Review: Herman Needs A Home, by Lucy Nogura

Blurb

Herman Needs A Home

A little crab’s each for a shell to call home.

When Herman the hermit crab gets too big for his shell, he can’t find a new one that feels just right. With his sister, Hiro, he travels up and down the beach in search of a shell he can call home.

They don’t find a shell, but they do find something else – a pile of rubbish left behind on the sand. But can Herman make a home out of any of it?

My Review

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book and to Love Books Tours for organising this tour. I received a lovely parcel from Lucy Noguera.

Herman and his sister Hiro need new shells, so their family line up and swap shells. Unfortunately, Herman is bigger than any of the others and needs to find a new shell. Hiro and Herman go for a walk on the beach to fins a new shell. Instead they find a large pile of rubbish. Nothing fits right, of course but as night falls, Herman hides in a broken tennis ball. The next day he goes on an unexpected trip.

I reviewed another book by Lucy Noguera last year, SWOP the satsuma sized secret, and really enjoyed it. That came in a lovely parcel, too. This book is for younger children and is beautifully illustrated by Emma Latham. As with SWOP, there is a lesson for young readers. In this case, it’s about the damage rubbish can cause to sealife and ends with a page about how to look after the coast by clearing up rubbish.

The illustrations are lovely, bright and colourful. The paper is high quality, dense and solid, so it’ll last a good long time. The writing is fun and bouncy, and I suggest it’ll be good reading for both parents and children.

I generally send these books to my cousin’s kids, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of this one. I think they’ll love it.

TBR Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Paperback, 351 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Akashic Books

Blurb

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.

Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

My Review

I’ve reviewed this book on my podcast Everything Is Better With Dragons, episode 2 which will be available soon, but I’m sharing a written review for those who don’t listen to podcasts.

I liked this book.

Aster is clearly Autistic, like Rivers Solomon, and later in the book we learn Aster is probably non-binary too. A bit of intersectional representation! Aster also comes from the lower decks of the arc ship she’s travelling in. The society of the HSS Matilda is highly stratified by skin colour, the darker you are the lower down the ship you live and the worse your living conditions are. Aster, unlike many of her deck mates, has a lot of mobility between decks due to her position as assistant to the Surgeon General, Theo. Aster has a complex relationship with Theo, neither really know what they are to each other beyond their professional relationship, and both struggle to express what they feel for each other.

Complex relationships are a theme in this novel.

Theo has a complex relationship with his uncle, Lieutenant, who eventually becomes Sovereign. Theo is frightened of his uncle and aware that his uncle is highly conflicted about his feelings for Theo.

Lieutenant has a complex relationship with morality. He is attracted to his feminine nephew, appalled by his attraction and also by the ‘pollution’ of the family bloodline represented by Theo’s skin colour. He’s also jealous of Theo’s relationship with Aster. He assumes it’s sexual, although it doesn’t get that far. He can’t punish Theo directly, because they are equals as Commander of the Guard and Surgeon General, but he can hurt Aster. After his ascension to Sovereign, he takes his sadistic hate out on everyone on Q deck, where Aster lives. He claims that his authority comes from a deity, and that as a ‘pure’ human he is better than lower deck residents.

The society in the book is heavily based on the Antebellum South of the U.S., so incredibly unequal, racist and screwed up. Aster and her friend Giselle are irritants in the society they are forced to tolerate. Aster because she is able to code switch in both gender and language, doesn’t get the point of a lot of the social conventions and has the ability to move about. Giselle because she’s bat shit crazy and is happy to cause mayhem and be a Devil. It is her ability to withstand abuse and trauma, and react in unexpected ways that prevent the Guards or any authority from keeping her down.

Another complex relationship, that between Aster and Giselle, defines and triggers major events in the novel. They love and hate each other, but they also need each other. Aster couldn’t interpret her mother’s notes without Giselle, who sees the world from an entirely different angle, possibly upside down and inside out. Giselle is paranoid, and has delusions of persecution; she is convinced someone is trying to poison her for much of the book. She gets into all sorts of places because she wants to hide from her persecutors.

