Tag Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the novella series Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold

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This series has become a firm favourite with both Himself and me, having been largely responsible for my renewed interest in reading novellas. So I was delighted when this one popped up on my Kindle as a pre-ordered release.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

The observant among you may have noticed that this latest addition to the Penric and Desdemona series does not follow on from the last book. However, it really didn’t make all that much difference to my enjoyment as there were no spoilers in the subsequent stories to compromise my reading experience.

Penric is inhabited by an old and very powerful chaos demon, Desdemona, who can provide him with supernatural powers and regularly needs feeding with the souls of dead creatures. Penric normally obliges by ridding any dwelling where he resides of fleas, lice, mice and rats. So he is shocked when he comes across the body of a fellow sorceress alone in the woods. The question then has to be – what has happened to her demon? In addition to tracking down a clearly dangerous and inventive murderer, Penric needs to discover what has happened to a traumatised demon who may be hitching a ride on a woodland animal.

Bujold is very good at packing a lot of story into a relatively short read. While I appreciate and draw on previous knowledge of the character, I believe that if anyone reads this book as a standalone, they won’t find themselves floundering. An extra twist to this tale is that Penric has the assistance of a couple of shape-shifting shamans who know the woods well. It was interesting to see how these differently talented characters fitted into this established world and worked alongside Penric.

As ever, the pacing of the story is well judged as the tension rises. This isn’t a classic whodunnit as we have a fair idea who the culprit may be well before the end. But the manner in which the denouement occurs and the story wrapped up is skilfully handled. This is another well-written, thoroughly enjoyable addition to this quality series and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys first-class fantasy with a difference.
9/10

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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When Oscar came to stay, he was keen to go to the library and get hold of a book in this series as he’s been reading them at school and enjoying the fact that he was able to read a chapter book independently. He was delighted when we found this one on the shelves and between us, we were able to finish it before he returned home.

Let’s face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg’s father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is easily able to sidestep his father’s efforts to change him. But when Greg’s dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up . . . or get shipped out.

I can see why this series is so very enjoyable – hapless Greg gets himself into so many scrapes. Some explore fairly accurately the travails of school life that many children reading this book will be able to identify with – and some that tip into outright farce. Greg is an appealing protagonist, managing to be both inept during PE and clueless during lessons, when he regularly gets into trouble for daydreaming, or even falling asleep. What stops this becoming something much darker, is that Greg is perfectly happy being exactly who he is and feels the rest of the world ought consider changing around him. He lives with both parents and two brothers, one is older and the other a baby.

The humour is direct and helped along by the amusing cartoon drawings on each page that breaks up the text, giving new readers extra confidence and information. Kinney has a really good narrative flow – the diary format means that each couple of pages contains an event or happening that can be read as a standalone, while the main, overarching problem – that of Greg’s Dad being increasingly worried about Greg’s unmanly attitude to life – is the theme that underpins the story. Again, this makes the book very accessible for new readers still struggling with decoding words. There is a limited vocabulary with the occasional harder word added that is obvious in the context, again encouraging children to continue reading with a feeling of achievement.

I’m conscious that I’ve slipped into teacher-mode while reviewing this book and may have given the impression that it is one of those stories that children love and adults hate. But this isn’t the case. Oscar made a good start reading this one himself, but as he wanted to finish it before returning home, he asked me to read it to him during both days and as his bedtime story. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and although Greg is a Canadian kid in the state school system, the experience crosses over effectively so that my British grandson and I also giggled at his problems and could identify with him. Highly recommended for emerging and newly independent readers.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Love is friendship set on fire…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is fire, so I’ve chosen Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka.

 

This is the cover produced by Ace in April 2016 is certainly eye-catching. I love the view of the Shard from across the Thames bathed in the beautiful patterns of yellow, orange and red in an artist’s impression of fire. The darker cloud of sooty smooth behind the title font is both simple and effective. This is my favourite cover.

 

This UK offering, produced by Orbit in April 2016 is also well crafted and beautiful. The map of London is superimposed upon a red flame licking up the cover. However, I do find the blurb bang in the middle of the cover detracts from the drama and complexity of artwork.

 

Published in April 2016 by Tantor Audible, this cover is another compelling effort with the far more realistic flames engulfing the London cityscape with the Thames in the foreground. However, I think the title font is plain to the point of disappointing. What do you think and which is your favourite?

Teaser Tuesday – 1st August, 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:

The Devil’s Cup – Book 17 of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare
27% What was this danger to the Queen? Meggie guessed it must be something to do with the invading French prince and the rebel barons. Perhaps there was some plot to abduct Queen Isabella and use her to force the King’s hand.
If that were true, though, how had Faruq and his mother come to know about it? And how was it, moreover, that it had been left up to them to warn the Queen or, more probably, warn the captain of whatever bodyguard King John had detailed to keep her safe?
It all seemed very unlikely.

BLURB: September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself?
Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?

Until I visited Goodreads to glean the details of this Netgalley arc, I hadn’t appreciated that it was the last in a very long-running series. However, I haven’t had any trouble working out who was whom and am now in the world and enjoying it. And wanting to know what is so urgent that a sick woman is willing to leave her bed and risk her life to warn the Queen…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I love Matt Haig’s writing – read my review of The Humans and The Radley’s. So I was delighted to encounter this offering on Netgalley and even more delighted when my request for an arc was accepted.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.

Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.

The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – All that is gold does not glitter…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sungrazer Book 2 of the Outriders series by Jay Posey

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Outriders – see my review here – so when I saw this sequel pop up on the Netgalley dashboard, I immediately requested it.

