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Sarah W

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Valour's Choice: A Confederation Novel
Valour's Choice: A Confederation Novel
by Tanya Huff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valour's Choice, 2 Mar. 2014
I enjoyed Valour’s Choice from the get-go. The Prologue introduces the world quickly and painlessly then we’re straight away introduced to Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr. I loved Kerr; she’s tough, funny, devoted to her people, and not immune to the charms of the di’Kayan. The story proper begins with the morning after the night before. Kerr’s indulged in some post-battle R&R with a nameless di’Kayan, the most sexually adventurous known race and almost irresistible to humans. Certainly Kerr had no intention of resisting this particular one last night, but now duty calls.

What ought to have been a standard debriefing turns into something less welcome and with a few surprises. Kerr is assigned to a diplomatic mission designed to convince the Silsviss to join the Confederation against the Others. She also has a new senior officer to train up with her unique blend of humour and influence. Kerr is anything but thrilled at her new mission but orders are orders.

I enjoyed how the story developed, both the tedium of diplomatic negotiations, especially for a combat unit, and the unscheduled call to arms. The heroic last stand was pretty exciting and I did like the ending - it just confirmed how very excellent Torin Kerr is. The array of alien races is well imagined; I especially liked the slow, smelly, furry Dornagain. Aside from Kerr there are some other great characters; Lt. Jarret, Cri Sawyes, and Haysole all deserve a mention.

I was very impressed with Valour’s Choice and will definitely go on to read more of the series. This edition also has a bonus short story, which was a nice little extra.


Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy Book 1)
Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £0.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cobweb Bride, 28 July 2013
I enjoyed the premise of the story: Death refuses to act in the world anymore until his Cobweb Bride is brought to him. There are several strands to the story, each with their own main character(s), but I think that the main main character is Percy. Percy (or Persephone) is the least favoured child of a peasant family. Each family across the realm must send one daughter to seek Death's palace and present themselves as his Cobweb Bride. Percy volunteers for the task, almost with a sense of a calling, and inadvertently becomes the leader of a small group of girls all undertaking the same perilous journey.

I liked Percy's character very much, as she blossoms into her position of responsibility. I also thought that the Infanta Clara, from another strand of the tale, was an interesting character. She too develops, gaining strength and resolve in all-but-death that she never had in life. The female characters are by far the more intriguing and interesting. Grial, an older woman that helps Percy and her band of brides, left me wanting to know more about her. She certainly has a history and hidden talents.

Although I was happy to read the story it didn't fully captivate me. At times it took too long to go anywhere. The first section has Death visiting four different places to not claim any victims, all of which felt like a very long prologue to me. It does set the four strands of the story up, although one of these doesn't go much further in this book. The writing is very effective and atmospheric, but I felt that I was being held back a bit. Considering the gravity of the situation there is a lack of urgency in the journey part of the story too. Some repetition crept in, such as the mentions of the girls performing their morning bodily functions, which stalled the narrative.

But, the ending is pretty epic and sets up the second book very nicely. Percy and Death's interaction was great. I do think there is some lovely writing in the Cobweb Bride, and the story is worth sticking with. There are some huge unanswered questions to be addressed in the rest of the series.


The Secret Eater (Kenssie Book 1)
The Secret Eater (Kenssie Book 1)
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Eater, 15 July 2013
The Secret Eater is a fun novella that introduces a lot of interesting characters.

Kenssie is a demon. She feeds off the secrets of others. As demons go she's not one of the most important, but even so her powers seem to be especially weak right now. She certainly ought to be capable of hiding herself from a lowly Level One witch. But this one has spotted her, and is able to negate her powers. Something is very wrong; a trip to the Council is Kenssie's first resort.

Rakmanon, Kenssie's master, doesn't hold out much hope of success. The Council aren't in the habit of doing anyone any favours. But, Kenssie might just have found an unlikely ally in Permilia, the Council secretary. Of course, there's convocation and duelling demon masters to deal with first.

I enjoyed this quick read. I thought it had a lot going on and a decent plot, and at the same time laid the groundwork for further short stories or a full-length novel. The hierarchy of the demon world is introduced, with many layers of authority and types. The interaction between the supernatural and everyday world is shown, and the part of the action set in the financial brokers really appealed to me. I'm not entirely sure yet how the demons and witches co-exist; this could be developed in another story. The concepts of demons feeding and thraldom both give lots of scope for further development, as does their ability to evolve (or its opposite). I think The Secret Eater has a lot of potential.