Aster has complex relationships with maternal figures in her life, firstly her absent mother and secondly Q-deck leader, Aint Melusine. Lune, Aster’s mother, left a riddle for her child to unravel, which becomes Aster’s driving interest, along with botany, astronomy and chemistry. It is Aster’s need to answer the question of Lune and where she went that gives Aster the resilience to survive persecution by Lieutenant and to save HSS Matilda from pointless wandering.

Ainy Melusine replaced the mother Aster never knew. She is not particularly maternal despite being a Nanny on the upper decks, and teacher to the children of Q deck, but she does her best for Aster who she recognises as an unusual child from an early age and helps her to gain an education beyond that normal for a low deck child. Melusine is also Theo’s mother, which complicates her relationship with both Theo and Aster, as she can’t tell either of them. Theo’s father was a previous Sovereign, and the relationship between him and Melusine was clandestine and considered immoral on the upper decks.

These complicated relationships and characters travel through space on a large arc ship that has been travelling at near light speed for 350 years, although on Earth a thousand years has passed. They are powered by Baby, a miniature star, who provides power for the drive and provides light for the crops on a complicated layering system of fields. The ship is clearly and vividly described as is the society that has evolved in different decks and over the ship as a whole. The contrast between the metal and decay of the lower decks with the lush extravagance of the upper decks provides a visual narrative about the people of the Matilda. Despite the harshness of their lives, the lower deckers are inventive, loving and preserve their own food, languages and storytelling cultures against all odds.

The narrative is broken up with stories that Melusine has told Aster in the past. These stories are colourful and clearly draw on Black American and African stories. Melusine or Aster reflect on the stories and what they mean to them, which brings them seamlessly into the narrative.

The narrative is mostly told from Aster’s perspective but occasionally Theo, Melusine and Giselle have chapters. I found this a really interesting structure and have used a similar structure in my novels. I enjoyed the direct plotline with past events being pulled in as memories that fit into the story seamlessly. There’s no skipping between past and future. It’s a lot less confusing that way, at least for me.

The writing and the language used is particularly effective for showing the different cultures and social structure with its minute gradations based on minor differences in skin tone. The language has impact, especially during traumatic events. Some things are heavily implied and some are outright stated, depending on the needs of the narrative. I have the audiobook as well as the paperback and listening to the story had a strong impact on me.

I really enjoyed this novel. I read the last 100 pages in an afternoon, so engrossed by the action and events, I had to know what happened next, and I’d love to see a sequel.

Review: Fantasy Short Stories, by Suzanne Rogerson

Fantasy Short Stories

A collection of stories featuring favourite characters from Visions of Zarua and ‘Silent Sea Chronicles’, plus a glimpse into the new series, ‘Starlight Prophecy’.

The Guardian

With an assassin picking off wizards one-by-one, Kalesh visits Cassima, a former student, hoping to persuade her to re-join the Royal Wizards and use their protection to keep her family safe.

Kalesh’s newest charge, Paddren, has strange visions which link to a past event known only to a select few. The knowledge hidden in Paddren’s visions is invaluable so Kalesh must guard the boy at any cost.

Can Kalesh keep his students off the assassin’s radar long enough for his order to stop the killer?

Garrick the Protector

Fifteen-year-old Garrick is helping at his uncle’s farm when his cousin’s illegal use of magic threatens the family’s safety.

Mara is in immediate danger from the Assembly who deem all magic as a threat. The only safe place for her is the Turrak Mountains where exiled mystics have found sanctuary alongside the island’s Sentinel.

Can Garrick get Mara to safety before the Assembly catch up with them?

War Wounds

Conscripted to fight off raiders, Calder finds the months of bloody battle unleash a sixth sense buried inside him.

Finally released from duty, he travels home and encounters a mysterious woman who insists his life is destined to serve a higher purpose. Calder rejects her claims, wanting only to return to a simple existence with his wife.

But can Calder pick up his old life when the powers within him have been stirred? And why does he feel such misgivings about his return?

