Tag Archives: troubled hero

Review of LIBRARY book The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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This book was highly recommended by a number of my book blogging friends, so I was delighted to discover a copy at the local library…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

And that is as much as the rather chatty blurb as I’m willing to share, given it goes on to happily give away plotpoints that occur more than a quarter of the way through this hefty read. But the other main protagonist is Angelica Neal, a courtesan trying to find another protector to maintain her lifestyle, now that the duke who looked after her has died.

First, the good news – the writing is absolutely beautiful and the historical period brilliantly realised in a series of lovely scenes that leap off the page. Gowar can certainly write. The plotting is interesting and I enjoyed the fact that just when I thought the story was going in one particular direction, it suddenly took an unexpected turn. This happened a couple of times, especially during the first two-thirds of the story. The theme of the mermaid works well as a device that both powers the plot forward and also as a symbol for the restless striving after novelty and learning that characterised those turbulent times. Though don’t pick up this one because you love the idea of a mermaid character, because that isn’t what this book is about. The first two acts in particular, were full of incident and interest.

However, I wanted to love this one more than I did. For while Gowar is clearly talented and her portrayal of the period is masterful, I didn’t ever bond with any of the characters. The rather fractious nature of the conversations between every single one of the characters left me feeling rather distanced – I found myself wanting to shake them all until their teeth rattled at one stage or another. Angelica’s flighty attitude was off-putting and just when I was beginning to care about her, the events in the third act shut her right down, putting her on the edge of the action and beyond the scope of the main story.

The pacing is also odd – instead of steadily gathering momentum, it takes a while to get going and then during that last act, which is the weakest, it suddenly drops right away again. Hm. That third act – it seems as though Gowar had several main themes that she’d wanted to weave through the story and so bundled them all into that third section, thus bringing the narrative to a juddering halt and entirely disempowering her main protagonists. We have a couple of ugly scenes, presumably to demonstrate just what a nasty time it was for women – particularly if they were black or elderly. The only reason this one didn’t go flying across the room, was the quality of the writing and the fact that I hoped the ending would rescue the story.

In the event, the ending was better than I’d begun to fear, but I just wish a large part of that final act was either cut or rewritten as I think this could have been a great book, rather than a very promising effort by a highly talented writer.
7/10

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Review of INDIE EBOOK The Backworlds by M. Pax #Brainfluffbookreview #TheBackworldsbookreview

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The Backworlds is one of the 52 books on offer during the Instafeebie LEGION – Women Authors of Sci-Fi giveaway, which I had the pleasure of reading a while ago. This is my review. Running Out of Space is also part of this giveaway, if you haven’t already got hold of a copy and would like to give it a try.

In the far future, humanity settles the stars, bioengineering its descendents to survive in a harsh universe. After the war with the Foreworlders, Backworlders scatter across the planets left. Competition is fierce and pickings are scant. Scant enough that Craze’s father decides to improve his fortunes by destroying his son. Cut off from family and friends with little money and even less knowledge of the worlds beyond his own, Craze heads into an uncertain future. Boarding the transport to Elstwhere, he vows to make his father regret this day.

The initial couple of chapters pack a real punch – Craze’s hurt and amazement at his father’s double-cross is believable and immediately had me rooting for him. Pax shows her experience in the slick handling of her protagonist – too much fury and resistance would have unduly slowed the pace, while a mere defeated shrug would have still had the reader convinced that his father was a complete ratbag, but would not necessarily have engendered quite as much sympathy for the main character.

After his unpleasant ejection from his village, the story follows a familiar pattern – an inexperienced youngster having to make his way in an innately hostile and uncaring world. This time around, the worlds are hostile with knobs on. In the aftermath of an interplanetary war, no one is particularly welcoming – except for the two aviarmen he encounters on his first journey offworld… And immediately the three of them spin off into an adventure, while trying to find a foothold somewhere to make their fortunes.

The writing is pacy, direct and very readable. Pax knows how to write an interesting, detailed character, provide an entertaining and believable backdrop, while keeping the action coming. I was swept along with the action and particularly enjoyed the colourful dialogue.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week the theme to feature on any of our covers is steampunk. I’ve selected The Affinity Bridge – Book 1 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann, a cracking whodunit set in an alternate Victorian London…

 

This edition was produced by Snow Books in 2008 and is my favourite. I love all the detail and the bright colours. It’s beautiful, full of lovely little touches, like the London cityscape, the little steampunk flourishes and that fabulous airship, which is the template for nearly all the other versions of this book’s covers. While I’ll accept that it probably doesn’t stand out when in thumbnail, I’ll forgive that – who wouldn’t want to expand this cover into glorious full size to capture the full effect?

 

Published in April 2010 by Tor Books, this is another attractive, well-designed offering. The airship is now grungier and less shiny, though every bit as eye-catching. I love the border and the attention to detail, again. I just wish there was less chatter across the cover.

