Science fiction and fantasy titles catch the eye this month including one with that comes with its own vocabulary
There’s some quality science fiction and fantasy this month. Not my usual area of expertise but, for what it’s worth, perhaps the genre which has impressed me most since I started compiling these Independent Authors previews. We have the classy futuristic thriller The Happening by Holly Cave, which also comes with the endorsement of having been shortlisted for the 2015 Mumsnet and Janklow & Nesbit Novel Award. I also enjoyed Jinx Town: The Jinx Chronicles Book 1 by Sam Stone: action-packed but also thought-provoking about gender. And you can’t help but admire the “shindiculously” imaginative fantasy that is Matlock the Hare: The Puzzle of the Tillian Wand by Phil Lovesey and Jacqui Lovesey which comes with its own built-in charm of a language.
It’s a just my hunch, but the prevalence of independently authored series fiction, particularly in the science-fiction genres suggests to me that self-publishing gives authors the room they sometimes need and yearn for; the room that will allow their creations to expand and bloom, unconstrained by the demands of traditional publishing. Sometimes it’s not about getting a publishing deal, it’s about the freedom to go where you will with your writing. Constraints are often a very good thing, of course. But so are flights of fantasy.
It is London in 2052. There’s an ID tag embedded in the flesh of your neck. Your every move is tracked. Your genes tell the state nearly everything about you: everything you are, everything you were, everything you will be. Freya, Kane, and other members of this tracked generation battle to break free of their genetic horoscopes. But their fight will not be without bloodshed. And the events in the previous generation are also brought to bear with terrible consequences. This début is a classy and atmospheric futuristic thriller about genetics and identity by a Buckinghamshire-based author, shortlisted for the 2015 Mumsnet and Janklow & Nesbit Novel Award. She conceived the idea for her novel while working on the Science Museum’s “Who Am I?” exhibition.
Heads and Tales
p/b 9781781323113/ e-book 2940150091917
“How many of us know the answers . . . the real answers, which fundamentally affect us all and, more importantly, profoundly affect the lives of our children?”. So challenges the author of this straight-talking, funny, revealing, and often moving maverick memoir of a 40-year career “in the la-la land that is education in the UK”, including headships of three different primary schools. From the waves caused by the massacre at Dunblane, to hideous conferences, stoned parents, the egos of colleagues, and more curriculum changes than school dinners,“Waterloo Road” it isn’t. Think instead Gervaise Phinn, with a barrel-load more grit, and more Merlot and chocolate biscuits. The first book the next Secretary of State for Education should read (fat chance, sadly).
Phil Lovesey & Jacqui Lovesey
Matlock the Hare: The Puzzle of the Tillian Wand
Part Two in the Most Majelicus trilogy is this boundlessly imaginative second adventure featuring Matlock, the “majickal” hare. Matlock sets off for a quiet even’up at the Winchett Dale Inn but he hasn’t bargained on the snoffibs, the witches, the Krettles and all the other glopped-up creatures and saztaculous events which leave him no other choice but to begin the hunt to find the Tillian Wand, in his “most dangerous, peffa-twizzly and clottabussed adventure yet”. Richly and beautifully illustrated by Jacqui Lovesey in a style which reminds me of Kit Williams’ Masquerade, this story with all-age appeal plays wonderfully with griffles (that means words—there’s a glossary if you’re struggling!) while paying tribute to the landscape of the “crumlush” Derbyshire Peak District.
Crime and Thrillers
p/b 9781505629026/ e-book 2940150098527
“When catching a killer isn’t enough . . .” After the naked, battered body of an unidentified teenager is found dumped in an alleyway, the post-mortem finds evidence of prolonged horrific abuse and suffering. A second similar murder pushes DI Hannah Robbins and her team on the Nottingham Major Crimes Unit, to their limits. In a race against the clock they attempt to unpick a thick web of lies and deceit to discover the truth behind the murders. But how far are they willing to push themselves to save the next girl? Début novel from a writer who also hosts a popular online crime book club.
