Recaps and Upfronts – August and September

RecapsAugust was holiday month, as I had the first two weeks off from work. We were supposed to go away for about a week, but due to getting rained out and not coping very well with cramped quarters, we came home after two days. Which was sad, but also meant more reading. We did visit the Arnhem zoo and visited Paleis het Loo, one of the royal palaces, when they had a special Princess day. The girls got to wear princess dresses, make their own crown, and ride in a carriage and had a total blast. But after a rainy two weeks I went back to work and since the school and academic year starts today, everything is back to its usual routine, which is nice in its own way.

As I mentioned last recap and have tweeted about loads, this Saturday was the launch for Corinne Duyvis’ Otherbound at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. I went there with Carola from Brilliant Years and we had a fantastic time. Corinne read the first chapter of Otherbound and then did a Q&A and finished by reading a piece from her superhero novella which will be published in an anthology at some point this year. The novella sounds like it will be really cool and I was disappointed when she stopped reading, because I wanted to know more! Afterwards there was a signing at the store and then there were drinks, snacks, and food at a great restaurant deep in the wilds of Amsterdam, where I’d never been before. It really was a fabulous time, especially meeting new people and just talking books and other stuff and yeah… I just had a great time. And then the day after I was just beat, because I’m so not used to being so social anymore. The spoons, I was all out! Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and I’m already looking forward to this Saturday when I get to go to another bookish event.

That was what happened in analog life, what happened on the blog? In August I reviewed thirteen titles and I’ve read four more, which I still need to review. I’m a bit skewed on my parity challenge to myself. Right now the numbers for this year are 49 female authors, 51 male, 7 other (either unknown, non-binary, or anthology). So not too far off, but if I include the four still to be review titles, it would add 3 male and one anthology, so I’ll have to pay a little more attention in the coming months. What exactly did I review this month? Let’s have a look.

Recap
In August I reviewed the following books:

Elizabeth Fremantle – Sisters of Treason
Pierre Ouellette – The Forever Man [Blog Tour]
Tom Pollock – Our Lady of the Streets
Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Scale-Bright
Ben Peek – The Godless
Laure Eve – The Illusionists
Jared Shurin (ed.) – Irregularity
Leslie Mann – And Some Fell on Stony Ground
John James – The Fourth Gwenevere
Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist
Eric Brown – Jani and the Greater Game
Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz – The Foundry’s Edge
Scott K. Andrews – TimeBomb

I had the following interviews and guest posts:

Author Query – Laure Eve
Guest Post: Eric Brown on the exploration of change in steampunk.
Author Query – Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Author Query – Ben Peek

And these miscellaneous posts:

My 2014 Hugo Voting Ballot
Corinne Duyvis’ Otherbound Launch Event at ABC Amsterdam

Upfront
September is back to school month. Work will be crazy busy in the next couple of months, which will probably mean I’ll be reading more and actually writing reviews less, because my brain’s just too wrung out to put sentences together after the kids have gone to bed. I do have three interviews lined up and a guest posts from none other than Kameron Hurley, which I’m really excited about, so there will be lots of stuff to read on the blog, regardless of whether I manage to actually write many reviews.

This Saturday I’ll also once again go to Amsterdan and the ABC, this time for a signing and reading session with Deborah Harkness. I loved her All Souls trilogy and I’m so excited to be able to get my books signed and meet her in person. There will be online squeeing and I’ll try and get a picture with her as well. Additionally, work is running a series of lectures connected to our current exhibition in the main library called Books, Crooks and Readers: the Seduction of Forgery, 1600-1800 on the Tuesday evenings in September, which I’m hoping to attend. Hopefully, I’ll have the energy to go to all of them, because they sound very interesting.

In other words, September will be manic, but fun. What about you? Getting ready to go back to school or work? Any fun plans for September? Is anyone attending FantasyCon?

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Scott K. Andrews – TimeBomb

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scottkandrews-timebombNew York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground.

Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she’s knocked unconscious, only to wake, centuries later, in empty laboratory room.

On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall, seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, determined to secure a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future.

Thrust into the centre of an adventure that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army… all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as Quil.

