Recommendation: Sparked

33534890Sparked, by Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, is a young adult urban fantasy that is a joy to read. I read a wide range of genres, including more than a few YA novels. Reading the novel, I felt it was potentially written for a younger age group than me. Before you start, yes, I know I don’t come anywhere close to qualifying as “young” adult. However, there’s a lot of YA books out there that feel their written for a more mature group within the bracket. Or maybe they just try to be edgier. Either way, there’s something distinctly innocent about the teenagers who take centre stage in Sparked, and it fits the story well.

Speaking of story, Sparked follows Laurel as she tries to work out what’s really happened to her sister, who goes missing early on. Circumstances leave Laurel convinced her sister is in danger, but no one else will believe her. As she digs deeper, she begins to discover the situation is farm more complicated and dangerous than she ever thought possible.

Both Helena and Malena have previously published novels, but never before together as a team. Their skill is obvious, with slick prose and well-structured scenes throughout. There’s nothing in the world or the plot that makes it stand out as something completely unique within the genre, but there’s nothing too derivative either, and the execution is excellent. My only real complaint is that when Laurel finds someone who can give her answers, those answers are a little cliched in delivery. While that small sequence pulled me out of the flow temporarily (I got back into it soon after), I suspect it wouldn’t bother its target audience as much. The rest of the novel avoids such a trap, and the supporting characters are great — indeed, the group dynamics are part of what makes the novel click.

If you’re looking for a YA urban fantasy, but sick of Twilight clones packed full of Edwards, pick up Sparked. It delivers a quality story with panache and leaves the door open for more to come.

You can read more reviews of the book on its Goodreads page here. Alternatively you can order a copy from:

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Recommendation: The Punch Escrow

The Punch EscrowThe Punch Escrow (TPE) currently holds a record place in my library, as I finished it in five days, which for a slow reader like myself is a huge statement. I couldn’t put this book down, and now I’ve read it understand why people have been comparing it (stylistically) to Ready Player One.

The novel is set in a somewhat distant future (2147) where teleportation has become the dominant form of transportation. It follows Joel Byram, a salter (he teaches AIs to be more human through mind games), as he’s drawn into a conspiracy that threatens the world order and forces him to question who he really is.

The novel is hard sci-fi and the author (Tal Klein) has done some heavy-lifting in the world building. There is enormous depth to the society he has created and the science that keeps it humming. An interesting style-choice Klein has chosen is to include regular footnotes to explain various aspects of society, history, or science as it is referenced. This wouldn’t always work — these footnotes can be huge info dumps — but in the context of TPE it feels authentic (and the explanations are fascinating.

The story is told directly by the main character, in the form of a message he records for others to find so the “true story” won’t be lost. This is a nice approach, as it lets Klein provide us more than one point of view while staying firmly in Joel’s voice, which is delightful. It also means all those footnotes I mentioned are also explained in character, which is part of the reason they don’t become boring.

I loved this book from beginning to end and can see why it’s been building so much hype. If you enjoyed Ready Player One, or fast-paced hard sci-fi with a sense of humor, I recommend picking this book up.

You can find it on Goodreads here, Amazon here, or Book Depository here.

Recommendation: Shades of Magic

Schwab - A Darker Shade of MagicThe Shades of Magic trilogy has rocketed into my list of top fantasy, my mind returning regularly to the remarkable world and characters author V. E. Schwab has created. I have a feeling it’s a series I’ll return to several times to relive the joy it brought me.

Schwab has declared the series will remain a trilogy, the three books being A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light. However, a recent announcement has confirmed we will get to return to this world in a new series, something I’m ecstatic about.

Schwab - A Gathering of ShadowsThe trilogy is set in a universe of alternate realities. Specifically four, each connected by a city called London. Though they share a name, each London is different, as are the worlds they inhabit. Grey London is our own Victorian England, drear, industrial, and devoid of magic. Red London is vibrant with power, the river coursing through its heart a pure source of power that glows bright red. White London wastes away, cut off from the magic it once possessed, people value power above all else. Black London is dead, destroyed by magic long ago.

Only a rare few, the Antari, can travel between the worlds, and they are becoming fewer, leaving each world almost completely isolated from the other. The trilogy follows Kell, one of the last two living Antari, and Delilah, a thief with a talent for surprises. Together, they set off a chain of events which set the worlds on a collision course of epic proportions.

Schwab - A Conjuring of LightThe world building in this series is beautiful. From the cultures, to the cities, to the magic — it’s a joy. The characters are complex, engaging, witty, dark, and I challenge you not to fall in love with them. In addition to the two main characters, Schwab gives us a diverse cast of players who delight.

You can find more information on the series on Goodreads here. Or you can pick up the first book (A Darker Shade of Magic) from Amazon or Book Depository.

Recommendation: The Falcon Flies Alone

Disclaimer: I read a free review copy of this book.

