Review

Review: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A Natural History of Dragons is what you get when you take the sort of memoir written by upper-class female explorers of the nineteenth-century, and add dragons. The writing style as well as the world which Isabella inhabits is not our world, but very similar. In fact, if it were not for the various countries named that Isabella visits or knows of, then I would assume it was our world. Although I am an avid reader of epic fantasies, I also really appreciate and enjoy these more ‘subtle’ fantasy tales, where just one element is a little bit different, or there is something extra.

I was completely enthralled from the start of the book. Being a memoir, we learn of some of Isabella’s childhood, namely how she grew to become obsessed with studying dragons. This is, of course, a most unsuitable activity for a lady of her station, but she finds ways around it until it is impossible to stop her pursuing her passion. To be honest, I have to say that I found the sections of the book before her first major expedition to be the most interesting – they built up the world and society, with a social system not that dissimilar from nineteenth-century Britain. I felt more of Isabella’s passion and love for dragons within the first few chapters, than anywhere else in the book.

In terms of Isabella as a character, she was a fun protagonist – I always love to see studious characters who have something they are really passionate about – but she did occasionally have a bit of an ‘I’m not like other girls attitude’, which can be very grating. She also made a few questionable (read: stupid) decisions that seemed a little out of character for someone so intelligent, although I suppose book smart is not street smart… Her husband was a sweetie, and I would have liked to see their relationship develop a little bit more.

Overall, this was a really solid and fun fantasy read. I loved how Isabella followed her interests and her passion for dragons, even though it was entirely improper for a young lady of her standing. Defying all social expectations of her peers, she did not let them stop her or slow her down. What I would have liked was more detailed information about the various dragons – the book title kind of implies that there might be a lot more ‘scientific’ information than there was, but is in fact named after a book that Isabella holds very dear. I did lose focus on the story about two-thirds of the way through, but the beginning was just so wonderful that I felt it made up for it. One more thing though… can we have even more dragons next time?

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Top Lists

Anticipated Releases 2016

2016 looks to be another fabulous year of new releases, and will definitely see plenty of books added to the ‘to read’ pile. Here are some of my most anticipated releases for 2016. Let me know if you’re looking forward to any of these, or if there are others you just can’t wait for!

The Drowning Eyes Ghost Talkers Time Siege

A truly gorgeous looking short story, The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster will be published by Tor this month. I was drawn in by the cover initially, but the description of this fantasy novella sounds amazing. Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal will also be published by Tor, but not until the summer of 2016. An alternate history of World War I, where armies make use of mediums, it sounds enthralling. If you can recall, I shared my review of Time Salvager by Wesley Chu last July, and I absolutely loved it. You can bet I’ll be looking out for the sequel, Time Siege, due in July.

Morningstar A Gathering of Shadows New Pompeii

February still seems far, far too distant: it’s when the conclusion to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Morning Star, will be released. I NEED IT NOW, as does pretty much everyone who read the first two books. And just to torment us further, there have been no ARCs! A Gathering of Shadows is the sequel to V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, which I read, reviewed and loved back in April 2015. I discovered New Pompeii early in 2015, as the blurb was featured in the back of another book. By this point it seemed so far off – in fact it wasn’t even on Goodreads, and I had to add it myself. Now it has a cover and a set publication date of August 2016. It sounds so exciting, and perfect for lovers of history and science fiction.

Truthwitch Age of Myth Dark Run

Okay, so technically Truthwitch by Susan Dennard has already been released, but only just. I’m always on the look out for wonderful sounding new fantasy series, and as I’ve had some good luck with Young Adult ones, this sounds right up my alley. I’ve not read anything by Michael J. Sullivan yet, although I am meaning to get round to it. He even did a question and answer session for my Goodreads book group after we picked one of his books for our monthly fantasy read. If you’re a long time follower of the blog, you’ll be aware of my passion for mythology, so his newest work Age of Myth sounds perfect for me. Dark Run by Mike Brooks was something I discovered during Sci-Fi Month, and I absolutely fell in love with the cover. And because I really DO judge books by their covers, I decided I wanted to read it before I even knew what it was about.

What are your anticipated releases for 2016?

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Six Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I can’t say that I have read many, if any Westerns. And I definitely haven’t ever read a supernatural/paranormal themed Western novel. The Six Gun Tarot was a new and unique experience for me, and definitely one I would happily repeat. Golgotha initially seems like a small, typical mid-Western town of the late 19th century, but soon it is clear that it is a magnet for all that is unusual.

