Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

I was drawn to this book as the premise is set in a society where women are naturally top of the hierarchies and rule their respective empires. In a towering city, a young ordinary girl is Empress and rules with the consciousness of her rival sisters almost constantly around her. As war with an alien race threatens the aims and also the safety of the Empire, citizens at the top of their field are recruited to the site of a mysterious archaeological find.

One such expert is Tralane Huntingore, a beautiful heiress, renowned scientist and mother of two very different daughters. Under influences of a new lover, the threat of blackmail and the command of the Empress, Tralane is pressed into service, and the discoveries she is about to make could have huge implications for the Empire and beyond.

I could write and write and write every major event and character, as this is an epic tome, but I don’t want to give all the good stuff away. There are lots of leading characters; each with their own unique life and personality that adds to the layers of the world Justina Robson has so skilfully created.

In this imaginative universe, the lines between science and magic are blurred as they are linked in the powers of some citizens and the technologies employed in the Empire. On top of the science/magic hybrid universe, there are also a multitude of humans, humans with super-human abilities and non-humanoid creatures with powers and hierarchies of their own.

Sometimes, I found it hard to work bits out as it was written as though it was a part of the world that I would already be familiar with, although by the end, I had become acclimatised to the new words and ideas that make up this super-creative world.

There is so much to this book on top of the interesting exploration of gender, including steamy sex scenes and bloody violence. There is adventure and intrigue, secrets and war, family and friendship all held together by the science and magic that underpins this intriguing society.

The last third of the book was especially gripping and I would be interested to see spin offs to this book, as well as a sequel. Glorious Angels is an epic feat of imagination that will grip and intrigue; a must for hardcore fans of sci-fi and fantasy. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Ghosts of War by George Mann

It’s been a while since my last steampunk adventure, and what better way to jump back into the action than with a fast-paced Ghost escapade. I was so impressed with the first book introducing the elusive Ghost in Ghosts of Manhattan that I was excited to be able to review the second book. 

Gabriel Cross is a millionaire playboy in public but at night he is The Ghost, a masked vigilante armed with homemade weapons striving to keep his city safe. Now, with a good-hearted police detective on his side, The Ghost is in a more informed position to help fight the worst crime that plagues the city. 

It’s 1927 and a spate of abductions by strange winged creatures has the city in a chokehold of terror. When Donovan, the police detective, is ordered to concentrate on the capture of a British spy instead of the abductions, he and The Ghost begin to suspect that there is more afoot than they were first lead to believe. 

What they discover could be leading to a catastrophic war with the British Empire. Battling with memories of the last war and with the reappearance of an ex-girlfriend, Gabriel has a lot to contend with in his bid to save the day. 

The blend of history and steampunk fully immerses you in the world that George Mann has created for these characters and keeps you captivated. Mad scientists, robotic raptors and mythological monsters all provide the danger in this thrilling tale. Then it is the human characters; Gabriel, Donovan and even sidekick officer Mullins that provide all the heart. 

I’ve mentioned it before but this series has touches of Batman (my favourite superhero by the way!) and Watchmen, but in this one I thought that there was a dash of James Bond in there too. Gabriel’s public persona is also akin to Gatsby I thought, so all of these elements thrown together make for a compelling character in a darkly riveting story. You’d think that with so many genres together it would be a bit confused, but it totally works and the pulp style covers are awesome! 

The action is pumping and the pace is relentless and it never seems to take me long to make it the end. I really enjoy this imaginative, well crafted series and I can’t wait to see what further exploits are in store for The Ghost and his city.  

Thursday, 23 April 2015

White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

I only had a limited amount of books on my phone, and White Crocodile happened to be one of them. I didn’t even recall that it was set in Cambodia until I started reading it on my travels, whilst in Cambodia myself! Such a happy coincidence that this became one of my travelling reads that I genuinely enjoyed. 

Following the death of her husband, mine clearer Tess moves to Cambodia to uncover the mystery behind his untimely demise. Alongside her personal investigations, a spate of horrific abductions and murders of young Cambodian women is taking place. 

The local fear is fuelled by the legend of the White Crocodile, an unlucky, evil omen that foretells doom. Simultaneously, a murder in England has a stressed detective struggling to relate the clues presented to him to solve the grisly offence that may have links thousands of miles away. 

Not knowing who to trust, and with secrets of her own, Tess finds herself in immediate danger as she gets closer to the truth behind the crimes. From the Killing Fields of Cambodia, to the gritty criminal underbelly of northern England, White Crocodile paints a dark picture of the events that take place. 

I thought it was quite clever to incorporate the bloody history of Cambodia and the native legends into this crime fiction tale as this added so much more excitement and realism to the story. For me, to actually be in the relevant country at the time of reading made it so much more real to me which I liked. 

