Tag Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The One by John Marrs

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I read the premise and immediately requested this one on Netgalley as it sounds so cool and topical.

How far would you go to find THE ONE? One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

We follow these five people as they take the test and have to cope with the consequences as they find themselves dealing with the fallout. I am not going to be able to go into details because I’m allergic to spoilers and Marrs’ clever plotting is one of the best things about this smart near-future science fiction adventure. I have to say I nearly skipped this one in the early stages with the intention of returning when I wasn’t feeling so thick-headed and ill as reading a short passage in one viewpoint before being yanked away into yet another pov isn’t my favourite narrative mode. Fortunately, trying to work out what to read next proved just as taxing so I decided to go with my default which was to give it until 20% to get going. And by the time we got to that stage, I was hooked.

The cast of characters were all engrossing and well depicted. As for likeable – well, they mostly were with one outstanding exception and if I’d realised he was part of the story there is a strong likelihood I would have given this one a miss. However, I am glad I didn’t as I would have missed the sheer bravura of Marrs twisty plotting where little is as it seems.

In amongst this unfolding story, Marrs raises some interesting and disturbing questions… While couples in established and loving relationships are encouraged to take the test as they find it deepens their love for each other when they discover they are Matched – what happens if they aren’t? And while the genetic test can find a Match for the majority of the population, there are instances where they can’t. Either their genetic match has died, or isn’t on a database – what happens then? And has this engrossing tale demonstrates – being Matched doesn’t guarantee living happily ever after as there all sorts of intriguing scenarios where it is little short of a disaster.

In fact, I came away from this interesting, thought provoking book with deep thankfulness that I have a kind, loving companion who deeply cares for me – and a fervent promise to myself that whatever happens I’d never dabble in getting Matched, should the opportunity come up. This one is highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The One from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 18th April, 2017

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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:

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
18% ‘Bix? Bix Rangesh?’ Enki waved the gun vaguely around his head. He was drunk and probably worse. I pinged his Servant for an assessment of his medical status but didn’t get an answer. He’d turned it off.

‘Hey, man.’ Rangesh headed up the path through the garden, slow and casual but with caution. ‘Dude, could you maybe put the illegal firearm down or else give it to me before something really heavy happens? It’s making my new partner all kinds of nervous.’

I jumped out of my pod and my legs almost buckled under Magenta’s gravity. Mercy’s painkillers had made me forget how fragile I was.

BLURB: After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love.

Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group…

As you can see, I’m almost a fifth of the way through this far future murder mystery. It is a steep familiarisation for the first handful of pages, but the writing is punchy, the world vivid and the main protagonist suitably grumpy and hard-bitten. If I have a grizzle it’s that Peters could have been kinder with the names – they are difficult to absorb and tend to crop up with alternative nicknames. Other than this one niggle, I’m really enjoying this offering.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

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When I spotted this offering as part of a special Netgalley omnibus edition, I was delighted as the first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, is one of those which lodged in my head and hasn’t gone away – see my review.

Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

I had enjoyed the first book, but this second one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. I’d forgotten how punchy and readable the prose was, for starters. I love Rudden’s writing with his quirky imagery and desert-dry irony – and the way he nocks it up to gothic proportions when necessary. The descriptions of the Croits’ family home, the castle Eloquence, just pings off the page with its wrongness. While Denizen’s struggle to come to terms with his new family circumstances had me both grinning and feeling desperately sorry for him.

This one is a dual narrative – alongside Denizen’s storyline is another young teen – Uriel Croit, who is singled out by Grandfather for great things, alongside his twin sister. They train constantly and are being honed for the coming war, happy to pay the price for using their inner fire as they are set against cousins amongst the insane obstacle course that is the Croit family cemetery.

The two plotlines unfold with twists and turns in abundance and unlike most children’s books, there is very little ‘tell’ in this one and far more plunging forward with the story. I started off reading it with a view to its suitability for my granddaughter and by the end of the second chapter all that went out of the window. I was completely immersed in this grim world where everyone has an agenda and living alongside violence leaves scars – not just the physical sort, either. I love the fact that Rudden has created a world where killing is a big deal and we also get to see that monsters grieve for those they lose, too.

Of course when there are two storylines running alongside each other, there comes a time when they intersect – and this time around they didn’t so much meet as explode in the climactic crisispoint… The history of the Croit family is also caught up with the Knights in a fascinating manner – I loved the clever plotting, the gritty entrancing world and the spiky, memorable characters. And I cannot wait to read the next book. If you are fans of well-written fantasy, don’t be put off by the fact the marketing is aiming this series at children – for my money Rudden falls into the same category as Gaiman and Pratchett, whose writing appeals to both adults and children alike.