The main character, Jim, ends up in Golgotha after trekking through the 40-Mile Desert, fleeing a crime he committed and perhaps others. The sheriff is a man who has evaded death countless times, his deputy seems to have an affinity with coyotes, the mayor hides ancient treasures and a respected lady of the town is not quite who she seems. The Six Gun Tarot has a wide range of interesting and diverse characters, each of whom have some kind of secret. Jim, whilst shown as the main protagonist, is often put aside in favour of the other denizens of Golgotha, and this is not a bad thing in the slightest. I have to say that my favourite character was definitely Maude Stapleton, a respected lady of Golgotha who is trained in the art of assassination. Belcher really focuses on the back story of each major character, bringing them all vividly to life.

The evil blight that overtakes the town reminded me a little of something from Leviathan Wakes, and the origins all tie in nicely with the religious beliefs of that particular period and location. However, the religious elements are not overpowering and do not feel at all ‘preachy’ – this was important to me, as someone who would find that a complete turnoff. It felt like, whilst this was happening to Golgotha now, it was not the first time something out of the ordinary had taken place in the town. Additionally, the author also recognised social issues that would have taken place in that era, such as sexism and many of the inhabitants’ prejudice against Mutt, a Native American character.

I’m so glad I finally got round to checking out The Six Gun Tarot – several months after it was chosen as my book group’s Book of the Month! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, and may have to delve further into this newly discovered, rather niche genre.

Review

Review: Time Salvager (Time Salvager #1) by Wesley Chu

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

How do I review Time Salvager? Well I know there’s one thing I can say: this book swept me away, completely and utterly.

The basic premise is that, by the 26th century, the Earth is toxic, a wasteland. Thanks to humanity, it has been pretty much destroyed. Within this future is a company called ChronoCom, who employs ‘Chronmen’. These Chronmen travel back in time in order to retrieve important things – technology, documents, natural resources – but never people. That is, until the protagonist James decides to rescue a scientist from an exploding research base, bringing her from the 21st century to the 26th. That’s when things get messy.

Elise, the scientist that James brings back with him, is ripped from a time where mankind is finally fighting its wrongs – with peace, medicine, etc – and placed in one that feels like it could almost be the past, not the future. The Earth she knows and loves has been ravaged, and is now covered in pollution and smog. I really liked Elise, she was intelligent and quickly adjusted to this new time period. She was a wonderful contrast to James. And speaking of James, it was nice to have a flawed protagonist. No-one is perfect.

From the very first page, I was gripped. I’m a big fan of time travel in books, film and television, especially when it involves travelling BACK in time, rather than just forward. Sometimes it’s hard to pull off. Sometimes the author feels the need to overexplain. Chu doesn’t explain one bit how time travel works in this universe, and to me, that didn’t matter. Everything felt so established: ChronoCom, the Time Laws, James’ slow spiral downwards, that I didn’t really feel a need to know how the time travel worked. It just did.

This was a book that made me want to do nothing but sit down and read it for long periods of time, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt like that, thanks to my studies. The last few chapters were incredibly tense, and the ending was very open, allowing the reader to make their mind up about what happened.

Time Salvager feels like the sort of science fiction I’ve been yearning for. To me, it is on par with greats such as Hyperion and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s clever, it’s fast, it’s action-packed, but it also carries a message. And most of all: it is DEFINITELY worth your time.

Also, below you can find a sample of the Time Salvager audiobook!

Review

Review: Ironskin (Ironskin #1) by Tina Connolly

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I recently re-read Jane Eyre for the first time since school, and it was like reading a completely new book. Without the need to analyse every scene, I was completely and utterly wrapped up in this world, following Jane’s story and heartbreak. I couldn’t get enough of it: I read the book in two days, I watched the Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender film adaptation twice in those same two days, and listened to the soundtrack of said film on repeat endlessly. And that was when I remembered: I had this book on my Kindle, a paranormal retelling of Jane Eyre.

So it was with great excitement that I dove into Ironskin, hoping to rediscover some of those feelings and familiar moments. And whilst Ironskin is a retelling, it doesn’t stick quite so closely to original events as you’d think, and Tina Connolly plays really cleverly on Brontë’s work. In Jane Eliot’s world, fairies and other creatures such as dwarves are real – but fairies are most definitely not the cutesy little magical beings we know from fairytales. Five years previously, there was a Great War between the fairies and humans, and many people were killed or injured. Those injured by the fairies become cursed – Jane’s particular curse is rage – and she must wear a mask of iron to keep the rage in.

