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As you can see from the graphic Random Penguin (we all know that’s what they should have called themselves) have teamed up with Hive, who already support independent bookshops, to  allow readers to create their own twelve-book mini online bookshop but the brilliant bit is that every sale will generate a little bit of income for the independent bookshop they’ve chosen to link too.

They’ve called it My Independent Bookshop.

 

Author Terry Pratchett, who has connected his online bookshop to the tiny Hayling Island Bookshop in Hampshire, said: “Independent bookshops supported this jobbing genre author long before the geeks were let out of their wardrobes, being able to support these talented retail wizards through ‘My Independent Bookshop’ is a very, very good thing. The personal aspect of sharing recommendations in your own online shop gives readers the ability to discover surprising new worlds in an interesting way. Go on, have a virtual rummage around – you’ll never know what you might find.”

I’ve created one though keep fiddling with the books; choosing only twelve is hard. Good fun though.

Here’s mine:

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If you create one or have created one please leave a link in the comments :)

 

 

I’m very pleased to be the MIDNIGHT stop on Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossing Blog Tour:

Why do you think the clock ticking midnight is such a magical event?

That’s not my fantasy. I think the crossroads itself is magical. Crossroads have so many traditions; criminals were executed at crossroads, suicides were buried there, shrines erected there. So many layers of experience and emotion.

Has the world of Midnight, the town, been brewing for a while or did it come to you in a flash?

It started with the crossroad, and then came the pawnshop, and then the other elements of the world started forming, and the people came then.

If you had the chance to visit Midnight where would you visit?

Oh, I’d go to the pawnshop and spend a long time there looking at all the spooky stuff! I’d eat at t he diner, and then go see Fiji’s new age emporium and talk to her. Maybe I’d get my nails done by Chuy Villegas!

Thanks Charlaine for popping over and you can read my review of the pleasurable and enjoyable Midnight Crossroads here

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Midnight Crossroad

There is something comforting about Charlaine Harris’s writing style and that bleeds through into her characters. My first exposure to Harris was her Sookie Stackhouse short stories from A Touch of Dead  and then the first two Aurora Teagarden novels. The reason I mention this is that Midnight Crossroad mixes Harris-the-mystery-writer and Harris-the-urban-fantasy-writer.

Reading the Aurora Teagarden books you wouldn’t think that there are any supernatural elements in the world and reading Sookie Stackhouse you’d think their presence was quite normal so I wasn’t sure which way Midnight Crossroads was going to go.

You don’t have to get more the than the preliminarily pages to know that this one is going to have a strong supernatural thread as Harris gives a mini-introduction into four of her main characters: Manfred an internet psychic (also minor character from her Harper Connelly Series), Fiji an owner of a magic shop with powers of her own, Bobo a pawn shop owner and Olivia who catches a lot of flights.

Told in the third-person we get to spend time with several of cast and get to know all the major and minor characters enough to feel their lives are real though, because the people in Midnight all tend to have their secrets, a lot of who they were before moving to Midnight remains a bit of a mystery. However, that doesn’t stop Harris feeding us with tidbits of what may come later.

And knowing that Harris has chosen to bring characters from her other series into Midnight (I spotted a Lily Bard namecheck (does that mean Bobo is a Lily Bard character?)) compelled me order all her other series (Stookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard and Harper Connelly) in an very bad moment of bookish OCD because I love authors who explore their worlds in different ways (it’s one reason I love Asher’s Polity). It’s another reason I need to crack on and read the second book of the Kings’s Dark Tower but I digress.

Unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t want to say whose body is found but that moment turns this into a mystery and it doesn’t happen until we’ve established our feet under the table with a most of Midnight’s residents. From that moment on Harris picks up the pace though still remaining calming in her style does some quite brutal things which means I can’t label it as a ‘cosy crime’ story.

I admit to getting a little uncomfortable with the nature of the ‘big bad’ here and I think that it’s going to to appear again as the series progresses but Harris handles a real world-concern well and it is needed to shatter the cosy bubble Midnight could become without it.

Harris makes the sense of community a priority and having Manfred with the outsider eyes and outside questions makes a good conduit for the reader. He’s likeable, in fact everyone is likeable in some way even the scary characters (both those in the community and the ‘big bad’). It does take a little while to settle (fifty pages or so) as we get to know some of the characters but we have a scene at the local restaurant, this brings most of the main characters together, and sets up most of the dynamics, which Harris then cements quite rapidly.

