Tag Archives: Matt Haig

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I love Matt Haig’s writing – read my review of The Humans and The Radley’s. So I was delighted to encounter this offering on Netgalley and even more delighted when my request for an arc was accepted.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.

Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.

The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.
9/10

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Sunday Post – 2nd July 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.

Last Sunday was the day before my birthday – so my daughter and partner took us out for a lovely meal at a local restaurant with an excellent vegetarian menu – we had a marvellous time.

On the day of my birthday, I had to teach both morning and evening, but I had lunch with my sister and granddaughter who had the day off to school. As requested, I’ve had some photos taken of me on my new swing – my present from Himself – showing my new purple hair-do. I’m delighted with it😊.

On Wednesday, I attended Pilates and Fitstep, had lunch with a friend and dropped in on my sister – and I can’t tell you how good it feels to write that… It was Writing Group on Wednesday evening. As I’ve been out and about rather a lot, I caught up on admin during the day and in the evening, my sister invited us over for a meal. Friday found me working at Tim’s.

Yesterday, I was busy cooking for a gathering of the clan – with vegetarians and vegans attending my birthday bash, I made some Marmite twists, vegan cheese straws, apple slices, flapjack and vegan pizza. And today I’m having a birthday party with all the family – so apologies for not being around much to respond on the blog. Hopefully after today, life will get back to normal.

This week I have read:

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
This is an intriguing premise which Haig weaves into a fascinating story about an old, old man who is tired of life. And whatever he does – he mustn’t fall in love… I loved this one and will be reviewing it later this month.

Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlowe series by M.J. Trow
April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him. To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.
This is great fun – an historical whodunit set in Elizabethan times featuring a famous playwright and a number of other well-known figures, though not necessarily as you’ve seen them depicted before. I’m delighted to have requested this one from Netgalley – it is a cracking read and I’ll be definitely tracking down more in this series.

The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.
Having read a number of glowing reviews from fellow book bloggers, I’d acquired this one a while ago – and finally decided to read it. It’s a great alternate world adventure and I’ll be soon tucking into the next instalment as I’ve now ordered it from the local library (sadly not the invisible variety – but we can’t have everything…).

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 25th June 2017

Review of The Dog Walker – Book 5 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

Teaser Tuesday featuring Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlowe series by M.J. Trow

Review of Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Review of Star Wars: The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space series by Tom Huddleston

Friday Face-off – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. featuring The Martian by Andy Weir

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon

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

Please Support Your Favourite Authors  https://gaslightcrime.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/please-support-your-favourite-authors/ This short article just reminds readers how they can help their authors to be able to keep writing.

Fantasy Maps, Book Launches and Chris Pratt!  https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/fantasy-maps-book-launches-and-chris-pratt/  This well-told article from talented author and artist, and fellow Grimmie author Sophie Tallis describes how her adventures in attending a book launch brought about an epiphany…

What’s Making Me Happy: June 2017  https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2017/06/29/happiness-june-2017/  I love the idea of writing a regular celebratory article – and Sara has done it really well.

Top Ten Historical Novels Worth Reading (more than once) http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/06/25/ten-historical-fiction-novels-worth-reading/  An excellent list for those of you who enjoy quality historical fiction

Lessons Learned from Agatha Christie: How Much Stock Should One Put into a Title? https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/06/29/lessons-learned-from-agatha-christie-how-much-stock-should-one-put-into-a-title/  Another enjoyable and thought provoking article from Jean on a subject that has most authors losing sleep.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

TAGGED – I’m It…

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I saw this tag by Rae at PowerfulWomenReaders, on The Mid-Year Freakout Book Tag and couldn’t resist…

The Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2017
Really? I’m supposed to pick JUST ONE out of allll the fabulous reads I’ve had? Fine! But this is a CRUEL question!
After Atlas – Book 2 in 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.
I loved the first book, but this one… it blew me away. Carlos is such a strong protagonist and a particular twist in this story had me gripped to the extent that I actually yelled. As for that ending – oh my goodness! No wonder it is a nominee for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Your Favourite Sequel So Far
I have two – and no… I simply CANNOT decide between them.
A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.
This classy portal fantasy won’t leave me alone, with the strong story and interesting characters.

