This is the first time I had picked up an audiobook arc from Netgalley, and not being of the generation that grew up with all this techie stuff, I was a bit apprehensive as to how easy it would be. But downloading the Netgalley app onto my phone and then listening to the book is actually more straightforward than loading an ebook onto my Kindle. I was also very happy with the clarity and quality my far-from-new iphone produced when listening to it, too.
BLURB: The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!
REVIEW: Roger Zelazny is one of those authors that other writers speak of with huge respect and affection, therefore is someone I have always intended to read. So I was delighted to encounter this newly released audiobook, narrated by Matt Godfrey, who does a very good job at portraying the fragmented action and providing a suite of nicely different voices for the character cast.
It took me several goes to get into this one, as initially I assumed I’d begun listening somewhere other than the start of the book. Zelazny drops us right in the middle of the action – in media res if you want the correct literary phrase. It didn’t help that the book starts at Chapter 2 and then moves onto Chapter One. And I had to pay close attention, as the narrative timeline jumped all over the place – and as I was listening, it was quite a hassle to flip back and forth to remind myself exactly where I was. Fortunately the narrator’s recitation speed was on the slower side of normal, for which I was thankful – I frequently slow the narration speed by 0.25 or 0.50, particularly if the reader isn’t using a British accent.
The story is about travellers on a road that takes them through Time as well as Space. There are only two chapters in the book and Chapter One features our main protagonist, Red Dorakeen, who has been on the Road for a long time and is clearly looking for something or someone vital. Zelazny is a writer with talent and the confidence to break all sorts of rules that are designed to help the reader – and a lot of the time, he triumphantly succeeds. I was quickly hooked and quite happy to spend a lot of the time not really sure exactly what was going on. The scene setting, characterisation and fluidity of the writing was sufficiently skilful that it was an enjoyable experience following the fractured timeline and going with the flow. I’m definitely going to be reading more by this talented writer. It didn’t hurt that there are some lovely flashes of snarky and dry humour in amongst the tension and danger.
It would scored higher if I didn’t feel that the ending was rather sloppily executed. And as I tend to have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about disappointing endings – I have knocked off a point. It wasn’t that it was the wrong ending exactly – but I sensed that by the time he’d got there, Zelazny’s attention and creative energy had been diverted to another project, so he didn’t show the same care and attention in the writing that was evident at the beginning. But I’m still mightily glad I picked this one up and it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Roadmarks from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.
The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.
What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.
This week I’ve read:-
Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.
But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule. This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.
It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle… I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10
The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.
When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.
With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way? I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…
I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10
Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson
Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate. For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.
Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage. I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!
This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
It’s been a week of two halves, but as I’m now able to write this Sunday Post just a week after my previous effort, you’ll be right in thinking that overall my energy levels are still reasonably good. So long as I don’t think of trying to do any housework! While I know it is definitely positive that my emotional and mental energy have improved so much – it’s very much a two-edged sword… The first half of the week was grim. I woke up on Monday feeling angry and miserable and while I can generally throw off those feelings – this time around, I couldn’t. It was the anger I found impossible to shift. And of course, given there is just the two of us – the person who bore the brunt of it is the one person in my life who is completely undeserving of my snarling criticisms on what he hadn’t managed to do around the house. It’s rather chastening to realise that I’m far less nice when I’m more like me, than when I was too ill and exhausted to care… And even that reflection didn’t manage to lift my black fury at how bloody helpless and useless I am.
However, thank goodness I had a reflexology appointment on Thursday afternoon. Laura listened sympathetically to my teary rant about how much I hated being so vilely furious – and how it was poisoning my life at a time when I really cannot afford the energy to be so negative. So she set to work, promising to concentrate on my emotional energies. At one point, while she was working on my hormonal energy, which she said was allll over the place, my leg was twitching uncontrollably. Whatever she did certainly worked. I always feel very tired after a consultation. But I woke up on Friday morning feeling reasonably happy again. I’m still sleeping badly, and the constant high-pitched screaming in my ears is still something of an ongoing struggle. But I’m back to believing I can get through this – that I haven’t finally run out of stamina and courage. And that there will come a time when I will regain sufficient energy to write my books again so that my grumpy black dragon, Castellan, will once again soar through my life.
