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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Review: The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johanssen

I've been looking forward to and somewhat dreading the arrival of Johanssen's final book in equal measure. Excited, because there were so many questions to be answered and I couldn't wait to read what Johanssen did with them. Dreaded, because the natural deadlines of writers of trilogies can sometimes make the ending underwhelming (see Allegiant - or don't).

Thankfully, for me at least, this book does not disappoint in any way.

So, where did we leave off? Kelsea, Queen of the Tearling, is now a prisoner of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, having driven a bargain for the Red Queen to retreat and leave the Tearling alone.

The Mace, Head of the Queen's Guard, has been left as Regent in Kelsea's place.

And the Fetch and Row Finn are battling as much against each other as they are for their vision, centuries old now, of what the Tearling should be.

It's a lot to sort out. Meanwhile, Kelsea is still going through her fugues, travelling back to the past, to the time of William Tear, to see if answers to the present can be found there.

The story is well plotted, equal time given to past and present, and sometimes the answers just dangling out of reach before moving on to the next POV. It's the kind of book that I carried around with me while doing chores, cooking dinner, making a cup of tea, and staying up well into the night. It is the best fantasy/dystopian trilogies I've read since the Hunger Games, and as a trilogy overall I think it's stronger. I would recommend for readers of fantasy and dystopian fiction.

There is one issue, however, which I can't discuss too much without giving away the ending. There is a deus ex machina of sorts, and I can see how the ending would be divisive.

On a more current affairs note, the undercurrent all the way through is what kind of governing is best for a population? Socialism, meritocracy, or straight authoritarianism? All are explored throughout the trilogy, none left without criticism. The resolution of the book is as much about how we should govern and lessons learned from the past as it is about Kelsea's end point.

Review: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

From the hot plains and sprawl of Addis Ababa, to the jungle of New York, Cutting for Stone is a novel that sweeps through time and continents.

Shiva and Marion, twins birthed by a Nun and Nurse, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, late in September 1954 - a time coming to huge political revolution - turns the lives of everyone around them upside down merely by their arrival. Dr Thomas Stone, Missing Hospital's only surgeon, is so shocked and horrified by their birth that he flees. The raising of the twins is left to a willing Hema, the hospital gynaecologist, and Ghosh, another doctor at Missing.

Shiva and Marion, so close when they were boys that they were known as ShivaMarion, grow up bound together but the ripples of life start to drive them further and further apart, until the ultimate betrayal seems to threaten their relationship forever.

The book is neither sparing in the gory details of the more intense side of surgery and medicine (the author himself is the senior associate chair and professor for the Theory and Practice of medicine at no less than Stanford University) nor skimming over the details of the twins' lives; in fact, not just them, but the characters who surround and support them. When you get to the end of the novel you think how on earth did Verghese manage to cram so much into one novel without it ever feeling too much.

Vast in scope and intense in character, it is a hugely ambitious novel that moves, surprises and absorbs its reader. Would thoroughly recommend - but save it for a holiday when you have the time!

Monday, 14 November 2016

I was a Bitch, Emily Ruben

Two months after an horrific accident, Lacey Jones emerges from a coma. There is a problem, though. She thinks she is still 16, but she is in fact 18 years old. During those two years, she became a completely different person of which she has no memory. She is the Queen Bee, the Bitch, the ruler of the roost, with a hot and popular boyfriend, Derek, to boot. Finn is probably the most well developed character, and because of the main conflict Lacey has good character development.

This story seems ready made from translation to screen, and I've no doubt that if the right people pick it up, that is what will happen. For a young adult, it's a great read.

Stylistically, though, I think Ruben has more to develop. The writing seems littered with thesaurus substitutes and repetitions, which if edited more carefully could have cut the book size down considerably. The constant iterations of how hot Derek and Finn were made me glaze over certain sections, and in the end I skipped forward to the last section to find out what happened.

Overall, the story and plot has great promise, but I think could benefit from some more careful editing.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Review: The Last Voyage of the Valentina, Santa Montefiore.

A definite must-read for anyone in the mood for a dreamy escape.

Alba Arbuckle is a fiery, passionate young woman living on a houseboat in London. Her lifestyle is one of excess and indulgence, not least when it comes to her loves. Enter Fitz, a handsome man whom happens to be the literary agent of Alba's author neighbour, Viv. When Alba finds a portrait of her mother, of whom her father never speaks, and demands to know the truth, Viv concocts a plan that will give all of them what they need.

Alba and Fitz, pretending to be a couple, visit Alba's father's and stepmother's vast estate in the country. Fitz ingratiates himself with the family, playing his role a little too well, in order to win over her family and Alba herself. It works - Alba slowly opens up to Fitz, but with it opens a vulnerability in her that drives her to Italy in order to search her past.

Alba's story is interspersed with the story of how her father and mother met in the sleepy town of Incantelleria during the Second World War. As the story goes on, the mystery both unravels and deepens, until the final part of the novel where the true loss of Valentina is revealed.

Santa Montefiore creates a love story that is fluffy, warm and inviting. Rich descriptions abound (though I did roll my eyes at the relentless use of 'simple') and the reader is drawn into the family drama; empathetic with Thomas, whose wife's death hangs over him still; Alba, spoiled but you feel for the mother she never knew; and Fitz, who doesn't know just what to do about Alba.

The resolution is a happy ending, in one way, but not necessarily the classic love story ending the reader might be expecting. This is definitely fiction for escapism, a curl-up-on-the-sofa or whisk away to a foreign beach kind of read.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Two short, eerie prologues set the tone for this smash hit of a novel, The Girl on the Train. A body in the woods followed by a woman fearing for her life.

Rachel catches the 8:04 in London Euston and returns just before six each day. Her train stops at the same signal each day, which gives her plenty of time to look out of the window and stare at the houses beyond the tracks. Two of these houses hold particular meaning for her. One, the house in which she and her ex-husband lived. He still lives there, with a new wife and daughter.

The other one is a bit more of a mystery. She calls the couple Jason and Jess and imagines their lives for them. Perfect couple, perfect life. And she reflects on how she has fallen.

Then one day, she sees something that could change the course of not her life but the lives of those who live in these two houses. And she is determined to solve the mystery.

This is no small feat, however, between her alcoholism, her blackouts, and the trouble with her ex and his wife. And as she unravels the mystery, slowly but surely, she comes to discover the gaps in her own memory, so convincingly filled by others, are not what she previously believed.

