Tag Archives: Netgalley arc

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

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I’m a real fan of Sullivan’s writing – see my reviews of Occupy Me, Lightborn and Sound Mind. She is a highly talented writer with a penchant for pushing the envelope with her fiction in a way that I love. So I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…

As you can see, this is set in the very near future where virtual reality is being taken into some disturbing areas… I happen to know someone who suffers from narcolepsy – where the sufferer will fall fast asleep anywhere at any time, particularly when stressed. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this sleep disorder drives a tank through any attempt to lead a normal life. Charlie’s ability to hack dreams starts after her drugs trial with BigSky, when she also starts to suffer from narcolepsy, lose her job and a lot of her hair through stress. Unfortunately, due to the small print on the contract she signed when she took part in the trial, she has no recourse to any form of compensation. So she also ends up homeless. However, she is lucky to have a loyal friend in Shandy and find herself living as a companion to a cranky old lady in a wheelchair, known as O, by cooking and cleaning her pigeons for her. O is also very supportive of her new job as a dreamhacker.

I very much enjoyed Charlie’s character. She could so easily have moaned her way through the novel and although she is often depressed and undermined by her misfortunes, she is also feisty, with a nice line in sardonic humour. I also liked her impulsiveness and occasional lapse of judgement – it can be rather wearing to read of a protagonist who invariably takes the sensible option.

As for the crime aspect – it was really creepy to experience the way the Creeper infiltrated Charlie’s dreams and as I hadn’t read the rather chatty blurb, which I’ve tweaked, I hadn’t realised there was a suspicious death. Unravelling the murder mystery was enjoyable with plenty of suspects and though I guessed part of it, I didn’t appreciate the final part of the puzzle. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and recommended for fans of near future whodunits. While I obtained the arc of Sweet Dreams from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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After enjoying the hippo-related mayhem of River of Teeth and looking forward to reading what happens next as the first book left everything on something of a cliffhanger, I was delighted to spot this one on Netgalley.

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.” In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

My first piece of advice would be – don’t start with this one, go back to River of Teeth as this novella picks up from where the first book left off and there isn’t anything in the way of ‘The Story So Far’. While there is a bit of explanation about what happened, it comes fairly late in the story and in the meantime, I think newcomers to this series could flounder.

As we plunge straight back into the action only a few weeks after the climactic events at the end of River of Teeth we meet up with all the protagonists once again as they start to count the cost of that dramatic day. It took me a while to get back into this, because not only wasn’t there much explanation, neither did we have any rebonding moments with the main characters. I did care about several of the gang members, but was rather detached from Winslow, whose behaviour wasn’t particularly pleasant. While I understood it, because the reason for it was in the previous book, we didn’t get a chance to see the justification and I think this hampered some of my enjoyment.

I do like the world very much and there was plenty going on – but I wanted more character development and longer to enjoy this interesting, vivid setting. There was a sense that this was a quart-sized story squeezed between pint-sized covers. That said, if I hadn’t liked it so much then clearly I wouldn’t have wanted more – this is really cool idea and was brought to a satisfactory conclusion this time around. I’d love to see a full-length novel set in this world, though… While I obtained the arc of Taste of Marrow from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Walker’s thought-provoking, apocalyptic adventure The End of the World Running Club and so when I saw this one featured on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer that I would request it.

Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy-go-lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…

Firstly, a warning – if you don’t like reading extreme swearing, including the c-word, then this one may not be for you. That said, while this is generally a word that immediately has me shutting up the book and flinging it across the room, it occurs when we are in Lineker’s pov, when it seems to be entirely appropriate.

I think that the depiction of this dog is a tour de force particularly in the early stages when he is full of beans and boisterous. Having been a dog owner, I felt that Walker completely got inside the skin of an animal who mostly decodes the world through his nose. I also love the bursts of energy and impulsiveness Walker manages to evoke. By contrast, later on in the novel, when everything gets a whole lot darker, there is an effective shift in the viewpoint when Lineker stops being such a volatile bundle of joy.

As for Reginald – Walker has already demonstrated that he is effective at writing a flawed ordinary bloke, struggling to cope in a modern world. While Reginald is a very different character, there is an underlying likeability that stands him in good stead. Despite a particularly shocking episode that had me shaking my head in disbelief, I did stick with him and care about what happens to him, which is crucial to the overall success of this book.

Both Reginald and Lineker go on a journey, both literal and figurative as the awfulness around them finally intrudes. Both man and dog are tested and I was very relieved that this book didn’t puddle down into any kind of sentimentality.

