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Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Category: Recommendation

The Writing Bloc's Best of October

Over on The Writing Bloc we've posted our favourite reads of the month. For me, this month's was LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff. Check out the Writing Bloc post with all three recommendations here, or see my comments on LIFEL1K3 below.

Lifelike by Jay Kristoff

On an island junkyard beneath a cigarette sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Seventeen-year-old Eve isn’t looking for secrets; she’s already too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she spent months building is a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her grandpa alive was the handful of credits she just lost to the bookies. Worst of all, she’s discovered she can destroy machines with nothing more than her mind, and a bunch of puritanical fanatics are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

This is my first Kristoff novel and it will not be the last. Wow. This book was so good it blew my mind. There’s a lot of Idiocracy in the world, but… darker. Much darker. In inexperienced hands, this could have come off cheesy, but it doesn’t. The characters are a sarcy delight and the story is an intense rollercoaster. And that ending… Holy Hell.

(Also, Kristoff just recently tweeted he’s finished the sequel.)

Check it out on Amazon and Goodreads.

Before you go

Why don't you look at my other recommendations? 

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

My audiobook this month has been Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi and narrated by Bahni Turpin. The novel is a fantasy that draws on African culture to give us a beautiful new world to explore, full of beautifully realized people and places. It tells us the story of Zélie Adebola, a young Diviner whose birthright was to become a powerful magi — until magic inexplicably left the world. Read the official synopsis:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Everything about this novel is captivating. The characters are deep and complex, the world is detailed, and the plot sings. This is further enhanced in the audiobook by Bahni Turpin’s narration, which is flawless. Children of Blood and Bone has already earned a lot of hype and been optioned for a motion picture, so you’ve likely heard the title before. If you haven’t read it, I recommend picking up a copy.

You can add it on Goodreads here or order it from Amazon here.

Before you go

If you enjoyed this recommendation, why don't you look at what else I've recommended?

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The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle

This month, the the Writing Bloc's Best of June post, I recommended The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle. Read all the recommendations by Writing Bloc contributors here.

The Seclusion is the debut novel from journalist Jacqui Castle and it’s a ripper. The story is set in a dystopian future America that has been twisted into an isolationist authoritarian nation, separated from the rest of the world by the enormous Northern and Southern Security Borders. All history predating the walls is banned and information is tightly controlled. In this new America, the people are ruled by a faceless board and mindless patriotism is favored above all else. Into this setting we meet Patricia. As an environmental scientist, she’s one of the few people permitted to roam beyond the city walls. It’s while on one of these research trips she stumbles upon a trove of forbidden information that triggers a harrowing sequence of events.

In the year 2090, America has walled itself off from the rest of the world. When her father is arrested by the totalitarian Board, a young woman sets out to escape the only country she’s ever known.
While on a routine assignment scouting the viability of dwindling natural resources outside the massive urban centers most American citizens call home, Patricia ’Patch’ and her co-worker Rexx discover a relic from the past containing dangerous contraband―unedited books from before The Seclusion. These texts will spark an unquenchable thirst for the truth that sees Patch’s father arrested by the totalitarian Board.
Evading her own arrest, Patch and Rexx set out across a ruined future United States, seeking some way to escape the only home they’ve ever known. Along the way, they learn about how their country came to be this way and fall in love. But their newfound knowledge may lead to their own demise.

There’s no pretending The Seclusion isn’t political. It was written before the election of Trump, but many will see it as prescient, with the world it paints an extreme conclusion to the right-wing populism currently sweeping not just the USA, but many other countries as well. Basically, if you’re a racist, right-wing conservative who doesn’t believe in human rights, you’re probably not going to enjoy The Seclusion. Suck it.

I loved this novel. Patricia is a great protagonist who grows throughout as events spiral out of control. The world, though extreme, is well realized and the journey from present-day to dystopian future all too believable.

Disclaimer: The author and I are both contributors to the Writing Bloc. I read an advance review copy of this novel. However, I had already pre-ordered and paid for a retail copy before receiving the version I reviewed.
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The Seclusion is out now, you can look it up on Goodreads or order it from Amazon. If your local bookstore doesn't have a copy, ask them to order it in for you!

Before you go

If you enjoyed this recommendation, why not see what else I have for you?

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

Over on the Writing Bloc we’ve kicked off monthly book recommendations from contributors. Our first post is up, covering our recommendations from March. My recommendation this month is The Fireman by Joe Hill. You can find the recommendation below, or read all the recommendations over on The Writing Bloc.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.

“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”

The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.

“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”

If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman. You can find it on Goodreads here or Amazon here.

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Recommendation: Elements of Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Elements of Fiction Writing is a series of instructive books on the craft of writing, each written by a different author. Characters & Viewpoint is an instalment by Orson Scott Card, and I found it to be a great educational read.

“A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.”

The book covers in great depth a range of topics, from inventing characters through to portraying them on the page. It looks at understanding what characters you need, how to develop their identity and history, the roles they should play in the story, and how to make it come alive. It also looks at the types of stories you may be telling, how that might affect which characters you choose to focus on, and the points of view you may want to use. (more…)

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The Creakers by Tom Fletcher

I just finished reading The Creakers with my young son and it’s delightful. It tells the tale of Wiffington and the relationship between its residents and the creatures known as the Creakers. Specifically, it focusses on the children of the town after they awake to find every grown-up has mysteriously vanished overnight.

Our heroine for the story is young Lucy Dungston, who’s a worthy hero for the adventure. While many children celebrate their new freedom, Lucy attempts to solve the riddle of where their parents have gone. She takes it upon herself to keep her fellow children safe and return the grown-ups to Wiffington — no small order. With monsters under the bed, people being snatched, and a strange, backwards world called the Woleb, The Creakers tiptoes along the edge of scary for its intended audience. However, Fletcher has a wonderful sense of humour, regularly breaking the fourth wall to interact with the reader, and lightening the mood considerably.
The story has great pacing, an eclectic cast of characters, and a strong dose of ridiculousness. It also features excellent illustrations throughout to help bring everything to life. My son and I both loved it — two thumbs up.
The Creakers is aimed at younger readers. Due to the production quality and illustrations, I recommend the physical book rather than eBook.
You can find it on Goodreads, Amazon, and Book Depository (or your local bookstore).

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