Tag Archives: contemporary drama

2016 Discovery Challenge – July Roundup

Standard

After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. After a rather paltry effort last month, during July I read and reviewed 6 Discovery Challenge books. Four are science fiction reads, one is contemporary and another is a YA paranormal thriller. This takes my yearly total so far to 28 books read and reviewed by women I haven’t previously encountered – and so far this year has been a fantastic year for really good books.

Speak by Louisa Hall
speakIn a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

It is a very neat idea – to bind up the voices and slices of people’s history inside a discarded AI, struggling to conserve her battery as she is stored in a warehouse with other bots for the crime of being too lifelike. I have a feeling this book is one that will stay with me for a long time.

 

 

Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
InbornRosamund Brandt has had a semi normal life for sixteen years. Well, semi normal for a family descended from aliens. Sure, she could create portals and her family had a secret basement. But she went to school, had a best friend, and got her driving permit like every other teen. However, her definition of “normal” unravels when a killer with multiple powers and an agenda steps into town. When Rosamund herself becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few, or getting to the core of the murders and stopping them for good. Rosamund’s choice will save everyone she cares about–or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.

This story tips us right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the book, as Rosamund immediately is pitchforked into the initial action that triggers the cascade of events that then continually ricochet through the book. I would have enjoyed it more if there had been less foot-to-the-floor action and bit more of a chance to get to know all the characters better – particularly the antagonist. However the premise is intriguing and I think this series could settle down to be really strong.

 

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

This book thoroughly and effectively explored what it means to be a clone, both for the cloned person and those around her. For all it being used as a regular plot device, I cannot recall another book that deals with the fallout of cloning better. While there are some issues around the worldbuilding and the depiction of the machines and Rhona’s role near the end of the book, I look forward to reading what happens next in this intriguing series.

 

 

Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
womanofthehourLiz Lyon is Head of Features at StoryWorld TV. It’s exhilarating and sometimes glamorous work, but as a single mother with a demanding career, her life is a constant balancing act. Then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a web of rivalry, manipulation and deceit. If she trusts the wrong person, she could lose her job. But with everything she thought she knew crumbling around her, can she even trust herself?

Jane worked as a head researcher for breakfast TV for some fifteen years – and her wealth of experience bounces off the page in this original, thoroughly enjoyable story that wouldn’t let me go as I read it in one greedy gulp. I’m going to be tracking down the next instalment, too.

 

 

shiftShift by Em Bailey
Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.
She obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After “the incident,” Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past.
This YA psychological thriller with a paranormal twist started very strongly with laugh-aloud moments as Olive’s snarky commentary on her life pinged off the page. It slightly lost momentum in the middle, as Miranda’s unfortunate effect was far too clearly signposted so that I knew what was coming. However, the ending held a couple of further twists that I found enjoyable.

 

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
anaccidentofstarsWhen Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

This portal fantasy adventure is a delight – it was great to read female characters who weren’t necessarily young, beautiful or ‘chosen’ who had risen within the society. Characters who despite being brave and prepared to die trying to do the right thing, are also manipulative and lethally sarcastic… This book is my favourite of my Discovery Challenge reads in July and I will now be on the lookout for other Foz Meadows’ offerings.

 

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them!

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and mebeforeyouhome. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

This was one recommended by one of my Creative Writing students a while ago and I’m not sure why I didn’t immediately read it after having acquired it – but once I got hold of the sequel, it made sense to read it first. I’m very glad I did… It is an emotional, engrossing read that manages to deal with some very gnarly subjects without lapsing into sentimentality.

 

 

Nice Dragons Finish Last – Book 1 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
nicedragonsfinishlastAs the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

This draconic twist on the usual urban fantasy tropes is such fun – I thoroughly enjoyed this one and look forward to reading the next in the series. Happily, that is also stacked up on my teetering TBR pile…

 

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.thefifthseason
A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Yes… Essun starts out desperately trying to come to terms with an unthinkable family tragedy and the apocalyptic world is undeniably grim. But this is so much more than a retread of a nasty slide from civilisation into chaos – there is also a gripping backstory about a small group of people feared and harnessed for their vital skills. And the twist at the end is a doozy… I haven’t yet released my review of this book – but it was my favourite read in a month characterised by a slew of really good books. And I’m now eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel, which will NOT be languishing on my TBR pile for the same length of time.

Review of After You – Book 2 of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Standard

In July, I finally got around to reading JoJo Moyes bestselling book Me Before You – see my review here. It was a wonderful read, managing to deal with some hefty issues while avoiding any kind of sentimentality. As luck would have it, Himself had ordered this from the library, so I was able to immediately pick up this offering to find out what happens next…

When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s afteryouright back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future.

I’ve tweaked the blurb somewhat, as I’m reluctant to lurch into spoiler territory for those of you who haven’t yet read the first book. Again, Lou sprang off the page as a wonderfully vibrant character, quirky and vulnerable without being overly irritating or victimised. And given she is at a very low ebb at the start of this book, this is harder to pull off than Moyes makes it look. I wondered if she could continue to depict the general messiness of family life, or if she would somehow tidy everyone up, as often happens in fiction.

Lou is certainly taken on an amazing journey – to the extent that I wished that maybe some of the events that seemed to mushroom out of the ether whenever she was around would just calm down a tad. However, I felt one of the huge strengths of this story, was Moyes very accurate depiction of blended families – where a second marriage brings in children from first relationships, and they have to acclimatise to a new parent and often, new half-siblings. But what if they find that adjustment really hard? What if they had bonded with the parent who is now no longer in their lives? What happens to them, then? It’s a scenario that Moyes brings to the fore with chilling clarity as Lily bounces into Louisa’s life.