Whilst Jane is not a penniless orphan, as the original Jane is, she is an outcast in her own way. She is Ironskin, which immediately pushes her to the edge of society. She has a younger sister who is the total opposite – where Jane is plain, quiet, conservative but also strong-willed, Helen is outgoing, fun-loving and very much determined to integrate herself into high society. She is a representation of how important these people perceive appearance to be. There was definitely much more of a focus on Jane’s appearance in this book – in the original Jane Eyre she is occasionally referred to as being rather plain, but Brontë doesn’t dwell on it. However, in this one, Jane becomes a little fixated on her appearance and there were a couple of moments where it felt like she’d moved on from being this sharp, witty and fiercely independent character, to someone more like her sister.

Rochart was a lot less fickle and mysterious than Mr. Rochester. It was obvious that he had feelings for Jane, he wasn’t constantly pulling away which I felt left a lot to be desired with the romance. There just wasn’t very much chemistry between the two – why is Jane interested in him? Because he’s the only male she knows? I also didn’t understand how she was so surprised by his ‘big reveal’, when half the book had pretty much given it away. Hint: it’s not a mad wife in the attic. The ending also felt a bit… lacklustre. Although it was a big event with lots of action, there was just something missing.

However, I really did enjoy this book. It may follow the events of Jane Eyre and take plenty of inspiration from it, but it’s also very much its own story. I guess it’s a big task to try and live up to the original book, but Connolly gets close. There were plenty of little references in the story – like the room where Rochart and Jane meet is the ‘red room’, and when Jane has to go away for her sister’s wedding Rochart says he was expecting a ‘madeup story about a dying aunt’. My favourite thing however, was how in the original book, Mr. Rochester is constantly referring to Jane as an imp or a fairy, and when she meets him outside Thornfield he asks if she was ‘waiting for her people’. This took that idea and expanded on it hugely – to great success.

Review

Review: Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I love science fiction. One thing that frustrates me is the stigma that comes with the genre – it’s geeky, it’s nerdy, it’s for people with no lives. Which is all a load of rubbish, and since YA sci-fi has become increasingly more common, I hope it’s a stereotype that will soon disappear. One thing I have noticed though, is that the majority of YA science fiction tends to be on the ‘lighter’ side, and I’ve been looking for something a little ‘heavier’. And Lockstep fits the bill quite nicely.

The story of a teenager who finds himself fourteen thousand years in the future after a malfunction with his ship, Lockstep really explores the idea of space and time travel (or at least the ‘freezing’ of time). The title of the book comes from a system called the Lockstep, where all inhabitants within hibernate on the 360/1 system – asleep for thirty years, awake for one month. Robots and A.I. systems maintain the cities and settlements during hibernation, as well as producing food – leaving less work for the people to do when they wake, and meaning they have more free time. It also means that people live for thousands of years – and is also a clever way of getting around the fact that there is no faster than light transport. Cargo ships may have to travel out to planets thousands of years away – but the Lockstep system ensures that the people aboard do not outlive or outage their relatives. It seems for all accounts and purposes like a perfect system.

Toby, our protagonist, soon discovers that things are not quite what they seem (when are they ever?!), and ends up with a ragtag group of friends who introduce him, and the reader, to this futuristic world. Schroeder has invented some wonderful technologies for the book, for example the Denners – cat-like creatures that seem part organic, part machine, and who will support a human through hibernation. There’s also a partial virtual reality element to the book, that may appeal to fans of Ready Player One – Toby and his younger brother build a virtual reality world together, known as Consensus – and Peter has brought Consensus to life in creating the Lockstep. Some parts of the book, such as Toby’s brother and sister, also reminded me of Ender’s Game.

There were a few parts of the book that I felt let it down. Toby’s reaction, for one, on learning that he is now fourteen thousand years in the future. His life, his family, his home – all gone, ancient history. Sure, he freaks out – but not for long, not to the extent that you would expect someone to after learning that everything they once knew and loved is now dust. Of course, his family are still alive – but he doesn’t learn that until later on. This brings me onto the point that this fact was given away by the blurb, but when revealed in the book it feels like it should have been a surprise – which it mostly definitely isn’t to the reader. I also feel that perhaps some more flashbacks of life before Toby set out on the journey would have been beneficial – the reader doesn’t have that much in order to compare young Peter and Peter the Tyrant, so it’s hard in places to understand Toby’s shock. And finally, the ending was a complete anti-climax for me. I loved the story up until that point – it felt like the easy way out, like a build up to a massive action scene and then… nothing.

Despite the disappointing ending, I really did enjoy this book. It is a brilliant introduction to heavier science fiction for those perhaps a little wary of diving straight into the genre – advanced technology and the more ‘typical’ elements of heavy sci-fi, whilst still keeping the feel of a Young Adult book. Schroeder has built up a fascinating universe, which makes it all the more a shame that this is not going to be a series! And also, as previously mentioned: a definite recommendation for fans of books such as Ender’s Game and Ready Player One.