All three stories give readers a tantalising glimpse into the fantasy worlds created by Suzanne Rogerson.

Purchase Link – http://mybook.to/fantasySS

Continue reading “Review: Fantasy Short Stories, by Suzanne Rogerson”

TBR Pile Review: Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

Paperback, 305 pages
Published February 22nd 2022
ISBN13: 9798985663211

Blurb

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

My Review

This book arrived on Monday and to be honest it didn’t make it to the TBR pile. I took it upstairs to add to the pile and instead spent two hours reading. I finished it today. Didn’t have the energy yesterday after work, but I’m okay today. Not going to the Wellbeing Hub at the leisure centre on Monday might have something to do with that. I’m disappointed in myself and my body that a fairly gentle exercise routine two days a week and working one afternoon a week results is enough to knock me off my feet for two to three days. It’s ridiculous.

But ignore all that, you’re not here for updates on my dodgy health and energy levels, you’re here for the book review.

Viv is an orc adventurer, sick of all the travelling and killing. After one final mission she settles down in the town of Thune and opens a coffee shop, an utterly unheard-of venture. Making friends with a giant cat, a succubus in a sweater, a rattkin baker, a hob carpenter, Arcanist (wizard but with scientist overtones) who refuses to drink hot drinks and a musician who invents soft rock, Viv finds a home. She also has to cope with the local crime family demanding protection money and an old companion who thinks her good fortune is unfair. Their friendship sees them through trials and tribulations, and Viv finally finds love.

I enjoyed this novel. The plot is not new. Lots of cosy romances have a similar plot, but none I’ve ever heard of involve fantasy creations. I don’t read romance much, but if you add it to a fantasy setting and don’t make the romance overwhelming, I’m fine with it. I found the characters fun and realistic. The worldbuilding is really good. It’s not heavy handed, but there’s enough detail added as colour, like mentions of far off places and organisations that it comes across as a complex complete world. It was easy to read and I rooted for Viv and her friends.

I had a read of the acknowledgements. It looks like Baldree wrote this book for NaNoWriMo 2021, and somehow managed to publish it by February 2022. The press, Cryptid Press, looks like it’s the author’s own press, so I assume it’s self-published. I also looked briefly at the author’s website https://travisbaldree.com/ which seems to confirm it. It’s well edited. The benefits of having a proper editor and plenty of beta readers. Having tried something similar, without those benefits, I can only doff my overly large hat to Baldree. Nice work.

If you want to try a fantasy that is light and fun, with high fantasy elements, I recommend this novel.

Review: The Emergent, by Nadia Afifi

Fiction: FICTION / Science Fiction /
Genetic Engineering
Product format: Paperback
Price: £12.95; $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-78758-666-6
Pages: 320 pp

Blurb

Amira Valdez’s adventures continue in the sequel to The Sentient,as she
finds herself in unprecedented danger. The ruthless new leader of the
fundamentalist Trinity Compound seeks to understand his strange
neurological connection with Amira and unleash an army on an unstable
North America. The first human clone has been born, but thanks to the
mysterious scientist Tony Barlow, it may unlock the secret to human
immortality– or disaster. Together, Amira and Barlow form an uneasy alliance in pursuit of scientific breakthroughs and protection from shared enemies.

But new discoveries uncover dark secrets that Barlow wants to keep hidden.

My Review

Thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for organising this blog tour, and to Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of the book.

Oh my goodness me! I just finished reading this novel (28th May 2022), I read the remaining 250 pages of this 310 page book today after getting started on it earlier in the week but being too exhausted to read for most of the week. I think I read most of it in about 4 hours, which is about normal for me. It was a real page-turner, though, because once I got settled with food and fluids, I didn’t move until I finished reading it.

