Have Book, Will Read #4

Summer means school holidays and a lot going on. Routines get turned upside down and appropriate bedtimes for children become something mythical; you’re sure they’re supposed to exist, but when you’re only halfway through introducing the kids to T2: Judgment Day at 10pm they’re clearly not going to be sleeping anytime soon.

With all this, I’ve been reading a lot less than usual. I’ve temporarily traded my fave pastime for snatching episodes of Daredevil and Orphan Black in between playing chauffeur and battling the weeds in the backyard. But with an upcoming international trip promising lots of in-transit hanging around, I’ll be back with my head in the words pretty soon.

Recent Reads: Blades and Bolt Cutters…

At the time of last month’s book report I had just started Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, a cyborg Cinderella tale in a futuristic setting. This was a fun read, and the protagonist, grease-stained mechanic Cinder, is my kind of girl. She knows she’s been dealt a bad hand in life, but she keeps her chin up and never backs down. And she’s never, ever afraid to get dirty. The love interest, Prince Kai, is a genuinely nice guy, which is refreshing, since so often it seems like you want to shake the female character and say, “What were you thinking?”

My only quibble with the story is that Meyer gives away her main plot twist far too easily. No spoilers, but by the time I was a quarter-way into the story I had already figured out which way the wind was blowing.

Another book on my list was Throne of Glass, a YA fantasy by Sarah J. Maas. Interestingly enough, this is also based loosely on Cinderella, although this time the protagonist Celaena Sardothien is an assassin, tasked with beating out a number of vicious competitors for the title of King’s Champion.

Celaena’s character was deliciously feral, a little wildcat pacing her gilded cage. There were enough twists and turns to keep me on my feet and Maas does a great job of delicate foreshadowing so that when events take place the reader feels vindicated, rather than led. Good summer fun.

Now reading: Divine magic.

I’ve been too crazy busy to want to invest my mind in something new, so I’ve been re-reading Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series in preparation for his upcoming sixth novel, Veiled. Verus is a Diviner, a mage who can walk the paths of the future. Jacka’s work is wonderful, and I just love his main character. If you’re an urban fantasy fan and are into the likes of Harry Dresden, you need to try Jacka.

To Read: Do androids dream of alien war?

On my immediate to-read list, waiting oh-so-patiently on my kindle, are Beautiful Intelligence by Stephen Palmer and The Last War, by Alex Davis.

The first takes us into Earth’s future, and the race to create a sentient machine. I haven’t had a chance to read any of Stephen’s work yet, so I’m looking forward to this one, his most recent release.

Also hot off the press, The Last War is the first novel in Alex Davis’ Noukari Trilogy, which delves the growing rift among the alien Noukari people as their civilization develops and they discover their telepathic abilities.

For later on in summer, I have a couple of upcoming releases on the horizon. The end of July (for the USA) brings us the concluding title in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, Half a War. The first two were excellent, and I’m excited to see how he’s going to end the trials of Yarvi and co. The other soon-to-be is Benedict Jacka’s aforementioned Veiled, out in August.

A pretty diverse line-up, but hey, it’s summer, and those long nights deserve a veritable fruity cocktail with teeny-weeny umbrella’s worth of words.

So here’s to summer. And tiny umbrellas.

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne

*Gush Warning*

Extreme gushing is about to begin. If allergic to gush, step away from this blog post right now or deploy precautionary measures.

Right, well now that’s out of the way, I can begin. If you’ve had a peek at this blog before, you may have noticed I’m a prolific and enthusiastic reader (and re-reader) of all things fantasy, with the odd foray into science fictiony type stuff. In a nutshell, I read a lot. I don’t mention more than a fraction of it here, because otherwise you’d all be exhausted. And in need of chocolate. And I’m a bit stingy about handing out my chocolate rations willy-nilly.

I’m easily pleased and happily charmed, so it’s not too hard to get on my five-star side when it comes to books. But every now and then I read something that knocks my flip-flops off in a big way and makes me want to stand at street corners and shout to the masses. Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series was one of these.