Thomas Paul Burgess
White Church, Black Mountain
p/b 9781784621612/ e-book 2940149950188
Political thriller set in Belfast against the backdrop of the peace process and based on real events. When DI Dan Watson of the Historical Enquiries Team enters an interview room, he is astonished to come face to face with Eban Barnard, the younger brother of his late partner and mentor, killed by the Provisional IRA 20 years earlier. What Dan learns from Eban defies credulity and threatens to open up a Pandora’s Box that will unhinge the lives of all those involved and endanger the very peace process itself. Impressively, Colin Bateman dubs this “Brian Moore, given a make-over by James Ellroy”.
Romantic and Erotic fiction
p/b 9780993200434/ e-book 2940151656634
This début novel—the first in a “Classic Cliterature” series—is set in modern-day London, New York and Dorset, and mashes up Far from the Madding Crowd with 50 Shades of Grey as Catherine Everdene, an independent, stubborn career woman in 4”-heeled Louboutins who likes being in control meets stoical Dillon Oak and seduces him into complete submission. But then she gets posted to New York where she catches the attentions of both obsessive c.e.o. William Boldwood, and charming alpha-male lawyer Troy Selgent. An erotic love quadrilateral ensues. The cover design is gorgeous, but deceptively unraunchy.
Silent: Safe Part 1
Libby Rutherford is unable to speak, since a horrific event in her past forced her into muteness. Alpha male Thane Prince fears her silence, after an accident as a young teenager rendered him deaf for a few short months. He’s her egotistical boss, she’s his assistant, and they can’t stand each other. Yet they can’t deny the sexual chemistry between them. Then, one argument and a steamy session against an office door change everything. This short erotic romance is the first in a new series featuring Libby and Thane.
Science fiction and Fantasy
The Azure Blade
Summer is retreating, and soon golden wheatfields will be replaced by bitter cold, stale bread and creeping darkness . . . and wraith. Every year the Monks of the Seriph fight to protect the people and keep them alive through the bitter times. But this year behind the impenetrable stone walls of the Seriph Abbey, plans are afoot to kill the Time Mage; the only man alive capable of defeating the wraith. And with him gone, who will protect the people? First in a new dark fantasy series by a Staffordshire author.
Beneath Atlantis: Book One of the Hiddenite Heart Saga
Gay fantasy novel set in Nottingham in which university student Quentin Taylor is saved from a near fatal car accident by a phantasmal stranger with emerald green eyes. This cataclysmic event sets him on a supernatural journey, as he finds himself unable to shake visions of his saviour. Soon deceit, abduction and murder come calling, along with supernatural beings who want to spirit him away from his world and all he holds dear.
Jinx Town: The Jinx Chronicles Book 1
In this engaging and intelligent fantasy novel by the first woman in 31 years to win the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel (in 2011), teacher Jasmine Regis is at the centre of events when an alien race attacks and devastates the Earth. The Jinx — so named because “all of the technology and science in the world can’t scare them” — appear to be a race of savage warriors with only one agenda: take the women and kill any male who stands in their way. The Jinx seem utterly barbaric. But as Jasmine finds out more about them, she begins to wonder whether they are any worse than humans? “Think War of the Worlds meets Lord of the Rings via Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”.
Marion Grace Woolley
Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran
p/b 9780957627161/e-book 2940150306011
On her birthday, the Shah gifts his eldest daughter Afsar a circus. With it comes a man who will change everything. A masked performer, known only as Vachon, and master of illusion and stealth, his appearance leads Afsar to confront her own dark desires as she embarks on a series of exotic forbidden adventures, though a “time that has been written out of history books”. The author was partly inspired by Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.
