Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Mostly science fiction and fantasy, though the odd non-fiction book will crop up now and then...

Review
3.5 Stars
The Conductors - Nicole Glover
The Conductors - Nicole Glover

The Conductors was one of those books where the premise was so unique that I immediately wanted to read it, so I was delighted when it turned up on Netgalley and my request was granted. Mostly, it lived up to my expectations, though there were a couple of things about it that didn't quite work for me, perhaps showing that this is a debut novel. 

 

The basic premise of The Conductors is that it's set in the post-Civil War United States, with flashbacks to earlier times, but this is an America with one big difference - the existence of magic, in two different forms. The magic wielded by some slaves, and therefore by freed men and women after the war that is based on the elements - either sigils of the constellations or brewed - as opposed to the wand-based Sorcery restricted to white people. While this is an intriguing way of structuring a magic system, there are clear omissions in the world-building (whether by design or not) especially around how much more effective the elemental magic seems to be. 

 

As well as talking about magic, this is also a murder mystery with a number of dead bodies cropping up along the way. Our protagonists, formerly the eponymous conductors of runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad with the use of magic, find themselves in the middle of this scenario and take on the role of investigators with vigour. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book starts to lag a little in the middle and my interest started to wane a little - again, perhaps, the mark of a first novel?

 

Everything gets resolved in the end, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, and this seems to be a standalone so there's no nasty cliffhanger for the next book to deal with. All in all, The Conductors is an entertaining read and clearly a labour of love for the author, who has worked hard in terms of her research. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next. 

 

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
Night Shine - Tessa Gratton
Night Shine - Tessa Gratton

Since life is short, and money not too easy to come by, I run a couple of TBR lists including one for books I hope to be able to get from the library - there's no way I could possibly afford to buy everything that sounds good and, to be honest, I've been burned many times by books that sound like they were written for me but turn out to be disappointments... Night Shine was on that list as soon as I heard about it, then I was fortunate enough to get an e-ARC.

 

I can imagine, if Night Shine had been about when I was in the target audience age category (so, many years ago...), I would have been completely obsessed with this book. It certainly has many of the things involved in it that draw me even now when it comes to fantasy books: a search for your own identity, a found family, a mysterious destiny you can't quite figure out. Our protagonist, we discover at the outset of the book, is Nothing - we first meet her killing the prince to whom she is bound because he's not himself but an impostor, while she's the only one who realises this. 

 

The real prince, Kirin, has been kidnapped and is currently held captive by a sorceror who has a bit of a reputation for usually stealing the hearts of teenage girls - there are plenty of Names In All Capital Letters in this book, in time-honoured fantasy tradition, as well as true names that give you power over the other person. In this case, Kirin has a bit of a secret known only to a few that makes him a target for this sorceror as well.

 

Along with the prince's bodyguard, Nothing sets out to rescue the prince and that all seems pretty straightforward to begin with: rescue the prince, get him accepted as heir to the throne, get on with your life as before. Except, as Nothing is to discover, there's a link between her and the sorceror that has to do with her own identity and she can't help picking away at it even if it challenges what little she thought she knew. Kirin, after all, is not the only one who's not quite what he seems to be. 

 

If there's one fault with Night Shine, it's that at times there's a little too much navel-gazing for my liking, so I'm feeling mean and dropped it from 5 stars to 4. There's a lot to like about this book though, so I hope it sells well and plenty of other people get to enjoy it too.

 

Thanks to the author and publisher for a free advance copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Review
3 Stars
Grave Secrets - Alice James
Grave Secrets (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries #1) - Alice James
It seems only fair to start this review with the fact that I burned out on urban fantasy (which is the sub-genre this book fits most neatly into, despite being set in rural Staffordshire) a while back and so Grave Secrets was probably up against it with me. Having said that, the book also had a few issues for me and so I guess I just wasn't the right audience after all.
 
