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sjhigbee (Sussex, UK)

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The Art of Forgetting: Rider
The Art of Forgetting: Rider
Price: £4.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Forgetting is an unforgettable read, 25 July 2015
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Rhodri bounces off the page right from the opening sequence and his grip wouldn’t let me go until I reached the final paragraph. Although I was in for a whole lot than I initially realised. I thought I was in for a coming-of-age adventure story along the lines of L.E. Modesitt’s first book in his Imager Portfolio series. But this is a lot grittier and sexually explicit – if you have youngsters interested in your reading matter, I’d advise you vet this one first.

I was initially slightly caught off-balance. Having expected a particular type of book, it was something of a shock to find what I was reading was a lot more demanding. The easy, readable writing style, action-packed narrative pace, strong characterisation and familiar feel to the world initially had me sure of what I would continue to experience. And then Hall started delivering some smart surprises. I’m allergic to spoilers, so I’m not going to divulge the nuts and bolts of those surprises. However, the elite nature of the troops didn’t stop many of them being fairly unpleasant characters with a tendency to violence… This is fine on the battlefield, of course. But what if they are quartered in a town? And what happens when a large number of very fit, active young men want some female company? Without being remotely moralistic, Hall thoroughly explores this dynamic with uncomfortable consequences for all concerned.

And the curved balls kept coming… Aston’s narrative arc had my jaw dropping. While I was still reeling from the fallout to that shocker – Rhodri finds himself heading into action. But that action ends up taking a form that he could never have predicted – I certainly didn’t see it coming. Throughout all this, Rhodri is completely convincing. He yearns to find his father to help him sort out his own identity and while he may be the protagonist of the story, with a talent for calming horses and total recall, what he isn’t is a classical hero. He makes a multitude of mistakes – some of them are catastrophic. So many young main characters written by older authors show a chippy surefootedness that anyone who has spent time around real teenagers knows is not remotely realistic. Real teenagers are a mess of moody contradictions, poor impulse control, while capable of judgement errors that would have their ten-year-old selves rolling their eyes in disgust. Which is exactly how Rhodri and his fellow cadets behave a lot of the time.

Does it work? Oh, absolutely. This storming start to the series is an unusual, challenging read for all the right reasons and I shall definitely be tracking down the second book, Nomad.

The Forever Watch
The Forever Watch
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Oustanding generational ship adventure, 25 July 2015
This review is from: The Forever Watch (Kindle Edition)
We are immediately pulled into the daily routine of the ship via Ramirez’s protagonist, Hana in first person viewpoint telling her story in present tense. Those readers who sometimes grumble that men cannot write convincing women need to read The Forever Watch – I loved Hana’s character. She is sympathetic, vulnerable and highly intelligent without coming across as arrogant or geeky, which is far harder to pull off than Ramirez makes it look. And caring about Hana is vital, as we need to be firmly in her corner as she starts on her journey of uncovering the mystery lurking in the bowels of Noah. She encounters the police enforcer, Barrens, who rescues her from a horrible situation and they strike up an unlikely friendship. It is Barrens who pulls her into his search for the criminal who shredded his colleague and mentor. He is convinced there is a high-level conspiracy operating to cover up the vicious killings and although she is initially dubious, Hana gradually finds herself in agreement with Barrens.

The first section of the book is taut with the growing sense of insecurity as Hana increasingly feels that all the safe, everyday details of her life is a hollow disguise, as a merciless criminal strikes with impunity throughout the ship. I was completely caught up in the storyline, though my enjoyment was tempered by a niggling fear. I’ve never read anything else by Ramirez, and when an author creates such a tense, fearful atmosphere, he has to ensure that the denouement fully delivers. After steadily building up this shocking, terrible secret – it had to be HUGE…

So does he deliver? Oh yes. The whole book is superbly crafted, with the climax and final denouement leaving me with tears in my eyes. It all completely hung together and was every bit as shocking as was hinted at throughout. Even if you are not in the habit of reading science fiction, yet love mystery thrillers – get hold of The Forever Watch. It is a storming debut and I shall be looking out for this author’s next book. Ramirez is One To Watch.

