Tag Archives: family life

Review of Chocolate Chocolate Moons by Jackie Kingon

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I enjoyed Kingon’s quirky cosy murder mystery featuring her irrepressible protagonist Molly Marbles in Sherlock Mars – see my review here. So when the author contacted me, offering me the opportunity to read and review the prequel, I jumped at the chance.

It is a novel set in the future that tells the story of plus-sized Molly Marbles, who wins a scholarship to Armstrong University on the Moon, a haven for the plus-sized set where her weight drops from 287 Earth pounds to 47.6 without so much as passing up a piece of pie. When boyfriend Drew Barron dumps her, then jumps at a job at Congress Drugs, a company that makes low calorie food supplements, Molly’s weight is the least of her woes. And when her favorite treats, Chocolate Moons are found poisoned, she finds she has bitten off more than she can chew.

This space opera cosy mystery featuring food tells of how Molly recovers from her initial lost love and rebuilds her life – and about a crime that causes a number of chocolate lovers to fall into a coma. I love the details of the future depicted by Kingon’s breezy writing style – some of it is plainly a bit nonsensical, driven more by the word-play and humour, rather than any real possibility. So it is far more space opera than hard-core science fiction.

There is a large cast in this busy story, where by necessity a chunk of the narrative is told in semi-omniscient point of view. The plots and counter-plots where a number of the characters are trying to outwit each other and gain access to business opportunities or expensive works of art means I had to pay attention. Though I was far more interested in Molly than these nefarious deals, which tends to make the plotting something of a hot mess.

What kept me riveted to Molly’s narrative arc is the fact that she is a hefty lady who loves her food – and in Mars, where children are naturally born much slimmer and taller than Earthborn humans, she attracts a lot of attention, much of it hostile. I have read science fiction stories where the different body shape caused by different gravity drives a racist reaction – but what Kingon has done is to have a population define themselves by their body shape, which impacts on their diet and what they want to eat. In this book, Kingon highlights this consequence mostly as a humorous backdrop to the main action – but I did find this a really interesting aspect. Perhaps the reason why I zeroed onto this issue is because most of my family, including me, are allergic to dairy products, including milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter – and we are also vegetarians. So we also have foods we classify as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

While I found some of the humour and word play not particularly funny, I did really enjoy Molly’s character. Overall, this book isn’t without some structural flaws, but Kingon writes with such sunny energy that pings off the page, I was drawn into the story and enjoyed the originality and quirkiness. Recommended for someone who likes to read something a bit different.
8/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During March, I read – um… no books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge. Nope – not a single one. I read plenty of books by women writers throughout March – the catch is that they were writers I’d read previously. So my yearly total of seven books so far is unchanged.

So surely I at least managed to clear a host of books from my TBR pile towards this year’s Tackling My TBR, given my sorry showing in the previous challenge. No… not really – just four – but it was definitely quality over quantity because every single one is a cracking read:

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
This science fiction whodunit blew me away and is every bit as good as the awesome Planetfall. It starts out as one sort of story and steadily morphed into something else, all the while giving us an insight into what makes Carlos tick. He is entertainingly grumpy about all authority figures – and then… something happens – a gamechanger that had me yelping in horror and unable to put the book down. And as for that ending – wow!

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

Blood upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater.
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy doesn’t suffer from any second book slump after Twelve Kings as we continue to follow Çeda’s fortunes while she seeks a way to get close enough to the kings in order to bring them down. But they are every bit as powerful as myths say they are… This is a compelling world riven with factions and deep, corrosive secrets and I loved it.

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete
Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . .
Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
After reading the hilarious How To Train Your Parents, it was a no-brainer that I would want to track down this sequel. Unlike many other children’s books, it puts Louis’s interaction with his parents right in the middle of the story. It makes for a funny, often poignant and engrossing tale with some shafts of wisdom about the intergenerational divide and modern family life.

So that is my March roundup. It’s early days in April – and already I’m doing better with the my Discovery Challenge. What about you – are there any challenges you’re undertaking during the year? I’d love to hear about it!

