Monday, October 10, 2011

Feed by Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire

Alright - first off - the book is fantastic, a great light read and more about that later.  How dare I publicise an author's real name after they wrote under a pseudonym? Well, apparently it's an open pseudonym specifically for "horror." 

Given there's nothing quite like tying up loose ends it's probably worth noting Seanan won the John W Campbell award for best new writer in the Hugo Awards here  and Feed has been getting some great press and this is why...

The characters are fun.  The premise is amazing.  The writing is sharp and to the point, and if the characters aren't up to the hips in danger then there are interesting emotional diversions and the story is making little snide commentaries on the American electoral system (at a level that's not too hard for even foreigners to follow - so long as they've watched maybe a couple of episodes of the Daily Show).

Georgia and her brother Sean grew up with Zombies, their adoptive parents pushing them into the life of the media, not of glitz so much as dangerously living a life as close to that children would have enjoyed before life became too dangerous for people to frivolously risk going outside.  A dangerous life.  And all for the ratings.

Now the siblings plan to become blogging stars with their own network, Sean as an "Irwin" (yes, that's right obviously a tip of the hat to old Stevo), his job is to keep his followers happy with exciting footage of himself getting into dangerous situations.  Georgia on the other hand is a "newsie" and she's only interested in the truth, keeping her readers appraised of what it going on in her part of the world.

To kick-start their career Georgia applied to follow a prominent politician.  It was their chance to make the big time.  But it wasn't the easy gig they expected. The problem is that while poking zombies with sticks is very very very (etc) dangerous - telling the truth is positively suicidal.  Especially where politics is involved...

ok that'll do.

Read it.

And don't worry- a zombie never, ever, ever says "brains". And it's not really what I'd classify as horror either - maybe adventure horror?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shadowheart by Tad Williams with almost no spoilers

(If you wish to find out more about books one and two of this series, click this link)

I was almost up to FINALLY reading Shadowheart when George RR Martin's latest Game of Thrones came out and I had to put it on the back burner again.  It's times like this where you think maybe two epics in a row is probably going to be too much.  But no.  Shadowheart is an awesome conclusion to this series by one of the greatest fantasy epic writers of the day.  It was like coming home to warm slippers and hot cocoa after being shredded by wolves.  The story was fun, the plot ripped, the poet Tinwright was such a lot of fun.  If I had the tiniest, tiniest complaint - Please Tad, don't do the George thing and call girls manly or whatever because they're in armour.  Besides, armour is actually quite feminine with bulging chest-plates and the flairs at the hips...

Still, if you love epic fantasy, Tad Williams understands epic fantasy in a way so many writers don’t - and I'll go as far as to include George in that number (although here's no doubt the guy can write).  Far from being a let down, the final to this Shadow war series not only holds its own, but I found it the high point of the series.  Well worth reading.  Go and get a copy - it'll keep you quiet for quiet some time.  Enjoy!

mini-review by Alicia Ponder

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Dance with Dragons - Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

What can I say about this epic - that hasn't already been said?  It's brutal - it's magnificently epic in its scope - and its back on track.  The last couple of books, I admit I was wondering which way it would go - strung out plotlines and the usual epic dithering, or falling back to a tighter framework.

Neither apparently, although, according to George, the next book does see many of our far-flung heroes become a little less far-flung.  (At least those that are still alive)  For death and dishonour in the game of thrones, is merely part of the game.  And nobody is safe or exempt. 

The characters are compelling, although everyone has their favourites. For instance I hated Daenerys, in Game of Thrones, still do - fortunately now she has the redeeming feature of dragons.  And boy, that is one huge redeeming feature, so of course she is a favourite for many.  The Imp - Tyrion, is also many people's favourite - one moment he is insufferable, and the next awesome.  What a fantastic character.  Oozing with charm and - is insufferability a word? - well you get the idea anyway.  I'm not even going to mention my two favourites - because I'm pretty sure one of them is dead.  And if you haven't read the book you can't understand how angry that makes me.  I'm furious.  Spitting tacks, but to continue, because I don't want to give the game away none of the characters are the ciphers that you expect in less well written fantasy, from sellswords, to nobility they run the spectrum from evil to benign - but never weak.  Although the child king is, and surely, surely he can't hold the throne for long...  Even "ordinary" men and women who live in a this dangerous and unforgiving world are breathed upon with life, as the plot gallops along, running over, past and through anything and anyone that gets in its way.

