Review: Space Hopper by Helen Fisher

 


Title: Space Hopper

Author: Helen Fisher

Published: 4th February 2021, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++

This is a story about taking a leap of faith. And believing the unbelievable

They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect.

I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight. And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here.

Right now, you probably think I’m going mad.

Let me explain…

Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Space Hopper is an original and poignant story about mothers, memories and moments that shape life.”

… says the publisher, and they are right. I appreciated the idea behind this book, but unfortunately I just didn’t connect at all with the main character, which I think is essential with a first person narrative.

It’s my belief that Space Hopper is most likely to resonate with women who lost a parent, particularly a mother, at a young age, and can therefore empathise with Faye’s obsession. Someone of a Christian faith is also less likely to be bothered by the religious overtones than I was.

While not for me, Space Hopper may be perfect for you.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Amazon

Review: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins by Aiki Flinthart (Ed)

 

 


Title: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins

Author: Aiki Flinthart (Editor}

Published: 31st January 2021

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy the editor

++++++

My Thoughts:

It’s not often that I respond to a Twitter call out but Relics, Wrecks and Ruins caught my attention for several reasons. Of course I’m always eager to support Australian authors, several of whom are contributors to this anthology, and I’m trying to include more fantasy and science fiction in my reading, but I was also moved upon learning that this was to be the final project for Australian Sci-Fi novelist and the editor of this anthology, Aiki Flinthart, who has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and that the profits from sales will fund a mentorship program for emerging writers in her name.

Relics, Wrecks and Ruins is an impressive collection of 24 short stories penned by a stellar range of authors including Australian writers Garth Nix, Kate Forsyth, Kylie Chan and international authors, Juliet Marrilier, Jasper Fforde, and Neil Gamain, among others who generously donated their work to the publication. The tales are loosely connected by the titular themes, exploring the relics, wrecks and ruins of the past and future, in this world and others. The stories cover almost every sub-genre of speculative fiction including horror, sci-fi fantasy, and dystopian.

As such, I think Relics, Wrecks and Ruins has something for everyone. There were several story’s that particularly appealed to me from both familiar and unfamiliar authors. Juliet Marrilier’s ‘Washing the Plaid’ is a charming, whimsical introduction to the anthology about a book lover discovering magic. A unique punishment devised by a future society features in 16 Minutes by Jasper Fforde. Fans of Julie Kagawa will enjoy Mary Robinette Kowai’s story, American Changeling where a human/faerie teenager is called upon to save the Seelie Queen. Lee Murray’s The Wreck of the Tartarus sees a submarine full of US sailors caught under a rockfall waiting for rescue. Readers familiar with Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor Trilogy will appreciate a Red Sister Story featuring Nona, Rulin and Clera called Thaw, and horror fans won’t want to miss Six Stringed Demon, where a rock band fights to exorcise a young boy in a hell of a battle by Sebastian de Castell. Aiki Flinthart has the honour of finishing the collection with a poignant story about birth, death, and humanity’s legacy.

Aiki Flinthart has successfully put together an exciting and powerful anthology with Relics, Wrecks and Ruins. A legacy to be proud of, it has my enthusiastic endorsement.

+++++++

Available worldwide in ebook via books2read

Or in paperback direct from Aiki Flinthart

Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Title: Nevernight {The Nevernight Chronicle #1}

Author: Jay Kristoff

Published: 19th June 2017, HarperCollins

Status: Read December 2020

++++++

My Thoughts:

I was gifted Nevernight by bestselling Australian fantasy/SciFi author Jay Kristoff, in 2019 from my Secret Santa (thank you again Little Miss Starr) via the Aussie Readers + Bloggers Secret Santa Exchange, and had hoped to have read it long before now, but better late than never!

“Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

In a land of three suns, where darkness falls just once a year, a young girl hides amongst the shadows. Mia Corvere, the orphaned daughter of a highborn family, is determined to avenge the murders of her parents and younger brother by the corrupt members of The Republic, no matter the cost. Chance leads her to the door of a mentor who prepares her to join the Red Church, a secretive organisation of assassins where she may earn a position as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and thus the skill to vanquish her enemies, if she can survive among a hall of killers to graduate.

Nevernight is an entertaining fast paced read, offering plenty of action, intrigue and interesting worldbuilding. Though the main thrust of the plot isn’t particularly unique, Kristoff does add his own imaginative touches so that the story doesn’t feel stale, and I was quickly engrossed in the tale from the first few pages.