I found The Girl on the Train to be one of those books that you just have to read wherever you are - making a cup of tea, doing the housework one handed, staying up as late as you can... It's brilliantly paced and the three points of view - Rachel, Anna (the new wife) and Megan (the actual name of the woman Rachel called Jess) - help the mystery keep pace as each chapter reveals something new.

Highly recommend this book - but don't start it just before you go to sleep as you once you start it will be very hard to put down.

Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

Firstly, hats off to the translator of this book, for so brilliantly getting across Jonasson's dry humour in this novel.

Allan Karlsson is sitting in his bedroom of his nursing home, waiting for his one hundredth birthday to start when, suddenly, he decides he doesn't want to be there anymore. Rather sprightly, for someone who is turning one hundred, he climbs out of the window and decides what he wants to do next. He heads for the bus station and has an encounter with a man which decides the course of his next few months.

Interjected are episodes of Allan's past, which bring him into several of the world's most important events in the most random ways. From the Spanish Revolution, to Operation Manhattan, to boozing with Stalin, Allan's life and the crazy events that happen almost by accident make extraordinarily entertaining yet still plausible reading.

It is one of the funniest books I have ever read without it meaning to be... the comedy isn't overt, it's implicit in the way that he wanders into things and cleverly but nonchalantly wanders out of them, too.

For anyone needing a genuinely good read but also some light relief from the cracker that 2016 is turning out to be, find this book.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Review: Blackbeard's Daughter, Diana Strenka.

"Colonial dreams have become piratical nightmares. Margaret takes one disastrous turn after the other as she confronts the perils of murder, war, and revenge. When her father decides to pursue criminal mischief aboard a pirate's vessel, Margaret joins him in an effort to save his life. Though unsuccessful, Margaret discovers the unforgettable treasure that her father has left her: love, laughter, and an unquenchable spirit for adventure."

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Although there are several great scenes and sections to this novel by Diana Strenka, the blurb and the book itself don't always match up. A fair amount of the novel is dialogue - sometimes, it reads more like a screenplay than a novel - and a lot happens very quickly without much depth or world-building. The reader can sometimes barely draw breath before the next significant thing happens. For me, this reads like an early draft of an otherwise very promising story. With some more time and careful editing and revisions, this could be a very interesting story.  

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Review: The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

1913: A little girl is hiding on a ship headed for Australia knowing nothing but a strange woman called 'The Authoress' told her to hide and wait until she came back.

Decades later, Nell is told the mysterious circumstances in which she is found, and seeks the truth. 

After Nell's death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, finds that her enigmatic grandmother has bequeathed her a cottage in England. Resolved to make light of her grandmother's hidden past, she goes to England and discovers an extraordinary past. 

The Forgotten Garden is both sweeping in scope and precious with detail. Kate Morton handles each time period with generous description and setting, and character painting in drips and drabs so the mystery of each character fits in with solving the mystery of the whole novel itself.

The stories of each are bittersweet, endings resolved but not in a cliche happily ever after matter, necessarily. The problem, as it can sometimes be, of identity is brought to the fore here, particularly in Nell's story - what do you do after thinking your origins one way for twenty one years, only to have them pulled out from under your feet? Slowly but surely, Cassandra pieces together the clues to her grandmother's past and her journey of discovery and, in doing so, finds resolution herself.

This is a novel to be absorbed by, perfect for curling up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a few hours in which to escape. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Review: The Muse, Jessie Burton

The Muse is the second novel from the bestselling author of The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton. Where do you go after such a smash hit of a debut novel? Burton more than rises to the challenge and produces another novel steeped in history, rich characterisation and settings abundant in detailed description.

We begin with Odelle in June 1967, an immigrant from Trinidad. These days it might as well be 1967 with the feelings that the word 'immigrant' may evoke, and the London that Odelle is promised is not the London she finds, at least at first. Despite her prestigious qualifications, she finds many doors closed and works in a shoe shop with her friend Cynthia, until one day a woman named Marjorie Quick employs her as a typist in the Skelton gallery. Finally, Odelle thinks she's getting somewhere.

However, ill - sort of - circumstances strike again when Cynth gets married, moves out, and Odelle finds herself lonely again. A man with a painting turns up and promises excitement and mystery, not least with Marjorie's reaction to seeing the painting.

We are soon transported to 1936, Spain, and meet the Schloss family. There is Harold, an art dealer, Sarah, a glamorous woman missing society and suffering with depression, and their daughter, Olive, a closet artist, whose dilemma is whether or not to accept an offer to study Fine Art in London.

Into their lives arrive Isaac and Teresa Robles, and although their arrival is met with joy and gratitude, danger follows in their wake. For Olive is inspired to paint like never before, paintings full of complexities and substance, though they are never credited to her. The backdrop of this story is the revolution in Spain, to-ing and fro-ing between the left and the right, with the innocents, as ever, taking the fall for the ambitions of a few powerful men.

Therein, the story flits between 1936 and 1967, with Odelle getting closer and closer to discovering the story of the painting, and the mystery of Marjorie, though not without battling her own demons in terms of her relationship with her writing. She says, "My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged" and it's interesting to wonder how much of this came from Burton's own feelings.

Burton combines substantial research, complex characterisation and a flair for scene setting that makes The Muse a novel to truly immerse yourself in. From visualising yourself in Olive's stool as she pours herself into her paintings, to tense conversations with Teresa and Isaac about the state of Spain, and walking around late 60s London, The Muse gives you a rich depth of experience that reminds you how reading can be so enjoyable, inspiring and enlightening all at once.


Link for purchase: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-muse/jessie-burton/9781447250944



Sunday, 21 August 2016

Review: Stardust, Neil Gaiman

Delve into a rich world of surreal markets, gnomes, unicorns, witches and a quest for true love in this luscious, imaginative tale by Neil Gaiman.

Tristan Thorn, besotted by a woman called Victoria from his village, resolves to go on a quest over the other side of the Wall to retrieve a fallen Star, in the hopes that his success will win the Victoria's hand.

With some guidance from his father, a wall-crosser himself in his youth, Tristan - a gangly, innocent sort of young man - makes the journey, unaware that there are others whom seek this star for more nefarious purposes.

