Archive for review

Susan Wilkins – The Informant

susanwilkins-theinformantAs a drug-fuelled teenage tearaway, Kaz Phelps took the rap for her little brother Joey over a bungled armed robbery and went to jail.

Six years later she’s released on licence. Clean and sober, and driven by a secret passion for her lawyer, Helen, Kaz wants to escape the violence and abuse of her Essex gangster family.

Joey is a charming, calculating and cold psychopath. He worships the ground Kaz walks on and he’s desperate to get her back in the family firm. All Kaz wants is a fresh start and to put the past behind her.

When Joey murders an undercover cop, DS Nicci Armstrong is determined to put him behind bars. What she doesn’t realize is that her efforts are being sabotaged by one of their own and the Met is being challenged at the highest level.

The final test for Kaz comes when her cousin, Sean, gets out of jail. He is a vicious, old-school thug and wants to show Kaz who is boss. Kaz may be tough enough to face down any man, but is she strong enough to turn her back on her family and go straight?

The Informant is not your regular crime mystery. Yes, if you look for it in the store it’ll probably be shelved under crime, but trust me, this is not your regular crime mystery. Because everyone knows who the bad guys are. No one doubts they did it—whatever particular it you had in mind, as with Joey Phelps and company you can pretty much count on them having commited that particular kind of crime. What makes The Informant compelling then, isn’t the presumed whodunnit, but the psychological development of its lead characters and that of Kaz in particular.  Continue reading »

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Teresa Frohock – The Broken Road

teresafrohock-thebrokenroadThe world of Lehbet is under siege. The threads that divide Lehbet from the mirror world of Heled are fraying, opening the way for an invasion by an alien enemy that feeds on human flesh.

Travys, the youngest of the queen’s twin sons, was born mute. He is a prince of the Chanteuse, nobles who channel their magic through their voices. Their purpose is to monitor the threads and close the paths between the worlds, but the Chanteuse have given themselves over to decadence. They disregard their responsibilities to the people they protect—all but Travys, who fears he’ll fail to wake the Chanteuse to Heled’s threat in time to prevent the destruction of Lehbet.

Within the palace, intrigue creates illusions of love where there is none, and when Travys’ own brother turns against him, he is forced to flee all that he has known and enter the mirror world of Heled where the enemy has already won. In Heled, he must find his true voice and close the threads, or lose everyone that he loves.

Teresa Frohock is one of the authors whose work I’ve been aware of for years, who I chat with on Twitter regularly, whose debut novel Miserere is on my TBR pile even, but whose work I’ve never gotten around to reading. However, she’s often referred to as one of the criminally under-read authors of the past few years and many people whose opinion I rate highly love her work. Thus, when offered her novella The Broken Road for review, I said yes without hesitation. And Frohock’s writing is everything it was reported to be. It’s deft, it’s dark, it’s complex, and most importantly it’s highly entertaining. I found Travys’ tale fascinating and my biggest issue with the story was its length; it was just too short, I wanted to spend more time with the characters and their story.  Continue reading »

By Published Posted in fantasy, horror, review | 2 Comments

Gwenda Bond – Girl on a Wire

gwendabond-girlonawireSixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch, and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.

As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.

One of the two inaugural authors for Strange Chemistry back in the day and one of my favourites from their list is Gwenda Bond. I’ve read and enjoyed both her previous novels, Blackwood and The Woken Gods, and thought her newest offering, Girl on a Wire sounded very intriguing. Thus, when the author approached me about reviewing it, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And it has to be said, that with Girl on a Wire Bond remains on form. It was a delightful story with some very dark twists and genuine heartbreak.  Continue reading »

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David Towsey – Your Servants and Your People

davidtowsey-yourservantsandyourpeopleSeven years after Thomas returned as a Walkin’, the McDermott family are looking for a new life and Thomas has set his heart on starting a farmstead near the remote outpost of Fort Wilson.

But the teachings of J.S. Barkley are not so easily forsaken – there are those who would see the sinners dead, and they are slowly closing in.

Anyone remotely familiar with A Fantastical Librarian will be aware of my general aversion to zombies. They are the one monster that will give me nightmares every single time and an author had better disguise them or reinterpret them in a very interesting way for me to chance my already limited amount of sleeping time I have (hello 2yo night crawler) to nightmares. Yet when I read the synopsis for Towsey’s debut Your Brother’s Blood last year I was intrigued by it and when I read it, he certainly blew any fear of nightmares out of the water. Towsey managed to make his Walkin’ different interesting enough that I rather forgot they were essentially zombies and just lost myself in the story. Thus I was really looking forward to reading the book’s sequel Your Servants and Your People and I wasn’t disappointed. Your Servants and Your People is a different beast than Your Brother’s Blood, but it is just as good.

What makes  the book so different? First of all, there is a seven year gap between the narratives of the books, which means that the McDermotts are all very different people from those we left at the end of Your Brother’s Blood. The story is also set in a completely different part of the country, away from Barkley, so the tension derived from the religious aspect and danger to Thomas has lessened, even if he is still persecuted by society in general. Lastly, there is an additional storyline with a viewpoint separate from that of the McDermotts centred on a group of soldiers sent to garrison a frontier fort. All of this results in a book set in a world that feels familiar, but feels quite different from that in the previous book.