Once more this book gripped me and wouldn’t let go – and while it doesn’t quite have the emotional intensity or the pitch-perfect storyline and balance of characters that makes Me Before You Moyes’ strongest book to date, in my opinion – this book tucks in to be a very close second. If you’re a Moyes fan and were blown away by Lou and Will’s heartwrenching story and haven’t yet picked up this one, reluctant to venture back into this world just in case it simply isn’t good enough – don’t worry. After You is a well crafted, thoroughly enjoyable and funny read with some sharply observed and very pertinent things to say about modern family life.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Edition Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Standard

One of my Creative Writing students last year produced an extract from this book, then talked about it during one of our lessons – and I immediately came home and bought it. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t read it. It then became buried – I think at one stage I even thought I had read it… until Himself brought home the sequel. And I realised that I needed to give myself a treat and tuck into this one.

mebeforeyouLou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

I knew the main plotpoints in the initial quarter of the book, but what I hadn’t bargained on, was the humour. This novel that deals with a range of hefty subjects – the constant grind of low-level poverty when trying to survive in a depressed area, of which there are far too many in Britain… Will’s despair at having had his choices ripped away from him… sexual violence that goes unacknowledged, never mind unpunished… It could so easily have been a worthy, if depressing, read. However, all the way through I found myself laughing aloud.

Lou, the main protagonist, is a delight. She is quirky with a runaway mouth and a skewed sense of humour who manages to jolt Will out of his sarcastic, dark fury. Yes – there is a love story at the heart of it, but this book is so much more. It is a close examination of one of the most difficult moral questions of our time. Given the level of medical care, we can now keep people alive who would have died several decades ago with complications such as pneumonia and a series of nasty infections. But their quality of life can be dire. Do we allow them to make the decision to die? There are a host of problems around that step, such that most countries, including Britain, have refused to legalise euthanasia. But Switzerland has… Can Lou persuade Will not to take that step?

This book is a roller-coaster, as we follow Lou’s attempts to rekindle Will’s love of life. It could so easily have descended into a syrupy mess of sentimentality – and Moyes managed to completely side-step that bear pit. I picked this book up – and found I couldn’t put it down. I should have been doing a whole host of chores, but couldn’t tear myself away from this life-and-death struggle, leavened with a raft of hilarious incidents. The ending was a triumph. If you haven’t yet read this one, do so – there is a solid reason why it has become a worldwide best-seller and is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Square Peg by Vivienne Tuffnell

Standard

I had downloaded Square Peg a while ago onto my Kindle, but suddenly turned to it as an antidote to the rather grim apocalyptic near-future NetGalley arc I’d just endured. I was so very glad I did…

“She’d seen faces like that before, but on the television, in films and in the history books. The faces of fanatics, cold and blind to all reason staring back at her.”

squarepegChloe is a square peg in an increasingly uncomfortable round hole. Brought up by her wildly unconventional grandmother, she’s a true free spirit and has never learned to pull her punches. She’s just married trainee Church of England clergyman Clifford, and is living at the theological college and trying to figure out what’s going on around her. She’s had very little connection with formal religion, and has a talent for stepping on all sorts of emotional land-mines with the wives of the other ordinands. That would probably be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that her grandmother has inconsiderately died, and left her a house full of exotic souvenirs of her days as a travelling doctor, instructions to track down her father and sister, and what everyone else regards as a really bad attitude. She’s also lost her job, her temper, but not the will to live.

Chloe may come across as something of an airhead during the above extract of a rather chatty blurb, but in actual fact, she is mostly level-headed and extremely likeable. She is also in big trouble. Very recently bereaved, she is adrift. Her Gran, who brought her up, is the only family she has and while she is very happily married, it is a relatively new relationship. Moreover, her husband has recently started a course at a theological college training to be a Church of England vicar. And then, she is made redundant.

Like many people in great emotional pain, Chloe has become a tad short-fused and succeeds in mortally offending one of the wives of the ordinands at a supper designed to welcome the new intake and their wives. And what should be a relatively minor clash, quickly forgiven and forgotten in a Christian society, becomes the poisonous bedrock upon which a whispering campaign against Chloe is formed.

I’ve always been aware that Tuffnell possesses a keen intelligence and understanding of human nature – it sings out of her writing on her blog, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. It is what prompted me to buy her books in the first place. But this challenging read about prejudice and how it can get a grip, is a masterly study in how we human beings function – and how it can go so badly wrong. However, let me start by reassuring you. If you enjoy reading a smoothly well-written account of a very likeable protagonist in her daily life, then dive right in. Tuffnell’s technically accomplished writing style won’t plunge you into scenes of over-wrought misery. She depicts an independent young woman who has suffered a grievous loss, but carries on anyway – because everyone around her expects her to. Indeed, she expects that she should.

And despite the fact she is dealing with a serious subject, there is plenty of humour. Many of the scenes that lead up to the shocking climax verge on the farcical and certainly had me grinning. What added to my pleasure was that another of Tuffnell’s protagonists, Isabel from Away With the Fairies – see my review here – makes a sudden appearance. The narrative arc is beautifully handled, as is the fallout. There are no over-dramatic flourishes, which could so easily have tipped this book into melodrama.

Tuffnell tried to get her work traditionally published and after a number of near misses, gave up and now self publishes her writing. Thank goodness for that option – it would be a crying shame if books of this calibre didn’t see the light of day.
10/10