What he doesn't realise is that on this side of the wall, fallen stars are not just clumps of rock but people - and this star is not impressed.

With rich world building, complex character development and a huge cast of players, both mortal and supernatural, Stardust is richly imagined, cleverly plotted and humorous - definitely a tale to cosy up on the couch with.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Review: Kings or Pawns, J. J. Sherwood

Note: I received a free ebook copy of this novel in exchange for a review. 

Blurb from author: 


"The elven city of Elvorium has become corrupted to the core by politics. With his father dead and the Royal Schism at his back, Prince Hairem ascends the throne as king of the elven world on Sevrigel. Young and bold, Hairem is determined to undo the council’s power, but the brutal murders by an assassin loosed within the city threaten to undermine the king’s ambitions.

As corruption and death threaten to tear Elvorium apart from within, the warlord Saebellus threatens the city from without, laying siege to Sevrigel’s eastern capital. With the elven world crumbling around him, Hairem finds himself in a dangerous political balance between peace and all out war."

This novel draws on a lot of different factors to weave together a strong story with plenty of substance: strong world building, complex characters, political intrigues with a love story weaved in through. In style and substance, Sherwood's writing can be compared to Jim Butcher, his strengths lying in bringing together plenty of strong characters and handling different story lines that come together as a whole. Like other great novels, there are characters that you love, characters you love to hate, and characters for whom you wish luck in frustration because they certainly have none. 

The descriptions, while extensive, are easy and natural and allow the reader to fully immerse themselves in this Elven world. From the palaces to the streets of the city, to the swamps and lands of ice, Sherwood handles his world with flair and ease. It is the kind of writing of which everything, down to the last rock placement, has been carefully considered.

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of high fantasy - it's an offering that will find hard to stop reading and will eagerly await the next installment.

Links/Sample: Amazon or Goodreads

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Thursday, 4 August 2016

Review: The House by the Sea, Santa Montefiore

Generally, I dislike the terms "beach read" etc but if you were picking a mini library to take away with you on holiday, then this is a book I would recommend.

Flicking between two time points, (1966 Tuscany and 2009 Devon), the story focuses on a young girl, Floriana, and her obsession with La Villa Magdalena - most notably, its beautiful gardens - and Marina, a woman living in Devon who runs a hotel called the Polzanze with her husband and step-son. The Polzanze, on the brink of financial ruin, hires an artist-in-residence to attract more attention to the hotel. After a few excruciatingly cringe worthy interviews, Marina finally finds an artist, a devilishly handsome Argentinian man called Rafa, though after a conversation Rafa has with his mother the reader is shown that not all is at it seems and Rafa has an ulterior motive for being there.

The descriptions of the Polzanze are detailed and intimate, as if Montefiore built it herself in real life. You get Marina's struggles as a childless woman and the love she pours into the hotel as if it is her own flesh and blood. You also feel her pain as she longs to connect with her step children, particularly her step daughter, Clementine, who sees Marina as nothing more than the woman who stole away her father from her mother.

This is wonderful human story with relationships at its heart. The locations in it, while beautifully and lusciously described, are mere devices to tell the stories of different people from all walks of life and classes crossing paths and making their marks on each other. While some of the dialogue seems a bit cheesy at times, you find yourself moving past this in order to discover the surprisingly richly layered story, building up to a big reveal at the end.

Definitely one for the happy-ever-after lovers.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review: The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota

There are many reasons why people read books. To learn; to be provoked; to be moved; but overwhelming, I'm guessing most would say to escape. The Year of the Runaways gives you everything but escapism.

This novel blends political and personal drama in epic, sweeping scale. It weaves together the stories of three men and one woman; Tochi, Avtar, Randeep and Narinder. Tochi, Avtar and Randeep decide to move to the UK. Their backgrounds are very different but their goal is the same - work, and thus, better prospects for their families. Tochi enters the UK illegally; Avtar, through a student visa and Randeep through a visa-wife - this is where Narinder comes in. From building sites to chip shops and cash and carrys, the men's lives become an endless cycle of finding work, to a short job, to finding work again. And they're not alone. They compete with many men already ahead of them. A lot of the British citizens of Indian descent, they first contacts, are sympathetic if not overly helpful.

Tochi, by account of his caste status, is the hardest and most closed off. His entire life has been one of survival in a way that not even Avtar or Randeep can understand, and when they try to reach out to him he rebuffs them. Yet Avtar sold one of his kidneys to get to the UK and even that wasn't enough - he is in the mercy of a ruthless loan shark. Randeep perhaps has the easiest time of it - if this situation could ever be described as easy - as Narinder is willing to be his wife for a year, at which point they can divorce and he can get citizenship. All they have to do is fool immigration services.

In many ways it is a deeply uncomfortable read, not least when it slaps you in the face with a lot of the things we take for granted. A while ago, I was visiting my family's and I needed to make a doctor's visit. Upon entering the surgery all I needed to do was fill in my details as a visiting patient, including the doctors at which I was permanently registered. Imagine, then, Avtar, in the country on a student visa, no actual fixed address although his course is in London, having to visit a doctor's surgery in Sheffield, and being asked to fill in one of these visiting patient's forms.

This novel isn't passing judgement on whether illegal - or barely legal - immigration is right or wrong, and it doesn't really ask the reader to do that, either. Rather, it asks for compassion and understanding as to why there are so many who are desperate to reach not only the UK but countries in the Western World which they think will enable their families to have a much better future. The depressing thing is that the bubble quickly bursts for so many - although Avtar, Randeep, Tochi and Narinder find peace in their own ways, albeit after a hellish year.

What I've commented on is only a tiny part of the story. Their background stories are immensely gripping and heartbreaking, and you get the sense that they seize the chance to run away rather than just use the excuse of their families for whom they want to achieve more.

This novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Its timing is perfect, really - at a time in history when, despite having the means to be the most open and enlightened, vast swathes of society - through fear, ignorance, or prejudice - feel the need to close their doors, this kind of story reminds us that we are all human and we are all fighting for our place in the world.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Guest post from Andrew Joyce.