The basic premise of the book is that vampires are known about and, in Europe at least, regarded with some degree of favour - this stems from a feel-good story involving vampires healing children with leukemia in Germany, which had led to pro-vampire legislation. As a result, our protagonist is quite aware of their existence as well as, unusually for some urban fantasy series, her own powers as a necromancer - in fact, we first meet her in the local cemetery where she's managed to work her way through raising all of its inhabitants one after another. This is the first place I butted heads with the story because while she seems to be creating zombies, they just conveniently appear rather than having to actually get out of their graves, yet are physical enough to do damage to people/vampires as needed.
 
Anyway, our protagonist (an estate agent who doesn't seem to do very much work at all) gets involved with trying to find the ideal place for a vampire to hang his metaphorical hat, with said vampire being quite hot and someone she's instantly in love with. There we come across issue number 2 for me, which is always how vampires get erections given that they don't have a working circulatory system, but that doesn't seem to stop said vampire from getting it up quite prodigiously. There's also a bit of dubious consent going on, as he doesn't like it when people say 'no' to him and I find that decidedly unsexy.
 
Anyway, other than the love interest, there's reasonable character development going on with a wide range of supporting cast, all of whom would make much more interesting romantic partners for our protagonist. Even the guy she raises from the dead at the beginning. The plot itself involves quite a bit of driving around the countryside, as well as fussing about clothes and hair, not to mention a lot of those clothes subsequently getting torn off or removed, one way or another. It's also not really a great book for anyone squeamish, though if you're reading urban fantasy regularly then you're probably going to be okay with what's going on here.
 
All in all, not really my cup of tea and could have been so much more interesting if it had gone in a number of other directions. In the end, it turns into reasonably-entertaining urban fantasy by the numbers and that, for me at least, was a little disappointing.
 
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for a free copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
5 Stars
Middlegame - Seanan McGuire
Middlegame - Seanan McGuire

Reading Middlegame takes me almost to the end of this year's Hugo shortlist for Best Novel, with just one book to go (and it's backed up on my e-reader waiting for me!). To be perfectly honest, me and Seanan McGuire have not always got on in terms of what she writes and what works for me, but I was determined to give this stand-alone novel a fighting chance. 

 

It's not the easiest book to summarise, given that it involves quite a lot of different timelines and that in itself is going to be enough to make some people pass Middlegame by. Essentially, it's all about an attempt to use alchemy to create a pair of children who can embody the Doctrine, as whoever can control them will them control the world - this leads to a breeding programme, of which the two main characters of our story are one of the results.

 

Separated at birth, twins Roger and Dodger are adopted out on different sides of the US, one a maths prodigy and the other a whizz with languages, neither knowing they have a sibling out there. It's only when they begin to communicate, a process which is not smooth sailing in more ways than one, they start to uncover the truth about their own origins and also about what they can do. They're tied together, whether they like it or not, with almost-fatal repercussions on at least one occasion. 

 

Add into that the attentions of the man who set up the breeding programme in the first place, frustrated that they might be coming to terms with their powers when he has a much more malleable alternative pair back home on the ranch, and the twins are heading into a world of trouble. There's also an element of time travel involved, all of which would have potentially been an unholy mess in the hands of a less competent and experienced author. 

 

Well worth a read if you're looking for something in the SFF genre you haven't quite seen before, as well as if you're in search of a novel that isn't part of a trilogy. Those have their place but sometimes you just want one and done. If that's the case, Middlegame might work for you too. 

Review
4 Stars
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow - Natasha Pulley
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow - Natasha Pulley

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is the sequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which I re-read in preparation for this book and I think actually enjoyed more than when I first read it - at the time, I said I didn't think I'd want to re-read that book but clearly was incorrect, so make of that what you will. It's pretty safe to say that the things I found a little vexing about that book are also present in this one, hence I've given it the same rating.

 

Instead of London, most of The Lost Future of Pepperharrow takes place in Japan - as we start the book, Thaniel Steepleton is now pretty much fluent in Japanese and gets told he's being sent there on behalf of the British government. Meanwhile Keita Mori has been in Russia and his country is more than a little suspicious of what he's been doing, which becomes even more reasonable behaviour on their part when his role as a spymaster starts to be revealed. Mori's knowledge of possible futures is a massive asset to that role and when he and Thaniel end up in Japan, Mori is walking into a trap to try and test and/or control his powers. 