My thanks to the author for sending me an eBook for review.


Newbury & Hobbes - The Executioner's Heart (Newbury & Hobbes 4)
Newbury & Hobbes - The Executioner's Heart (Newbury & Hobbes 4)
by George Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Executioner's Heart, 15 July 2013
The Executioner's Heart is part of the Newbury and Hobbes series, but I wouldn't let that be a barrier to diving right in. I've not read any of the others, as yet, and I had a mighty fine time.

It's 1903. Queen Victoria is still on the throne, a malevolent, semi-human presence powered by a clockwork heart and obsessed with control and power. But a more immediate danger stalks the streets with murderous intent and no concept of mercy. Sir Maurice Newbury and his companion Veronica Hobbes are drawn into a morass of deadly deceit that will test their loyalties and courage.

The book starts at the end of the story, with Veronica cautiously exploring a musty room full of ticking clocks. It's a fool's errand, and Hobbes knows the risk she takes going there alone, but even she's not prepared for the woman with `terrifying black eyes' that confronts her. In a heartbeat Hobbes is bested, and Newbury arrives just a moment too late to save her from her fate.

From the second chapter the narrative moves back one month, and the story begins again to show how it all led to that moment. Sir Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, is investigating a series of brutal murders. The victims are all seemingly unrelated but all met their end in a violent and bloody way, with their chests ripped open and their hearts removed. Bainbridge calls in his old comrade Newbury to try and find out the who and why of the latest slaughter to hit London. Newbury is not on his best form. In his attempts to help and heal Veronica's sister Amelia he is hitting the absinthe and opium hard, and delving deep into the black arts. Amelia's story stems from a previous book, but enough background is given here to understand what is going on. What is abundantly clear is that Newbury would do anything for Hobbes.

As the story moves along suspects emerge, and who to trust becomes a key issue. Prince Albert pays a house call on Newbury to implicate those damnable foreign agents of the Kaiser; the Queen suspects the newly formed Secret Service; Veronica has her doubts about Bainbridge's friend the Professor Archibald Angelchrist; and the Cabal of the Horned Beast are making a nuisance of themselves too. Visions trouble Newbury, and the name The Executioner strikes fear into the hearts of those that hear it. Treachery swirls around the city like fog. At the same time as the plot is unravelling a second story is being told of a twisted, torturous and tragic history. This is as sad as it is chilling.

I was completely into the story the whole way through. I loved the characters and their interactions, and I was not sure who to trust as they all have their own agendas. I liked the names too, Archibald Angelchrist has a bit of sinister edge to it, despite (or because of) the heavenly overtones. The Cabal of the Horned Beast is great, as is the travelling exhibition - Urquart's Monstrous Menageries and Mechanical Wonders. On show in the Crystal Palace this is home to some deeply disturbing attractions and a huge confrontation. Hobbes gets to demonstrate what tough stuff she's made of here. The writing is pacey and really rather good. I thought it flowed well so it was easy to get into and the important bits I needed to know from previous books were handled deftly. The steampunk elements are totally integrated so it is a natural part of the story rather than ever being an add-on. I read it during a couple of slow train journeys and it made the time whizz pass.

Thanks to Titan Books for sending me a copy to review, I'm adding the series to my favourites list!


Zenn Scarlett (Strange Chemistry)
Zenn Scarlett (Strange Chemistry)
by Christian Schoon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.56

4.0 out of 5 stars Space Animals Are Ace, 13 May 2013
Zenn Scarlett has one of the prettiest covers; that sky is all manner of gorgeous oranges, reds, pinks and purples. I really liked this story, and read it in one sitting. Zenn is a studying to be a vet, well an exoveterinarian to be precise. She lives on Mars in the Ciscan Cloister. Times are tough on the red planet, but Zenn has a mission in life and she isn't going to let anything stand in her way.

Mars is a bit of a pariah; Earth cut off supplies and communication some years ago, leaving the Martian settlers to make do and mend the best they can. The terrain in inhospitable, and even the land successfully colonised is now mostly exhausted. The Cloister is slightly removed from the worst of the problems, although they too have financial worries. Zenn is now the only student there, but they do still make some money caring for and boarding animals from all over. However, alien animals are not particularly popular amongst the rest of the colony.

Zenn is preparing for her end of year assessments, but she seems distracted and definitely not on top form. Uncharacteristic mistakes are creeping into her work, with potential devastating consequences. Zenn's not completely convinced the errors are her own, despite the weird moments she's having - can she actually be connecting with the animals is some way? Just when she needs to be most focused, her world is becoming increasingly chaotic and uncertain.

From the brilliant prologue we know that Zenn lost her mother in dramatic circumstances. Her father's inability to deal his with grief has left Zenn to fend for herself emotionally. She keeps others at arm's length, quite successfully until Liam starts helping out around the place. He's from the Town, but appears keen to learn about the animals and how the Cloister works. He also takes a keen interest in Zenn, an interest that she might reciprocate despite herself. There's also Hamish, a giant insectoid, who's learning the ropes too. When the strange stuff starts happening I wasn't sure whether either of them was trustworthy or not, and I was kept guessing until near the end of the story. I liked that uncertainty.

I think I liked the animals best: giant, almost incomprehensibly large, Indra, two-headed dragon- or pterodactyl-like Greater Kiran sunkillers, bad-tempered sandhog. And, best of all, intelligent, hyper-cute rikkaset. I loved them all, although I'm not sure how many of them I could fit into my little house. Zenn's affection and desire to help all the creatures is evident; they are her priority at all times. She is a determined young woman, to the point of pig-headedness. Fortunately she is also brave, a quality she has to draw on as the story progresses. What starts as a little local difficulty looks to be just the tip of the iceberg.

If I have criticism of the book, it is that we are left on a major cliffhanger. I do enjoy reading series, but I thought this could have stood on it's own if it had finished a chapter or two earlier - but still have had plenty of places to go for a second book. That's just my desire to have things sorted out nice and neat though! I enjoyed Zenn Scarlett very much, I thought her world was a good combination of the alien and familiar, and I admired her dedication. I'm looking forward to reading the next Zenn book when it comes out.


Supernatural - Carved in Flesh (Supernatural (Titan Books))
Supernatural - Carved in Flesh (Supernatural (Titan Books))
by Tim Waggoner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Spending Time With the Winchesters, 20 April 2013
I absolutely loved this Supernatural story. It had monsters created from a combination of science and magic, human tragedy, a mad scientist, and some seriously gross bits. We also find out more about Sam and Dean's childhood through a story that echoes their current case. It's set during Season Seven of the TV series, so contains references to the on-going plot.

Carved in Flesh sees the Winchester brothers in Brennan, Ohio - usually a quiet uneventful type of place. Not somewhere you'd expect to find an overly aggressive creature that resembles a dog (or several dogs actually) attacking local residents and leaving behind empty husks. Dean's concerned they are wasting their time chasing after some `Frankenmutt' when the real danger is the Leviathan, and Dick Roman in particular. But, ever the smart guy, Sam reckons they might be on the trail of something new, and therefore of use against their most recent nemesis.

I've read a few Frankenstein-inspired stories recently, so was curious to see where this would take the theme. It combines several strands, including a bereaved doctor, a very old practitioner of the black arts, and some cutting edge medical technology. The dog is just a foretaste of the main event. Sam and Dean have to figure out a way to destroy the revenant creature, an experiment that doesn't go smoothly. Sam sustains an injury, but whether it's that or an increase in his hallucinations, he's definitely not firing on all cylinders. He's majorly sluggish, and keeps glimpsing someone off in the distance. As usual, he keeps his problems to himself, until forced to talk. Will the brothers never learn to share their worries?

Overall, I thought the story was exciting, with some good new creepiness. There are some disgusting scenes, really gross-out, which add to the fun. There's also a whole new level of pathos for the brothers as they revisit their youth; we see the very last shreds of innocence torn from the pair. I'm giving Carved in Flesh a big thumbs-up.


The Rapture of the Nerds
The Rapture of the Nerds
by Cory Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Rapture of the Nerds, 15 April 2013
The Rapture of the Nerds is a tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations. So obviously there was going to be a lot going on between the covers of this book. I'm not convinced I got every joke or all the science, but I really enjoyed hurtling along with Huw as he fell into one disastrous situation after another.

