Category Archives: 2016 reading

Review: Empire Games by Charles Stross

Empire Games continues the Merchant Princes series, following on 17 years after the events of the earlier books. While the previous books’ protagonist, Miriam, continues as a major character, Empire Games introduces a new protagonist, Rita Douglas, a freelance actor living in a high-security America that’s aware of parallel timelines and extremely paranoid about terrorist attacks from world-walkers. Recruited by the Department of Homeland Security because of her world-walker genes, Rita finds herself railroaded into the role of a world-walking spy. But there’s a lot more going on in the parallel timeline than the US government anticipated.

empire games cover

Continue reading Review: Empire Games by Charles Stross

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2016 Reading Update, September

I’ve met my target of reading 26 books this year, with a few months left to keep reading in. Since my last update I’ve added seven more books to my total, four of which are Patrick O’Brian books – and I’ll finish the series before next update, library stock permitting.

The list so far

Here’s what the list looks like after the last update in July:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross
  12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
  13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell
  15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross
  16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian
  18. The Errant Hours by Kate Innes
  19. Iceland Defrosted by Edward Hancox
  20. Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle
  21. The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian
  22. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian
  23. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

Continue reading 2016 Reading Update, September

2016 Reading Update, July

We’re just past half way through the year and I’m well ahead of target. By last update, back in May, I’d already raced past the half-way point on my goal, and now I’m closing in on the finish line (not that I’ll stop when I reach 26, where would the fun be in that?) So let’s see what I’ve been reading lately.

The list so far

Here’s what I’ve covered in previous updates:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross
  12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
  13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell
  15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross
  16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian

Recent Reads

And here’s what I’ve read since May’s post:

18. The Errant Hours by Kate Innes

Set largely in Shropshire, this book falls under my “local reads” sub-goal. It’s an historical adventure/romance following Illesa, an impoverished young woman with nothing to her name but a valuable book, and no family but a brother in need of rescue. An exciting and enjoyable read, made all the more special by the familiar setting.

19. Iceland Defrosted by Edward Hancox

Two in a row for “local reads”, as Ed is from Shropshire. I bought this book a couple of years ago at his book launch in the local library but only just got around to actually reading it. It’s written in a casual, friendly tone, with the author’s love for Iceland raw on the page, and I though I’ve never been there I found I was falling in love with Iceland too thanks to the sincerity of Ed’s prose and the lively descriptions of the places he visited.

20. Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

I reviewed this fantastic novel in full here. It’s a brilliantly woven tale packed with excitement, with a thoroughly relatable protagonist and a rich world. I can’t praise it enough, and I hope it does well in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016, which I think is a fantastic way of showcasing the best indie fantasy around.

21. The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian

and

22. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian

Yes, I’m still reading them in pairs. When O’Brian ends a novel with his protagonists stranded on a deserted island, how can I not immediately read the next? I’m really loving this series and when I finally get to the end I will no doubt start again at the beginning. It took some getting into when I first started reading it, but now I’m more familiar with O’Brian’s style, and less likely to give up on books than I was back in 2009 when I started reading the series, I am certain I will enjoy those first few books more on a second reading than I did on the first.

23. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

I’m counting this. I read it, it counts. Darrell has employed me to proofread his novel and so that is what I have done. Towards the end I had to consciously slow down and remind myself to pay attention to the words, how they’re spelled, how they’re punctuated, the syntax and flow, and so on, because my mind wanted to race ahead and find out how it would end. The first two thirds of the novel is a bit slow burn, plenty going on but it’s difficult to see where it’s heading, but the seeds are sown and once they sprout quite a tale unfolds. Look out for it when it comes out, folks. Here’s Darrell’s website if you’re interested.

Up next

If my local library can get in the book I am looking for, I’ll have a few Charles Stross titles popping up in my next few reading updates. And there are a few books on my shelf I really should get around to reading at some point. Plus if anyone else on the SPFBO 2016 wants to send me a free ARC I’ll definitely be receptive to that.