While my arc copy of The Forever Court Dark was provided by the publishers via Netgalley, this has not influenced or biased my review.
10/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During March, I read – um… no books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge. Nope – not a single one. I read plenty of books by women writers throughout March – the catch is that they were writers I’d read previously. So my yearly total of seven books so far is unchanged.

So surely I at least managed to clear a host of books from my TBR pile towards this year’s Tackling My TBR, given my sorry showing in the previous challenge. No… not really – just four – but it was definitely quality over quantity because every single one is a cracking read:

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
This science fiction whodunit blew me away and is every bit as good as the awesome Planetfall. It starts out as one sort of story and steadily morphed into something else, all the while giving us an insight into what makes Carlos tick. He is entertainingly grumpy about all authority figures – and then… something happens – a gamechanger that had me yelping in horror and unable to put the book down. And as for that ending – wow!

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

Blood upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater.
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy doesn’t suffer from any second book slump after Twelve Kings as we continue to follow Çeda’s fortunes while she seeks a way to get close enough to the kings in order to bring them down. But they are every bit as powerful as myths say they are… This is a compelling world riven with factions and deep, corrosive secrets and I loved it.

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete
Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . .
Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
After reading the hilarious How To Train Your Parents, it was a no-brainer that I would want to track down this sequel. Unlike many other children’s books, it puts Louis’s interaction with his parents right in the middle of the story. It makes for a funny, often poignant and engrossing tale with some shafts of wisdom about the intergenerational divide and modern family life.

So that is my March roundup. It’s early days in April – and already I’m doing better with the my Discovery Challenge. What about you – are there any challenges you’re undertaking during the year? I’d love to hear about it!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Review of My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

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This is the second book in this entertaining series – see my review of How To Train Your Parents. After this one made my dyslexic granddaughter laugh as I read it to her, I went ahead and got hold of the rest of the series.

Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is. . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!

This book pretty much picks up where the first book left off in the ongoing story of Louis’s life as a 12-year-old trying to fit in at school and negotiate parental expectations, while furthering his career as a professional comedian. It isn’t absolutely necessary to have read the first book, but as events that occur in this slice of Louis’s adventures are impacted by what has gone on before, I recommend you do so to get the best of out of the book.

The strength in Johnson’s writing is that he addresses a lot of the major concerns most 12 year olds are experiencing – so this isn’t a children’s story where adults are somehow airbrushed out of the picture. Indeed, much of the humour and impetus in the story comes from Louis’s interaction with his parents. I love the fact that as Louis pours out his thoughts on their behaviour to his diary, we get to see their actions through his own take on the situation – while also understanding as adults what is going on in their lives and what is driving them to behave the way they do. So this is a book to be read on two levels, depending on which generation you are. It’s cleverly done and as a result is a funny, yet compassionate look at family life in the 21st century, as Johnson presents us with a father suddenly fragile as he is confronted with his own middle age at a time when his position at work comes under threat.

Louis’s take on his father’s attempts to stay young and cool goes from amused tolerance to utter horror, when his father starts using the latest phrases on Louis’s classmates and overhauls his wardrobe. Meanwhile, Louis is having problems of his own, as the new school doesn’t seem to be working out all that well – to the extent that his much-hated former school is starting to look like a cosy haven…

I thoroughly enjoyed this light-hearted look at what is actually a fairly gnarly subject and am looking forward to seeing what Frances makes of it. Very highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE novella Mira’s Last Dance Book 4 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.

In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.

Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.

This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to a chaos demon with twelve previous riders when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.

Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
9/10

Review of Satan’s Reach – Book 2 of the Weird Space series by Eric Brown

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I happened to be in the library, browsing the shelves when this offering beckoned. I couldn’t resist, given that I enjoy Brown’s writing – see my review of Engineman, which has some of my favourite scene setting of any sci fi novel, ever…

Telepath Den Harper did the dirty work for the authoritarian Expansion, reading the minds of criminals, spies and undesirables. Unable to take the strain, he stole a starship and headed into the unknown, a sector of lawless space known as Satan’s Reach. For five years he worked as a trader among the stars; then discovered that the Expansion had set a bounty hunter on his trail. But what does the Expansion want with a lowly telepath like Harper? Is there validity in the rumours that human space is being invaded by aliens from another realm? Harper finds out the answer to both these questions when he rescues an orphan girl from certain death.