The ending is entirely satisfactory and makes sense, though it did feel a tad rushed. However, I am not knocking off any points. Lineker is an amazing character who will stay with me for a long time to come and this book is recommended for anyone who enjoys something different, despite – and even because of – the hardcore language.

While I obtained the arc of The Last Dog on Earth from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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I read the premise, saw the awesome cover and immediately requested it from Netgalley – and my hunch paid off.

BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.

This book drew me in from the very first page and did not let go until the end. I think the secret to this book is the very strong first-person narrative. We see the world through Brittle’s eyes as robots now rule the world, and she struggles to survive as a freebot. Constantly on the run with other surviving stragglers, Brittle also has to ensure she has sufficient spare parts to keep going. Given that during this savage civil war she has no access to any manufacturing plant, she is reduced to preying on other desperate robots scavenging in the sea of Rust – a desert graveyard where robots end up dying while trying to find the parts they need to keep going.

The world building is chillingly plausible as in between the ongoing action Brittle recalls how the world got in this mess in the first place. The overall tone is gritty and the action full on but this post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape is prevented from being unbearably bleak by the spiky point of view. I love Brittle! It also doesn’t hurt that the storyline is gripping and the writing exceptionally good.

While the book is packed with foot-to-the-floor action that had me zipping through the pages, holding my breath, there are also lyrically beautiful passages where Brittle is recalling the past. I thoroughly enjoyed the various plot twists, which I mostly didn’t see coming – I certainly didn’t predict the end. In fact, I thought we had already reached the end and was slightly startled when I turned the page to realise the story was continuing. I have to say that I am slightly ambivalent as I thought that first conclusion worked very well. However, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of cracking read and I think this is one I shall be remembering a long time to come. Recommended for fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories as well as folks who enjoy reading well-written science fiction.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

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I loved the cover for this and when I read the premise, I immediately requested it – I thoroughly enjoy vivid fairytale retellings..

Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust. In the wake of it all, he knows that Gothel has escaped to finish what she started. She is out to make sure that the Sleeping Beauty never wakes, and that Grimm suffocates under her blanket of thorn and vine.

This is a really clever retelling in a dystopian world where the famous curse on sleeping beauty has riven Grimm into a series of small squabbling states. Rapunzel, the Queen, is clearly out of her depth and I found her the most fascinating of all the characters. I enjoyed the way in which nothing is as it first seems. And the way Sullivan plays with established fairytale characters is both smart and intriguing.

However, for some reason while there was never any risk of not completing this book, I didn’t love it as much as I had expected. I didn’t bond with Hansel, finding his constant negativity a real problem. Neither did I like Gretel very much. And as these were the two main characters who were at risk throughout, I wasn’t as heavily invested in the story as the stakes were raised and they were increasingly at risk.

That said, I’m aware this is the personal preference and the other reviewers have loved this one. If I have found Hansel more appealing doubtless. I too would have been caught up in the story, which is accomplished and clever. Recommended for fans of fairytale retellings.

While I obtained the arc of Just Off the Path from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

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Being the shallow sort, I was first attracted by the fabulous cover for this book, then intrigued by the premise which prompted me to request it from Netgalley.

In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…

This dystopian, YA science fiction near-future adventure explores a premise that I’ve recently come across in other books – Reaper by Janet Edwards and The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts – whereby people are spending more time in a virtual reality at the expense of our organic, real-time world. There are differences, of course, and Steinmetz has the dead uploaded into a virtual Heaven, which sounds a great idea.

However, the dead are still in charge of governing and over time they out-vote the living, who are increasingly losing out to the dead. Professionals are inevitably dead – but imagine being treated by a virtual doctor who has been dead so long, he has no sympathy about the fact you are in a lot of pain. This is the kind of problem the living are coping with. I like this world very much, which is well thought-out and poses some interesting questions.

Our protagonist is certainly very ticked off with his situation. His parents, who died six years ago in one of the virulent plagues sweeping across the planet, spend their time and energy in a fantasy world looking out for dragons, rather than keeping in touch with their children. Amichai, bright and inventive, is boxed into a miserable dead-end maintenance job so necessary to keep the Upterlife going, so relieves his frustration by breaking the rules and getting into mischief. However, he is treading a very narrow line – if he finally succeeds in really annoying the authorities, the dead can examine his ‘Shrive’ his last ‘save point’ where his thoughts and memories are uploaded and if they judge him to be a criminal, he would then die a ‘meat death’ where he won’t be uploaded once he dies. Unsurprisingly, the real-time population are really fed up, but reluctant to revolt given the way the odds are loaded against them.