Review of My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

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This is the second book in this entertaining series – see my review of How To Train Your Parents. After this one made my dyslexic granddaughter laugh as I read it to her, I went ahead and got hold of the rest of the series.

Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is. . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!

This book pretty much picks up where the first book left off in the ongoing story of Louis’s life as a 12-year-old trying to fit in at school and negotiate parental expectations, while furthering his career as a professional comedian. It isn’t absolutely necessary to have read the first book, but as events that occur in this slice of Louis’s adventures are impacted by what has gone on before, I recommend you do so to get the best of out of the book.

The strength in Johnson’s writing is that he addresses a lot of the major concerns most 12 year olds are experiencing – so this isn’t a children’s story where adults are somehow airbrushed out of the picture. Indeed, much of the humour and impetus in the story comes from Louis’s interaction with his parents. I love the fact that as Louis pours out his thoughts on their behaviour to his diary, we get to see their actions through his own take on the situation – while also understanding as adults what is going on in their lives and what is driving them to behave the way they do. So this is a book to be read on two levels, depending on which generation you are. It’s cleverly done and as a result is a funny, yet compassionate look at family life in the 21st century, as Johnson presents us with a father suddenly fragile as he is confronted with his own middle age at a time when his position at work comes under threat.

Louis’s take on his father’s attempts to stay young and cool goes from amused tolerance to utter horror, when his father starts using the latest phrases on Louis’s classmates and overhauls his wardrobe. Meanwhile, Louis is having problems of his own, as the new school doesn’t seem to be working out all that well – to the extent that his much-hated former school is starting to look like a cosy haven…

I thoroughly enjoyed this light-hearted look at what is actually a fairly gnarly subject and am looking forward to seeing what Frances makes of it. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Sunday Post – 26th March 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another momentous week for us. Himself has been going through a rough patch, recently with lapses of concentration at work. He often comes back from a shift very tired, though the good thing is that he never has any problem going to sleep, when his snoring is spectacular – the grandchildren call it, ‘Papa’s rumbles…’

I have often wondered just how refreshing his quality of sleep can be, especially as the snoring often suddenly stops, only to start up again with a gasp as he thrashes around, without waking. Good old Google told us it’s a condition called sleep apnea and can be very serious, leading to the increased risk of stroke or heart attack and the onset of type 2 diabetes. So a fortnight ago he made an appointment for the Dr and we went along together, which seemed a good idea as he has no idea what happens during these episodes, because he’s asleep. I cannot fault the NHS for the speed of their response and level of care – it’s been brilliant. Our Dr referred us to the Sleep Clinic at our local hospital and we were seen within a week when Himself came away with a monitor to measure his breathing, pulse rate and oxygen levels last week-end. On Thursday, he had a follow-up appointment back at the Sleep Clinic where he got the results. Five to ten episodes of interrupted breathing an hour is regarded as mild; between ten and thirty is regarded as moderate, needing some kind of intervention; while anything over thirty episodes of interrupted breathing is severe. Himself was averaging at fifty-one episodes of interrupted breathing an hour. She showed us the printout. I was staring at the jagged line in disbelief – and at the fact that it only calmed down during the periods when he woke up. She also explained that he was getting hardly any REM sleep. No wonder he’s making concentration errors! The blood test has also come back positive for pre-diabetes, so he’s also going to be attending a clinic for that, too.

And the reason why I’m telling you this? Because we’ve coped with his snoring for years – he’s repeatedly tried losing weight with limited success although he doesn’t drink or or smoke – but we’d no idea it could be part of such a serious underlying condition. If you or your partner are dealing with similar issues, please do get it checked out. We are both conscious that if this had been left much longer, as well having problems at work, Himself could have suffered a stroke or heart attack. He’s currently wearing a sleep mask and I keep jerking awake at night terrified because he’s so quiet beside me – though hopefully that will soon pass. It’s early days yet, but he already he feels better.

This week I have read:

Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands series by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it – will Çeda manage to keep their dark drives under control?
This sequel to the highly enjoyable sand and sorcery adventure Twelve Kings proved to be every bit as good as I’d hoped and I shall be posting my review here in due course. Great stuff!