Mars Evacuees
Mars Evacuees
Price: £4.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Too good to leave just to the children..., 25 July 2015
This review is from: Mars Evacuees (Kindle Edition)
The book is aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but this considerably older reader found it great fun.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

And congratulations to the blurb writer. It perfectly captures the flavour of the adventure and the entertaining voice of the first person protagonist, without producing any major spoilers – which these days is an increasing rarity on book covers.

Alice Dare is being evacuated to Mars because of her mother’s fame, so she doesn’t immediately fit in with the cool kids. Neither does her friend, Josephine, who is being evacuated because she is extremely clever. For all the chirpy voice, this book doesn’t shirk some gnarly issues – how Alice and her friends deal with some unpleasant bullying and the effects of war on families – being two of the more hardcore problems they are confronted with.

The humorous voice allows Alice to pick her way through this minefield convincingly and yet without creating too much emotional havoc. Although there were no other book credits on the cover, I was fairly sure that McDougall wasn’t a new author. The writing was just too assured to be someone feeling their way into the craft – and sure enough when I returned home to my dear know-it-all friend, the internet confirmed my suspicions. Sophia McDougall has written the highly regarded alternate history trilogy for adults, Romanitas. Which accounts for the deft characterisation, perfect pacing and entertaining story arc that ensured I zoned out the howling windows until the satisfying ending.

I finally shared this book with my granddaughter this year and it was a huge success. The action scenes held her rapt, while she sniggered and giggled at the regular shots of humour. But it’s simply too good to leave just for the children - I found I loved it just as much reading it aloud the second time around.

She Who Waits (Low Town Novels) by Polansky, Daniel (2013) Hardcover
She Who Waits (Low Town Novels) by Polansky, Daniel (2013) Hardcover
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding grimdark fantasy, 25 July 2015
The Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Law Town Denizen of them all. As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, fast than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A host of lunatics and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved. She who waits behind all things.

And there you have the blurb. This is every bit as engrossing the other two books – but the action builds up more slowly and my strong advice is that to get the best out of this book you do really need to read the first two. While Polansky hasn’t committed the newbie error of leaving you floundering if you do read these books out of order (a regular bad habit of mine that I managed to avoid this time around), Warden is such a layered, complex character, in order to appreciate some more of his finer points you need to have read at least one of the other books. The tone of this one is darker and more savage – not a surprise, given that Warden is fighting for his life and is more scaldingly aware that he is growing older in an unforgiving environment.

I love his character. While I’d probably go out of my way not to meet him in real life, the humorous asides that pepper his first person narrative, often directed against himself as well as everyone else around him, pulled me right into the story. Despite his ability to murder in cold blood, despite his drug dealing, despite his nastiness to those who care about him – I fiercely wanted him to prevail throughout the story. And, like the previous book, this one explores more of his past – this time shedding light on his downfall in the Black House. How it came about and who, exactly, he still holds accountable for the disaster. Because that is the other part of Warden’s character – he holds a grudge. And is prepared to wait a long, long time before taking his revenge… But that seems to be a common trait in Low Town – and when events take a turn for the worse, he needs all his skill to stay one step ahead of the chaos breaking out around him.

So does the final climax and denouement satisfactorily bring this particular narrative arc to a fitting conclusion? Oh yes. Once more, I ended one of Polansky’s books feeling as if I’ve been through an emotional wringer. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you really enjoy character-led stories set in a vibrant, grubbily corrupt backdrop with the inevitable violence leavened by dark humour, then go looking for this series. It’s right up there with the best this sub-genre has to offer.

