Driving Blind

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 2 stars

I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve read by Bradbury over the years, but this collection left me a little cold. It’s from the tail end of his career and, unfortunately, most of the stories just didn’t really click for me. Most of them were non-genre and a lot of them I just didn’t get. There was an uncomfortable degree of sexism in some of the stories (I don’t know how to read The Bird That Comes Out of the Clock in a non-misogynist manner) and more “kissing-cousins” than is strictly necessary (ie greater than zero). Bradbury’s writing always had a strong streak of nostalgia running through it, but it felt very strong in this one, to the point that I was rolling my eyes at times.

Not a great collection, to be honest. This may well not be a keeper.

Book details

ISBN: 9780671022075
Publisher: Earthlight
Year of publication: 1998

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 8

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve had a lingering sympathy with the motives (if not the actions) of the Brimmed Caps for some time now, and this volume brings it into sharp relief, despite them not actually making an appearance. Instead, we focus on Custas (who, apparently, we’ve met before, although I have no memory of that), a boy without the use of his legs, who uses a walking chair to get around. Circumstances bring him back into contact with Coco and her friend Tartah and she’s forced to confront that it’s not a lack of power stopping witches from helping him, but a refusal to.

Medical intervention is the obvious one where magic has the opportunity to do the greatest good in this world, although I suppose it also has the ability to cause the most harm too. Coco is already in two minds about this, since she needs to be able to undo the spell cast on her mother, but it looks like circumstances are going to force their hand in the near future, if the mysterious Ininia has her way.

It feels like things are starting to come together here, and there’s definitely confrontation in the air. After a little pause, I think the overall plot is going to start moving quickly now. I can’t wait for the next volume.

Book details

ISBN: 9781646512690
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2021

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 7

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

In volume 7 of this ongoing series, Beldaruit the Wise tells Coco the story of how Qifrey came to be his apprentice, leading to her making a break for the Tower of Tomes, all bookended by Olruggio and Qifrey having a heart to heart. Coco, presented with a problem with two options at the end of the last volume ends up striking her own path, something which shines a light on her personality and the sort of witch she’s going to be. We get a little standalone story about Olruggio doing some work for a local lord, and that conversation at the end, along with Qifrey’s actions, undo a lot of work in the middle of the volume and make me suspect his motivations (and more!) all over again.

The art is as adorable as ever (even if I do have to rely on the hairstyles to distinguish the apprentices) and the story definitely seems to be moving apace. Qifrey’s actions definitely mark a change in the reader’s perception of him, and, along with learning about his tragic past, make me suspect there’s going to be no good outcome for him. I’m still enjoying the story and the characters a lot. I look forward to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781646510788
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2021

Spellcracker’s Honeymoon (Teacup Magic #3)

By Tansy Rayner Roberts

Rating: 4 stars

The third novella in this delightful series sees a newly married Mnemosyne Seabourne honeymooning on an island that has no magic, and then getting involved with a murder that could only have been carried out by magical means. Like the other stories in this sequence, it’s a lot of fun, very readable and adorably cosy. I really like Mneme as a protagonist; she’s sensible, prone to thinking before acting, and mulling things over with tea (and cake, if it’s available). She’s also taking great delight in, er, the rights and privileges of being a married woman and it’s delightful to see two people obviously in love be allowed to be in love without having obstacles thrown in their way.

There’s a nice epistolary element to the book, with parts of the story being told in exchanges of letters. I’ve always been fond of this and don’t think it’s used enough, so it was nice to see it popping up here, unexpectedly, especially since it’s not been used in previous books in the series.

I see that there are more books set in the Teacup Isles (still a name I’m never going to take seriously), but they feature other protagonists, and not Mneme. I’ll probably end up reading them eventually, but I’ll miss Mneme. Still, if this is the end of her story, I’m happy where it was ended.

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Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 6

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

Volume six of this delightful series has the apprentices, along with Master Olruggio, travel to the Great Hall of the witches, where Qifrey is taken for healing after the events of the previous volume. One of the Three Wise Ones offers to let the apprentices retake the test (all of them, not just the ones who were doing it previously), by creating a spell that can surprise him.