Mia is plucky, pragmatic, deadly and determined, but it’s her gift of weaving shadows that gives her an edge as an assassin. Mis doesn’t really understand her ability, she thinks of it as something that found her, in the form of Mr Kindly – a cat made of shadows that also feeds on her fear, rather than something that is part of her. I liked Mia a lot, like all fantasy heroines she has a streak of idealism that conflicts with her ability to create mayhem and murder. The cutthroat competition of the Red Church apprenticeship isn’t always easy for her, especially when it pits her against those she has befriended.

Nevernight is both more violent and more sexually suggestive, and explicit, than I expected, as I was under the mistaken impression it was considered a YA novel. This wasn’t an issue for me, but it’s perhaps important to note that despite its teenage protagonist, Nevernight is written for an adult audience.

The overall tone of Nevernight is quite dark, what with deaths and monsters, but there is also plenty of wit and sarcasm which I appreciated. I confess Nevernight occasionally feels a touch overwritten, but not so much that I cared, I enjoy a creative metaphor and Kristoff supplies plenty. I can take or leave the author’s fetish for footnotes though, I found it easiest to read through them at the end of each chapter.

An exciting tale of love and loss, bloodshed and betrayal, dark and light, Nevernight is the first book in the Nevernight Chronicle trilogy. Godsgrave and Darkdawn are already available, I hope to read both soon.

++++++

Available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education {Scholomance #1}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 29th September 2020, Del Rey

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

In its simplest terms A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik could be described as a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but this imaginative, darkly funny fantasy has a magic all of its own.

Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins is in her last term of her second last year at Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community’, an education only one in four survive thanks in part to its gruelling and competitive nature, and the maleficaria who roam the halls. To make it to and through the school’s most deadly test, Graduation Day, the students need to make alliances, something which is proving difficult for El whose very being, not to mention her snarky and abrasive attitude, seems to repel her classmates. That is until the class hero Orion Lake saves her life for the third time.

In this first book of the Scholomance series, Novik has created an imaginative and complex world full of magic and monsters. I’m not going to even try to explain the details of how the school operates because discovering them for yourself is part of the fun. Suffice it to say, navigating every activity within the Scholomance from bathroom visits to classroom assignments is a matter of life and death. Such an intricate setup does result in a bit of info-dumping, but I think Novik tempers it by using the first person perspective.

It took me a little while to warm up to El, in the initial introduction she’s complaining about her life being saved and appears ungrateful and abrasive, she never really loses that edge, but it didn’t take long til I developed some empathy for her, and even grew to like to her quite a lot. El has some pretty good reasons for being who she is, not the least of which is being in possession of a magical strength that could level the entire school and everyone it.

El’s fellow classmates are a mixed bunch, as in any highschool there is a clear social hierarchy with groups, namely the children born in magical enclaves (communities), that have distinct cache and advantages, and ‘independents’, whose best chance to survive Scholomance is to gain an invitation to join an enclave, or form a strong alliance with other independent students. El is essentially friendless when A Deadly Education begins despite her best efforts so she’s shocked by the notice of Orion Lake, the hero of the much sought after New York enclave. Orion’s attention indirectly helps El to connect with several other students, most importantly Liu and Aadhya.

There is plenty of action in A Deadly Education given that a large number, and variety of, mal’s lurk everywhere eager for a tasty meal in the form of a careless or inattentive student. And as if monsters aren’t enough to worry about, the teens aren’t above sabotaging, or even killing, each other, and Scholomance itself is wholly indifferent to its charges survival.

Exciting, creative and fun, I found A Deadly Education to be an entertaining YA read, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

In Garth Nix’s new fantasy title, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, eighteen year old Susan Arkshaw moves to the city in search of her unknown father. With almost nothing to go on she begins by seeking out a man she knows only as Uncle Frank, but before she can question him she witnesses a young man turn him to dust with the touch of a silver pin. Susan has every intention of calling the police but when a giant louse, and then a malevolent black smoke attacks, she instinctively follows the man, who introduces himself as Merlin, out of the window.

Susan soon discovers Merlin St Jacques is a left-handed bookseller, as opposed to a right-handed bookseller like his sister Vivian, one of many agents who are tasked with keeping the Old World from unduly affecting the New. Nix has created an unique setting in an alternate timeline, the details of which unfold as the story progresses, combining archaic myths and magics, and exasperated police, a devious Ancient Sovereign with a swag of mind-controlled minions, and, of course, booksellers who are more than they seem.