Overall, Harris succeeds in bringing her comforting style, her love of the supernatural together with her skills as a mystery writer to make a Midnight Crossroad into a pleasurable and enjoyable read. You have characters you’d like to spend time with and care about but you are also dying to know what other secrets they are hiding. I can’t honestly wait for my my next visit to Midnight.

The Cold Commands

It’s worth pointing out that an audio book gives a different feel to book, so really I’m reviewing Richard Morgan’s writing and Simon Vance’s performance of it, and it is a performance, Vance gives each ‘voice’ a different inflection to bring them to life. And I’m praying that he’ll be asked to read The Dark Defiles  as I’m really not sure what I’d do if he didn’t [luckily he is]. From that you must know that I’m invested in the lives Ringil Eskiath, Egar the Dragonbane, and Archeth Indamaninarmal and their fate.

And fate there is as by the end The Cold Commands sets our characters in places they wouldn’t have expected to be in at the beginning, which made the last quarter or so quite a surprise, and had me scrambling to find two hours listening over 24hrs to finish it.

At the the start it’s not clear where you are going. This does require an act of faith to push through as it feels like Morgan knows you already know and love these characters and will follow them regardless of where they end up but he doesn’t really give a sense of direction.

To be fair the characters aren’t sure what they should be doing either and each of them is eventually pushed or pulled into some sort of action – Ringil is freeing slaves, Egar is bored and does a bit of breaking and entering which gets him into more trouble that he could possibly imagine and Archeth is sent to retrieve a helmsmen, who brings with him promise of her again meeting her people.

The Cold Commands does several things that make it ‘different’ or at least outside the ‘norm’ and reading Brit Mandelo’s tor.com review reminds me that a few of them really should be highlighted.

The sequence is called ‘A Land Fit for Heroes’ but who are our heroes? Ringil is probably the most surprising being not only gay but also a gay man whose intimate relationships with two minor characters are supportive rather than destructive,which is unlike The Steel Remains where the close relationship is destructive for him and the wider world and it comes back to haunt events here.  Archeth is struggling with restraint over her own desires and whether a slave girl is an expectable release. And finally, Egar’s own intimate relationship causes danger to all three though it is also a linchpin in strengthening the relationships between them.

I love The Cold Commands for that alone as there is no neon signposting. The sexuality and the problems that brings feels like an extension of the characters and I’m glad that Ringil’s relationships especially don’t ‘punish’ him.

Not that this novel a romance, it has another side shown in some dark and brutal moments. There is a rape scene, which is  rightly disturbing, and its inclusion shows a lot about the world in which everything takes place and is also telling about the characters involved and how they react.

There are a lot of soul searching moments, especially Ringil’s as he transverses the Grey Places, but each of the trio gets focus and attention, and for a middle book in a trilogy it goes deeper and further than just  treading water until the next book’s third act big finale.

Morgan likes to linger on the fights and the sexual scenes, often giving a blow-by-blow account, which I guess makes this ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’ and not for squeamish or prudish. Though I do think it’s important  that it never feels gratuitous; the fights especially have consequences. And often war ‘heroes’ are glorified by others, which are quickly earthed by Egar’s and Ringil’s putdowns.

There is also a turning of the tide here. We see the struggles that the ruler Jhiral Khimran II has in keeping power and how he keeps blocking the damn against the religious furore of the Citadel. I quite like him as character because of who he is and why he does what he does. He has a charm that comes from his scenes with Archeth and even though she’s a lot older than him he often feels much wiser. Though he s brutal and unflinching as well (and here Vance’s performance plays a strong role).

Speaking of Archeth, even she isn’t safe from Morgan’s callus hands. Outside influences extend to even her. But I’ll leave it as that to avoid unneeded signposting or spoiler inducing.

As I said at the beginning, it’s not clear at the start what to expect and I don’t want to flag those moments too much as their revelation makes you rethink a lot of earlier moments and makes a reread or re-listen in my gave something to look forward to.  But I will say that by the end Morgan has prepared the ground for something big. And the point where you hear ‘the cold commands’ will make a shiver run down your spine.