 

From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse. But when his mother is quarantined, Kale finds himself backed into a corner. To pay for her medicine, he needs money—the kind of money he’ll never make sweeping floors and cleaning ships. So when he receives a mysterious offer asking him to do a simple job in exchange for his mother’s treatment, Kale takes a chance once more.
This space opera adventure is set in the same world as his excellent novel Titanborn – see my review here – and is due to be released this coming week, so I’ll be posting the review on Wednesday. Another really strong, thought-provoking story that I’ve been pondering about since I finished reading it.

 

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review here – and so was delighted to be able to track down this next slice of Louis’s adventures. I find Johnson’s commentary on modern family life to be funny and perceptive.

 

The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.
This is a cracking premise and Harrison doesn’t disappoint in delivering yet another twisting, action-packed plot underpinned by some interesting and disturbing moral questions. Read my review of the first book in the series, The Drafter.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 19th March 2017

Review of The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Teaser Tuesday featuring My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Tim Tag

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

Friday Face-off – Seems like, streets lights glowin… featuring The Cuckoo’s Calling – Book 1 of the Comoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

A typical day in the life of a #BookBlogger (in this instance ME!) https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/a-typical-day-in-the-life-of-a-bookblogger-in-this-instance-me/ This wonderful article is a response to some of the ill-founded allegations that book bloggers are somehow playing the system for financial gain, instead of being ‘real readers’.

Cover Characteristics: Book Covers Featuring New York City http://blog.kristenburns.com/book-covers-featuring-new-york-city/ Kristen regularly features a series of book covers on a particular subject and I particularly enjoyed this one.

10 of the best poems about Mothers https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/22/10-of-the-best-poems-about-mothers/ In honour of Mothering Sunday today, I thought this enjoyable selection would be worth reading.

Useful Sites for the Novice Writer https://richardankers.com/2017/03/24/useful-sites-for-the-novice-writer/ This excellent article lists some of the databases where you can submit your written gems.

A Graphic Novel about the iTunes Terms and Conditions. Yes. Really. https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/a-graphic-novel-about-the-itunes-terms-and-conditions-yes-really/ Kristen makes a point of unearthing the quirky and off the wall relating to books and writing. This is yet another great example of the interesting articles she posts.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

CHRISTMAS TRIVIA QUIZ – 2016

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merry_christmas_in_red_193358For a number of years at our Christmas gatherings we played games – not such a simple task when there are five generations taking part. It doesn’t happen now my grandmother, who loved playing them, has left us. It fell to me to construct them and so my Christmas Quiz was always a multi-choice affair which gave the youngest child as much chance of getting the right answer as my very clever father. As I devised this one, please feel free to use it at your own gatherings over the festive season, should you so wish. Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year.

1. What was the name of the girl who wove so beautifully that the jealous goddess Athena turned her into a spider?
a) Eurycleia  b) Calypso  c) Arachne  d) Charybdis

2. To whom is Alvin Stardust married?
a) Lisa Goddard  b) Pamela Stevenson  c) Joanna Lumley  d) Helen Mirren

3. Who was the treacherous knight of the Round Table?
a) Sir Lancelot  b) Sir Mordred  c) Sir Gawain  d) Sir Baldrys

4. In which city would you find Michelangelo’s David?
a) Rome  b) Florence  c) Genoa  d) Venice

5. Where is the tarsal joint?
a) The wrist  b) The finger  c) The ankle  d) The toe

6. What is the “Senior Service”?
a) The cavalry b)  The infantry  c)  The Navy  d) The musketeers

7. Which European country has a patron saint of cinemas?
a) France – Jean Bosquet b) Spain – St John Bosco c) Italy – Juliano Bosquelli d) Luxembourg – Jean Bosquet

8. What is the sacred beetle of the ancient Egyptians?
a) The scarab b) The termite c) The Death-watch beetle  d) The locust

9. By what name is Abyssinia now known?
a) Niger  b) Chad  c) Somalia  d) Ethiopia

10 What is heraldic black called?
a) jet  b) nigrescent  c) sable  d) inky

11 A Frenchman Adolphe Pegoud was the first pilot to do what in 1913?
a) Cross the Channel  b) Loop the loop  c) Fire a gun from a plane  d) Die in a plane crash