Tom had been on my to-read list for a while, so when I won a book – any book – in a flash fiction competition I asked for The City’s Son. By the end of the first page I was smitten. By the time I was halfway through I had ordered the second and third in the trilogy. Tom’s work is a headlong, gritty rush through London’s urban tangle, a world where scaffolding wolves, mirror people, and streetlight denizens dance and battle with the pavement-skinned son of the city’s goddess, and the graffiti artist he sweeps along in his wake.

As artist and school troublemaker Beth Bradley becomes more and more besotted with the hidden London she’s introduced to by goddess Mater Viae’s son, Filius, she’s drawn into the thick of his war against the Demolition God, Reach. Her gradual descent into Fil’s world and her absorption by the city closely mirrored my own experience as a reader, sinking deeper and deeper until I neither could nor wanted to get out.

The second book, The Glass Republic, once again surprises and enchants by pulling us through the looking glass into a different and distorted London, London-Under-Glass. Here, reflections are alive and rule by a bizarre assortment of regulations which at first make no sense at all to Beth’s best friend, poet Pavra ‘Pen’ Khan. Soon Pen finds herself in the thick of a bitterly cruel struggle, a fight that may already have claimed the mirror-sister she has journeyed to find.

In the trilogy’s conclusion, Our Lady of the Streets, we return to the London of the first book, but Tom yet again twists the tale brilliantly and serves us an utterly new city, one which contorts and warps and morphs until it is an unrecognizable warzone. Because Mater Viae has returned from London-Under-Glass and she is not a happy camper. Beth, Pen, and all their allies dig to the very depths of their ingenuity and endurance as they attempt to stop her from spreading her sick dominium far beyond London’s borders.

Why did I love this series so much? Perhaps for the freshness, and the strange menagerie of wild and wonderful urban creatures Tom serves us up. Perhaps for the characters, stubborn and proud, and fiercely devoted to each other and the causes they believe in. Or maybe because I have a sneaking suspicion that London will have changed so much since I last lived there, in the early 90’s, that it would be a whole London-Under-Glass if I visited now.

One thing I am sure of: The Skyscraper Throne is a trilogy well worth reading, and I for one will be keeping a sharp eye out for whatever Tom brings us in the future.

pollock

Look at these beauties… Love the covers!

Have Book, Will Read #3

I go through phases with reading. I always have a book handy, but while sometimes I’m just nibbling politely, at other times I’m wildly stuffing my brain with anything covered in words and dipped in chocolate. Well, maybe not the chocolate; I prefer to send that directly to my mouth.

Anyway, you get the point, right? I’ve been reading a lot lately. So I’m going to be a little picky-choosy here, as there’s no way you want to know about everything I’ve been dabbling in. Like my Southern Vampire Mysteries re-read binge. And you should probably put that chocolate somewhere I can’t see. Just in case.

Recent Reads: Post-war, post-apocalypse, post-disaster… I’m sensing a theme here.

First up, a couple of books I devoured back-to-back and which share a certain similarity. Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead is the first in his Craft Sequence and a lot of fun. Part mystery, part court procedural, all wrapped up in a lovely fantasy package with mages, gargoyles and living gods, this was a nicely paced and tightly plotted read.

Max’s book went very well with Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs, in which old gods and old magic lurk just below the surface of a murder mystery, waiting for the plot to slowly scratch the paint away and reveal the shimmering uncertainty of Things That Should Not Be Mentioned. Best of all, and a lovely surprise, was the protagonist Shara: intelligent and well-read, she is neither powerful mage nor warrior girl. Instead, she relies on information, brains and planning to get her job done.

Over the past month I finally got around to reading the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, a promise to my daughter. I’d already watched the movie, which is tightly aligned with the first book, so no big surprises there except that the book takes the story just that little shade of deeper and darker that it needed. The second novel, Insurgent, was a little repetitive, to be honest, and could have done with some new settings thrown in. But I’m glad I stuck with it as I enjoyed the last one in the series, Allegiant.