The Cold Commands uses traditional fantasy tropes and stretches those conventions to cover places they normally don’t reach. The main characters should be hard to like but they have plenty to hook your sympathies and understanding especially as their hearts are in the right place as storms gather around them. Honestly The Dark Defiles can’t come fast enough, though at last report it’s 50% bigger than this one and pays of debt due, but I’m nervous about how much Morgan is going to tear into the hearts of our characters.

Vance, as always, does a startling performance, and it always makes me chuckle that the dwenda sound welsh. His portrayal of Jihral especially sets the right tone and the helmsmen sound alien and disturbing. I could honestly listen to him read the phone book. Though with The Dark Defiles being half as long again I hope his voice holds out.

And the winner is:

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Lizzie Barrett on No Cloaks Allowed described it thus: 

Ancillary Justice is one of the rarest of things: a debut novel that assuredly challenges its readers while continuing the familiar tradition of space opera. It at once makes you feel comfortable – if you have read any Iain M Banks or Ursula Le Guin, or seen Battlestar Galactica – but also makes you confront your own biases of gender and identity. Ultimately, it forces the reader to wonder what constitutes a human. It’s utterly sublime.

Hearty congratulations to Ann and don’t forget to check out the rest of this year’s shortlist:

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Hodder Children’s Books is delighted to announce the launch of HodderSilver, their first digital-only list, on 1st May 2014. HodderSilver will republish critically-acclaimed gems of fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction from the 70s through to the early 00s for readers to enjoy digitally for the first time. The eBooks, which will be available for purchase from all online retailers, will contain such classics as Catweazle by Richard Carpenter – a cult success in the 1970s which was accompanied by a popular TV show – and Plague 99 by bestselling author Jean Ure.

The eBooks will contain new exclusive material, including never-before-seen author interviews.

Jon Appleton, Fiction Editorial Director at Hodder Children’s Books, comments: “The list began as a personal selection of books we’ve loved and remembered – and we’ve been delighted to find other readers are already responding favourably to our choices.”

Nick Coveney, Editor, Consumer Audio & Digital, says: “These titles are fantastic for readers of all ages; we are all very excited about releasing them as eBooks for the first time. Many  – for example Catweazle by Richard Carpenter – are classic titles that still have a strong, enthusiastic following 40 years after initial publication.”

The following titles are due for release on 1st May and are currently available for pre-order through all major eBook retailers:

- The Plague Trilogy: Plague 99 by Jean Ure

“A cross between Lord of the Flies and Day of the Triffids… it is better written than anything by Wyndham and I prefer her characters to Golding’s unconvincing schoolboys.” The Guardian

- Starstormers series: Starstormers by Nicholas Fisk

“It wasn’t Asimov, Clarke or any of the other towering figures of the pantheon that got me reading SF – it was Nicholas Fisk.” SFX Magazine

- The Ennead by Jan Mark

“Deftly written, with detail and total conviction, The Ennead offers an alternative world that provides a provocative mirror of our own society.” The Guardian

- The Llandor Trilogy: Journey Through Llandorby Louise Lawrence

- Catweazle by Richard Carpenter

 

HodderSilver has its own Twitter account @HodderSilver, and Tumblr, hoddersilver.tumblr.com.

 

HodderSilver’s promise is to “republish critically-acclaimed gems of fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction from the 70s through to the early 00s for readers to enjoy digitally for the first time”

Now this is exciting as it’s SF&F and it’s aimed at children, especially books their parents may have read and may try and push on their children.  Being digital-only gives me an excuse to load up the ereader, especially as they are ones I haven’t read.

Anyone read any? Where would you start?

Days of Blood and Starlight

There is no way of getting around it. This is a love story. You see, once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love and imagined a new way of living and so far that dream has caused both of them nothing but pain. At least that was how Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended and in Days of Blood and Starlight that feeling continues.

Not so strangely in the US this is released through Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and I’d place it, if labels are important to you, in that YA category. Though saying that if you’ve read the first book then you’ll know what to expect and the labelling will be irrelevant.

Please though don’t let the YA/love-story elements  put you off the idea of reading it but read Daughter of Smoke and Bone first. Laini Taylor is telling a big story through the relationship of Karou, currently almost human, who is trapped into rebuilding an army (by placing saved souls in newly formed bodies) and Akiva, an angel, who along with the rest his kind, has the sole mission of destroying Karou’s race.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone there was a stalemate of opposing armies (Angels vs Chimera) with neither side gaining ground which was then shattered and we deal with the aftermath here. Laini Taylor isolates her two main characters and shows the conflict from their opposing sides but they both have their own internal conflicts, not only in their personal relationships, but the role they play in the war.

