Stewart, Stewart, Heyer: Touch Not the Cat, Thornyhold and Envious Casca

 Three books by two favourites: Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat and Thornyhold and Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca.

For more on Stewart, check out our Author Appreciation and our convenient 'field guide'. For more on Heyer, er, just read a lot of Heyer? (It is well worth it.)


TouchNotTheCatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart (1976)

Touch Not has the hallmarks of one of Stewart’s classic romantic suspense novels: a beautiful woman (Bryony Ashley), both supremely confident and utterly alone in the world; a breath-taking location (the collapsing, but beautiful, ruin of Ashley Court); a discreet problem (the Court, and its expensive upkeep - whatever is one to do with this most ridiculous of #firstworldproblems). There are even several handsome men, depicting a variety of swoony characteristics, for Bryony to inevitably choose from. And, naturally some skullduggery: perhaps Ashley’s father’s accidental death wasn’t quite so accidental after all.

In the normal Stewart formula, this would unfold in the traditional way, with a few twists, an inevitable romantic pairing, and the barest modicum of actual threat. Stewart’s novels often unfold with an aristocratic coziness that precludes actual danger: the characters are so warmly ensconced in an upper crust so thick that murder itself couldn't penetrate it. (It is, I daresay, utterly wonderful to read, and her characters' self-confidence makes them better escapism than a thousand-thousand hobbits.)

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Review Round-up: Squadron Supreme, The Bug Wars, Crownbird and Beasts of the Burnished Chain

Four reviews with nothing in common, really. Squadron Supreme, Robert Asprin's The Bug Wars, Kit Thackeray's Crownbird, and Alex Marshall's new novella, Beasts of the Burnished Chain. Featuring: Military science fiction, four-colour superheroes, colonialist espionage action, and some grimdark skullduggery!


Squadron_supreme_titleSquadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (1986)

Squadron is really quite spectacular, and every time I read it, I'm more impressed. It is, for those that missed it, a pre-Watchmen (barely) examination of superheroism. Squadron's thematic heft is made all the more weighty by the fact that the Squadron is a group of C-list Marvel heroes that are all thinly veiled versions of DC characters. That makes them expendable and strangely liberated - despite their immediate familiarity, there's no backstory, canon or future. The result is, quite possibly, the most mature, most interesting take on the Justice League that ever existed - all courtesy of Marvel Comics.

The twelve issue series begins with a world that's in bad shape, thanks to a battle between the Squadron and a mind-controlling super-villain. The Squadron steps up and declares itself 'in charge': the team is going to fix the world. From infrastructure to disarmament, they go about their utopian plan - forcing everyone to be better, if necessary. The situation becomes more extreme when the Squadron find themselves with a machine that can 'behaviourally modify' people. Now, as well as sweeping social and infrastructural change, they can now literally make individuals Be Good. The ethical situation doesn't go unchallenged, and the discussion - and fallout - is explored over the course of the series.

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YA Y'all: Moxie, Part-Time Princesses and Sarah Dessen

One more round-up of Young Adult reading - Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie, Monica Gallagher's Part-Time Princesses and a whistle-stop tour through the ouevre of Sarah Dessen. Steel yourself for angst, anxiety, young women finding their agency, and some floppy-haired love interests.


33163378Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Vivian’s high school, in a small town in Texas, is a hot mess of misogyny and harassment. The administration doesn’t care, the boys are a disaster, and Viv and her friends are left to suffer in silence.

And then she discovers Punk. It turns out that Viv’s mom was a Riot Grrl in the 1990s. After finding a cache of her mom’s zines, Viv sees them as the perfect way to express herself: angry, anonymous and, most of all, loud. ‘Moxie’ (the zine) succeeds beyond her wildest ambitions, introducing Viv to new friends, creating an underground of female empowerment, and of course, getting them heard.

It isn’t without trouble, of course, and Moxie contains all the ups and downs that you might expect. Moxie is a Disney After School Special version of Friday Night Lights, with all the conflicts (oh no! Moxie is banned!) and ‘surprises’ (oh wow, the cheerleader is on-side!) that fit the formula. There isn’t quite a moment where they all jump on their desks... but it isn’t far off either.

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Three Fantasies: The Black Witch, The Empire of the Dead, and The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Black WitchThree reviews - all books with different 'fantasies', or relationships with fantasy, at their heart: The Summer I Became a Nerd, The Black Witch and The Empire of the Dead. One's a romp. One's a long-overdue provocation. One's kind of a mess. Enjoy!


The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (2017)

A very traditional fantasy with a thought-provoking, revisionist twist.

The Black Witch has a really, really interesting premise: it full-on tackles the fact that many fantasy tropes are inherently racist. That's not only a telling comment on the radical polarisation of real-world politics, but, within the scope of genre, Witch takes a  fascinating approach to fantasy's racial essentialism. All Orcs are evil. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Elves are good. Fantasy is grounded in simple, unchallenged 'genetic' truths, with the exceptions (whaddup, Drizzt) there to prove the rule.

Black Witch has a completely classic fantasy world with a heroic human - basically the unappreciated secretly-hawt princess trope, rampaging hordes of Evil, the true religion, Fate and Destiny, a war against the darkness, and, of course, the chosen ones of light and darkness. But, as is made rapidly clear: every part of this is completely subjective.

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Friday Five: 5 Frosty Favourites for Snowy Weather

As #snowmageddon ravages Britain, we're looking forward to the weekend. We have firm plans to camp out - pressed against the radiator, under a dozen blankets (and two cats), with whisky in hand. Also, books. * 

Here are a few of our cold weather favourites.

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Paris Adrift, One of Us Is Lying, All the Crooked Saints and More

Six recent reads across time, space, and genres: Maggie Stiefvater's All The Crooked Saints, E.J. Swift's Paris Adrift, Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring, Jason Rekulak's The Impossible Fortress, Eva Ibbotson's The Dragonfly Pool, and Karen McManus' One of Us is Lying.

I'd say I loved them all unequivocally, but, well, then I'd be lying too.

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SPFBO2017: The Finalists Reviewed (All of 'em!)

11304423085_ee8df18686_oWe're participating in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. You can learn more about what this means (and how the finalists are doing) here. And follow the various stages of our process here.

I think I'm going to follow up in a week or two with a wibbly 'WHAT I LEARNED' post, and talk about my SPFBO experience(s) a bit more as a whole [UPDATE: Nyah.]. It has been a lot of fun, very enlightening - I've read a lots that covered the whole spectrum of quality - and learned a fair amount about what I think constitutes 'good'. Which is no bad thing. And, unlike previous judging or slush-reading experiences, I can wang about this all I want. So, in the next couple weeks, I might take advantage of that.

But, for now, here are this year's ten finalists, in no particular order, with my - somewhat arbitrary - scores. Thanks again for all the writers, readers, judges and administrator (singular!) for participating, and please check out the other judges for other perspectives!

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