Thursday, 7 January 2021

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Book Title: Left Handed Booksellers of London
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn't get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan's search for her father begins with her mother's possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan's. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

What did I think?

Reading The Left-Handed Booksellers of London was probably some of the most fun I had throughout 2020. It didn't turn into one my favourite books, but it let me escape the real world and fly away into an alternative London.

This book is good, light-hearted fun with plenty of humour, and likeable protagonists. It's easy entertainment, basically written for a year where everything is so terrible all you want to do is give gifts to your animal neighbours living on an island inside your Switch.

Don't expect a lot of depth from the story, or well-developed characters, although the world-building is great, and I really enjoyed the premise of left-handed and right-handed booksellers. (The left-handed ones fight, while the right-handed ones think.)

Susan, the protagonist, never really grows into a fully fleshed out character, and I never felt like I really got to know her, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment.

This is only my second Garth Nix novel. and I didn't get along with Angel Mage despite being intrigued by the premise. So, really, I should say this is my first Garth Nix novel. Sabriel is waiting on my shelf, and I'm quite excited to pick it up after having read this.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Book Title: Amari and the Night Brothers
Author: B.B. Alson
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Blog Tour

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Amari Peters knows three things.
Her big brother Quinton has gone missing.
No one will talk about it.
His mysterious job holds the secret.
So when Amari gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon.
Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous.
With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

What did I think?

Just look at this gorgeous cover.

This MG novel is incredibly well written and easy to read. Alston nailed Amari's voice and made her an incredibly funny, yet empathic character. He created a magical journey, one that I hope many young readers will embark on.

Amari is a likeable protagonist. Most readers will find something of themselves in her, whether it be her curiosity, her strength, or her determination. She's the kind of protagonist I'd like my son or daughter (if I had any children) to root for. Amari is a fighter, independent, and determined to prove herself.

Elsie, her new best friend, quickly turned into my favourite character. Possibly because she's supposed to turn into a fire-breathing dargon.

The plot is tight and not a word is wasted. And the magic is fun. So much fun and also bizarre in places. Alston shows off his incredible imagination on every page.

The main themes are standing up for yourself (including prejudice) and camaraderie. I really enjoyed the friendships in this book.

The story is filled with twists and surprises and all of them are beautifully foreshadowed. Personally, I did see the big twist coming, but that's hardly a fair comment from a seasoned fantasy reader like myself.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed every minute of this brilliant romp.

To summarise: This explosive start to a new middle grade fantasy series is absolutely action-packed and filled with a cast of brilliant characters. I highly recommend this gem to every MG fan.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Every Sky A Grave by Jay Posey

Book Title: Every Sky A Grave
Author: Jay Posey
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Mankind has spread out and conquered the galaxy by mastering the fundamental language of the universe. With the right training, the right application of words, truth itself can be rearranged. Language is literally power.
Peace reigns now. Order reigns.
For if a planet deviates too far from what the authorities plan, an agent is sent out to correct that. To quietly and with great skill, end that world.
One such agent is Elyth – a true believer.
But on a clandestine mission to stop an uprising before it can truly begin, Elyth comes to realise she hasn’t been told the whole truth herself. There’s so much she doesn’t know. How can there be people whose truth is different to that of the authorities?
Elyth’s faith in the powers that be is shaken just when she needs it most. While on her mission, a dark and unknown presence makes itself known at the edges of the galaxy – and it cannot be controlled, for nobody knows its name.

What did I think?

Every Sky a Grave was my first time reading anything by Jay Posey. The fact that language is power in this world won me over. The cover is beautiful, and the publicist said it's perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence. (Although I must admit that I don't really see the similarities, apart from maybe the prose.)

Posey is a skilled writer. In fact, the prose is what I liked most about this book. At times, it was like reading poetry.

The world building is intricate and creative and reminded me of the epic scope of Alastair Reynold's House of Sun. 

The protagonist is a smart, knowledgeable and curious woman. She's intelligent and I quickly found myself rooting for her. She's fiercely independent, loyal at first but grows into her own as the plot progresses.

Unfortunately, I thought the middle dragged somewhat, and I struggled coming back to this book.

The ending, however, is strong and I'm definitely interested in reading the sequel.

