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Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 25th October, 2017

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

#science fiction #military

Rex is a Good Dog. He loves humans. He hates enemies. He’s utterly obedient to Master.

He’s also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he’s part of a Multi-form Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, Southeastern Mexico.

Rex is a genetically engineered bioform, a deadly weapon in a dirty war. He has the intelligence to carry out his orders and feedback implants to reward him when he does. All he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and Master says he’s got to kill a lot of enemies. But who, exactly, are the enemies?

I’m a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s writing as he writes cracking adventures that also has you thinking about the issues he raises long after you’ve closed the book and walked away. I’m guessing this one will be no different and that poor Rex will be caught in a very difficult situation. Fortunately, I shan’t have to wait too long as this one is being published on 2nd November.

 

ANNDDD…

 

Laura at Fuonlyknew reviews Running Out of Space…

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Review of The Legacy by Katherine Webb

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This book was recommended to me by my mother; I picked it up with no great hopes from the cover – and within a handful of pages was hooked.

In the depths of a harsh winter, Erica and Beth Calcott return to the house where they spent idyllic summers as children. As Erica sorts through her late grandmother’s belongings, strange fragments of family history and vivid memories break the surface of the present day… Memories of their cousin, Henry, who disappeared on summer long ago. Of their grandmother, a bitter woman, full of a deep dark hatred.

As Eric sifts through remnants of the past, a secret emerges, reaching all the way back to a beautiful heiress in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal – and the heartbreaking legacy left behind.

And there you have it. The book is split between two narratives – Erica, in first person viewpoint, tells of her present day hunt forthelegacy something in their past to help her fragile sister, Beth. While Caroline’s story, set in Oklahoma in the early 1900’s, is told in third person point of view. It’s a tricky balancing act. Almost inevitably in dual narrative books, I generally find myself drawn to one of the stories above the other. However, Webb’s flawless pacing and deft characterisation ensured that I was equally absorbed in both these plotlines. She also manages to pull off another neat trick; there is quite a lot of foreshadowing in this book, which certainly had me making certain assumptions about where the story was going – only to find that it didn’t. Yet, at no point was I exasperated.

This is an extraordinarily accomplished debut book that tells two intertwining stories with such clarity, that I’ve read several reviews that described this book as ‘simple’ and ‘uncomplicated’. However, there are plenty of elements within this book that could have rapidly caused the story to degenerate into an impenetrable mess in the wrong hands.  In addition to her skilful handling of the plot structure, Webb’s writing is a delight to read. Both main characters give detailed descriptions of their surroundings without holding up the narrative tension, which steadily builds so that I read late into the early morning to discover exactly what happened. I also appreciated the fact that Webb also manages to have one of her heroines commit a terrible act without losing the sympathy of the reader.

I found I was genuinely moved by this book – the effect of what happened wreaks havoc on this family and Webb is unflinching in exposing this to our gaze. So, after a 400 page build up, keeping me on tenterhooks right to the end, does the climax and denouement deliver? Absolutely. And again, although Webb manages to make it look very straightforward – this is a tricky balancing act when dealing with a dual narrative. Two story strands have to come to a convincing and satisfactory ending and in this case, there also has to be an answer to a major mystery dangled in front of our noses for most of the novel… If this had somehow fallen flat, or I had successfully guessed the answer fifty pages from the end, then The Legacy would have been seriously compromised – and it isn’t.

Small wonder, then, that this book was recommended as one of the TV Book Club’s 2010 summer reads. If you missed it and you enjoy a well-constructed, engrossing family drama – go and hunt for a copy. You’ll be glad you did…

9/10

Review of ‘Convergence’ by Thomas Settimi

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If you enjoy alternative histories, then this interesting addition to the genre could well be for you.
Lieutenant Nathaniel Booth couldn’t know how his life was about to change as he and Lincoln Hayes completed their air mission in June 1968 over Laos and headed back to aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Thirty-five years later, when Professor Roger Atwood and his assistant find Hayes’ flying helmet inside a Confederate footlocker from the American Civil War, they find themselves untangling a mystery spanning a time discontinuity of 105 years – from Vietnam to the Battle of Gettysburg.
This is an engaging read – once you get past the first fifty-something pages. Settimi is an experienced technical writer with an extensive knowledge of military history and hardware. And it shows. There is far too much technical information crammed into those vital, opening pages where the story and characters should be connecting with the reader – rather than frightening her away with the eye-boggling detail that holds up the action. If I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I’m not sure that I would have persevered. And that would have been a shame. Because, once Settimi gets into the swing of the story, the pace picks up and draws the reader in.
That said, this is definitely a plot-driven book. The characters are there to serve the narrative – not the other way around. Whilst I am aware that the current fashion is for character-driven stories, there is a solid readership out there for well-written, interesting plots that whisk you along. And once you get past those first fifty pages, this book certainly delivers a fast-paced story with some intriguing twists that had me guessing right up to the end.
Settimi gives us a vivid picture of life and conditions for a Confederate prisoner of war and the character of Nathaniel Booth is by far the most detailed and heroic protagonist in the book. And his penchant for using a series of details to build his scenes comes into its own as we follow Booth’s attempt to save Abraham Lincoln from assassination in this alternate version of American history.
By the manner in which the book concludes, I’m guessing that Settimi intends to write a sequel. If so, I strongly urge him to find an editor with a thick red pen to assist him in cutting out unnecessary technical detail.