Another YA read I jumped into was the Maze Runner series by James Dashner. My daughter (yes, the same 10-year-old who made me read Divergent) tore through this, and as we’d watched the movie I thought I’d see what it was all about. I ended up reading this and the following two books, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, all in one go. A fun read of the fast-and-furious variety.

Last on my list is Mark Lawrence’s The Liar’s Key, second in his Red Queen’s War trilogy. It’s no secret that I love Mark’s books; he writes compelling characters and Prince Jalan is a delight to follow as he’s dragged somewhat unwillingly all the way up and down the Broken Empire by Snorri the Viking.

Those who’ve read the Thorns trilogy will enjoy the little cross-references, but you don’t need to know all about Jorg Ancrath to appreciate Jalan’s often hilarious tales. Okay, so the humor is a little on the black side, but Jal is a character worth sticking along with for the ride. And Mark’s often poetic prose is delicious. After all, how many authors could make the call of nature sound so pretty? “Beneath the splash of borrowed ale lay the slap of waves against the harbor wall…”

Now reading: Grease and Glass.

I’m right at the end of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son, first of his Skyscraper Throne series, and I just keep slapping myself for not having read this sooner. It’s a fabulously grubby fantasy (I’m talking grubby of the dirt, rubbish, oil and broken glass variety, so get your mind out of the gutter!) with some truly great characters, and I’m loving it to the moon and back.

I’m also a few pages into Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which the nice lady at my local Barnes and Nobel raves about. It was on the summer reading challenge list at the local library, so as the kids picked it up I thought I’d take a peek. The premise sounds good: Cinderella-based story in a futuristic setting with a cyborg as the main character. I’m not far enough into it yet to get a feel for the book, though, so comments will have to wait. Also, my daughter snagged it before I got properly started, so she gets first dibs.

To Read: It’s all about that glass…

I really, really want to read the sequels in Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series, The Glass Republic and Our Lady of the Streets (which I’ve just ordered), so they get to wriggle on to my list and jump all the way to the top.

Also in the next-up stack is Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, a YA fantasy novel recommended by a friend. The last YA she suggested became a firm favorite (the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima – thanks Anna!) so I’m looking forward to this one.

And you, read anything good lately? I’m always on the prowl for suggestions. After all, I can always fit in a few more words. And chocolate, there’s always room for chocolate.

Have Book, Will Read #2

It’s been a while since the last reading log, and it’s an icky, sticky, wet and wild sort of day outside, so naturally my mind turns to tea and books. While I can’t really justify curling up to read (I have a translation to work on, deadline looming!), I can certainly spare a moment to at least think about reading. Which is very nearly almost the next best thing. Soooo…

Recent Reads: Odd places and alternate settings. And no magic, for once, or does prophecy count?

First up was Susan Boulton’s debut Oracle, a gaslight fantasy novel. Now, I hadn’t read any gaslight before, so this was an interesting ride. I was immediately smitten by Susan’s prose and her character Claire/Oracle. As Oracle, the character blurts out seemingly random snippets of prophecy at deliciously inappropriate moments, and as Claire she struggles to reclaim her past and come to grips with her two sides.

Oracle centers around prophecy, but not the well-ordered prophecy we often see in fantasy. Instead, the messages are disjointed, confusing, often appearing absolutely useless and bizarre. I found myself thinking, over and over, this is what prophecy should look like. Something strange and alien that makes no immediate sense, not even to the one who spouts it.

The plot had lots of twists and turns and a really neat setting. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for future novels by the author.

Another great book I read recently was Elizabeth Fama’s Plus One. I was already acquainted with Elizabeth’s work through her nicely spooky mermaid story Monstrous Beauty, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to it!

Plus One is set within an alternate history where, after the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the USA was divided between night dwellers (called Smudges) and day dwellers (Rays). The setting is fabulous, and this fast-paced thriller is also a beautiful love story.

Main character Soleil Le Coeur is feisty and driven, and the flashbacks woven into the plot do a great job of coloring in her character. It was a quick read (mostly because I couldn’t put it down!) and it’s a pretty accessible YA novel; my preteen is currently devouring it, entranced.