12 Who said, “The executioner is, I believe, very expert and my neck is very slender.”?
a) Charles I  b) Lady Jane Gray  c) Anne Boylyn  d) Catherine Howard

13 In Ancient Egypt the standard length was a cubit. How many palms made a cubit?
a) 3   b) 4   c) 5   d) 7

14 What is scotopic vision?
a) short-sightedness  b) long-sightedness  c) vision impaired by cataracts  d) night vision

15 Which English novelist invented pillar-boxes while working as a civil servant?
a) A.A. Milne  b) Antony Trollop  c) Hugh Walpole  d) R.D. Blackmore

16 What was “Big Willie”?
a) One of the first military tanks b) One of 3 surviving gun carriage horses in WWI  c) One of the first bomber planes  d) One of the first machines guns

17 Which wedding anniversary is leather?
a) First  b) Third  c) Fifth  d) Seventh

18 What was founded by William and Catherine Booth?
a) The Salvation Army  b) Christian Science Church  c) The Temperance Society  d) The Chartist Movement

19 In which film did James Bond drive a white lotus underwater
a) Thunderball  b) The Spy Who Loved Me  c) Live and Let Die  d) Moonwalker

20 When might you use the western roll technique?
a) Making a roll-up cigarette b) Trampolining c) High Jump  d) Pole Vault

ANSWERS

1. What was the name of the girl who wove so beautifully that the jealous goddess Athena turned her into a spider?
a) Eurycleia  b) Calypso  c) Arachne  d) Charybdis

2. To whom is Alvin Stardust married?
a) Lisa Goddard  b) Pamela Stevenson  c) Joanna Lumley  d) Helen Mirren

3. Who was the treacherous knight of the Round Table?
a) Sir Lancelot  b) Sir Mordred  c) Sir Gawain  d) Sir Baldrys

4. In which city would you find Michelangelo’s David?
a) Rome  b) Florence  c) Genoa  d) Venice

5. Where is the tarsal joint?
a) The wrist  b) The finger  c) The ankle  d) The toe

6. What is the “Senior Service”?
a) The cavalry  b) The infantry  c) The Navy  d) The musketeers

7. Which European country has a patron saint of cinemas?
a) France – Jean Bosquet  b) Spain – St John Bosco  c) Italy – Juliano Bosquelli  d) Luxembourg – Jean Bosquet

8. What is the sacred beetle of the ancient Egyptians?
a) The scarab  b) The termite  c) The Death-watch beetle  d) The locust

9. By what name is Abyssinia now known?
a) Niger  b) Chad  c) Somalia  d) Ethiopia

10 What is heraldic black called?
a) jet  b) nigrescent  c) sable  d) inky

11 A Frenchman Adolphe Pegoud was the first pilot to do what in 1913?
a) Cross the Channel  b) Loop the loop  c) Fire a gun from a plane  d) Die in a plane crash

12 Who said, “The executioner is, I believe, very expert and my neck is very slender.”?
a) Charles I  b) Lady Jane Gray  c) Anne Boylyn  d) Catherine Howard

13 In Ancient Egypt the standard length was a cubit. How many palms made a cubit?
a) 3   b) 4   c) 5   d) 7

14 What is scotopic vision?
a) short-sightedness  b) long-sightedness  c) vision impaired by cataracts  d) night vision

15 Which English novelist invented pillar-boxes while working as a civil servant?
a) A.A. Milne  b) Antony Trollop  c) Hugh Walpole  d) R.D. Blackmore

16 What was “Big Willie”?
a) One of the first military tanks  b) One of 3 surviving gun carriage horses in WWI  c) One of the first bomber planes  d) One of the first machines guns

17 Which wedding anniversary is leather?
a) First  b) Third  c) Fifth  d) Seventh

18 What was founded by William and Catherine Booth?
a) The Salvation Army  b) Christian Science Church  c) The Temperance Society  d) The Chartist Movement

19 In which film did James Bond drive a white lotus underwater
a) Thunderball  b) The Spy Who Loved Me  c) Live and Let Die  d) Moonwalker

20 When might you use the western roll technique?
a) Making a roll-up cigarette  b) Trampolining  c) High Jump  d) Pole Vault

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

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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

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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

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

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I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

Is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

Review of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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Anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I’m a huge fan of Mitchell – Cloud Atlas is one of my alltime favourite books. So would I enjoy this offering?

theboneclocksRun away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, drawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. My personal favourites are the first one – ‘A Hot Spell’, ‘The Wedding Bash’ and the chilling final ‘Sheep’s Head’.