5/10

Review of “Empire in Black and Gold” – Book One of “Shadows of the Apt” by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Enjoy smoothly told High Fantasy? Let’s see – there has to be a cast of well-fleshed characters fighting against an evil Empire and a satisfyingly complex villain, which you almost feel sorry for – until you empireofblack&golddiscover exactly what he’s done… And the third person POV needs to move slickly between the characters with none of that jolting irritation because you’ve become too strongly attached to one of character’s storylines over the rest… Oh – and the battle scenes have to be packed with plenty of high octane action, clearly told and gripping because you really care what happens to the main protagonists.
Have I left anything out? Hm… Well, there has to be some new fresh angle on this oft-trod path – otherwise you might as well reread one of your very well-thumbed favourite books. What if this tale is set in a world where various human tribes take on the aspects and appearance of various insect species?

Welcome to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt series. Master Stenwold Maker of the Beetle-kinden survived to flee the city of Myna after it was invaded by the Wasp Empire. But, haunted by the knowledge that the Wasps won’t be satisfied with just one city, once he is established at the Collegium, he spends his time trying to warn the squabbling Lowland factions of the threat the Black and Gold Empire poses. Stenwold also uses his position as a respectable academic to pick out promising graduates to gather information about the Wasps – in short, he has set himself up as a spymaster. But he doesn’t bargain on his young niece, Cheerwell Maker and her group of friends to become involved as the Wasps suddenly make their move…

As with all above average Fantasy series, Tchaikovsky’s world is intriguingly complex. This is not a peaceful society. The highly organised, telepathic Ant-kinden spend their time fighting other Ant communities. Meanwhile, Beetles trade and mostly make the new artefacts which are spreading throughout the world. The Moths, Mantids and Spiders used to dominate the other kinden, but their inability to grasp the most basic piece of machinery means their numbers and importance are dwindling. However, they still have access to potent and highly secret magic. But Tchaikovsky manages to blend these insect characteristics with human traits convincingly, giving a fresh slant to the inhabitants of his classic tale. The steampunk technology also has some enjoyable ‘insect’ twists.
Tchaikovsky also raises the question of where loyalty to a nation stops and personal morality starts as we follow the fortunes of Wasp Captain Thalric. And Maker Stenwold’s guilt at sending out young spies who often die is another side of the same issue – does Stenwold’s personal conviction that the Wasps are going to attack allow him to continue using young lives? While the rigid kinden rules often break down for half-breeds, who fail to be fully accepted within any of the insect tribes.

All in all, this satisfying and substantial read is one that I thoroughly recommend – particularly as I found the sequel, Dragonfly Falling every bit as engrossing and well written and I look forward to getting hold of the third book, Blood of the Mantis, sometime soon.
9/10

Review of ‘Unseen Academicals’ by Terry Pratchett

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This book – unlike his other recent best-selling success Nation – is set in Pratchett’s famous Discworld. (A flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, standing on the back of the Great A’Tuin – a giant turtle – that swims through space.) Unseen Academicals is the thirty-seventh Discworld novel.

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old-fashioned grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with point hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of the Big Match draws together a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dim but beautiful young woman who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt. (No one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too.)

As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

This is vintage Discworld fare. Old favourites such as Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully and Lord Vetinari, tyrant of Anhk-Morpork, head up the cast of colourful and varied characters, who also include newcomers Dave Likely, Glena and Mr Nutt. As ever, Pratchett uses his fantastic backdrop to make sharply acute observations about contemporary life. There are the usual suspects – the rights of the individual versus the state; responsibility of power – and in this book, football is gently prodded for the more ridiculous aspects of the sport and the fashion industry also gets the Pratchett treatment.

