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Some notes about the first six fiction reads for #20BooksofSummer – the two non-fiction books I read as part of this challenge can be found over here.

 

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

Opening on the eve of the millennium, when the world as we know it is still recognisable, we meet the nine-year old narrator as he flees the city with his parents, just ahead of a Y2K breakdown

The novel is made up of a number of connected stories that take us through the life of this boy as he grows up and makes his way in a world that has changed in unspecified ways. By that I mean that although at each stage we are clear what particular issue he is dealing with, we don’t actually know what happened to leave the world in this state, which is a shame for me because I love all that detailed disaster stuff, but to be fair isn’t an issue for the story which I found very readable. Apparently it’s now taught in Australian schools which I found fascinating.

It’s always interesting to see references to Y2K in works of fiction; I spent a lot of my time at work leading up to the end of 1999 coming up with contingency plans should everything go pear-shaped, and we sometimes forget how much we worried given that everything turned out Ok in the end.

Anyway, this is worth reading if like me you can’t resist the post-apocalyptic thing.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The online blurb for this is as shouty as you can get without being all caps:

the best-selling mystery from the author of the Magpie Murders, you’ve never read a crime novel quite like this

Oh wait, it does get the all caps treatment int he very next paragraph:

SHE PLANNED HER OWN FUNERAL. BUT DID SHE ARRANGE HER OWN MURDER?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the wrong question. The right question is did she know she was going to die imminently. This is a very good whodunnit with the quirk that the author is himself is a character in his own novel because he is writing a book about the lead detective, who is of course a maverick. Your feeling about this will depend on whether you like Mr Horowitz or not; I do, so all was fine. Some nice red herrings and a murderer and motive that I just didn’t see co,ing, so all very satisfying. Hoping this will become a series.

The Summer Children by Dot Hutchinson

Book 3 in the Collector Trilogy (although I think there might be a fourth on the way next year)

When Agent Mercedes Ramirez finds an abused young boy on her porch, covered in blood and clutching a teddy bear, she has no idea that this is just the beginning.

I loved the first two novels in the Collector trilogy (which I read last year but didn’t review because I wasn’t really reviewing anything for a significant period), partly because it wasn’t a standard trilogy – although many of the participants are the same the cases covered were entirely different, though just as creepy as each other. I devoured them all 🙂

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Book 1 in the Wayfarer series, and shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want.

Are you waiting for the but?

..She gets more than she bargained for.

Ta dah!

Such a good story, wonderful characters, believable world building and so well written. I like the mix of races, and spent a lot of time trying to imagine what some of the alien species actually looked like (and failed because my imagination is rubbish). A book with real heart and I am looking forward to reading the next two (already loaded on my kindle). Sci-fi at its best.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A brilliant original high concept murder mystery from a fantastic new talent

and

Gosford Park meets Inception by way of Agatha Christie and Black Mirror

That’s ….. quite a pitch. I really liked this book, a mixture of sci-fi and crime novel with a clever concept and an intriguing mystery at the centre. Som of the characters are really horrible but they kind of have to be, and the protagonist has an agenda of his own which only becomes clear at the end and was somewhat of a surprise. One of those stories where it pays to just go along for the ride and not try to think about it too hard. Great fun.

I already know that I won’t read all of the books on my list, but I’m OK with that 🙂

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I have only covered five books above. That’s because although I also read You Were Never Really Here, I want to watch the film version and do a combined review. (Spoiler alert – the novella is awesome).

So to make it up to you here are my thoughts on a book that I had completely forgotten about, which os surprising because I loved it.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

A femme fatale with an appetite for cruelty that will be difficult to surpass.

Our hero is in law enforcement and gets attacked as he faces down the serial killer, but she lets him live, though mutilated in body and messed up in mind. Our heroine is a young reporter brought in to cover a serial killer case. Our antagonist is a beautiful, intelligent and utterly cruel serial killer who manipulates everyone around her.

I liked her. Apart from the excessively gruesome violence of course.

So that’s my round-up. I hope to do individual reviews for the remaining books.

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I’ve been reading a lot recently and have fallen behind in writing reviews, so in order to help me catch up here is a round-up of most of the books I read in April & May. Enjoy.