This week I’ve read:-
Blood Politics – Book 4 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper You’d think that life would finally be dealing Mack Smith a kind hand. Living in London, and with the opening of the new improved city version of Clava Books mere days away, things appear to be settling down. Other than the terrible nightmares about dragons, that is. Or the fact that she’s being constantly tailed by a string of mages, shifters and faeries, all of whom are constantly demanding her attention. And that’s without even bringing the temptation of Corrigan, Lord Alpha of the Brethren, into the equation.
Then, when a local dryad asks her for some help, things really start to fire up. There are some long hot summer days ahead… I thoroughly enjoy Harper’s gutsy, short-fused heroine. Mack is a shapeshifter with a difference and this urban fantasy is full of twists and turns that kept me reading throughout a wretched night and into the small hours. Be warned, Mack tends to get very sweary when she loses her rag, so there is a lot of bad language – but I’ll forgive that. And there is also a doozy of cliffhanger at the end that had me reaching for the next book in the series – which is something that I hardly ever do. 9/10
Blood Lust – Book 5 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper Life’s no fun being a dragon, especially when you are forced into responsibilities that involve trying to keep the peace between an array of shifters, mages and faeries in order to bring down the scariest and deadliest foe the Otherworld has ever seen. And that’s not to mention the fact that your own soul mate hates your guts…
Mack Smith, a fiery Draco Wyr, is battling to come to terms with her emotions, her heritage and her true capabilities. All she has to do is defeat Endor, win back Corrigan and live happily ever after. From the streets of London and Russia, to the beaches of Cornwall, will she be able to ever win the day? Not only does this book deliver yet another engrossing adventure featuring short-tempered Mack, our foul-mouthed yet endearing heroine – it also has to produce a convincing and satisfactory conclusion to this series. I’ll be honest – given the narrative dynamic Harper had set up, I couldn’t see how she would pull this one off. And then she did… I completed this one with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. Very highly recommended. 10/10
The Gathering – Book 1 of The Hundred series by Vanessa Nelson As one of the Hundred, Yvonne cannot ignore a plea for help, even if all she wants is a quiet life, somewhere safe for her adopted children to grow into adulthood. Safety is in short supply. Young people, some of them children, are going missing in large numbers, leaving bewildered and grieving families behind. It’s not something she can ignore.
She finds an unexpected ally in an arrogant goblin lord, who seems intent on following her from place to place. With her skills in magic, and his resources, can they track down the kidnappers and return the children home? I’ve been reading her Ageless Mysteries series and been very impressed, so when I saw this series I immediately tucked into the first one and was very glad I did. Nelson’s worldbuilding is superb – a layered realistic world that gradually is revealed through the eyes of a nuanced, three-dimensional character. The relationship between Guise and Yvonne is beautifully done and I look forward to reading the next one. 9/10
Witch Hunt – Book 3 of the Secondhand Magic series by Lori Drake Magic Crimes Consultant Emily Davenport’s prestigious family coven may have been disappointed in her lack of magical talent, but they never took issue with how she lived her life—until she registered as a witch. Now the gloves are off, and she’s under investigation by the Circle, a powerful alliance of ancient covens.
But with an important case three months in the making finally starting to bear fruit, she can’t just stop and walk away. The witches of Santa Fe need her. A mysterious, illicit drug that only affects witches is gaining more traction by the day, and every minute she spends worrying about her own future is an opportunity for another witch to die. Can Emily stop the flow of the deadly narcotic and prove herself before her clock runs out, or will she be carted off to face tribunal in chains? This urban fantasy whodunit has a strong heroine, who used to be an emergency nurse who is dismissed once she registers as a witch. Now she ekes out a living as a consultant on magical cases with the local police department. I really enjoyed Emily’s backstory – she is a strong, sympathetic protagonist who has been put in a convincingly difficult position. I’m delighted there are more books in this smart, well written series. 9/10
The Dragon and Mrs Muir by Connie Suttle The wedding was an outdoor affair, on a beach with the Gulf of Mexico in the background. In all, seventy-two were injured, and the body count rose to seventeen. Local hospitals were filled with bleeding attendees, and, at one point, the bride, her bloodied white wedding dress cut away and spilling onto the emergency room floor, went into cardiac arrest. Her groom died at the scene.