 

This edition, published by Titan Books in July 2015, is certainly bright. The airship is still there and this cover provides lots of detail, but in silhouette. I think the overall effect is successful and eye-catching and I’d probably love it more if I hadn’t already given my heart to the Snow Books effort.

 

This edition, produced by Piper in 2011, takes the original design and makes it their own. It is far more stripped back and I think it is extremely effective – I love the background colour and clever use of the clouds to provide a suitably dramatic backdrop for that magnificent airship. The border is also nicely handled and in thumbnail, this one really pops. This is my second favourite, mostly because I just love that colour…

 

This French cover, published in June 2011, takes a completely different approach. This is the foggy London where Jack the Ripper lurks along with other desperate villains and only the likes of Newbury and Hobbes can get justice done… We see the two protagonists featured on the cover. I do like this effort, though not as much as the others. What about you – which is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 25th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Immortal Creators by Jill Bowers

#science fiction #fantasy

Sixteen-year-old author Scott Beck never wanted to be an Immortal Writer—not after his father was killed on a mission attempting to dispatch his own villain. Scott blames Shakespeare and the Writers for his father’s untimely demise, but no amount of hatred will prevent the oncoming alien attack, which has come over to reality straight from Scott’s book.

Scott is forced to collect his characters—an Air Force colonel, two of the best pilots on Earth, and an alien enthusiast from the year 2134—and defeat the alien king before Earth is obliterated by his ships. But an odd sickness Scott calls his Writing Fever might just kill him before the aliens have the chance.

I can’t deny it – initially it was all about the cover. But when I read the blurb I was sold – I really like the idea of Shakespeare getting the blame for the demise of an Immortal Writer…

Review of Library book Breach of Containment – Book 3 of the Central Corps series by Elizabeth Bonesteel #Brainfluffbookreview #BreachofContainmentbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this engrossing, action-packed space opera adventure and very much looked forward to getting hold of this third book.

Hostilities between factions are threatening to explode into a shooting war on the moon of Yakutsk, and the two major galactic military powers, Central Corps and PSI, have sent ships to defuse the situation. But when a strange artefact is discovered, events are set in motion that threaten the entire colonized galaxy – including former Central Corps Commander Elena Shaw.

You can pick this one up and get involved in the adventure without reading the previous two books, but in order to get the very best out of it, I recommend that you go looking for The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust. Not only do these previous books give you a great insight into the world, Bonesteel tends to write her characters with layers and you will miss out on a fair amount if you aren’t aware of some key moments in their backstory.

It was with great pleasure and anticipation that I found myself back in this riven world, where the colonies, Earth, their appointed peacekeepers – the Corp and the shadowy PSI are all at odds with each other. And that doesn’t factor in some of the worrying moves made by a major terraforming mega corporation. So there is a complicated political standoff where tensions are running high. I love the way that Bonesteel juxtaposes these large major concerns with the issues in the lives of her major characters. As ever, the stage is set for a major adventure to kick off – and this time the domed human settlement of Yakutsk is the hub where the action initially begins. However, it isn’t where it ends…

The plot rackets along at a fair lick, which each character in this multi-viewpoint story giving their slice of the adventure. As ever, my main attention is snagged by the two main protagonists, Elena and Greg, who have been at the heart of the story since the first book. But I also really enjoyed learning more about Admiral Herrod, who was one of the main antagonists in the previous book. I always appreciate a writer who gives me a villain who isn’t your typical evil character, but someone trying to do the best they can while making morally wrong decisions along the way – which is the case for most of the ‘bad’ people I’ve encountered in my own lifetime.

This adventure held me until the end and in places really pulled at my heartstrings – it will be a long time before I forget the scene where Greg accompanies Captain Bayandi on his final mission… All in all, this was another storming addition to an excellent series. I note, with hope, that the ending leaves the way open for more adventures – so fingers crossed, Bonesteel is even now, planning the next slice in Greg and Elena’s lives. Highly recommended for space opera fans.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 10th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

30% I burst through the door and out onto the green lawn that sloped down to the banks of the Thames in time to see Father throw a very muddy and bloody Percy into the putrid waters.
I stumbled to his side as Percy emerged with a gasp. “Fawkes, you—”
“Scrub yourself clean, Percy.” Father squatted by the bank. “Before you oust us all. You’ve been a fool this night.”

BLURB: Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

I am enjoying this alternate history. The fantasy twist hinges on two different magical factions battling for supremacy in Stuart England during the turbulent times leading up to the Gunpowder Plot.

Friday Faceoff – Red is the ultimate cure for sadness… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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. At present it is being nurtured by Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring red, so I’ve selected Red Rising – Book 1 of the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in January 2014 and it is the most well known of all the covers – and with good reason as it is eye-catching and iconic. The extended red wing against a black background is very simple, but that doesn’t stop it being beautiful. The title font is a nice reflection of the story as it runs from the bottom to the top of the cover… I love this one.

