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sjhigbee (Sussex, UK)

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The Backworlds
The Backworlds
Price: 0.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Step forward Backworlds..., 2 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Backworlds (Kindle Edition)
This YA offering seemed intriguing and when I read the first page in the Sample, I was impressed with the strong, readable style and the vivid characterisation. So I downloaded it onto my Kindle. Would it continue to be as enjoyable, or be somewhat

The initial couple of chapters pack a real punch - Craze's hurt and amazement at his father's double-cross is believable and immediately had me rooting for him. Pax shows her experience in the slick handling of her protagonist - too much fury and resistance would have unduly slowed the pace, while a mere defeated shrug would have still had the reader convinced that his father was a solid bastard, but would not necessarily have engendered quite as much sympathy for the main character.
After his unpleasant ejection from his village, the story follows a familiar pattern - an inexperienced youngster having to make his way in an innately hostile and uncaring world. This time around, the worlds are hostile with knobs on. In the aftermath of an interplanetary war, no one is particularly welcoming - except for the two aviarmen he encounters on his first journey offworld... And immediately the three of them spin off into an adventure, while trying to find a foothold somewhere to make their fortunes.

The writing is pacy, direct and readable. Pax knows how to write an interesting, detailed character, provide an entertaining and believable backdrop, while keeping the action coming. I was swept along with the action and particularly enjoyed the colourful dialogue.

Any niggles? The only grumble I've got is that the book wasn't long enough. Having said that, it was being offered for free, and the sequel is under 2.00 - am I going to buy it? Of course - I want another slice of Craze's adventures.

Earth Star
Earth Star
Price: 3.85

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gold Star for Earth Star, 2 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Earth Star (Kindle Edition)
This anticipated sequel to Edwards' highly successful debut YA science fiction Earth Girl, recently hit the bookshelves and I scooped up a Kindle copy. Would it live up to the high standard set by the first book in this entertaining and original series?

This interesting concept is braided into the idea that Earth is now a backwater, largely inhabited by those unable to survive on other planets, and large tracts are now deserted and falling into ruin. But as a great deal of knowledge has also been lost in the social upheaval engendered by the flight to new planets, archaeologists from all the colony worlds congregate in the race to discover some of the scientific advancements now denied to humanity. It's a cool twist - the world that comes closest to this idea is Eric Brown's fabulous depiction of Paris in Engineman, which I think is one of the best slices of world-building I've ever read...

In addition, the story in Earth Star is pacy, event-filled and engrossing such that I didn't put the book down until I'd finished. Jarra's adventures in Earth Girl were exciting enough - but everything moves up a gear in this second book, when an alien spaceship appears. This being Edwards, of course, this often-covered science fiction plot device doesn't settle into any sort of generic tale, but is given an extra twist. Jarra is pitchforked right into the middle of the action, along with her boyfriend. And before you roll your eyes at the notion of a teenage girl finding herself right in the middle of a major flap about an incipient alien invasion - there is a solid reason why she is there. And it works, in my opinion.

In amongst all the non-stop action, we also have Jarra's relationship with her boyfriend deepening and her fear of commitment addressed. We meet other interesting characters - and learn a bit more about some of the main protagonists that appeared in Earth Girl. Niggles? Um. No. Not one. I just relaxed into this enjoyable, thoroughly readable book and am very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series to discover what will happen next.

The Little Broomstick
The Little Broomstick
by Mary Stewart
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The magic of this broomstick still glitters..., 2 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Little Broomstick (Paperback)
This classic Fantasy tale - knocking around long before Harry Potter was a twinkle in Rowling's eye - was always a firm favourite with all my classes when I taught. I dug out my copy and read it to my granddaughter. Despite the unfashionably long descriptive passages, the narrative was sufficiently engrossing that it held her rapt right through to the end.
Quite right, too. I'd forgotten what a little gem it is, with beautifully flowing and evocative prose the whips the story along at a fair clip. Mary Smith is ten years old and due to an unfortunate illness and bad timing, finds herself parked with Great-Aunt Charlotte in her large house, Red Manor, in the heart of Shropshire right at the end of the summer holidays. There is nothing much to do. Until she encounters a beautiful black cat called Tib with glowing green eyes, who leads her to a rare flower in the middle of the woods...

And from that beginning, the adventure whisks up its young readers and doesn't let up until the final page. Plain Mary Smith is an enjoyable, appealing protagonist who is just the right mix of innocence and quick wittedness. But there are also a strong cast of supporting characters - particularly the wonderfully creepy Madam Mumblechook and her sidekick, Doctor Dee.