Philomena Muir became a widow on her wedding day. Three years later, she found herself bumping into the strangest man she’d ever met–except he wasn’t a man. More specifically, he wasn’t human. That brief meeting became the catalyst for a brewing war, pitting one human witch against the might of a supernatural race. The cards are stacked, and Philomena needs a winning hand… This is an unusual book and despite the slight unevenness of the story-telling and the ease with which some of the conflicts are overcome, I enjoyed the dynamic. The dramatic backstory is very well handled and I really liked Phil. Overall, an intriguing and memorable read. 8/10
Little Witches – Book 21 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Laughter Academy is in trouble. The student witches are growing increasingly reckless, preying on the mundanes below the mountains as their tutors plot and scheme to take advantage of the chaos. And no one seems to know why.
Emily is in no condition to intervene. But she cannot refuse. Heading to Laughter, Emily finds herself dragged into a world of schoolgirl games, staffroom politics and a deadly plot aimed at the heart of the Allied Lands themselves… As I’ve been reading this entertaining and unpredictable fantasy series, I’ve often imagined Nuttall having a conversation in a bar with a couple of writing buddies. “So… what do you think would happen if a girl got transported from our world, back to a medieval society? And then triggers a major change by introducing some key inventions – what would happen then? I think I’m going to write it. Just to see where it goes.” Because that’s exactly the dynamic of this fascinating series story arc and Emily – the protagonist and catalyst of so much of the upheaval that occurs – has become a firm favourite of mine. There are three more books to go in this series and I’d intended to space them out – but I immediately got hold of the next one, because of that amazing cliffhanger ending. 8/10
The Right Side of History – Book 22 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
A brutal uprising in the Kingdom of Alluvia has shaken the Allied Lands – and Emily finds herself accused of starting it. Desperate, all too aware the kingdom is on the verge of becoming a vortex of chaos, Emily travels to Alluvia in the hopes of calming both sides long enough to secure peace…
…Unaware that the uprising is merely the first step in a plan to shatter the Allied Lands beyond repair. I pretty much inhaled this one – the beginning is fraught and full of danger. And the tension doesn’t ease up. But the climactic final battle at the end left me reeling as we lose a major character – and Emily suffers a terrible betrayal that I didn’t see coming. Oh my goodness. I’m trying to be good and not immediately reach for the penultimate book in the series as I want to cling onto this world for just a bit longer… this series has seen me through so many wretched nights and difficult days during the worst of my illness. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Hard Time – Book 2 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.
Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures. This time travelling adventure hasn’t quite the rollicking, no-holds-barred flavour of the St Mary’s books, but it is still full of humour. In typical Taylor style, there are also deeply moving and emotional moments, too. It was a joy to listen to. 9/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
BLURB:Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day. Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time. I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
REVIEW: One of the wonderful things about Tchaikovsky’s writing is that when I pick up one of his books, I never quite know what to expect. There is only one other author I can think of who is quite so magnificently versatile – Jo Walton – and she isn’t nearly so prolific.
Even so, this one was a complete surprise – especially the magnificently dark humour. I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person narrator of Tchaikovsky’s with such a persona, I both loved and loathed our hero’s insouciant bounciness as he works unceasingly to keep a very broken world fixed in his own unique fashion… It would be very easy to drop spoilers here that would blunt the reader’s ability to experience this book as the author intended, so I’m going to do my level best NOT to commit that sin. I was mindful that the blurb didn’t let the cat the out of the bag, so neither shall I.
But I will say that all is not what it first appears to be – I was both captivated and horrified by the unfolding events, which also left my brain aching at times. Timey-whimey stuff happens that has major consequences. But I devoured this compelling read in two sessions and surfaced after that ending, mulling over what I’d read. And wondering what I would do in similar circumstances. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of One Day All This Will Be Yours from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
I have mentioned several times over the last couple of months that I was working on another project – and today I am in a position to finally talk about it. As lockdown clamped across my life, along with everyone else, I wanted to do something to help. But what? My own health issues and age meant I wasn’t in a position to volunteer for the variety of important jobs needing to be done. And given my sewing skills, or lack of them, no one would want to wear scrubs or masks made by yours truly. All I do these days is write…
So I went back through my stories, searching for this one. The story of a grumpy old grandfather, who is suddenly faced with looking after a couple of lively young dragonets… It had been published as a 1,000 story in Every Day Fiction way back in 2008, but I added more, as this family wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s humorous and quirky and as far away from the current difficult situation as you can get – a quick, easy read for folks, who perhaps like me, aren’t looking for anything too demanding or downbeat right now.
