Tag Archives: outstanding read

A Deja Vu Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin #DejaVuBrainfluffbookreview #TheHundredThousandKingdomsbookreview

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!

This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.

BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.

Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.

She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive…
10/10

Friday Faceoff – There’ll be blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffWWIIcovers

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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 I am electing to play my FREEBIE card, as today is the 75th Anniversary of V.E. Day. There were to be widespread celebrations throughout the country today – but we all know what happened to those plans… Nonetheless, I want to mark it by featuring a book by one of my all-time favourite authors – Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute. It broke my heart when I first read this book as a teenager, and it still holds a special place in my soul.



This offering was produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009. It has the advantage of at least being clear and with the styling, gives a flavour of the 1940s and as most of the action takes place in 1944, that is a plus. I also like the fact that her dog is featured on the cover. It isn’t my favourite, but it is at least a contender. There are some truly dreadful covers for this book, which I decided not to inflict upon you.

 

Published by William Morrow, this edition is listed under the US title The Breaking Wave. I’m guessing they changed the title, because it’s likely that Americans wouldn’t know that Wrens are the female branch of the Navy, though they didn’t get to serve on ships during combat alongside their male colleagues during WWII. This cover is my favourite. I love the styling and the artwork, which is spot on for the period – that duffle coat and hairstyle, for instance. And once again, we have Janet’s dog on the cover. This actually is taken from a scene in the book and is my favourite.

 

This edition, published in August 2010 by Vintage International, is a split cover, featuring a gun turret on a battleship (I think) in the upper half and a romantic moment between Janet and the love of her life, Bill, in the lower half. To be honest, I think this cover is a bit of a mess. I don’t know why the font had to be quite so large and blocky and blast across the artwork so intrusively – almost as if the designers are trying to cover it up.

 

This edition, published in June 2018 by Createspace, is a fairly typical self-published cover. It’s not dreadful, but it isn’t that brilliant either and that is clearly some random photo of the time, completely unrelated to the book. The font, in particular, lets it down as it all but disappears in thumbnail.

 

This edition, published by House of Stratus in July 2002, is another clumsy effort. I’m guessing in amongst the artful blurring and sparkles (goodness knows what that is supposed to represent) that Janet is in uniform and staring out to sea. I quite like the tones, but why on earth anyone thought it a good idea to use a wussy font like that to run right across the middle of the artwork, I can’t imagine. Needless to say, the title and Shute’s name are completely invisible in thumbnail. Has anyone else read this hauntingly beautiful book? And which cover is your favourite?


Sunday Post – 29th March, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Like most people, I’m staying at home, though Himself is still out driving trains. We’ve worked out a system whereby he puts his uniform into the washing machine before coming into the house and so far… so good.

Last Monday, on her second day in the new house, my daughter woke up with a temperature, joint and stomach pains and a cough. So she ended up being quarantined in the house without the children. She is now feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long week for her. Thank goodness she is recovering and the children don’t seem to have had any symptoms. Other than that, we keep in touch with family via Skype and Zoom. It was a huge relief to hear my brother-in-law caught one of the last flights from Melbourne and is now back home safely. And we go on praying none of the vulnerable members of the family go down with the illness…

Still enjoying Outlander – but mightily disappointed with that DREADFUL last episode of Picard, when it had been going so well. Thank goodness for marvellous books – I’m listening to Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – so very, very good! And I’m working on my book on Characterisation, which is growing slowly but surely. It’s interesting how different my writing patterns are for non-fiction, as opposed to fiction.

Last week I read:
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes. But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods. It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret.
This fascinating story, told from an unusual viewpoint – using the second person (you) pov – caught me from the start. I loved the tension and Leckie’s handling of the perspective from a god who has lived a very long time.


The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries series by Simon Brett
Introducing an engaging new amateur sleuth, declutterer Ellen Curtis, in the first of a brilliant new mystery series.
That’s all the blurb there is – and this intriguing cosy mystery does just that – sets up Ellen as an engaging, competent protagonist with a doozy of a backstory. While I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, I was even more engrossed in Ellen as a fascinating protagonist and very much look forward to reading more about her. Review to follow.