If you want a taste of the worldbuilding, you can read the prequel short story Noma Girl on Tor.com.

Now Reading: I finally got around to Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, which I mentioned in my last book log. Life and all that jazz means that lately my reading has been patchy at best, and all mixed up and back to front. However, I’m really glad that I’m finally reading the sequel to The Emperor’s Blades.

So far, so good; Brian does a great job of easing readers back into his world and reintroducing characters and settings without spelling things out too much. I really like the direction that Adare’s arc is taking her, and I’d missed reading about Valyn’s Kettral wing (there is nothing more awesome than giant battle birds!), although I think Kaden is still my favorite character. Still waters.

I think the beauty of Brian’s work lies in his characters. Yes, his worldbuilding is lovely and highly detailed. But it’s through the three very different siblings – different in personality as well as made different by the hands life has dealt them – that he leads us along the crisscrossing paths of his plot. And this threefold story strand works very nicely indeed.

To Read: Too many words, not enough hours of the day…

My current book pile is getting a little ridiculous. I’m not even talking about the to-read list I keep on my phone. I’m talking about actual physical books sitting on my coffee table. Or in my kindle.

First on the list is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I’ve heard so much about. Ann gets first dibs on the reading front because this one’s a library book so reasons.

(An aside: much as I’d love to support every single author out there by buying their books, I just can’t afford to. I do buy a lot, more than I should, really. But I’m lucky to have a great library system I can dip into at the same time.)

Anyway, once I’m done with that, next on my list is Peter V. Brett’s The Skull Throne. I read all of his Demon Cycle books pretty much as soon as they came out, so I almost can’t believe I haven’t so much as peeked in this one yet! But that’s okay; I shall continue to savor the anticipation as I stare at the great cover with Renna on it. I like Renna, and I’m so glad she gets a little more of the spotlight this time.

Third on my list (told you it was a pile!) is Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, which I picked up at Boskone in February and haven’t had a chance to even open yet. His world sounds really interesting and this looks like one I’m going to enjoy.

Last up (and cheating, really, because it’s a three-fer) is Veronica Roth‘s Divergent trilogy. My daughter (the same ten-year-old who’s reading Plus One) read the novels and loved them so much she wants to share them with me. Which is pretty darn cool. So I promised her I’d read them so we can talk about the books. Kind of like a mother-daughter book club.

My kid rocks.

Abendau’s Heir

Anyone who knows me, knows that lately I’ve been enthusing all over Twitter, Facebook and the Chrons (and yes, this blog too) about Jo Zebedee’s debut space opera Abendau’s Heir, Book 1 of the Inheritance Trilogy.

I’m always happy to support my fellow writers, especially those who are just starting out, but this one is special. Not just because it’s a very good book (which it is) but because I was lucky enough to have been one of Jo’s beta readers, way in the back and beyond when I was still learning what beta readers were supposed to do (and making quite a hash of it, most likely).

So when I picked up my digital copy of Abendau (physical copy should be landing in Northern Ireland today for Jo to sign!) I was understandably awestruck. This is the second published book I’ve had the chance to beta read (the first was Emma Jane’s beautifully spooky romance Shuttered), and since I already knew the basics of the story, what an experience to be able to sit back and enjoy the storytelling itself, marveling at the polished product.

From Amazon: Kare’s seen planets destroyed by the relentless expansion of his mother’s empire. Children killed. His own family murdered. With her power to manipulate minds she may be invincible. 

Only he has the power to stop her. Kare must either face the horrifying future his father foretold for him, or allow the sacrifice of millions of people to his mother’s ambition. But in opposing her, he risks everything: his friends, his loved ones… even his sanity.

Sounds dark? Well, yes it is rather. But needfully dark, not dark for the sake of shock-value bleakness. Because sometimes stories need to tread down the shadowed paths and lead us into horrible places and terrible consequences.

In Abendau’s Heir, Jo addresses something a lot of us have probably often wondered about: the chosen one trope and what it actually means to be that chosen one. I mean, really? How many of us would actually want that burden thrust upon us, and if we did, how would we deal with it?