I’m planning on publishing Picky Eaters – Part I on 22nd June and for the duration of its publishing lifetime, I am donating all proceeds to mental health charities. So I’m hoping the story itself will provide a bit of escapist entertainment, while the profits will also go to a cause that I know is in desperate need of more resources. Mhairi Simpson, my book buddy and awesome cover artist has also donated her time and work on this cover for nothing, as her contribution towards this project.
In the meantime, advance reader copies of this story are available at Booksprout – this is the link – for the first 20 reviewers interested in reading about the exploits of Castellan and those lively dragonets, Sammy Jo and Billy Bob.
BLURB:This tale about family life, dragon-style, is escapist fun for adults. All proceeds to go to mental health charities.
Castellan the Black, now better known as Casta the Grey, has led an eventful life, but these days he’s content to live alone in his mountaintop lair, fending off occasional attacks from the food and waiting to die. At least, that’s what he tells himself.
Babysitting his young grandchildren is definitely not on his to do list. Sammy Jo doesn’t care that the world used to cower before Casta’s wrath. She doesn’t want barbecued knight in armour – it’s tinned food – and that’s that. Sadly, her little brother Billy Bob is more inclined to follow her lead than his grandfather’s, and what’s a grumpy old dragon to do with two such intransigent youngsters?
Things go from bad to worse when he wakes up from a nap to find they’ve been hunting for more appealing treats. Organic, free-range lunch was exactly what they needed, according to a very proud Sammy Jo. He’s never seen the food so upset, and now it’s coming up the hill, armed with spears and bows, hell bent on revenge.
Things go from bad to worse when he has to move in with the rest of the family. Whoever said family life was boring hasn’t lived alongside these two pesky lizards. Keeping his grandkids out of trouble might be more of a challenge than this over the mountain warrior can handle.
Sneak peek… He came to with a sudden awareness that he must have dozed off, which was happening more often these days. Still, no harm done… He stretched and yawned, choosing to ignore the patter of dirt falling from his crusted scales. Only as he started to curl up, ready to turn the nap into a proper mid-morning snooze, did he recall he was supposed to be babysitting his pesky grandchildren. Where’d they got to? Once he located the youngsters huddled in the corner, he decided Billy Bob and Sammy Jo were up to something, so he tip-taloned across the cavern, before whispering, “What are you doing?” in Billy Bob’s ear. The small dragon shot straight into the air with a shrill squeal, while his sister crouched lower over whatever-it-was in the gloom, gobbling it up in a couple of hurried gulps. An irritated wisp of smoke leaked from his nostrils. “And why are you eating between meals?” “’Um unngree…” she mumbled, still chewing. The delicious whiff of a meaty something didn’t improve his temper. “If you’d eaten all your breakfast, you wouldn’t be wanting something, now!” “Sorry, Granddad,” Billy Bob whimpered, his wings drooping submissively. But young Sammy Jo was made of sterner stuff. Her wings remained neatly folded across her back as she announced, “Didn’t like breakfast.” Impudent little piece! Why, when he was a dragonet, if he’d spoken to a lord so insolently, he’d have been walking around with singed scales for a month. Smoke now was trickling steadily from his nostrils, as he growled, “And what does like have to do with anything? Answer that one, miss! There’s sub-Saharan dragons who’d give their wings for a tasty morsel like the one I picked out for you.” “They can have it, then,” Sammy Jo said sulkily. “It tasted funny.” The rank ingratitude! His temper flared, and a gout of flame belched out of his mouth with his roar, “Ahh!” She dodged his fiery blast with ease. “You can’t singe us, Granddad. It’s not allowed.” Sammy Jo stretched her neck in an unmistakeably female way. “If we’ve been bad, we have to sit on the naughty crag and think about what we’ve done wrong and how to make a-mends.” He regarded her with smouldering annoyance. “You sound just like your grandmother.”
I always enjoy this author’s writing – see my review of Crosstalk and her masterful book, the first in this series, Doomsday Book. So when the Cap from Captain’s Quarters reviewed this book in glowing terms – I needed to track it down, and when I saw there was an audio version of it, I promptly bought it. I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.