The themes Towsey tackles in Your Servants and Your People have shifted as well. Where the first novel is mostly about Thomas getting to grips with his transformation to a Walkin’, getting back to his family, and getting them safe out of Barkley, this second outing focusses more on the McDermotts as a family and how they cope with Thomas’ situation. The answer is without spoiling anything: not well. The family has moved around quite a bit and Mary has changed from a loving, bright young girl into a disillusioned and hard young woman. Thomas desperately wants to give his wife and daughter a safe home and Sarah just wants her family together and happy. Mary wants out of the situation, but where she does want to be isn’t really clear either to the reader or Mary herself. Yet once they arrive at Fort Wilson and Thomas starts building their home, it seems as if things might be looking up, until a young man turns up who helps him in exchange for shelter and food. On the one hand, Callum seems a wonderful addition to the family, on the other there is just something off about him. His presence and the situation in general evoked a pervasive sense of dread, especially given his and Mary’s interactions. I wanted Thomas, Sarah, and Mary to have a happy ever after, yet it’s clear this just isn’t in the cards and I kept waiting for the axe to drop.

Although the McDermott arc was interesting and Towsey did a great job with their development, my favourite storyline and character in this book was Bryn. He’s a sensitive soul and has a good heart. Having escaped into the army to create a better life for himself and his sweetheart, he just wants to make lieutenant and take good care of his men and emulate his own lieutenant. It’s through his viewpoint that we learn what life must have been like for Thomas before he was killed. We discover what is it like to be a soldier and live with the constant fear of becoming Walkin’ yourself. We see very different reactions to the Walkin’, the war, and life from all of Bryn’s companions. Silas and John are vile, while Travis and the lieutenant are seemingly decent men. The only one that seems straightforwardly kind is George. There is an interesting dynamic in the group, one put under pressure by the mystery they uncover when they occupy the fort and the events that follow. At the end of the book this arc left me with one big question: what is Bryn’s function in the rest of the trilogy? As interesting as his storyline is, what is its function in a larger scope? I look forward to finding out where Towsey is taking him in the next book.

Both the situation in the fort and some of the happenings in the McDermott storyline allow the reader to see the differing societal reactions to the Walkin’; from shoot on sight – as you shall not suffer the wicked to live – to treating them as second class citizens. This Othering of a growing minority references both historical and contemporary treatment of real-world minorities. In addition to this commentary, Towsey once again considers religion as well, because you can take people out of Barkley, you can’t take Barkley out its people. Where Sarah and Thomas still cling to their religion and find comfort in prayer and the Good Book, Mary has turned away from their faith. The tension this creates not just between Mary and her parents – who respect their daughter’s choice, but also wish she’d return to the faith – but within Mary’s inner emotional life as well, is interesting and lent further depth to an already hard situation.

With Your Servants and Your People Towsey shows us more of his world and its scope, yet he also leaves plenty of questions to be answered in the last volume, Your Resting Place, and I look forward to discovering where Towsey is heading with the McDermotts. Your Servants and Your People was just as gripping and compelling as Your Brother’s Blood even if it was less action-driven and had more of a horror vibe due to the pervasive dread and threat. Despite the seven-year jump ahead and different setting, the book doesn’t really standalone. One could pick up the series here, but the reader would lose much of the story’s depth and intricacies. If you haven’t yet read Your Brother’s Blood, I highly recommend you pick up both of these books and give them a read, because they’re very much worth your time.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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Linda Coggin – The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart

lindacoggin-boywiththetigersheartA girl raised in the wild, a desperate race for freedom and a boy with a fiercely guarded secret…

When Nona’s guardian kills himself, she is immediately suspected of murdering him. In a world where nature and darkness are feared, where wild animals are held captive and cities are illuminated by permanent light, who will believe her innocence? Nona must flee with her only friend – a bear who is strangely human.

In their desperate attempt to escape capture, Nona and her bear encounter two strange boys, Caius and Jay. Together, the four of them will hide, and fight, and make the deadliest of enemies in their desperate race to a forbidden place called The Edge – where nature is unrestrained, where there is light and shade, forest and mountain, and where there are no shackles or boundaries.

A poetic, haunting and unforgettable modern fable about nature, society, and what it is that makes us human.

The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart immediately caught my attention with its intriguing title and that beautiful cover. Yet from the synopsis I wasn’t really clear on what to expect from the story. Together with the title it was somewhat suggestive of a fairytale, which might be correct but it’s a tale more of the level of an original Grimm story than that of a Disney film. Yet despite its somewhat bleak and sad narrative, overall the novel evokes a sense of escape and hope of a better future and it left me optimistic about Nona, Caius, and Jay’s futures.   Continue reading »

By Published Posted in children's books, fantasy, review | Leave a comment

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

emilystjohnmandel-stationelevenDAY ONE
The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.
News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

WEEK TWO
Civilization has crumbled.