 

The book is set at the time of massive naval expansion on the part of the Russians and the Japanese, with the latter buying a bunch of new ships for their navy from the British. On arriving in Japan, Thaniel discovers that not only has Mori been cagey about his past there, he's also married - struggling with his health, Thaniel decides the best thing to do is leave Mori behind and concentrate on his work. This is a particularly attractive option for Thaniel when it becomes clear that Mori is disturbed by his still being alive, since he can see a number of possible futures where that's not the case. 

 

All of this relationship drama is happening alongside all sorts of electrical experiments which are creating 'ghosts' of past and future events, mimicking what Mori can do with his mind and throwing the local population into turmoil. There's plenty going on here and Mori is at the heart of it, unsurprisingly, having set into motion a chain of events that we later discover is mostly aimed at preventing an all-out war Japan is likely to lose at that point and also helping find a cure for Thaniel. At one point, Mori is believed dead and a former friend of his tries to pin his murder on Thaniel, before fortunately everything is resolved (though not without loss of life). 

 

As with the previous book, the one area in which the author falls down a little is still the characterisation of the women in her stories. While Grace Carrow, who played a major role in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, also appears here, it's Takiko Pepperharrow who is the main female character - she's a little better fleshed-out than Grace was, so it's a shame how things play out for her when there seemed to be other directions it could have gone. Anyway, if you can get past the role of woman as barrier-to-relationship where our protagonists are concerned, then you'll probably like this book as well.  

Review
4 Stars
The Prydain Chronicles - Lloyd Alexander
The Book Of Three (Chronicles Of Prydain) - Lloyd Alexander The Black Cauldron (Chronicles Of Prydain) - Lloyd Alexander The Castle Of Llyr (Chronicles Of Prydain) - Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer - Lloyd Alexander The High King (Chronicles Of Prydain) - Lloyd Alexander

I'm pretty sure that although I started The Prydain Chronicles before, I had never actually read my way to the end of the 5-book series till now - it's a well known series, probably one which acted as a gateway into fantasy books for many readers and which also led to one of the less well known Disney movies, taking its name from the second book. As part of a recent TBR challenge, I took on reading the entire series as my candidate for the book that had been on my TBR list for the longest and managed to finish it off yesterday.

 

Overall, I'd say that (compared to some fantasy books which are its contemporaries anyway), The Prydain Chronicles ages fairly well. For those who've never read it: the protagonist of all the books is Taran, who we first meet as a stroppy teenager who dreams of doing heroic deeds to take himself away from the reality of his life looking after Hen Wen, a white pig which can tell the future. Alongside his wish for valour, Taran doesn't know where he comes from as his mentor and substitute father Dallben refuses to tell him the truth about his origins. 

 

Taran is subsequently drawn into a series of adventures since his pseudo-Welsh homeland is under the rule of Arawn and his deathless hordes, unkillable soldiers created by the cauldron of book 2. The first quest starts with the disappearance of Hen Wen, for whom Taran goes looking and which whets his taste for adventure; book 2 has Taran and his friends attempting to capture the cauldron, while book 3 is about his friend Eilonwy being sent off to become a proper princess and the problems Taran is dragged into alongside this. For me, book 4 is possibly the best of the bunch as Taran starts to grow up in more ways than one, realising that his desire for glory is actually quite hollow, while the final book ties everything together and sees the defeat of Arawn once and for all. 

 

There's an ongoing theme, especially through the later books, of the value of heroism and the importance of doing what's right. Those books in particular also value people doing their best at whatever they turn their hand to, especially more practical tasks like smithing and pottery. As with many fantasy books, Taran lives in a world full of noblemen but also one where a kind deed years before can be rewarded at an unexpected moment.

