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Book Title: Radioactive Evolution
Author: Richard Hummel
Genre: Science Fiction, LitRPG
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Publicist / ARC
Goodreads Summary: How far would you go to change humanity's fate?
Jared Cartwright has spent the last two years delving into the twisted, scarred wastelands of an earth ravaged by nuclear war. The rich and powerful have taken to the oceans and skies on floating utopias, escaping destruction and leaving the rest of humanity to fend off the mutated creatures that roam the earth.
To face his new reality, Jared must become an apex predator if he hopes to survive. He must evolve beyond human limitations to confront those that left mankind to die.
Jared's quest takes a new turn when he discovers dragons are real.
What did I think?

I noticed this book on Amazon because of its striking cover, and was quite intrigued, which is why, when the publicist e-mailed me, I immediately agreed to give it a try.

I'll admit it's a bit outside my comfort zone, overall. Since, I don't really read LitRPG, which is quite different compared to my regular dystopian / sci-fi reads.

It took me a while to get into the story. Hummel's world is complex, detailed, well-built, and the learning curve throughout the first few chapters is overwhelming, and there are quite a few info-dumps, that can't be avoided. Once the story gets going the pacing is on point, and it's hard to put the book down.

Now: dragons! In a post-apocalyptic world. The best of fantasy and the best of sci-fi combined. The dragon, Scarlet, and Jared talk to each other via telepathy, and it took me a while to get used to that. They're constantly in touch, constantly speaking to each other, and it's almost like an internal dialogue for Jared, only with a dragon.

Jared is an excellent main character, fleshed out, somebody the reader can care for, but it's Scarlet that will steal your heart. Their bond is sweet and I liked watching it grow.

One of the LitRPG elements didn't work too well for me: they were constantly attacked, usually resulting in a boss fight after clearing the mob. Of course, that's what a LitRPG fan would expect, and I do recommend those definitely give it a try.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy LitRPG, who've always hoped we'd one find dragons have been here all along, and people who want to read something non-traditional, more experimental.
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On the left a book from my wish list that my other half brought home upon realising that I’m quite stressed out lately. Robert A. Heinlein's The Moons is a Harsh Mistress. It's always lovely to get a new book, and such an old classic as well. To the right Mark Lawrence’s new book, Limited Wish. I reviewed the first in the series, One Word Kill, here.
Any new books you've received or bought lately? Let me know in the comments.
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Book Title: Children of Ruin
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley (though, we already bought the audio book)

Goodreads, Amazon UK 

Goodreads Summary: Long ago, Earth's terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered.
Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before.
What did I think?

Let me talk about Adrian Tchaikovsky for a moment: I'm always surprised to find that he's not selling books as though they were hot cakes fresh from the oven. Possibly, because he's so versatile, that not only is each book a completely new adventure, Tchaikovsky switches genres as if it were no big deal.

He's written some brilliant science fiction, an epic high fantasy series that spans ten volumes, but also many standalones. There's even a shifter saga. Personally, I recommend Dogs of War if you're into science fiction and Guns of the Dawn if you're into fantasy to get a taste of his style.

Children of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016, and deservedly so. It's one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. And I say that as someone who is afraid of spiders, and damn if that book isn't filled with spiders.

Now, here's the sequel. Does it hold up?

Yes, yes, it does. I'd give it 4.75 stars. I'll let you know in a bit, why I've chopped off 0.25 of the fifth star.

Children of Ruin is a fantastic book, that I ploughed through in two days because I couldn't put it down. It's got many twists and turns, wonderfully odd characters and a ton of evolutionary science. The cast is diverse, but it isn't a plot point. Some people just happen to be gay or asexual, because they are, and that's how it should be.

About halfway through, I was on the edge of my seat, almost ready to put the book into the freezer, so nothing bad could happen. I yelled at my Kindle, cursed the fact my other half wasn't reading it yet, and that I couldn't discuss what was going on with anyone.

This is one gripping story and the tension does not let up until the very end. The world building is some of the best, and you can tell that hours of research went into this book. Everything is explained with great care, in words that everyone can understand.

Its themes are uplifting and positive, but one stands out in particular: collaboration. People working together, solving problems together. People not fighting each other, and people not destroying what they find as they explore the universe. How refreshing to read a book where different species work together, work to understand each other better, research how to improve their communication.

It is such an important topic, and I love how Tchaikovsky handles it.

