Tag Archives: murder mystery thriller

Friday Faceoff – In the distance between black and white lies the colour of the soul… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffwhitecovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring WHITE covers. I’ve selected Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg.

The Harvill Press 1996

This offering was produced by The Harvill Press in 1996. I really like this cover. The snowscape isn’t pure – it’s scruffy with grass poking through it and the protagonist is facing away from us. I love the red coat flapping open – that one pop of colour works really well – as does the title font, in particular. This is my favourite.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

Published in April 2012, by the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, this 20th Anniversary edition is far more beautiful. The snow heaped up on those branches is lovely and complex, initially catching my eye. But good luck working out who wrote it and what it’s called in thumbnail. In fact, the author and title font are so ridiculously small and understated, you need to pay attention when the book cover is a whole lot bigger, too. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a dealbreaker. Surely a book cover should be featuring the title and author without having to resort to a magnifying glass.


Portuguese edition, 2010

This Portuguese edition, published by Edições ASA in October 2010, is another beautiful offering. I really love the punchy red SMILLA jumping out at us as the protagonist walks towards us. But there is a glaring problem here – Smilla is part Greenlander and a lot of her depression stems from the fact that she doesn’t fit in. Her features are not that of a typical Caucasian female. We are told repeatedly she is stocky and short, not willowy and tall… Nope. Not good enough.

Carl Hanser, 1994

This German edition, published in February 1994 by Carl Hanser, is another beautiful offering. There are other versions of this frosted design in a bright turquoise and deep blue – but this is the colour that does full justice to the stunning fractal patterns. I also like the treatment of the title and author fonts – that red really pops. This is so very nearly my favourite…

Norstedts, 1994

This Swedish edition, published by Norstedts in 1994, is too boringly generic. As well as being an intriguing whodunit, the book explores what it means to belong, culture and alienation. A few footprints in some fluffy snow doesn’t give a sense of the complexity of the story – unlike those fractal patterns above. And once again, the publisher has decided the title is a secret, by making it almost as small and unobtrusive as one of those fluffy snowflakes. Which is your favourite?


June 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffJune2020Roundup

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Lockdown has continued throughout June, though we have been able to see more of our family, which has been wonderful. We were particularly thrilled to be able to meet up on my birthday and have a picnic. Most of the time, though, we have been continuing with the new normal. Himself going off to work, while I have stayed at home reading and writing… While we have had some wonderful warm weather, the cooler windy episodes means spending time with visitors outside hasn’t been practical.

Reading

I read seventeen books in June, which is still more than usual – though I am increasingly unsure what usual means anymore. I had a single DNF and once again, I’m struck by the overall quality of the books I’ve read. My Outstanding Books of the Month were TUYO by Rachel Neumeier and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. Neither were audiobooks, as most of the month I’ve been in the thickets of The Priory of the Orange Tree, which I am listening to at 1.5x slower as the narrator’s voice is quiet. I might have completed it by Christmas…

My reads during June were:

AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby – see my review

The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green – see my review

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson – see my review

The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty – see my review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – see my review

Flower Power Trip – Book 3 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall

NOVELLA To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

The Ruthless – Book 2 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman

Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden

Perilous Hunt – Book 7 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier – see my review – Outstanding book of the month

The Calculating Stars – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal – Outstanding book of the month

Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart



Writing and Editing

I worked on editing a friend’s book for the first quarter of the month, then turned to a space opera adventure I’d written several years ago to see if it was any good. I worked on rewriting and tidying it up and hopefully will have it ready to publish before the end of the year.

I then published my short story Picky Eaters about a grumpy elderly dragon, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of family life when he gets unexpectedly evicted from his lair and has to move in with his daughter. I have been really pleased with the reception, as I’d hoped it would provide an enjoyable escapist read. All proceeds will go to mental health charities.

Because I was editing and rewriting, my wordcount is far smaller this month, but that’s how it goes. Overall, I wrote just under 31,000 words in June, with just over 21,000 on the blog, and just under 10,000 on my writing projects.


Blogging

I am finding being able to chat about books a great comfort on my blog, but as Himself is now on holiday from the last week in June, I haven’t been around to comment and visit as much as I’d like – sorry about that. Hopefully once we get back to normal, I will be around more. I hope you are all keeping well, both physically and mentally. It’s an ongoing strain and I’ve been rather frayed at times, even though I’m also aware we have been very lucky… so far. Take care and stay safe.x






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House on Widow’s Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #TheHouseonWidowsHillbookreview

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Anyone who has followed my blog will know that this series is a solid favourite – see my reviews of The Dark Side of the Road, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Murder in the Dark, Into the Thinnest of Air, Death Shall Come, Very Important Corpses and Night Train to Murder. So I was delighted to see this latest addition to this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: “That house is a bad place. Bad things happen there . . .”
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.