I'm thrilled to host Andrew Joyce for a guest post on my blog. I received an email from Andrew all about his new novel and it sounded so fantastic I wanted to hear more! As well as providing an exciting preview of his new novel, Andrew has kindly written a wonderful guest post for you all to enjoy, so without further ado, you can read about Andrew and his work below.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He
wouldn’t return from his journey until decades later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has
written four books, including a two-volume collection of one hundred and forty short stories
comprised of his hitching adventures called BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS (as yet
unpublished), and his latest novel, RESOLUTION. He now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, YELLOW HAIR.






It is 1896 in the Yukon Territory, Canada. The largest gold strike in the annals of human history
has just been made; however, word of the discovery will not reach the outside world for another
year.
By happenstance, a fifty-nine- year-old Huck Finn and his lady friend, Molly Lee, are on hand,
but they are not interested in gold. They have come to that neck of the woods seeking adventure.
Someone should have warned them, “Be careful what you wish for.”
When disaster strikes, they volunteer to save the day by making an arduous six hundred mile
journey by dog sled in the depths of a Yukon winter. They race against time, nature, and man.
With the temperature hovering around seventy degrees below zero, they must fight every day if
they are to live to see the next.
On the frozen trail, they are put upon by murderers, hungry wolves, and hostile Indians, but those
adversaries have nothing over the weather. At seventy below, your spit freezes a foot from your
face. Your cheeks burn—your skin turns purple and black as it dies from the cold. You are in
constant danger of losing fingers and toes to frostbite.
It is into this world that Huck and Molly race.
They cannot stop. They cannot turn back. They can only go on. Lives hang in the
balance—including theirs.






GUEST POST


My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Becky has been kind enough to allow
me a little space on her blog to promote my new novel RESOLUTION: Huck Finn’s Greatest
Adventure. I think it’s a good book, but what do I know? Anyway, I’m kinda shy about tooting my
own horn. So I think I’ll turn things over to my dog, Danny, to toot it for me. He always has an
attitude and usually does not speak highly of me. But please understand that we co-exist as the
old Soviet Union and the United States once co-existed. We tolerate each other. So without
further ado, here’s Danny the Dog.


Andrew took me away from watching reruns of Lassie to help him out here. For a person who
works with words for a living, he has very little to say in real life. He wants me to tout his book
for him, but I don’t think I will. Instead, I think I’ll tell you about our latest adventure. We’re
always having adventures. I like to write about them and what I write is 100% true.
Hello dog fans, it is I, Danny the Dog! I’ve been helping Andrew look after three Labrador
retrievers. What a nightmare! There is Chloe, who is fourteen months old, and then there is Beau
and Hank. They are both four months old and they are holy terrors. They live on a boat down at
the end of the dock. (We live on a boat also.) Their human was going out of town and he asked
my human to look after them and Andrew, being the idiot that he is, said yes.


First of all, I want to say to Jeff, the human that lives with the three monsters, don’t ever leave
them in Andrew’s care again. I wouldn’t trust him to look after a taco, much less three dogs.
The trouble started right away. Jeff had two crates (humans call them crates; I call them cages)
for Beau and Hank because, as I’ve said, they are holy terrors. Andrew went over to take them
for their first walk after Jeff left, and of course, he has to take me along to help out. Anyway,
Andrew gets them out of the crates and is getting them off the boat when clumsy Hank falls into
the water.


Let me paint the picture for you. It was nighttime. It was dark. The water was dark and Hank is
black. Andrew and I could see nothing of Hank. We could only hear him splashing around. The
dock is about five feet above the water so Andrew couldn’t get him out by standing on the dock.
Being the genius that he is (just kidding), Andrew got on the swim platform, which—for you
landlubbers—is attached to the back of a boat and is only a foot above the water.
Now this is where Andrew’s “genius” comes into play. He took off his glasses and placed them
on the transom so they wouldn’t slip off while he was bending over to pull Hank out of the
water. He called to Hank. Hank swam over and Andrew got him onto the boat. Then Andrew
went to get his glasses and they were not there or anywhere else on the boat. It looked as though
Beau knocked them into the water because he had his paws up in that general vicinity while he
was watching Andrew rescue his brother (they’re twins). All this in the first five minutes of
Andrew looking after the monsters. And it only got better, and by better, I mean worse. I had a
ball watching Andrew trying to cope for four days.


On to the next disaster, but first a side note. For some reason Beau is enthralled with me. The
damn dog wouldn’t leave me alone. He put his snoot in my face, ran around me, bounced around
me; he was a royal pain in my rear end. Finally, I had to growl at him and give him a little nip on
his snoot to get some peace.


Now back to Andrew’s genius. We got the dogs back on the boat without further mishaps.
Andrew fed them and all was well. But then Andrew decided not to put Hank and Beau in their
crates. He felt sorry for them being cooped up like that. Big mistake!
The next morning when we went to get them, there was poop everywhere. The whole floor was
covered in it. The babies had gotten into the dog food bag, ripped it open and ate it all. Then they
pooped everywhere and walked in it. They got it on the couch, on the sliding glass doors, on
everything. I think even on the ceiling. Needless to say, after spending two hours cleaning it all
up, Andrew changed his mind about the crates.


Last night we were hanging out. Andrew was staring into space because he did not have his
glasses and could not read a book or see the computer screen. I was on the computer starting this
story when Chloe came onto our boat. She’s always coming here and stealing my water bowl! To
date, she has taken five. But she should have been locked up on her own boat! Andrew got up,
looked out, saw Jeff, and said, “Thank God! Thank God!” I barked the same thing. Our days of
taking care of the monsters were over. Thank God!


P.S. This morning Jeff came over with Andrew’s glasses. Beau had taken them and hidden them
in his stash place
That’s about it for now. If I hurry, I might be able to catch that old Rin Tin Tin movie on TCM.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot—check out Andrew’s new book on Amazon and make the old guy’s
day.


This is Andrew again. On behalf of Danny and myself, I would like to thank Becky for having us
over. It’s been a real pleasure.


   











Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr.

This felt like a really timely read in the lead up to tomorrow's EU referendum which will, in one sense, be an exercise in how the British see themselves - as part of a wider European collective, or its own entity, not least in the way we regard 'foreigners'.

Told in short chapters that are, at their longest, three pages long, All the Light We Cannot See tells the story of World War Two from the primary points of view of two characters; Marie-Laure, a Parisian who becomes blind at a young age; and Werner, an orphan whose skills with a radio change the course of his life.