And for a story which has two heavy threads Taylor has a light touch with both giving you enough of each to keep you wanting to know more rather than wanting to stick with one or other. Saying that though the plotting and the conveniences in events aren’t so smooth. But somehow that doesn’t matter because if you’ve made it this far and become reinvested in their plight you’re happy to follow along even wishing some scenes would end before anything too horrible happens (Taylor on the whole doesn’t pull back on those).

I like Taylor’s take on angels being the more horrible of the two and that the ‘beasts’ are mostly defending themselves though that view is harder to stomach with some the events now gathering little sympathy in their retaliation .

But each time we see Karou and Akiva representing a different way. It’s not a spoiler to say that things get worse and not better throughout Days of Blood and Starlight and part of me missed the sense of fun that was strong element in the first book, mostly it is missing because Karou doesn’t spend time with her friends, though the scenes where they do make an appearance brings back that lightness before again being swallowed up again by the dark.

 

Overall, rather than turning sickly sweet Laini Taylor takes us to a darker place than the original in this sequel but at the same time giving hopes that everything is not doomed just before raising the stakes at the last minute.

Luckily Dreams of Gods and Monsters is out in a few days so I don’t have long to wait to see how it all ends.

www_moriarty-book_co_uk_resources_Anthony-Horowitz-New-Book-Announcement_pdf

Well this was a surprise. I’d seen Horowitz post some teaser tweets but I wasn’t expecting that he’d flip from Holmes to his nemesis Moriarty.

With The House of Silk he managed to work the line between honouring someone else’s creation but telling an interesting and worthwhile story.

This time though he’s leaving those safe waters for something else entirely. I have everything crossed.

I guess we’ll all find out on the 23rd October 2014.

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When Rupert Sethleigh’s body is found one morning, laid out in the village butcher shop but minus its head, the inhabitants of Wandles Parva aren’t particularly upset. Sethleigh was a blackmailing moneylender and when the peerless detective and renowned psycholanalyst Mrs Bradley begins her investigation she finds no shortage of suspects. It soon transpires that most of the village seem to have been wandering about Manor Woods, home of the mysterious druidic stone on which Sethleigh’s blood is found splashed, on the night he was murdered, but can she eliminate the red herrings and catch the real killer?

Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is a wondrous creation. She’s gnarled, rich and wickedly humoured. She’s also interfering. These qualities makes her a perfect candidate of a detective. And like Christie or Doyle Mitchell was quite prolific.

To give you an idea Vintage have already published 13 books featuring this devilish detective and and this month are going to be releasing 20 more (4 normal paperbacks with 16 as print on demand and all are available as ebooks). They’ve been coming out quite sporadically up until now with Vintage choosing their favourites before filling in some gaps.

This is to explain why I’m now reading Mrs Bradley’s second appearance (my next read is the first  the series Speedy Death) but from the ones I’ve read so far it doesn’t seem to matter what order you read them in as Mrs Bradley doesn’t have any development but is more a mechanism to let the other characters kill each other and then nose around until she finds the murderer.

I read this one in two parts. The first half I read last year (around Halloween) but I picked it back up a few days ago and devoured the rest. Partly what I struggled with in the first half is the habit Mitchell has of dropping you into a scene with lots of dialogue but not grounding you in the scene by having the characters give some context to the scene.

It’s not something I struggled with from reading her other books and I think Mitchell got lots of  opportunities to practice her technique. But maybe it was me as well as I was much more comfortable with the cast of characters and what was being described when I picked it up again. Maybe it just took some time to get up to speed? As for the murder itself as it says in the blurb it looks quite simple but pinning it down takes Mrs Bradley some time.

The cast of characters here is entertaining with their personalities all quite different. Mitchell is great at exploring motivations and giving them layers of problems and interest so that no character feels like a cardboard walk-on. And when I got to the end I was annoyed in a good way as Mitchell manages to keeps you on your toes. Mrs Bradley is no goody two-shoes and the ending proves it.

As a book which is 84 years old you may think it would have dated but it doesn’t really. It doesn’t have modern obsessions with gore, flawed detectives, and its glamour is understated rather than gaudy. It feels classical if that makes sense.

I honestly can’t wait to see where Mitchell places Mrs Bradley next.