskell. Brennan takes the story forward in the form of a memoir written by Lady Trent as an elderly lady about the exploits that made her famous, which moves along at a fair clip.

I was utterly beguiled. This is a wonderful conceit brilliantly pulled off by Brennan. The plot rapidly corkscrews away in all sorts of directions I hadn’t anticipated and there is a really shocking outcome that left me winded at the ending, while leaving me keen to learn more.

I’m so glad Himself has bought the next three books in the series – and the great news for fans of this accomplished series is that the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is due out in February 2017. I’m very much looking forward to reading it – which also gives me an excellent excuse to tuck into the other three in the meantime. Happy Christmas me – and many, many thanks to Kivaria for her recommendation. She is spot on – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
10/10

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

Review of In Ashes Lie – Book 2 of The Onyx Court by Marie Brennan

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I thoroughly enjoyed Brennan’s first book in this series, Midnight Never Come, a tale of faerie plot and counterplot set in Elizabeth I’s England. Therefore, I was keen to sample Brennan’s next offering.

The year is 1666. The King and Parliament vie for power, fighting one another with politics and armies alike. Below, the faerie court has enemies of its own. The old ways are breaking down and no one knows what will rise in their place.

But now a greater threat has come, one that could destroy everything. In the house of a sleeping baker, a spark leaps free of the oven – and ignites a blaze that will burn London to the ground. While the humans struggle to halt the conflagration that is devouring the city street by street, the fae pit themselves against a less tangible foe: the spirit of the fire itself, powerful enough to annihilate everything inahsesliein its path.

Mortal and fae will have to lay aside the differences that divide them, and fight together for the survival of London itself…

As anyone who has more than a nodding acquaintance of English history can see, this book isn’t a straight sequel. Despite some of the same characters, there is a jump from the time of Elizabeth I’s reign between 1588/1590 and the timespan of In Ashes Lie, which hops between 1639 and 1666. One thing you can’t fault Brennan for is her ambition. Using any historical setting requires a degree of research and knowledge before putting word processor to paper – and even then it can all go horribly wrong. To swing between two major, disparate events throughout the first half of a novel as the setting for your action is brave to the point of being recklessly daft. I’d love to report that Brennan pulled it off. But sadly, I don’t think she does.

For a start, the big threat facing the faerie at the beginning cannot get our blood racing too much – for the simple reason that throughout that narrative arc, we keep getting yanked forward to the start of the Great Fire of London. So immediately, the reader realises that whatever is facing our plucky crew – they are going to get through it in 1639, because there they are in 1666 confronted with this big old fire… I have to say, I found the juxtaposition of the two story arcs annoying and distracting.

This brings me onto my next point. I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I reveal that the first of these deals with the unsuccessful reign of Charles I, ending in his execution in 1649. Once again, in Brennan’s world, this event is strongly influenced by what is happening in the faerie court. However, the series of political crises surrounding the relationship between Charles and Parliament is quite a complicated story in its own right. My personal knowledge of this period allowed me to pick my way through the admirable amount of historical detail included, here. But I did wonder how readers wholly ignorant of this period would cope and felt that maybe the pace of the novel floundered at times, which added to the lack of narrative tension.

All in all, getting through the first half of the book wasn’t exactly a struggle – but it came perilously close. Which is a real shame, because if any readers did give up at this point, they missed a cracking (and crackling) second half that really did have me at the edge of my seat and wholly made up for the rather creaky start.

The concept of having the Great Fire become a powerful dragon is a lovely notion – and the power struggle between the faerie courts that endangers London is an excellent idea. I did feel that some of the main protagonists were not so sharply depicted in this book, mostly because of its overly complicated structure. However, despite its evident flaws, this book still managed to be a stimulating, enjoyable read with some excellent ideas and memorable scenes, especially when battling the Great Fire. I recommend it – and if you get initially bogged down, grit your teeth. The rest is worth it, I promise…
8/10

Review of ‘Midnight Never Come’ Book 1 of The Onyx Court by Marie Brennan

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Are you a keen fantasy fan that loves tight-wound intrigue interspersed with action? Enjoy a well-constructed, historical setting with a strong sense of danger and ‘otherness’? Appreciate a fantasy that isn’t hip-deep in graphic sex and bad language? If so, you might feel right at home tucking into midnightnevercomeMarie Brennan’s world of faerie politics set in Elizabethan England – Elizabeth I, that is…
England flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow…
In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined in secret alliances and ruthless betrayal whose existence is suspected by only a few.
And two courtiers, struggle for very different royal favours, are about to uncover the secrets that lie behind these thrones…

It is an interesting proposition – and particularly in this first book – I think that Brennan has magnificently succeeded. Her thorough research of the history has given her sufficient command of the subject to portray a real flavour of the age, liberally sprinkling the story with actual historical characters and events, without burying us in a mound of dry historical facts. Her characterisation of Elizabeth certainly gives us a sense of the old Queen’s capriciousness and charm – and the tightrope she was forced to walk all through her reign.
Elizabethan London is also depicted with loving care – becoming a character in its own right, which lays the groundwork for the action-packed sequel In Ashes Lie.

But the heart of this book lies with the protagonist, Lune. After falling out of favour with the ruthless faerie Queen Invidiana, Lune struggles to regain her position in the underground court, agreeing to spend time in the mortal world as a spy. The book charts Lune’s battle for survival as she becomes embroiled in the plots and counter-plots of both the faerie and mortal courts – which impact on each other. Even the outcome of the Armada, we learn, was down to the intervention of some powerful water entities, who Lune managed to persuade to help Elizabeth, at Invidiana’s command. It’s a neat device – and if you are at all interested in historical fiction, this is a real treat. Brennan manages the wealth of detail and scene setting with sure-footed dexterity.

Any quibbles? Well, there are times when I felt that characters could have been given a little more depth with a tad more ‘show not tell’. But when juggling quite so much detail, both historical and supernatural, as Brennan’s faerie court is every bit as hidebound in tradition and history as its human counterpart, I can understand why there were times when she opted to keep the pace going, possibly at the expense of some characterisation. However, it’s a picky point and shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up this novel.

I didn’t start this book with great enthusiasm – I happen to know too much about this particular slice of English history to enjoy reading sloppy fictitious renditions of the era. However, by the time I was a third of the way through this book, I was able to completely relax and enjoy the ride – to the extent that as soon as I completed this book, I immediately ordered the sequel from the library.
9/10