We learn more about Agott in this volume, particular why she’s so driven, and the four apprentices grow closer together as they try to find something to impress Beldaruit. It’s a lovely conceit, the idea that despite being this very powerful witch, he still retains a childlike sense of wonder with magic, something which makes it hard to find things that surprise him, as he’s constantly seeking out .

The art continues to be a joy, and the story is drip-feeding us answers while adding in new questions all the time. It’s a very fun series and we end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I look forward to seeing Coco’s answer to the proposal that’s been put to her.

Book details

ISBN: 9781646510108
Year of publication: 2020

Terminal Uprising (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse #2)

By Jim C. Hines

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of Hines’ Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series is just as fun and engaging as the first. Mops and her motley crew have been on the run from the Alliance aboard the Pufferfish for four months when their contact in Command sends them to a mysterious rendezvous who, in turn, provides information that leads them back to the one place they don’t want to go: Earth.

What they find on Earth isn’t really going to be a surprise to anyone with any experience in the genre (heck, or even in storytelling as a whole). Well, the first thing they find, at least; the second is more of a surprise. Wolf gets some decent characterisation here, as a secondary PoV character, and learns that war isn’t as much fun as she thought. Especially when others are looking to her for leadership in Mops’ absence.

It’s all change by the end of the book, and I really have no idea where Hines is going to go from here. He seems to have set up a bit of a Kobayashi Maru for himself in the war between the Alliance and the Prodryans. I look forward to seeing where he takes Mops and her crew and how their actions change the balance of power in the galaxy.

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The Wonder Engine (Clocktaur War #2)

By T. Kingfisher

Rating: 4 stars

The second half of The Clocktaur Wars is different to the first, but equally as good. The first book was the journey to Anuket City, with a side quest in Slate and Caliban falling in love but not saying anything because they’re idiots. The second book deals with what they find when they get there. They have to figure out how the clocktaurs are being created (hint: the clue’s in the title) and how to stop them. And at the same time, Slate has to stop the chickens she hatched the last time she was in the city from coming home to roost.

There’s a lot more of Slate and Caliban mooning at each other, something which is obvious to not just the reader, but everyone around them, except, maybe Learned Edmund. Speaking of the scholar, I think he became my favourite character over the course of the story. Starting off as a misogynistic prig, it’s easy to forget how sheltered he’s been for his, very young, life. Being out in the world opens his eyes and helps him grow as a character. He doesn’t just accept Slate as the leader of the group, but that women can make great artificers (everyone loves a good index) and gets fascinated by Gnole society, particularly the interplay between their pronouns and their castes, which was something that I’ve not seen before and really liked.

The one thing that I thought didn’t entirely work was the Grey Church and the threat from Boss Horsehead. I never really bought into Slate’s terror of the man and what he might do, and the whole sequence sort of petered out. The best bit of it was really Brenner fighting to stop Caliban from doing something stupid. I thought that worked really well and led up to the climax, with a really good twist that I was not expecting at all, that hit me right in the feels.

I really liked Grimehug and the Gnoles. When we first encountered him in the first book, he was accompanying the clocktaurs. I assumed that meant that he was part of the opposing army and wondered why the group didn’t sit him down and interrogate him. It turns out he was following them, rather than accompanying them, and we get a lot more on the Gnoles and their society here. I’m almost as interested as Learned Edmund to find out more about them.

The world is interesting, and you learn as much from what isn’t said as from what is. Names, for example, seem to have power. You never find out the name of the city that sent the group, it’s always just referred to as “the capitol” or “the Dowager’s city”. And gods seem to have titles, or descriptions, rather than names: The Dreaming God, The Many-Armed God, The Forge God, etc. I know there’s more books set in the world and I wonder if that will be expanded on later?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its likeable characters and an intriguing world. I look forward to reading more in the same setting.

Book details

Publisher: Red Wombat Studio

The Uninvited

By Dorothy Macardle

Rating: 5 stars

I’m not usually into ghost or haunted house stories, but the Hugo Girls did this for a Halloween special and I liked the sound of it enough to stop the podcast, order the book and only picked up the podcast again once I’d read it.