YEAR TWENTY
A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.
But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

STATION ELEVEN
Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Station Eleven popped onto my radar when I was doing my anticipated books lists last June. The story sounded incredibly cool and quite interesting. Around the same time the book kept popping up in my twitter feed. People were raving about it and praising the story and the writing. Thus when it popped up as a read now title on Netgalley I pounced and got myself a copy. And for once the hype was all deserved. Emily St. John Mandel has created a fascinating world and gripping story in Station Eleven, which made it really hard to put the book down.   Continue reading »

By Published Posted in mainstream, review, thriller | Leave a comment

Kameron Hurley – The Mirror Empire

kameronhurley-themirrorempireOn the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Much can be said about the author of The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley. She’s a two-time Hugo Winner for her non-fiction essays, she’s sometimes the angry woman on the internet, and her views on the business of writing and on the SFF community are fascinating. However, most importantly she’s the acclaimed author of The God’s War trilogy. I’ve not yet read this series, because in first instance the bugpunk label put me off as creepy crawlies give me the heebie-jeebies, but it is now on my to read pile awaiting its turn. But I’ve heard nothing but praise for Hurley’s writing, so when Angry Robot announced they’d acquired Hurley’s new series, an epic fantasy series no less, I was determined I wouldn’t miss out on this one. And it’s a good thing I didn’t, because The Mirror Empire is one of the most exciting fantasy books I’ve read this year and looks fair to make it into my top ten for 2014.  Continue reading »

By Published Posted in fantasy, review | 1 Comment

Fred Venturini – The Heart Does Not Grow Back [Blog Tour]

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fredventurini-theheartdoesnotgrowbackDale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs.

When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.

I rarely read from the literary fiction shelves of the book store, not because I absolutely dislike it – though having to analyse oodles of the stuff for classes at university did put me off somewhat – but because there’s only so much you can read and my heart lies elsewhere. Yet when I was approached about being part for the blog tour for Fred Venturini’s The Heart Does Not Grow Back, the synopsis and the superhero angle hooked me right and proper—I’d say that whoever wrote that flap text did a very good job. Yet while Dale’s superpower is the motor of the narrative, the stuff that powers said motor is human emotion. Venturini’s debut novel, which was previously published as The Samaritan by Blank Slate Press and was a Kitchies finalist, is a strong effort and an interesting contemplation of the human condition.   Continue reading »

By Published Posted in fantasy, mainstream, review | 1 Comment

Ripley Patton – Ghost Heart [Blog Tour]

ripleypatton-ghostheartIn the aftermath of a brutal tragedy, Jason and Passion are on the run. Marcus is lost beyond reach, and The Hold is in shambles. If that weren’t enough, Olivia Black has been taken by the CAMFers to be used as Dr. Fineman’s personal lab rat in his merciless quest to uncover the mysteries of Psyche Sans Soma once and for all. But only if he can break her.

They are scattered.
They are devastated.
They are ruined.

Their only hope is Olivia’s stubborn determination to thwart her captors and unlock the secrets of her ghost hand before Dr. Fineman can. Will she finally find the strength within herself to embrace the full power of her PSS?

And will it even matter if Marcus has already betrayed her?

Ghost Heart is the third book the in the PSS Chronicles and not – as I expected – the last, but only the next instalment in the series. In fact it is not an ending at all. Rather it is very much a beginning, of the next phase in the battle against the CAMFers and the Hold and of a new life for our protagonists. Discussing a third book in any series without giving spoilers is hard, but in the case of Ghost Heart it is almost impossible, so out of necessity, this review will contain minor spoilers and will be less extensive than usual.   Continue reading »

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Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak (eds) – War Stories

gatesliptak-warstoriesWar is everywhere. Not only among the firefights, in the sweat dripping from heavy armor and the clenching grip on your weapon, but also wedging itself deep into families, infiltrating our love letters, hovering in the air above our heads. It’s in our dreams and our text messages. At times it roars with adrenaline, while at others it slips in silently so it can sit beside you until you forget it’s there.

Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Karin Lowachee, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, and more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Stories brings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.

Instead, War Stories reveals the truth.

War is what we are.

Conflict is part of the human condition. In every age, at any moment, conflict has been present in our history. Be it on a large or a small scale, people have always picked sides against each other, whether on political or religious grounds. And conflict unfortunately turned to war more often than not. War is devastating on many levels; whether it’s material damage like shot-up buildings, physical damage such as war wounds for both civilians and combatants, or psychological trauma for those involved, no human is unchanged by the experience of war. As such, it’s unsurprising that war and conflict are huge wellsprings of inspiration for authors in any field, not least that of SFF. Ranging from military SF, such as David Weber’s works, to fantasy, like Erikson’s Malazan series, from the epic to the intimate, war is told in many guises. But it’s easy to glorify war and violence and not think beyond the adrenaline of battle. In War Stories, Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak do just that. They chose stories dealing with the human cost of war, with the aftermath, and with those left behind. This doesn’t mean there aren’t battle stories here or those showing the brotherhood of soldiers, because there are, but they aim to go beyond the usual and look to the human element of war.   Continue reading »

By Published Posted in review, science fiction | 4 Comments
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