In a new Cold War between Earth and the colonies on Mars, when devastating weapons go missing, there’s only one team you can call – the Outriders. A crack force of highly specialised super-soldiers, their clone bodies are near-immortal. When a fully-autonomous vessel with orbital strike capabilities goes missing, it’s up to the Outriders to track the untrackable. But when the trail leads them to the influential Martian People’s Collective Republic, the operation gets a lot more complicated…

This military science fiction adventure once more hooked me in with yet another enthralling plot in a story where the stakes aren’t just cities or countries sucked into war and devastation, but planets… Things are still very tense between Earth and the Mars’ colonies after the last kerfuffle, where our plucky black-ops team narrowly averted a disaster so when a lethally effective weapon disappears, the Outriders are the obvious choice.

Military science fiction naturally requires a cracking plot – and once more, Posey displays his evident skill in his smooth delivery of a storyline where we have a dual narrative – Lincoln, the captain of the Outriders is one of the protagonists, with the other protagonist being Elliot, who is operating as an undercover agent for United States National Intelligence Directorate. The pacing and ramping up the tension is well handled and I enjoyed the twists and turns, particularly the climactic finale where Elliot encounters the Outriders with mixed results.

The characterisation also needs to be good in this genre as we have to care for those going into battle, because if we don’t, then it robs the story of all its tension. Linc is a likeable chap, with sufficient self-doubt and vulnerability for the reader to connect, but not too much because, after all, he is a super-soldier. We also need to identify with the rest of the squad and as this is the second book, I easily recalled all the characters and their particular quirks and skill sets. While reading this, I couldn’t help thinking that it would make a cracking TV mini-series or film.

But the other major ingredient that military sci fi adventures need is plenty of techie weaponry and nifty battle tactics, which need clear explanation before all the action kicks off or the reader isn’t going to full appreciate what is going on. Posey is accomplished at slipping in the salient facts about the guns and those super-suits this crack black-ops team wear, so that in the heat of battle, we are able to follow all that is happening with no trouble. He manages this without compromising the overall pace or gathering tension of the story. Overall, this is yet again a solidly enjoyable story with some unexpected twists – especially near the end that had me reading far longer than I should have done and this one comes highly recommended.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlowe series by M.J. Trow

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As anyone who has visited this site will know, in addition to my passion for science fiction and fantasy, I am also a real fan of historical murder mysteries. When I saw this offering on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer that I would request the arc and was delighted when I had the opportunity to read and review it.

April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him. To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.

Of course, what had escaped my notice was that this is the eighth book in this series. However, once again, I managed to land on my feet in that at no time was I floundering or adrift as Trow is far too an experienced and capable writer to let that happen. When Francis Walsingham dies, it falls to Kit Marlowe to try to discover who is the culprit. In this twisting Elizabethan plot there are no shortage of suspects and I really enjoyed reading about Marlowe’s investigations as characters I’ve known from history books leapt to vivid life in this Tudor whodunnit.

Trow clearly had a blast with some of these characters – his depiction of William Shakespeare is particularly amusing and somewhat controversial, given that in this incarnation, poor bumpkin Shakespeare is thoroughly adrift in the London theatrical scene and desperate for work. Though Marlowe is reluctant to employ him as a writer or an actor, given that he is not very good at either. I also enjoyed reading Trow’s version of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Dee. However, the character at the centre of all of these shenanigans is Kit Marlowe himself. Written in third person viewpoint, Marlowe is a complicated, somewhat driven character who provides a series of masks depending on who he is with. I really liked Trow’s characterisation – his detached observation of the people around him and his unwillingness to wear his heart on his sleeve makes him an interesting, complex protagonist.

In order for this book to work, the world building also has to be believable and sharp without slowing down the pace by too much description. Trow has nailed this. We never forget that we are in Tudor England with people whose worries and concerns are so similar to ours – yet also so very different. The climax of this story, along with the denouement worked really well. I certainly didn’t see it coming. Yet there is also another surprise at the end of the book relating to the title which leaves this book on a doozy of a cliffhanger. I shall definitely be looking out for the next book in the series and have already ordered the first one from the local library.

This is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys good quality historical mysteries along the lines of C.J. Samson’s Matthew Shadlake series – see my review of his book Revelation.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. (James Taylor)

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

This is my personal favourite. I love the drama of the swirling red dust as poor old Mark is being swept away and think this is the cover that most effectively depicts the initial drama the starts the book. It was produced in February 2014 by Crown.

 

This edition, produced in February 2014 by Edbury Digital is produced as a movie tie-in cover. So it is Matt Damon suffering on the cover, with flashes of the faceplate hinting at the helmet as he considers his plight after being stranded on Mars. Again, the colour of the cover and his agonised expression captures the drama of the situation.

 

Published in February 2014 by Broadway Books, this is the ‘arrested’ version – we all have them. The photo of us that looks like it’s been taken at a police station after we’ve done something naughty… I’m quite comforted to see that even film stars endure such pics, as I thought it was only one’s children who specialised in taking these efforts. Suffice to say this isn’t a cover that would persuade me to rush out and buy this book.

 

This cover, produced by Autopublished in September 2012, is clearly a DIY effort. Having said that, I’ve seen worse – the biggest criticism of it being that it is very generic. However, that clearly didn’t stop people buying this book in droves, as it subsequently attracted a publishing deal based on its popularity.

 

This Russian cover is another strong contender. I like the drama and fact it depicts the full horror of Mark’s situation. Produced by ACT in September 2014, I like the fact we are seeing exactly what Mark sees – although I’m not sure there are quite so many clouds in a Martian sky. Which cover do you like best?

*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