To say this book is a page-turner doesn't really do it justice. Usual 'page-turners', though entertaining, are usually fast paced novels with some element of action, thrill, or insurmountable odds to overcome. This book contains all three of those, but the substance is much richer. From its beautiful and vivid descriptions of Paris, Saint-Malo, Berlin,  to the gritty and bleak reality of the orphanage and the specialist Nazi schools, to the insight of the human condition and how we can be swayed - or not - by the turning of the tide, it has human empathy and diversity of experience at its core.

It also offers a lot of 'what-ifs' to the reader to make you think about how the course of these characters' lives would have changed under different circumstances. What if Werner had never learned to fix a radio? Would he have succumbed to the mines like his father? What if Marie-Laure's father had not worked at the museum? Would that have meant they stayed in Paris? Or, if they had still left, headed to Saint Malo?

What if the Nazis had not had the power of the radio at their disposal? Would young German boys and girls have grown up without such a grim and harsh nationalism? What would have happened to their propaganda, then?

Ultimately, as the end of this novel shows, time and time again human compassion wins over darkness - in this form, the 'otherness' of the opposing side. To paraphrase the late MP Jo Cox, there is far more than unites us than divides us. In light of the current political climate, I think it is such an important book to read that will show you in the end, a call to extreme nationalism and  emphasis on borders will be nothing short of toxic and ruinous. We can and should be united by the fact that we are all human and we all want to live, not merely survive.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin

A sense of barrenness and loneliness hits the reader from the very off as you peruse the home and land of Larry Ott, a supposed loner in his rural corner of Mississippi. He very quickly is made to pay for the crime - or crimes - he supposedly by a man in a monster mask.

The man who heads up the investigation is a man called Silas, more commonly nicknamed 32, Flashbacks tell us that the two of them - Silas and Larry - were uneasy friends, though one wouldn't know it at school. Larry is quite often victimised, despite his being the white boy and Silas being black. Larry does his best to fit in and become friends with people, and thinks he comes close to it on Halloween, but further humiliated. It is to his great surprise, then, when a neighbour, Cindy Walker, asks him on a date. This, however, also turns out to be more than it seems and through an unfortunate turn of events, Cindy Walker's disappearance leads to Larry's ostracism.

Though its overarching plot makes it lean towards a crime novel, it could easily be a story about a man overcoming loneliness; a man dealing with racial barriers; or even a story about dysfunctional families and the desire to both please and escape. The desire and cost of friendship is also brought into play, and what happens when one party considers your relationship to be a friendship, but the other party easily forgets and escapes, out of ignorance, cowardice, or carelessness.

Heavy themes are treated deftly; nothing bogs you down too much that you don't want to go on with the story, and it's not until you are a fair way into learning about Larry's backgrounds and few acquaintances that you have any notion of 'whodunnit'. Indeed, it comes as quite a surprise until you remember all you have learned about Larry and the few people he came into contact with.

Overall opinion: it's a bit of everything, really. A great crime plot with elements of racial politics and the importance - and cost - of friendship. Definitely recommended.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Review: Glass Sword, Victoria Aveyard.

Following the fast-paced, action packed 'Red Queen', 'Glass Sword' dives back into the world divided by the colour of blood where tensions are the highest they have ever been.

Having managed to escape the Bowl of Bones by the skin of their teeth, Mare Barrow, Cal and the remainder of the Scarlet Guard are fleeing for their lives. Escaping to Tuck, a Scarlet Guard stronghold, Mare plans her next move - namely, to use a list she got given in 'Red Queen' containing the names of known newbloods - essentially, Reds with Silver abilities. It's a race against time as not only will Maven, the new king, be after her but will also be tracking down the newbloods in a bid to wipe out and deny their very existence, lest they threat the order of their world.

The story and action of this book rivals any dystopian fiction that has come out in the last few books - you will be turning the pages feverishly. The inner monologue of Mare, though, is not that distinguishable from many dystopian heroines. The 'I'm just an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances/I push everyone I love away/I'm turning into a monster' things are all very present and repetitive, despite their validity. I tended to gloss over these bits and focus on the mission to find the newbloods. I don't know whether it was the inner monologue that made me care less about Mare, but I tended to find myself caring more about the characters around her and their development.

There were several surprises, namely one shocker towards the end of the book that I did not expect to happen in this instalment, at least. If you are a fan of this genre, it's definitely something you would pick up and burn through in a few hours.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Review: Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith.

The third instalment in Galbraith's (Rowling's) hugely successful crime adventure packs a rather more grisly punch than its predecessors, starting from the very off. In fact, there are several significant changes that Galbraith has made which, while staying true to our favourite characters, steer the story in a different way to keep things fresh and interesting.

The most significant of these is the use of point of view in the villain, the mysterious man who starts the story by explaining how much he enjoyed his recent kill, and proceeding to stalk Robin (not deemed worthy enough for him to address by name - she is simply The Secretary). All we know for a while is that this man has a vendetta against Strike and aims to wound him through Robin.

The other significant direction is that we learn far more about Strike's and Robin's past. Their histories become essential to the story itself, although - certainly when Strike is having his flashbacks - they can consume the narrative.

Entering the psyche of the killer is, like you would expect, fascinating and disturbing. Rowling said she had nightmares while researching this novel, and it is no surprise.

Pretty soon, the killer is narrowed down to three suspects, and what you appreciate at the end is how it kept veering towards one of the three at certain points. It certainly kept things tense as each of the three eventually got ruled out and the identity of the murderer discovered.

Robin, who came more into her own in "The Silkworm" makes this story as much about her as it is Strike. Her talents, the impact her personal history has on the story and how it unfolds, and her relationship with Matthew, are plumbed to more satisfying depths and you appreciate even more the badass she is.

"Career of Evil" takes a much darker turn in this fantastic series, both in tone and content, and certainly leaves you longing for more of Strike's and Robin's adventures.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Review: Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard

Anyone can betray anyone. 

It's a world where the colour of your blood directs the trajectory of your life, and standing out from the crowd is probably the last thing you want to do.

After a bizarre twist of events, Mare Barrow, a Red girl from an impoverished town, finds herself in the court of the Silver King and Queen. Since presenting with powers that only Silvers are supposed to have, she is caught in a dangerous web where the ability to tell lies is what determines whether she lives or dies. 