Set in the 1930s, it follows Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald, half-Irish siblings who have just bought a house on the Devon coast, for a fraction of what it’s worth. What the owner, the formidable Commander Brooke doesn’t tell them is that it’s rumoured to be haunted, and that his granddaughter, Stella, is at the heart of the whole thing.

Something I found interesting here was the treatment of ghosts and haunting as almost a scientific phenomenon. This fits with the attitudes in the first half of the twentieth century and a boundless optimism and faith in science. It reminded me of William Hope Hodgeson’s Carnaki the Ghost Finder and his famous electric pentacle, which is another more scientific take on ghost stories. So I was treating it more of a mystery or SF story than horror.

I really enjoyed the relationships in the book, well, most of them – I did think grown man Roddy falling for teenager Stella was a bit creepy, but it’s mostly covered by the product-of-its-time filter. That is something that just happened a lot more in the past. I loved the relationship between Roddy and his sister, Pamela. They obviously care for each other a lot, and have a healthy, trusting relationship.

The ghostly stuff doesn’t really start until about half way and the first half is mostly taken up with buying and fitting out the house, as well as lots and lots of eating and meeting folk in the village. It’s really pleasant reading, actually. It makes you like the house and root for the Fitzgeralds and want them to save their home.

As I say, it’s not at all the sort of book I normally read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great recommendation (and everyone should listen to Hugo, Girl, they’re awesome!).

Book details

ISBN: 9780992817077
Publisher: Tramp Press
Year of publication: 2015

Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War, #1)

By T. Kingfisher

Rating: 4 stars

My main complaint about this book is that it’s really only half a book. As the author says in the acknowledgements at the end, it was getting too long and had to be cut in half. Which means that the book stops just as we’re finishing the setup and finally getting to Plot. None of which is necessarily a bad thing now, when book two is available, but I’d have been quite annoyed if I read this as soon as it came out.

Now that I’ve finished grousing about the stuff around the book, what about the book itself? It’s great! Four mismatched individuals set off on a suicide mission to try and find out information about the Clockwork Boys that a neighbouring kingdom has been using as almost unstoppable warriors. On the way, they learn more about themselves, and each other. And discover that the real suicide mission was the friends they made along the way. Er, or something.

Slade, the nominal leader of the group, is a forger who got caught, and leads assassin Brenner, disgraced former paladin Caliban and the scholar (and only one who’s there voluntarily), the Learned Edmund, who’s in a monastic order that doesn’t admit women and can barely stand to look at Slade, never mind be led by her.

This first half of the story gets the gang together and shows us their journey across hostile territory, to their target city. I enjoyed the writing a lot, which is fast-paced, but draws the characters well, and there were little touches that I really liked. I tend to assume that everyone in a fantasy novel can ride a horse – but neither Slade nor Brenner can. They were raised and have lived in a city their whole lives, where you get around on foot or in carriages. I really liked that. And Slade has a sort of spider-sense, but it comes in the form of an overpowering scent of rosemary, which triggers her (many) allergies. That’s kind of hilarious.

I really like all the characters here. Even Brenner, the assassin, has redeeming features, not least of which is having a twisted sort of affection for Slate. There’s also a nice drip-feeding of worldbuilding throughout, making the world feel lived in. Thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ll be diving into part two shortly.

Book details

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 5

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

Volume five of this delightful series has Coco and Tetia try to help Master Qifrey fend off the creatures that were surrounding them at end of the last volume, while Richeh and Agott try to save Euini. And, of course, the Brimmed Caps are also causing mischief. Each of the apprentices makes realisations about their inner lives and grows as a person, which is pleasing progression for long term readers.

I found myself fairly sympathetic to the motive, if not the methods, of the Brimmed Caps (as, I assume, I’m being primed to be, by the author). The forbidden magics seem like they could be very useful, and the absolute ban on them seems unreasonable. I don’t entirely see why they’re focussing on Coco, but I expect that will become clear over time.

The art is still lovely, although sometimes action sequences can be a little hard to follow. I’m looking forward to seeing what our formidable apprentices get up to next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632369291

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