REVIEW: As ever, we have our usual fix of creepy shenanigans going on, as Ishmael and Penny find themselves spending the night in a haunted house. This book follows directly on from Night Train to Murder, so if you haven’t read that one, do be aware – especially at the beginning – there will be some references to events outside the story. I was interested to see this one build more slowly than usual, but given that Green does it well and I know and trust his pacing, I appreciated the general ratcheting up of the tension. It doesn’t hurt that there are the usual dollops of humour that help lighten the tension in the dark, brooding house.

Though the death and denouement rather knocked me for six. I’m still pondering as to whether Green has managed to pull this one off, as it stretched the bounds of my credulity rather. However, I think on balance, I’ll give him a pass. I certainly was never in any danger of putting the book down before getting to the end. All in all, this is an entertaining, page-turning addition to this quirky series.

Recommended for fans of paranormal murder mysteries that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of The House of Widow’s Hill from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10


Sunday Post – 20th August 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.

Thank you, everyone so much for your kind good wishes for my sister’s speedy recovery – I have always maintained that book lovers are the loveliest folks and this is yet more proof… Your wishes on her behalf have clearly had an impact because I cannot believe how quickly she is healing – the bruising, though still spectacular, is improving day on day. The hospital were delighted with her when we returned last Tuesday and today we are attending an eye appointment at the local hospital. We have been so impressed at the excellence and kindness of all the hospital staff we have encountered throughout this whole episode – from the ambulancemen who stopped by in A & E to wish her well during their break on that first traumatic day, to the lovely doctor who suggested we have a coffee while waiting for the blood test – and then phoned to give the results while we were sipping our beverages.

Other than that, this week I have managed to write the course notes for my Creative Writing classes and complete some editing tasks. My marvellous writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday and we talked through writing stuff in general as well as catching up with each other’s lives. On Thursday evening Himself and I went out for a lovely Chinese meal with my sister and her younger son who was visiting. On Friday I received the exciting news that my short story ‘A Dire Emergency’ has been accepted for the anthology Holding on By Our Fingertips.

This week I have read:

The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.
This alternate history charting the life of renowned explorer and dragon expert, Isabella Trent is a joy. I was in dire need of excellent escapist fantasy fiction, preferably about dragons, and this offering was perfect.

 

Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.
While this is actually the fifth book to be published in this series, chronologically the events occur after the second book, Penric and the Shaman. This intriguing murder mystery gives us yet another slice of this rich world as we get to see more of Penric’s gradual growth. An entertaining instalment in this impressive series that has become one of the few must-buy books Himself and I pre-order as soon as they come available.

 

The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts
Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. But most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying. Alma’s partner is ill, and has to be treated without fail every 4 hours, a task that only Alma can do. If she misses the 5 minute window her lover will die. She is one of the few not to access the Shine.
So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.
Another storming read – a locked-room murder mystery that rapidly turns into a high-stakes conspiracy set in the near-future. I loved this one and am absolutely thrilled to note it is intended to be the first in a series.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th August

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of A Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Review of The Masked City – Book 2 of The Invisible Book series by Genevieve Cogman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off – Silver apples of the moon… featuring Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – July roundup

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

The NHS saved me. As a scientist I must help to save it. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/18/nhs-scientist-stephen-hawking?CMP=share_btn_tw I don’t normally tweet or comment on issues outside the book world, but after my sister’s recent seizure, I strongly echo Stephen Hawking’s sentiments

Lola’s Ramblings: Do You Clean Out Your Pile of Review Books? http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-do-you-clean-out-your-pile-of-review-books/
As a fellow reviewer, I was very interested to see how someone else keeps tabs on their review copies

Where’s Cassini now? Countdown has just started http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/17/wheres-cassini-now-countdown-just-started/
Another excellent, informative article from Steph about another exciting chapter in the exploration of our solar system

Tilted Poles https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/tilted-poles/ I love this photo – I’m not sure why…

The Best Poems about Holidays https://interestingliterature.com/2017/08/16/the-best-poems-about-holidays/ As we are bang in the middle of the holiday season, this article seems particularly apt…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

Friday Faceoff – Seems like, street lights, glowin’…

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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 the theme is street light covers, so I’ve chosen The Cuckoo’s Calling – Book 1 of the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling – see my review here.

 

This offering, produced by Mulholland Books in April 2013, is an interesting one – giving us the back of a young starlet who is facing a barrage of press photographer flashlights. What spoils it for me is the white colour of the font against the white lights which makes it difficult to pick out the title. I do like the fact it is uncluttered.

