Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Friday Faceoff – All that is gold does not glitter…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is gold, so I’ve chosen Making Money – Book 36 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

 

This is the cover produced by Harper in September 2007. I look at it and recall the early wonderful, busy Discworld covers of Josh Kirby with a sigh of nostalgia. Oh well. Having said that, there is a sense of energy in the shower of money being scooped up by the top hat. I also like the hatching in the background, which gives a sense of depth to a fairly simple image.

 

This edition, produced in June 2008 by Corgi, is the cover of the book that I owned. I find the black background a bit grim, but I do like the image of the main protagonist, Moist von Lipwig. He is the epitome of a money-making capitalist. It is a testament to Pratchett’s success that his name is featured with the same size and impact normally reserved for the title.

 

Published in February 2014 by Transworld, this is another gloomy offering with a single spotlight on the pile of gold. Given that this is Discworld novel with a fair degree of humour, I find the gloom prevailing surprising.

 

This cover, produced by Pocket in February 2016, is my favourite. I very much like the background of the large, slightly distorted bank as he scampers down the front steps with money fluttering in his wake. There is a real sense of gleeful mischief depicted on this French cover missing from the others. But which one do you prefer?

Friday Faceoff – My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. (Joan Jet)

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is guitars, so I’ve chosen Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by the late, great Terry Pratchett.

 

This is the go-to cover, as far as I’m concerned. Produced in September 1995 by Corgi, it is certainly the cover of my copy of Soul Music – funny, anarchic and brimful of movement and madcap detail, but with more than a hint of darkness. While I’m not a fan of solid panels of colour for the title and author name, this probably just about manages to get by without messing up the artwork too much.

 

 

This edition, produced in May 2003 by HarperTorch starts off well enough. I rather like the quirky font and eye-catching red background. I’m a tad more dubious about the record, but the depiction of Susan is when the cover becomes unacceptably inaccurate. Since when did Terry write her as some curvy bimbette who pouts at us over her shoulder?

 

 

Published in October 2009, this is okay, I suppose. I find the background and title font flat and uninspiring, while the skeleton guitar is too small and strangely unappealing. The only part of the cover that really works are those blue-edged notes which are the only clue we get about the fun and energy within the book.

 

 

This cover, produced by Gollancz in December 2013, is the only one that comes close to the original in effectively depicting the fun and quirkiness of the story. I love the sweeping lines and the clever addition of the title and flowing author signature. However, why, why, why are the colours so dreary? This is a story full of zest about what transformative magic is to be had in music – gloomy shades of brown with the occasional tasteful orange accent simply doesn’t reflect the verve of the content.

 

 

This dreary, generic effort was produced by Corgi in October 2005 – what a difference a decade makes! Given they also used that wonderful original cover, I’m wondering if in the interim to save a couple of quid they got rid of their cover design department and instead asked someone’s younger brother if he could rustle something up using Shutterstock for a bit of pocket money – it certainly looks like it. Which is your favourite?  Do you agree with my choice – or my rather grumpy opinion of the rest of the covers?

Time Tag

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Many thanks to Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog for nominating me to take part in this lovely tag.

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
I love the Tudor period – it’s the period I studied for my History degree so I know a reasonable amount about the history of this time. But I also enjoy the Victorian time – events moved so very quickly during that it was a period of great upheaval and yet isn’t all that long ago. So… both these periods tend to snag my interest.

 

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
William Shakespeare. It’s a no-brainer. The genius that gave us a canon of marvellous plays and beautiful poetry must be worth sitting across the table and chatting to! Even if he only wants to grumble about the weather and the difficulties of finding a boy to adequately play Juliet – especially if he wants to grumble about that one, come to think of it…

 

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
It would have to be C.J. Cherryh’s Heavy Time. Her writing style and depiction of space just blew me away. My younger self would love to read this and derive a great sense of comfort to discover that books like that were in existence as I was getting increasingly disillusioned with many of the contemporary literary offerings I was ploughing through at the time.