Betrothed to the second son of the King and Queen, she begins a deadly dance of learning court protocol while secretly volunteering herself for the Scarlet Guard, a Red terrorist organisation whom demand freedom and equality. 

Inevitably, she soon finds herself in deeper than she can handle. She doesn't know who to trust, even herself, and is surrounded by eyes and ears whom wish her harm. 

Though oppressed heroines aren't anything new, the nature of the story, the constant guessing of who is on whose side, the dilemmas of when to act, makes you turn pages almost faster than you can read them. I've never been so grateful for my baby taking long naps so I could finish this in two sittings!

If you're a fan of Queen of the Tearling, then read this. If you think a Hunger Games/X-Men crossover sounds like a fun idea, then read this. Definitely one to keep you up until the small hours.  

Review: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Focussing primarily on the Nolan family, particularly Francie, and their lives in Brooklyn in the early nineteenth century, this book is a touching and hopeful tale about how ordinary lives are still significant and leave their marks.

The Nolans are as poor as can be. Katie, the mother, is the breadwinner, determined and proud. Johnny, the father, is an alcoholic, generally hopeless but loves and adores his family. Neeley is the pride and joy of the family but it is through Francie, the eldest daughter, that we see life happening.

On the face of it, there is no real story in a plot sense, but the portrayals of lives so different from our own makes you keep reading. The grim determination of Katie to keep the family's heads above water; Francie walking twenty four blocks to and from school; Johnny's hopeless romanticism about life, and more. Though their struggles are far different, we can sympathise. Things such as the alcoholism and poverty are neither romanticised nor lamented; they just are. You can root for the characters without pitying them. Following Francie as she grows up resonates with your own childhood memories. It's almost as if Smith wrote a memoir than a novel, 

I think think this is a very lovely read, definitely one for long summer afternoons sat out in the garden with a cool drink.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review: The Book of Night Women, Marlon James

It's the turn of the century in the West Indies. In patient, painstaking strokes, the narrator of this book tells the story of Lilith, a slave born on a sugar cane plantation, and her fellow slaves on Montpelier Estate. 

I should start by saying that this is not an easy book to read. Think 12 Years a Slave but arguably more horrific. In fact, I almost stopped a few times. It's not fun to read about whippings, rape and killing. But I kept going because a) the writing was so good and b) stories like this need to be told, and shouldn't be avoided just because they are uncomfortable. 

The overarching plot is about the conspiracy of "Night Women", a plan to have multiple estates in Jamaica rebel at the same time to try and drive the whites out and set up their own republic. This is the undercurrent rather than at the fore of the story, however. The main focus is on Lilith, her development and her struggle to be reconciled with the life of a slave when her spirit just won't agree. Plenty of things happen to try and tame that 'wickedness' (as the whites have it), even transferring her to another estate, but Lilith doesn't lose that inherent sense of this is not right and she is meant for more. 

Homer, the head house slave (even amongst slaves there is a hierarchy - field slaves are at the bottom of the heap, with house slaves at the top), tries to teach Lilith what she must do and how to keep her head down while still bringing her into the Night Women conspiracy, but Lilith doesn't always pay heed. Homer, whom was brought over from Africa, gives Lilith pause to wonder whether it is more painful to be born a slave and never know freedom, or to have lived free but have it taken away. 

The overwhelming feeling I got while reading this book was an unfathomable sense of how human beings are capable of such cruelty, both those inflicting it and others looking at it thinking it is acceptable. I also think it's a really important kind of book to read in today's climate, when racial and religious tensions run high. It's crucial that we never again get to a stage where we become desensitized to, or ignore, these kinds of horrors. 

It also poses larger questions of what it means to be human and who gets to decide. An interesting point raised was that, on most estates, there could be about 30 slaves to every white person. Overwhelming odds in favour of the slaves, so why did they accept the status quo? It's a testament - obviously not in a good way - to how well Westerners were able to use fear and fear of pain to bring down powerful, proud people.

This is a book that is hard to put down, and a brilliant piece of literature. I would just recommend a strong stomach - and not reading it before bed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Review: Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

One of the things I enjoy about reading a book that I know others have already read is because I can basically just live-tweet about it to them. So, big thanks to Augusta and Stevey for being on the other end of this (and coping with the unintended panic I caused).

Louisa Clark is a bright, vivacious twenty six year old with an apparent appetite for life while simultaneously not wanting to leave her small town. After being made redundant from a job at the local cafe, The Buttered Bun, life becomes one whole string of god-awful jobs that she can get with her limited qualifications.

Until one day she meets Will Traynor. He is a quadraplegic, for whom his parents want to hire a carer alongside his male nurse. A companion, more than anything. Except Will isn't having this, not at first, and does his level best to make Louisa feel as small as possible.

But that changes, slowly and surely as they change each other. Will becomes more open and sarcastic with her (his way of showing affection). She stands up to him and pushes him to try new things that he hasn't since the accident. She wants to show him that it is possible to enjoy life in the most debilitating of circumstances, particularly when she finds out his wish to go to Dignitas.

As well as being a person battle to get Will to change his mind, this book raises a whole load of questions about euthanasia and assisted dying. Whose choice is it versus whose it should be? Is it selfish? Is it worthy of being prosecuted?

Choices are another things look at throughout the story, namely because Will doesn't have any and that frustrates him. Whereas Louisa has a lot but doesn't know what to do with them.

At its heart, this is a love story of two people who are polar opposites in every sense, but whose extraordinary circumstances cause them to change each other's lives for the better. It is funny, clever and profoundly moving, It will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Above all, it is book that you wish you could read again and again for the first time.

Review: The Taxidermist's Daughter, Kate Mosse.

Blood, skin, bone.

This refrain passes through like an old haunt throughout this dark and Gothic tale. The story opens in a churchyard, where villagers watch and wait to see the ghosts that will enter the church, omens of what is to be expected in that year.

Connie Gifford is a young woman who lives in an ageing house with an ailing father, driven to drink by an event that Connie can no longer remember. Time and again she tries to coax the truth out of him, but to no avail. The only times he is conscious of her asking her such a question, he begs her to not remember. Her father used to be a taxidermist and Connie learns his skills, the art of preserving even after death, even when things seem lost.

Later on we meet Harry Woolston, a man - quite simply - looking out for his father after his father displays some unexpected behaviour. His path crosses with Connie's and they quickly become friends, although neither could expect just how much they are already entangled in each other's lives.

