Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Cover

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind.

Until they found her…

My Review of Sunshine

SunshineSunshine by Robin McKinley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere in here lurks a decent story, but it’s so overwhelmed by the ramblings of Sunshine that it’s almost completely lost. In the first five pages, I know where Sunshine works, where she lives, her Monday movie nights and all about her landlady’s niece, but I still don’t know why she’s all on her own at the lake.

I liked the actual story, but it does start to drag. The vampires are satisfyingly nasty and mean, like in the film Lost Boys.

Sunshine is likeable enough, but by the halfway point I just really wanted her to stop talking. Cut out all the rambling and the repetition (how many times do we need to be told no one ever gets away from vampires?) and the book would be less than half the long 405 pages it actually is.

The author spends so much time explaining the world that it’s hard to believe this was ever intended to be standalone. So many concepts are explained in depth that are then not actually relevant to the story that I’m convinced this was the setup for a longer series, more like True Blood.

After all the long, long build-up, the big fight with the main villain is almost a non-event after all the talking. The villain himself is a moustache-twirling cartoon style villain, with some seriously dodgy dialogue. And he doesn’t do anything. Disappointing.

Could have been good, but needs some serious pruning to remove all the irrelevant rambling.

Sunshine
Robin McKinley
Urban Fantasy
November 30th 2004
Kindle
405

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple Cover

The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of colour in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t even know how to start reviewing this, but I will say that it’s heartbreaking, eye opening, harrowing and uplifting. I’ve never actually cried reading a book before, but I came closer at the end of this than I ever have before.

Books on lists of classics, or those lists of 100 books you must read, are books that I normally stay away from. I expect them to be dry, preachy, pretentious, or all three and generally just dull. But this, this book deserves its place on all of those lists.

Alice Walker is a skilled story teller, and The Colour Purple is accessible and interesting. It works first and foremost as a story about a poor black woman living in deep south America in the 1930’s. Celie narrates her life through journal entries and letters, a literary device that I’ve rarely seen done well but here it works brilliantly to bring her world to life for us.

In this world, the book uncovers issues of race, misogyny, religion and feminism. It manages not to beat us over the head, or preach to us, but just shows us that they are there and how they affect people’s lives. In this subtle way, we can’t ignore them because they are a vital part of Celie’s story.

It’s sad to think that these issues are just as relevant today as they were in the 30’s. These prejudices haven’t gone away, not even here in the UK where we like to think we’re more tolerant than the Americans. They are just as internalised as they ever were, but, until recently anyway, better hidden.

My favourite thing about this book is the women working together to support and help each other.

I recommend this to everyone. It’s an interesting story, and while it’s hard to read at first it has an uplifting ending.

The Color Purple
Alice Walker
Fiction
1982
Paperback
295

I Am Behind You (Platserna #1) by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I Am Behind You Cover

A supernatural superthriller from the author of Let the Right One In

Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.

Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here – each denies they deserve it. Until they see what’s coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.

And for just one of them, their homecoming.

This gripping conceptual horror takes you deep into one of the most macabre and unique imaginations writing in the genre. On family, on children, Lindqvist writes in a way that tears the heart and twists the soul. I Am Behind You turns the world upside down and, disturbing, terrifying and shattering by turns, it will suck you in.

My Review of I Am Behind You

I Am Behind YouI Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bizarre, creepy, unsettling, enthralling. I’m not entirely sure what I just read, but I think I liked it.

Getting off to a slow start the first half of the book is almost a character study. The characters are investigating the place they have found themselves, but at the same time it goes in depth into their personalities, and their back stories. Most of them are unpleasant people that have done bad things at one point or another, or been through traumatic events. But the dog Benny, the little boy Emil and the farmers Lennart and Olof were all likeable enough to be able to emphasise with them.

The second half it all goes crazy. I’m not going to spoil it by talking about it, but it’s surreal, original, deeply unsettling, and I could not put it down. I just want someone now who can explain it all for me.

Don’t read this if you need an answer to where they are or how they got there. But if you like making up your own ideas about things, and if you like stories that are odd and scary, then this is for you!

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

I Am Behind You
Platserna
John Ajvide Lindqvist, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)
Horror
September 7th 2017
Kindle
416

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

The Growing Season Cover

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

The Growing SeasonThe Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warm, thoughtful and kind. It presents some big issues but brings a human side to give them meaning.

The Growing Season is set in an alternate version of our world, differing from ours only in the invention of the biotech baby pouch two generations ago. The pouch is an artificial womb that allows babies to be incubated outside of the human body. FullLife own the patent for the pouch and have marketed it so successfully as an end to inequality and the dangers of childbirth that natural births are rare.

