Category Archives: thriller

Review of The Drafter – Book 1 of the Peri Reed series by Kim Harrison

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After recently reading and reviewing The Turn I was reminded just what a good storyteller Harrison is – and once I discovered this covert science fiction thriller, I couldn’t resist getting hold of this one…

Detroit 2030: Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.

I picked up this one expecting a cracking adventure story full of action and mayhem, featuring a strong, well depicted heroine. And the story delivered that, alright. Peri Reed is an astonishing protagonist, capable of superhuman feats as she can shift time to either attack or evade her attackers. But she is also so very brittle. And desperately fragile. For this ability comes at a terrible cost. The human brain cannot cope with processing two competing timelines and if that starts to happen, the victim tips into a complete breakdown that progresses into catatonic shock and ultimate raving madness… To stop that happening, each drafter has an anchor, a trained minder who is taught relaxation and mind control techniques so they can go into the drafter’s mind and erase the conflicting timeline by wiping out their memories.

And if there is any risk of a breakthrough – the drafter is recalled to headquarters, Opti, to have a complete mindwipe. But of course, that entails losing chunks of her memory… That is a price Peri is prepared to pay if it means she gets to take out the bad guys, because she is on the side of the angels, right? But what if she isn’t? What if something else is going on? Despite the loving support of her anchor and her talismans – Peri feels that something isn’t right…

This book at times is a highly uncomfortable read where we watch a strong, uniquely gifted woman used and abused as she becomes a pawn in a high-stakes power struggle. Along the way Harrison is asking questions about the notion of self. Who are we? What happens to us if our memories are not the sum total of our life experiences? Peri over-compensates by becoming increasingly obsessed by the material things in her life – her clothing, her car, her food. She is frequently offhand and arrogant to those around her. But given her increasingly shaky grasp of who she is, that would be exactly what would be going on, wouldn’t it?

This is so much more than an escapist, futuristic romp. It is also a warning that in our increasing explorations into how our minds work, there should be no-go areas. Those places that Opti have gone, for instance. My respect for Harrison’s writing has hugely increased after reading this complex, intelligent thriller and if you, too, are interested in these questions then track down this offering. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I finished reading it.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Nomad is an Island…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we have to find a book featuring a wanderer I have chosen the amazing The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, as I reckon that poor old Harry, wandering through Time has to be the ultimate wanderer.

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This is the definitive cover of the book and was the original, published in April 2014 by Orbit. I really like this one – it’s unusual and eye-catching and gives a sense of the temporal confusion that circles this memorable book.

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This is the hardback version published by Redhook, also in April 2014 is nice enough. The effect of the stippling around the title is attractive, but personally I don’t think it compares with the striking image of the previous cover.

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This is the paperback version, published by Redhook in October 2014 – and what a difference a splash of colour makes… This offering looks far less distinctive than the first cover.

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This rather disturbing Italian cover was released in May 2015 by NN Editore. It certainly captures something of the book, but I find it difficult to look at for long. However, that might be because my poor overtaxed eyes blur too often…

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This German offering, also released in 2015 by Bastei Lübbe is far more effective. I really like this one – it exactly reflects the premise of the book in an eye-catching and appealing form. I think it’s beautiful – the clock face detail with the different silhouettes sing off the cover. This runs the original cover a VERY close second as favourite…

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I also like this Estonion cover, produced in 2015 by Varrak. The spiralling clockface grabs attention and gives a sense of the book’s temporal theme, though I’m not as attracted to it as a couple of the others. What about you – which is your favourite?

Favourite Time Travelling Novel – Part 2

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Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
nightwatchFor a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?

Over this long-running quirky fantasy series, Pratchett adopted a number of other genres – and this was the one where he had a go at time travelling. Over his very prolific output, it is inevitable that the quality varies – but Night Watch is one I recall with great affection as a very moving read.

 

 

 

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the timeandtimeagainloneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history. Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century? And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Another time-travelling book with a fascinating premise and a really cool twist, although I didn’t exactly warm to the protagonist – see my review here.

 

 

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
first 15 lives of Harry AugustNo matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’ This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

This is another plot-twister that takes the basic premise of time travelling and then plays games with it – and launches popular fantasy author Kate Griffin of the Matthew Swift series into her latest iteration as Claire North. See my review here.