Just like the booksellers, Susan too is more than she seems, though nobody is exactly sure what that is. It is clear she is being targeted by someone with inimical intent, and Susan, Merlin and Vivian find themselves fleeing a series of attacks providing plenty of fast paced action and excitement as they dodge, amongst other things, magical creatures, zombiefied kidnappers, and the odd bullet. There’s both humour, and a little gore, to amuse, and increase tension.

I really liked the main protagonists. Though Susan’s acceptance of the existence of the Old World seemed a mite too easy, I was quite happy to that Nix avoided the usual drama of denial and self doubt. As a left-handed bookseller, the androgynous Merlin is the brawn, wielding swords and guns, while his sister, being right-handed is the brains, and capable of basic magic that is useful in a tight spot. The three of them develop an easy rapport, and there’s even a little romance.

Imaginative and entertaining, though The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is aimed at a young adult audience, it will also appeal to adults who enjoy light fantasy. While the story is complete, there’s obvious potential for a series I’d be happy to continue with.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$24.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository i HiveUK

Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

Title: The Mother Fault

Author: Kate Mildenhall

Published: 2nd September 2020, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall imagines a dystopian future for Australia. Parts of the country have been devastated by the effects of climate change, with coastal areas flooded by rising seas. Much of the land is barren, dry, and damaged from fracking. The populace is surveilled and controlled by The Department, who insist citizens be chipped from birth, ‘for their own protection and convenience’, and who relocate ‘citizens in need’ to gated communities known as ‘BestLife’.

So when Mim’s husband, Ben, who works for an mining conglomerate and regularly spends time in Indonesia, fails to return from his latest work trip, and no one can tell her where he is, Mim begins to panic. Then The Department shows up asking questions, intimating Mim and her children, 11 year-old Essie and 6 year-old Sam, should perhaps be transferred to BestLife until her husband is found. For Mim, whose eldest brother entered BestLife and died shortly after, the veiled threat prompts her to flee with her children with the idea of making their way to Indonesia, and to Ben.

The journey from suburban Victoria, through outback NSW, to the coast of Northern Territory, and then by sea to Indonesia, is fraught with risk. Mildenhall sets an urgent pace, maintaining tension and building further suspense as Mim attempts to evade The Department and cautiously reaches out for help.

Mim is a complex character, she’s not particularly confident in her decision to flee, nor really prepared to do so. She rarely thinks things through very well, and makes some reckless decisions, yet she doesn’t give up and her grit is admirable.

Like any mother in such a precarious position, Mim is particularly anxious about the safety of her children, heightened because of a history of postnatal depression which seems to have left her hypercritical of her own mothering skills. I thought Mildenhall’s portrayal of the family dynamic was relatable and interesting, and the children well drawn characters in their own right, particularly Essie.

Part dystopian, exploring a plausible future of environmental ruin and Owellian surveillance; part mystery thriller, with a dramatic and unexpected ending; all while exploring themes related to motherhood, marriage, and mental health, The Mother Fault is an intelligent and absorbing novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser

Title: The Hunted

Author: Gabriel Bergmoser

Published: August 5th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

+++++++


My Thoughts
:

The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser was not what I was expecting. Less a thriller than horror novel in my opinion, I’m a little lost for words.

After a blood-soaked young woman stumbles from a car into a remote, outback roadhouse, owner Frank, his teenage granddaughter, Allie, and a handful of unlucky customers are caught up in a horrifying night of violence not all of them will survive.

Unfolding from several perspectives over two timelines that eventually meet, The Hunted is fast paced, action packed and suspenseful. My first instinct is to describe it as a cross between the films Wolf Creek (2005) and Deliverance (1972), and I think this would do well if adapted to the screen.

But had I been aware of the explicit incidences of torture and violence that occur in this novel, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it. At least twice I was uncomfortable enough to consider not finishing it, but to be fair to Bergmoser I was equally uncomfortable not doing so… I needed to know how it would end for the characters, particularly Frank, Allie and the story’s anti-hero, Maggie.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say I liked The Hunted, but that’s a matter of genre rather than any particular flaws with the book. If horror is your thing, I think you’ll love it.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Author: Grady Hendrix

Published: April 7th 2020, Quirk Books

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Quirk/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

It was the title of this latest release from Grady Hendrix that caught my eye, and having enjoyed Horrorstör (published in 2014) I was willing to give The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires a chance.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is set during the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s in an affluent, traditional suburb of Charleston where Patricia Campbell lives with her doctor husband, two children, and ailing mother-in-law. Her only respite from her role as a dutiful ‘southern’ wife, mother, and caregiver is her attendance at the not-really-but-kind-of monthly book club with a small group of local housewives who all defected from the Mt. Pleasant Library Guild. Instead of stuffy classics, Patricia and her friends -Grace, Slick, Kitty and Maryellen- rebel by reading a mix of true crime and popular novels, adding a frisson of excitement to their lives.