The End Specialist by Drew Margary

The premise is that a cure for ageing has been found. Not a cure for death – you can still succumb to accident, disease or indeed murder, but assuming you retain our health and keep out of harms way you can live infinitely. John Farrell takes the cure when he is in his late twenties and the novel follows him through his extended life, including his time as an end specialist where he assist those who have taken the cure but basically had enough to take their own lives. There’s a lot more to this than just John’s story of course; there’s background on how the cure came to be and a pretty good summation of the likely impact on society – how will resources be allocated if people are still being born but very few are dying, as well as who actually gets access to the cure in the first place. There are of course various fanatics with extremist views and John has to face up to his life in the end. I enjoyed reading this and would recommend if you are in a dystopian frame of mind.

Adamtine by Hannah Berry

An unsettling horror story in graphic novel form, about a man who was involved in a range of disappearances by delivering notes to the victims, but who has always denied any further responsibility for what may have happened to them. Acquitted of being the killer, we find that he himself ends up being murdered and the book gives us hints about how this might have happened; the author has talked about wanting to show us how the consequences of minor actions can lead to major outcomes, in this case the death of a man. The book is dark in both tone and artwork, and the action takes place on a virtually empty last train of the night. It is creepy, unsettling and needs to be read more than once to really work out what’s going on; no answers are presented to the reader. it stuck with me for some time after I read it and I haven’t picked it up again so far, but I know I will.

Six Stories & Hydra by Matt Wesolowski

I picked up Hydra on the recommendation of I think another blogger, can’t remember, and enjoyed it too much that I immediately bought Six Stories, part of the same series, though they can easily be read as stand alone novels. Scott King is a podcaster focussing on true crime, where there is some doubt about the solution or where an answer has simply never been found. Both books have the same structure, where King allows those involved to talk about the case from their point of view. In Hydra this involves a young woman who massacred her family, in Six Stories it’s about the disappearance of a boy whose body is found some years later. I found both books to be really enjoyable; I listen to quite a few podcasts and the structure was so well presented that you could easily forget you were not reading a transcript of the real deal. I hope that he produces more in this vein.

The Elder Ice by David Hambling

I feel very guilty that I have had this book for ages and only just got around to reading it. The Elder Ice is set in 1920s London where our protagonist, an ex-boxer called Harry Stubbs, is tasked with investigating the late Ernest Shackleton and the treasure he may or may not have brought back from Antarctica. Enter the Cthulhu mythos. I have been a fan of Lovecraft since I was a youngster; I think I read the Shadow over Innsmouth when I was still in primary school (I was 11 and still have the paperback with its lurid cover) so when I realised that not only were we heading down that road but that we would be skirting around my absolute favourite stories, At the Mountains of Madness, I was absolutely sold. I really, really loved this book. Harry is a remarkable character and I thought he was fabulous and a strong central pinning for the story. Very nicely done, and I look forward to reading future volumes.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This isn’t for the faint-hearted and has a whole list of triggers as long as my arm. Female children are no longer naturally born, so they are genetically engineered and brought up in the School until they are sixteen and ready to be chosen by one of the elite young men of a similar age for whom they have been bred. The girls compete against each other in terms of looks and accomplishments and attractiveness, which  leads to all sorts of unfortunate behaviours and issues around body image. Frieda is our way into this world, and she has significant problems, especially with sleep, but has a close friend, Isabel, who seems to have a particular status which we don’t find out the details of until towards the end of the story. It’s teenage girls so there are petty squabbles and cliques all ramped up by the unnatural situation (to us) that they find themselves in, but it’s all that they know. It is bleak and in some places distressing and an extreme version of the pressures that girls and young women find themselves under at present. I’m an oldster, but I recognised a lot of the feelings, and was interested to see that the author said that when she looked back at her own teenage diaries she wasn’t sure that she had made the book sufficiently bleak. Stayed with me for a while. Deservedly a prizewinner.

 

 

28225843What’s it all about?

A novel that is simultaneously harrowing, dark, dangerous, funny and uplifting from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy

“Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis.
“Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

Why did I want to read it?

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s Southern Reach trilogy and have been very keen to read more of is work. I thought I’d start here.

What did I think of it?