If you love epic fantasy and you haven't yet read Game of Thrones, the only acceptable excuse is that you are too young.  (And even if you're ninety, that could be a good excuse - because some of the content is not extremely AO.  A couple of instances in "A Dance with Dragons" were real scrub-your-brain-out-afterwards stuff. --  You'll have some idea if you've been watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones.  But if you think the tv series is good with its catchphrase "Winter is Coming" - this is why its good - the writing - and its so much more than you could ever just watch.)

but no.  I'm not reading the next book.  Never. No.  not ever.  I'm too upset.  At least... not until it comes out...unless, perhaps I can get hold of a reading copy slightly earlier? 

Because winter is finally here.  And it's hit with a vengeance. 

Alicia Ponder 

For readers 18 or older

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Another post apocalyptic novel by Bacigalupi.   He received a nebula for his debut novel, the Windup Girl but to be honest I preferred this one.  It seemed more honest, and the simple determination and courage of his characters shines through in a world now almost devoid of oil, and where even small children are put to work breaking up wrecks for the small amounts of metals they contain. 

Nailer's days on his job are numbered, almost too big for light crew and the job of crawling through ducts for wires, and too small for heavy crew he faces an uncertain future.  His only remaining family a brutal father strung out on drugs, he has created a family of sorts among his crew, but loyalty in this world is a hard thing, bought in blood and broken for money. 

When a rich girl washes up with a storm, he is left with the choice to slit her throat, take her wealth and make a better life for himself - or can he justify the risk of keeping her alive?

A gripping book without the technical or scientific bullshit of his previous novel, this was for me the ultimate teen read even if, from what I understand, it is being sold for adult consumption. Great fun!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

This and That. Books. And Things. Apologies for being so slow to post.

 There's something about books, going into a bookstore and looking around to see what's new.  There's always something exciting, some new author, or an old favourite just waiting to be read.  And because I work there, I can be real fussy.  If I read a paragraph and don't much like it, I'll try another, somewhere a little further in. That's it.  No more chances, unless it's come recommended or I've enjoyed reading the author before.  I almost threw down the latest Sanderson book, even though I think he's a great writer, because the characters at the beginning weren't empathetic or compelling enough.  Then I made the mistake of saying that to my husband.  He looked at me with utter shock.  "But you can tell it's going to get good."  Yes, but for me it had to get EXTREMELY good to make up for the mucking around.  And I still think that first section could have been pretty much edited out with no/little loss of story. 

Then I was chatting about books with a friend, and to a certain extent we liked the same sort of thing, but I was shocked that she could love Hyddenworld by William Horwood.  Someone had recommended it to me so I stuck at it for the requisite hundred pages, maybe even one or two more.  But in my eyes it was unoriginal hack.  Nothing new, nothing original, the same old same old... more Tolkien anyone?  But for her it was like cuddling up with a favourite blanket, and a warm cup of cocoa.  Nice, and warm and friendly.  Now I'm busy struggling though Tad Williams latest book, and I love bits of it, and hate others.  Shadowrise is I continuation of his Shadow... series.  And some of it is exactly the blanket and slippers and cocoa and its fantastic and some of it - I have to wonder what he was thinking.  It's just not as succinct as I expect from a writer of his calibre - and it's not that its not succinct because some of the charm of the series is that its epic.  And I love epic.  Truly properly epic, but I think it's just because its at the stage where Robert Jordan, and even to a certain extent George RR Martin struggled/are struggling with their epics.  There's just so much happening, and the characters are so beloved it's hard to focus on the real story and the way it.  Now George, well he was earning enough that he could spend the years it takes to knock his behemoth into shape (and hopefully he has - because boy, I haven't looked forward to a book half so much as I've looked forward to his latest - due out July 12 - in America) but Tad Williams undoubtedly lacks that luxury, so he just keeps on keeping on, which is great because for me these books are that cosy blanket, the hot drink, the gluten free muffin, yes, it has many aspects of trite fantasy, the very stuff I railed against in Hyddenworld, but there's a life here, a soul, a little unexpectedness, and an unexplored world - that for me still holds some excitement, and enormous potential.  So, yes, it's taking a while but I'm happy to keep reading on, to find out if Briony and Barrick will ever fulfil their early potential, to see if Flint, the orphan boy is really who I think he is, and if Qinnitan will eventually find her freedom, and the King too, and to see if Tad can do what he always seems to have in the past, pull his series together in a surprisingly good ending.  And once I've finished this series, there's China Meiville, George RR Martin, and I live in hope, another Frances Hardinger, Robin Hobb... and that's not counting the new authors, the ones where you pick up the book and can't put it down, I found both Frances Hardinger and Emma Clayton that way, and there's always the hope that I'll find another un-put-down-able author - and may be this time they wont be kids books.They'll be the "important sort of biographies that Joanna and Mary like so much, the literature...  No, who am I kidding, I like what I like - and as many have said before, there's no accounting for taste and still, that's half the fun.

