Category Archives: oustanding reads of the year

Review of Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan #Brainfluffbookreview #EyeCanWritebookreview

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This is a book my mother sent me after seeing twelve-year-old Jonathan interviewed on TV and looking up his story.

Can you imagine not being able to speak or communicate? The silence, the loneliness, the pain. But, inside you disappear to magical places, and even meet your best friend there. However, most of the time you remain imprisoned within the isolation. Waiting, longing, hoping. Until someone realises your potential and discovers your key, so your unlocking can begin. Now you are free, flying like a wild bird in the open sky. A voice for the voiceless.

Jonathan Bryan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of speech or voluntary movement. He was locked inside his own mind, aware of the outside world but unable to fully communicate with it until he found a way by using his eyes to laboriously choose individual letters, and through this make his thoughts known.

I knew this was a special book, but was unprepared for the emotional impact. It is a book of two halves – the first part is written by Jonathan’s mother and charts the events leading up to the accident that caused Jonathan’s problems. The list of life-threatening difficulties he has endured is shockingly long, as is the number of medical interventions and trips to hospital he had needed. His gritted courage and determination were evident in the fact that he simply hung on in there and refused to die when the odds were stacked against him, time and time again.

But what for me was a source of heartbreak and intense frustration was his treatment at the special school where he was simply being warehoused. It brought back far too many unhappy memories of another bright boy whose education was severely compromised because expectations about his ability were set far too low. This book is a testament to Jonathan’s own intelligence and passion, as well as a tribute to a mother who refused to listen to the experts and was guided instead by her own instincts about her son. She taught him to read and over time, they found a way to allow him to express himself, even though it is laborious.

Jonathan’s own feelings about being trapped within his body without any way to express himself, while forced to watch the same TV programme designed for developing infants should be a wake-up call for everyone in Special Needs education. I very much hope the politicians he has met will take note of what he is saying and realise that while he is remarkable, there are probably many other children and adults with active, creative minds also trapped by their bodies. I’d like to think as a country we will take on board Jonathan’s plea that everyone should be taught to read and write, using all the technology available, unless it becomes apparent that it isn’t appropriate, which is not the case now.

In the meantime, go and track this book down. It is an emotional read, but also very uplifting. Jonathan’s poetry will stay with me for a long time…
10/10

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Review of PAPERBOOK Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 in the Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangetheDreamerbookreview

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I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – I think she’s an extraordinary writer, who pushes the boundaries, so I was really excited to see Strange the Dreamer was due out. I treated myself to the paperback with my birthday money and then promptly became engulfed in a flood of Netgalley arcs that needed reading first. So I reckon I’m one of five people on the planet who haven’t yet got around to this one…

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I love, love, love Lazlo – his daydreaming as a child chimes with my own intense imaginary worlds I used as a refuge from a rather complicated childhood, though I hasten to add that’s where the resemblance ends. No one beat me for my imaginary adventures – unlike poor old Lazlo. But although he is bookish, he is also clever and unexpectedly courageous. Writing such a nuanced protagonist takes a lot of skill and talent, which Taylor possesses in shedloads.

As the story progresses, accounts of Lazlo’s life are interspersed by what is going on in the Citadel floating above the city of Weep, inhabited by five young people, who are the sole survivors of a savage attack that took place some fifteen years earlier. Their skins are bright blue and each one has a godlike talent, which they mostly use to eke out a difficult existence. Though one of them is determined to be revenged on the wicked humans below who stormed their stronghold and slaughtered everyone in the night…

As ever, Taylor takes an intriguing story and pushes it adrift from any comforting tethers where mercy or love prevent the worst atrocities happening. Yet she manages to do this while still keeping the book a thing of beauty and wonder by the lyrical quality of her prose and depth of characterisation. Even the antagonists have strong, plausible reasons for their behaviour. I was lost in this story, even dreaming of it, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. And despite the fact that Muse of Nightmares is more money than I’d usually pay for an ebook – when I came to the end of Strange the Dreamer, I bought it anyway, because I need to know what happens next.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook No Time Like the Past – Book 5 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor #Brainfluffbookblog #BookreviewofNoTimeLikethePast

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This is one of those outstanding series that I keep revisiting and yet trying to spin it out as I don’t want to the fun to stop…

St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department. But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see. Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.

Max is one the historians, often described as disaster-magnets as they are generally prone to all sorts of mishaps occurring, as well as the day job being the insanely dangerous task of travelling back in time. It doesn’t help that there are also a group of renegade historians also cris-crossing the timeline equipped with one of their travelling pods who have sworn to see Max and her companions dead.