I loved this book so much, I basically devoured it. It’s everything the blurb says it is, and much more too.

Our protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger in the remnants of a city ravaged by disaster (though we’re not entirely clear what that disaster may have been). She lives in a block of flats which is falling apart with her partner Wick, who knows stuff about biotech and deals in the things that Rachel finds for him.

When out scavenging she comes across Borne (as she names it), a form of biotech which she becomes attached to (not literally) and begins to nurture. It becomes clear that Borne is sentient and develops as a human child would, though with the ability  to change shape (the cover above is I guess a representation of it) and to learn about things by, well, absorbing them (ie eating them).

There is a mystery at the heart of Rachel’s story; she has memories of her past away from the city but her family is gone. There are rivalries between the various communities as they each seek dominance, and there is of course the Company that has created all of the biotech which is swarming around, including an enormous flying bear which I found hard to visualise at first but came to accept quite quickly.

Although there is a conclusion to the story (and a satisfying one at that) the plot is any many ways not the core of why this book is so good. It’s all about the characters and their relationships. This is especially the case with Rachel and Borne; the latter has a very distinctive voice which develops as he grows from toddler to teenager to young adult and learns to navigate the world.

Like I said, I loved this and can’t recommend it highly enough. Go read!

IMG_0072What’s it all about?

Stevie Flint is a presenter on a TV shopping channel (she used to be a journalist), with a job that seems to suit her (up to a point) and a glamorous doctor for a boyfriend. But something is going wrong in the London she works in; a mysterious disease, “the sweats” is spreading though out the population at a rapid rate. When her boyfriend fails to turn up for their planned date she finds him dead in his flat and of course first thoughts are that he too has succumbed to the same sickness as so many others. But it becomes clear to Stevie that his death doesn’t fit, and she starts to investigate his apparent murder against a backdrop of death and paranoia and societal breakdown.

Why did I want to read this?

I’ve not read much of Louise Welsh’s work but I’ve really enjoyed what I have read, particularly The Girl on the Stairs which was one of my last reads of 2013 and was really gripping, so a dystopian thriller slash murder mystery which is also the first of a trilogy couldn’t be resisted.

What did I think of it?

I enjoyed it so much I mentioned the author in a Tweet (what a fangirl I can be sometimes, even at my age) (and she very kindly replied, even better!).

A Lovely Way to Burn is a really interesting book which starts off with some action (the random shootings carried out by three different people) implying one sort of book and then heads off in a rather different and in some ways more interesting direction.I kept expecting certain things to be connected and was consistently wrong-footed which I particularly liked. Stevie is a fabulous character, strong but vulnerable, and determined to get answers.

I read this in two sittings over a weekend and was desperate to get to the end. The stuff about how quickly society can fall apart under duress was really convincing and provided an unsettling backdrop to what could have been a fairly standard murder mystery. I’m so glad this is part of a series, I can’t wait to see what the next volume has in store. Recommended.

MaddAddamSo, MaddAddam is the final volume in the eponymous trilogy by Margaret Atwood which began with Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood which I have reviewed separately here and here respectively. At the end of the previous volume the various threads of narrative came together and we are now moving forward into the future.

After the man-made plague a small group of humans have survived and we watch them come together and try to form a community and find a way to live in a world where supplies are dwindling, there uncertainty about just how many other people are still alive, and where they have to adapt to sharing the world with the Crakers, a genetically designed species of people who were designed to replace humanity which should have been wiped out. In amongst all this there are two threats: a few extraordinarily unpleasant men who seem to enjoy nothing other than inflicting pain and misery and, more interestingly, the pigoons, genetically modified intelligent carnivorous pigs who become really key to the survival of our little group in quite unexpected ways.

Although the novel is primarily focussed on establishing a new society (albeit a very localised one) there continue to be flashbacks to the past told through the eyes of Zeb who has become the partner of my favourite character Toby, and in telling her his life story illuminates us further on the background to the creation of the plague and the founding of God’s Gardeners, a sect which turns out to have been more than it seemed.

I enjoyed MaddAddam, was pleased to find out more about characters I had come to feel strongly about, but I’m not sure that it really comes to a conclusion, unless the conclusion is that no matter how well you think you have designed something (in this case the Crakers) you cannot plan for everything and once things are out in the world they will develop as they must. And it is very amusing in places.