 

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
I wouldn’t bother. My older self is going to be caught up with the books being published at the time, so my crashing into her reading patterns won’t probably be very welcome. I don’t take kindly to sudden surprises…

 

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
I have three… two based on Earth and one that sees us out in the among the stars. One of the most poignant and effective settings is the depiction of a nearly empty Paris, overrun by alien vegetation from portals drawn by Eric Brown in his novel Engineman. To be honest, the story itself isn’t quite as effective as the setting in my opinion – but I’ve dreamed of this landscape many times. The other futuristic setting I particularly enjoy is that in the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards, where Earth is largely uninhabited apart from those who are unable to leave due to a genetic quirk.

I also love the world that Lois McMaster Bujold has created in her Miles Vorkosigan series that sprawls across a chain of planets.

 

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I love several – Doomsday is a classic time travel book by Connie Willis that goes back to the medieval period. It’s a wonderful book and rightly regarded as a classic. Another book that I particularly love is the above mentioned Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh, but my favourite is Mendoza in Hollywood which is a dreadful title for an outstanding book by Kage Baker about a time-travelling biologist harvesting plants about to be pushed into the brink of extinction by the growth of the film industry. It is part of Baker’s amazing The Company series, which I think deserves to be known a lot better than it is.

 

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Only if I don’t intend to finish the book – otherwise what is the point of bothering to read it?

 

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Oh yes please! And now I’m going to sound incredibly boring… I’d like to use one like Hermione Granger so I could fulfil my teaching commitments, keep the house reasonably clean and clutter-free, be a better wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, while also writing full-time.

 

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
I cannot possibly pinpoint a single book, so I’ll follow Lynn’s example and recommend four, other than the ones already mentioned above:-
Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld novels by the late, great Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett’s time travel book – and one of his best, in my opinion, as Sam Vimes, the grumpy Commander of the Ankh-Morpork’s police force, is caught up in a magical storm and hauled back in time.

 

The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Saga of the Exiles by Julian May

This first book in a remarkable, ground-breaking series features Elizabeth who travels back in time to escape the trauma of having lost her metaphysical abilities. Ironically, her journey – in which she encounters a humanoid alien race who have made Earth their home – causes her abilities to manifest themselves once more. Which draws down a lot of unwelcome attention upon Elizabeth…

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes

This standalone children’s book is a joy. A brother and sister cryonically suspended are accidentally woken up fifty years later by another brother and sister, while exploring an underground building at the bottom of the garden. The resulting adventure is both funny and very revealing about how customs have changed during the last fifty years – for both good and ill.

 

 

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

This is a remarkable time travel experiment designed by the goddess Athene to test the principles set down by Plato in his book The Republic. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything quite like it.

 

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Discworld novels! They define a part of my life and if I could bottle the sheer excitement of opening up a new one, laughing at the Pratchett jokes for the first time again, that would be a wonderful treat.

I’m not going to nominate anyone in particular – but do please have a go if this Time Tag appeals to you as a fan of historical settings or time travelling adventures. I’d love to hear your choices!

Friday Faceoff – Falling Off the Rails…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s theme is train tracks, so I have chosen Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. Thank goodness this crop of covers are better than the shower produced for Equal Rites.

 

raisingsteamThis is the hardback cover of the book produced by Doubleday in November 2013. It’s the cover of the book I possess. I love the colours and the sense of madcap mayhem that tends to abound in all the Discworld novels and is effectively depicted in this cover. This is my favourite.

 

raisingsteam1This hardback version published by Doubleday in March 2014 is also enjoyable, though I don’t think it packs the punch of the previous one. But you definitely get a sense of the comedy and that it is set within a particular time, albeit with a strong Fantasy slant…

 

raisingsteam2This offering, published by Corgi in October 2014, is back to the sense of mayhem and joyous feeling of PROGRESS that comes out clearly in the book. I really like this one.

 

raisingsteam3This German cover, published in November 2014 by Manhatten, is far more sedate and there is little indication that the story is humorous or full of the satirical joie de vivre that was Pratchett’s speciality in the Discworld universe.

 

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I was amazed at how much an identical cover design can be changed by different colour tones last week and this French cover is another example. Published in November 2014 by L’Atalante, this cover gives quite a different feel to the brighter Corgi version.