Review: Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

Touch of Iron is the debut novel and first part in the Living Blade series by Timandra Whitecastle. It follows Nora Smith and her twin Owen as they flee superstition and rumour in their home town and find themselves caught up in a dangerous quest for a legendary weapon, mixing with an exiled prince, a mysterious half-wight, rough warriors and sinister magic-users.

I was given an ARC of this book.

touch of iron
That’s a pretty damn awesome cover.

Touch of Iron is also one of the books involved in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016.

Okay, so, first I’ve got to say this: I love Nora. She is such an enjoyable protagonist to follow. She’s full of fire, she’s exciting, she’s relatable and she’s immense fun to read about. I found myself thinking “yeah, right” when she’s told not to do something and rolling my eyes when she did it anyway – then grinning stupidly as I read the antics she got herself into and how she got herself out of them.

And there are plenty of antics to be had. The world of The Living Blade is a magical and dangerous place, a beautifully crafted setting bringing in elements of real-world places and times as well as being inspired by the rich array of worlds fantasy has to offer. It truly is a fantasy world in the best traditions of the genre, melding human communities, dramatic landscapes, dangerous threats and unsettling beliefs into a remarkable setting that frames the story beautifully.

The story is fast paced and full of action as Nora and Owen criss cross the continent pursuing their dreams, fleeing their fears and chasing down the Living Blade with the exiled Prince Bashan, who seeks to wield it to reclaim a throne stolen from him. The witty, engaging narrative makes for enjoyable reading that drew me in and wouldn’t let go – not that I wanted it to.

Whitecastle has included numerous tributes to some of her favourite fiction too, but in subtle ways you wouldn’t notice unless you were a fan too. Including a few allusions to my favourite animated TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. They’re well done – enough to make me smile upon recognising them, without disrupting the flow.

I am thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to read Touch of Iron and enjoyed every moment of it. Once I started it was hard to put down, and in fact this may be the fastest I’ve read a book this year – under 36 hours from the first page to the last, and then I read the afterword because I didn’t want to put it down! It can hardly be surprising, therefore, that I rate it 10/10.

I hope Touch of Iron does well in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.

Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I think I made it pretty clear in my review of The Liar’s Key that I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence. That being the case, it’s difficult to remain objective. I’ve been excited to read The Wheel of Osheim ever since I turned the last page in The Liar’s Key, and I was fortunate enough to be given an Advanced Reader Copy – cutting short that wait by several weeks. There’s a danger with such anticipation that expectations might be raised to unattainable levels.

And yet Mark Lawrence’s writing manages to attain them anyway.

wheel of oshiem

Now thoroughly swept up in the great events of the empire, womaniser and coward Prince Jalan continues to find himself pulled this way and that by his friends, the manipulations of his royal grandmother, and his own desires. But as the boundaries between worlds decay, the Dead King has more power to send against Jalan to try to seize the Liar’s Key. Jalan’s keen sense of self-preservation and his desires drive him onwards, until there’s nowhere left to go but the titular Wheel – a mysterious force around which the barrier between worlds is thinnest and a man’s fears can take physical form.

The Wheel of Osheim is packed with danger and darkness, yet manages to alleviate it with Jalan’s witty self-aware narrative. There is a depth to the darkness in the world of the Broken Empire, where necromancers can make powerful weapons from murdered babies and raise fallen soldiers to fight against their own comrades. The humour is therefore much-needed, and well-judged.

In this final volume of the Red Queen’s War trilogy, Jalan’s personality is given more depth. For all his self-awareness about his cowardice and vices, he is slowly revealed to have a touching blind spot. His continued refusal to see this even through his own narration of the story shows Lawrence’s skill in portraying the human condition. And as the threat against the Empire becomes inescapable, Jalan comes to accept the duties he has spent most of his life avoiding. In The Liar’s Key, Jalan found selfish reasons to do the right thing; now, when self-preservation is reason enough, he finds himself acting out of duty. He’s grown, little by little.