Eva is carrying on her mother’s work of campaigning against the pouch. She believes that the technology has moved too fast, that as a society we did not stop to think about the issues, and now we are blind to any problems that the pouch brings along with it.

Holly had the very first pouch baby and is now a poster girl for FullLife. She is about to have her first grandchild, and she loves the pouch and the freedom and choices it brings for parents.

The book takes a very balanced view of the issues and presents both sides of the argument. It looks at the benefits of allowing both men and women to be involved in carrying the unborn child, how it allows people to be parents that otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and how it protects women from the dangers of childbirth.

We are also shown the other side – how it could enable domestic abuse, how it affects society in negative ways, how we adopt technology so quickly that we don’t think about the side effects, or what happens when it goes wrong. It also touches on the dangers of allowing one big company to have such a monopoly on our lives, and how it excludes those who live in poverty even further.

So it’s tackling big issues and could very easily have been dry and preachy. But Sedgwick makes them accessible by giving them a human face and showing how they affect people personally. Through Eva and Holly, she tells a warm and moving story about people. Their lives and families take up a big part of the book. I never felt like she was pushing the discussion about the issues or forcing an opinion on me, the story always comes first.

I thought it would be hard to read, so much so that I almost picked up something else when I was too tired to concentrate, but I gave this a go and got drawn in straight away. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical at times and I flew through it because I cared so much about the characters.

Highly recommend this one if you like sci-fi, women’s issues, ethics in technology, or if you just like stories about people.

The Growing Season
Helen Sedgwick
Sci-Fi
September 7th 2017
Kindle
302

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

babel17 cover

Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

My review of Babel-17

Babel-17Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant! I really enjoyed this.

I love the cast of characters. The spaceship crew are wonderful and unique, and I wish they had more page time. Rydra Wong is very intelligent, a genius with languages and can read people almost like she is reading their minds. Everyone loves her, and she is maybe a little too perfect snowflake but I still found her likeable anyway.

The story moves fast and is full of action and intrigue, spaceships and fights. It’s very original and still feels modern even though it was written at the end of the 70s.

It’s all good up until the ending which is rushed through. I found it difficult to follow. It’s very clever, but I felt like the story was working up to something exciting and all I got was a long conversation where someone explains what has been going on.

I enjoyed the discussions about language and how it shapes the way we think about the world, how we can’t comprehend concepts that our language can’t describe and how it affects our intelligence and how fast we think.

Babel-17 works on one level as an action-packed sci-fi story, and if that’s all you want from a book then it can easily be read that way. But there is more to it if you want to look. It’s also a good choice if you like books with a bit more to them, stories that make you think about the way the world works. I highly recommend this one.

Babel-17
Samuel R. Delany
Sci-Fi
June 1st 1978
Paperback
192

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird #5) by Freda Warrington

Darker than the storm cover

The towers of Niankan-Siol soared skywards, all blue and gold and glass, seeming as light as air. Walkways, weightless and swaying, threaded between the pinnacles and spires, while winged creatures and air transports flitted and looped among the glittering heights.

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of Darker than the Storm

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird, #5)Darker than the Storm by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darker than the Storm is the fifth in the Blackbird series. It’s set between the second and third books but as it’s a self-contained story I think you could read this without having read the other books.

This book tells the story of Ashurek after he has settled down on Ikonus with his wife Silvren and their daughter Mellorn.

Ikonus is a peaceful planet, but Ashurek finds himself restless. Overcome with a strong feeling of depression he breaks the law of Ikonus and opens a way to Jhensit, another planet. He is found out and as punishment Gregardreos, the high master of Iknous, sends him to set to investigate the odd energy that Jhensit is emitting.

Ashurek lands on Jhensit in a city split into two. Nianken-Pel is the main city, Nianken-Siol is a city above the city, a glittering place of blue glass where the ruling class live. They are the Siol, and they have enslaved the Pel, the people of Nianken-Pel and persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

Blaming the Pel for all their problems the Siol are ignoring the real problem: Jhensit is a planet slowly being consumed by a maelstrom, a corrupt energy that warps the land and creates monstrous creatures.

Ashurek only wants to observe and take back information to Ikonus, but he finds himself unwillingly drawn into the conflict. He must face up to his past and make moral choices as he tries to save Jhensit from being destroyed.

Ashurek was a strong but silent type in the first two Blackbird books so I wasn’t sure that he would be able to carry a whole book on his own. But he works well as the main character, he has a dry sense of humour and a compelling voice. He knows his own faults and his strengths and isn’t afraid to take action when needed. He’s interesting to read about!