Why not five stars, you ask? Because ultimately, this book didn't surprise me as much as Tchaikovsky novels usually do. He took a very successful book, Children of Time, and essentially told the same story again. He did so brilliantly, and it's a gripping book I'll recommend for years to come, but ultimately it tells a very similar story to Children of Time.

Then again, this world is in desperate need of more books where people collaborate and work together. I highly recommend Children of Ruin to every science-fiction fan and can't wait to see what Tchaikovsky writes next.
It's time to go on an adventure...
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Book Title: Holy Sister
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Review Copy (but I own the entire trilogy in paperback as well as e-books.)

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary of the FIRST book Red Sister: At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.
But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.
Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…
This is the third book in a series, and as you know I don't like to talk about plot too much because of spoilers. I will review the series as a whole, and highlight what I liked and perhaps didn't like as much in the third book, careful not to spoil anything.

Red Sister Review can be found here.
Grey Sister Review can be found here.

What did I think?

"It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men."

This is how Red Sister starts, and I fell in love almost immediately. Mark Lawrence's writing is beautiful, almost poetic. He writes the point of view of a lost, scared, hot-headed, stubborn nine year old that slowly grows with much care. Lawrence pays a lot of attention to detail, and you can tell he chooses each word meticulously. 

Let's talk about Lawrence for a moment. He wrote a grimdark trilogy called The Broken Empire which may as well be written by a different author. The tone is so very different, I wouldn't guess they're written by the same author if I didn't know. In fact, I'd ask, "Are you sure?" He's also brought out a science fiction novel which dabbles in time travel this year, called One Word Kill, and again, the tone is completely different. He's a bit of a chameleon and hence on my list of 'will always buy.'

Red, Grey and Holy sister form the Book of the Ancestor series. It's a dark story. It says it right there in the premise, of course: a convent where young girls are raised to be killers.

But it's a beautiful story. The themes are mostly loyalty, friendship, forgiveness and second chances. At no point is the violence excessive.

The protagonist is a young girl, Nona. She's a terrific character and not only feels real but is well developed and someone I could immediately connect with. She's damaged, but fiery and passionate and fights for what she believes in. She's filled with energy and witty. She's often unpredictable, but intelligent and one of my favourite fantasy protagonists despite her young age. She grows throughout and turns into a young lady I wouldn't mind being friends with. Especially while encountering a bandit late at night.

A very important aspect of the series is how to overcome your inner demons, and how your friends can support you while doing so.

The magic system and world building are both mesmerising and full of potential and possibilities. It's a captivating world. A dying world. Ice is closing in from all sides and not much more than a corridor is left.

Now, I will not lie: I wasn't as enamoured with the third book as I was with the other two. A character I loved and cherished died off-screen. Something, I don't think any character deserves. It's hard to end a great series in a way that every fan is happy, and for the most part I was happy.

I can't recommend this trilogy enough. This is well worth your time, especially because in today's world the message of friendship, loyalty, second chances and forgiveness is an important one. Finding the light in the darkness and being brave enough to give each other another chance.
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I've got myself a few new books on Netgalley, even though I'm also buried in requests from indie authors. My summer will be spent catching up. I'll probably not accept any new requests for a while.

This one, Sanctuary by V.V. James is the read I'm most looking forward to, but it'll have to wait for a few weeks because it won't be published until August, and I have to prioritise the books that come before.

But let's talk about James for a moment. She's this terrific author who also works for the BBC and has worked on documentaries about both Trump and Brexit. She knows her politics. She published the Dark Gifts trilogy under the name Vic James. Here's my review for the third book which contains no spoilers for the series. Her series offers a lot of politics, which I enjoyed. And she gives the other side some POVs, showing that at any moment your political opponent is human. Like you. Perhaps you think your opponent is wrong, and perhaps they are evil, but they're still human, they're still people, and that's what makes the Dark Gifts trilogy so fascinating. I can't wait to read Sanctuary, a novel about witches.
Goodreads summary of Sanctuary: The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback.
Daniel's death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.
Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge - or something even darker?
As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching...
 