When I first learned of TimeBomb, I thought it sounded really interesting, which meant I was stoked to have won an ARC via Twitter. Described as a YA trilogy featuring time travel and Roundheads and Cavaliers, it sounded like it should be a tremendous amount of fun and that is exactly what it was. TimeBomb was a page turner of a story, with a cool premise and fabulous characters.   Continue reading »

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Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz – The Foundry’s Edge

baityzelkowicz-thefoundrysedgeTwo kids on a rescue mission.
A mysterious realm of living metal.
One secret that will change the world.

For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief Surveyor for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on technology, Phoebe’s father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal, one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.

The Foundry’s Edge is the first instalment in The Book of Ore and is aimed at the middle grade market. As such it is a bit younger than I usually read, but in my opinion it’s very much at the upper range and there will be plenty young adult readers who will get a kick out of this story. It’s a very fun romp with a lot of action and very cool characters. I enjoyed the book tremendously, not least because of the wonderfully inventive world of Mehk and the cool characters that inhabit it.   Continue reading »

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Eric Brown – Jani and the Greater Game

ericbrown-janiandthegreatergameIt’s 1910 and the British rule the subcontinent with an iron fist – and with strange technology fuelled by a power source known as Annapurnite – discovered in the foothills of Mount Annapurna. But they rule at the constant cost of their enemies, mainly the Russian and the Chinese, attempting to learn the secret of this technology… This political confrontation is known as The Greater Game.

Into this conflict is pitched eighteen year old Janisha Chaterjee who discovers a strange device which leads her into the foothills of the Himalayas. When Russians spies and the evil priest Durga Das find out about the device, the chase is on to apprehend Janisha before she can reach the Himalayas. There she will learn the secret behind Annapurnite, and what she learns will change the destiny of the world for ever.

Jani and the Greater Game is not your usual Eric Brown, at least not at first blush. There are no huge space ships, or alien invasions or travel among the stars, at least not judging from the synopsis on the back of the book. Instead, we’re given a YA steampunk adventure set in an alternative 1910 British Raj. Yet it turns out Jani and the Greater Game actually is classic Eric Brown: the book explores societal change and how his characters react to this, though in this case the change isn’t brought about through alien occupation, but through the rise of Indian Nationalism and the threat of invasion from places unknown.   Continue reading »

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Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist

jessieburton-theminiaturistOn an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Jessie Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist is set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. This was Holland’s Golden Age and as such an important part of my country’s heritage. For that reason alone the book would have been of interest to me. Add to that the wonderful inspiration for the book, the Oortman doll-house still on display in our Rijksmuseum, and the fact that a lot of people who’s opinion I respect were saying nothing but good things about it, and the book became a must-read.   Continue reading »

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John James – The Fourth Gwenevere

johnjames-thefourthgwenevereGwenevere, Arthur’s Saxon wife, is a problem. As the dynastic cement between the British and the Saxons, her marriage to Arthur will result in a child that will unite both sides. At least, that would have been the plan, had the Great Duke Arthur not died and left the petty kings of Britain to squabble over his title.

Only Morvran, Arthur’s chief fixer, has the wit to see that the Fourth Gwenevere is the key to maintaining a crumbling peace. But when she is abducted, it seems that all hopes might disappear with her.

For, in a world where swords and horses have names of honour, where poets speak as oracles of a shifting truth and the raiding of Saxon warriors is set to ruin Britain, perhaps it’s only the Fourth Gwenevere herself who has the real solution?

I’ve always loved Arthurian tales, or the Matter of Britain to give them their proper name, ever since I first read an adaptation when I was a little girl and just reading on my own. When I was just a teen I loved The Mists of Avalon and I read many variations and retellings in the years since. Thus a book that is titled The Fourth Gwenevere immediately grabs my attention. The Fourth Gwenevere however isn’t a straight retelling of the Arthur legend as we know it – the sword in the stone, the round table, Lancelot and Gwenevere and so on – but the tale of what happens after Arthur is taken to Avalon and the kingdom has to go on without him. And it’s not the tale you might have expected.   Continue reading »

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Leslie Mann – And Some Fell on Stony Ground

lesliemann-andsomefellonstonygroundIn June 1941, Flight Sergeant Leslie Mann, a tail gunner in a British bomber, was shot down over Germany and taken into captivity. After the war, wanting to record the experiences of the RAF’s ‘Bomber Boys’, he wrote down his inner thoughts and feelings as a fictional narrative, recently brought to the attention of Imperial War Museums (IWM).

