Thirty Firsts TBR Reading Challenge: Books in April and May

This year I’ve decided to tackle my TBR pile by reading thirty books from it that are the first in a series and assess my eagerness to read the rest of the series in terms of Yes / Probably / Maybe / No.

In April and May, I read ten “first in a series” books, which sounds like progress, except my usual lack of discipline meant that only three of them where on my original list. What can I say? There are so many series and so little time.

I found seven series I’d like to read more of, one that I’ll read if I’m in the mood and two that didn’t do anything for me. So here are the series I recommend.

“The Diabolic” was a delight, a Young Adult Science Fiction book that demonstrated that YA has something valuable to add to SF. It was intense, sophisticated Science Fiction that gripped my imagination, engaged my emotions and kept surprising me.

It is dark and violent and filled with deception and yet manages to explore difficult moral challenges without preaching solutions or exploiting problems. The second book in the series is already in my TBR.

“Blood On The Tracks” is a well-plotted murder story that introduces a strong but guilt-ridden ex-army Railroad Cop and her service dog, tracking a killer who seems to be a Vet suffering from PTSD.

It takes a murder investigation and weaves in knowledge of two specialist communities, the US Army (in this case the Morturary Affairs – the part of the Army responsible for recovering, bagging and tagging the dead – to deliver a charater-driven mystery with a unique flavour.

“Kill The Queen” is an intrigue-filled, action-packed romp, set in a classic fairy-tale setting, with castles and princesses, except that some of these princesses hold lightning in one hand and sword in the other.

In this world, ruthless, magic-wielding royals rule, gladiators fight to the death to entertain the crowds and creatures that morph into beasts, dragons and ogres attend royal courts. This is not a happy ever after kind of place. Here the poisonous politics have deadly consequences and the blood and guts spilt by blade weapons are vividly described.

This is the best thing I’ve read from Jennifer Estep. It left me impatient to get to the next book, “Protect The Prince” which is due out in July 2019.

Some books just click into a slot in my imagination and light it up. “The Cold Dish” is one of them. From the first chapter, I knew that all I wanted to do was settle down and listen to anything Walt Longmire, long-time Sheriff of a small Wyoming town, had to tell me about anything at all.

I know I’m late to the Longmire party, good Lord, the sixth and final season of the TV series ending in 2017, but I intend to make up for lost time. The writing is a delight and the people are intriguing. I’ve already read the second book in the series and I’m still hungry for more. Besides, I’m not going to watch the TV series until I’ve read the books and I’d really like to watch the TV series so there’s some sense of urgency here.

Mira Grant has done something wonderful in “Into The Drowning Deep”, she’s written a speculative fiction thriller that gives me all the things I liked most in the best Michael Crichton books: edgy but plausible science, a growing sense of doom, a big cast of characters to put in peril, really scary creatures and lots of tension-cranking, page-turning, how-will-they-get-out-of-that action. Then she’s surpassed Crichton by giving the leading roles to a diverse set of credibly written women who do what needs to be done without becoming super-soldiers in a dress.

The next book isn’t out yet but I’ll be in the queue to buy it as soon as it is.

The next two books are both by Gareth L Powell, an author I’ve just had the joy of discovering. He writes well and, as you’ll see from these examples, he crosses genres with ease.

“Ragged Alice” is a smooth blend of police procedural and supernatural thriller with an authentic Welsh setting and lyrical descriptions. I consumed the 202 pages in a single sitting, partly because I needed to know where Gareth Powell would take the story and partly because I was beguiled by the language.”Ragged Alice” is a smooth blend of police procedural and supernatural thriller with an authentic Welsh setting and lyrical descriptions.

“Embers Of War” is a perfectly excuted Space Opera, on the kind of scale I normally see from Iain M Banks or Alister Reynolds.

It’s gritty and fast and has a colourful cast of characters: the AI of a Carnivore warship who has developed a conscience and gone into the rescue business, two spies on opposite sides of a crappy war who end up working together, a war criminal turned poet, an aging captain who is not sure she can live up to her grandmother’s reputation as a pioneer in saving lives and a puzzle at the centre of a planet that has been carved into the shape of a brain that may change everything. If you like that kind of sweeping SF, grab hold and enjoy the ride.

In the first five months of the Reading Challenge, I’ve read seventeen of the thirty books I’d selected and another twelve that I picked up as I went along. So now I have eighteen series I’d like to follow up on. As a means of reducing my TBR pile, this challenge is a complete failure but it’s really helping me find lots of great books to read, so I’m happy.

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