The Galaxy Game: With Bonus Short Story
The Galaxy Game: With Bonus Short Story
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A galaxy of worldbuilding and cool ideas, 25 July 2015
I’m aware that the fashion for short overviews entitled The story so far… is well and truly over – but I have recently felt strong nostalgia for that consideration for the hapless reader, like myself, who picks up a book mid-series. Especially in this case, when I wasn’t aware it was part of a series… So my firm advice is if you, too, initially find it heavy going, grit your teeth and hang in there, because if your taste runs to character-led, coming-of-age stories set in interesting, original worlds, then this one is great – once it all starts making sense.

Ravi’s third person narration is interposed by his more sophisticated, worldly-wise friend Ntenman’s first person accounts which swing along with much more punch – probably because he is, outwardly at least, far more confident. And that is the glory of Lord’s writing. Nothing and no one is as it first appears. She has managed to present a society where financial obligation is only one, more minor preoccupation – what people really need to pay attention to, is their social obligations. Everyone builds up networks, and in a society where psionic power is the norm, it is this tradeoff in obligation and patronage that Rafi has to negotiate.

This would have been an impressive feat if the book was a doorstopper affair of 500+ pages – but it isn’t. The hardcover version is 340 pages long. Neither is Lord’s prose particularly choppy or noticeably high octane. She devotes the necessary description required to clearly depict her beautiful, original worlds in plenty of detail, along with the food and clothing requirements, to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone hasn’t already snapped up the film rights. This book is cinematically sharp and would make a marvellous film, particularly for a director who likes a world laden with subtext.

By the end, I was aware that I had read a remarkable book by an extremely talented writer. And if you enjoy reading about people who have adapted in interesting ways once we reach the stars, then don’t track down The Galaxy Game – head first for The Best of All Possible Worlds, which is what I aim to do.

Carousel Sun (Carousel Tides Series Book 2)
Carousel Sun (Carousel Tides Series Book 2)
Price: £6.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Carousel Sun shines, 25 July 2015
This book immediately picks up where the first book left off, which means the pace continues. Though if you are expecting to be whirled up into a maelstrom of non-stop action, then you need to simmer down. Lee manages to pull off the really neat trick of giving us a ringside seat into Kate’s daily life without it seeming remotely boring. We get to know what she eats, how she feels about the other residents, how well she sleeps, the weather, what her work routine is… And her feelings about Brogan. As well as gaining a fascinating insight into the struggles of a small tourist town on the Maine coast.

Why do I end up reading this apparently mundane routine in greedy vociferous gulps? Because entwined in Kate’s daily life are shafts of the paranormal activity that flitters just under the surface. It is beautifully done. For my money, no one else writes paranormal fantasy quite like Lee. The closest I can think of is Modesitt’s wonderful series, The Ghosts of Columbia, which is him at his awesome best in my opinion. As she narrates all the normal, everyday stuff happening in her life, the struggle with the darker forces surrounding Archer’s Beach and the political fallout regarding the other realms on the doorstep unfold. Interleaving the everyday in amongst the fantastic so completely produces a lovely fey quality to the Maine landscape.

I’ve never been there, but Lee’s world sings off the page. So sharply depicted, I can taste the salt tang and smell the coffee. The consequence is that when things do kick off, there is a real sense of shock. Lee is in complete control of the narrative, so the story comes to satisfactory conclusion, while leaving a couple of plotpoints dangling for the next slice of paranormal oddness to unfold in Archer’s Beach.

Any niggles? Hm – just one… the book isn’t all that long. And I came to the end of it with a real sense of loss. I could have read more of Lee’s magical world – in fact I could have read it all day. And that’s it, really. This is a gem. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, go looking for Carousel Tides. This really is a special treat for those of you who like your fiction laced with magic.

Two Weeks' Notice (Revivalist Book 2)
Two Weeks' Notice (Revivalist Book 2)
Price: £5.63

4.0 out of 5 stars Don't leave this undead unread, 25 July 2015
After dying and being revived with the experimental drug Returné, Bryn Davis is theoretically free to live her unlife – with regular doses to keep her going. But Bryn knows that the government has every intention of keeping a tight lid on Pharmadene’s life-altering discovery, no matter the cost.