Providing a unique glimpse into a deadly profession and traumatic time, And Some Fell on Stony Ground captures the horrors of aerial warfare, the corrosive effects of fear, and the psychological torment of the young men involved. Although presented as fiction, the book’s basis of lived experience makes it ring true – the sights, sounds, smells and above all the emotional strain are intensely evoked with a novelist’s skill, making it a fascinating historical artefact in its own right.

This compelling story is introduced and placed in context by historian Richard Overy, author of the highly acclaimed book The Bombing War (Allen Lane, 2013).

The Second World War has always held a special fascination for me both due to the important role it played in my country’s history and because my dad used to read to me from all sorts of WWII adventure novels when I was little. Since those early years I’ve read a lot of books on the topic, both fiction and non-fiction. When I was approached about reviewing And Some Fell on Stony Ground it wasn’t a hard decision to say yes, since it fit squarely in that wheelhouse and sounded fascinating. A fictional memoir – meaning that while this story was fictional, but that the experiences it was based on weren’t fictive  – the narrative follows the last active hours of an RAF pilot’s career in a close-up, hard-hitting fashion, one that does away with the shining, heroic accounts of such exploits and instead focuses on the bone-chilling fear and danger these young men faced every operation they flew.   Continue reading »

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Jared Shurin (ed.) – Irregularity

shurin-irregularityIrregularity is about the tension between order and chaos in the 17th and 18th centuries. Men and women from all walks of life dedicated themselves to questioning, investigating, classifying and ordering the natural world. They promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual rigour in the face of superstition, intolerance and abuses of power. These brave thinkers dedicated themselves and their lives to the idea that the world followed rules that human endeavour could uncover… but what if they were wrong?

Irregularity is about the attempts to impose our order on nature’s chaos, the efforts both successful and unsuccessful to better know the world.

From John Harrison to Ada Lovelace, Isaac Newton to Émilie du Châtelet, these stories showcase the Age of Reason in a very different light.

Reading Irregularity, Jurassic London’s sixth full-length anthology and the second edited solo by Jared Shurin, was a strange reading experience, as I’ve read a lot of seventeenth and eighteenth century literature at university. Much of that was in the Penguin Classic editions (the ones with a black spine and a red bar at the top) and while the cover is in no way reminiscent of those, the font used for Irregularity really resembles the look of those editions. Add to that the fact that a lot of the stories are written in the same language and with the same sensibility as those classics and for a moment it seemed as if I’d traveled back in time to my student days. Thankfully, reading Irregularity in no way felt like an essay assignment, in fact it was fantastic fun.   Continue reading »

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Laure Eve – The Illusionists

laureeve-theillusionistsA shocking new world. A dangerous choice. Two futures preparing to collide . . .

Having left her soulmate White behind her in Angle Tar, Rue is trying to make sense of her new and unfamiliar life in World. Its technologically advanced culture is as baffling as is it thrilling to her, and Rue quickly realises World’s fascination with technology can have intoxicating and deadly consequences.

She is also desperately lonely. And so is White. Somehow, their longing for each other is crossing into their dreams – dreams that begin to take increasingly strange turns as they appear to give Rue echoes of the future. Then the dreams reveal the advent of something truly monstrous, and with it the realisation that Rue and White will be instrumental in bringing about the most incredible and devastating change in both World and Angle Tar.

But in a world where Life is a virtual reality, where friends can become enemies overnight and where dreams, the future and the past are somehow merging together, their greatest challenge of all may be just to survive.

The Illusionists is Laure Eve’s second novel in the Fearsome Dreamer sequence. While I really enjoyed Fearsome Dreamer, I did have some niggles with it, mostly to do with pacing and structure. In The Illusionists these problems have all been ironed out and the book is a far smoother read and the story is still as interesting and complex as Eve’s debut. As an added bonus, the protagonists are easier to relate to as well, having lost some of their rougher edges.   Continue reading »

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Author Query – Ben Peek

benpeek-thegodlessOne of this summer’s big releases, which has garnered a lot of buzz, is Ben Peek’s The Godless. I reviewed it yesterday and found it an interesting opening to a new big fat epic fantasy trilogy with intriguing world building and great characters. Today is the book’s official release date and to celebrate it, I’ve got an Author Query for you. I hope you enjoy Ben’s answers as much as I did!

***   Continue reading »

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