 



Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change. Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.
I burned through this one, finding it impossible to put down. It’s an amazing read in many ways. For starters, the prose is absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed so much about this one… But for me, the pacing and narrative stuttered in the final stages, leaving me unhappy with the ending, both with its execution and the outcome.


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.
My lovely sister-in-law sent this to me and I absolutely love it – the beautiful drawings and the messages of truth and hope that shone off the pages. It had me weeping and laughing at the same time. It isn’t long, but I shall be returning to it regularly. Especially in the coming days and weeks…


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Circe by Madeline Miller

Review of A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series, Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

Sunday Post – 22nd March 2020

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

Books That Made Me Smile, Laugh, Inspired Me & Gave Me Hope https://hookedonbookz.com/2020/03/26/books-that-made-me-smile-laugh-inspired-me-gave-me-hope/ A very useful list – that includes The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse…

Coping Tools https://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com/2020/03/25/coping-tools/
Another useful and uplifting article that I really appreciated and thought others, too, might enjoy reading…

Book Tag – The Secret World of a Book Blogger https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/book-tag-secret-life-of-a-book-blogger/ I’m a nosy person – my excuse is that I’m a writer, but I couldn’t pass up this insight into a fellow book blogger’s process behind the articles…

House Arrest https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/house-arrest/ Another great insight into how successful sci fi/fantasy author is coping with self isolating…

Giving Up Oxford https://infjphd.org/2020/03/24/giving-up-oxford/ A beautiful homage to one of our loveliest cities and a thoughtful article about lost opportunities and curtailed plans due to the virus…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffbookreview #ARoomFullofBonesaudiobookreview

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I had seen this one on special offer on Audible and as this is a series I’m currently enjoying – see my review of The Crossing Places, it seemed like a good idea to get hold of it. Would I enjoy listening to these characters as much I relish reading about them, though?

It is Halloween night, and the local museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event – the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds a nasty surprise waiting for her…

And yes – I’ve heavily truncated the blurb which is far too chatty and this occult-tinged thriller is far too good to spoil by knowing a raft of major plotpoints in advance. I needn’t have worried about whether I’d enjoy listening to this one – I absolutely loved it. Jane McDowell does an excellent job with the narration as Ruth’s dry humour came through particularly well. This is my favourite book of the series so far. That gothic element Griffiths is fond of introducing into her stories this time around works magnificently well. I loved the way the plot steps over into paranormal, before Griffiths then provides an alternative, more mundane explanation – while still giving the reader the option of which one she’d prefer to go with…

Griffiths’ superpower is characterisation and she gets under the skin of her character cast wonderfully well, to the extent that she is able to introduce contradictory traits in her protagonists without it jarring. In short, she is thoroughly at home with these people so they ping off the page in effortless three-dimensional detail that I love.

I found Ruth’s ongoing struggle to keep working while bringing up her small daughter all too familiar – and massive kudos to Griffiths for choosing to highlight this under-represented issue in her series. While the previous book left me feeling a bit tetchy at her hand-wringing over whether she was good enough – this time, her gritted determination to protect her daughter leads her to a heart-breaking dilemma.

As for the storyline – this time around, it kept delivering twists I simply didn’t see coming and made more memorable, compelling listening. After I’d finished putting the final coat on the bathroom cupboard at 10.30 pm, I sat in the kitchen and listened a while longer as there was simply no way I could switch off my Kindle without knowing what would happen next. In amongst the unexpected deaths, Griffiths also tackles the issue of bones held by museums and universities that were collected during the UK’s colonial era that their indigenous descendants now want back. I really liked

Ruth’s discomfort as she considers the arguments. In short – there wasn’t a single aspect of this book that I could fault. The characters and setting – Griffith’s strengths – worked every bit as well as I’ve come to expect, but in addition the plotting and handling of the climactic scenes which in the past have tipped into melodrama, this time around were dealt with really well.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHeartoftheCirclebookreview

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This one was recommended by one of my book blogging friends, so I scampered across to Netgalley and requested it. I’m so sorry I can’t recall who exactly it was who suggested it – but do please let me know and claim the glory – so I can heartily thank you…

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

This book is set in Tel Aviv – Landsman is an Israeli author – and the different setting is just one of a range of aspects that sets this book apart. It is set in an alternate dystopian setting where magic-users around the world face a variety of measures designed to limit their freedom. In the US, they are forced to live in ghettos and while apparently Israeli society is more liberal, it doesn’t prevent many attacks on sorcerers, with most police turning a blind eye to such crimes. Reed is one of those fighting for equal rights for the magical community, putting himself at risk as he serves in a coffee bar. I found his edgy character, with his ability to read and diffuse people’s moods, appealing and sympathetic – even when he was being a bit of a prat, which is when you know the author has nailed her protagonist.

There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, notably his flatmate, Daphne, who is a seer. I like the gritty detail that people who can see into the future or become assailed with other people’s strong emotions are prone to depression and mental illness with a high suicide rate among them – it makes sense. I felt that Landsman had thought through carefully what would be the ongoing consequences for someone cursed with such a gift. In the middle of all this turbulence, Reed falls desperately, helplessly in love with another empath. His same-sex relationship with Lee, an American, grows steadily more intense throughout the book and described with passion and tenderness and while this isn’t principally a romance, this relationship plays a pivotal role in the narrative.

I burned through this book in just over two days, staying awake faaar too long to find out what happens next. I like Landsman’s layered characterisation and trick of writing a situation from the inside out – and would happily read anything else she has written. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and is highly recommended for anyone who likes reading about magical worlds with a difference. The ebook arc copy of The Heart of the Circle was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone #Brainfluffbookreview #ThisIsHowYouLosetheTimeWarbookreview

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With a title like that – how could I resist? Though I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting… Whatever it was – it wasn’t what I got.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

So… no set battles. No gripping accounts of being adrift in unfamiliar time threads with climactic chases between adversaries. This is an essentially epistolary novel where the two protagonists communicate by letters they hide for each other. Expert assassin Blue, for vague reasons she isn’t wholly aware of – reaches out to her opposite number, Red, whose work she knows well and admires. Slightly burnt out with all the violence of her assignments, she wants something… more. And that is how the correspondence starts. I don’t think I’m providing any major spoilers if I disclose the Red doesn’t ignore the letter – or report it to her superiors.

What makes this book an extraordinary read is the poetical beauty of the prose, juxtaposed with some of grim, bloody tasks both Blue and Red are tasked with. And while both are slightly alienated by aspects of their work – there’s no getting away from the fact that they do both revel in their skills, too.

The sheer delicacy of their communication, sharply contrasted by the gory reality of their daily round made this a constantly surprising read – it isn’t often these days that I get absolutely no sense where a book is going. Although, there were a couple of clues – I still wasn’t sure if the authors had seeded a couple of false trails and there would be a different sort of ending. And no… I’m not disclosing anything more – this is one where I think it’s important that the reader fully experiences the story without any spoilery expectations. So kudos to the blurb-writer who respected that imperative – I was pleasantly surprised to be able to include the whole backcover copy without having to edit it.

So did I enjoy it? Oh yes – this is a triumph. Splendidly ambitious and quirky, only exceptionally talented writers could pull this off. This savage, sublimely beautiful book will stay with me for a long, long time as I ponder what it says about our need for connection with someone who can understand. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy lush poetical prose and flawed desperation. The ebook arc copy of This is How You Lose the Time War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Sunday Post – 28th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another busy week. On Tuesday I returned to Northbrook to start the last course I’ll be teaching there – even as I type the words, it doesn’t quite seem real… I was delighted to be able to run all three classes again and meet up with my lovely students.

My friend, Mhairi also drove down from Lincolnshire and came to stay, so after arriving when I returned from college at around 9.30 pm, we stayed up until about 3 am in the wee small hours of Wednesday to catch up. Much later on Wednesday morning, we went out for breakfast to Morrisons and she joined in our Pilates session in the afternoon. After hobbling away, we both agreed we needed to go more often! On Thursday, I resumed teaching Tim, though last week I accompanied him and his mother when we went to the music college that has offered him a place on their songwriting course – the same course attended by Tom Odell… There are still a few issues to address, but whether he actually goes or not – it’s a massive achievement to have been offered the place.

