Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

April 26, 2017 - 5:48 pm No Comments

THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND by Stephen Baxter
Gollancz / 464 pgs / £18.99 hardback / ISBN 1473205093
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin.


This novel is a sequel to H G Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and the new story revolves around the Martians return to Earth in the 1920’s. Whilst other authors have previously written sequels, this version is listed as “authorised by the H G Wells Estate” and I presume was timed to coincide with 2016 being the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth. The author, Stephen Baxter has previously written another authorised H G Wells’ sequel, THE TIME SHIPS which was a follow-up to THE TIME MACHINE and marked the centenary of that book’s publication.
It is fourteen years since the Martians invaded England, and the world has changed considerably. Examination of wrecked and abandoned Martian machinery has led to significant advances in technology. History as we know it has changed as a consequence of the original invasion; most significantly, a recovering UK formed an alliance with Germany, and a “Schlieffen War” between Russia and Germany is still ongoing. The governments of Earth scan the skies, but as another close approach between Earth and Mars nears, they are confident that their progress and prior knowledge means that this time they are prepared for the Martians. But when another Martian fleet begins to land, it becomes obvious that the Martians have also learned lessons and adapted so that yet again mankind is in deadly peril.
Writing in another author’s world, especially one so well-known and iconic as this one, is always going to be a difficult task. What is done very well is the attention to the details of 1920’s geography, vocabulary and appropriate technology. It is clear that a considerable amount of research has gone into writing this novel, and I also enjoyed the little nods to other people or works connected to Mars, ranging from Schiaparelli through to Grover’s Mill.
The worldbuilding is excellent and like the original, there are some suitably gruesome accounts of the Martians’ treatment of captured humans. However, I found myself a little frustrated with the pacing. The first section of the book, which deals with the initial landing, consolidation and the flight of refugees is the most successful in my opinion. After that however, there is an interlude of a couple of years where the Martians in England spend a long time just consolidating this bridgehead, without any attempt to spread further, and I found the urgency and menace of the story evaporating in this section. Towards the later part of the book there are further landings around the world, and the pace picks up but it felt to me like there was then too little space left to give these invasions sufficient details and thus engage the reader.
Fans of Wells’ will appreciate that the narrative does link back and reference the original story. It also includes many of the characters from the Wells’ story, including the original narrator, Walter Jenkins and the artilleryman, although much of the tale is now told by Julie, the sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins. However, I felt that the major focus was on the plot and that thus the characters often seemed to lack depth and I often found it hard to care much about their struggles.
Finally, it was always going to be difficult to find an ending with equivalent impact to the original. Without giving away the conclusion, this story finishes with a resolution that feels a little too “easy” and hence unsatisfying, although there is a “epilogue” which leaves scope for future developments. To summarise, this is a “curate’s egg” of a book – there are some very good bits but other bits that didn’t work for me. CG
(ARC kindly donated at Gollancz SF Gateway anniversary party)

Miracle on 5th Avenue

April 18, 2017 - 1:37 am No Comments

Reviewers note: this site does not often review contemporary romance, however, as her alter ego Eve Campbell, Theresa Derwin has started to write in the romance genre and found some great books worth sharing with our readers.

 

Miracle on 5th Avenue
(From Manhattan with Love Book 3)
Author: Sarah Morgan
Publisher: MIRA (Harper Collins imprint)
Page count: 384pp
Release date: 20th Oct 2016
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Eva Jordan is a glittering star when it comes to understanding romance; just unfortunately not for herself. She works like a maniac and her bedroom companion is a stuffed kangaroo her grandma gave her when she was four. At least, unlike the men in her life, the kangaroo never lets her down. Besides, she has no room or time for men in her life. Eva is still grieving the loss of her grandmother a year ago, wearing the heavy emotional scars and unable to really confide with anyone for fear of being a burden.
Still, at least she was busy with Urban Genie, the event and concierge business she ran with friends Paige and Frankie. It was their first Christmas since going into business, so things were looking up.
She used to love the silly season, and was determined to start enjoying it again, to do the things her Graham’s would want her to do. To make her proud.
On a personal note, I’m reviewing this late because I suffered a loss just after Christmas myself and I suspect Morgan has experienced a similar loss. She has completely captured the all-consuming pain and emptiness such grief brings. And though it may seem strange, this novel comforted me through that.
Lucas hates Christmas- as a crime writer at the top of his fie,d, he has deadlines, fans, a publisher and an agent – but no book. Normally he can force the worse out but this year is much worse, memories of his Sallyanne in the morgue haunting him. He’s supposed to be away writing in a cabin in Vermont, but just couldn’t face it. He’s still in his Manhattan aapartment alone.
He needed a miracle.
In the midst of a snowy blizzard, Eva turns up for her next job.
Decorating best seller author Lucas Blade’s fifth avenue apartment for the holidays. A preseng arranged by his grandmother.
A fabulous surprise …
And the first time they meet in his darkened penthouse suite? Hilarious. I laughed out loud at one part when Eva thinks of the contents of her purse. The dialogue between the two sparks the instant they meet, even if it starts as hostile, and Eva is ‘unintentionally’ funny. The reader finds her funny, the characters find her funny, but she doesn’t realise just how witty and insane she really is. There’s a genuine warmth to the banter between Lucas and Eva that reminded me almost of Marian and Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Last Ark. I love Morgan’s writing but with these two she’s excelled herself.
Lucas’ outlook as a crime writer is also pretty funny in an “OMG did he really go there?” way. His dark nature is very apparent from the first interaction, juxtaposed with Eva’s more positive outlook. It makes for great chemistry between the two. And as a horror writer, it also gave me some cracking ideas. In chapter two we also have a sly wink to ‘Psycho’. And the internal thoughts of both protagonists almost runs like a comedy of errors. Brilliant.
This is easily the best Sarah Morgan I’ve read and in her dealings with grief she is spit on.
5/5