One again Lawrence has triumphed in creating a compelling tale full of magic, danger and unpredictable twists and turns. He ends the trilogy with a fittingly spectacular conclusion – one which, in what is becoming a tradition with Mark Lawrence’s books, saw me reading far into the small hours of the morning on a work night. Again.

It is with no reservations whatsoever therefore that I rate The Wheel of Osheim 10/10.

2016 reading update, May

I’m nearly half way through the year now – and it feels like it’s gone very quickly. But so has my reading, so I’m well ahead of target. I have read 17 books so far, which beats my total for the whole of 2015.

The list so far

In my previous updates I have discussed the following:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross

Recent reads

12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift

This is a non-fiction book about the development of a garden from a field to the beautiful selection of settings it now is, all mixed in with local history and history of the house it is connected to, some history of British Christianity, and a little bit of autobiography too. It’s a well-written and fascinating book, and it was easy to follow even for someone like me, who can’t keep a basil plant alive in the kitchen window. Swift has really done her research. And when her garden was open as part of May Day celebrations two weeks ago, I went to visit it (it’s only a short drive away from me), got the book signed and bought the second one, The Morville Year.

13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

How could I read in April that which isn’t to be released until June? I got an Advanced Review Copy. And Review it I shall, soon. But not here.

14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell

I read Gemmell a lot from when I was about 17 to about when I was 21, by which point there were very few of his books I hadn’t read. This was one of them. I found it in the library while looking for something else and of course had to read it. I found it a little difficult to get into at first – there are a lot of terms and concepts to get to grips with – but once it had got going I enjoyed the way the story developed, which Gemmell’s characterstic cast of moral greys fighting against the moral black standing against them.

15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

I recieved an ARC of this book and reviewed it here. It’s one that has lingered in my mind, where I still think of the ending and the points earlier in the book that foreshadow it. Absolutely masterful.

16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian

and

17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian

Finally I have got back to this fantastic series. I love reading about Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin and their various adventures and escapades on land and sea. They are written in quite a different style and with a different approach to most novels, which is refreshing. The voices of the characters come through wonderfully strongly, and it really feels like I’m reading about the lives of real people, with their marital concerns, financial troubles and all. The concept of a plot as charted and diagrammed on various writing forums seems rigid and ritualised compared to the more fluid, more life-like sequence of events of O’Brian’s books.

As happens surprisingly often, I finished one and bought the next immediately. They seem to come in pairs, one ending abruptly on a low or neutral point, with questions of how the protagonists might recover, the second ending on a high point that feels more natural an ending. I was, as I finished reading The Letter of Marque, laughing out loud at every second paragraph, as much because of the humour (the subtle humour that comes about as a result of knowing these characters well and recognising when they are fooling themselves) as because of the general sense of happiness on which the book ended.

Up next

I’ve got a library book that needs to go back soon: The Errant Hours by Kate Innes, an historical fiction novel set in nearby Much Wenlock, another one I sought as part of my “read local” aims, but which seems to be within my normal reading patterns too, with a setting not too dissimilar to the Cadfael books. So that’s next.

I shall shortly be posting my review of The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, and I’d quite like to look back over the previous books of the trilogy to remind myself of them and perhaps have a few more things to say about the first two books without restricting myself to a spoiler-free review.

 

Review: The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

The Dragon’s Egg is the sixth book in the Brightmoon Annals by Pauline M Ross. Like its predecessors it stands alone, introducing a new cast of characters and bringing in a few from previous books to help the protagonists along. As with the previous books, this latest fantasy adventure explores the strange magics of the Brightmoon world, and how the civilisation from before a mysterious ancient Catastrophe sought to preserve magic as they faced down their own extinction.

Disclaimer: I recieved an ARC (Advanced Reader/Review Copy) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

dragons egg

Continue reading Review: The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

2016 Reading update

We’re 10 weeks into the new year and I am soaring ahead with my reading goal. By now I need to have read 5 books to be on track; last night I finished book number 11.

The list so far

In my last update I mentioned I’d read (or had started reading):

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

Recent reads

Since then I’ve been on a bit of a Pauline M Ross binge – four of the six books I’ve read have been by her.