This is an intriguing science fiction novel for fans of Alastair Reynolds who don't mind a slow middle.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book Title: Doors of Eden
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Four years ago, two girls went looking for monsters on Bodmin Moor. Only one came back.
Lee thought she’d lost Mal, but now she’s miraculously returned. But what happened that day on the moors? And where has she been all this time? Mal’s reappearance hasn’t gone unnoticed by MI5 officers either, and Lee isn’t the only one with questions.
Julian Sabreur is investigating an attack on top physicist Kay Amal Khan. This leads Julian to clash with agents of an unknown power – and they may or may not be human. His only clue is grainy footage, showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.
Dr Khan’s research was theoretical; then she found cracks between our world and parallel Earths. Now these cracks are widening, revealing extraordinary creatures. And as the doors crash open, anything could come through.

What did I think?
Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my must-buy authors. He effortlessly moves between science fiction and fantasy, and he makes it look easy. His vast imagination is mindblowing, and his ideas always turn into fascinating thought experiments.

Unlike Children of Time, Doors of Eden probably isn't considered hard science fiction since it deals with parallel worlds and some of what slips through the cracks and into our world is beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Those familiar with Tchaikovsky's work won't be surprised to hear that there's an immense amount of evolutionary biology within these pages. And some of the creatures have far too many legs.

Let me be blunt: if evolutionary speculation and the analysis of how life on our world could have evolved differently isn't your jam, then this book is not for you. If, however, you enjoy evolutionary thought experiments and always wanted to know what the world would look like if there were more lemurs or giant centipedes, then pick Doors of Eden up right now!

Tchaikovsky delivers a very diverse cast. I always enjoy reading about lesbian and trans characters that feel fleshed out and three-dimensional.

I'd argue that Doors of Eden is possibly a bit on the nose politically. Tchaikovsky's worldviews basically drip from the pages, but I'd say the same is true for Children of Time and its sequel.

While the plot and especially the many parallel worlds are complex, Doors of Eden never feels overwhelming. My knowledge of science is a tad lacking to say the least, yet Tchaikovsky never lost me. It's a compelling read and despite its size I read it in two days because I simply didn't want to put it down.

I recommend this book to everyone who has an interest in parallel worlds and sometimes stands in front of the mirror wondering how different the world might look today if evolution had gone a different way. (Yes, yes, I do that. Poor mirror probably thinks I'm a bit...odd.)

I mean the New Scientist reviewed it and that is not the place I usually look for my next read.

Basically: read this! It's one hell of a ride.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

Book Title: Stormblood
Author: Jeremy Szal
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley and paperback from publisher

Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Plot: Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper, a bio soldier fighting for the intergalactic governing body of Harmony against a brutal invading empire. Now, he fights against the stormtech: the DNA of an extinct alien race Harmony injected into him, altering his body chemistry and making him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. It made him the perfect soldier, but it also opened a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.
But when Harmony tells him that his former ally Reapers are being murdered, Vakov is appalled to discover his estranged brother is likely involved in the killings. They haven’t spoken in years, but Vakov can’t let his brother down, and investigates. But the deeper he goes, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes, and Vakov discovers that the war might not be over after all. It’ll take everything he has to unearth this terrible secret, although doing so might mean betraying his brother. If his own body doesn’t betray him first.
What did I think?

I wanted to read this book because of the themes it tackles.

Firstly, Stormblood talks about drug addiction in an incredibly clever and futuristic way. Stormtech is DNA harvested from an extinct alien race that allows its user to become the perfect soldier, but they pay a price: addiction to aggression and adrenaline.

Secondly, I am a sucker for loyalty, chosen (found) families, and brotherhood. (I also love me some extinct ancient alien race.)

I'm not the biggest fan of military science fiction and prefer space operas to hard SF, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the themes of friendship and brotherhood are far more important to this novel than any of the action scenes. That's not to say there aren't any action scenes. Stormblood offers plenty of incredibly well written action.

And that's probably my only complaint, and also an outright 'it's not you, dear book, it's me,' - I'm not a fan of lengthy action scenes and during certain scenes I was beginning to skim...however, every time I did, Szal almost immediately managed to capture my attention again.

When I read a book, I don't see the scenes played out in my head, so for me it's hard to stay engaged reading fighting scenes. Just tell me who won, okay? Obviously, that's never the book's fault, and I must say Stormblood's action scenes are incredibly lively and well written.

Szal's prose is smooth and his descriptions are vivid. The world is rich and layered. Exploring it reminded me of the times I was playing Mass Effect.