I enjoyed this one. The plot twists and turns as Amichai flounders to find his place in this unhospitable world with a strong supporting cast. I think I could have loved it a tad more if I hadn’t found Amichai so flaky and annoying, but I’m aware this is a very personal response. My grouse is that when the situation is so dire, his impulsive risk-taking is plainly inappropriate and a lot of the narrative tension rides on it. However, if only he behaved with more responsibility, he wouldn’t have found himself in such a bad place – and given that his sister is pretty much reliant on him, I lost patience with his attitude. That said, the author makes a good case for the reasons why he is as he is – and he is thoroughly called to account for his behaviour and forced to reconsider his attitude, so there is a sense that he grows up during the book. If you enjoy dystopian science fiction reads with plenty of action, then I recommend this one.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Death Shall Come: A Country House Murder Mystery – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

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I read and really enjoyed the third book in this series, Very Important Corpses – see my review here – so when I spotted this one on the Netgalley dashboard, I immediately requested it.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb … Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy. When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?

This is a classic locked-room murder mystery with some very familiar elements – the ancient Egyptian artefacts complete with a curse; a powerful family all very grumpy with each other; complete isolation with no immediate help forthcoming. Given this is set in a more or less contemporary Britain, the final element takes some arranging – however Green manages to achieve the sense of the house being completely cut off without too much suspension of disbelief.

His protagonist, Ishmael Jones, is an interesting character – I don’t want to veer into spoiler territory, so I’ll just mention that he isn’t necessarily what he appears to be. This brings it set of problems, which play nicely with the hidden antagonist striking down victims within the house.

Green is an experienced writer and gives us a gripping read that had me reluctant to put it down as once the action takes off, the tension steadily mounts. I also like the odd moments of light relief provided by Ishmael’s right-hand woman, Penny, who happens to be the love of his life. They are a solid team, though Ishmael is also aware his concern for her welfare can be a weakness, but cannot bear the thought of leaving her behind as he takes this important, unofficial mission. I like the bond between them – the steady fondness and Penny’s sprightly banter provides the necessary moments of humour and humanity before we are once more plunged back into a situation where a crazed killer is on the loose.

The key to crafting such a mystery is that the solution has to provide a satisfactory explanation that has sufficient heft so the reader doesn’t feel cheated – it’s quite tricky to achieve. Green manages to satisfactorily wrap up the story, though there is a cost to the survivors and as his immediate boss is right in the middle of this mess, I’m interested to see how this impacts on their working relationship in future. This is an enjoyable murder mystery with a paranormal twist which comes recommended for fantasy fans who want a break, or crime fans who would appreciate reading something slightly different.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

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A near-future murder mystery written by Adam Roberts seemed an irresistible combination, but I’m a sucker for a science fiction crime thriller, so was my enthusiasm justified?

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.

I was convinced initially that this was going to be the classic closed-room mystery – until the action suddenly kicked off, the plot jinked sideways and it all turned into something quite different… I love it when that happens! There are only a handful of writers that can pull off these flourishes with such panache, but Roberts happens to be one of them. The story surged forward, as the worldmaking redefined this thriller into something quite different.

Alma is stuck in the real world, tethered by the specific needs of her lover who has been struck down by a genetically specific cancer attuned to Alma’s DNA, meaning that she is the only one who can successfully nurse and treat Marguerite. Alongside the case, Roberts rolls out this intriguing world where increasingly the majority of people live and work in the virtual paradise that is the Shine. So what happens to the increasingly lopsided power dynamic between the virtual governing body and the real-time government?

Amidst the mayhem of full-on action scenes, there are some also genuinely amusing moments – I loved the faces of famous Britons that have been carved into the chalk cliffs of Dover to try and provide some belated attraction in the real world. Rebranding the town of Reading as R! also is funny and authentic as the kind of meaningless fluff the powers-that-be indulge in to be seen to do something about the increasing inequality between the real and virtual world.

The initial murder throws up all sorts of issues and pitchforks Alma into the middle of a really scary adventure, which bring her to notice of some very dangerous people – although, worryingly, it seems she has already been on somebody’s list. She is an enjoyable, sympathetic heroine, though if I have a grizzle, it’s that the characters seem to be able to soak up an insane amount of physical damage and still stagger forth. However, that is a minor grumble – overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable near-future whodunit and I notice with joy in my heart that it is the first in a series. Yippee!