Yesterday I went shopping with my sister in Worthing. Her 60th birthday is looming and we’re off to an all-expenses paid spa break together so some serious shopping needed doing… We were shattered by the time we finished and decided that it’s something we need to do more often! I was doing the driving so once I took her home, I stayed and we had a takeaway Chinese – yum – before I returned home.

Last week I read:

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
It’s always something of a risk, plunging into the final book of a much-loved series and I won’t deny that I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have been – Caruso brought this outstanding series to a magnificent conclusion. This is one of my favourite series of the last few years…

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection – Collected Short Stories
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
If I don’t listen to anything else – ever, this gem has made my foray into the world of audiobooks worth it and represents fantastic value as it cost me all of one credit for 72 hours of fabulous listening. While I wouldn’t want to read through this – listening to it while cleaning the bathroom transforms a miserable chore into a wonderful pleasure. It has been split into six sections and I am prolonging the joy by listening to something else in between.

My posts last week:

Review of The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Teaser Tuesday featuring Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Friday Faceoff featuring A Hat Full of Sky – Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

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

I don’t believe in diabetes https://writerunboxed.com/2019/04/26/i-dont-believe-in-diabetes/ This thoughtful, passionate article on writers’ block is something I also feel strongly about, having taught a number of students whose writing mojo suddenly deserted them.

Monday Musing: Fangirling https://randombookmuses.com/2019/04/22/monday-musing-fangirling/ This moving article highlights just how important books and the imaginative worlds they create can become to readers…

The International Extinction Rebellion https://acstark.net/2019/04/19/the-international-extinction-rebellion/ I am increasingly dismayed at the tardy, inadequate response to the gathering catastrophic climatic changes around the world and ongoing struggles of our wildlife by all the leading governments – particularly ours which is currently paralysed.

Rainy Day Reads: Top Ten Tuesday https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/rainy-day-reads-top-ten-tuesday/ It’s always useful to have some solid recommendations and this selection particularly caught my eye…

How to Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey https://lorraineambers.com/2019/04/18/how-to-plan-your-protagonists-journey/ I really like the way Lorraine has approached this subject. Whether you are a planner or a pantzer, this can still be an invaluable aid to sorting out your thoughts before plunging into your w.i.p.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Friday Faceoff – Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth… Brainfluffbookblog

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If I haven’t already said it to you – I wish you a very happy, healthy 2019! 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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a FRESH START, so I’ve selected one of my outstanding reads of 2018 – Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Gollancz in February 2015. It is one of the more stripped-back covers, but I do love the vibrant background colour with the embossed, bevelled font and the outline of the wing – the badge of the flyers. The result is eye-catching, classy and my favourite.

 

Published in April 2003 by Bantam, I do like the seascape and the flyer high up in the sky. But I was aggravated that the magnified image isn’t the same, given that the angle of wings is wrong. It makes me wonder if the cover designer thinks the readership are so stupid as to miss a detail like that…

 

This edition, published by Bantam in October 2012, is essentially the same basic cover as the first one, but it is startling to see just what a difference another background colour makes to the overall mood and feel of the design. While I like it, I don’t love as much as the first example.

 

Produced by Saída de Emergência in May 2013, this Portuguese edition is a strong contender. I love the artwork and the dramatic scenery, which is exactly as I envisage Windhaven. The scene highlights just how vulnerable and dangerous the flyers are as they face the elements and this cover is a close contender for the favourite spot.

 

This Italian edition, published by Mondadori in 2015 is another dramatic offering. This time we come face to face with young Mari, who stares straight out at the readers, defiantly wearing her wings with a stormy sky as a backdrop. The reason why this one isn’t a favourite is down to a personal peeve of mine. She is far too lightly dressed for a journey on such a stormy planet, when she will be travelling over water. I also think that sticker would be better off in the corner, rather than intruding on the rather fine artwork.