Vakov is a relatable character with a damaging and traumatic past and his voice is unique. I cared for his well being almost from the start. He is witty, sarcastic and clever. An addict fighting his inner demons and riddled with PTSD. I can't think of a more intriguing and interesting protagonist.

Stormblood is a fast-paced debut, set in a vivid world, filled with brotherhood, comradeship, loyalty, and chosen family.

I recommend it to every science fiction fan who is intrigued by the premise. (And why wouldn't you be?)

Friday, 22 May 2020

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Book Title: Wanderers
Author: Chuck Wendig
Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalypse
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ebook & audiobook

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
Read this review by Julie Ann Rea, written for Three Crows Magazine. It's one of our best reviews, and Julie is a lot more eloquent than I am.

Wanderers is a huge book, and you'll see it compared to The Stand everywhere. They do have a lot in common, but Chuck Wendig's approach to a pandemic that'll wipe out humanity is, at least in the beginning, a lot gentler than King's.

This novel has the usual fanatics any fictional apocalypse needs, but it also has heart. A lot of heart. Strong relationships, loyalty, dedication, cooperation. And the science is incredibly well researched and fascinating. (Also a bit terrifying!)

What might put some people off liking Wanderers is how political it is. If you know Chuck Wendig and follow him on Twitter, none of it will come as a surprise, and he doesn't bury his message, doesn't attempt to veil it. It's right there on every page. 

While The Stand offers some biblical themes and, at least in places, a theistic worldview, Wanderers trusts science. Faith is a crutch, something to overcome.

The book is perhaps overly long in places, but if King can bring out an uncut version of The Stand, filled with random scenes and bits that could be (and originally were) cut, then I'm sure we can forgive Wanderers for being slow. Especially in the first half.

I enjoyed the characters and the writing so much that it never bothered me, and I gladly went along for the ride, even if the screaming, murdering, and dying didn't start until halfway through.

Oh and the president sits on her hands and does nothing...sound familiar?

Highly recommended to all fans of the apocalypse who don't shy away from a doorstopper.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

Book Title: Goldilocks
Author: Laura Lam
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.
The team is humanity's last hope for survival, and Valerie has gathered the best women for the mission: an ace pilot who is one of the only astronauts ever to have gone to Mars; a brilliant engineer tasked with keeping the ship fully operational; and an experienced doctor to keep the crew alive. And then there's Naomi Lovelace, Valerie's surrogate daughter and the ship's botanist, who has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity to step out of Valerie's shadow and make a difference.
The problem is that they’re not the authorized crew, even if Valerie was the one to fully plan the voyage. When their mission is stolen from them, they steal the ship bound for the new planet.
But when things start going wrong on board, Naomi begins to suspect that someone is concealing a terrible secret -- and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared.
I got a review copy from NetGalley; this is my honest review. HOWEVER, I'm strongly considering buying it for my partner on Audible. This is exactly the kind of book she reads!

What did I think?

I'm torn somewhere between three and four stars.

The premise is great. Goldilocks is set in the near future in a world that is on the brink of collapse and women are being forced out of the workplace due to conservative governments. So, it comes as no surprise that Valerie steals the spaceship that was supposed to be hers and takes her all female crew into space despite them having been forced out at the last minute.

The theme of the novel is pretty clear, and I'd even go as far as to say say that the author is throwing it in your face: we're destroying our planet (yup) and conservative governments are a threat to civil rights (no kidding?).

While the theme is a bit on the nose, the antagonist, unfortunately, is similar. Just a bit too much; just a touch too ruthless. To the point where I couldn't quite believe anyone in this position could turn out to be quite so monstrous! (You have to be very angry and bitter to go to the lengths the antagonist goes to and I could never root for someone like that.)

Overall, I felt like only one character (Valerie) was truly fleshed out and interesting, and all other characters, even the narrator remained somewhat bland. For a slow-burning book that centered around the characters for at least the first half, they were just a bit too flat.

However, I couldn't stop reading.

The prose is gorgeous, and I didn't want to put the book down; it kept me interested throughout. There's not a dull moment, and I just had to know what happens.

The science aspects were super interesting, and I enjoyed the relationships between the characters. And I must admit, most of the twists and turns managed to surprise me!

Recommended to all science fiction fans who find the blurb intriguing.