The plot thumps along like a heartbeat, racing at some points and slowing down in others although the tension is always there on the edge. Place and characters are crafted with equal care and, as the mystery unravels, the reader is left with mingled revulsion and fascination for the turning out of events.

There are places in this book which demand a strong stomach. The mystery letters written at the start of each part, reveal the hidden character's thirst for justice - justice, not revenge - although it is a while before we learn for what. Once we know, it's almost as if we wish we didn't. What is seen cannot be unseen, and all of that.

This is a spooky, atmospheric tale that grips the imagination and demands your attention from the off. These sleepy towns hide much more than appearances suggest, and the mystery, buried for so many years, is about to finally come to light, for good or for ill.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Review: The Keeper's Light, Anjillica Navarro

Note: I exchanged a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

From its tense, fast-paced opening to the cliffhanger conclusion, The Keeper's Light is the first in a series of fantasy novels that explores the power of light and darkness. Though the theme is common in fantasy, the way it is used is not.

Elizabeth, our heroine, was taken away and hidden just after her birth. Her parents endowed her the power of the Light of Wills just before their death and entrusted her to close friends. The threat? A man called Kaleb whose motives (other than his desire for conquest) are unknown until the end of the novel.

Elizabeth grows up in relative peace and security, until the time comes for her to return to Beldom. On the journey, she experiments with her power for the first time as well as finding out what has been kept from her.

Back in Beldom, things are not going smoothly. There is obvious corruption on the Council and the Boundary, which keeps the people safe from Kaleb and his darklings, is weakening.

This fantasy novel would appeal most, I think, to young adult readers - particularly those who enjoy a healthy dose of romance, too. Navarro's world-building is solid and the characters are well-rounded, Cedric and Maurice being my favourite. Things seem a little bit too easy for Elizabeth in the beginning, but the use of her powers become more believable later on, especially when it is shown how much of a physical drain they are on her.

The plot ticks along well and the action scenes towards the end are gripping, particularly the conclusion. I turned the page expecting to see another battle - but I'll have to wait for the next book for that.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review: The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan

Yesterday, I took my Year 7 English class to the school library. I had asked the library if they would do a book promo with them (especially since World Book Day is coming up) as some of the class were getting a bit disillusioned with reading. I'm lucky enough to work in a school with a fantastically stocked library and really knowledgeable librarians. They showcased about 20 different books, and I wanted to read all of them myself!




The one that struck me to pick up, however, was this one - The Weight of Water, by Sarah Crossan. All it took was a few words from the librarian to convince me that this was a book I needed to read.


Kasienka is a twelve (nearly thirteen) year old from Poland. One day, her father disappears, leaving a note that simply says he has gone to England. He does not say for what, nor when - or even if - he will return. Not accepting this, Kasienka's mother drags Kasienka along with her to England, and they end up in Coventry.




Told in a series of short poems, Crossan gives great insight on what it must be like to be a young girl in a foreign country, particularly when the people of that country are not particularly disposed to like you. They see you as an invader, someone to sweep the rug out from under their feet.


Some of the problems that Kasienka has to deal with are being placed in a class in which she is older than everyone, simply because she cannot yet read English fluently; the rise and fall of being under the notice of the popular girl; being herself when it comes to sports - should she allow herself to be noticed or not? - and romance.




Home life is not much better. Dragged out every night to search the streets for her Tata (father), the only kindness that she and her mother seem to receive is from a neighbour called Kanoro. When Kasienka finally does find her father, it's not the happy ending she expects.




Apart from being a refreshing way to tell a story, the poetic narrative represents Kasienka's struggle to assimilate into the new culture, language and all. It stutters along, like Kasienka is stuttering her way through her new life, a life she didn't ask for. Each poem is a maximum of a page long, yet no more words are needed to tell us about that particular part of Kasienka's ongoing challenges. It makes it more poignant and hard-hitting.




This book implores us to be a kinder. Even if that were the only message, that would be enough.



Monday, 22 February 2016

Review: Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

A snowstorm on the fictional island of San Piedro off the Western coast of the US is the setting for this literary crime novel. It is 1954 and a man called Kabuo Miyamoto stands accused of killing a fellow local fisherman, Carl Heine.

The story flits between the present day courtroom and flashbacks of the principal characters, both those a part of the case and those watching for various reasons. The story feels quite slow to get started, due to the author's detailed and meticulous description of every little thing, it seems like, but once the characters and the case are properly introduced, the story feels a little more rewarding.

This is not just a murder case, however. World War 2 and Pearl Harbour do not seem that long ago, and distrust of the Japanese are still evident - in fact, it is, in part, what the prosecution builds his case around. Romance between two of the characters as children is tainted by their communities' mutual distrust. Identity as a theme is explored deeply, not least with the Japanese whom have made the USA their home and are heartbroken when they are forcibly sent back to Japan.

This is definitely more than just a simple murder mystery. The flashbacks add so much more to a court case that is interesting on its own - Kabuo and his family; Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and her family; Ishmael (Hatsue's childhood sweetheart); Carl Heine's mother and father. These people weave in and out of each other's lives leaving marks and memories that cannot be easily as swept away as the Japanese are to the country of their parents.

There were some difficulties with this book, however. It's definitely a story that you need to invest a lot in before it seems there is any pay-off. The vast swathes of description sometimes detract from the meat of the story and it can't always be argued as necessary.

Despite this, the people, their lives and their fates, are compelling and rewarding enough to keep going to the end of the novel.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Review: Confessions of a Gentleman Arachnid, Michael Coolwood.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

There seems to be no other way to start this review: What a spiffing yarn Coolwood has spun.

Milligan Clodthorpe, an aristocratic gentleman of the arachnid variety, takes up an invitation from his relatives to spend some time in the country at his familial seat, Newbury Towers. Yet it is far from the relaxing holiday he anticipates.

Bainbridge, an associate of the family, swaps his newly acquired human body with Clodthorpe's. Clodthorpe, utterly outraged, does his utmost to persuade Bainbridge to swap back. But Bainbridge is a wily one, and leads Clodthorpe on a merry dance across space to do so. From quaint, human village fetes (a species which Clodthorpe often villifies) to battleships and asteroids, Bainbridge makes it as hard (but entertaining for the reader) as possible for Clodthorpe to regain his body. Aided by his trusty man, Forsythe, and encouraged by his cousin Gertrude and and former comrade Pigstick, Clodthorpe's adventures are set out in a most witty manner.