Endor College, educational establishment of witches and black magic, is vividly described and until I read this again to Frankie, I'd forgotten just how disturbing it is. Under the cosy touches - `Badness me' as an exclamation, for instance - there is real menace. Stewart's wonderful description of Tib does more than mark her out as a cat lover - it also highlights the contrast between the lithe, independent creature who befriends Mary and the twisted toadlike thing he becomes thanks to Madam Mumblechook and Doctor Dee. And the reason why they expend all this magical energy and effort to transform Tib and a host of other creatures? Because they can...

Stewart gives youngsters a powerful insight into the nature of evil - all too often it isn't about world domination with overblown, pantomime-type characters that slide into the ridiculous. It is about people in everyday situations who abuse the power they have to twist and torment those powerless to prevent them.

I'd also forgotten the poignant and fitting ending - which is (perhaps intentionally) diffused by the description of the top range of broomsticks available from Harrods... All in all, this slim volume is - like the best of children's literature - a really good read for fantasy fans of all ages and I particularly recommend it to those who enjoyed Harry Potter or anything written by Diana Wynne Jones. I'm delighted to see it is now available as an ebook as it has been out of print for far too long - do yourself a favour and download it. Even if the children in your life are long gone, I guarantee that you'll thank me...

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined
The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solutions for the current broken educational system, 2 Sep 2013
Over the years, a distressing scene has been replayed in homes across the land far too many times... A panic-stricken child finally realises that parents aren't - after all - capable of helping out when really needed. While said parents, irritable and helpless when confronted with modern Maths/Chemistry/typically hard subject, find they aren't remotely equipped to assist with homework. Tempers fray under the pressure and the generation gap yawns into an unbridgeable chasm. However this scene can be consigned to history, thanks to Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.

I first heard about the Khan Academy from the talented science fiction writer Tricia Sullivan at Eastercon, where she enthused about teaching herself Maths up to calculus level, thanks to the online lessons now available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. Immediately, I checked it out and was extremely impressed at the extensive series of colourful, unthreatening lessons and the self-testing tasks to ensure you have fully grasped the concept before you move on.

So it was a real treat when my mother sent me this book thank you, Mum!). Khan had lots of fascinating things to say about the current, unsatisfactory manner in which we teach children. As an ex-primary school teacher, I found myself muttering in agreement at his observations at the broken-backed system that - as far as I can see - is in place as a cheap way of keeping children off the streets rather than equipping them with relevant knowledge fit for the 21st century. Khan suggests that instead of having a teacher deliver a lesson to a group of children in a totally arbitrary manner, they learn individually at their own pace using modern technology with the teacher acting as enabler. He also suggests that a far more creative, wide-ranging curriculum should be in place, where children undertake complex self-directed tasks in groups. A revolutionary approach to state-funded education? Absolutely. But our current system produces far too many children unable to master the basics, who, frustrated and angry, become an unemployable underclass. Government's constant tinkering only further undermines discouraged teachers and destabilises an already creaking system.

Read Salman Khan's solutions to our educational problems - and then could someone point the Minister of Education in the direction of this book? Please?? We cannot go on squandering our most precious resource - our children.

The Shadow of the Soul: The Dog-Faced Gods Book Two (Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy)
The Shadow of the Soul: The Dog-Faced Gods Book Two (Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy)
Price: 4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Success for this Soul, 2 Sep 2013
This book plunged right into the action and didn't let up until the final page - and though at no time was I floundering - Pinborough is far too accomplished a writer for that - I did get the sense that I would have better appreciated exactly what was going on if I'd tracked down the first book, A Matter of Blood, before launching into The Shadow of the Soul. However, it didn't take long to get drawn into this gritty police procedural tale that felt far more like a Rankin whodunit than your average Dark Fantasy crime story. Cass Jones is a typically overburdened inner-city detective with a dysfunctional family life, rather than the supernatural, angst-driven beings that often inhabit urban fantasy crime novels.

Pinborough has successfully managed to come up with a flavour all of her own in this increasingly popular sub-genre. Second books in a trilogy often lack pace as they simultaneously have to produce a complete story arc, yet leave/produce a series of vital plot points dangling for the final book to solve. But this story whisks along as we get increasing insights into the Network and the strains within the apparently invulnerable organisation, as Cass Jones is still desperately trying to come to terms with what has happened to him and his family during the previous book. All these concerns are woven through the current investigations with deftness and skill that ensure this is a solid page-turner.

So, does the denouement pack sufficient punch? It needs to - Crime/Dark Fantasy genres require a strong ending to be regarded as successful and as Pinborough has braided these ingredients together, she has to pull off a really gripping conclusion that provides genuine shock value. Which she achieves with style. As Cass struggles to cope with the new set of facts he uncovers after investigating the events that have befallen his troubled family - the crimes he has also been following also get tied up in a way that I didn't see coming.

This second book has been sufficiently gripping that I'm going to hunt down the first and third offerings in this disturbing, compulsive series - and I recommend that you give it a go. But start with A Matter of Blood - writing this good deserves to be read in the correct order.