Amira and friends return some months after the end of The Sentient, the first book in this series. After being cleared by Westport Police of any crimes, Amira has been tagged by the Aldwych Council to prevent her escaping before they could bring her to trial. The opening is tense and moving as Amira deals with her fears about what would happen if she was found guilty on spurious charges. She copes by getting drunk the night before her trial and hiding in an ancient vertical farm. Found and returned to civilisation by her friends D’Arcy and Julian, she finds she has more friends than she thought, or at least people who need her for things, including Dr Barlow. Amira also gets a boyfriend, despite her fears and internalised guilt.

What follows is a rollicking adventure that bounces from calm to tension to explosions and back again several times before an ending that is totally unexpected. There are several gun and ship battles, and once again Amira goes into space and has to do some high level clambering around buildings.

The plot was gripping and I liked the character development of Amira as she realises that she can be someone other than the ‘compound girl come good’ through seeing the manipulation of power players in the city. We learn more about the history of the Pandora project and the Cosmics, and see more of the world post-Cataclysm. There’s an eight year period which demands it’s own novel, from Lee, D’Arcy, Maxine or Hadrian’s POV.

There were some minor typographical errors, couldn’t tell if the author meant to use ‘commandeered’ when ‘commanded’ would make more sense. I can see why, in the context, it would sometimes be appropriate, but not always and it could be a mistake.

Review: The Blood Trials, by N.E. Davenport

│14 APRIL 2022│
PB £8.99│EB £5.49│EA £12.99

Blending fantasy and science fiction, N.E. Davenport’s fast-paced, action-packed debut kicks off a duology on loyalty and rebellion, in which a young Black woman must survive deadly trials in a racist and misogynistic society to become an elite warrior.

It’s all about blood.

Blood spilled long ago between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor, ending all blood magic.

Now there is peace in the Republic – but there is also a strict class system, misogyny, and racism. Her world is not perfect, but Ikenna survived in it.

Until now.

With the murder of her grandfather, Ikenna spirals out of control. Though she is an initiate for the Republic’s deadly elite military force, Ikenna has a secret only her grandfather knew: she possesses the blood magic of the Republic’s enemies.

Ikenna throws herself into the gladiatorial war games at the heart of her martial world: trials that will lead her closer to his killers. Under the spotlight, she subjects herself to abuse from a society that does not value her, that cherishes lineage over talent – all while hiding gifts that, if revealed, would lead to execution or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all to find out who killed her grandfather…

So she can end them.

Continue reading “Review: The Blood Trials, by N.E. Davenport”

Review: Crimson Reign, by Amelie Wen Zhao

3rd March 2022 | Hardback | Ebook | Audio | £14.99

The Red Tigress, Ana Mikhailov, has returned to Cyrilia, but the country she once called home has fallen under a dark rule. Across the land, the Empress Morganya is tightening her grip on Affinites and non-Affinites alike.

Ana dealt a blow to the Empress when she and her allies turned back Morganya’s troops, but she couldn’t stop Morganya from gaining possession of a dangerous new weapon with the power to steal Affinities. Ana’s forces are scattered, and her alliance with the rebel group, the Red Cloaks, is
becoming more frayed by the day.

What’s worse, she’s lost her Affinity to blood and without it, Ana barely knows who she is anymore – or if she has the strength to defeat
Morganya.

Morganya’s reign of terror is close to crushing the nation Ana was born to rule. And now Ana will finally face the sinister empress, but will she survive? Will anyone? And will her Empire welcome her back to the throne, or turn her out to survive on her own.

The Affinites and Non-Affinites of Cyrilia will determine Ana’s future, if Morganya doesn’t kill her first.

Continue reading “Review: Crimson Reign, by Amelie Wen Zhao”

TBR Pile Review: Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch

Paperback, 406 pages
Published May 16th 2019 by Gollancz (first published November 13th 2018)

The Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run.Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch. 

My Review

I thought I’d read this one, but after finishing the audiobook of False Value I was checking the TBR pile and found it, so clearly I hadn’t. It wasn’t in my Audible library either (it is now) so I hadn’t listened to it instead. Why am I getting Lies Sleeping and False Value read, I hear you cry? Well, the latest Peter Grant novel, Amongst Our Weapons is published this month. It arrived in my Audible library today and I’m waiting for my special edition from Goldsboro Books to be delivered. It isn’t available until 14th April, but I’ll probably have listened to the audiobook by then. It’ll be nice and pristine on my bookshelf.