IMG_0312I’m glad I took the time to read the trilogy so close together as I feel that I might have got lost if I’d read them as they were published; I found them dense (in a good way), lots to think about and jeep track of. If you enjoy speculative fiction you should give these a try.

And I was thrilled to get my copy signed by the great lady herself; more of that in a future post.

Year of the FloodThe Year of the Flood is the second book in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It takes us back to the events described in Oryx & Crake (my review of that is here) but where the first novel told the story of the events around the man-made plague which devastates the world from the inside through one character, Snowman, The Year of the Flood addresses the same events from the perspective of two women in the outside world.

Though it comes as no surprise that, as we work our way through the stories of Ren and Toby, we become aware of links and connections with Snowman’s tale, some more obvious than others.

Ren is an exotic dancer who finds herself trapped in quarantine in the club where she works. Toby has taken refuge in an abandoned health spa and watches and waits on the building’s roof garden. The book alternates between the stories of each woman, and within their individual tales between the present and the past. This helps us build up a picture of the society destroyed by the actions of Crake, and gives us some clues as to why he thought it all had to be wiped away. The segregation, casual violence and exploitation of technology is vividly described in the novel, and the voices of the two women are strong and affecting.

I became particularly fond of Toby as a character, especially her involvement with the sect known as God’s Gardeners and her habit of noting the sermons and saints days and rituals that they practised. And of course her tending of the bees. Inevitably she and Ren come together and the book ends at almost the same point as Oryx & Crake, bringing the two narrative strands together and setting us up for the final instalment.

I loved this book and read it very quickly; middle books often suffer (just like middle films) from being a bridge between the set-up and the denouement and being unresolved in themselves, but I didn’t feel that was the case here at all. Perhaps it was the female point of view, perhaps it was the greater understanding it provided of the world the story is set in, perhaps it was just that I loved Toby so much, but for me (and without pre-empting my review of the final novel) this was the strongest instalment in the trilogy and the one I can see myself going back to. Very enjoyable.

Scan 1I have been reading Margaret Atwood since I got a hold of Lady Oracle when I was 15 years old and was totally smitten; that was *gulp* 36 years ago, which is really hard to have to acknowledge, so let’s move swiftly on. I have always wanted to see her in person so was thrilled to get an opportunity to hear her speak about her newest novel, MaddAddam (more of that in another post). Then I realised that I hadn’t read the previous two volumes in what has become known as the MaddAddam trilogy, so I decided to put that right.

Oryx and Crake is set in the not terribly distant future and is seen through the perspective of Snowman who believes himself to be the only survivor of humankind after a man-made plague has wiped out all but the Crakers, a genetically engineered species of humanoid. The book alternates between the difficult present where Snowman struggles to survive, and his memories of the past where he was Jimmy, the best friend of the man who would become Crake and in love with the beautiful Oryx. Before the great catastrophe, the world (or at least the world that Jimmy knew) was split into the Pleeblands, where the majority of the ordinary population lived, and the various Compounds in which the elite lived and worked for corporations and were involved in experimentation in genetic engineering, producing strange hybrid animals which are now roaming free. Snowman is a sort of guardian to the Crakers, for whom the world was swept clean. Sort of.

I thought this was a wonderful piece of speculative fiction (Atwood doesn’t like this novel to be referred to as science fiction, which I’ll pick up on in a future post). Typically I found the build up to the dreadful events more interesting than Snowman’s current struggles and if I’m honest I found the Crakers a bit irritating at first, but it as it becomes clear that their designer had not been able to remove those human traits that he considered destructive (he was not a fan of speculative fiction) they grew on me, as did Jimmy/Snowman himself.

The ending of the book is inconclusive but I quite liked that, the uncertainty of what was going to happen next seemed to me to fit well with the tone of the novel, although I don’t believe at the time that Atwood had a trilogy planned, though se has said that she realised that readers would have questions which she aimed to respond to in the later books.

This had sufficient impact for me to start the sequel immediately, something that I hardly ever do (in fact I can’t think of the last time that happened). More of that anon.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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