The Rogue Hunter

April 12, 2017 - 3:24 pm No Comments

The Rogue Hunter
(Argeneau Vampires book 10)
Author: Lynsay Sands
Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 361pp
Release date: 10th May 2012
Online: @Gollancz, @Lynsay_sands, @StevieFinegan
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rogue-Hunter-Argeneau-Vampire-Vampires-ebook/dp/B007ZT9PYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492010640&sr=8-1&keywords=Rogue+Hunter+lynsay+Sands

 

Falling for a man is acceptable, expected even, but falling literally head over heels stumbling all over the place? Well, that’s taking it just a bit too far.
In the tenth instalment of the Argeneau Vampire series, we’ve entered a new story arc following Vampire Interrupted, and Bricker, Decker and Mortimer are on the hunt for a rogue vampire, himself hunting in a lakeside cottage area near Toronto.
Decker has had his cottage home in the area for years and thankfully, has managed to avoid any nosey neighbours. At least until the Willian sisters come to stay for a vacation.
Sam Willan is a workaholic lawyer, lately single from her high school sweetheart, but currently plagued by a recurring ear infection (suspected) that has her dizzy, losing her balance and toppling all over the place. She has reluctantly agreed to see a specialist on her return home, egged on by chef sister Alex and bar manager/university attendee sister Jo.
Of course she would start falling over in front of Mortimer, who’s staying with Bricker at Decker’s cottage, as they hunt for the rogue, who is bleeding humans dry. He at first suspects her falling about is drunkenness and isn’t suitably impressed, particularly as he can’t hear her thoughts, a sign she may be his true life mate. And she’s really not his type; too skinny, too pale. Needs a good meal.
His two Hunter friends watch as Mortimer begrudgingly finds himself feeling protective towards her as they use the trio of sisters to attend a popular lakeside night spot to find the rogue. Whilst on the hunt for the rogue, Mortimer finds himself falling heavily for Sam, whilst she is drawn to him, but harassed by her boss as the daughter of of one of their clients is missing and Sam is tasked with forcing the local sheriff into action.
It’s no surprise that the pair end up getting closer, but fate seems to get in their way in the most awkward of ways when it comes to getting intimate; cue insects, rashes, bumbling about and other disasters I won’t spoil for you.
It’s everything you expect from Sands; romance, action, great characters, witty humour and either a HEA or HFN.
In this case it’s HFN, but with the proviso that we will meet Sam and Mortimer again and see their story complete.
4/5

The Dragon Finds Forever: Nocturne Falls 7

March 22, 2017 - 1:41 pm No Comments

The Dragon Finds Forever
Nocturne Falls Book 7
Author: Kristen Painter
Publisher: Sugar Skull Books
Page count: 240pp
Release Date: 21st February 2017
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

 

It’s back to Nocturne Falls again. Where supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, Valkyrie, gargoyles – the list goes on) hide in plain sight in the town which celebrates Halloween 24/7. This time, we have a dragon.
It starts with Monalisa (don’t sing please!) Devlin, watching her father play with the gold coin that’s supposed to be hers; her birthright given to her at eighteen. But Padraig Devlin, father and king of the Leprechauns could be crafty, sneaky and greedy.
She should’ve got her coin twelve years ago as she turned eighteen, but no, no matter that she’d done what he asked, there was still that ‘loose end’.
As soon as she got her coin she’d be able to leave, which is why the king held onto it tight, as blackmail – there was something he wanted her to do.
Her parents were known worldwide for the casino, The Shamrock, and the fights held beneath the venue. Monalisa’s manipulative father wanted her to persuade a certain dragon to fight in their arena. Urging her to use her ‘will-o-the-wisp’ skills to get the Dragon in her thrall.
Van, Dragon in metaphorical hiding, is determined to leave fighting behind and settle down in Nocturne Falls. Close friends with Pandora, she helps him choose a dog as a new companion as he heals on crutches; a dog he hopes to bond with. His life in the fighting arena over. He just wants to mope, recover and read and pet his new timid Doberman Grom. He’s in no place for female relationships.
Too bad the ‘rehabilitation therapist’ ‘Lisa’ (Monalisa’s cover to lure back Ivan the Hammer) is easy on the eyes, he is not interested in women – at all! But he also doesn’t want her getting in Trouble and getting sacked for not doing her job, after all, she seems desperate. So reluctantly he agrees to the therapy.
With the therapy comes an interesting aspect of the book. Van has been severely injured by a manticore’s poison and is suffering a form of sports PTSD or injury-related trauma as a result.
Painter seems to have really grasped what trauma feels like and through the therapy sessions between her two protagonists, leads the reader through the recovery process, exploring the emotions involved. As Monalisa helps Van deal with the physical and emotional scars from his fight, the two, inevitably, become closer.
Painter also deals with perceptions in the novel; how Van is seen by the tourists as something or someone to be feared because of his size and shaved head, juxtaposed with his sweet nature, his sense of humour, and how the locals and Lisa see past his exterior.
Overall, this is another fun, romantic romp from a Painter in the Nocturbe Falls series, with a cameo of Jayne Frost. The more I read of this Halloween town, the more I’d love to move there!
4/5