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash
Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
I loved this beautiful fantasy duology with its strong Japanese influence and fascinating range of characters. If you are looking for a quality fantasy with a different twist, then this comes highly recommended.

A New Release That You Haven’t Read But You Really Want To
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
I love the sound of this one. The good news is that I have a Netgalley arc, so it is one I am going to enjoy reading next month – I love my life…

Most Anticipated Release of the Second Half of the Year
The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman
The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with. Violent and despairing after the murder of the one person she loved, a psychiatrist who was studying abductees, Julia continues to rebuff the aliens until her relationships with others who have met “the things,” as she calls them, including a tattoo artist, a strange man who can take photographs with the power of his mind, and an abductee locked up in a mental hospital, force Julia deeper into direct alien contact and a confrontation about what death means to humans and aliens alike.
I love the sound of this one! So, rightly or wrong, I am really, really looking forward to reading it.

Your Biggest Disappointment

I don’t finish books I dislike, so there’s nothing that’s a disappointment in my reading list so far this year. I have a policy that if I don’t complete a book, then I’m not qualified to discuss it.

Your Biggest Surprise
The Forever Court – Book 2 of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series by Dave Rudden
Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…
I had thoroughly enjoyed Knights of the Borrowed Dark – a surprisingly gritty and creepy fantasy adventure, but this sequel took the writing to a new, punchy level. Sharp, dryly funny and also full of violence, this one pinged off the page and into my inscape. Marvellous stuff…

 

Favourite New to You or Debut Author
The Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.
This wonderful thriller set in H.P. Lovecraft’s world is amazingly good – I loved it. Full of atmosphere, Aphra is a wonderful protagonist.

My New Fictional Crush
It has to be poor Fitz from Assassin’s Fate the final book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and Fool trilogy. Now he has reached a certain age and still grieving for his dead wife, I can admire him safely from afar – I am, after all, a happily married grandmother…

 

 

 

 

New Favourite Character
My favourite character is Dina Demille, who is the protagonist in Ilona Andrews’ charming and occasionally hilarious urban fantasy series who we first meet in Clean Sweep – Book 1 of the Innkeeper Chronicles. She is innkeeper to an enchanted inn, providing rest and refreshment to the magically talented. Dina is feisty and resourceful, but has a constant sadness that wears at her soul – her parents are missing, along with the inn where she grew up.

 

A Book That Made You Cry
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
Yes… this one made me weep. And that doesn’t happen all that often these days. But the ending was such a heartbreak, yet with also a sliver of hope that poor Conor would finally be free from the terrible dread that had consumed him. As for that monster – it was brilliant…

 

A Book That Made You Happy
A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
It’s just the loveliest feeling… sharing a funny book with a grandchild and relishing his sniggers and hiccupping splutters of delight at the snarky humour, rude names and broad-humoured illustrations. If I could bottle that feeling, I would save it up for when I’m an old lady and my grandchildren are grown and gone…

Your Favourite Book to Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year
I haven’t.

Favourite Book Post You’ve Published This Year
This has to be my monthly progress report on how I’m doing with my blogging, reading and writing targets for the year, Shoot for the Moon – March Roundup, when I was finally allowed to announce my publishing deal for Netted, my post-apocalyptic science fiction family adventure set in Maine with Kristell Ink Publishing.

The Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought/Received This Year
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?
The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.
This is a beautiful tale – shot through with lovely imagery and tinged with darkness. If you like retellings with some serious heft and respect for the original storyteller, then this comes very highly recommended.

And that’s my responses to the questions – though as I have now read 84 books so far this year, it was something of a struggle to actually choose. In the meantime, if you have looked at the questions and would like to share your reading highs and lows of 2017 to date – please join in.