 

This is the definitive cover for the book, produced in April 2013 by Sphere, and is the scene depicting Cormoran leaning into the wind under a street lamp – he looks utterly alone. This is my favourite. I love the street railings and the chilly turquoise sky that give it a sense of melancholy and threat – so much classier than many of the modern covers with weapons dripping blood… The title font is also nicely done – clear and easily readable without slashing through the artwork.

 

This cover design produced in June 2014 by Salani does what many Italian covers do so well – take the overriding theme of the original successful cover and then makes it their own. For me, this runs the original a very, very close second. I love the muted colours, the sense of solitude and the Thames running alongside the walkway with Westminster arising from the mist in the background.

 

This offering is another Italian effort, produced in July 2014 by La Biblioteca di Repubblica, which has gone for an art decco version of the previous cover. The pity of it is that this interesting design is only a small strip in the centre of the cover. While the large chunks of black bordering the scene certainly give it a sombre mood, they are also boring.

 

What a difference a shift in the coloration can make – giving that cold turquoise a reddish tint certainly warms the cover up. This is the Catalan edition, produced by Proa in November 2014 and I’m guessing they decided the initial colour palette wouldn’t appeal to their book-buying public.

Which one is your favourite?

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

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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

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

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House With No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

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The summer of 1976 was the hottest in living memory. In the Botanical Gardens at Kew, a lost little girl, dizzied by the heat, thought she saw a woman lying dead on the ground. But when she opened her eyes, the woman had gone. Forty years later, Stella thehousewithnorooms1Darnell, the detective’s daughter, is investigating a chilling new case. What she uncovers will draw her into the obsessive world of botany, and towards an unsolved murder that has lain dormant for decades…

If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action – this isn’t it. Thomson takes her time in her slow-burn style, as we follow Stella and Jack in their daily routines. Stella runs the Clean Start cleaning company and Jack, who also drives an underground train, works part-time for her. They are linked by painful events in their past, which you can fully find out about by reading the first book in the series, The Detective’s Daughter – see my review here. While that will give you a deeper insight into what damaged them, Thomson is too accomplished to leave her readers adrift, so if you want to immerse yourself in this adventure then go for it. While this may all sound a bit grim, there are regular moments of humour throughout that leaven this story, as the vivid cast of characters bounce off the page.

The past and present is braided together, as an undiscovered murder committed decades ago continues to wreak havoc upon those caught in its malign web. We have a ringside seat as a young girl sees something beyond her comprehension and struggles to find an answer that makes it bearable for her to cope. Until as an adult, a similarly unexpected, horrific event forces her to face up to what happened all those years ago.

Thomson evokes the stifling heat of the summer of 1976 – those of us who lived through that year recall it vividly as day after day, the heatwave continued to swelter throughout June, July and August. Thomson’s world seeps into my head as her richly depicted world and layered, complex characters continue to spool through my inscape long after I’ve finally closed the book, as the psychological truth behind her characters’ actions reverberates through the plot. I enjoy the main protagonists, particularly Stella – but the real hero of this book is Stella’s father, who died in 2010. One way and another, most of the main characters are connected with the driven, workaholic detective Terry Darnell. This beautifully crafted, thoughtful murder mystery is all about assumptions and mistakes we make as we are busy doing and thinking about something else – and what the cost can be when we get it so wrong. The denouement is both shocking and satisfying, pulling together all the strands of a storyline that stretches back to the 1950s, while also revealing more about the main characters.

All in all, this is yet another unsettling, accomplished book by a writer at the top of her game and is highly recommended.
10/10

Favourite Space Operas – Part 2

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This is the next section of favourite space-faring tales. Again, in no particular order…

Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre
As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace — a talent thagrimspacet cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash…

Aguirre’s depiction of a space jumper apart from the general run of humanity, with her own closed ethos and set of rules suddenly bumping up against a group of people with differing attitudes, works well. Jax’s ability to alienate everyone around her is impressive, but as the book and its sequel, Wanderlust, progresses, she is forced to reassess her priorities and attitudes. I think this is one of the undoubted strengths of this sub-genre – offer up a heroine in the middle of a major crisis, present her with yet more life-changing problems – and then watch her change. See my review of Grimspace here.

 

Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon
Kylara Vatta is the only daughter in a family full of sons, and her father’s only child to buck tradition by tradingindangerchoosing a military career instead of joining the family business. For Ky, it’s no contest: Even running the prestigious Vatta Transport Ltd. shipping concern can’t hold a candle to shipping out as an officer aboard an interstellar cruiser. It’s adventure, not commerce, that stirs her soul. And despite her family’s misgivings, there can be no doubt that a Vatta in the service will prove a valuable asset. But with a single error in judgment, it all comes crumbling down.

I love this entertaining five-book series about a merchantile family under attack – and their gritted struggle to survive. My strong advice is to read them in the right order as you’ll gain the best from the Vatta clan’s roller-coaster ride between triumph and disaster, starting with Trading in Danger.