The Grendel Affair SPI Files 1

March 7, 2017 - 10:32 am No Comments

The Grendel Affair
SPI Files Book 1
Author: Lisa Shearin
Publisher: Ace Fantasy (A Penguin Random House Company)
Page count: 292pp
Release date: 31st Dec 2013
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

online: www.lisashearin.com, @lisashearin

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grendel-Affair-SPI-Files-Novel-ebook/dp/B00CS74W7K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1488882450&sr=1-1&keywords=the+grendel+affair

When Makenna (Mac) Fraser moved from her small home town of Weird Sisters, she intended to use her seer powers of identifying supernatural creatures, (which everyone else couldn’t see) into a brilliant journalistic career. Still, those rare skills came in handy working for a trashy New York tabloid. However, she never expected to be head-hunted (in a good way) by the SPI, a Supernatural equivalent of the FBI, a secret government agency set up to protect all species from dangerous cryptids and bring them to justice, whilst looking after the everyday supernatural inhabitants of NY.
Of course, not battle trained, she became their seer, the much needed eyes of the agents who would go out on combat missions.
The first in the series starts with Agent Mac Fraser doing a job off the books, for antiquity dealer Ollie, late at night at his shop. He’s being tormented by a nacht gnome, dangerous little buggers that can be contained by knocking them out with liquor. So, armed with bottles of Jack Daniels she is spotted by stuck-in-the-mud partner Ian Byrne. He catches her roaming the streets with tequila filled water pistol (she’d been banned from live ammunition after an ‘incident’) and insists on going with her. Which is a good job considering they find a mutilated body at the shop.
Between a hidden bunker full of monster body parts underneath a crypt, to mysterious letters addressed to the ‘Dragon Lady’ boss, Agent Mac and her partner Ian are going to have to put aside their differences to battle a nemesis threatening to let loose a myriad of monsters in Times Square NYE. The aim? To let the world know that Supernatural creatures exist, cause chaos, fear and death.
As the only seer in the NY office, with monsters on the loose, Mac is the only one who can see, identify and mark the danger. So, fighting his own fears, partner Ian has to accept that Mac needs to be trained as a field operative. And if anyone is going to train her, it’s him. What appears to be a gruff, slightly cold exterior on Ian Byrne, is a form of protective shielding he uses to keep his feelings for Mac locked in tight. And as they work together to combat evil that has a personal grudge against their boss, they become even closer.
There are some great characters in this novel, from Ollie, the human artifact dealer, ‘Dragon Lady’ boss who hides a tough exterior in her petite form, über Geek Kenji, Yasha the ‘cuddly’ Russian werewolf and the Scandinavian gang of agents, there are loads of relationships to enjoy here. But it’s Mac and Ian who take centre-stage; Mac with her honest, yet somehow naive opinions, and regular mishaps, which remind me slightly of Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond, though less accident prone, and Ian Byrne, with his ‘Agent’ exterior which really hides a heart of gold. Think Mulder and Scully but reversed.
Add in some brilliant one-liners, monster-mashing fun, blood and gore, high-octane action and a fast pace, and what you have is a series that starts on a high. I was addicted within a few pages – okay, let’s be honest, I was addicted by page four, and here’s why.
As Mac puts it, whilst talking about her previous work for seedy tabloid ‘The Informer’, “where only stories like ‘Donald Trump is a Werewolf Love Child’ had any hope of making it to the front page. … ‘That particular headline had been an obvious lie – at least it’d been obvious to me. No self-respecting werewolf would have hair like that.”
See, with snort-worthy narrative from Mac’s point-of-view such as that, you’re in for an hilarious ride. This is truly great first-person snark, as C E Murphy would have it. To add even more enjoyment, Shearin is adept at using relevant pop culture references. As for the combat and fight scenes plus military style masouvers, these are handled deftly, and it’s clear Shearin has done her homework, building up the tension at the right time.
If I could find anything more to say to recommend this I would, but it’s possibly just as easy to say, the end rounds off, but leaves teasers for the future. There are so many more creatures the SPI could explore, and we haven’t even nearly dealt with the complex dichotomy between Ian and Mac.
So, I suggest you stay on for the long haul. I know I will be.
5/5