Sunday Post – 21st August

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Sunday Post

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.

iphonestuckEarly in the week I had some tech issues when Apple finally managed to foist an unwanted update onto my phone when I was downloading some pics (note to self: that’s what my camera is for…) which jammed the wretched thing. Fraught hours I couldn’t afford later, I finally managed to it by restoring it to factory settings. The whole episode rankles, frankly. Just like the fact I can’t remove the Stocks and Shares and News links from my phone – since when do Apple get to mediate the priorities in my life?

The grandchildren returned unexpectedly for another stay on Tuesday through to Friday, which was a lovely surprise. The better weather meant we were able to go to the beach and visit the gorgeous Highdown Gardens, where my butterfly pic above was taken last year.

Other than that, we didn’t go out and about all that much – I have a fair amount of work on my plate and we also spent a significant slice of time watching the Olympic action in Rio. Oscar, in particular, was very keen to follow Team GB.

This week I’ve managed to read:
Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charltonspellbreaker
Leandra Weal has a bad habit of getting herself in dangerous situations. While hunting neodemons in her role as Warden of Ixos, Leandra obtains a prophetic spell that provides a glimpse one day into her future. She discovers that she is doomed to murder someone she loves, soon, but not who. That’s a pretty big problem for a woman who has a shark god for a lover, a hostile empress for an aunt, a rogue misspelling wizard for a father, and a mother who–especially when arguing with her daughter–can be a real dragon.
This intriguing offering can be characterised as hard fantasy, with a rigorous magical structure played out within a highly talented, touchy family. It makes for a fascinating, original dynamic in epic fantasy.

 

 

Autonomy by Jude Houghton
autonomyBalmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersen is the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart. What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite? What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world? What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making? What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed? Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.

This post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction adventure is a cracking story, with some sharp things to say about the current inequality of resources and the damage caused by runaway capitalism embedded in amongst the entertaining action. A strong, thought-provoking read I reviewed yesterday.

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 14th August

2016 Discovery Challenge – July Roundup

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Autonomy by Jude Houghton

Review of The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

Friday Faceoff – There’s Blood on Thy Face featuring The Radleys by Matt Haig

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Autonomy by Jude Houghton

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

Harry Potter Month (20) https://lynns-books.com/2016/08/20/harry-potter-month-20/ Lynn has been featuring all things Harry Potterish this month and I really enjoyed this selection of covers from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

A Weekly Ritual https://ginnibites.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/a-weekly-ritual/ This sharply clever little poem aptly sums up my own experiences on leaving the house…

Miss Majorie Fay https://readlorigreer.com/2016/08/15/miss-marjorie-fay/ Lori Greer pays a moving tribute to an inspirational teacher.

Introducing the Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom – coming this autumn from the Wizard’s Tower Press http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2223 Exciting news of a new collection for fans of quality fantasy from author Juliet E. McKenna

How to Panel Like a Pro http://writerunboxed.com/2016/08/20/how-to-panel-like-a-pro/ This funny article had me chuckling – I’ll be on the alert to see which panel members at the Cons I’ll be shortly attending will be taking these top tips to heart…

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

Friday Faceoff – There’s blood on thy face…

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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 are looking at covers featuring blood. I have gone for Matt Haig’s witty, clever book The Radleys.

 

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This offering was published by Canongate Books in 2010. I really like it – the white picket fence with a dribble of blood. Spare and effective, it captures the uncomfortable collision the Radley family encounter between their everyday suburban life – and their hidden vampire selves struggling to foreswear their blood addiction…

 

theradleys1

This version was produced by Free Press in 2011. It alludes to a particular event in the book. Another effective cover, with the young girl in the floating red party dress.

 

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This edition was published in 2010 by the Free Press and closely follows the Canongate design, but the main difference is the more eye-catching font in blood-red.

 

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This is the paperback edition produced by Canongate in 2010 and again, features a blood-red font that gives a sense of the comic content, yet still giving a sense that it isn’t a cosy read.

My personal favourite is the first cover. I really like the darker font, which allows that dribble of blood to really pop on the white fence. Do you agree?