Den is a likeable chap in a tricky situation, which gets steadily trickier as this fast-paced, enjoyable space opera progresses. This is space opera where the universe is heaving with multitudes of aliens and faster-than-light travels occurs such that zipping between planets takes a matter of weeks. That’s okay – I can happily cope with that. Brown evokes a vivid range of worlds with differing climates, customs and lifestyles in amongst the mayhem, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also liked the very efficient and adaptable spaceship Den has managed to snag for himself.

Initially, I thought it was all a bit too good to be true, but Brown manages to nicely weave into the storyline the reason why said ship is quite so nifty and needless to say, it all ends in tears… I liked the fact that Den’s gift of telepathy comes at a terrible price – he finds it painful to mindread, particularly alien minds so spends most of his time heavily shielded. He is also rather withdrawn, preferring his own company, which I found entirely plausible.

The story development is excellent – just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did so that I read far later into the night when I should have put the book down and got some sleep. Any niggles – I could have done without the romantic element as I thought it out of character for both the protagonists concerned. But as there are two more books in this series, I’m guessing it isn’t all going to run smoothly from hereon in.

Overall, a cracking read from a writer who really knows his craft and if you like your space opera with plenty of excitement and enjoyable worlds, then this one is recommended.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Amunet by Robert Harkess

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I attended the launch of this book at Bristolcon – my favourite con of the year for its sheer friendliness – back in October and had always promised myself to get hold of it. And then saw it on Netgalley…

Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her. Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.

This one immediately pulled me in – the writing style is punchy and readable and I really enjoyed Amunet. She is at once entitled and vulnerable, clever and very unworldly with an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on a dog, along with a burning drive to track down her mother, thanks to the person in her head guiding her. Harry has a parallel life in many ways, given he also lost his mother early in his life, but whereas Amunet’s guide and mentor is a voice in her head, Harry’s role model is his own father.

But what Harkess manages to do is depict two detailed, interesting characters while it is busy kicking off around them – because this book hits the ground running and wherever Amunet goes, violence and mayhem follows. But this book really bounces to life when she reaches London – a Victorian-type setting but with some important differences. There are all sorts of nice steampunk touches that garnish this adventure action novel.

Alongside Amunet and Harry, there is also a rich cast of characters who weave through the story – some of them unexpectedly popping up again when I had thought we’d seen the last of them. Harkess is clearly an experienced, able writer who manages to keep the momentum for this interesting alternate historical genre mash-up plunging forward without losing character focus or skimping on the vivid backdrop – which is a whole lot harder to achieve than Harkess makes it look.

While the book is concluded entirely satisfactorily, I got to the end and immediately looked around to see if there is likely to be a sequel as I would welcome the chance to revisit this beguiling world. This one comes recommended, particularly for steampunk/alternate history fans.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

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This was the post I had planned for International Woman’s Day – trouble is… I had it down in my diary as today!

Last year, I loved reading Planetfall – this space opera, colony science fiction adventure has stayed with me far longer than I’d expected. It didn’t hurt that the ending was something of a shock – so it made sense to get hold of the sequel with some of my Christmas book tokens. But whatever I was expecting – it wasn’t this…

Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to with a brutal murder in a hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.

Those of you who know the first book in this series will realise that while set within the same world, this book does not immediately follow on from the events in Planetfall so you can enjoy this one without having read the first book. And enjoy it I did. This murder mystery absolutely gripped me in a near future world where most eat food provided by 3D printers and in England slavery is permitted for those unlucky enough to be stateless, such as Carlos Moreno. He is indentured to the Ministry of Justice as a top-grade investigator after a brutal hot-housing course and is one of their top investigators, having never failed in solving a crime. I was completely beguiled by Carlos and his heart-breaking story of neglect with a parent who didn’t bother overmuch with him. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one. After being characterised as the sad orphan who was deserted by his uncaring mother who left him on Earth while she headed for the stars in Atlas, he regularly finds himself pestered by journalists, whom he hates with a passion.

When he arrives at the hotel where a terrible murder has taken place, nothing goes quite right – but Carlos is under enormous pressure to solve this crime in the shortest possible time. I loved the twists and turns of the murder mystery – and then, just as it all seemed to be wrapped up, Newman flings a complete gamechanger into the story. I couldn’t believe it. I was horrified at what befell Carlos – but oh my word… what a way to change the whole tenor and pace of the story! It is a masterful stroke by a skilful, experienced writer at the top of her game.

From then on, it proved very difficult to put this book down – though I’ll admit to feeling a tad apprehensive that Newman wouldn’t be able to adequately pull together these two major strands she had set running alongside each other. I needn’t have worried. Once more, there was another change – more of a deus ex machina – but I’ll take that, given what Newman manages to do with it. The ending is, once more, completely unexpected. I look forward to reading the next slice of this amazing series next year.
9/10