Yes working in a bookshop is very rewarding, because there's nothing a writer likes better than talking about books. Great Books. 

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

In completing Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson has shown that he has the right stuff when it comes to epic fantasy.  His worlds are as rich as his writing, his characters are troubled, his setting gritty and on a grand scale, but do be warned I found the first hundred or so pages of this book quite hard going - yes, there was action and yes the world showed signs of greatness, but it took along time for the events he set up to be resolved - still because of his previous works I trusted it would be worth the wait - and yes it was - by the end I just could not put the book down.  I had to know what was going to happen next.  It did not matter that it was four o'clock in the morning, my favourite characters were in peril - would they live or would they die? 

There is alot of warfare in this book,and a carefully constructed "magic" that seems to be based on rules that are only very slowly being revealed, but nothing safe and easy.  The creatures who inhabit the world are quite foreign, including massive chasmfiends that are hunted for sport, and the strange "spren" that seem to be everywhere, and whose place in the universe slowly becomes more apparent.  It's as dangerous and deadly as "Game of Thrones" and I so want to give away the end - because it does pull the whole book into perspective and make you ask the only question there is to ask: WHEN IS THE NEXT ONE COMING OUT!  Thank goodness Sanderson is such a fast writer, now all we need to do is get him a curmudgeony editor just to make sure that the pacing stays even. Or maybe, I should, like my friends say, learn patience.  the only problem is that takes too long.

Overall yes, this is a great book, and lovers of epic fantasy who are still waiting for George RR Martin's colossus to come out could do far worse than read it.  And believe it or not given the choice I would probably read the sequel to this first, just because I found the last George R R Martin book a tiny bit disappointing.  Maybe it didn't have enough Arya in it, or enough Imp (my favourite characters by far) - but I cannot imagine that the surgeon, and fighter Kaladin will ever be far from the action so long as he is alive.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

City of Fallen Angels by Cassabdra Clare

This is the fourth book of the Mortal Instruments series so long as you don't count the prequel- Clockwork Angel

If you like contemporary urban fantasy with  bit of romance and you're not familiar with Mortal Instruments, then why are you still reading this?  Go and get City of Bones and sit down and read it right now!  Seriously it's a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the guys are pretty good at slaying bad guys too.

Ok, so we are, you've read books 1-3 and the prequel, so how does this one stack up?  Is it worth reading?  What about the romance?  Who's in it?

Simon, the daylighter Vampire who used to have a crush on Cassie is finding his life is complicated.  Bad people want him, and not necessarily alive, and Jace, well dying and coming back to life is more difficult for a Shadowhunter than anyone could have imagined, so much so that now even his dreams are putting him at risk.  Can Cassie trust him?  And how nasty are things going to get?  Well the answer to those questions is - no - and very nasty.  Yes you'll love it, the fast pace, the fun, and although the romance is a bit heavy, let me assure the less romantically inclined readers that the bedroom door isn't opened for something that could merely be insinuated behind a closed one.

This is modern teen fantasy that doesn't require a degree in English, nor is it the endless teenage angst of twilight, it's just good fun.  Maybe not quite as dazzling as books one to three, mostly because I hate stories that end on a knife edge - there's nothing worse - especially because that means I desperately want to read the next book now! 

A J Ponder

The Travelling Restaurant by Barbara Else

shhh - this book is magic - don't tell anybody.  Don't even say the word m**ic - or "she" might hear you.  It's the perfect book for nine to twelve year olds to read for themselves, or if you are younger that's great because  mum, dad, grandma or grandpa will love it too. 

Jasper, an obviously extraordinary boy, has to escape to sea in the travelling restaurant where he encounters pirates and all sorts of danger in order to rescue his little sister and in fact everyone from a very nasty lady who wants to be Queen. Seriously I'd tell you more, but I don't want to ruin a moment of fun by spoiling any of the surprises.

"a great romp" Richard Ponder
"an edge-of-your-seat tale of treachery courage and magic" official blurb yes, I know but it's true  
 "One of the most enchanting books I've read for a long time," Kate De Goldi

And me - well, it's the first book where I've seriously wished to go back in time to read it to my young children.  A very special book that will touch the hearts of young and old. 

Review: Alicia Ponder

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

 The Blurb

"In a fractured Realm, struggling to maintain an uneasy peace after years of civil war and religious tyranny, a 12-year-old orphan and a homicidal goose become the accidental heroes of a revolution"

This book won the Branford Boase Award in 2006,and was listed in the School Library Journal's Best Books of 2006, it is seriously good.  It's well written, fun and most of all a heartening story of... no it's not, it's just fun. 

The plot

Mosca Mye breaks out of her virtual imprisonment to free the glib Eponymous Clent -- not because she knows he's innocent, but because she loves his ability with words, something that she has missed since the death of her father. With his ready lies and easy charm, it is amazing just how easy it is for the pair to get into trouble, get mixed up in a rebellion, and generally make a real nuisance of themselves -- helped in no small part by Saracen her deranged goose.

Why it's great

There's not many books where morally dubious characters can rescue themselves by convincing a highwayman that what he really needs is good publicity - and then instead of stooping there, follow the consequences of that action.  It's witty, beautiful and dangerous, a beautifully presented mythical 18th Century Middle England, fractured by religious and political upheaval.   (The religion part is completely fictional, adding nicely to the tone of the story and to Mosca's difficulties, born as she is under the inauspicious Palpitattle, god of keeping flies off the jam and butter.)  The romance (no not THAT sort of romance) and the humour in no way stand in place of plot, but do make the story more than just another adventure, but a true classic.

So this book is for teenagers?

I would argue that the people who will truly love it are good readers around ten and up, especially people who love fantasy or historical fiction.  Frances is someone who loves words, and writing, she's an incredibly gifted, as I have already remarked in my reviews of Verdigris Deep and Twilight Robbery.  Her use of language is amazing, as one would expect in an English professor - and it is that mastery of language along with remarkable plotting and wonderful characters that make her a must read.  Truly remarkable.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

This is the fourth book of the Mortal Instruments series so long as you don't count the prequel- Clockwork Angel

Who will like this book?
If you've read the other Mortal Instruments books or if you like contemporary urban fantasy with  bit of romance - but if you're not familiar with Mortal Instruments, then why are you still reading this?  Go and get City of Bones and sit down and read it right now!  Seriously it's a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the guys are pretty good at slaying bad guys too.

Ok, so you've read books 1-3 and maybe the prequel, and you want to know how does this one stacks up.  Is it worth reading?  What about the romance?  Who's in it?

The important stuff, hopefully without giving too much away:
Simon, the daylighter Vampire who used to have a crush on Cassie is finding his life is complicated.  Bad people want him, and not necessarily alive, and Jace, well dying and coming back to life is more difficult for a Shadowhunter than anyone could have imagined, so much so that now even his dreams are putting him at risk.  Can Cassie trust him?  And how nasty are things going to get?  Well the answer to those questions is - no - and very nasty.  Yes you'll love it, the fast pace and the fun, and although the romance is a bit heavy let me assure the less romantically inclined readers that the bedroom door isn't opened for something that could merely be insinuated behind a closed one.

This is modern teen fantasy that doesn't require a degree in English, nor is it the endless teenage angst of twilight, it's just good fun.  Maybe not quite as dazzling as books one to three, mostly because it ends on a knife edge, and there's that terrible - but I want to read the next book now!  Just as the adventure seemed to be coming to an end.

Alicia Ponder

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Genius Suad by Catherine Jinks

The Official Blurb:
Will Genius Squad be the answer to all Cadel's prayers? Or is he right to question their motives? Deciding what's good and what's bad is more difficult than he could ever have imagined ...

The Book:
I don't remember reading Evil Genius, but the scenario isn't hard to catch onto, Catherine pretty much spells everything she needs to at the beginning of the book.  So much so that it felt like I'd read the original - or maybe that was just Artemis Fowl messing with my mind.  After all Artemis Fowl is pretty much along the same lines -  except Artemis doesn't seem to have quite so many daddy issues.

The Plot:

The absolute best thing about the book is the plot.  Just when things can't possibly get any worse, they do. I was on the edge of my seat (well the edge of my sickbed) almost to the very last page.  

you want more than that? ok.  The once evil genius Cadel is in a foster home, but jumps at the chance of being able to change the life of a friend, by joining Genius Squad where he finds his skills at lying and deception to be most useful.  After all he's working for good isn't he?  trying to bring down an evil organisation... but is that really what Genius Squad is about, or is there some more sinister purpose? 

Everything Else:
hey what else matters in an evil genius story besides a good plot, and in this case a great plot?  Not much.  But for the record Catherine is a great writer and kids stop reading here, because if you do it will put you off worse than the lame trailer.  Yes it's those daddy issues.  The whole trust thing.  It makes the adults happy that you're being slapped in the face with "good" and "bad" yes you know the difference.  And that the bad guys always lose.  That's why stories are so great.  They can make mistakes you don't have to, but on occasion this book seems to preach - that's not for you, not really that's for all the adults, some of whom are probably wondering why I'm addressing you guys because they didn't figure out "no kids past this point" really meant "kids, listen up." 

Anyway it's a good read.  Lots of fun.  Not too hard on the brain.  Enjoy!  I'm looking forward to the next one, Genius Wars.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Towers of Midnight, by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

The seals to the Dark One's prison are crumbling the pattern is unravelling etc etc...

The Wheel of Time is full of hefty tomes, many of which could quite frankly have done with an edit. A bit of red line through say - a couple of hundred pages and book number thirteen would have been a real page turner.  As it is, there is plenty of worry and a modicum of hair pulling (thank goodness), some meetings, afew repetitive wolfy bits, and as per usual the majority of the action is left to the end.  Still, if you've made it this far don't give up now because the last book has been set up as a real page turner.  I only hope that it lives up to my expectations in a way that this book did not.  It's not nearly as good as book twelve, instead the sole purpose of this penultimate book seems to set up the finale due in America some time around March 2012 although I hope it is late and that they use a few weeks -- months even, to sort out the typos and plot loops where the story stagnates, and just stick to the plot, which is very strong when it doesn't get bogged down by all the infinitesimal details of it's own grandeur.

Review by Alicia Ponder.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I know many of you are only going to have heard great things about this book.  It's why I read it.  It's how I managed to struggle to the end despite the gratuitous, unpleasant and degrading sex scenes.  And yes - I know there's worse out there, but personally I don't read them. It's a personal preference, but it's not the only reason I hated this book even though I concede it's all bad.  In fact it's tipped for a Hugo.  


A genetically created person, the windup girl, is dumped in Thailand, after certain almost post apocalyptic events.  Around the world a food corporation is calling the shots and countries are being devastated by designer plagues while Thailand struggles to hold out from their influence.


Yes, this is perfectly good, the plot is ok, I've heard some complaints it doesn't have a proper beginning or end, and that it just kind of stops, but I didn't think those ponts were completely unreasonable.  Moreover it's got an interesting feel and a great set-up.  At times it really did feel like an alternate world - or a future Thailand.


Not only did I feel like I was being preached at about the evils of the modern world by someone who didn't really understand the science behind the problem.  The sheer enormity of the mismatch made my teeth itch and slapped me out of the story, whenever I felt I might start to get involved with any of the rather unlikeable characters.  Now this is coming from someone who can read fantasy and science fiction, and not worry that our technology and that of the other world don't quite match up, but, for example, when a simple technology like seed sterilization is confused with sterile seeds (usually produced using hybridisation techniques) - then I just want to tear out my hair and go - please if you don't know any science, please avoid the detail, or at least bother asking someone who has a clue.


Basically this book is almost certainly going to get the Hugo.  Everybody I know loves it, it's a rollicking story with flawed humans in the wake of enormous disasters, and in particular a heroine (the artificially created Wind Up girl) who feels terribly out of place, but gains strength with adversity. 

I know, I shouldn't care about the science.  Or the fact that the book makes me feel "icky" and I just wanted to throw it over my shoulder, and kind of wish that I had.  Truth is some people like to be upset by their reading material - they think it makes them feel more for the characters.  And who am I to disagree?

Except I would like to say that while it's been dubbed "bio-punk," that seems rather a sadly incorrect description, because although the punk element is there, I would like to reassure readers that the bio certainly isn't.  Maybe "geopolitical punk" would be more apt?  It certainly seems to pull no punches there.

Actually if I'd gone into the book viewing it as geopolitical punk, maybe, just maybe, I'd have liked it. 

Review by Alicia Ponder


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