 

Published in February 2015 by Сиела, this Bulgarian edition is also strikingly eye-catching. Instead of the wing, we have an image of the young rebel, Darrow, all set to rise from the life of slave-slogged drudgery he’d been born into. The image is clever as it also refers to part of the plot and I also like the way the title font fits nicely between the wings.

 

This Portuguese edition, published by Editorial Presença in March 2015, is another strong contender. I love the stylish, imaginative way the wings have been spun around and used as to depict the backdrop, while Darrow is poised at the nexus of the divided society. My one niggle is that there is too much chatter on the cover, spoiling what should be a clean, uncluttered cover to maximise the effect.

 

This Czech edition, produced by Triton in October 2016 is another beautiful effort. I love the addition of the yellow amongst the red – and the effect, which looks a wing, feather or a flame. I also like the chunkier, yellow title font which nicely pops against the red and the complete lack of unnecessary blather to detract from the effective artwork. This is my favourite.

 

This Polish cover was published in March 2014 by Drageus Publishing House and, in my opinion, is the least effective of all the covers. In contrast it comes across as muddled and overworked. It certainly doesn’t stand out as a thumbnail, so it’s fortunate that Red Rising was a worldwide best-seller and didn’t rely on this cover to lure readers to pick it up. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Outcasts of Order – Book 20 of the Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. #Brainfluffbookreview #OutcastsofOrderbookreview

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And if you’re blanching at the prospect of ploughing through nineteen other books to get to this point – I’m here to tell you that isn’t necessary. This is actually the second in a spinoff series charting the adventure of Beltur. His adventures started in the previous book, The Mongrel Mage – see my review – and these continue in this adventure…

Modesitt continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with his 20th book in the long-running series. Beltur began his journey in The Mongrel Mage and continues with Outcasts of Order, the next book of his story arc in the Saga of Recluce.

Beltur, an Order mage, discovers he possesses frightening powers not seen for hundreds of years. With his new abilities, he survives the war in Elparta and saves the lives of all. However, victory comes with a price. His fellow mages now see him as a threat to be destroyed, and the local merchants want to exploit his power.

This book does more or less pick up where the previous book left off, and we find Beltur recovering from the effects of his previous adventure and mourning the loss of one of his friends. He is a refugee in a new city, struggling to establish himself and earn as much as he can, as he wishes to settle down with a special someone. However, there are obstacles to his ambition…

If you are in the mood for a foot-to-the-floor adventure, where it is all kicking off at a breathless rate, then this one isn’t for you. Modesitt doesn’t write like that – he slowly builds the world by taking you through his protagonist’s daily routine in every little detail. We learn what Beltur thinks about the worsening weather conditions; how he feels about working at the forge and the Healing House; what he wears; what he likes to eat and drink; who he trusts; what he thinks about having to get up early in the mornings… I’ll be honest, while I enjoy the accretion of all these daily details, there were times when in this book I felt that the pacing had become just a bit a too stuck in the daily rhythm. There are also places where Modesitt’s normally smooth prose is a little rough around the edges. While I’m aware this is an arc and there are liable to be changes, I do hope some of the missing words and repetitions are sorted out before the publication date. That said, it wasn’t sufficient to blunt my engagement with the story and most of the time, I relished once more being immersed in this richly depicted world.

What all that detail means is that when it does kick off – there is a real sense of shock at the violence and the consequences that occur in its wake. I like Beltur and the people around him, although there are times when I’d like to see him a little more grumpy and not so unfailingly good. As a result, the person who I really bonded with, is the healer and emerging mage, Jessyla. I do like the fact she can be quite snarky, at times.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one – though I recommend that you start with The Mongrel Mage and I’m delighted there is to be a third book in this series. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of Outcasts of Order from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of Library book #Remnants of Trust – Book 2 of the #Central Corp novel series by #Elizabeth Bonesteel #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series – The Cold Between – see my review here. Luckily, the library also had the second book, so I was able tuck into this one before I’d forgotten the plot of the first space opera adventure.

Six weeks ago, Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster were court-martialled for their role in an event Central Gov denies ever happened. Yet instead of a dishonourable discharge or time in a military prison, Shaw and Foster and are now back together on Galileo. As punishment, they’ve been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector. But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders.

This space opera adventure is a cracker – I love the complex characterisation and nuanced responses of the main protagonists. While this is a continuation from the first book, if you haven’t read it, I think you could still work out who was doing what to whom without too much difficulty. And while you might miss out on some of the extra ramifications, you certainly would be able to negotiate the world and follow the action, while appreciating what is at stake – which is a lot. However, to get the best out of this book, I do recommend that you get hold of The Cold Between and read it before tucking into this offering.

