Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)I didn’t mean to read this, but I’m ever so glad I did – it’s an excellent book and a great introduction to Mary Gentle.

Earth has mastered FTL travel, and sent diplomats and xeno-teams all over the galaxy to establish relations with our alien neighbours. Relatively inexperienced Lynne Christie is sent to the enigmatic world of Orthe / Carrick V when the previous envoy dies – in part, she soon realises, because she is expendable.

explorerThe first manned expedition in years will go deeper into space than anyone has gone before. It’s a thinly-veiled PR stunt, an attempt to reinvigorate interest in manned space exploration, and of course it all goes wrong. Cormac Easton is the journalist on board and the last survivor, chronicling the disasters and his own mental and emotional deterioration as he faces up to the inevitability of his own death.

Book cover: Blood and Iron by Elizabeth BearBlood and Iron is a slow ride that is quietly demanding. Elizabeth Bear makes no allowances for her reader’s familiarity with faerie tales or Irish pronunciation, weaving the implicit weight of her chosen myths into her own sharp tale of the war between Faerie and Man. If you don’t know what you’re missing, it may feel both surprising and sketchy; if you have long loved Irish myth and the Matter of Britain, you will probably get a good deal more out of it.

Book cover: John Saturnall's FeastJohn Sandall the blackamoor’s son is born in 17th century Somerset, with a gift for recognising all the ingredients in a dish by taste or scent. As the country is gripped by religious fervour, he and his mother are driven out as witches. But John’s demon tastebuds make him the perfect cook. Taken in at the local Manor and trained in their kitchens, he must face down old enemies and new challenges as the country slides into Civil War.

UK Cover - The Girl with all the gifts by M R CareyI’m a latecomer to this little gem, but I devoured it in 24 hours, so I clearly enjoyed it (although it didn’t make for easy dreams).

I had been tipped off to the central conceit before I started reading, but knew very little else – which is a great way to approach it, so for those you as yet unspoilt, I’ll try to keep this review spoiler-free.

Book cover: Zoo CityZinzi December is a ‘zoo’: she has an animal familiar. Relegated to the violent slums of Zoo City when she is released from jail, she and her Sloth survive on her talent for sensing the invisible threads that bind us to things we’ve lost – retrieving them for a fee. Her only rules: no lost persons cases, no emotional ties. When a client dies unexpectedly, she gets sucked into a case to find one of South Africa’s biggest pop stars, and everything gets very complicated quickly.

Book cover: Bodies of LightAlly is mad, or so her mother assures her. Mad, weak and sinful. Only physical penance and dedication to a good cause can save her.

Religion, art, psychology, women’s suffrage and Victorian medicine all come under the scope in this excellent historical novel about one girl’s journey to define herself and claim her future.