So what happens in Lies Sleeping? Peter et al. are hunting the Faceless Man. Still. He, Martin Chorley, has a cunning plan to ‘make it all better’, by killing Punch, the spirit of riot we first meet in Rivers of London. There’s an ancient sword, goat sacrifices and attacks on archaeological sites. To find out what all the fuss is about, Peter has to meet old gods, some dead Romans and try not to die, too much.

And Beverley is pregnant.

I enjoyed this book. I always enjoy the Peter Grant books; there are a lot of geeky in-jokes and references to Discworld, why wouldn’t I enjoy them? There are cynical comments about policing in London and the state of the country. I like Peter and the gang, and find the plots gripping.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my mental health because of that heritage project I wrote about a few weeks back, all the horror is taking a toll on my brain, so I’ve been resting, and today, after three quite busy days all I’ve had the energy to do is curl up on the chair with this book and get lost in Peter’s adventures. I find the predictable characters (predictable because I’m familiar with the characters and worldbuilding, not because they’re badly written) soothing. Like Discworld, Peter Grant’s version of London, built by Ben Aaronovitch on the real thing but with a fantasy twist, is a safe retreat. I know there will be explosions, Peter will get into trouble, Molly will feed everyone, Beverley and her sisters will do something entertaining, some major disaster will happen, or be averted by the skin of someone’s teeth, there will be satirical comments about policing and the Government, and references that only fantasy geeks will get. It’s easy to read, get lost for 400 pages and then come back with a more relaxed frame of mind.

I like this book, but you probably should read the other 6 first, or nothing will make sense.

Review: Death in the Mist, by Jo Allen

Death in the Mist

A drowned man. A missing teenager. A deadly secret.

When Emmy Leach discovers the body of a drug addict, wrapped in a tent and submerged in the icy waters of a Cumbrian tarn, she causes more than one problem for investigating officer DCI Jude Satterthwaite. Not only does the discovery revive his first, unsolved, case, but the case reveals Emmy’s complicated past and opens old wounds on the personal front, regarding Jude’s relationship with his colleague and former partner, Ashleigh O’Halloran.

As Jude and his team unpick an old story, it becomes increasingly clear that Emmy is in danger. What secrets are she and her controlling, coercive husband hiding, from the police and from each other? What connection does the dead man have with a recently-busted network of drug dealers? And, as the net closes in on the killer, can Jude and Ashleigh solve a murder — and prevent another?

A traditional British detective novel set in Cumbria.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Mist-DCI-Satterthwaite-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B09KYJK6H9

US – https://www.amazon.com/Death-Mist-DCI-Satterthwaite-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B09KYJK6H9

Continue reading “Review: Death in the Mist, by Jo Allen”

Review: River Clyde, by Simone Buchholz

Pub date: 17 MARCH 2022
ISBN 13: 978-1-914585-06-7
EPUB: 978-1-914585-07-4
Price: £8.99

Blurb

Mired in grief after tragic recent events, State prosecutor Chastity Riley
escapes to Scotland, lured to the birthplace of her great-great-grandfather by a mysterious letter suggesting she has inherited a house.

In Glasgow, she meets Tom, the ex-lover of Chastity’s great aunt, who
holds the keys to her own family secrets – painful stories of unexpected
cruelty and loss that she’s never dared to confront.

In Hamburg, Stepanovic and Calabretta investigate a major arson
attack, while a group of property investors kicks off an explosion of
violence that threatens everyone.

As events in these two countries collide, Chastity prepares to face the
inevitable, battling the ghosts of her past and the lost souls that could
be her future and, perhaps, finally finding redemption for them all.

Nail-bitingly tense and breathtakingly emotive, River Clyde is both an
electrifying thriller and a poignant, powerful story of damage and hope,
and one woman’s fight for survival.

Continue reading “Review: River Clyde, by Simone Buchholz”