There was just enough world building to get a sense of Jhensit. I would have preferred a bit more maybe, about the two cities and the contrast between them. Nianken-Siol, the city in the sky, sounds like a beautiful but cold place full of glittering glass and I would have liked to know more about it and the people there.

The story is well paced, it moves fast without being confusing and stays interesting. It reminds me a bit of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. They’re quite different stories but it has a similar sort of idea of a floating palace in conflict with the city below, and both of them are beautifully written. Darker than the Storm is a lot older though, it was released in 1992, 25 years ago!

I recommend this to anyone that likes fantasy stories and is looking for something a bit different. It’s crammed full of ideas that all merge into an original and exciting read. I couldn’t put it down!

Darker than the Storm
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1992
Paperback
304

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist #1) by Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows Cover

The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist, #1)A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read once that taking away watches and clocks from people and not allowing them to know the time will slowly drive them mad. After reading this book I can believe it.

It starts out as a hard-boiled detective story set in a world that feels like a futuristic version of the 1950’s. The city is split into three different zones, Nocturna that is eternal night, Dusk, a place of fog and monsters where it is always twilight and no-one dare go, and Dayzone, a world of bright neon lights where it never goes dark and the citizens are constantly switching between the hundreds of different timelines.

John Nyquist is hired to find the teenage daughter of one of the richest men in the city. But like any good detective story, nothing is what it seems.

I loved the first half, the atmosphere created and the characters and the sense of place are almost perfectly done. Towards the middle it starts to feel surreal, it’s like a bad dream where Nyquist is losing his sense of time and reality. I struggled with reading this, I’ve never enjoyed dream sequences and this was more confusing than most. It messed with my mind, and it made me feel a bit ill reading it!

It settles down towards the end though and it got a bit easier on my brain.

The writing is brilliant, and it’s full of plot twists that I didn’t predict. The atmosphere and the world building is just right, I could see Dayzone in my mind, and I loved the contrast between the frantic pace of life there and the calm and quiet in Nocturna.

I do struggle sometimes with books that leave you to decide what’s real and what’s not, but if you don’t mind that then I highly recommend this book as it’s very well done, with an interesting story, good characters, and original ideas.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

A Man of Shadows
John Nyquist
Jeff Noon
Sci-Fi
August 1st 2017
Kindle
384

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3) by Freda Warrington

A Blackbird in Amber Cover

A Blackbird in Amber Blurb

The terrible Serpent M’gulfn has been destroyed, but Earth’s future is in peril. Its death has unleashed a chaotic power that may prove more dangerous than the Serpent itself.

Journeying to Gorethria comes Melkavesh, daughter of Ashurek and Silvren, determined to harness the new power of sorcery for good. But can she resist the temptation to claim her birthright – the dark throne renounced by Ashurek?

A ruthless usurper, Xaedrek, has already seized Gorethria’s throne and is working his own warped form of sorcery to restore the evil empire. To save the Earth, Melkavesh must defeat him but she has reckoned without Xaedrek’s seductive charm.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of A Blackbird in Amber

A Blackbird in AmberA Blackbird in Amber by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third in the Blackbird series jumps 25 years into the future after the events of the first two books. It follows Ashurek and Silvren’s daughter Mellorn as she returns to Earth to aid the birth of sorcery. But the Gorethrian Empire has used warped demon sorcery to recover its strength and has returned to invading and enslaving other nations.

My favourite thing about the Blackbird series is the wonderful and well-written cast of characters who have complex relationships and motivations. Main character Mellorn / Melkavesh is a sorceress who sets out with the aim of creating a sorcery school on Earth. Strong willed and charismatic she is a natural leader and draws people to herself.

But she is swayed by her own ego and under the guise of stopping the Gorethrians conquest of other nations, she starts to get swept away with the idea of leading an army and overthrowing the Gorethrian ruler.

I really enjoyed the story. It’s well paced and interesting, and makes sense in the context of the original books – it doesn’t feel tacked on for the sake of continuing the series. I also love the lush descriptions of the world. They brought it to life for me and I couldn’t stop reading. I’m excited to read the next one!

A Blackbird in Amber
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1988
Paperback
437

Nights of Blood Wine (Blood Wine, #4.5) by Freda Warrington

Nights of Blood Wine Cover

Nights of Blood Wine Blurb

Enter the spellbinding worlds of Freda Warrington. Fifteen tales of horror and darkness, taking the reader deeper into the vampiric and the unknown.