Which is your favourite, or the one you dislike the most?

Friday Faceoff – Toil and Trouble…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we are looking at covers celebrating Halloween and I have chosen Equal Rites by the wonderful Terry Pratchett.

 

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This is the cover that I own – published by Corgi 1989, I think it is the best cover by a long country mile. Yep. I’m aware I probably come across as a bit of a fossil here, ranting about, ‘Back in my day…’ but in this case I’ll stand by it. This cover brims with mapcap energy and fun – just like the book. Love it, love it, love it…

 

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This offering is, produced by Harper Torch in 2000, is obviously aimed at women with the natty female gamete symbol zipping across a tasteful mauve cover with an equally tasteful colour-matched hat. Really? Equal Rites is a GIRLY read? It’s for EVERYONE people! It ridicules sexism by poking fun at it – surely men need to get that message, too?

 

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Harper Perennial in 2005 are still ALL about gender-specific covers. The F-word even appears in the strapline *sigh*. Course THAT’S going to encourage all the blokes to read it, isn’t it? Again we have the tasteful mauve cover – this time with a witch wearing a tablecloth and an awkwardly positioned hand holding a globe/world/who cares covering her face. Another ghastly, lack-lustre effort that doesn’t begin to hint at the quirky, off-beat humour and general craziness Pratchett has to offer.

 

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And now we lurch from politically correct to stygian gloom… You’d think this was a horror or dry literary offering, wouldn’t you? WHY the anvil?? I’ve reread this book twice and I cannot recall a hammer featuring. The wizard’s staff – yes! Hilarity and daft footnotes – yes! Gloomy anvils – not so much… For shame, Transworld Digital – this is plain DREARY.

 

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At least Gollancz in 2014 has managed to move away from insisting this book is exclusively for women – or attempting to market a madcap comedy to horror or literary fans. Again with the mauve – a colour I’m learning to HATE, by the way – they are at least flagging the fact it’s funny. But the figures are crude and simplistic, something that Pratchett patently isn’t and once more the book is woefully betrayed by a sub-standard cover that doesn’t begin to hint at the riotous fun within.

Happy Halloween, by the way…

Favourite Time Travelling Novel – Part 2

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Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
nightwatchFor a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?

Over this long-running quirky fantasy series, Pratchett adopted a number of other genres – and this was the one where he had a go at time travelling. Over his very prolific output, it is inevitable that the quality varies – but Night Watch is one I recall with great affection as a very moving read.

 

 

 

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the timeandtimeagainloneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history. Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century? And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Another time-travelling book with a fascinating premise and a really cool twist, although I didn’t exactly warm to the protagonist – see my review here.

 

 

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
first 15 lives of Harry AugustNo matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’ This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

This is another plot-twister that takes the basic premise of time travelling and then plays games with it – and launches popular fantasy author Kate Griffin of the Matthew Swift series into her latest iteration as Claire North. See my review here.

 

 

 

In the Wet by Nevil Shute
in-the-wetIt is the rainy season. Drunk and delirious, an old man lies dying in the Queensland bush. In his opium-hazed last hours, a priest finds his deserted shack and listens to his last words. Half-awake and half-dreaming the old man tells the story of an adventure set decades in the future, in a very different world…

This is with a classic unreliable narrator – after all, a dying, drugged man is bound to be rather dodgy when recollecting his part – and it is left up to the reader to decide whether he really has travelled forward in time… I first devoured it as a teenager, rereading it again in my thirties, which confirmed the power of the writing. If you get a chance to read it, do so. The great news is that Shute’s books are now available on Kindle.

 

 

 

The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Saga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May
themanycoloredlandWhen a one-way time tunnel to Earth’s distant past, specifically six million B.C., was discovered by folks on the Galactic Milieu, every misfit for light-years around hurried to pass through it. Each sought his own brand of happiness. But none could have guessed what awaited them. Not even in a million years….