However, it is a masterpiece of storytelling and the themes are around the notion of good and evil and what makes someone a survivor. As well what the cost of survival may be. If you enjoyed Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – see my review here – you may have a clue about the narrative, but as Mitchell slowly reveals the heart of the story in careful stages, only revealing the whole enormity of the plot by the end of the fifth section, I’m not going to venture into Spoiler territory.

While you won’t find Mitchell on the shelves marked Sci F and Fantasy – he is regarded as a Literary writer – there is a fantasy/science fiction mash-up at the heart of this story. He is always worth reading and the fact that in this book, he ventures yet again into one of my favourite genres is a major bonus. And if you like your fantasy with a quality label on it, then give this a go. No one writes his particular brand of fiction better…
10/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Aurora: Eden – Book 5 of the Aurora series by Amanda Bridgeman

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When I selected this book from the latest releases on Netgalley, I wasn’t too concerned that this was Book 5 as I have a long and dishonourable tradition of crashing halfway into an established series while still enjoying the experience. However, with this particular book it was far more of an issue.

aurora edenIn the wake of the tragic events in Centralis, Captain Saul Harris stands with the weight of the world on his shoulders. With the truth of UNFASP revealed, he realizes that he must embrace his ancestry if he is to survive the coming onslaught. But how far will Harris go to protect the future? Will he sacrifice life as he knows it and become a Jumbo? Or can he face the future as a common man? Meanwhile Sergeant Carrie Welles has been left devastated by what has happened. Uncertain of the future ahead, and with her nemesis, Sharley, on the brink of control, she struggles to pick herself up. But she is left surprised when help comes from the unlikeliest of places. As her life veers off in a direction she never expected, Carrie soon understands that she is running a course with a destiny that lies far beyond her control.

Firstly, congratulations to whoever wrote the blurb for managing to avoid spoilers. Given we are now into Book 5 of the story arc and there was a major event in the previous book that knocked most of the protagonists endways, it is a commendable achievement. However with any long-running series, the challenge is to ensure new readers care sufficiently about the characters to want to flounder through the initial stages, so there should be a bonding moment in the opening chapters where that can happen. Unfortunately, Bridgeman doesn’t provide such an opportunity. I hung in there, hoping for some space action and expecting to grow attached to the characters as the story progressed.

Overall, the romantic element in the story was well handled, although I do wonder how fans of the series would react to the speed with which Welles recovered from her loss – I felt that aspect of it was rather rushed. It’s always tricky depicting small children in adult adventure books – they often come across as sickeningly cute or unbelievably precocious. I think Bridgeman gets away with the twins – just.

The premise is certainly interesting and I liked the sense of foreboding the predicted alien invasion produces, but I wonder if daily life would be a lot different sixty years hence. I haven’t been around quite that long, but things have certainly changed in all sorts of ways since my childhood and I didn’t feel Bridgeman has paid quite enough attention to that aspect of everyday life set in the near future. That said, it is probably the hardest type of futuristic writing to nail.

None of these issues are dealbreakers, but I do confess to being a little disappointed at the story progression. A particular plotline was well flagged at least a third into the novel, and I waited for the sudden twist, for the unexpected action to come out of nowhere and suddenly whisk the story somewhere else other than where I was predicting it would go. And it didn’t. While the book was brought to a satisfactory conclusion with all the loose ends tied up, I came to the end feeling a tad put out that there hadn’t been enough surprises. For those of you who haven’t followed this series from the start – don’t begin with this book as I get the impression it doesn’t do justice to what could be a really entertaining story.

The book was provided by Netgalley, while the opinions and writing in the review are all my own.