 

If there's one thing that doesn't age particularly well, it's the classic fantasy trope of the lone girl who is Not Like Other Girls: Eilonwy is a classic example of this and the degree of petulance at times can get a little wearing, as can her deafness to the class differences between her and Taran. She's a princess and can choose when she wants to be treated like one, while Taran is literally the child of nameless parents and doesn't have the same luxury in that society. 

Review
5 Stars
Slippery Creatures - KJ Charles
Slippery Creatures - K.J. Charles

It has to be said, I don't pre-order a lot of books but the blurb for Slippery Creatures, as well as my experiences with this author's previous works, made me hit that pre-order button as soon as I hear about it...

 

Our hero is the eponymous Will Darling, returned from the war with a few scars and some dubious skills. There are things he's now good at, thanks to that experience, but it's decidedly unclear how he can make a living from any of them and he's heading towards penury when a long-lost uncle helps him out. A few months later, Will has inherited his uncle's bookshop and is set on learning the trade, only to be threatened by a stranger to hand over something his uncle was given or else. Will being not just competent but also as stubborn as they come, refuses to do so and has the same answer for an unpleasant representative of the War Office who comes calling soon after. 

 

Determined to figure out for himself what secrets his uncle was involved with, so he can make up his own mind what to do with whatever it is, Will finds himself an unlikely ally in the aristocratic Kim Secretan. They also pretty quickly become intimate, with qualms of conscience on the part of Will later, when he meets and very much likes Kim's fiancee. All, of course, is not as it seems both in terms of Kim's private life and his motivations, as Will is to discover during the course of Slippery Creatures (and on into the rest of the trilogy). 

 

If you're looking for a book that's just a number of sex scenes loosely held together by a wafer-thin plot, Slippery Creatures is not the book for you. The characters are well drawn and behave consistently with their character, while the overall plotting is well done. I guessed a couple of things before their reveal but it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment. I'm now looking forward immensely to the next book in the series, The Sugared Game (due out later this year), to see how the relationship between Kim and Will recovers from all of the revelations of this one, as we're confidently promised a HEA by the end of the trilogy.

 

This isn't the only book by KJ Charles has written that's set in this period, which makes the only downside about how entertaining this one is that she's surely delaying getting round to writing sequels for the others - if this book works for you, make sure you check out both Think of England and Spectred Isle.

Review
4 Stars
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

When I needed something substantial for a reading challenge, a 630-page paperback sounded like just the ticket, so here we are...

 

I don't read a lot of fiction that isn't genre, one way or another but I've read a bunch of this author's books and generally enjoy them - The Lacuna was no exception to this, though I can't see myself re-reading it. It's set in the 1920's to 1950's, with our protagonist spending a chunk of his time living in Mexico with his mother, who attempts to attach herself to a series of unimpressive but well-off American men. As a result, Harrison has a sporadic formal education but ends up working as a cook/secretary for the painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, then later as a secretary for their guest, Lev Trotsky. 

 

Anyone who knows their history may recall things come to a bad end for Trotsky and Harrison is there throughout that sorry tale, before Frida finds him a job that sends him back to the United States. After the war, Harrison makes a reasonable living writing fiction about the Aztecs until the House Unamerican Activities Committee makes his life impossible. Much of the story is told in Harrison's journals, from his boyhood with an unpredictable mother, through to his difficulties with his communist-related past. In the end, it's a passage from one of his books that seals his fate, ascribed as his own political views when it's really from the mouth of one of his characters. 

 

The Lacuna is an interesting tale, told from the inside of two bits of history I've not read much about, so I'm glad I read it. If you're interested in more of this writer's work, I'd recommend checking out The Poisonwood Bible (missionaries in the post-colonial Congo) or her short story collection Homeland and Other Stories.

Review
3 Stars
Creatures of Charm and Hunger - Molly Tanzer
Creatures of Charm and Hunger - Molly Tanzer

Sometimes, often in the first book of a series, it seems like there's a definite temptation for an author to stick in just a little more plot than that book can handle - if there's one thing to say about Creatures of Charm and Hunger, it's that it's one of those books. 