This amazing four book series takes epic science fiction/fantasy to a new level and plays all sorts of cool games with our history. I read this stunning series over twenty years ago and recall it with great affection. I also highly recommend the linked Galactic Milieu series, which is the prequel set in the future – I do love time travel books and the games they play with narrative chronology:)

 

 

 

 

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes
Ben and Rachel Corder are sure they’re in for the longest, dullest summer ever, until they discover an frozentimeunderground vault at the bottom of their garden with an amazing secret inside – two children from the 1950s who have been asleep for decades. But waking up Freddy and Polly Emerson means unearthing the secrets that were buried with them. Why would their father leave them frozen? How is cryonic suspension even possible? Why doesn’t the world know about the process fifty years later? How will the Emersons ever fit into the 21st century world of cell phones and microwave dinners? And why does it feel like they’re all suddenly being followed?

This is another offering that is too cool, funny and clever to leave to the children – see my review here. I particularly loved the cultural differences between the two pairs of children which Sparkes beautifully highlights during this gripping story.

Five SFF books that Made Me Laugh – Part 1

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I saw this list on the Top Ten Tuesday meme and couldn’t resist, but am a tad pressed for time, so I’ve rounded up five – with the intention of trawling through my reading lists and finding the rest when there are more hours in the day. So in no particular order, here are five science fiction and fantasy books that put a grin on my face.

Hogfather – Book 20 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

hogfatherIf I’d been feeling a bit lazier, I think I could have more or less filled this list with Terry Pratchett offerings – or at least padded it out a lot more. The likes of Moving Pictures, The Colour of Magic, Mort and Equal Rites all had me howling with laughter at times.

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions…

I had to choose Hogfather, because the scene where Death is handing out presents in the department store grotto never fails to make me giggle every single time I read it.

 

civilcampaignA Civil Campaign – Book 12 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won’t do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan… Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan… Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Mile’s cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan…

I’ve mentioned before that Bujold covers a wide spread of sub-genres within in this science fiction adventure series and this one is definitely a comedy of manners. And in places, it is hilarious – especially during a particular formal banquet…

 

Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. datenightFoner

This quirky series of novellas set on a space station by indie author E.M. Foner was recommended to me by Himself after I was a tad wrung out after a rather gruelling apocalyptic sci fi novel. I wanted something lighter and amusing – see my review here. This is definitely it.

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

It’s no surprise that once he published this on Amazon, he was flooded with requests for a follow-up – which he duly wrote. The setting is intriguing, the cast of characters suitably eccentric and Foner’s offbeat style really works. I loved it and will be getting hold another of these little gems.

 

mars evacueesMars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall

The adventures of Alice Dare entranced me from the moment I picked up this appealing offering and has gone on doing so. I have reread this one to the grandchildren and it made them snigger with laughter, too – see my review here.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

As well as being funny, it is also a cracking adventure story featuring one of the most memorable and appealing heroines I have ever read. If you like splashes of humour in amongst the mayhem, then give this one a go – it really is too good to leave to the children.

 

Vampire State of Mind by Jane Loveringvampirestate

Urban fantasy often has a chirpy thread of humour running through it, which I always enjoy – but Lovering has provided a heroine that memorably bounces off the page and has me recalling the book with affection – see my review here.

Jessica Grant knows vampires only too well. She runs the York Council tracker programme making sure that Otherworlders are all where they should be, keeps the filing in order and drinks far too much coffee. To Jess, vampires are annoying and arrogant and far too sexy for their own good, particularly her ex-colleague Sil, who’s now in charge of Otherworld York.

But when a demon turns up and threatens not just Jess but the whole world order, she and Sil are forced to work together, and when Jess turns out to be the key to saving the world it puts a very different slant on their relationship. The stakes are high. They are also very, very pointy and Jess isn’t afraid to use them, even on the vampire that she’s rather afraid she’s falling in love with.

This is urban fantasy at its smart, snappy best – I particularly liked the Brit take on this sub-genre, with the reflection that there’s nothing so dire that a Hobnob can’t make better…

Have you read any of the above and found them amusing? What SFF books have made you grin or laugh?