 

 

 

In the Wet by Nevil Shute
in-the-wetIt is the rainy season. Drunk and delirious, an old man lies dying in the Queensland bush. In his opium-hazed last hours, a priest finds his deserted shack and listens to his last words. Half-awake and half-dreaming the old man tells the story of an adventure set decades in the future, in a very different world…

This is with a classic unreliable narrator – after all, a dying, drugged man is bound to be rather dodgy when recollecting his part – and it is left up to the reader to decide whether he really has travelled forward in time… I first devoured it as a teenager, rereading it again in my thirties, which confirmed the power of the writing. If you get a chance to read it, do so. The great news is that Shute’s books are now available on Kindle.

 

 

 

The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Saga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May
themanycoloredlandWhen a one-way time tunnel to Earth’s distant past, specifically six million B.C., was discovered by folks on the Galactic Milieu, every misfit for light-years around hurried to pass through it. Each sought his own brand of happiness. But none could have guessed what awaited them. Not even in a million years….

This amazing four book series takes epic science fiction/fantasy to a new level and plays all sorts of cool games with our history. I read this stunning series over twenty years ago and recall it with great affection. I also highly recommend the linked Galactic Milieu series, which is the prequel set in the future – I do love time travel books and the games they play with narrative chronology:)

 

 

 

 

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes
Ben and Rachel Corder are sure they’re in for the longest, dullest summer ever, until they discover an frozentimeunderground vault at the bottom of their garden with an amazing secret inside – two children from the 1950s who have been asleep for decades. But waking up Freddy and Polly Emerson means unearthing the secrets that were buried with them. Why would their father leave them frozen? How is cryonic suspension even possible? Why doesn’t the world know about the process fifty years later? How will the Emersons ever fit into the 21st century world of cell phones and microwave dinners? And why does it feel like they’re all suddenly being followed?

This is another offering that is too cool, funny and clever to leave to the children – see my review here. I particularly loved the cultural differences between the two pairs of children which Sparkes beautifully highlights during this gripping story.

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

Review of The Obsession by Norah Roberts

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I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about this latest offering by Norah Roberts and enjoyed Whiskey Beach. Would I enjoy this one even more?

theobsessionNaomi Carson is a survivor. As a child, her family was torn apart by a shocking crime. It could have destroyed her, but Naomi has grown up strong, with a passion for photography that has taken her all around the world. Now, at last, she has decided to put down roots. The beautiful old house on Point Bluff needs work, but Naomi has new friends in town who are willing to help, including Xander Keaton – gorgeous, infuriating and determined to win her heart. But as Naomi plans for the future, her past is catching up with her. Someone in town knows her terrifying secret – and won’t let her forget it. As her new home is rocked by violence, Naomi must discover her persecutor’s identity, before it’s too late.

This certainly started with a bang – I was quite shocked at the start of the book when we are in the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old right in the middle of this terrible adventure. That said, it is very well handled and I loved the fact that this book mostly deals with the aftermath. News reports are always full of the terrible events surrounding a major crime – but we don’t get to see the devastating impact on those who have the bad luck to be related to those caught up in such events.

Naomi comes across as entirely credible and I love the way that Roberts builds up all the small details about her daily life and her plans for updating the neglected house, which also works as an effective metaphor for her life. Did I guess whodunit before we got to the denouement? Oh yes, but I think Roberts wrote it that we should – and this story isn’t necessarily a huge mystery about the perpetrator, more about why anyone would want to do such dreadful things, anyway.

This author is one of the most successful genre writers on the planet – her output is formidable. I began to see why as I read far later into the morning to finish the book as I simply did not want to put it down. If you are looking for an engrossing mystery with a dash of romance featuring a strong, complicated female protagonist then head on to your library – one of the advantages of reading someone so popular is that they are bound to have a copy. Or buy it – this prolific author is clearly at the top of her game with this book.
9/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – May Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in May?

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him. But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

This twisting thriller cracks along at a fair pace and delivers plenty of surprises along the way. Read the full review here.

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Even though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re floating through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. For a while he becomes the Sun for her; and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. Being with him flaunts every rule designed to keep their home in order, but to lose him would be like losing herself. In the end they must decide what is most important: loyalty to the only home they’ve ever known, or to each other?

This a romantic science fiction tale set on a generational ship – with heavy emphasis on the romance bit. Despite the fact that isn’t my go-to genre, the scene setting and shipboard environment is well depicted – read my full review here.

 

Banished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de JagerBanished
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself… Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

This Fae story is well written and engrossing – I really enjoyed the fight scenes, which were vividly depicted and the real nastiness of the foes. I’ll be reviewing this in due course.