This is a complete joy, perfectly narrated by Stephen Crossley. Poor Ned finds himself on a river trip that borrows a lot from Jerome K Jerome’s wonderful classic Three Men in a Boat – to the extent that Ned even has a fleeting meeting between the characters featured in the book and himself. Humour is highly subjective and I’m always a bit hesitant when the blurb blithely assures me I will find this book hilarious, as far too often I find it just annoying. But Willis’s lovely humour runs through this book in a rich vein without ever expecting it to prop up the story or be an adequate replacement for a decent plot – something far too many comedic books try to do. In fact, the plotting of this offering is one of its major strengths. Lady Sharples has tasked Ned to find a piece of artwork called The Bishop’s Bird Stump, which is supposed to have survived the WWII bombing of Coventry Cathedral. While boating up the Thames, Ned finds himself caught up in an entanglement caused by another historian who manages to save a cat and bring it forward in time – something not supposed to happen. Time travelling can be problematical as a plot device, but I really like the fact there are strict rules regarding what can and cannot happen in this version of time travel.
Events spiral out of control as there is one muddle and misunderstanding after another, all perfectly paced so that I didn’t get tired or fed up with any type of improbability. Apart from anything else, the characters are all the joy with their quirky eccentricity and sheer likeability. All in all, this is one of my favourite reads of the year and gave me some wonderful shafts of humour at a time when I really needed it. I love it when books do that.
Very highly recommended for fans of time travelling stories, or anyone with a fondness for Three Men in Boat.
I met this author right at the beginning of the year, when I mentioned that I also reviewed books, so tucked the arc away in a safe place and promptly forgot about it. Really sorry, Chris!
Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong – and from there events slide out of control. Will Jacob be able to ever return to his own time?
I’ve heavily edited the very chatty blurb – whatever you do, don’t read it. It gives away far too much of the plot, which is so well told that it was would a crying shame to already know in advance what is going to happen. Needless to say, the jump goes awry and Jacob isn’t retrieved quickly. Of course all operators are trained for this eventuality, but they are repeatedly assured that with their implant locators and a team of trained observers keeping a close eye on all sensitive timestrands – and WWII is a very sensitive strand – his rescue will only be a matter of a few days.
I wasn’t all that sure I liked Jacob very much. In fact, the crew from 2040 are all rather edgy and slightly unpleasant, with the exception of the newest recruit, Nancy. But that might be the result in living in a besieged London, where everyone is terrified of being blown up by a suicide bomber and parts of the city are cordoned off behind blast-proof walls. While other areas of London have simply gone feral. The infrastructure has badly suffered and the streets are dirty and littered – to the extent that Jacob finds himself preferring blitzed London and the comradeship he sees on a daily basis, although everyone is clearly suffering and the rationed food is dreadful.
Barnham manages to depict both versions of London very effectively without holding up the pace. Jacob grew on me as his character expanded while he learnt to live during WWII. He is brave, resourceful and thinks on his feet and discovers that he is capable of loving wholeheartedly – something he’d thought was beyond him. The other character I loved right from the word go is Amy, who is also tough and resourceful through sheer necessity. The generation who lived through the war were remarkable and Barnham gives us a sense of that without lapsing into sentimentality.
It would have been so easy to dip this book in a layer of treacle, but Barnham resists that temptation. While the romance does power a vital part of the storyline, this book isn’t primarily about the love story. It’s far more concerned about what happens if in the future we develop the means to travel back in time and alter the timeline. What is to stop terrorists or fundamentalists illegally travelling back and attempting to alter the timeline? And if that does happen a number of times – who decides which alteration stands?
I really like Barnham’s approach that slowly unspools throughout the story that became steadily more gripping. It is an intelligent, powerful take on time travel that is going to stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for fans of time travelling tales.
This is one of those outstanding series that I keep revisiting and yet trying to spin it out as I don’t want to the fun to stop…
St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department. But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see. Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.
Max is one the historians, often described as disaster-magnets as they are generally prone to all sorts of mishaps occurring, as well as the day job being the insanely dangerous task of travelling back in time. It doesn’t help that there are also a group of renegade historians also cris-crossing the timeline equipped with one of their travelling pods who have sworn to see Max and her companions dead.