I don't know anything about Across the Void, but the premise intrigued me and I clicked "request" faster than my brain could yell: NO YOU'VE GOT NO TIME. And Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favourite authors.
Goodreads summary for Across the Void: Across the Void follows the sole survivor of a catastrophic accident in space that leaves her drifting in the void with only the voice of her estranged husband, a NASA scientist, to guide her back to Earth.
Commander Maryam “May” Knox awakes from a medically induced coma alone, adrift in space on a rapidly failing ship, with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there.
Slowly, she pieces together that she’s the captain of the ship, Hawking II; that she was bound for Europa—one of Jupiter’s moons—on a research mission; and that she’s the only survivor of either an accident—or worse, a deliberate massacre—that has decimated her entire crew. With resources running low, and her physical strength severely compromised, May must rely on someone back home to help her. The problem is: everyone thinks she’s dead.
Back on Earth, it’s been weeks since Hawking II has communicated with NASA, and Dr. Stephen Knox is on bereavement leave to deal with the apparent death of his estranged wife, whose decision to participate in the Europa mission strained their marriage past the point of no return. But when he gets word that NASA has received a transmission from May, Stephen comes rushing to her aid.
What he doesn’t know is that not everyone wants May to make it back alive. Even more terrifying: she might not be alone on that ship.
Goodreads summary for A Brightness Long Ago: A Brightness Long Ago is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.
In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count, and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.
Danio's fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count's chambers one autumn night, intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger, and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.
Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.
Anyone who follows me knows I love Adrian Tchaikovksy. And Children of Time was one of my favourite reads in 2016. Now, there's finally a sequel, and I simply can not wait. It's sci-fi, and it's sci-fi at its best.
Goodreads summary: Long ago, Earth's terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered.
Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before.
What's new with you? Any new books? Any new favourite reads? Anyone else buried under a pile of ARCs?
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Book Title: The Quiet at the End of the World
Author: Lauren James
Genre: Science Fiction / Post-Apocalyptic
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Paperback

Amazon UK, Goodreads

Plot Summary: How far would you go to save those you love?
Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused global infertility. Closeted in a pocket of London and doted upon by a small, ageing community, the pair spend their days mudlarking for artefacts from history and looking for treasure in their once-opulent mansion.
Their idyllic life is torn apart when a secret is uncovered that threatens not only their family but humanity’s entire existence. Lowrie and Shen face an impossible choice: in the quiet at the end of the world, they must decide who to save and who to sacrifice.
What did I think?

This is one of those books I read in one go, not wanting to stop, too curious to see how it ends. The premise is a soft apocalypse, and the world doesn't go out with a bang but slowly, silently with infertility.

Lauren James takes her time to explore what humanity would do with tech at their fingertips once people can no longer have children. At first, they hope it's a blip. It'll all be over soon. How could it not? Then, they throw their entire budget at science, trying to rectify the issue. Finally...I won't give it away, but I thought it was so well done.

To be honest, I simply did not expect the direction this plot took. Throughout, I wondered if what Lauren James describes is realistic, but it doesn't matter. It's science fiction, and this thought experiment is an interesting one.

Overall, this is cozy. Light in tone, hopeful, filled with love.

Lauren James' writing style is perfect for this sort of book. It's conversational, contemporary, and talks about science in an accessible way.

The pacing is good, and it's not a long book. Perhaps the start is a bit slow, but I didn't mind. The characters are sweet, and the relationships between them well developed. This novel offers a lot of diversity, which is always nice to see. It's not a big plot point, and perhaps doesn't even really matter, but it's there. Like it should be.

Lauren James splits the book into the now, Lowrie and Shen, the youngest people to be alive, and the before, back when it happened via social media posts Lowrie uncovers. I must admit I was more intrigued by the before, than the now, but the author manages to bring both together.

The ending is immensely satisfying.

I'd recommend this one to people looking for an end of times type of book without war, cannibalism and slaughter. Perhaps fans of Station Eleven would like this.
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Book Title: Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Genre: Mystery
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Source: E-book from the library

Amazon UK, Goodreads  
Plot Summary: Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.
When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.
And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.
David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?
As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.
What did I think?

I haven't done a rant in a while. I really want to rant. But I also don't want to spoil anything for people who might not agree with me.

I was looking for a book to read. Something light. Something fun. Someone suggested I read Behind Her Eyes because—wait for it, this is important—I won't guess the twist. And what a twist it has. And it's amazing. And pick it up now.

I felt like a good mystery, and I like good twists, and the library had it...my morning was saved. Or so I thought.

Okay so. The book is entertaining. I read it in a few hours, and it kept my attention. I liked the characters. It's well written, and captivating.

And then comes the twist.

Of course I can't bloody guess it. The book pulled out a supernatural explanation AT THE VERY END.

Don't do that to me. Not without letting me know what to expect. How am I supposed to solve a mystery while reading a mystery, when the solution is impossible to guess? That does not make it a good twist. It makes it a twist no one can guess because it's of supernatural nature.

That makes for an annoyed Olivia.

It didn't help that my suspension of disbelief shattered because despite my love for fantasy, and despite my love for urban fantasy, and despite my love for the supernatural, this twist is bloody ridiculous.

Behind Her Eyes is very readable and has incredible pacing, and I enjoyed it until the end. However, now, I've got the bitter aftertaste lingering...
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I added Gene Wolfe even though I received it as a Christmas gift from my girlfriend, but I thought it was fitting since he died this week. Essays by Arthur Miller to balance out Circe by Madeline Miller.
What's new on your shelves? Let me know in the comments.
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Book Title: One Word Kill
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Science Fiction / Time Travel
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Paperback, signed by the author, plus a Kindle copy

Amazon UK, Goodreads

Plot Summary: In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.
Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.
He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.
Challenge accepted.
What did I think?

This made me want to play Dungeons and Dragons, and after not playing Dungeons and Dragons for thirty-five years, I finally did. Partly because a friend kept nudging me, and partly because damn, now I had to.

Mark Lawrence has an amazing voice, and by the end of the first page it's clear One Word Kill can only turn into a great book, and there's nothing that can stop it.

"But as it turned out, I would die even before February got into its stride."

What a sentence. On the first page.

The story is told through Nick who is an incredibly likeable and compelling character. The rest of the cast is well developed, and I cared deeply about their relationships with each other.

Lawrence's writing is imaginative and hilarious. He's got the reader chuckling, then welling up three sentences later.

The biggest theme here is friendship, but the novel has a bit of everything: The kids from Stranger Things meet Donnie Darko's time travel, topped with a healthy dose of young adults growing up in England.

It's a short book, the pacing is impeccable, and it can be swallowed in one swift gulp. And the best part? This could be a standalone. It wraps up neatly, and I actually thought it wasn't part of a series. I am pleased to hear there will be more, but people who are afraid of cliffhangers: don't be.

I recommend this to all Mark Lawrence fans, of course, and beyond that anyone who enjoys time travel, the 80's, Dungeons & Dragons, Stranger Things and anything else I've mentioned. Basically: read this, and you will love it.
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Book Title: By The Feet of Men
Author: Grant Price
Genre: Science Fiction / Post-Apocalyptic
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Paperback provided by the author

Amazon UK, Goodreads 

Plot Summary: The world's population has been decimated by the Change, a chain reaction of events triggered by global warming.
In Europe, governments have fallen, cities have crumbled and the wheels of production have ground to a halt.
The Alps region, containing most of the continent's remaining fresh water, has become a closed state with heavily fortified borders. Survivors cling on by trading through the Runners, truck drivers who deliver cargo and take a percentage.
Amid the ruins of central Germany, two Runners, Cassady and Ghazi, are called on to deliver medical supplies to a research base deep in the Italian desert, where scientists claim to be building a machine that could reverse the effects of the Change. Joining the pair is a ragtag collection of drivers, all of whom have something to prove.
Standing in their way are starving nomads, crumbling cities, hostile weather and a rogue state hell-bent on the convoy's destruction.
And there's another problem: Cassady is close to losing his nerve.
What did I think?

I love post-apocalyptic fiction and read this one in go. The prose is straightforward and simple, with no distractions. By The Feet of Men offers a lot of action, and the pacing doesn't let up. Not a dull moment in sight.

Grant Price takes a lot of care to build his characters. Instead of focusing on the world as so many post-apocalyptic novels do, he decided to focus on his characters, and it works.

While the world building is definitely immersive with no info dumps, the apocalypse has already happened, and this is how humanity lives now.  The world is a backdrop, an intriguing one, but a backdrop nonetheless, amidst a varied cast of three dimensional characters.

They're all well developed, well written, and I found myself fully invested in all of them. A ragtag group of people, thrown together in an attempt to do something they think will help the world. They form bonds, work with each other, protect each other and support each other.

Loyalty, friendship, but also working together for the greater good, even though one might not like each other all that much are themes Grant Price examines. Besides the aforementioned, there's the usual: is this shit worth dying for. And really, that last theme will always be interesting, and I'll always love reading about characters who decide they're willing to risk their lives for a cause they believe in.

I recommend this to all fans of post-apocalyptic fiction.
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