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16046748What’s it all about?

Countdown City is the second volume of the Last Policeman Trilogy (read about volume one here), thusly:

There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoyed the first novel and wanted to see how the story developed.

What did I think about it?

Countdown City continues to develop the story of Hank and his desire to help people and get to the truth of the puzzle he is presented with. On this occasion, the woman who used to babysit for him and his sister needs his help to find her husband who has basically disappeared. Of course, almost everyone assumes that like many other people he has just taken himself off to wait out the end of the world in his own way, but it isn’t as simple as that, and what Hank finds sets up some issues for the future, particularly in relation to the conduct of government agencies during this crisis. And behind all of that is the problem of his sister and her conspiracy theories.

What sets this series apart I think is the way the impending catastrophe is not at the forefront of the story. I mean, it’s obviously the reason for everything that’s happening, but the author concentrates on the human stories, how people are coping and how society is changing and what that means for Hank and his friends as they pass their last days. In a world where you would be forgiven for expecting everyone to be out for themselves, there are people who still care for wider society, and it’s clear that this is the theme that will run into the third and final volume. I’m looking forward to finding out how this all concludes.

18889526What’s it all about?

Against a background of young children turning on members of their families and killing them, Hesketh Lock is investigating a parallel series of incidents involving industrial sabotage across the world. Neither of these things make sense, but are they actually connected? What do you think? And who or what are The Uninvited?

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read two of Liz Jensen’s previous creepy novels, The Rapture and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, and enjoyed then a great deal. This sounded like it was very much in that vein.

What did I think of it?

This is the book that hopefully broke my reading slump of recent months. I found it fascinating and read it in a coupe of days which is quite something for me at the moment. Hesketh is a compelling character, a man with Asperger’s going through difficult times in his personal life and being confronted by two sets of mysteries which (not really a spoiler) are connected in a most unexpected way. How he reacts (or doesn’t) is central to the development of the story.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot other than that; how it all comes together part of the fun, if you can call the end of the world as we know it “fun”. But I have a particular fondness for books that describe the world falling apart (the literary equivalent of a disaster movie I suppose) and this very much fits into that genre, with the added bonus of really creepy children. It’s fast paced and an enjoyable read. I liked it.

21128971What’s it all about?

We are in the future (a few hundred years or so) and the world has been overtaken by some form of ecological disaster which has apparently left most of the land covered in water. Osiris is a city of great towers and buildings full of the rich while surrounded by refugees living in squalid conditions. There are, of course, tensions between the two, and Osiris concentrates on two characters from opposite sides of this divide: Adelaide, estranged daughter of one of the wealthiest and most important families, and Vikram, former prisoner, protestor and someone who wants to change the lot of the poor outside the city’s limits.

Why did I want to read it?

As you will know by now, I love sci-fi, I love post-apocalyptic stuff, but I bought this mostly because I was lucky enough to hear EJ Swift read from one of the later books in this trilogy at an event earlier this year and met her briefly; I liked her a lot.

What did I think of this?

I’m still in a bit of a reading slump and also went on holiday in the middle of reading this novel so I read it more slowly than I perhaps would have otherwise, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the world-building was very strong, and I got a real sense of the society that Adelaide in particular was part of, the politics and social conventions and the way in which the young rich fill their time with excess and frivolity to escape the rigidity of the world they are part of; Vikram’s world is messier and less clear but that makes sense to me as I would expect it to be chaotic and unstructured with shifting alliances based on a different type of power. The way the two characters are brought together and who their perspectives begin to shift as they experience each others worlds (more Vikram than Adelaide as we spend the majority of the book within Osiris itself) was fascinating, and I came to like both characters very much.

The plot is in some ways very straightforward; Vikram needs a supporter within Osiris to help him achieve his aims, and Adelaide needs someone to help her break the wall of silence around the disappearance (and assumed suicide) of her twin brother, and they are brought together in an alliance born out of necessity. Of course, it doesn’t work out as planned but along the way we discover with them both that there is more going on than meets the eye, and this presumably forms the basis of the rest of the trilogy.

I liked Adelaide a great deal. I’ve seen a couple of reviews elsewhere that suggest that she just responds to the men in her life rather than taking action in her own right, but I didn’t get that sense at all. In particular, her drive to find out what’s happened to her brother seems very much her own and if one of my brothers went missing in such circumstances I would like to think I would focus on finding out what happened to him too. And the rest of her behaviour seems consistent with the society she lives in as it’s described to us.