These books are very episodic, as each one covers a number of major time-travelling projects interleaved with life at St Mary’s, which is rarely peaceful. There is also a fair amount of emotional turmoil in Max’s life as her past has left scars that creates problems when she wants a relationship. Max’s hilarious first-person narrative often has me laughing aloud and nudging Himself in the ribs to read out a particular humorous gem, but what sets these books apart is that when highly dangerous, risky expeditions into the past are undertaken, often people don’t come back in one piece. Or at all… Taylor isn’t afraid of killing off characters we have grown very fond of, to the extent that I don’t get through one of these books without also weeping – and I don’t do that very often these days. Consequently, this series is always a roller-coaster read with lots of humour and heartbreak in amongst the action. Taylor’s writing is vivid and quirky and I love the fact that she always lulls me into a false sense of security by setting up a situation or scene, which suddenly changes into something quite different.

While I think you could quite easily pick up one of these books without having read any of the others and work out what is going on, it would be a real shame to do so with such an unusual and exciting series. I haven’t encountered anything quite like Taylor’s writing before, and I don’t expect to do so again. And if you, too, would like to experience the whirlwind that is St Mary’s and the madcap team of historians, then don’t track this one down, instead go looking for the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Highly recommended for fans of time-travelling adventures with a difference.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Privilege of Peace – Book 3 of the Peacekeeper trilogy by Tanya Huff #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePrivilegeofPeacebookreview

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Himself spotted this was coming out and pre-ordered it. Quite right, too. We both love this series – question is, has Huff managed to tie up all the loose ends satisfactorily, given this is the last one in the trilogy?

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She’s created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose. Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

For those of you who have read the previous two books, terms like Big Yellow, the Silsviss and Big Yellow will be happy reminders of a strongly depicted world crammed with memorable characters and a twisting plot. However if you are scratching your head because you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series, then don’t pick up this one – track down An Ancient Peace instead. There is simply too much going on in the longer story arc you’ll miss if you don’t.

Gunny Torin Kerr isn’t actually a gunny any longer – but that is something she tends to remember more clearly than some of those around her. She now heads up a team of Wardens, who are essentially intergalactic policemen, now the war has ended and the Elder Races are keen the job doesn’t get seconded to the military. Indeed, now that the war has ended and the Younger Races, including Humanity, are starting to wonder if they are welcome within the Confederation, now they are no longer fighting on behalf of the Elder Races. It is providing major opportunities for the terrorist organisation Humans First, who very much resent the fact that Humanity is taking orders from other species.

I love this series. Torin’s team are always there to provide plenty of snark and banter, even in the trickier moments – but that feels entirely realistic. Despite the fact we stay focused on the main characters, the wider political situation is always well covered so we know what the stakes are. Which steadily ratchets up during this action-packed book. You need to pay attention, because things are always happening, or about to happen and this book particularly offers plenty of pace and excitement.

The denouement was gripping and held me long after I should have put the book down – and Huff then continued to bring the series to an entirely satisfactory ending – no mean feat, given this is a spinoff from the previously successful Valor series… This series is highly recommended for fans of well told military science fiction – and a must-read for those of you who have read the previous two books.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NEGALLEY arc #Obscura by #Joe Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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I am a sucker for near future crime and recently there’s been so many excellent examples – so when I read the premise for this offering, I immediately requested it. I’m so glad I did…

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

That’s as much of the chatty blurb as I’m prepared to reveal, but the brilliant thing about nefarious scheming on a space ship or station on a planet like Mars – everyone is trapped. Gillian is a brilliant, likeable woman with some profound emotional scars after the tragedy that overwhelmed her family – and unlike most of the others on the ship, she isn’t keen to be in space for a moment longer than is necessary. She takes the decision to stay awake and continue working through the voyage to Mars as she is running out of time to find a solution – when she realises that something isn’t right…

She teeters on the edge of meltdown, as the loneliness, her longing to be back with her sick daughter – and her addiction to the medicine she was taking during her recovery from a serious car crash – all take their toll. So when she begins to feel that someone else is also on the ship, she has to accept the fact that she is losing her mind.