Which is your favourite?

Review of PAPERBACK The Boy on the Bridge – Book 2 of The Girl With All the Gifts series by M.R. Carey – #Brainfluffbookreview #TheBoyontheBridgebookreview

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I was blown away by The Girl With All the Gifts – indeed it was one of my Outstanding Books of 2015. Would I enjoy this one as much?

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading The Girl With All the Gifts and yet you’ve picked this offering up, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to read The Girl With All the Gifts to appreciate The Boy on the Bridge because in reality, the only real connection between them is that they are set in the same world, where a fungal plague has infected humanity, turning the majority of the population into zombies, or hungries, as they are called. The last enclave in the south of England mounts a scientific expedition to retrieve stored specimens that have been cached throughout the length of the country right up into Scotland, using a formidably armoured motorised vehicle – part-tank, part-laboratory – which will take best part of the year. The small elite scientific team is led by Dr Fournier, while the military detail assigned to keep them safe is commanded by Captain Carlisle. These two men loathe and distrust one another and their mutual hostility isn’t helping the success of this vital mission.

The story unfolds in multiple viewpoint, with the two main protagonists being Rina, a young, brilliant scientist who several years ago discovered a traumatised boy and took him under her wing, and Stephen Greaves, now a teenager on the autistic spectrum. One of the reasons why this mission is even possible is due to an invention of Greaves, the e-blocker that stops the hungries being able to smell humans. They are all looking for a mutated strain of the fungal plague which would allow them to find an antidote. This is the story of that mission.

I’ll be honest, I had to take two goes at this book. This genre isn’t my go-to choice if I’m not at my shiny best and right now I’m definitely not at my shiny best. There was a cascade of events that quickly snowballed into something dark and apparently unavoidable, and the very quality of the writing and the harsh reality of Carey’s excellent scene setting only managed to make the whole situation even grimmer. I had toyed with the idea of not finishing this one – not because it wasn’t brilliantly written, but simply because the situation seemed poignantly, desperately sad.

In the event, I’m glad that I got over myself and completed it, because that epilogue was a real jaw-dropper. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts, chiefly because no one snagged my sympathy in the way that poor little Melanie did. While I very much liked Stephen, there were too many times when I also found his reasoning too alien. I shan’t be forgetting this story, this world and the outcome for a very long time. Carey writes with power and an unflinching ability to dig into our vulnerabilities and make us really think about what it is to be human. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys apocalyptic adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

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The minute I saw this one, I knew I would have to read it. I have to declare an interest here – I’m working on my own retelling of The Tempest, so I was very interested to read this one…

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in mirandaandcalibanthe abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This books is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them. Miranda and Caliban are in thrall to Prospero and suffer the consequences of his abusive, controlling behaviour.

Carey’s lyrical prose drew me into the closed world of the enchanted island and the deserted Moorish palace inhabited by Prospero, Miranda and Caliban. As the years roll past, Miranda and Caliban grow up, while Prospero grows older, always working away at his magical studies. The pacing works well, with the first half of the book moving relatively slowly – and then as we approach the more familiar events covered in Shakespeare’s play, the book’s momentum suddenly rockets forward.

Miranda and Caliban is more of a prequel to The Tempest, with Carey’s version of what happens once Prospero raises his magical storm and wrecks King Alonso’s ship, differing in major ways from Shakespeare’s version. Though the main events are still recognisable and I love the twists and variations which work very effectively, still keeping to the spirit and form of this, one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays. However, if you’ve never seen or read The Tempest and have absolutely no intention of doing so – there is nothing here that prevents you from appreciating this bittersweet story of young love, as Carey ensures the tale is completely standalone.

Both young people are utterly convincing in their desperate loneliness, while caught up in Prospero’s elaborate scheme to escape his island exile. Their feelings for each other are completely understandable and both struggle to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. As for the ending… oh my word. It blew me away, leaving me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Wonderful and memorable, this is my favourite book of the year so far. Very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Miranda and Caliban from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10