At the end of the 21st century Huw is one of the relatively few humans still living on Earth. He's a self-confessed, and proud, technophobe, happiest throwing pots the old-fashioned way in his 19th century terraced house. He's gone so far as to eschew electricity, although his push bike has a few more features than perhaps strictly necessary. His parents have long uploaded themselves to the cloud, along with most everyone else. Huw's determined to stay where he is, avoiding unnecessary technology as much as possible. He's thrilled to have been selected for tech jury service; not only can he fend off some useless innovation but he also gets to travel to Libya, and he's pretty excited about that.

Unfortunately for Huw, some joker has scrawled a biohazard symbol on his forehead at Sandra's party the night before. At least he hopes it was just a joke, although the itching and shifting symbol leave him a bit perturbed. Anyway, he has to start his trip in full-on biohazard gear, which leaves him none too thrilled. The journey is not exactly plush, the hotel is even worse, and he meets some seriously annoying people. Still, it'll all be worth it once jury service starts - right? It's not long before Huw's paranoia starts to twitch, and the thing about paranoia is that it doesn't mean they are not out to get you. Before long Huw is in deep deep trouble with just about everyone - he's being chased by various 'authorities', 'helped' by an assorted group of people with their own agendas, subject to physical depredations and seriously confused. Oh, and something is after his body. And something else would like his mind.

Huw is thrown from one dire situation to another, frequently captured, desperate, and rarely in charge of his own destiny for more than a moment. Everyone around wants something from him, the best he can do is figure out who is the least likely to kill him at any given time. He spends quite a lot of the book as a passive figure - stuff is done to him - but later on he gets to make some choices for himself. Not that they always work out all that well, but at least he had a go. It seems that he is far more important than he ever thought, the fate of the earth is on him, whether he likes it or not. Mostly he does not.

The book contains lots of ideas, about the future of the planet and humans, technology, alternative consciousness, and loads more. It deals with all these big ideas in a light-hearted, almost farcical way. Anything that can go wrong, does. This could be irritating, but actually I thought it worked. The story just keeps ploughing along at a fair old lick, dragging the reader along with it. I found it very entertaining, and felt an awful lot of sympathy for Huw and his predicament. He is given a proper character, we get to know him pretty well. Most of the other people are either more transient or simply unknowable in their shifting allegiances and priorities. But, even amid all the chaos there is still space for some very human relationships. Huw finds a little romance, and finally deals with his relationship with his parents. All whilst trying to save his home. Can't be bad!


Seal Team 666 (Seal Team 666 1)
Seal Team 666 (Seal Team 666 1)
by Weston Ochse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All Action Demon Hunting, 15 Mar. 2013
I love the premise of Seal Team 666 - a crack squad of Navy Seals hand-picked to fight the forces of darkness. That's the supernatural kind of darkness, proper evil heebeegeebie stuff, demons and spirits and things that go bump in the night.

Jack Walker is still a cadet, hoping to finish the Seal training course in one piece. He's plucked out of training and thrown straight into a very unconventional mission. He has no time to process the peculiarity of it all before he finds himself face to face with a distinctly non-human adversary. But, this is not Jack's first brush with the supernatural.

I enjoyed Jack's story as it was revealed bit by bit. His traumatic childhood experience would be enough to break most people, but Jack is one of the most mentally tough characters I've read. He needs to be because the mission they are on keeps getting darker and more horrific.

What begins as an investigation into a strangely protected sweatshop develops into something much more malevolent and complex involving an ancient and powerful evil. The story opens out layer by bloody layer, with a few twists and shocks along the way. It is a gripping tale that culminates in a dramatic showdown.

I was not so enamoured with all the details about the team's weapons and gadgetry. I know this is entirely down to the fact that I have absolutely no idea about different types of guns, or parachutes, or night vision goggles. I really did like the military structure, team dynamics and bonding, but the kit was less important for me. I'm certain that for lots of people these details would really enhance the story though.

Overall, I thought Seal Team 666 was a good read. It's fun, in a gory kind of way, and I would be tempted to read more about Jack & company.


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