However, the darker tone apparent in some of the more recent Discworld novels, such as Making Money, Monstrous Regiment and Thud! is less obvious in Unseen Academicals, which contains more gags and one-liners. For ardent Discworld fans, this book ticks all the boxes. However, if by some fluky chance you’ve managed to miss the joys of Discworld, I wouldn’t advise that you start with Book 37 in the series. While they don’t exactly run in strict chronological order, there is a definite progression with characters. So, in order to get the best out of Discworld, start with the exuberant fun of The Colour of Magic and work forward. You’ll find – when you get there – although lacking the inspired brilliance of Small Gods (my personal favourite), Unseen Academicals is a worthy addition to the canon.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ by Susan Hill

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This book is parked on the library shelf marked Horror. Having said that, there isn’t a vampire, zombie or sword-waving anything in sight. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of blood and gore or even a decent fight (sorry…). So why is it here? Because the book lodged in my brain like a burr since I read it years ago and having recently reread it, it’s every bit as good as I remember.

I'mthekingoftheCharles Kingshaw and his mother find themselves living in a huge Victorian house, when Mrs Kingshaw is forced to find a job as a housekeeper. However, ten-year-old Edmund Hooper, whose father owns the house, bitterly resents the intrusion and determines to make Charles pay. Which he certainly does… As Edmund’s campaign against Charles escalates, Hill takes us on a dark path towards the shocking climax of the book. There might not be much in the way of supernatural mayhem, but a real sense of dread pervades as Hill carefully crafts a gothic, creepy feel in this tale of anger, longing, loneliness and brutality. The exquisite writing charts the struggles of the four major characters coming to terms with their loveless lives and the toll it takes on all of them. And if it sounds like it isn’t a barrel of laughs – you’d be right. But if you enjoy reading a gripping tale written by a highly accomplished author at the height of her unsettling powers, then this is a must-read book. The opening sequence in the third chapter, when Charles is attacked by a crow while out walking through a cornfield, is a great example of writing an action scene. Hill describes the landscape with cinematic clarity, while ensuring that the reader sees the whole incident through Charles’ point of view, complete with the thoughts, emotions and sensations of a ten-year-old boy. ‘Kingshaw began to run, not caring, now if he trampled the corn, wanting to get away, down into the next field. He thought that the corn might be some kind of crow’s food store, in which he was seen as an invader. Perhaps this was only the first of a whole battalion of crows, that would rise up and swoop at him. Get on to the grass, he thought, get on to the grass, that’ll be safe, it’ll go away. He wondered if it had mistaken him for some hostile animal, lurking down in the corn…Sweat was running down his forehead and into his eyes. He looked up. The crow kept coming. He ran.’ (Susan Hill, 1970, p.31) By the end of this scene, we completely identify with Charles – and also later in the story, come to realise that the crow is also a metaphor for the violence he encounters. For those interested in such things, Susan Hill is also the author of the classic ghost play The Woman in Black, which has been running in the West End since 1989. She also wrote Mrs DeWinter, sequel to the famous book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. 10/10

Review of The Host by Stephanie Meyer

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Fresh from the success of her best-selling trilogy for younger readers, Meyer now brings us this first offering for her adult fans.

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.

Wanderer, the invading ‘soul’ who has been given Melanie’s body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn’t expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.  Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves – Jared, a human, who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body’s desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she’s never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.

This is a fascinating twist on the usual alien invasion story. Told from the viewpoint of the alien inside a human body – with the unwilling human consciousness still fighting for a foothold – Wanderer is embroiled in an adventure not of her making. Written in first person POV, the success of the book hinges on whether we believe in the alien. Or care enough about storyline and characters to suspend our disbelief. I think she nearly pulls it off – the writing, pace and characterisation are strong and the character of Melanie comes across very clearly. However, it is incredibly difficult to portray adequately the full sense of ‘other’ when writing from an alien viewpoint. And for me, this is the weak spot in the book. It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly interested in the love story. For me, the themes of difference and other were far too riveting to get sidetracked into who attracted Melanie and/or Wanderer. As the story progressed, I found the love interest increasingly intrusive into what I considered the more interesting aspect of the narrative. I also think it is too long at six hundred and seventeen pages. At times, I skimmed through some of the passages that seemed to be offering the reader more of the same, instead of continuing to take us into new situations.

However, don’t let these relatively minor niggles discourage you from reading this ambitious and original novel. Meyer is a gutsy writer for attempting such a difficult subject – and she is a talent worth watching for managing to get so close to succeeding.
8/10

A Review of A Rush of Wings by Adrian Phoenix

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This urban fantasy/crime whodunit is one of the plethora of vampire books that are currently flooding our bookshops. However, if you pick this one up expecting the chirpy humour pervading the likes of Undead and Unemployed, you are likely to be disappointed. Or not – depending on your taste. This book is gothic in feel and writing style, complete with plush prose and full-on emotional tone.