I didn’t warm to Vikram quite so much until later in the book, as I couldn’t really understand what he thought he was going to be able to achieve.

So, a well-written and absorbing first novel, and I’ve already got a hold of the two sequels. Definitely worth your time.

13384187What’s it all about?

So imagine you’re just going about your daily business when you hear something like static, the sort of noise you get from your TV when you have all that snow in the screen. What if (almost) everyone else heard it like you, in their heads, at the same time? What if it wasn’t just noise but there were words as the experience is repeated, three times? “My Children” “Do not be afraid”. “Goodbye”. Then nothing. What do you think would happen?

That’s what The Testimony is all about.

Why did I want to read it?

I discovered James Smythe earlier this year when I read The Explorer and The Echo in rapid succession, and since then I’ve been getting my hands on the small number of other titles he has published. He’s an intelligent writer of sci-fi thrillers, cleverly plotted and proper page turners. The Testimony is the fourth of his novels I’ve read and I think one of his earliest.

What did I think of it?

I thought this was fantastic. It’s worth putting it in context; I was going through a bout of illness and was stuck on the sofa and needed something diverting to help me stop feeling sorry for myself and so glad that I picked this up as it was exactly what I needed. It’s one of those narratives told in the first person by a number of different people (I think I read somewhere there are 26 narrators) with the full range of nationalities and genres and ages and experience of the phenomenon which becomes known as The Broadcast.

Of course, humanity does not behave well and instead of bringing everyone together the whatever-it-is actually tears the world apart because they don’t know what it is or where it comes from and as humans will gaps are filled in and assumptions made. So we have terrorism and ear and suicide and protests and disaster and accusations of hoaxes. And then something else is thrown into the mix and people become very very afraid. Unlikely to end well.

I was particularly interested in the people who’d didn’t hear anything and wonder what all the fuss is about. Is there something wrong with them? As you might expect others wonder about them too; if it’s the voice of God and you haven’t heard it are you going to hell?

This is a really enjoyable thriller showing how the things can fall apart all too easily. Although they are quite different books it did remind me at times of The Three which I read earlier in the year, probably because of the structure.

There are worse things to do when you are feeling poorly. Recommended.

13342065What’s it all about?

The world has been devastated by a virus which has turned the huge majority of the population into *gasp* zombies. However, time has passed and the survivors have fought back and stabilised areas of the USA and have optimistically started to rebuild civilisation (as far as they can anyway). The book follows our main character, known only by his nickname Mark Spitz, over three days in Zone One (Manhattan) as he and his small unit sweep up straggling zombies so that the island can be re-inhabited.

Why did I want to read it?

I’m in  bit of a zombie kick at the moment, plus I’m pretty sure I saw this favourably reviewed in a blog that I can’t remember (I really must get better at recording recommendations from other bloggers so they can be properly acknowledged) and was keen to give it a go as it sounded a bit different.

What did I think of it?

I thought this was a really well-written and affecting novel of the zombie apocalypse. I liked the structure, split over the three days of single weekend where we got to know the characters, how they are doing now and just as importantly how they got here. Flashbacks are used effectively to describe the suddenness of the epidemic, and how devastating it was for individuals. For example Mark Spitz comes home from a weekend away with his friend to find his infected mother attacking his father and just has to make a run for it. I liked the fact that not all of the survivors are the ones you would obviously think would make it. And the story of how Mark Spitz got his nickname is great.

My only quibble isn’t with the book or the author Colson Whitehead, whom I wasn’t at all aware of (my knowledge of contemporary US mainstream fiction is patchy at best to my shame), but rather with the critical reaction to it. As I’ve said I thought this was really well written, a strong story with an interesting approach to a staple of the horror genre but a number of the reviews I read talk a lot about the marrying of genre and literary fiction, because Whitehead has won a Pulitzer prize and that somehow makes his approach to the subject matter more valid and of greater value than more obviously genre authors (to some commentators at least).

And perhaps it’s just my own sensitivity but I get annoyed at the idea that it’s OK to like genre fiction as long as it is written by someone who is a mainstream author, so we can all pretend it isn’t really genre fiction at all but using tropes to talk about something else, as if that isn’t what genre and speculative fiction does anyway.

But, climbing down from my soapbox, you should give Zone One a try, it’s a really good take on what happens when you think you’ve overcome the zombie hordes and worth reading.