 

The basic premise is that our main characters, Jane and Miriam, are teenage girls who are both studying to become diabolists - to use a form of magic that involves binding demons and then using their essence to support a pact made between demon and diabolist. There's also something going on here about plants being involved but that kind of didn't quite stick in my mind while I was reading this, so I'm not 100% clear how it works. Anyway, both are about to take their Test (hey, you know it's serious when random capital letters are involved), to see if they're good enough to be allowed to make a Pact with a demon or not. At one point, they happen to discover that if they don't pass, they might be used as materia themselves, so better pass I guess?

 

This is all going on with a backdrop of the later stages of World War 2, which is where the slight overload of stuff going on starts to happen. There's a raid spearheaded by Jane's aunt Edith, which goes spectacularly wrong and doesn't seem to have all that clear a reasoning behind it in the first place, and also Miriam uses forbidden magic to try and discover the fate of her parents. Meanwhile, Jane has failed her Test and is also dabbling with powers beyond her control and sets off a disastrous chain of events in the family home. 

 

There's also quite a lot of exposition, which means the pace of Creatures of Charm and Hunger drags at times. There's a lot going on here that's interesting, especially the stuff around Jane's choice of very stereotypical witch behaviour (enchanting a broomstick, cackling etc.) but the denouement around what happens to Jane's mother falls quite flat. Jane herself seems to just shrug and walk away, which is convenient for the continuation of the series but didn't ring true. So, all in all, an interesting enough book but not one where I'll be looking that hard to read any further. 

 

On an unrelated note, I wish the author would stop giving her books very similar titles - this is the third book with 'Creatures of [something] and [something]' and they're not really a series as such as far as I can tell. 

 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Review
3 Stars
The Angel of the Crows - Katherine Addison
The Angel of the Crows - Katherine Addison

It would be fair to say I was delighted when I was approved for an ARC of The Angel of the Crows, as this author wrote one of my favourite fantasy books of the past couple of decades (The Goblin Emperor, in case you've been living under a rock). I knew this wasn't set in the same universe but was, in fact, a story set in Victorian London - I was still looking forward to reading it.

 

It's in this context that I start to try and review The Angel of the Crows, while trying to get my thoughts straight about it. I suspect, like many of the books I bounce off, this will be one that some people will absolutely rave about - for me, it was the afterword that told me everything I suspected as I read it, that this started life as Sherlock Holmes wingfic. The basic premise, after all, is that this is a world where angels and other creatures live alongside humans, so our Watson-surrogate who is the narrator comes back from Afghanistan after being injured encountering a Fallen one and with an unexpected aftermath in addition to a bad limp. 

 

The setting itself holds most of the interest for me, as for the story the author chose to recycle both a number of the most well known Sherlock Holmes stories and the actual crimes of Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, these are both things I know quite a bit about and that took some of the shine off the plotting. The character of Doyle, our narrator, is fairly well fleshed out but the same can't be said for Crow, who is an angel who stands in for Holmes himself. I think it was partly the frequent use of the word 'giggled' to describe this individual laughing, which always makes me think of small children.

 

In the end, The Angel of the Crows just didn't work for me: too much unanswered for me about Doyle's choices and also the relationship between Doyle and Crow. Oddly enough, it seemed to be the places where the story diverted from the original (for example, Holmes not turning up unexpectedly when Watson thinks he's in London) that left me feeling like there were missed opportunities. 

 

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
5 Stars
Eleventh Hour - Elin Gregory
Eleventh Hour - Elin Gregory

Another one of the books I picked up on sale and hadn't got round to, so at least the pandemic is good for something! Anyway, the other night I'd finished what I was reading (see previous review) and knew the next one on my list is an ARC of something I'd been looking forward to and knew I might have difficulty putting down - instead, I started on Eleventh Hour and that was a massive mistake, as I ended up reading the entire thing in one go.