Dante is talented, beautiful and the star of the rock band, Inferno. He is rumoured to be the owner of the hot New Orleans nightspot, Club Hell. F.B.I. Special Agent Heather Wallace has been tracking a sadistic serial murderer known as the Cross Country Killer, and the trail has led her to New Orleans, Club Hell and Dante. But the attractive musician refuses to co-operate and claims to be “nightkind” – in other words, a vampire. Digging into his past for answers reveals little. A juvenile record a mile long; no social security number; no known birth date. In and out of foster homes for most of his life before being taken in by Lucien DeNoir, who guards mysteries of his own.

What Heather does know is that something links Dante to the killer – and she’s pretty sure that makes him the CCK’s next target. Heather must unravel the truth about this complicated, vulnerable young man – who, she begins to believe may indeed be a vampire – in order to finally bring a killer to justice. But Dante’s past holds a shocking secret and once it is revealed, not even Heather will be able to protect him from his destiny.

This debut novel from Adrian Phoenix is ambitious in its scope – and at times her inexperience shows. First, the good news. Phoenix successfully manages to establish the heightened atmosphere and emotional tone that she is aiming for, by a writing style rich in imagery and description – mostly without holding up the pace, which clips along at a reasonable rate. That, in itself, is an achievement in my opinion. The main protagonists are suitably complex and well-drawn and the various plot twists are mostly convincing. I also liked her original and somewhat startling take on God and where he fits into the world she has created. It will certainly raise a few eyebrows, but does work nicely within the development of DeNoir – who for my money, was a lot more riveting a character than Dante.

But there are problems with this book, particularly the first half. Written in multiple POV, there are a number of characters – alongside Dante – who also have hidden pasts and major secrets. Add to that the fact that three of them also have code names – and a third of the way into the story, I was seriously confused and debating whether to finish it. It does become clearer as the book continues, but I do think that initial muddle is seriously off-putting.

The other major issue I have is that the book starts with a bang and continues at full tilt. Phoenix writes with the brakes off – and while it is a treat in small doses, reading the book for any length of time is a bit like eating three ice-cream sundaes in a row. And if you have youngsters in the house, you might not want to leave it lying around. In common with many books in this sub-genre, the language, sex and violence are extremely graphic.

Having said that, I found the book a gripping and enjoyable read, once I got past the point of confusion. The final twist was pleasing in that I didn’t see it coming and I look forward to reading Phoenix’s next offering.
6/10

Review of The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway

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If you like your speculative fiction bubbling over with energy – part science fiction, partswashbuckler with plenty of fight action including ninjas, pirates and all-round hard men, then don’t miss this book. Harkaway’s exuberant literary style and sharp humorous observations gives his grim subject matter a rollicking feel as we experience the end of the world as we know it – and the start of something else.

goneawayThe Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch and his fellow trouble-shooters have been hired to put the fire out. But this isn’t the straightforwardly dangerous job that Jorgmund’s boss, Humbert Pestle, has depicted. Gonzo and his best friend will have to go right back to their own beginnings to unravel the dark mystery that lies at the heart of the Jorgmund Company…

For those of you interested in such things, Nick Harkaway is the son of the celebrated spy novelist John le Carré – and the writing talent certainly runs in the family. Written in first person POV, the character jumps off the page as he draws the reader into his world, by giving us layers of detail about the world he inhabits. The book is long – in the region of two hundred thousand words. I know this because Harkaway tells us on his website – but if asked, I’d have said it was shorter. While certainly not an easy read, neither was it a difficult one. And after you get to a certain point in the plot (you’ll know exactly where I’m talking about, if you read it), it becomes very difficult to put down.

Harkaway is a martial arts enthusiast – another info-nugget I harvested from his website. But if I hadn’t read it, I think I would have already gathered that by the loving detail he lavishes on his combat scenes. They read extremely well, with plenty of pace and detail. The world-building is outstanding. You can taste, touch and feel Harkaway’s creation as his character describes it in flowing detail. Despite the humour and violence, this is also a book with soul. The descriptions of Mr and Mrs Lubitsch are suffused with tenderness and affection, so that at times I was smiling with a lump in my throat. Only a first-rate writer can pull off a trick like that.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, Harkaway throws us a major curved ball in the way of a plot twist, which I’m not even going to hint at. Suffice to say that it’s in the nature of a massive gamble. Does he pull it off? Yes – in my opinion, I think he does. My husband actually dropped the book and shouted aloud when he got to that point (he read it first).

But, for me that outstanding achievement in this book is the voice of the protagonist. All the adventure, tragedies and celebrations are filtered through this one character – and during the whole of this complicated and multi-layered narration, there wasn’t a single false note. I have a shocking memory – I regularly completely forget books within a fortnight of reading them. But I know that this one will stay with me along with the handful of other outstanding reads. Go on, give it a try. You won’t find anything else out there quite like it…
10/10