She talks about that in this rather nice interview on Nathan Hystad‘s blog, and again on SFF World.

Abendau’s Heir is a story that covers a lot of time; it starts with the tale of Ealyn Varnon and then switches to his son Kare, spanning some twenty-odd years in the process. We have glimpses of a young Kare, on the run from the Empress with his father and twin sister, then later a teenage Kare who we then get to watch grow up. Yet all this jumping around in time doesn’t feel awkward, it flows smoothly from one scene to the next and helps us understand how Kare becomes the man he is, and why he makes the choices that he does.

I don’t read a lot of SF, being more of a fantasy girl myself. But although Abendau’s Heir is set in a vast, beautifully developed space scenario, this isn’t really about space, or space battles, or planetary landings. It’s about people: shy, frightened, happy, sad, troubled, awkward and just plain nasty people. And Jo does this very well indeed.

I’m looking forward to Book 2, which I haven’t read so it will be a pleasant surprise (and if anyone tries to spoiler it I shall stick my fingers in my ears and sing la-la-la-la-la). But more than that; with Abendau’s Heir, Jo has shown herself to be a star on the rise. I know she has a myriad of different projects underway, and I’ll be watching excitedly to see what she comes up with next.

abendau

Have Book, Will Read #1

So, this is something new I thought I’d try out. A reading log! I’ll try to do sporadically regular (is that a thing? Can it be a thing? Please?) versions, depending on how many books I’ve eaten for breakfast each month.

Recent Reads: Lately life has been all about Vikings and the Vikingesque. But that’s all good and fine because I do loves me some decent weaponry action.

First up was Blood Will Follow, Book 2 in Snorri Kristjánsson‘s Valhalla Saga. It was great to dive back into the world of the Norse gods and meet up again with Ulfar and Audun, the Riggs and Murtaugh of the North. In this sequel to Swords of Good Men (such awesome titles!) Kristjánsson gives us a deeper look at the threads entangling his blood-drenched heroes and the puppet-masters who would shape their destiny.

Next, another sequel, Half the World. This is Book 2 in Joe Abercrombie‘s Shattered Sea trilogy, told this time from the perspective of warrior-girl Thorn and her former training partner and now oar-mate Brand. We still get to keep Yarvi, but this time we see him through other’s eyes, an interesting plot device as it puts readers in a position where they know more than the main characters. Thorn and Brand are fantastic creations and a great addition to the tale.

Now Reading: Magic, math and demons, oh my!

I recently discovered the delights of Charles Stross‘s Laundry Files, and am now devouring the second in the series (another book 2; sensing a theme here!). So far, The Jennifer Morgue is a fast-paced and fun read. Good stuff.

To Read: A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

First up, and burning a hole in my Kindle, is Book 2 (heh, what do you know? Another second…) in Brian Staveley‘s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, The Providence of Fire. I thoroughly enjoyed his first novel, The Emperor’s Blades, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Also on my list is Jo Zebedee‘s debut, the first in her space opera Inheritance Trilogy, Abendau’s Heir. Abendau’s release isn’t due until the very end of the month, but I’m very excited for this one as I was lucky enough to be an enthusiastic (if not very competent) beta reader for Jo. I know Abendau has been through a lot of edits since then, so I’m curious to see what the final result is. Bring on those sexy space pilots! (And, er, all the suffering and devastation too, of course.)

When Reason Breaks

Yesterday was the book birthday of my writing buddy Cindy Rodriguez. When Reason Breaks is a beautifully written contemporary YA about teenage depression.

Cindy’s done a lovely job of entwining the subject with the work and life of poet Emily Dickinson, and it’s an eye-opening read (for me, at least) on how quiet depression can be. As a mum to two preteens, it was kind of scary.

Anyhow, Cindy wrote a very sweet blog piece on the publishing process, from writing the MS, to getting signed on by her agent, all the way through to seeing it on the shelves of the bookstore for the first time.

Check it out! And then go buy the book. Also, buy kleenex. Lots and lots of kleenex.

When Reason Breaks