 

Eleventh Hour is set in the 1920's, with our protagonist Briers Allerdale being summoned back to London to investigate an anarchist plot - in order to undertake surveillance, he has to move into a boarding house that only accepts married couples and female agents are thin on the ground. Cue the appearance of Miles Siward as Allerdale's new partner, who has been bullied into dressing up as a woman in the past for work and can pass as a woman. Miles even enjoys it, though he won't be telling MI5 that any time soon.

 

As they attempt to unravel the plot and figure out just why the anarchists are so interested in a mid-level Water Board bureaucrat, Allerdale discovers that he's dramatically underestimated Miles on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, Allerdale has his own secrets to hide, including a history of exploits with agents from other countries which he has yet to explain to his new partner (in more ways than one) by the time Eleventh Hour finishes. 

 

Anyway, I enjoyed the book and look forward at some point to reading the sequel (Midnight Flit) and anything else with these two characters, especially if some more of both's backstories comes out to play. 

Review
4 Stars
The Empress of Salt and Fortune - Nghi Vo
The Empress of Salt and Fortune - Nghi Vo

It feels as though I'm giving this book 4 stars and not 5 primarily because it's a novella and not novel-length, however I want to think there's more to it than that -  in some ways, it's more about the nature of the way the story gets told, which didn't 100% work for me but I could see why the author had chosen to do it that way...

 

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of those books which initially looked like it would hit a large number of my buttons (once I'd overlooked the novella issue): non-European setting, outsider perspective and a talking bird to cap it all off. Mostly, it did what I wanted, using the main character of Rabbit to talk about what happened without ever really giving everything away as she did so and Chih as the character who gets to pick away at what doesn't quite fit. Any time there's a hoopoe involved too, I'm right there (they're one of my favourite birds), so the decision to make Almost Brilliant a bird of that species was going to be a winner all the way. 

 

We never actually meet the eponymous Empress, only get to know her through the point of view of others: the servant who loves her, the minister who despises her for her foreignness, the items she has left behind which Chih is cataloguing. All we know initially is that she was sent from elsewhere to form an alliance, then exiled to this particular place when she had done her duty and produced a son and heir. What the author does cleverly at this stage is structure the storyline so that the outcome is inevitable but not obvious, with little details thrown in along the way to distract. 

 

All in all, I enjoyed reading The Empress of Salt and Fortune and wished it had been longer, which is so often my lament where novellas are concerned. The other thing which didn't completely work for me was Chih's flat acceptance of everything they're told, which seemed at odds with their employment as an archivist. However, I hope the author is turning her hand to longer works and look forward to checking them out if she does. 

Review
3 Stars
The Secret War Against the Arts - Richard Knott
The Secret War Against the Arts - Richard Knott

I picked up a copy of this book via Netgalley, though I don't read as much non-fiction, since it sounded interesting and I'd come across the wholesale surveillance of the left during the inter-war period in the excellent The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5which I highly recommend if you're interested in this subject. In fact, I don't think that I actually learned much from this book that I hadn't already come across in that one, so that didn't bode well for my overall review. 

 

The Secret War Against the Arts is all about MI5 surveillance of left-leaning creative types, some of whom were actual British Communist Party members for at least a time, while others were just generally liberal. We have a sprinkling of poets, writers and artists, of varying degrees of fame and the book pays more attention to some than others, possibly because of the amount of material available on them. There is still, apparently, information held on various individuals in the National Archive which is still considered too sensitive to release. 

 

There are some interesting stories here but it also seems to gloss over quite a lot - these are well-heeled individuals in general where the surveillance they were under didn't actually seem to have a major impact on their lives for the most part. That takes away the urgency of the situation and the choices around how to structure the book (it's decidedly non-linear between chapters) also made it not the easiest read. Perhaps if I hadn't read the Christopher Andrew book, this one would have made more of an impression on me, but I didn't really come away from it feeling like it was a book that desperately needed to be written. 

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
3 Stars
Driftwood - Marie Brennan
Driftwood - Marie Brennan

I can pretty much state that Driftwood is going to be one of those books where other people rave about it and I just shrug and move on to something else. This is definitely one of those Not For Me books and that's a real shame, as initially it looked like it was going to be much more suited to my tastes than it turned out to be in the end.