6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

I reviewed this book here. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it a lot. Enough, at least, that I bought and subsequently read the three remaining books in Ross’ back catalogue.

7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

I do like this series. For a murder mystery writer, Parteger seems to have had a fairly positive view of humanity. These are comfortable books, with nothing particularly distressing or emotionally challenging, and they all end up neatly concluded to the benefit of the characters who are nice or moral, and the detriment of those who are evil.

8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross

I didn’t end up reviewing this one but again I enjoyed it. Not quite as good as The Fire Mages’ Daughter, I think, but another charming story full of magic and romance. I’m really enjoying seeing glimpses of this world.

9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

After the softer books I’d been reading, this one really bored straight into my heart, via my tear ducts. I reviewed it here, but if you’ve not read the review, well let the fact that I reviewed a non-fantasy book on my fantasy blog clue you in.

10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross

Ross described this one as her “ugly duckling book” in her blog post Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’. I found it full of intrigue and well-paced. It provided a fresh look at another aspect of her rich world – a new country, a new type of society. It might have struggled because the first chapter throws the reader into the deep end of that new type of society a bit – there’s a lot to process – but once the story picks up it’s a true adventure.

11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross

After everything I’d already read from her, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth stuck into the last available book from Ross. Once more, this book sheds a light on a different part of the world, though this time we get to see several different societies, neighbours to one another, with their cautious truces and different cultures. Once again this is packed with intrigue, adventure and love. I particularly liked the protagonist, who felt like a real figure – shaped by her upbringing, capable of changing her views and feelings, with anxieties to overcome and complex relationships with the other characters in the story.

Up next

A little over a week ago I went into Much Wenlock and there visited Wenlock Books, a lovely little independant bookshop full of little treasures. Aside from some great old map postcards (including one of medieval Shrewsbury I’ll use as a bookmark next time I read a Cadfael book, to save me always flicking back to the map at the start) I picked up The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift – another book in my “locals” list – and a great little hardback collection, Best Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s got a cloth cover and a ribbon page marker and really thin paper for the pages and gold edging. An absolutely beautiful book.

So I’m going to make a start on Hans Christian Andersen next. I’ve been meaning to get to this. Fairy tales have been an inspiration for fantasy for decades, one of the roots of fantasy, so it’s about time I really delved into one of the definitive writers of the genre.

I’m also hoping to get back to the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian again soon, it’s been a while since I read the last one. I caught the movie approximation of the series (I wouldn’t stretch to call it an adaptation) on TV not long ago – Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World – which, now I’ve read both Master and Commander (book 1) and The Far Side of the World (book 10) I can safely say is not much like either of them, except in a few individual little scenes and lines.

Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Usually I stick to fantasy on this blog, with occasional forays into historical fiction and science fiction. I’m making an exception for this book. Partly because I really just want to talk about how awesome it is, and partly because I read it as part of my attempts to read more books written by local authors – Shropshire authors.

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah tells the story of Ivo, a terminally ill 40-year-old looking back through his life as part of a game suggested for him by Sheila the nurse at the care home where he now lives. It’s a life of fun, regret, love, pain, friendship and crochet. As time runs out, Ivo uses the A to Z game to put things back together before it’s all too late.

a-z of you and me

Continue reading Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Review: The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

After reading The Fire Mages at the end of last year, I was eager to read more from Pauline M Ross, and I picked for my next read the sequel to that one, starring as its protagonist Kyra’s daughter, Drina.

Drina is a rather sickly girl with a strong attachment to her mother, so when she is summoned by the Drashona (equivalent to a queen) who wishes to assess whether she would make a suitable heir, Drina isn’t too happy about it. Drina finds herself trained as a diplomat, and in this role meets with the new living god of the Blood Clans – a mysterious people possessing a strange and threatening type of magic. When Bennamore goes to war with the Blood Clans, Drina must protect those she cares about and see through the complications to bring about peace.

fire mages daughter

Continue reading Review: The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross