#SPFBO 7 Wrap Up and #SPFBO 8 Introduction #WyrdAndWonder

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First a little bit about SPFBO:

What is SPFBO?  This is a competition for self published authors of fantasy fiction.  It’s the brainchild of Mark Lawrence and its mission is :

‘The SPFBO exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It exists to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read.’

Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

Last year’s SPFBO competition was perhaps one of the closest contests so far with the eventual winner being revealed on literally the final day – it really was that close.

The winner was Reign and Ruin, the first instalment in the Mages of the Wheel series by JD Evans and a lovely Eastern inspired story of magic and politics with a delicious slow build romance.

Reign

I highly recommend this and look forward to reading more from the series.

Check out the finalist scoreboard here.  All the reviews are linked and there is literally something for everyone amongst these finalists.  There were also some other great books discovered during the competition and I highly recommend checking out the other judge’s blogs to discover plenty more reads to topple your tbr.

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This year I’m including my wrap up and intro post alongside an event that runs during the month of May known as Wyrd and Wonder – an event that is a celebration of all things fantasy, which to me makes the two a fantastic fantasy fit. Wyrd and Wonder comes to an end on the last day of May and the SPFBO begins it’s journey on the 1st of June.  It’s a perfect fit and although the event is almost complete it’s never too late to join in.  This is the fifth year that the event has run and it’s simply gone from strength to strength. Check out the details here. (IMAGE CREDITS: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com)

So, this year I will once again be teaming up with the lovely ladies from The Critiquing Chemist. Last year was a lot of fun and we’re hoping to continue in the same vein.  In previous years I’ve tried to give a brief overview of how I intend to sort through my own batch of books.  This year I’m going to change things a little.  I haven’t fully worked out my process yet but would like to keep things flexible and loose for now.  I will certainly give every book in my batch a fair chance.  I will definitely read at least 30% and more than likely complete most of the books I’ve been allocated.  I will also provide a full review for every book I complete and a shorter synopsis for those that I don’t finish with reasonings of why that particular book might not have worked for me but might well work for others.

As with previous years I would reiterate that 300 entrants to this competition will eventually be whittled down to one winner.  Those are some tough odds right there.  My advice is to come for the competition but to stay for the camaraderie.  Reach out to others.  Make friends. Have fun.

Check out the Critiquing Chemist’s intro and book cover post here.  The cover competition has now finished and the winners can be found here.  Stop and take a look – there are some amazing covers.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the authors for entering your precious book babies into this competition, we all understand what a big step this can be and how difficult to have your work held up for such public scrutiny.  Without you there wouldn’t be a competition.

Authors we salute you!

Hide by Kiersten White #WyrdAndWonder Review

My Five Word TL:DR Review : I wanted to love it

Hide

I really did want to love this one and in fact had high expectations.  However, what I will say is that whilst I didn’t love it this was still a steady read and one that I felt compelled to make a rather mad dash through the pages to discover the reveal.

So Hide brings together 14 contestants who have applied to take part in a competition, the winner of which will receive $50,000.  Each day the contestants will all find a hiding place within an abandoned and now derelict amusement park.  Each day, two contestants will be eliminated.  The final contestant who remains undiscovered takes home the prize.  It sounds fairly simple, however, none of the contestants are prepared for what is actually seeking them.

What really drew me to this was the setting.  I just loved the idea of a game that takes place in an old amusement park.  I mean, the scope for an ever accelerating creep factor is just immense.  Just the thought of all those ramshackle rides, carousels with faded animals and rusted mechanics creaking menacingly, it’s too enticing.  And, I won’t deny that the setting is good, even more so because of its dark history.  The amusement park was a hugely successful endeavour until a tragedy involving a missing child saw the place closed under mysterious circumstances.  Now the stage for a strange and sinister competition with menacing undertones the place is inspired by the myth of the minotaur. The paths themselves like a labyrinth that lead to the centre of the park and the monster that awaits.

In terms of characters.  We predominantly follow one character, Mack, who has her own personal family tragedy to contend with, a history that makes her feel like a shoe-in for this competition.  Obviously we meet up with the other 13 characters that are taking part and this is the first issue that I struggled with.  Clearly it was always going to be difficult to make some of these characters feel substantial enough to form a real connection, this is also made more difficult because of the fact that as soon as the competition starts two characters per day would be eliminated so there is a throwaway element to also be considered.  However, I didn’t really find myself forming attachments to any of them.  The early entrants were basically there and then gone, we had a kind of inevitable teaming up of certain characters who then found themselves with the age old dilemma of having formed attachments but still wanting to win – well, until the nature of the competition itself was finally revealed.

I have to say that I enjoyed the writing.  This is an author that I’ve read before and I enjoy her style.  That being said, this is a book that takes the author from her usual YA genre into the adult genre and for me this still felt a little on the YA side.

In terms of criticisms.  I think a good deal of this boils down to my own expectations having gone off in the wrong direction.  I think I had notions that this would be an all out horror-fest, a kind of mindless slasher story where just a couple of survivors are left scrabbling around trying to stay alive.  As it is, there’s an age old underlying story of greed to this one that takes a look at wealth and privilege.  On top of this, in spite of the great setting and the high stakes I just didn’t really feel the tension or fear that I wanted or expected to feel.

Overall, I had no difficulty in reading this one as I was very curious about how everything would come together but it never quite reached the potential that I was hoping for.  I think maybe this also connects to the slight feeling of this erring on the side of YA and perhaps the older side of the YA market might enjoy this one more than I did.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3 of 5 stars

Nettle & Bone by T Kingfisher, #WyrdAndWonder : Book Review

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Wyrd & Wonder is a month long celebration of all things fantasy check out this post for everything you need to know.  This month I will be posting predominantly about fantasy books in all its guises.

Nettle

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Fantastic, I absolutely loved it

Fairytale style stories are absolutely one of my favourite reads and I’m always on the lookout for more.  This is an author that I haven’t read before but have wanted to do so for quite some time and now, with the benefit of Nettle and Bone under my belt, I can genuinely say that I will be visiting all her previous books.  I loved this book so much.  It’s full of everything that I enjoy, it’s got elements of old fairy tales but as the same time feels unique.  It takes us on a wild ride to a far away kingdom.  There are princesses in distress, people who can talk to the dead, a dog that came back to life, amazing characters and the beginnings of a sweet romance.

As the story begins we meet Marra as she strives to complete an impossible task, we then backtrack to discover how she found herself on this quest and find ourselves in a small kingdom, far, far away, where the Queen, striving for the safety of her people, arranges a political alliance with a much larger neighbouring kingdom in the North.  The first Princess is given in marriage to the Prince but unfortunately meets with an untimely death.  Hoping to remain allied the second Princess is wedded to the Northern prince and the third Princess is sent to a convent (basically being kept in reserve in case the fate of the second Princess follows that of the first).  Marra is the third Princess in the tale and far from being unhappy at being sent to the convent she thrives in this world where she is permitted to complete regular tasks and use her intelligence to help others.  I won’t elaborate too much here other than to say that Marra becomes aware of the cruelty of her brother-in-law and strives for a way to save her sister.

To cut to the chase the characters here are a strange but lovable bunch.  Marra is a great character to read.  She’s warm and loving, intelligent and quite forward thinking.  She is determined to help her sister at any cost and although her mission is basically a recipe for disaster for all concerned she makes herself press on.  She is aided on this quest by a dust-wife and her demon-possessed chicken.  A crotchety old woman who can converse with the dead and whose pockets are filled with an odd collection of potions, string and other strange items.  I loved this character.  What a fantastic creation she is, I would definitely read more about her adventures.  We also have a Fairy Godmother who is in denial about her true magic – but I won’t say more about that here.  Agnes was the Princesses’ Fairy Godmother, granting the three ‘good health’.  She joins this eclectic crew and finds friendship where she least expected.  The two final members are both given a second chance in life.  Fenris is a disgraced warrior who is rescued from the Goblin Market and becomes loyal to Marra and determined to help.  The two have a lovely chemistry and a slow burn romance that is both naive and captivatingly charming.  Finally, the bone dog, a quirky, fun, crazy, reanimated dog skeleton that has forgotten that he ever died and likes to lick his nether regions – even though he doesn’t have nether regions! Or a tongue for that matter.

The plot is really good and the pacing just excellent.  There’s always something new and intriguing which prevents this becoming too much of a simple A to B quest style story.  I mean, fundamentally, it is a quest story and the characters do spend time going here and there but there are so many new encounters that the story feels fresh and exciting.

On top of this, although you may be thinking that a fairytale type story might lack depth, this is a wonderfully layered story.  It draws on well known tales and yet manages to give things a new twist.  The author manages to create interesting backstories for the places and also comes up with plenty of new and imaginative creations.  The Palace in the North, for example, is a fascinating place with a huge haunted catacomb full of former kings, their wives and children and a few other hideous surprises.

In terms of criticisms.  I haven’t got any, it’s that simple.  I loved this book from beginning to end and whilst, technically speaking, this is a quest with a deadly motive the characters are so warm and lovable  that the dark endeavour they pursue feels less dark than it otherwise might.

Overall, a fantastic read and one that I can’t recommend enough.  Plus that ending.  Tears and laughter.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Wyrd & Wonder banner image credit: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com

The Girl and the Moon (Book of the Ice #3) by Mark Lawrence #WyrdAndWonder : Book Review

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Wyrd & Wonder is a month long celebration of all things fantasy check out this post for everything you need to know.

Girl and the

My Five Word TL:DR Review : What the f**k just happened

To be honest I’m in two minds writing this review.  One is that you simply have to read all of Lawrence’s books to understand the magnitude of what he achieves in this third instalment of the Book of the Ice series.  There are a number of reveals and little surprises included here that were great to read with the benefit and hindsight of having read Lawrence’s other books.  At the same time I do appreciate that the idea of backtracking through so many books can be off putting for some readers in which case I would say simply pick up the series that most appeals to you and enjoy it for what it is.

If I’m going to be perfectly blunt I’m both dazzled and dazed by this third instalment.  It is without doubt mind blowing but at the same time it makes me feel like I might need a reread.  It makes me think of the film Interstellar (hear me out).  I love that film but I feel no shame whatsoever in admitting that I needed to watch it at least three times before I really felt I’d grasped everything – and when I say ‘everything’, let’s be honest, I probably still missed things.  In a very long winded way what I’m really trying to say is that Lawrence’s creation rewards patience by delivering a stunning work that encompasses multiple genres and a long picture that is cunningly clever.

You may be pleased to know that I’m going to keep this review fairly short(ish) which is not a reflection on the book but an admittance that spoilers could easily and inadvertently be dropped at this stage in the story and I have no desire to deprive readers of surprises along the way.

The story kicks off virtually where book 2 left off and we find Yaz and her companions in danger of losing their heads!  I won’t elaborate on that point but can say that the action and pace is intense from the get-go.  Yaz and her friends are embroiled in a desperate race to save their world and staying alive would also be nice.

We return here to the Corridor and the Convent of Sweet Mercy where novices are trained in the deadly arts and this is where our companions go, for a while, in two separate directions.  I loved this part of the story, the strange conundrum that happens to one party whilst the party that remain behind help us to revisit the Convent once again seeing it through their amazed ‘eyes’.

As with all the books I’ve read by this author his writing is just my catnip.  I love the way he writes and I’m not simply referring to the story or the plot, or even the pacing, the actual style just works for me on a very fundamental level.  It pulls me in easily and keeps me wanting to read more.  Another confession at this point – I did read until the early hours of the morning on one occasion and was so tired that when I picked it up the next day I realised that I’d have to backtrack as my brain had rebelled and although I was, technically speaking, ‘reading’ I wasn’t actually absorbing.  Again, the beauty of good writing that can entrance you so much that you’re hypnotised!

In a nutshell.  This book has so many winning elements.  A thrilling adventure.  A twisted ending.  Characters that you can love (and hate), a jaw dropping conclusion and also one that is packed with emotion and a series that manages to be fantasy and science fiction combined (which shouldn’t be a surprise when you have a former research scientist in control).  What a ride this has been, I’m not sure whether to unbuckle or not.  I feel like this ended on a note of completion but then again when you have multiple possibilities and time travel who knows.

In terms of criticisms.  A slight feeling of build up before the grande finale when it felt like things were being put into place and the pacing slowed a little but it was nice to have a breather.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the  publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday : One Word Reviews, #WyrdAndWonder

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TTTTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.   This week’s topic:

One-Word Reviews for the Last Ten Books I Read

For the past few weeks my reading has been reduced due to all sorts of events and also I predominantly focused on my finalists for the SPFBO competition (which has been a thrilling race that I will be writing a roundup post for soon).  For the purposes of this week’s theme I’ve used the winner of the SPFBO together with nine other recent review books and in the spirit of Wyrd & Wonder I’ve mostly used fantasy books (although the Paris Apartment is more thriller).

The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne – Brilliant

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Reign and Ruin by JD Evans (SPFBO Winner) – Romantasy

Reign

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough – Compelling

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The City of Dusk by Tara Sim – Mixed

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Last Exit by Max Gladstone – Mind-bending

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Sundial by Catriona Ward – Unputdownable

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Gallant by VE Schwab – Unexpected

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The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley – Twisted

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The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn – Interesting

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The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan – Gripping

Justice

It’s a lot more difficult than I thought giving a one word review.  I may have cheated slightly by including some hyphenated words.

Wyrd & Wonder banner image credit: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com

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