It's certainly one of the most original stories I've read, not least from the characters. Clodthorpe is a character who finds himself utterly out of his depth, which renders the action that much more entertaining and the supporting characters more valuable.

The novel also tackles themes of loneliness and the need to feel at home with one's body. Pigstick's arc is a good example of the latter, while Clodthorpe's adventures show how his loneliness can be tackled by the deceptively simple solution of worthwhile company. Instead of hastening back to his own dwelling when his body is recovered, he ponders on the virtues of staying with his relatives. "Being alone with my thoughts in Eggart was not entirely healthy was it, Forsythe?"

A cross between sci-fi and a healthy dose of the self-deprecating and humorous British nature, Confessions of a Gentleman Arachnid is a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Review: The Painting and the Piano, John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo

Note: I received a free copy of this memoir in exchange for a review.

The Painting and the Piano tells the story of John "Johnny" Lipscomb and Adrianne "Ady" Lugo. The memoir, divided into scenes, shows how the tragedies that we encounter as children can linger on into adult lives - no matter how we try to escape from them, they can come back to haunt us unless we have the tools to deal with them. However, at the risk of telling a story of heartbreak, let me reassure you that there is always hope.

Adrianne lives in foster care, a very happy life until the agency from which she was fostered comes along with news; the biological parents want to visit Adrianne. Reluctantly, the foster parents agree. Sadly, it does not stop there. It's a long, slippery slide until a court grants Herb and Elaine, Adrianne's biological parents, the right to take their daughter back. Adrianne can never admit to Herb and Elaine being her parents, however. Despite Herb's genuine efforts, Adrianne keeps asking when she can go home. Elaine presents as a monster - abusive, cruel, and almost tyrannical, Adrianne finds as many things as she can do to escape the disgusting flat she's been forced into. It isn't until a teacher at her school notices her bruises that her story begins to turn around.

Johnny was caught up in a similarly horrible custody battle, forced to lived with his alcoholic mother and step-father. What starts as a few drinks as a teenager turns into a years-long battle with alcoholism.

We meet Adrianne and Johnny again as adults, both battling addiction, both finding solace in each other from unhappy marriages.

If not for the ending of this book I would still be in turmoil now. Both Johnny and Adrianne have such a way with words that you are there, in their homes, watching the scenes unfold, and you are in their heads, willing things to be okay but heartbroken and frustrated that they cannot be, due to the unfair laws of the land. I found Adrianne's story most particularly affecting, not least in Elaine's cruel choices and determination to keep her from the people whom she really loves and whom really love her.

Though heart-wrenching throughout, there are great messages of hope in this memoir. Addiction can be overcome. There are always people who want to help and who want to love. Finding friends and family, whether blood or no, who can support you, is more valuable than any amount of wealth or supposed financial security. It's definitely something that, at the risk of sounding cheesy, will make you reach out to your nearest and dearest.

Review: The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen.

The Invasion of the Tearling is the second installment in this thrilling trilogy by Erika Johansen. It is unusual in that it is the second part of a trilogy that actually gets better, which I do not often find. Perhaps this is because the worldview expands to beyond Kelsea and characters in her world.

Having stopped the human shipment to Mortmesne, the victor in the invasion of the Tearling during the reign of Kelsea's mother, she now has to decide what she can do to stop the Mort Army. Her commanders know they can only delay, but they do so as much as possible in order to buy Kelsea more time. 

Kelsea, meanwhile, though her heart and soul are wrecked with how she can protect her people, her mind is elsewhere. She starts falling into fugue states, which takes her back to the pre-Crossing, to a woman called Lily. Her own identity and emotions becomes wrapped up in Lily and what happens to her. 

Meanwhile, there is another mystery to solve: the identity of the Red Queen of Mortmesne. One of the overriding messages of this book (and the last) is the power of names, seen in how Kelsea changed hers to pay tribute to her foster parents, and how the Red Queen is fiercely protective of hers. 

There is the issue of identity, too. Kelsea is changing, not only in herself as the ruler of the Tearling, but also in appearance. This causes not little crisis for herself and those around her. Being plagued by her fugue states and the dark thing, who pops up in Kelsea's fireplace from time to time to bargain with her, and her obsession with finding out who her father was, gives her only so much that she can bear. 

The dual narrative of Kelsea and Lily gives more life to an already thrilling story, and ensures that the reader has plenty to explore. Sometimes, it can result in a little bit of a book hangover switching from one side to the other, but that just shows how absorbing each narrative is. 

Definitely another story to keep the reader up into the small hours. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Review: I AM, Michael Drakich

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.


Blurb from Author: "Genius, wealthy and life regenerated, Adam Spenceworth is living the dream aboard his custom spaceship run by Mum, his first designed AI, protected by Gort, his first robot, and occupied by Eve, his sexbot. With each regeneration he returns to start over as a twenty-five year old man ready to enjoy the pleasures of his success. What could go wrong? Except, maybe, planetary wars, territorial space battles, alien invasions, and the disturbing fact that each regeneration is taking exponentially longer than the one before bringing him into one galactic crisis after another."


This book certainly does what it says on the tin - space battles and galactic politics galore - with a hefty dose of physics and engineering thrown in, kept just realistic enough to make the reader think that this technology could be mere decades rather than centuries away.


Due to the protagonist's regeneration, the novel itself almost reads like a series of short stories,. Adam Spenceworth wakes up after each regeneration further and further into the future and has to deal with the latest problem that seems standalone, but by the end of the book, strands that were introduced early on are woven back altogether. 


As time passes, Earth itself becomes virtually unrecognisable as humans have gradually left and AI has taken over dominion of the planet. The religion that has been introduced to the Robots - the followers are called 'Adamites', after the protagonist, is kind of comical at first but it later seems deliberate. Adam has to face enemies he once called friends, and his character - in my opinion, pretty unlikeable for most of the book due to his too-often touted 'genius' and ego - is more rounded as he actually starts to care about what happens rather than exploiting the situation.


A pretty enjoyable science fiction on the whole. The depth in Adam's character lacking in the beginning is made up somewhat by the end, and the host of supporting characters - Mum and Gort are my particular favourites - balance the story out nicely.