 

thenothinggirlThe Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

This book made my husband laugh and cry and he forcefully recommended it – so I read it… This contemporary/family/crime/mystery/romance is something of a genre mash-up, with a hefty dollop of humour and sadness thrown in. Have a go – you won’t have read anything else quite like it. My review is here.

 

Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryantchangeoflife
With great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home

I expected this to be a parody of the superhero genre, but it follows most of the genre conventions – except the protagonists are women of a certain age… There are some amusing touches and I love Bryant’s original take on what superpowers can endow. See my review here

This month, I more than doubled my original target with five books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered and of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, 30 are by authors new to me. Once more, I have to thank the NetGalley arcs for introducing me to many of these writers. While I cannot see myself able to sustain this throughout the year – I’ve too many other things on my plate – I’m delighted I’ve managed to make such a strong start to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Planetfall by Emma Newman

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I treated myself to this one, as I’d heard lots of good things about it and I had already read and enjoyed Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns.

planetfallRenata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harbouring a devastating secret. Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost.

Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi. The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

Ren is a wonderful protagonist – smart, wary and so achingly vulnerable while maintaining a tough exterior that precludes any sort of self pity. When such a great character bounces off the page, I realise how rarely this depth and poignancy is achieved. I love the world and the fact that from the very first page, we learn there is some terrible secret surrounding planetfall which has compromised the colony and hangs over Ren like a swinging sword.

The pin-sharp writing prismed through Ren’s pov gives us a vivid view of the accompanying cast of characters, particularly Mack, who has engineered the cover-up surrounding the circumstances that took place all those years ago. And there’s the young stranger who staggers into their small settlement, who has clearly been living off the land in ways the far more pampered colonists could never do. Who changes everything…

But in order for this story really to work, not only do we need to be heavily invested in the internal politics governing the colony, we also need to fully believe in the alien structure that was the point of their journey to this planet in the first place. Is it strange and disturbing enough? Oh yes. The forays that Ren take inside the structure are visceral and disorientating, without any real answers. I love the nature in which the traumatic events impact upon Ren’s behaviour – awesomely original and yet, heartbreakingly logical and so very human. As I was luxuriating in this eerie, beautifully crafted book, there was a small niggling worry at the back of my head in case the ending would be a disappointment.

I needn’t have worried. The ending is so very right that I closed up my Kindle with tears in my eyes, which doesn’t happen all that often. This one comes with a strong recommendation if you enjoy science fiction on any level – it’s an outstanding read.
10/10

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight

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I was offered the opportunity to read and review this book – and took it like a shot. The premise very much intrigued me. Would I enjoy it?

theoutliersIt all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself. This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

I’m not giving any more of the blurb, because it moves into Spoiler territory with the next paragraph and the plot is too tightly constructed to allow the reader experience to be so compromised.

I was really caught up with Wylie’s dilemma – struggling with her anxiety since her mother’s sudden death, she is becoming increasingly isolated. However, when her friend gets herself into yet another scrape, Wylie battles her nerves to leave her house in response to Cassie’s cryptic message. Yes… I did find Wylie’s ability to overcome her recent agoraphobia convincing, along with her sudden determination to try and help her friend. The plot moves along at a fair clip, and while Wylie is still grappling with her fear, she is also beginning to reconsider her opinion of Jasper.

I like the way McCreight steadily presents us with a series of surprises, one after the other, jolting us – and the young protagonists – from our initial assumptions and had me reading late into the night to discover what happens next. The subsequent adventures where nothing is as it seems gives the story an almost gothic feel, particularly when they are finally reunited with Cassie.

The backstory that triggers the whole conspiracy does leave me slightly scratching my head, as I am still not convinced as to why the outliers would be quite so crucial to everyone apparently scrabbling to get their hands on them. However, this is the first book in a trilogy and there is a high likelihood that this initial explanation has another couple of layers beneath it, if McCreight continues in the same vein throughout the next instalments in this series.

That said, I’m not wholly convinced at the widespread nature of the conspiracy and feel I need to read at least the next book in the series to know whether I’m selling the author short. It may well be resolved to my satisfaction in the next two books in this trilogy. However, as the story was left on a complete cliffhanger, I definitely plan to read at least the next book – I need to know what happens next to Wylie.
8/10

Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…

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I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…

 

Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…

 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.

 

requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.

 

Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.

 

rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.

 

Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.

 

fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.