Often, when the intense atmosphere is built up in these types of psychological thrillers, once we learn the reason why our protagonist is in such a lather, the whole episode falls rather flat. It’s why this sub-genre isn’t one my favourites – I’ve been disappointed too often. However, that’s not the case in this tightly constructed, beautifully plotted gem. I loved the whole story arc – including the climactic, action-filled denouement. Plus that final amazing twist… I haven’t read any of Hart’s work before – but I’ll be reading more of it in the future if this is an indication of his writing talent. Highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Obscura from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of Kindle Ebook The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

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I’ll be honest – I’ve had The Stone Sky for some weeks and have been putting off reading it because the first two books, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate were such powerful reads, I didn’t want to risk being disappointed if the ending was fumbled. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realised that the slew of glowing reviews evidently meant this hadn’t happened.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

I’ve been interested to note that some people classify this series as fantasy, while others, like me, regard it as mostly science fiction with a fantastic twist. While it is probably one of the most epic, wide-ranging stories I’ll read – given that it tackles humanity’s complicated and grim relationship with their home planet – at its heart is a mother’s desperate search for a lost child who was snatched by her father after committing an unthinkable crime. A crime that most would have regarded as wholly justified.

In addition, there is that viewpoint – the one I am always advising my creative writing students never to use – the second person POV, ‘you’. And yet, I dived back into this POV without so much as blinking. I regularly gush over books I love on this site – but I rarely claim that a series, or a book takes the genre of SFF in another direction and to another level. The Broken Earth trilogy does just that. Like many other reviewers, I find I am scrambling to think of words that adequately sum up my emotions and feelings when I read this book. Inevitably, whatever I say will fall short. However, I do have just a couple of words of advice. Whatever you do, do NOT start this book unless you have read the other two in the series. They are essentially a single book covering a single narrative arc, sliced up into separate volumes and if you don’t start at the beginning, you won’t have any hope of being able to sensibly work out what is going on. And above all, this story deserves to be told in its entirety.

When you start The Fifth Season all set to fling the book across the room because of the odd viewpoint, do hang on in there for at least 30 pages. I am not going to claim for one minute that this series will appeal to everyone, but reading through a number of reviews I am aware that most readers find the POV offputting initially, before finding themselves sufficiently engrossed so that it doesn’t matter. The main question remains regarding The Stone Sky – does it bring this immense story to a satisfactory conclusion? And this was what had prevented me from picking it up, because I couldn’t see any way that Jemisin could pull that one off. However, she does. Although it is only February, I am not expecting another book this year to top The Stone Sky. Never mind 10 stars, I would give it 100 if I could.
10/10

My Outstanding Books of 2017

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Last year was yet another bumper year for reading, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. As usual, I’ll list the ones that stood out for me – and we’re not talking a top ten. I completed 174 books last year, but won’t go into too much detail in this article about my overall 2017 reading experience, as today it’s all about those that gave me the tingle factor. Most will have received a perfect ten on my scoring system, however there will be a couple that didn’t. The reason they are here is because that after I’d finished reading and writing about them, they didn’t go away, but continued to linger in my thoughts. So here they are, in no particular order:-

 

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

This godpunk duology set within the Japanese pantheon centres around a beautiful, dark-edged myth. Ash’s lyrical prose and deft handling of this tale has stayed with me throughout the year, despite having read it last January. See my review here.

 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

I absolutely fell in love with this haunting retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I enjoyed and admired Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed – another strong contender – this one stole my heart. The ending gave me goosebumps, while making me weep. That doesn’t happen very often. See my review here.

 

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Planetfall, this one blew me away. The characterisation, the horrible situation the protagonist finds himself in – it all got under my skin to the extent that I woke my husband up as I yelled in shock at a particular point in the book. I can’t wait to see where Newman goes next with this amazing series. See my review here.

 

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

This depiction of an existence on the Moon where rampant capitalism holds sway hasn’t left me alone since I read this one. McDonald has called it ‘A game of domes’ and he certainly has nailed the deadly powerplays the main families indulge in with his reference to George R.R. Martin’s epic. I keep thinking about that ending… See my review here.

 

Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

This book was a delightful surprise – I had no idea the writing would pull me into this version of Lovecraft’s monstrous world, with a strong, sympathetic protagonist who is one of the few survivors of the attack on Innesmouth years ago. I loved it and am very much looking forward to reading more in this fantastic series. See my review here.

 

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, finding Rudden’s punchy prose style both enjoyable and memorable. But this sequel builds on the first with an engrossing adventure and some amazing characters. It’s far too good to leave just for the children. See my review here.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Edwards’ books – but this managed to nock up the stakes to a point I could not put it down until I’d finished reading it. I have rules about never reading or watching TV until after 5.30 pm – otherwise I’d never get anything done. I broke that rule for this book. See my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

This is a new spinoff series by a much-loved author which I was delighted to read – even better, it was a storming adventure that proved to be an engrossing page-turner. I remembered all over again why I love reading this author. See my review here.