However, Bonesteel’s great strength is the portrayal of her cast. Elena is a great main character – she is a skilled mechanic as well as brave and stubborn. However, she also has vulnerabilities and weaknesses, too. As does every other character in this engrossing story, where as well as trying to fulfil their mission – or otherwise – they are all reacting off each other in highly stressful circumstances in ways that feel completely realistic. The pacing in this story is slower than the previous headlong pelt through the book, where Elena’s pairing with an unjustly accused PSI captain triggered many of the events that are reverberating through this more complex story with a wider scope.

I took my time reading this one – something I don’t do very often, because I simply didn’t want it to end. I love character-led adventures and Bonesteel’s writing really chimes with me. Other than Elena, whom I love, my favourite character is the abrasive, intelligent Raman Çelik, the captain of poor old Exeter, the ship that is attacked in the opening passage of the book. He isn’t very nice – in fact, he isn’t nice at all. But his charisma and tendency to jab at everyone around him to wind them up and his dogged determination to track down those responsible for the damage done to his ship and crew helps to power this story forward.

The final denouement is suitably exciting and an appropriate payoff for readers who have invested their time to read this gripping story – and I certainly didn’t realise who the traitor was. The initial main plotline – who is responsible for attacking the Exeter and why – is certainly adequately addressed in this adventure, but this is part of a trilogy and there is a massive plotpoint dangling with a sudden heartbreaking twist right near the end of this adventure. I’m very glad that the final book, Breach of Containment is due to arrive on the library shelves any day now – I’ve got an order in to read it as soon as it does, because I really, really want to know what happens next.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera adventure.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Willnot by James Sallis #buddyread #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger

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My book blogging friend Emma Littlefield and I decided to teamread a book recommended by the other – and as James Sallis is a favourite author of Emma’s, we started off by reading Willnot.

Did you pick this book up thinking it was going to be a murder mystery?
No. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Having read quite a few Sallis books now, one thing I like about his stories is that they never quite end up where I think they might. A number of his trilogies have detectives or private investigators as central characters and they do investigate murders but it’s never the be all and end all of everything. Sometimes, they don’t even get solved. It’s more about the journey’s the characters take and that’s what I like.

Is this book a classic example of James Sallis’s writing?
Yes, I would say so. I always end up describing it to people as quite sparse as there isn’t a word wasted. Some people I’ve recommend him to say that nothing happens in the books but I disagree, I think a lot happens to the characters it’s just it tends to be small things that build up to big changes.

When you finished the book were you elated and blown away, or just the tiniest bit disappointed?
I was very happy. The last Sallis book I read (The Killer is Dying) is actually the first one I haven’t enjoyed and I was a bit worried I had burnt out on the author. I was also a bit worried that he’d lost his writing way. This had all the elements I love in his work and, while it wasn’t the best of the books I’ve read, it was by no means the worst. Content is maybe the best way to describe it.

How does this rate alongside other books by this author?
I would say it’s probably right in the middle (maybe high middle). My favourite books are Drive and Driven and his Turner Trilogy because I just feel in love with his characters in these books.

As you can see from her answers, Emma is a thoughtful, intelligent reader whose opinions I value – you can pop over to her blog here to read her questions to me along with her review of Willnot. And here is my review…

In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Hale, the town’s all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience. At the same time, Bobby Lowndes–his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI–mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale’s door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot.

I love the writing style. Sallis builds up a vivid picture of daily life in this small, US community with a wealth of everyday occurrences, delivering them with pace and a vividness that pulled me into the book. Hale, his protagonist, is a thoroughly nice chap who is one of those lynchpins that all communities need. His duties as the town’s doctor, surgeon and coroner put him right in the centre of all the major events in Willnot in a manner that appears completely unforced and realistic.

Sallis’s smooth, accomplished prose has a lovely rhythm that evokes Hale’s character and the setting without ever putting a foot wrong – there is so much about this book that is an absolute delight… However, if you’re sensing a but – you’d be right. My quibble isn’t with the writing, or the characterisation, or even the plot progression and storyline – all that works beautifully. What wrongfooted me was after reading the blurb, I was expecting a murder mystery – a whodunit where this busy, responsible man takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle of those bodies discovered right at the beginning of the story and clearly rock the small town, where daily life is generally quieter and more peaceful.

But that wasn’t where the focus or impact of this story lay – and while appreciating all the strengths that I’ve already enumerated about this book, I kept turning the pages, waiting for the denouement and drama surrounding this mystery. Or any mystery… While there is some drama and an unexpected shooting, the overall plot didn’t seem to be about that at all, which is absolutely fine – apart for my expectations.

Would I read another James Sallis novel? Oh yes – he’s evidently a fine writer and I really enjoyed being introduced to him – thank you, Emma!
8/10