Thankfully, some things have changed for the better; her job at the rechristened Davis Funeral Home is keeping her busy and her fragile romance with Patrick McCallister is blossoming – thanks in part to their combined efforts in forming a support group for Returné addicts. But when some of the group members suddenly disappear, Bryn is called in to find out what is going on – and suddenly her life is once more turned inside out…

That is most of the blurb. I hadn’t read the first book, Working Stiff, but Caine is far too an experienced and canny a writer to lose readers like me who still insist on picking up mid-series books, so it wasn’t a major problem. I soon came up to speed as slices of necessary information interleaved the action. For the more squeamish among you, I’d like to reassure you that although this is a zombie-chick book, stomach-churning descriptions of rotting corpses are kept to a minimum.

Which doesn’t mean that it’s all sweetness and light – it isn’t. There is a torture scene where the torturer waves a spoon threateningly near the victim’s eyes and mentions how she doesn’t have to hold back. And then we cut to the aftermath. Leaving the reader to join the dots and realise the full horror of being subjected to an extraordinarily painful procedure – then left to regenerate, before having to relive the ordeal all over again.

The pacing in places is a tad uneven, and the story did take a while to get going – which those of you familiar with Caine’s other work, will know is uncharacteristic. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker – I liked Bryn and enjoyed the premise far too much to be remotely tempted to abandon this entertaining book.

Caine brought the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion – while leaving a particular plotpoint regarding Bryn’s relationship with Patrick at an intriguing impasse. So I’ll be looking out for the next book in the series called, Terminated, and if you enjoyed Caine’s other series but haven’t yet given this one a go, then track it down. It’s worth it.

Ghost Ship (Liaden Universe Novels)
Ghost Ship (Liaden Universe Novels)
by Sharon Lee
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Space opera at its best, 25 July 2015
What this smart, enjoyable space opera manages to do is give a real slice of the gaps opening up in humanity when the diaspora are now scattered across planets. Theo is more conscious of this than most as she has a Liaden, ex-pilot for a father and a high-ranking academic mother from the risk-averse planet of Delgado, where she was brought up and in constant trouble for her clumsy, apparently reckless behaviour. She has negotiated her tricky upbringing, and successfully trained as a pilot.

Now she is confronted with making her own way in the world, but rapidly is sucked into the machinations of her father’s family whose sudden banishment from one planet and resettlement on another also impacts on her. Though she has other concerns… like the fact that an Old Technology fully sentient warship has imprinted her has part of its crew and is stalking her.

Lee and Miller plunge you into the heart of the story with the minimum of exposition and allow their characters to do the talking for them – it’s a far harder trick than they make it look. Witness all the promising science fiction tales silted up with pages and pages of description. You won’t be getting that with Lee and Miller.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on to keep the little grey cells ticking over though. While there is a fair amount of humour in the tussles between Theo and Bechimo, the sentient ship, Theo is also scaldingly conscious she is dealing with a scarily dangerous entity capable of creating havoc. Apart from anything else, this ghost ship appears to have mastered the knack of moving outside the recognised routes and jump waypoints…

Any grizzles? Nope. I’m really enjoying this series and think it should be far better known than it is. Anyone who enjoys Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series is likely to find the Liaden Universe world an engrossing read. Baen have now thoughtfully released the earlier novels in omnibus editions – and once I’ve completed Theo Waitley’s journey to date, I’m going to hunt these down. This world is addictive.

Othella (Arcadian Heights Book 1)
Othella (Arcadian Heights Book 1)
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Rip-roaring, enjoyable read, 25 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Georgette and Marco are the two main protagonists and we are in their viewpoint most often, along with the major antagonist, Quentin. And when Marco discovers exactly what has been going on at Arcadian Heights, he hires Georgette to start digging for further information, as he struggles to come to terms with what has been done to his beloved daughter – along with hundreds of other bright, creative people.