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 1

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These are not in any particular order, or definitive – I reserve the right to add another world to this list at any time. But the reason why these fantasy worlds have made it onto the list, is that they feature as an extra character, or are simply an outstanding backdrop to the action.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett
smallgodsOkay, then there might just be an order – because the moment I thought of this idea for a series of book blogs, this world is the one that immediately jumped into my head. For starters, they don’t get much madder, namely a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, which in turn are standing on the back of the giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. And yet so much is cosily familiar about the goings on in the large city of Ankh-Morpork, which is the busy city where a whole cast of extraordinary characters have a series of adventures. If you have never sampled any of the Pratchett magic, then start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. I envy you your journey, where you will find yourself laughing out loud and, at times, weeping. My favourite book is Small Gods, yes, it is funny but also profound with all sorts of important things to say about religion, without being remotely moralistic.

The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
This is the world in which a number of her series were set, those being The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders dragonkeeperTrilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and the latest series, the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. As you might imagine, there are a whole number of settings in this world. Hobb is a superb writer and while there are a number of authors who do dragons just as well – nobody does it better. My favourite book is Dragon Keeper – see my review here. I also highly recommend The Soldier’s Son series, which is simply remarkable and set in quite a different world.

The Midnight Mayor and Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
These two series are linked and share a rich London backdrop where the city itself is personified by straysoulsa range of deities, some reasonably benign – others less so. And the super-natural guardian of the paranormal side of London is Matthew Swift, the troubled and very powerful Midnight Mayor. She is a remarkable writer with an impressive range – since 2014, she has reinvented herself as Claire North writing a number of literary speculative fiction books. While I really enjoyed the Midnight Mayor books – see my review of the first one, A Madness of Angels, here – I absolutely loved the Magicals Anonymous books featuring Sharon Li, who runs a self-help group for a bunch of disparate magic-users, who tend to get caught up in some of the paranormal high jinks that happen around London. There is the same extraordinary setting, but with dollops of laugh-aloud humour as well – see my review of the first book, Stray Souls, here.

The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huffenchantment emporium
This is a delightful series about the Gale family, a highly magical matriarchy run by the aunts, a formidable cadre of powerful, sexy ladies who oversee all family details… Younger family members, understandably, would like an opportunity to break free and flex their own magical muscles, which lead to all sorts of adventures. If you open yet another fantasy book with a sigh, wishing you could read something different, then hunt down this series, starting with the first book, The Enchantment Emporium – see my review here.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott
The worldbuilding in this world is extraordinary. To use Elliott’s own words: An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk coldmagicRegency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage. However, intriguingly, the full extent of the world isn’t explored during this trilogy, though I don’t have a particular problem with that. If an author of Elliott’s imaginative scope wants to create a deeply textured world that her narrative doesn’t fully explore, that’s great. The result is a memorable, vibrant setting that works very well as an intriguing backdrop to the adventure series – read my review of the first book, Cold Magic, here. However, she is used to working on an epic scale – her seven volume epic fantasy The Crown of Stars series, is also worth reading – see my review here.

My Outstanding Reads of 2015

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It was a cracking year, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. I read 121 books this year, wrote 108 reviews and these are the best – the books that have stayed with me long after I’d closed them up and written a review about them.

Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb
Hobb is one of my favourite authors anyhow, so I was delighted when she revisited Fitz and took his story further. And this new adventure didn’t disappoint.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly thesefoolsassassin many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more… On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe. See my full review here.

 

The Straight Razor Cure – Book 1 of The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and straightrazorcurea way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. This is a strong start to a remarkable trilogy, which has stayed with me throughout the year and if you like your fantasy gritty with a strong protagonist, then I highly recommend this offering. See my full review here.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This was recommended to me by a couple of my students – and it didn’t disappoint. But whatever you do, don’t look up the reviews written in The Guardian or The Telegraph because they have seen fit to provide the main spoiler which makes a big difference to how you’d read the book.Weareallcompletelybesideourselves

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
As soon as I started reading, the surefooted first person voice pulled me in – and then about a quarter of the way in, came the revelation which I didn’t see coming. At all. This is such a clever, original book. What you think must be the themes when you start reading about the fallout surrounding Fern’s disappearance on her family, once you get past That Point, you realise there is another agenda alongside the expected issues of loss and identity. See my full review here.