Dangerous Waters (The Hadrumal Crisis)
Dangerous Waters (The Hadrumal Crisis)
Price: 3.08

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful account of wizard politics..., 2 Sep 2013
The three main protagonists who tell the story are Corrain, the enslaved Caladhrian captain; Lady Zurenne, recently widowed and suffering the depredations of an insolent steward on behalf of the hated and powerful Minelas; and Jilseth, who is Archmage Planir's favourite fixer. They all face difficult odds - arguably, Jilseth has the hardest, if not the most desperate task. For it falls to her to try and keep the exploits of the outlaw mage from reaching the ears of the Caladhrian nobility - as the Archmage and his Council are only too aware that for all their power, mages are vulnerable to infuriated mobs with pitchforks.

I loved this book, which grabbed me from the moment I read the first page and held me right up until the end. It's a long book, but at no point did I feel the action sagged - because this book has it all... slavery, magic, political plotting, overbearing nobility and desperate widows... The contrast of characters is perfect - Corrain's vengeful fury battling with his need to remain suitably submissive as a slave is deftly portrayed. What I like about McKenna, is that she doesn't see the need to paint her heroes and heroines as faultless or completely likeable. So Corrain makes some significant mistakes - but given the circumstances and his background, it is entirely realistic that he would underestimate anyone physically weaker.

Jilseth is the most capable of the protagonists - and yet, she cannot sustain her stance of disinterestedness, despite her best efforts. I particularly enjoyed the friction between the magewoman and Lady Zurenne, when Jilseth is trying to discover exactly what is going on. I've read a couple of reviewers who were frustrated that Lady Zurenne seemed unable to break free of the rules stifling her ability to act as a free agent. Apparently, they were waiting for her to arm her feisty eldest daughter with a sword and turn her into some female warrior... McKenna has managed to resist the modern trend in historical fantasy of abruptly emancipating her female characters, thank goodness. It is a trend that intensely annoys me. It suggests that our female forebears merely needed to pull themselves together, learn a few defensive moves, grab a handy weapon and they would be able to operate just fine alongside their menfolk. But as Lady Zurenne's reactions and instincts clearly demonstrate - no matter how outrageously unfair the law may be to women, it is a far harder business to defy legal and social conventions. If it wasn't, millions of women wouldn't be still struggling across the planet in the face of daily injustice and discrimination. I think she rises to the challenge of keeping herself and her daughters safe magnificently and one of the reasons why Jilseth can no longer remain completely impartial, is witnessing Lady Zurenne's plight - and her gritted courage in coping with it.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book. McKenna's nuanced, smart writing presents her world as every bit as messy and complicated as ours - and though this book and series is nested within a very well established setting, at no time does the author rely on a reader's prior knowledge of her previous output in order to make sense of this one. Which is a harder trick to pull off than you might think - or maybe not, given how few writers really manage to do it.
So, though I would recommend that you dive into McKenna's world if you are looking for intelligently written, three dimensional fantasy, there is no reason why you shouldn't start with this particular series. In fact, I strongly recommend you do so - you'll be thanking me if you do.

The Scent of Freedom
The Scent of Freedom
Price: 0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars This story has the scent of success, 8 Jun 2013
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Written in first person POV, the inhuman protagonist is tracking a vicious murderer and Simpson immediately pulled me into her world. Her snappy writing style and vivid depiction of the crime scene, along with the dilemma facing the Hunter had me turning the pages, wanting to discover what would happen next. It takes a great deal more skill to write a successful short story than it does to write a novel - many bestselling, readable novels can get away with thin characterisation, or clunky dialogue, so long as the author provides a sufficiently compelling storyline. However, in a short story if the character isn't convincing; or the backdrop sufficiently developed; or the dialogue sharp and realistic; or the storyline strong with a satisfying ending - then it fails. There simply isn't time to compensate for such shortfalls in writing technique in a short story.
Simpson manages to fully deliver - the Hunter's reliance on her sense of smell gave the story an intriguing feeling of `other' that is always important when creating an alien character. The increasing tension as Hunter struggles to track down the perpetrator of a gory murder, with the frozen park providing an excellent backdrop to the action, provides narrative tension in spades.
I'm not going to discuss the ending, other than to say that it worked and left me wanting a lot more from this world. A superb slice of writing.

The Xenocide Mission
The Xenocide Mission
by Ben Jeapes
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, well written space opera, 1 May 2013
This review is from: The Xenocide Mission (Paperback)
Lieutenant Joel Gilmore is part of a multi-species space observation team stationed in a distant solar system, who find themselves attacked by the very aliens they were supposed to be watching. Now Joel and his allies, the enigmatic Rusties, explore the parameters of trust in a lethal confrontation with a deeply alien third species: one with a nasty predilection for mass murder on a planetary scale.