The Falcon Flies AloneThe Falcon Flies Alone is a supernatural science-fiction novel set in Switzerland and Germany during the 1950’s. It follows the fraught tale of Peppa; the recently orphaned daughter of a respected chemist who is a skilled scientist in her own right. When we join her, however, she is far from the halls of Radcliffe where she had expected to be studying. After the death of her father, she was left in the care of her Aunt until she came of age at twenty-one — a situation she couldn’t stand, leading her to flee and hide in the country until her birthday when she could claim her inheritance. Unfortunately, things spiral out of control when she is implicated in a violent and deadly incident in the town, one that unleashes a falcon spirit inside and leaves her questioning her sanity as she flees the authorities.

The story is interesting, deliberately keeping the reader guessing as to whether Peppa has really transformed into a giant raptor, or whether the drug she was tricked into ingesting cause a psychotic break. The novel is well-written, and I enjoyed it, though there were a few elements that held me back (all subjective).

My biggest problem was Peppa. She’s a naïve character who has grown up submersed in science, leading her to interpret the world and events through an almost purely clinical eye. She goes through a great deal in the book, and is undoubtedly the victim, but at the end of the day I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. It’s not always necessary to want to be friends with the protagonist in a novel, but in this case, I struggled a little to care about her future. This is definitely my subjective experience, and I have no doubt others will love her. She just wasn’t the style of character I’m drawn to.

Mathieu has done a lot of research for the book, and it shows. While there are supernatural elements to the story, it focusses on its science-fiction basis, and there is a lot of science to unpack. In places I found it a little heavy handed, but throughout most of the book it flows well. Some people will love the detail provided, others perhaps not so much. You’ll know if you like your stories with a heavy dose of science — I again present this not as a criticism, but as a subjective experience.

The Falcon Flies Alone is the first book in a series, the book nicely closes the primary story arc while opening into the next. The novel is action-packed with rolling twists and turns. Gabrielle Mathieu is strong writer who has delivered an interesting period science-fiction which will be loved by those who connect to the main character.

You can pick up a copy from Amazon here, or read more reviews on Goodreads here.

Recommendation: Cassandra Palmer Extended Universe

My “what I read” segments are short book (or series) recommendations based on the books I enjoy. They generally aren’t designed to be a detailed review — you get a basic summary of what the book / series is about, and why I like it.

The CPEU

As far as I know, the “Cassandra Palmer Extended Universe” isn’t part of the official lexicon, but it should be. This recommendation is really for two series that take place in the same universe: the Cassandra Palmer series and the Dorina Basarab series (a spin off). Both are written by Karen Chance and are accompanied by a series of fun novellas in addition to the main novels.

Continue reading Recommendation: Cassandra Palmer Extended Universe

Recommendation: A God in the Shed

IMG_0518Before I drop into my review, I should note I don’t normally read horror.

“If that’s true, why did you read A God in the Shed?

Because the idea of accidentally trapping a god in your backyard shed is awesome, and because I loved JF Dubeau’s previous book, the sci-fi The Life Engineered.

The good news, despite straying from my usual genre, is I enjoyed AGITS and plan to read its sequel when it comes out. This is a dark supernatural thriller with a high (and gruesome) death count, but that’s what happens when dealing with a god of death and hate. Dubeau has hit on a brilliant concept in this book and he executes the premise well. The story moves smoothly from revelation to revelation and the complex web of interrelated characters and plot points converge.

PS: If you do plan to pick up this book, I recommend getting yourself a physical copy. Inkshares have done an amazing job with the design and production of this — the cover looks great, and the pages are rough-cut, giving the book a glorious on-theme feel.

PPS: I won’t be booking a ticket to Saint-Ferdinand any time soon.

You can buy AGITS from:

Recommendation: The Innkeeper Chronicles

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Clean Sweep is Book 1 in the series.

I became hooked on Ilona Andrews through the Kate Daniels series, then discovered the Innkeeper Chronicles, and my addiction grew. This series has a very different vibe to Kate Daniels, but it still packs the Ilona Andrews punch. There are (at the time I’m writing this) three novels out in the series: Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace, and One Fell Sweep.

The novels are science-fiction with a dose of urban fantasy. They tell the story of Dina, an Innkeeper who caters to non-human clients. In this universe, the Earth exists on an interstellar crossroads, and humans are the smallest fish in a big ocean. To prevent humanity’s inevitable enslavement or extermination by another race, a great treaty was formed to establish the planet as a neutral zone and safe haven. Innkeepers provide accommodation and protection to those who come calling and ensure the great secret is never revealed.

The best way to describe this series is FUN. The blend of science and magic is perfect for the tone of the books, which are action packed, humorous, and touching. The Inns themselves are incredible, and the eclectic cast of characters are delightful (and yet another reason real-life social interactions can feel so tedious).

If you enjoy a fantastical sci-fi adventure, or are an urban fantasy fan looking for a new take on things which go bump, I highly recommend these books. They aren’t hard sci-fi, so readers looking for an explanation of how the Inn’s technomagic works are going to be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean the world-building is lacking, just that the explanation of how magic and technology mix isn’t relevant to the incredible stories packed into each instalment.

You can find more information on goodreads here, or buy the books at: