The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

consuming fire cover

“Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony that his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.”

The Collapsing Empire was one of my favourite NetGalley finds – so much fun to read, and introducing me to an author I immediately wished to read more from. The story was intriguing, too: in the far future, humanity has spread throughout the stars by means of wormhole-like ‘flow’ paths between planets and habitats that would otherwise take months, years, or longer to travel between. Long cut off from Earth after the collapse of that particular flow, it seems as if other, depended-upon trade routes are also starting to disappear.

Following on from that, we once again join Emperox Grayland II now dealing with what could be the biggest upcoming disaster in any Emperox’s rule. First hurdle: convincing anyone else that the threat is real. Meanwhile, power struggles between ruling houses continue, taking more deadly and downright nasty twists. And on the end of a newly-opened flow, it could be that a long-cut off scion of humanity may not have been destroyed when their link to civilisation was…

I didn’t find CF quite as much fun as CE, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Lady Kiva is a bit more reigned in this time, although still a lot of fun. Cardenia is coming into her own. However, the scale of the story takes precedence over characterisation a little. There’s also a bit of ‘middle-book’ syndrome, in that this needs both the preceding and – omg, I have to wait HOW long!?! – sequel.

Still, a very recommended book/series. Even if one bit just made me think ‘Brexit in space’ – argh!! 😉

Kindle: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: The Interdependency book 2
Read from 5th November 2018 – 4th February 2019 (due to receiving excerpt ARC of first few chapters and had to wait to get my hands on the rest, not because I wasn’t enjoying it!)

My rating: 8/10

Advertisements

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Hogfather cover

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

It’s safe to say that the Discworld series are some of my most beloved books, ever. And so, when asked to run a reading challenge over December, it made sense to reach for the Christmassy Hogfather.

If you’re new to Discworld, this is often given as a possible starting point – the first couple of books written, Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, are ones to go back to rather than start with, as the series hadn’t quite reached it’s stride. There are several ‘streams’ in the series, including the Watch books, the Witches books, and the Death books. The latter are probably my favourite, so I tend to suggest Mort as the best start. However, if you’re jumping in here – and that works, too – then just know that Mort and Reaper Man will give some background to this.

So… it’s almost Hogswatch on the Disc, but this year the Hogfather is suspiciously… bony. It’s less “Ho ho ho” and altogether HO HO HO. What would cause Death to step in to deliver presents across the world? And, quite frankly, how will the world cope with an Anthropomorphic Personification who takes everything a bit more literally than the rest of us?

There are a lot of elements crammed in to this book. Toothfairies, verruca gnomes plaguing Unseen University, Death of Rats, assassins, and Hex, the thinking machine, all make an appearance and add to the plot. We mainly follow Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter, although she’s working as a governess and would quite frankly rather be done with all of that nonsense.

The thing I love about Pratchett’s writing is that underneath all the fantasy, the humour pokes a sharp stick of fun at very real world issues. And, 22 years on, the satire is still highly relevant. But beyond this, there’s also a very profound message about the human condition. You get to read on whatever level you like, of course, but this is far from dumb, silly fantasy.

Hardback: 285 pages
First published: 1996
Series: Discworld book 20 / Death book 4
Read from 27th November – 11th December 2018

My rating: 9/10

Early Riser – Jasper Fforde

early riser cover

“Survivability has increased during hibernation since the introduction of Dormitoria, efficient weight-gain regimes and Morphenox, but superstition and fear remain.”

Imagine an Earth that never really made it out of the last ice age. Perhaps in such a world humans will have evolved to hibernate, sleeping away the cold winter after laying down stores of fat. Technology develops a little differently here, where priorities aren’t quite the same, and top of the desirability stakes is Morphenox, the drug that increases your likelihood of surviving the winter.

Charlie Worthing is keen to escape a life working for the orphanage that raised her, so when she’s given the opportunity to work for the Winter Consulate – a job with Morphenox benefits – she jumps at the chance. This means fighting against the natural instinct to sleep through the cold months, and brings her into contact with the strange winter community. But, why are so many of them sharing the same strange dream? What’s really happening to the zombie-like sleepers who don’t quite come back? And can Charlie survive all that a winter has to through at a novice?

I love Jasper Fforde’s books, his sense of humour and his settings that are almost like our reality but a few large steps sideways. There’s something hugely British about the mix, and really, where else are you going to see (zombie) Rick Astley pop up as a character?