This book was marketed as a YA science fiction, but I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, despite the fact that I hadn't read the first book, 'His Majesty's Starship'. The story is told in multiple viewpoint - and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them - and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans. So, the question has to be - does Jeapes pull it off?

As far as the bad guys, known as Xenocides, are concerned, the depiction is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn't see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. But the overall impression of how the other species - the First Breed - operated, their appearance, and their relationship with the humans was a lot less sharp.

As far as the main human story running through the book, Joel makes a solidly convincing hero as someone who reacts quickly and selflessly when the unthinkable happened - and then finds himself up to his neck in trouble as a consequence. He manages to care about issues like honour, duty and loyalty without coming across as some lantern-jawed dummy, which also demonstrates Jeapes' skill as an able, technically gifted writer. His relationship with Boon Round, the First Breed also caught up alongside him, is nicely sharp.

The ending is well executed, with all the lose threads across all three main species satisfyingly tied up. Overall, this slickly convincing multi-species adventure story is a really good read - and I'm going to be looking out for more of Jeapes' writing.

Wake of the Bloody Angel (Eddie LaCrosse Novels)
Wake of the Bloody Angel (Eddie LaCrosse Novels)
by Alex Bledsoe
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Angel's Wake Leaves More Than a Ripple, 1 May 2013
I'll be honest, I've tended to avoid Swords and Sorcery tales - especially those set at sea. Having in a former life owned a yacht, I have very limited tolerance for tales that get the sailing wrong... So when my husband kept on recommending this book, I rather grumpily decided that I'd better read a couple of chapters to shut him up before returning to the next cool space opera beckoning. And then became hooked...

Twenty years ago, a barmaid in a harbour town fell for a young sailor who turned pirate to make his fortune. But what truly became of Black Edward Tew remains a mystery - one that has just fallen into the lap of freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse
For years, Eddie has kept his office above Angelina's tavern, so when Angelina herself asks him to find out what happened to the dashing pirate who stole her heart, he can hardly say no - even though the trail is two decades old. Some say Black Edward and his ship, The Bloody Angel, went to the bottom of the sea, taking with it a king's fortune in treasure. Others say he rules a wealthy, secret pirate kingdom. And a few believe he still sails under a ghostly flag with a crew of the damned.

To find the truth, and earn his twenty-five gold pieces a day, Eddie must go to sea in the company of a sexy former pirate queen in search of the infamous Black Edward Tew... and his even more legendary treasure.

If that sounds like a really cracking plot with plenty of opportunity for swashbuckling characters, a hatful of exciting adventures, plenty of humour and more than a slice of real heartbreak and horror - you'd be right. Bledsoe manages to weave all of that into this accomplished story. Told in first person viewpoint, Eddie LaCrosse is an excellent protagonist whose skill and experience take him into all sorts of unexpected and dangerous settings - but whose intelligent and humorous asides give the book a deft, light touch that brings to mind The Black Pearl, before the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise started taking itself too seriously. In fact, I'd love to see someone turn this book into a film - the twists and turns in the plot would make a superb screenplay and there are a cast of strong, eccentric characters that leap off the page.

As for the final showdown - I was fully expecting it to be something of a disappointment after all the excitement we'd encountered earlier and couldn't see how Bledsoe would manage to equal or better it. He did. It is terrible and poignant and shocking - and I know that along with a small handful of books, this will be one that will stick in my memory.

by Cory Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Makers - making you think, 1 May 2013
This review is from: Makers (Paperback)
This interesting, near-future technology-based novel initially came out in 2009 in serial form as an ebook, before being released by Voyager as a printed version. I've been interested to read a variety of responses to the book, many of them hostile...

Perry and Lester invent things. All sorts of things. Seashell robots that can make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent an entirely new economic system. `New Work' is a New Deal for the technological era, and together Perry and Lester transform the country, with journalist Suzanne Church there to document their progress.

For the record, that's half the blurb published on the inside of the cover - and the reason why I'm not continuing any further, is that the next paragraph proceeds to give away at least half the major plot points of the book. Which is the reason, I reckon, that one of the recurring complaints I've encountered about this book is that the story is slow and predictable. If the reviewers knew in advance what was coming up, no wonder they felt the book dragged. That's the only explanation I can come up with - because although it's a long book, at no time did I find my attention wandering. Doctorow's gleeful enthusiasm for the new toys he's envisioned for the near future didn't stop him paying attention to providing an entertaining storyline and likeable, interesting characters. I was also impressed at the clarity of the writing - at no point was I scratching my head or having to backtrack and reread any sections in order to understand exactly what all these cool, techie gismos did. And while I enjoy browsing through the New Scientist, I'm no science specialist.

Doctorow has all sorts of interesting observations to make in this thoughtful look at the near future and how technology may shape the outlook for sections of American society. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Lester, Perry and Suzanne and found the epilogue poignant and memorable.

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