IMG_0185What’s it all about?

Station Eleven is a novel about the coming of the end of the world as we know it and how we cope with it afterwards. It follows a small group of people who are all connected to the actor Arthur Leander, and the story starts with his death on stage in Toronto just before the illness that wipes out the vast majority of the world’s population. The book is mainly set went years after the Georgia flu hits, and focusses particularly on Kirsten and the theatrical group that she travels with, but flashes back to show the lives our handful of characters were living before it all fell apart.

Why did I want to read it?

Absolutely word of mouth and good reviews and I seem to be absolutely in the middle of an end-of-the-world-novel reading spree at the moment (just wait until you see the next couple of reviews).

What did I think of it?

I absolutely adored this novel and have been trying to encourage like-minded friends to read it by describing it as a cross between The Girl With All The Gifts (which it absolutely isn’t except in the quality of the story telling) and A Visit From The Goon Squad (which it sort of is because of the connections between key characters). I read it in a couple of sittings (but I’ve been doing a lot of that recently!)

I loved Arthur’s story, a flawed man dealing with his fame and the impact that had on all the people around him, including the person who tried to save his life when he collapsed, and how some of that survived into the future through the memory of Kirsten who was so young when I tied but still has copies of the comic he gave her (drawn by his first wife) which gives the book its title and also provides a link to one of the more mysterious and unpleasant characters in the new world, The Prophet. The charismatic religious fanatic who creates a cult of personality and rules with an iron will is a bit of a cliché but in this incarnation at least is totally believable. I think people would look to someone like him to fill a void and give them a sense of purpose and direction even when they know that it isn’t right. It doesn’t take too much thinking to work out who The Prophet probably is but I don’t think that’s a big deal, it’s not meant to be a mystery but shows the impact such a disaster can have on an impressionable mind and how they night find the means to cope, however warped that might be.

But the book is really about relationships, professional and personal, friendship and love and how they resonate through time. There wasn’t a character that I didn’t engage with or feel some sympathy for and I wondered, as I always do with this type of novel, how I would cope in a similar situation.

If you haven’t done so already you must must read this. It’s so good I definitely intend to revisit it.

Just wonderful.

A slightly different genre for my next RIP VI read, The Rapture is a described as a psychological thriller; now I’ve never been entirely sure what that means, but I can certainly say that this was  thriller of the “will it all really happen the way she predicted kind”, with a world potentially on the brink of catastrophic disaster and only the delusions and/or predictions of a murderous teenager in an institution to warn us of what is to come.

What I don’t think it is is a “haunting story of human passion and burning faith” as it says on the back cover; it has elements of both of those things, yes, but this is more a 2012 ecological end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it story, albeit much less silly than that particular film (and you can find out what I thought about that here.) And my disgruntlement with the world of the blurb-writer goes on…..

So we have Bethany, incarcerated in a facility for the disturbed because of the brutal murder of her mother a few years before. We have Gabrielle, confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, trying to rebuild her career as a therapist. We have Fraser, a scientist who gets drawn into the story when he helps Gabrielle investigate the predictions Bethany has been making and which certainly seem to be coming true. But are they true or is everyone being drawn into Bethany’s delusions as has happened before?

There is evangelical religion in the form of Bethany’s father; what role did that play in how she is now? There are Gabrielle’s trust issues as she struggles to come to terms with her situation. There is romance and distrust and skullduggery, but most of all there is freak weather, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and at this point I want to start quoting Bill Murray from Ghostbusters when he’s trying to convince the mayor to let them sort out the Big Bad.

And that would be really unfair.

Because although this novel strays into soap-opera-ish melodrama on more than one occasion it does have serious stuff to say about how we manage our planet and the dangers of some forms of extreme religion when faced with real and practical problems. And the author doesn’t dwell on the disasters more than is necessary to give us a sense of scale and to give our heroes a real dilemma to deal with – if you think you know something terrible is going to happen but your source is frankly unbelievable and talking about it could ruin your career do you still have a moral obligation to take action?

I enjoyed this in a potboilery way, it moved along at a fair clip and I was interested in what would happen to the characters and how the scenario would play out. I’m still not sure whether I really liked any of the characters, but let’s face it, we weren’t really seeing them at their best.

This was my fourth read for the RIP VI challenge, and there is more than enough peril in this book for most readers.

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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June 2023