Warrington’s vampires haunt the borderlands of excess, and you can find them here in ten stories set in her popular Blood Wine series of novels. Then there are five further tales of fantasy and horror as Warrington takes you further into the worlds of imagination. Step gently, as you may not leave untouched!

‘The Blood Wine books are addictive, thrilling reads that are impossible to put down and they definitely deserve more attention.’ Worldhopping.net

‘A cross between Anne Rice and more edgy modern paranormal romances, only with Freda Warrington’s incredible voice … This author truly has a gift for storytelling.’ Not Your Ordinary Book Banter

My review of Nights of Blood Wine

Nights of Blood Wine (Blood Wine, #4.5)Nights of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It makes a change to read some vampire stories that are not cheesy and overwhelmed by romance.

My sister kept telling me about the Blood Wine series, that it’s the best vampire series she’s ever read. Finally, I listened and decided to start with this newly released short story collection.

The first, and largest, part of the collection is made up of stories that are based in the Blood Wine universe, the second part is stories based on the Elfland series, and there is an extra Dracula story added to the mix too.

I haven’t read any of the books (yet), but it didn’t stop me understanding or enjoying these short stories.

It’s a very sophisticated, very adult collection of stories. They’re mostly told from women’s perspectives and are stories about women. Love and sex are part of a lot of them, but it’s not the focus. This is about as far from Twilight as it’s possible to get.

Freda Warrington is a wonderful writer; I can’t understand why she’s not more widely known. Her stories are subtle and complex and draw you in without you noticing it. Suddenly you’ll realise you’re hooked and need to devour everything she’s ever written.

Her writing is captivating, her descriptions are almost lyrical and bring the rich worlds to life. Her characters are complex, otherworldly and yet somehow also relatable.

If you like vampire stories even a little bit, then do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of this.

Nights of Blood Wine
Blood Wine
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
Telos
March 31st 2017
Paperback
228

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Stars are Legion

The Stars are Legion Blurb

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is travelling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

My Review of The Stars are Legion

The Stars Are LegionThe Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I reviewed this over on my old blog when I first read it, but it’s such an original and inventive sci-fi book that I want to spread the word as much as possible!

Zan wakes up injured and with amnesia. She does not know who or where she is. The world to her, and to us, seems to be half mad. We are swept along with Zan and told as little as she is as she tries to piece together who she is.

Zan is on one of many worlds / spaceships that are actually living creatures. The walls and the floors are spongy, and they move between levels by using the umbilical cord. They have to cut open the skin to get outside! The further into the middle you go the more visceral and sticky the world gets.

These worlds, collectively known as the Legion, are stuck in their orbit around the false sun. They are slowly dying. Cancer eats away at them, and with each new generation the inhabitants are losing their knowledge on what they are and where they came from. They can barely control them and don’t know what half the equipment on them does.

The different worlds are in conflict with each other, fighting for resources, each of them salvaging what they can to heal their own worlds at the expense of the others.

One world, the Mokshi, has managed to leave it’s orbit and now everyone wants to board it and control it, to find out how it does it and hopefully create a new future for themselves.

The world building here is impressive and original. It reminds me of Iain M Banks space opera stories in its scope. Hurley creates the same sort of atmosphere and strangeness in her unique universe.

The characters are interesting if not always likeable, with realistic emotions and believable actions. Zan travels to the centre of the world and the people she picks up along the way are from different cultures with different life experiences, and each has their own distinct personality.

In the middle of the book, when Zan reaches the centre of the world it suddenly becomes a blend of sci-fi / horror, before bringing in elements of fantasy. I thought this was very well done, it didn’t feel out of place to me. I loved the sci-fi side, and the space battles, but this journey through the centre of the world was my favourite part of the book. Hurley’s imagination ran wild here, and there are some very inventive ideas as we learn more about what the world is and the different social and cultural groups in it.

As Zan struggles through the world trying to make sense of it and piece herself back together Hurley doesn’t shy away from showing us the darker side of humanity. There is love in this world, but also betrayal, fear, cowardice and prejudice as we see the things people are capable of doing to others and to themselves to get what they want.

There is a hopeless feel at times, the world is dying, the leaders rule by fear, and even if Zan gets back her memory where can she go from there? But just as it starts getting overwhelming for me Hurley shakes it all up again and reminds us there are good things in people too, when they are given the chance to show them.

There are answers given eventually, but not all of them are concrete ones. Some things are hinted at but left for you to fill in the gaps yourself. It might be very confusing at first but stick with it because Hurley’s world is worth the effort of getting to know!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Stars Are Legion
Kameron Hurley
Sci-Fi