 

Horizons by Mary Rosenblum
Ahni Huang is hunting for her brother’s killer. As a Class 9 Empath with advanced biogenetic augmentations, she has complete mental and physical control of her body and can read other people’s Horizonsintentions before they can even think them. Faced with deceptions behind deceptions, Ahni is caught in a dangerous game of family politics—and in the middle of it all lies the fate of her brother. Her search leads to the Platforms, which orbit high above Earth. On the Platform New York Up, ‘upsider’ life is different. They have their own culture, values and ambitions – and now they want their independence from Earth. One upsider leader, Dane Nilsson, is determined to accomplish NYUp’s secession, but he has a secret, one that, once exposed, could condemn him to death. When Ahni stumbles upon Dane during her quest for vengeance, her destiny becomes inextricably linked to his. Together they must delve beyond the intrigue and manipulative schemes to get to the core of truth, a truth that will shape the future of the Platforms and shatter any preconceived notions of what defines the human race.

All the best science fiction, in my opinion, gives us some believable insights into some of the dilemmas that future technology will pose for our descendants. In this stand-alone book, Rosenblum shines a light on some of the problems that are starting to loom uncomfortably close – such as genetic manipulation; cloning; what defines humanity and the faultlines along which humankind will divide. See my review of Horizons here.

 

The Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. van Name
This duology of the first two books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, in the popular Jon and Lobo series was released by Baen in a smart marketing move.

jumptwistgateJon Moore: A nanotech enhanced wanderer who wants nothing more than a quiet life and a way back to his strange home world. Lobo: An incredibly intelligent machine equipped for any environment from the sea to interstellar space. Two battle-scarred veterans unwilling to tolerate injustice. Together in a collection that not only includes the first two novels, but also two short stories giving some of the backstory to the two protagonists and an interestingly frank foreword and afterword by the author.

I very much enjoyed the unfolding relationship between Jon and Lobo. In One Jump Ahead, Jon meets Lobo for the first time and they work together. Jon’s enhancements have forced him to be constantly careful how he interacts with other people, as his greatest fear is finding himself locked up by some large corporation and treated like a labrat as they discover exactly how he came by his unique abilities. One of the consequences of these enhancements is his ability to communicate directly with the machines around him – including, of course, Lobo, his intelligent battleship. Lobo’s constant frustration with Jon’s micro-managing temperament creates a nicely sharp relationship between the two of them, which gradually deepens into trust and genuine affection – from Jon’s side, anyway. We can only guess at what Lobo really thinks… Read my review of Jump Twist Gate here.

 

The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch
I thoroughly enjoyed this seven-book series that Feintuch freely admitted was inspired by C.S. Forester’s Hornblower naval adventures. It all kicks off with the first book, Midshipman’s Hope

A hideous accident kills the senior officer of UNS Hibernia, leaving a terrified young officer to take 300 midshipmanshopecolonists and crew aboard a damaged ship, on a 17-month gauntlet to reach Hope Nation. With no chance of rescue, Nicholas Seafort must save lives and take them, in the name of duty.

And so we first encounter the young man, whose space career is charted by a series of adventures, including marauding aliens. Great fun!

Are there any series or standalone books you would like to add to my list?

Review of Career of Evil – A Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous offerings of J.K. Rowling in the guise of crime writer Robert Galbraith – read my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling here, and The Silkworm here. But would I like this third book in the series?

careerofevilWhen a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

While I wouldn’t call the previous two books cosy mysteries, Galbraith really takes the gloves off in this particular grime-crime storyline, where violence and abuse is doled out on a daily basis. Not, I hasten to add, between our two protagonists, who are thoroughly decent people struggling to do the right thing in difficult circumstances… In fact, during this book we learn some vital facts about Robin’s past that impacts on her upcoming wedding and her wish to become a private investigator alongside Strike.

I have to say that curled up in bed with the worst cold I’ve endured during the last decade, it was this particular story arc that kept me reading. While it is well written and vividly depicted, I wasn’t really up for facing the full consequences of Man’s inhumanity to Man while feeling so ill and depressed. So I’m aware that it is probably my own mental and physical circumstances that mean I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous two reads. During this investigation, Strike and Robin trudge through the backstreets, interviewing a succession of people coping with poverty, poor education and ill health, whose lives have been smeared by violence.

That said, the stakes are high and when we are in the viewpoint of the creepy protagonist as he stalks Robin, there is real tension. The story ratchets up to a suitably climactic denouement that also echoes the tumult in Robin’s personal life as her on-off relationship with long-time fiancé, Matt, also reaches a resolution. Galbraith’s writing packs a punch and I will reading the next one, because I want to know what happens to Strike and Robin. But I can’t help hoping the investigation won’t be quite so gritty…
8/10