Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Tag: recommendations

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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World War Z by Max Brooks

I can’t explain why, but I put off reading World War Z for several years. I knew about it, knew it ticked a bunch of my boxes, but never started it. Maybe I thought the style (written as a series of personal interviews with survivors of the zombie war) wouldn’t work, maybe it was the Brad Pitt movie. I’m not sure, but I was wrong. This novel blew me away over and over again. By the time I’d finished I felt wrung out, and will probably return to re-read it again before this year ends. (more…)

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Why you should read Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry

Disclaimer: the author of Sorcery for Beginners is my editor. I’ve tried to be impartial here, and am confident I enjoyed the book regardless, but in the interests of transparency…

Sorcery for Beginners, by Matt Harry, is an urban fantasy targeted primarily at a younger audience. However, in the same way Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) captured the imagination of many adults, SFB is also destined to have a wide appeal. It’s an instruction manual for the ancient art of sorcery, teaching its lessons through the educational example of Owen Mcready. The book intersperses Owen’s tale with interesting tidbits, reference notes, and (most importantly) instructions for casting the various spells featured. The story is well told, great fun, and built upon some marvellous world-building. I knew early on I was ready something special and wasn't disappointed. It’s set up to be the first in a series, and I anticipate these novels becoming a staple in the genre. This could well be the first instalment in the next Harry Potter.

I read most of my novels in electronic format these days, but I recommend picking up SFB as a physical book. The production values sunk into the paperback are awesome, and the book looks gorgeous, with French flaps, rough-cut pages, and wonderful illustrations.

Note: Kindle Oasis owners shouldn’t buy the kindle version. The Oasis has as a different aspect ratio to other Kindle models and it plays hell with the formatting of the illustrations. Other Kindle models should be fine.
You can find Sorcery for Beginners on the publisher site, Amazon, Book Depository, and Goodreads, or just ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you.

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Sparked by Helen Echlin and Malena Watrous

Sparked, 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 they're 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 far 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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The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

The 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.

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The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

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