E S Moxon
Wulfsuna: The Wolf Spear Saga 1
p/b 9781781322734/ e-book 2940149920440
It is AD433. Torn apart when Rome abandoned Bryton, the Wulfsuna are a disparate tribe. Twenty years later, two longships sail for the east fens to honour their Warrior-Lord’s dream and reunite with lost kin. Soon after they land however, a murderous betrayal divides loyalties and blood and brotherhood are tested to their limits. The discovery of a young Seer adds to the turmoil. Expelled from her village after foretelling of an attack by blue-painted savages, the Wulfsuna are equally wary of her, especially Lord Wulfgar, who refuses to believe an ancient saga bearing his name, is weaving the Seer’s destiny into his own. But a treacherous rival threatens their fate and Wulfgar must accept the Seer’s magic might be all that can save them. Engrossing, and tautly realised historical fiction by an Anglo-Italian writer.
Echoes from the Past
p/b 9781505609172/ e-book 2940149978786
In this first book in the Brigandshaw Chronicles, Sebastian Brigandshaw’s dearest wish to marry his childhood sweetheart Emily is cast aside by his sea captain father so their family can become part of the aristocratic establishment. After Emily’s marriage to his brother, Sebastian must risk his life to take back the love that was ripped from his clutches. Meanwhile, the Boer War threatens the land he and his family have grown to love, and Sebastian must make the hardest decision of his life—join the fight or dare be named a coward. Where will he place his loyalty? The British-born author now lives a reclusive life on a remote smallholding in South Africa, his writing inspired both by that landscape and his former naval career.
Lucy Carroll (ed)
Fugue: A Collection of Contemporary Short Stories
“Drift through the streets of a melting city of steel. Learn of your daughter’s engagement to the latest military technology. Live through the hilarious consequences of dining from within an adult anxiety dream. Search your way towards the doors of the mysterious Institute—but be sure not to let anyone follow you there”. Diverse collection of short stories—gritty, bizarre and surreal—that introduce a variety of voices mainly from the UK but also from Europe and the US. The cover design is most striking too.
Young and New Adult fiction
Eighteen-year-old Emily has leukaemia and six months to live. She writes a bucket list and selects an object of desire in Ethan, lead singer of a local rock band. And then on month four of six, she meets Lucas a stupidly hot guy with buzzed dark hair and a lip ring (“I’m pretty sure my ovaries have just exploded”). And then she discovers that he too has a terminal diagnosis. Will Emily realise her true feelings before it’s too late? Comes with a 17+ rating but I think most fans of The Fault in Our Stars would cope fine with it.
Biography and Memoir
My American Odyssey: From the Windrush to the White House
p/b 9781781323069/ e-book 2940150157972
Engrossing part memoir, part cultural and political history by a Bristol-based local radio presenter and social entrepreneur, which reflects on the experiences of the first generation of Black Britons, born in the UK, and growing up in two cultures through the 1980s to the present day. Opening on President Obama’s inauguration day which Griffith witnessed first-hand in Washington DC, it covers the history of slavery, the “Windrush”, Enoch Powell, cricket and the Civil Rights movement, and also charts the author’s love affair with the US which started when he was allowed to roam free on the streets of New York aged 15.
Film and TV
Tookey’s Talkies: 144 Great Films from the Last 25 Years
p/b 9781784621988/ e-book 2940149895250
Dedicating his book to “all those critics who have lost their jobs”, the longtime Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph film critic provides short commentaries on his favourite films, including “American Beauty”, “The King’s Speech”, and “Shakespeare in Love”. His observations are very engrossing but I have one small quibble: a few entries could do with updating, at least for the e-book version.
Beads in the Headlight: A Flying Aga Tale
The author and her partner Byron resign from their London jobs in the middle of the recession and take off on a 1979 BMW motorbike — painted in an enamel shade used on cast-iron Aga stoves — in search of adventure, with their life savings, a tent and very few plans in tow. Their journey through the Americas from Anchorage to Tierra del Fuego is told by the pillion, and takes in wild animals, brutal climates, mechanical troubles, kind strangers, magnificent landscapes, ocean crossings and 31,254 life-affirming miles.