 

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

No one writes different aliens as well as Greg Egan – and I loved this adventure. I’m very much hoping it turns into a series as I would love to spend more time following the fortunes of these amazing creatures. See my review here.

 

The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

This is a series I read longer ago than I care to recall – and when I saw it had appeared in Kindle, I snapped it up and reread it, something I hardly ever do. My instincts were spot on – I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this engrossing world and following Rowena’s adventures in this smart, cleverly written fantasy/science fiction mashup. This is the particular story that has stayed with me, though the other books in the series are just as good. See my review here.

 

Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

This epic fantasy got under my skin and into my heart in a way that doesn’t often happen with this genre. I loved the clever, clever twist at the end and one of the treats in 2018 is to tuck into the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance. See my review here.

 

Sea of Rust by Robert C. Cargill

This was another amazing book that came out of the blue – I’d not read anything by this author before and was delighted by this post-apocalyptic world peopled by robots who are starting to wear out and fail. With no factories or warehouses full of spare parts anymore, the only option is to harvest those parts from other robots. See my review here.

 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

I’ve read a number of apocalyptic tales during the year, however in this version Walker triumphantly succeeds in giving us a dog’s version of a complete collapse in law and order. And the chilling results of what happens when that order is reimposed by the wrong people. See my review here.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Beford

This epic science fiction adventure stood out because of the flawed protagonist and the gritty depiction of establishing a colony. I really enjoyed the world and the fact that love clearly doesn’t cure all. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented author. See my review here.

 

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

After her marvellous series How To Train Your Dragon, I was interested to see how she would follow it up. The writing is more lyrical, the underlying poignancy is more pronounced. My elderly Kindle didn’t like the illustrations throughout this book and part of my Christmas money is going on buying a print version of this book. Not for the grandchildren – for me. See my review here.

 

Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

I have to declare an interest – Richard is a former student and I had read some extracts from a very early draft. However that did not prepare me for the excellence of the writing, where this historical adventure finds two young English people from the same small village ending up in America during the Civil War. They are both caught in quite different ways and this story just kept on delivering in terms of plot twists and tension. See my review here.

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This doorstopper is extraordinary. Don’t ask me what the storyline is – other than recalling there are five main protagonists with very different and vivid voices, it’s too complicated to recall. What I do remember is that very early on I took the decision to slow right down and savour this book as reads like this don’t come along all that often. It took me 10 days to get through this one and I recall feeling sad when it came to the end. See my review here.

To pare the list down to this required setting aside other books that still hurt to leave out – the likes of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts, The Invisible Library books by Genevieve Cogman and The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews all missed making this list by a whisker. If you force to me to choose just one of these books, I’ll probably never forgive you, but it would have to be After Atlas.

What were your outstanding reads of the year?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Artemis by Andy Weir

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I loved The Martian and was delighted when I realised that Andy Weir had another book in the works and thrilled when I managed to obtain a Netgalley arc for it. Question is – does Artemis live up to Weir’s stunning debut?

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The short answer is yes. Oh yes – Artemis has yet another memorably enjoyable protagonist every bit as ingenious and determined as Mark Watney – Jazz is a street-wise moon-girl who plays the odds. She ekes out a precarious living by a series of shady deals under the cover of her lowly job as porter as she needs more money. Lots more money. And it is that need that drives her to make a deal against her better judgement… a deal that trips over into something a whole lot more serious. I’m aware some readers have had a problem with her lack of judgement and maturity, but I feel her poor impulse control is entirely realistic and when we learn the whole story of what went wrong between her and her father, there is also a valid explanation.

Like The Martian, we are charmed into really caring what happens to this lively, irreverent protagonist as she takes us into her confidence and tells us how the domes work, how the society is structured and about her tempestuous relationship with her father. So when it all goes really wrong, we are with her every step of the way, hoping she will prevail. As Weir steadily ups the stakes and increases the pressure – I found this one almost impossible to put down.

Despite the strong character-led nature of the story, there are still plenty of details about life on the Moon for hard science fiction fans. We learn about how the domes were constructed, who initially settled this first moon settlement and what currently powers the economy – all without compromising the pace or the narrative tension. It’s a neat trick to pull off and far harder to achieve than Weir makes it look. If all these geeky details tend to slide past you, my firm advice would be not to skim too much – because some of this stuff has a major impact on the story progression.