Tess was a likeable and genuine heroine; ex-army, intelligent and proficient in her job, but still had all the real reactions and emotions of a real woman. I also liked the worn down English detective and I think I would have liked to have seen more action set around his character in the UK. 

The tension in the story is built not only through the sinister workings of the killer, but also with the secrets of not only Tess, but also other main characters who all have their own issues that are slowly revealed.  I really enjoyed White Crocodile and would like to reiterate that obviously you don’t need to travel all the way to Cambodia in order to enjoy it! 

One of the more original crime thrillers I’ve read in a while, White Crocodile is a cleverly descriptive and tensely exciting novel that will thrill readers of this genre.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Backpacking and Books: Reading on my Travels

It seems like a life time ago that I was writing the previous blog post about taking a break from book blogging to go travelling but it was actually less than 2 months ago. 

I’ve just returned from six weeks backpacking the length of Vietnam, up through Cambodia and into the northern reaches of Thailand I had a wonderful, eye-opening and fun trip. 

Of course, with many long bus trips, beach sittings and general down time, what better way to fill in the gaps by reading; that wily pastime that I’ll never shake! I took a few books with me to get me started but I was always drawn to the common room bookshelf of every hostel I stayed in. 

It wasn’t just to scout out potential new reads; it became a sort of passing study into the kind of books other travellers were reading on their own journeys. 

A lot of the books I came across were well thumbed travel guides for different regions of Asia that had clearly been well used and then abandoned for the next traveller. Armed with my own trust Lonely Planet tome encompassing all of Southeast Asia, I left these be. Some were in a multitude of languages and it was interesting to see the foreign editions of some well loved books that I’ve read or know of. 

The rest of the books were a varied selection of the stories read and left by travellers and I really had to exhibit some serious self control not to fill my backpack with heaps of books. When I took a book, I tried to leave one in its place, lest I leave a fellow bookworm short of a potential good novel to read. 

Below is the list of novels that I read whilst on my travels, all of which seemed befitting in some way to the trip that I was on.

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

Based on the experiences of a Brazilian prostitute, the story tells of young dreamer Maria, who after her first forays with love, leaves her home where she starts a new life and learns the darker aspects of love, sex and human nature. All of the above are thoroughly explored and Maria’s journey is both a physical and emotional one that is shared with the reader. After adoring The Alchemist, I was drawn to another book by Paulo Coelho whose beautifully philosophical prose helped while away down time in Vietnam.

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

After a family tragedy, teenage Tamara’s life is altered forever. As she struggles to come to terms with all she has lost, the discovery of a mysterious book helps her realise how much tomorrow can affect today. I got totally caught up in Tamara’s personal growth in the story, as well as the new friendships she forges and the family secrets that are unravelled. Escapism fiction at its finest, this was my first Cecelia Ahern novel but definitely not my last.

Mine clearer Tess travels to Cambodia to uncover the mystery behind her husband’s death. Amidst a spate of horrific abductions and murders of young Khmer women, Tess finds herself in immediate danger as she gets closer to the truth behind the crimes. Set against the backdrop of the Killing Fields, and with the action set between Cambodia and the UK, it was great for me to be able to read this exciting novel whilst in Cambodia; learning the turbulent history of the places described and the culture of the people through this novel and my time spent in the country itself.

Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor

Set during the Irish famine of 1847, this historical novel charts the journey of a ship bound for America and the intertwining stories of the passengers on board. Murder is being plotted, not all the passengers are as it seems and they are all linked by an elaborate set of backstories in a dark time in history where social inequality was rife. Brilliantly crafted and hugely compelling, this epic fictional journey was a highlight of mine.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The non-fictional journey of one women’s pursuit of everything after a difficult divorce. Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert seeks pleasure, spiritual enlightenment and balance and in the writing of this book bares her soul and gives a witty and intelligent account of her journey that is truly a pleasure to read. I bought this book in Vietnam at the start of my trip (because it was everywhere) and managed to eke it out throughout the whole six weeks as I found it so poignant, applicable and enjoyable to read on my own personal journey.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Finch and Violet meet for the first time on the ledge of the bell tower, and on that day, no one jumps. Thrown together for a school project, they end up exploring the “natural wonders” of their state. On their wanderings, chaotic Finch learns to be himself and Violet begins to cope with her sister’s death, and together they try to live and love in a world that is fraught with personal challenges. This YA exploration of mental health, love and relationships was devoured in northern Thailand, where I could relax and fully take in the story which was brilliantly and tactfully written on such a controversial yet important subject.

Reading was really was a great time filler whilst I was away, and every story I managed to get hold of was worth the reading. If anyone has read any of the above I would love to hear your thoughts. Or if you have been travelling or even a holiday read that struck you as particularly enjoyable on your trip, I’d love to know what books you read and what you thought of them.