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

Review of The Humans by Matt Haig

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Anything written by Haig is worth picking up – read my review of The Radleys here, and The Last Family in England here. So when I came across The Humans, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up and take it home…

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog. Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race…?

This is where Star Man meets 3rd Rock From the Sun – only in book form. And while there are touches of humour, Haig-style, there isthe humans also heartache, too. Professor Andrew Martin isn’t a nice man – and the highly evolved alien revolted about all things human, yet still landed with the job of carrying out a secret and extremely important mission inhabiting his skin has to pick his way through Andrew’s dysfunctional relationships with his family. There are moments of humour – I loved the phone call with his mother and many of the conversations with his angry sixteen-year-old son, Gulliver. Mind you, I’d be fed up if my parents lumbered me with such a name – small wonder he gets bullied at school…

Amongst the general mayhem surrounding the alien’s mission, his constant surprise about human behaviour and the resultant, often humorous misunderstandings, there are some edged, pertinent observations on what exactly being human entails. This being Haig, they never tip into anything too pompous – but do make thought-provoking reading. Although Haig never loses sight of the fact that the primary function of a novel is to tell a story – and keeps the narrative tension pinging all the way through so that I sat down and read this book from cover to cover in one greedy gulp. It is one that I am going to return to, however. Haig manages to pack a great deal into a relatively slim volume by his spare, economical writing style that nevertheless can have me grinning like a loon on one page, and near to tears on the following page… It’s a neat trick to be able to pull off – and one very few writers can regularly achieve.

Any niggles? Well, the spell in America lost the vividness and punch I’ve come to associate with Haig’s prose – and that might well be the point – that he is so devastated, everything has melted into blandness. But it seemed a shame the prose had to follow suit. However, it is a relatively short interval in a remarkable book that pulls off a virtuoso performance rivalling Jeff Bridge’s outstanding performance as Scott Hayden in Star Man. Even if your taste doesn’t generally run to science fiction, give The Humans a go.
10/10

Review of The Radleys by Matt Haig

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This intriguing take on vamps is one of the selections of More 4’s TV Book Club 2011. Although, I had to grit my teeth as Jo Brand et al hastily assured us with much eye rolling and disgust-gurning that initially the vampire aspect had them all terribly worried, as who’d be caught dead reading anything with vampires? I think Jo even shuddered… But once the unedifying spectacle of such literary snobbery was put to one side and our plucky panel actually picked up the damn book – surprise, surprise, they all loved it…

theradleysLife with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self denial. Loads of self denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clare gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50.  With a visit from their lethally louche uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe is about to change. Drastically.

Sookie Stackhouse it ain’t. Haig manages to encapsulate the sheer predictable dreariness of British middle class life for local G.P. Peter Radley and his stressed wife Helen. Meanwhile, Clare and Rowan struggle not to get bullied at the local comprehensive for being prone to headaches, skin rashes and feeling constantly sick in the sunshine. As Jo was at pains to emphasise – the vampirism of the Radley family is a cipher for any kind of difference within a community. Or not. I don’t really care.

What I do know, is that the writing is aptly sharp with a thread of black humour running through the book. Haig’s descriptions are vividly arresting, as the gripping storyline keeps the pages turning until you reach the end. If you wish to regard the vampires as some kind of extended metaphor because your literary friends will look down their pointy noses at you if you don’t, then by all means go ahead. I don’t get the feeling that Haig was sweating over such distinctions all that much – he was too busy having fun with wicked, wicked uncle Will, while peeling back the hypocrisies and misunderstandings of daily life, highlighted in stark relief as the protagonists stumble through their days and nights in the grip of a terrible addiction. The extracts from The Abstainer’s Handbook are funny and poignant. The ending is very well executed, providing a really satisfying conclusion to this dark edged drama and nicely tying up any trailing ends.

All in all, reluctant though I am to find myself agreeing with Jo Brand – this, after all, is the woman who claims 1984 is her favourite book, while professing to hate science fiction as a genre – I found The Radleys a highly entertaining, darkly enjoyable read.
9/10