While I obtained the arc of The Real-Town Murders from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book Review of KINDLE Ebook The Devil’s Cup – Book 17 of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare

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I selected this book on Netgalley as I enjoy well-told historical mysteries – and this one looked interesting.

September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?

This was an impressive blunder even by my standards – to find myself reviewing the final instalment in a seventeen-book series – and it is to Clare’s credit that I was able to crash into this world without any undue floundering whatsoever. While I am sure I would have better appreciated the characters and their final outcomes had I read the previous books, there was no stage where I felt unduly adrift. Indeed, the strength of the book for me are the characters and the worldbuilding, which is excellent. Clare manages to evoke the uncertainty of times and I very much enjoyed the way we get an insight into both sides of this conflict. I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of King John, who has always seemed to be an interesting character full of contradictions. The famous scene at The Wash was described with suitable drama and pulled me into the story – I only wish that we had spent more time following the King, rather than other aspects of this tale.

It is also a treat to read a story where religion and its impact on everyday life is fully acknowledged – I get a tad fed up with stories set in these times when it is all about the swordplay and lack of modern amenities, yet somehow omitting how much people prayed and looked to God for guidance throughout the day.

The protagonists in this unfolding story are all well depicted and cover a range of ages – another plus for me, as I rarely get to see my own age group represented as a main character in this type of story. However, one of my misgivings is the huge amount of freedom the main female characters seem to have. Helewise is able to retreat to a small cottage in a wood – despite being the wife of a landowner. She would be responsible for running the house and trammelled by a host of tasks that modern women would not have to consider, even if she had a number of servants performing chores for her – especially if she had a number of servants. Likewise Meggie is also able to wander off on an adventure, leaving the Forge and adjoining home shut up and idle. It simply wasn’t an option. Most households had a pig and chickens, along with a piece of land that would need tending to keep producing food for the table. The Queen’s experience would be the lot of most women of the time – and while she may well have felt frustrated at being so confined, it would not be unusual for high-born women to be kept tucked away in fortified homes and castles, given the custom of kidnapping noble family members and holding them as surety or ransom.

However, the one issue with this book that did compromise my enjoyment of the story is the lack of narrative tension. Due to the title and cover art – the reader already has a very good idea what the cursed object is, while Clare writes the story as if this is part of the mystery. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, as there was much else to enjoy about this tale – but a shame that this fundamental issue wasn’t addressed at some stage during the book’s production process. However, I will be looking out for more books in this series and am pleased to have discovered another talented author.

While I obtained the arc of The Devil’s Cup from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The List by Patricia Forde

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Being something of a word nerd, I liked the sound of this one, so requested it from Netgalley and was delighted when my request was accepted.

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. But when events take a darker turn, Letta realises that her responsibilities extend to more than the words in this fragile community…

I’ve paraphrased the rather chatty blurb and my firm advice would be not to read it if you intend to get hold of the book – it gives far too much of the story arc away. I really liked Letta – she gets wrapped up in the words she records for when times get easier and takes great care to copy out The List for the children to learn. But as her job isolates her from most of the rest of the community, she has the opportunity to look and wonder about some of the older words – and make comparisons to their current existence. I also very much like the fact that she is short-fused with a quick temper and cannot abide to see suffering and injustice. Otherwise her actions simply don’t make sense.

In order to believe in this dystopian world, the reader has to go along with the premise that the founder of the Ark, John Noa, has decided that language and words were the cause of humanity’s downfall. He feels that if only humanity is limited to the most basic of communication, they will be nearer the state of animals. He thinks is a great idea – for animals do not harm the planet, or plot and deceive each other. Only mankind is capable of that – because of the lies he can spin with his words. Initially I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but overall I think that Forde has built a convincing case for Noa’s beliefs. Like many charismatic leaders, Noa becomes caught up in his own rhetoric and needs to continue to push the community to make ever more extreme changes as everyone falls short of his grandiose schemes to return humanity to a pristine state.

Forde effectively raises the stakes and it doesn’t take much for this fragile, brutalised community to be tipped into unrest, as events drive Letta ever forward with some plot twists along the way. The climax of the story works very well, though for the more experienced reader, there aren’t a lot of major surprises as the overall story arc follows a well-trodden path. That said, this is aimed at children who haven’t necessarily read much in this genre and it raises some interesting issues regarding the role of language in the development and organisation of human society. If you enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic worlds, then this one is worth tracking down.

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