Thrills are in short supply for these five women, whom Hendrix presents as southern housewife stereotypes with good-ole-boy husbands of one type of another, so when Patricia begins to suspect a new neighbour, James Harris, is not who he seems, the book club members tentatively investigate, but James always seems to be one step ahead, and they have no idea what a monster he really is.

Accurately described as Steel Magnolias meets Dracula, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is an ambitious mashup of suspense, social commentary, horror, and satire that presents as ‘women’s fiction’.

At face value, there is so much wrong with this book, from the plethora of sexist stereotypes to the marginalisation of the PoC characters but keep in mind that it’s intentional, and it all makes a strange kind of sense. As the story develops Hendrix subtly highlights, undermines and challenges the status quo, and his female characters slowly exceed expectations.

Schlocky, subversive, clever, and dark I actually think The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires would make a fun cult movie a la The Witches of Eastwick. It’s not a bad read either.

++++++

Available from Quirk Books

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko

 

Also by Grady Hendrix reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

 


Title: Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic #1)

Author: Rin Chupeco

Published: March 3rd 2020, Sourcebooks Fire

Status: Read March 2020, courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

While browsing for a novel to suit the SwordsNStars challenge, the publicity tagline for Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco caught my attention.

“An unforgettable alternate history fairy-tale series about found family, modern-day magic, and finding the place you belong.”

The story begins in The Royal States of America, where Prince Alexei of Avalon is in hiding from The Snow Queen, waiting until he is found by the Firebird, so that he at last will have the power to renter his lands and claim his throne. When the Firebird finally appears, Alex, along with his best friend Tala – who has a rare ability to repel and negate magic – and a group of other young magic wielders, set out on a dangerous journey to Avalon to reclaim it from the Snow Queen’s deadly magic.

There’s a lot to like in Wicked As You Wish. It offers plenty of fast paced action, a diverse cast of characters, humour, intrigue, and a unique mix of political and cultural elements taken from both the modern world and the world of fairytales and legends.

But the world Chupeco has created is very ambitious and to be honest I struggled to make complete sense of it. Eventually I just had to sort of overlook the finer details and simply go along for the ride.

If you are willing to do the same, I expect you’ll enjoy Wicked As You Wish, as I did, but I think it’s fair to say it won’t be for everyone.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: January 28 2020, Orbit

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Imaginative and entertaining, The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in an urban fantasy series from debut novelist Luke Arnold.

“The magic had vanished and the world that magic had built was tearing itself apart…”

Six years ago, a war between The Humanitarian Army (representing the humans) and The Opus (representing the world’s magic creatures) destroyed magic. Known as The Coda, the event resulted in catastrophe in Sunder City. Without magic to sustain them, Elves rapidly aged and died, Were’s were left as half-transformed freaks, Vampires withered as they starved, while other creatures shed scales, or fur, or skin, and to the disadvantage of all, machinery and technology, once infused or forged with magic, stopped working. Arnold has created a bleak, gritty and imaginative world, with ‘Man For Hire’ Fletch Phillips at its center.

Fletch Phillips embodies the traits of a traditional noir P.I. in that he is a morose, down-on-his-luck, functional alcoholic who sleeps on a fold down bed in his dingy office. An orphan who lost his parents in horrific circumstances, Fletch once lived in a caring but closed community which he fled at eighteen to explore the wider world he half-remembered. He is terribly flawed, but not quite yet irredeemably, and I found him quite likeable. His journey from curious runaway teen, to guilt-ridden Man For Hire sporting three significant tattoo’s on his arm, is the subject of several flashbacks through the novel, which also eventually explains his role in the death of magic.

It’s not (metaphorically speaking) a blonde bombshell that walks into Fletch’s office to launch the story, it’s the headmaster of a local school searching for his friend and colleague – a centuries old, and ailing vampire. Fletch’s search leads him through the seedy streets of Sunder City, occasionally getting in they way of the police, (whom mostly despise him), and generally making more enemies than friends. I thought the mystery was fairly well plotted, though not particularly complex, and I would have preferred Fletch investigate more actively than he seemed to. I was also perhaps a little disappointed with the lack of action in the plot overall, but am prepared to forgive that given the need for Arnold to create the foundation of both the setting and character.

The Last Smile In Sunder City is a robust beginning to what I believe has the potential to be a popular fantasy series. I found it to be an easy and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Read an Excerpt

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