 

The basic premise of the book is that its setting is made up of a wide variety of worlds that are coming together, to end up in something called the Crush - as a result, your world gets squeezed against another which could be wildly different from yours, on its way to eventual destruction. That variety of worlds means there's a need for competent guides, able to pick up a wide variety of languages and understand cultural issues, and that's where Last comes in. We meet him on a couple of occasions in the book, as he's employed to sort out problems and then later, after his disappearance for a long period of time is taken as evidence of his death and people are telling stories of him at his memorial.

 

I guess in the end it comes down for me to world-building in search of a plot: the overall story is a series of vignettes of how different people cope with the experience of their world being torn apart, with Last playing a greater or lesser role in each one, but I ended up at the last page going 'is that it?'. Not my kind of book at all, though I dare say it will get squeals of delight from folks whose tastes are very different to my own. 

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

TBR challenge

A friend of mine is running this on his blog, so I thought I would track my progress here and also see if anyone else wanted to play - if there's a link, I've read and reviewed it, if not then it's my planned book for that category (but could change!):

 

BOOK 1 – The CHUNKY BOI

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

 

BOOK 2 – The NEWBIE

Briarley - Aster Glenn Grey

 

BOOK 3 – The OLDTIMER

The Prydain Chronicles - Lloyd Alexander

 

BOOK 4 – THE COLLECTOR

Some of the best of Tor.com 2016 - I've read this now, particularly recommend the NK Jemisin story and the one by P Djeli Clark.

 

BOOK 5 – DO NOT TRANSCEND GENRE

The Owl Service - Alan Garner

 

BOOK 6, 7 and 8 – THREE IS COMPANY

The Night's Masque books - Anne Lyle

 

BOOK 9 – FACE REALITY

The Secret War Against the Arts - Richard Knott

 

BOOK 10 – BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS

Gods of Jade and Shadow - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

 

BOOK 11 – RANDOMMMMMM

Advent - James Treadwell

 

Book 12 – TREAT YOURSELF

Phoenix Extravagant - Yoon Ha Lee

Review
4 Stars
Briarley - Aster Glenn Gray
Briarley - Aster Glenn Gray

Briarley is another of the raft of books I've picked up while in lockdown, usually because the price has dropped dramatically and I have some Amazon credit - to be honest, I don't usually buy novellas because they annoy me for various reasons (often they feel incomplete and/or I begrudge paying novel prices for novella-length books) but I thought I'd take a chance on this one...

 

It's sold as a m/m retelling of Beauty and the Beast and that's very much what it is. In this case, our wanderer who finds himself in the beautiful grounds of a mysterious house and picks a rose to take home to his daughter decides that he should stay, rather than making her come and be involved in all this enchantment nonsense. Part of that decision is based on the fact that it's wartime and his daughter is working as a nurse, while he's a country vicar so much less important to the war effort, and partly just because it feels wrong to him to trap his daughter into the repercussions of his own actions. 

 

Our Beast in this case is a man now trapped in dragon-form, or part-dragon at least, while his servants are invisible. Their time is running out, as it's coming up on 100 years since the initial curse and nobody is quite sure what will happen when time is up. Our protagonist is a sensible sort and suggests getting a dog, for starters, only to come back to the house with one which has been disabled in an accident. When that doesn't work to break the curse, and he finds out that a number of girls had come to the house and failed to break it either, he starts to wonder whether there's a little more going on with his host than just the change in his appearance. 

 

It's a nicely-told story, which keeps trundling along at a reasonable pace, and with a very much expected fade-to-black at the end. What stopped it from being 5 stars for me is the fact that things still remain unresolved at the end (see my previous comment about novellas often feeling incomplete) - half of the house burns down at the end and it's just hand-waved over. There's plenty of other things for everyone involved to sort out before the story would finally be Over: how do the servants explain to everyone in the village why they don't have ration cards? How will everyone feed themselves now that they don't have magically-produced food to live on? This is just how my brain works, I'm afraid, thinking about these kinds of things.