Knite has a punchy, readable writing style that scooped me up and swept me along from the first page. Action-packed and full of incident, there is nevertheless an interesting conundrum he poses regarding the moral dilemmas in such an extreme situation. Quentin – the main antagonist – is not just some two-dimensional hate figure. In many ways, he is something of a mirror figure to Marco, who is also capable of ruthlessly using other people to achieve his own objectives. He is also utterly convinced that Arcadian Heights is Humanity’s only hope for survival – and if he is right, then surely securing this single bulwark against our species’ impending doom, even if the cost is heartbreakingly high.

The narrative timeline dots around, often jumping back to fill in the background in the viewpoint of the main characters so you do need to pay attention. But as Knite clearly indicates the changes in viewpoint and time, it isn’t too difficult to follow. While the overall story arc soon became apparent, there are all sorts of twisty little surprises that kept me engrossed and engaged in the book.

Any niggles? All the main characters seem to have an insanely high tolerance to shock, pain and major injuries – to the extent that I found myself wondering in the middle of the action whether it was credible to keep functioning with the level of damage they sustain. However, the same can be said for many other action adventures so it isn’t a dealbreaker – and I could visualise this book being made into a successful and entertaining film. If you like your action fast and furious, set in an intriguing if bleak future scenario, then give this one a go. I’ll guarantee an incident-packed ride that raises some interesting moral issues along the way.

The Future Falls: An Enchantment Emporium Novel (The Enchantment Emporium Book 3)
The Future Falls: An Enchantment Emporium Novel (The Enchantment Emporium Book 3)
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Gale goodness just goes on getting better, 25 July 2015
Big hefty stuff goes on within the Gale family – stuff that would probably very much interest social services if they got to hear of it, as sex is a very useful conduit for accessing magical power within family members. However, while Ritual and the aunts’ enthusiastic sexual tastes are regularly alluded to, Huff relies on our imaginations to join the dots. So when a planet-killing asteroid is revealed far too late for NASA to do anything about it and the Gale family get to hear of it, the life and death struggles to find some kind of solution that doesn’t include wiping out the majority of humanity (that the Gale family will survive is a given, now they can take avoiding action) is handled with a low-key intensity that nevertheless had me reading far into the night to discover what would happen next.

I really enjoy Charlie’s character. She is a musician, who channels a lot of her significant magical strength through various soundtracks. As something of a misfit, she has access to the Wild magic, like Aunt Catherine, who left the Enchantment Emporium to Allie in the first book. She is also very attracted to seventeen-year-old Jack, who is attracted back. But family rules preclude any kind of relationship outside of Ritual between them because the age gap is too wide. Given the way sex is used within the Family, it isn’t spelt out exactly why such a rule is written in stone, but I’m sure readers can work out why it’s such a good idea to protect younger family members in this way. Which is when the ironic understatement running through the book becomes really effective. Charlie is all too well aware that thwarted love is a cliché, and her attempts to try and live with the fact that she and Jack won’t ever get a chance to be a couple gain real poignancy and emotional punch because she isn’t sobbing and moping about it. In fact, Huff manages to get a fair amount of wry humour out of the situation, when it becomes common knowledge throughout the Gale family.

And, for me, it is the backdrop of this vividly powerful family that raises this accomplished read from a really enjoyable series to outstanding. The Gale family is run by the aunts, who gain power through their sexual maturation after producing children – preferably girls. For Gale boys and men who are powerful enough to become sorcerers are killed before they can do too much damage. The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are.

If you enjoy well-written urban fantasy with a grown-up spin on it, then give this series a go. And yes – jump in at The Future Falls if you must. Huff has ensured you won’t flounder too much if you read these out of order, but I do advise to get the very best out of this series, you start at the first book. As for me, despite having more books to read than I know what to do with – I’m now waiting impatiently for the next slice of Gale goodness…

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