These books are very episodic, as each one covers a number of major time-travelling projects interleaved with life at St Mary’s, which is rarely peaceful. There is also a fair amount of emotional turmoil in Max’s life as her past has left scars that creates problems when she wants a relationship. Max’s hilarious first-person narrative often has me laughing aloud and nudging Himself in the ribs to read out a particular humorous gem, but what sets these books apart is that when highly dangerous, risky expeditions into the past are undertaken, often people don’t come back in one piece. Or at all… Taylor isn’t afraid of killing off characters we have grown very fond of, to the extent that I don’t get through one of these books without also weeping – and I don’t do that very often these days. Consequently, this series is always a roller-coaster read with lots of humour and heartbreak in amongst the action. Taylor’s writing is vivid and quirky and I love the fact that she always lulls me into a false sense of security by setting up a situation or scene, which suddenly changes into something quite different.
While I think you could quite easily pick up one of these books without having read any of the others and work out what is going on, it would be a real shame to do so with such an unusual and exciting series. I haven’t encountered anything quite like Taylor’s writing before, and I don’t expect to do so again. And if you, too, would like to experience the whirlwind that is St Mary’s and the madcap team of historians, then don’t track this one down, instead go looking for the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Highly recommended for fans of time-travelling adventures with a difference.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I have been busy this week writing the course notes for this term’s Creative Writing course which starts on 17th September, which sounds a while away, but I know from experience that it isn’t. I managed to get all but the final handout written, which I’m pleased about. The regular admin and lesson plans still need to be written, but at least I’ve done the hard part.
On Monday I met up with one of my students who has missed a couple of terms through illness. It was lovely to see her again, looking so much better as we caught up on each other’s lives. I had lunch with my sister on Tuesday and we went shopping together on Friday, though I resisted the temptation to buy anything major – which was a feat we celebrated by having a very leisurely chat over a looong cup of tea together. On Saturday, I travelled up to Cambridge to catch up with my son who I hadn’t seen since Christmas – far too long! We visited the Anthony Gormley exhibition, which was marvellous – and then he treated me to a trip on the river. It was so much fun watching him windmill the pole as he punted me up the river that the rain simply didn’t matter.
During this coming week, I will not be commenting or replying on my blog as I shall be on a writing retreat and I’m not sure about the wifi connection – parts of the country aren’t very well served. But I will catch up once I get back.
This week I have read:
Menagerie – Book 1 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town. I rapidly became engrossed in Delilah’s plight, unable to forget the numbers of youngsters imprisoned and trapped by illegal trafficking, though this book can also be read as a piece of escapist fiction.
Kindred Spirits – Book 5 of the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best series by Jo Bannister
A kidnap attempt outside the school gates in broad daylight convinces Gabriel Ash that his renegade wife is trying to steal their sons from him. Only the intervention of his friend Constable Hazel Best kept them safe. It’s a simple if alarming explanation, but is it the truth? Hazel uncovers disturbing information about another crime, the repercussions of which are still threatening innocent lives seventeen years later. Once again Hazel finds herself at loggerheads with her superiors. Did they really conspire to protect a murderer? And this time she isn’t getting the support she needs from Ash. She’d thought they were kindred spirits: now she’s not sure what his motives are. I was overdue an enjoyable cosy mystery and this one certainly ticked the box. Enjoyable, likeable protagonists and a gripping situation that steadily builds into a major mystery with an exciting denouement.
Spectacle – Book 2 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent
The Savage Spectacle is a private collection of “exotic wildlife.” Specializing in ruthless cryptid cage matches, safari-style creature hunts and living party favors, the Spectacle’s owner, Willem Vandekamp, caters to the forbidden fetishes of the wealthy and powerful. At the Spectacle, any wish can be granted—for the right price. But a number of new exhibits not only create more opportunities for making money, they also pose risks Willem hasn’t yet encountered. This next slice of the adventures featuring Delilah, a shape-shifting human with disturbing powers was just as engrossing as the first book – and I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, which is the Netgalley arc I will be reviewing in due course.
Fifty-One by Chris Barnham
Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, leading to a series of events that not only puts in jeopardy the outcome of WWII, but all history… This intelligent, well written time travelling adventure is not only a thumping good read, but raises some interesting questions on the nature of time travelling that I’ve never seen so fully explored. I was also very impressed with Barnham’s depiction of war-torn London in 1940 and the 2040 equivalent.