So, to this hugely imaginatively skewed world add a mystery and another puzzle to solve, a dollop of danger, and a set of strange winter myths. Take a moment to ponder the strangeness of dreaming, and question if memory is all you think it is. Shake well, and enjoy!

This isn’t quite Shades of Grey (an absolutely brilliant, sadly (still) stand-alone book) for me, but much as I loved Thursday Next this might be even better. Certainly, I was always keen for moments I could steal to read more of this, and was genuinely disappointed that it was finished! Definitely recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 402 pages
First published: August 2018
Series: none (sob!)
Read from 1st-10th August 2018

My rating: 9/10

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

furthest station cover

“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

A Bad Mom’s Christmas (2017)

Bad Moms 2 poster

Bad Moms was one of those daft comedies that ended up having a little more heart and substance than I’d expected, and actually ended up rather enjoying. I still knew that this holiday-set sequel wasn’t going to be a ‘good’ movie, but it was the daft fun I was looking for.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is doing well after the events of the first movie, with a hot boyfriend, good relationship with her kids, and best friends Kiki and Carla agreeing with her that Christmas is far too much pressure on moms and therefore should be taken at their own pace.

Which is fine, until the grandmothers arrive in town…

The plot is utterly daft, but there is a lot of joy in seeing Susan Sarandon as the drug-hazed rock chick, and Christine Baranski largely playing the same character she does so well. The humour swings between very fun and very cringeworthy, though, so your mileage will vary hugely depending on how far you find funny. The dry humping in front of the Christmas table was a bit off for me, and the whole sickly sweet stalkerish mom didn’t tickle any funny bones. And, as with the first movie, the constant need to swear got a bit dull – and I sound like a naval cadet half the time, so I’m no prude! Maybe if they’d just varied from the one word every few lines?

Overall, though, this was the Christmas movie I was willing to tolerate at the start of the festivities (although it was out a whole month too early, if you ask me!), and provided enough feel good moments to kick off the season. Not exactly likely to knock Die Hard off the best Christmas movie spot, though 😉

Released: 1st November 2017
Viewed: 30th November 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

MAD Librarian – Michael Guillebeau

MAD Librarian cover

“Serenity tried.”

Just because the budget for her public library is being slashed again and again, doesn’t mean head librarian Serenity Sweetwater Hammer doesn’t have big dreams about what they could do for the local community if only they did have the money. When the all-important internet bill needs paid, her desperate search for cash uncovers something… strange. Fortuitous. Dangerous?

When money becomes no object, what does a librarian do?

I really wanted to like this book. I love books about books and libraries, and handing power to a librarian sounds like a good idea 😉 And of course, it’s a lovely idea that half of the book’s profits go to a library charity. But, alas, concept and reality just didn’t gel for me.

To begin with, the opening chapters – the setting up of the ‘norm’ – are actually quite depressing. Yup, librarians are underfunded. Yup, politicians are vile. But oy, the sexism, the over-the-top aggressive dismissals Serenity faces as she’s expected to produce miracles, just made me grind my teeth. Probably the point, but to be honest I didn’t need to read it again and again.

Nor, actually, did I need the rather out of place sex scene near the end. It’s not too graphic, but it felt very voyeuristic and out of place. Serenity’s marriage subplot really didn’t work all that well for me at all, there was just something clunky about the relationship as written, with overly-perfect cop hubby, Joe Hammer (I mean, really!).

Anyway, the early depressive tone changes to more of a mystery, which does help, but things escalate rather to the point of ridiculousness. The supporting characters don’t help: you’d think distinguishing between the one very young and one very old under-librarians would be easy enough, but to be honest… urm? One had tattoos, one insisted on being called ‘Doom’ – both were very OTT in the ‘anything for the library!’ message.

Overall, I think it was a nice idea, and it was a very quick and easy read. Chapters were very short, a few pages at most, so I suspect a fair amount of those 400 pages were whitespace. However, while I don’t begrudge the reading time, I felt very disappointed that things were only 90%-ish wrapped up, with the first chapter of the sequel included at the end – which I really don’t see me picking up.

NetGalley eARC: 404 pages / 70 chapters
First published: December 2017
Series: first of something, given the sequel’s opening chapter was included at the end
Read from 1st-4th September 2017

My rating: 5/10 – nice idea, but didn’t hit the mark for me