 

Mars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and mars evacueesSORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well. I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm. And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived. If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Yes… I know it’s aimed at children – but this book enchanted me as well as my grandchildren and we are now all looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure in 2016. See my full review here.

 

The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes thedetectivesdaughterof celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful book, which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it. See my full review here.

 

The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
When Charlotte Gale’s aunt warns their magical family of an approaching asteroid, they scramble to keep humanity thefuturefallsfrom going the way of the dinosaurs. Although between Charlie’s complicated relationship with sorcerer Jack, her cousin Allie’s hormones, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack’s sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie’s fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems. This could have so easily been an adrenaline junkie’s dream with constant action-packed pages of chases… scary magical confrontations ending in blood and gore – and it would have still been an engrossing read. But the cool, ironic tone of the blurb nicely echoes the emotional tenor of the books.

The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are. See my full review here.

 

Window Wall – Book 4 of The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Elsewhens, the Fae gift that grants him prescient glimpses of possible futures, by simply refusing to experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his windowwalltheatre troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to force Cade into accepting the visions again, but when he does, he witnesses a terrible attack, though he cannot see who is responsible. Cade knows the future he sees can be changed, and when he finally discovers the truth behind the attack, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who can prevent it: his deadly enemy.
Meanwhile Touchstone is poised to become the best theatrical troupe in the country, though that isn’t the end of their problems. As Cade is wrestling with his own magical talents, Touchstone still have issues of their own to sort out – domestic life collides with the demands of touring; the pressure of constantly providing new, exciting plays; betrayal by someone they thought they could trust… So there is no trace of this series running out of steam – if anything it just goes on getting better. Though whatever you do, don’t pick up Window Wall first. You need to go back to the start to get a real flavour of this original, outstanding series and it would be a crime to do anything else. See my full review here.

 

Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownEmbassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerse, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

It is a huge challenge, both imaginatively and technically to write convincingly about another species that has never been seen on our home planet. No problem for Miéville, though. He nails it. See my full review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship the-long-way-666x1024that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

So is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship. See my full review here.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. theshepherdscrownAn old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other. Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists. See my full review here.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Cary
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, thegirlwithallthegiftsbecause Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work. See my full review here.

 

Lock In by John Scalzi
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever lockinand headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know – the blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. See my full review here.

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, theboneclocksdrawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. See my full review here.

Review of The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

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We have always pre-ordered the latest Terry Pratchett novel since… forever. Pratchett’s world have developed and expanded through most of my adult life and while I love some more than others, I’ve never disliked any of them. And now, I have just finished The Shepherd’s Crown with a real sense of sadness. For Pratchett hadn’t finished saying what he had to say – and there is a sense of pent frustration and energy throughout this last Tiffany Aching adventure which he completed during the final year of his life.

theshepherdscrownDeep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

I’ve always enjoyed the Tiffany Aching books, set on the chalk uplands – a landscape I know and love. And the bonus is there are a hatful of my favourite characters who make an appearance in this delightful, moving addition to the canon. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, Miss Tick, Magrat all feature, along with a couple of Tiffany’s former adversaries, Miss Earwig and the terrifying Queen of the Elves. And of course the Nac Mac Feegles, the tiny, blue-skinned warriors who shadow Tiffany and guard her wherever she goes. Even in places she’d rather they didn’t…

The emotional scene near the beginning had me on the edge of tears. And in other parts of the book, I was laughing out loud – there are only a handful of books that have elicited that response from me. While I was looking forward to reading this one, I wasn’t expecting it to pack such a punch. But the story sings off the page as classic Pratchett at his best.

Tiffany is suddenly pitchforked into a role of major responsibility. A role where she is challenged and not only by those who don’t wish her well. But in addition to the threat from Fairyland, there is also the constant pressure to be the very best witch she can be in a world that is suddenly changing. A world where goblins are no longer smelly nuisances, but valued engineers, a world where railways and claques have shrunk distances. A world where a young man named Geoffrey, accompanied by his goat Mephistopheles, turns up requesting to be trained as a witch.

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other.

Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists…
10/10