So after setting up a precarious situation where our plucky heroine finds herself on the sharp end of the trickiest conundrum – does Weir satisfactorily wrap up the story? Absolutely. We get a gripping conclusion to this plotline, while there are also some dangling tendrils that would give Weir the opportunity to revisit Artemis with the surviving characters. I would love to see him do so. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

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As I have spent the past couple of years writing and re-writing Miranda’s Tempest, my follow-up to Shakespeare’s The Tempest after teaching it as part of the GCSE syllabus, I was intrigued to find out how such a respected author would tackle this one.

The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion — starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

This book starts just as Felix is retreating, licking his wounds after having been ejected from this prestigious post of Artistic Director. What will he do next? In third person viewpoint, we follow Felix as he struggles to come to terms with this latest body blow in a life punctuated by tragedy. As a response, or perhaps even a retreat from his grief, Felix has thrown himself into his work by creating increasingly edgy and challenging productions. While his ever-ready assistant Tony, is all too willing to attend the boring meetings and charity functions that come with his post in his stead.

This apparently straightforward tale is a joy to read – particularly if you have a detailed knowledge of The Tempest. During the parallel retelling, there are all sorts of echoes and nods to the original text which I very much appreciated – all the more because Atwood leaves it to us to play that particular game. For the usurping brother Antonio, who deposes and exiles Prospero, read Tony the double-crossing assistant for instance. It takes twelve years for Felix to regroup, before putting on this keynote play and decide to make a move against his enemies, just as Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, languish on the enchanted island for twelve years before the tempest strikes, bringing Prospero’s enemies to him… It goes on throughout the book and is great fun to spot.

I very much liked the prison setting and the fact that Felix decides to give the prisoners an annual project of learning about a Shakespearean play, rehearsing and preparing it and then filming it. Atwood’s story very neatly reflects all sorts of themes that run through The Tempest such as the idea of imprisonment, revenge and the healing power of forgiveness – and what happens when there isn’t sufficient forgiveness. I’m aware I have talked at some length about the similarities between the Shakespeare play and Felix’s journey after losing his career – what this isn’t is some dry-as-dust, semi-academic treatise on a classic play by some long-dead playwright. This is a vibrant, interesting story about a sympathetic protagonist down on his luck and who gradually manages to retrieve his sense of self-worth and a place in society after years of privation.

You don’t need to know a thing about The Tempest in order to enjoy the story, though there are all sorts of enjoyable little extras if you do. Atwood is known for her rather grim endings – so I was rather dreading the end as I’d grown unexpectedly fond of Felix, which was a surprise as I loathe Prospero in The Tempest. However, Atwood very satisfactorily brings his story to an appropriate conclusion, after my favourite part of the book – when each prisoner playing the main part had to give a report on what he thinks happens to his character after the play ends. I thought their ideas were brilliant and quirky – but then this is Atwood. So of course it’s brilliant and quirky.

I shall remember this book with great affection for a long time to come. Very highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Dichronauts by Greg Egan

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I always enjoy Greg Egan’s writing. Coupled with his scientific background and fertile imagination, he manages to come up with places and aliens unlike any others – read my review of his amazing The Clockwork Rocket, the first book in the Orthogonal series.

Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive.

In the universe containing Seth’s world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light. Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead. But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat…

In order to be better able to visualise this world, my firm advice is to visit Greg Egan’s site at the link:
http://www.gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/DICHRONAUTS.html
where you can discover how he came up with this intriguing creation and the inhabitants. Alongside all the maths, the world is also more fully explained before you plunge into this one. Inevitably, I discovered the site after I had completed the book and although I had picked up the gist of what was going on, it would have been helpful to have understood more of the complexities of the world and this remarkable indigenous species as I was reading it. However, if this story was simply about an enjoyably weird world and creature with little story or dry-as-dust descriptions bulking up the book – while I would doubtless have something enthusiastic and polite to say about Egan’s extraordinary imagination, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about this one as I am.

For not only does Egan offer a unique world and alien race – he also provides a cracking adventure story full of tension and excitement right from the start through to the climactic ending. I quickly bonded with Seth and his parasitic companion Theo and enjoyed the tensions and teamwork evident in their linked partnership. What happens if the Walker host has a major quarrel with his Sider? This premise is also explored within the story. I stayed up far later than I should to find out what happens to this embattled species as Seth and Theo struggle to discover a river big enough to support the large city where he was born and bred.

I love this one. Brilliant and inventive, this book reminds me all over again just why I love science fiction so much…
10/10