Tag Archives: science fiction thriller

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.

Teaser Tuesday – 28th June, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
The Nightmare Stacks – Book 7 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
64%: “What if it isn’t? Suppose it’s a national security problem. Suppose those bodies, for the sake of thenightmarestacksargument, were Russian Spetsnaz special forces soldiers who were here as pathfinders for an invasion. Here to kill civil authorities, fuck stuff up, and raise hell right before a paratroop assault. Suppose also that they’ve had the supreme bad luck to try and break into a camouflaged Ministry of Defense installation with lethal countermeasures and got themselves killed. So it’s actually not a normal crime, but an act of war. What would your priorities be then?”
Sergeant Gracie stares at him in horror. “You’re kidding me.”

BLURB: Alex Schwartz had a promising future – until he contracted an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret agency. His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. The thought of telling his parents that he’s lost his old job, let alone them finding out about his ‘condition’, is causing Alex more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses. His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student appearing in the local Goth Festival, who flirts with him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock.
But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal…

I was thrilled when I managed to get hold of a NetGalley arc of this book, as I’m a huge fan of The Laundry Files, which is one of the best urban fantasy thriller series I’ve read. Alex is a character we first encounter in The Rhesus Chart and I’m delighted to meet up with him, again. I’ll be posting the review of this one, hopefully, during the week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Kindle INDIE EBOOK Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

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This is a book I came across when browsing fellow book bloggers on WordPress and downloaded it onto my Kindle to read while I was  away.

2ndchanceFour lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls. But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets are at risk of being revealed. Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, this is the story of how far those in power will go to retain control, and the true price to pay for a Second Chance.

This post-apocalyptic near-future thriller unfolds through following these four characters. So does Hearn manage to handle the different voices? Oh yes – and it would have been all too easy to have lost the plot, literally, in the thickets of political intrigue, or by including yet another nifty plot twist while trying to hunt down missing Jennica. This is a slick, well written book with a strong storyline and plenty of narrative tension. The world is complex, with plenty of layers. I felt that the reveal, though I didn’t see it coming, was entirely plausible. Sadly…

I had a couple of favourite characters – Nic, the investigator and Stephanie, the politician. It was the fate of these two protagonists that pulled me into the story – and wanting to know what had happened to Jennica, of course. These two people struggling to do the best they can in difficult circumstances were well drawn and when Hearn demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to allow his main characters suffer major damage, my emotional involvement in the story increased, which isn’t always the case.

Hearn ably builds the pace to the shocking climax and the denouement. It is a tricky business to wrap up the storyline satisfactorily, while still leaving a couple of plot threads waving in the wind to tempt readers to track down the sequel – certainly harder than Hearn makes it look. Any grizzles? I did feel the reveal regarding Jennica was a little more rushed than it should have been – but this is a minor point. Writing a strong, plausible near-future thriller with multiple protagonists requires a great deal of technical skill – and way Hearn manages to tick the necessary boxes in order to produce such a successful book makes him One To Watch.
8/10

Film Review of District 9

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district 9While my friend Mhairi Simpson was laid up after coming off her bike last week, we had the good luck to encounter this film, courtesy of the good ol’ Syfy channel. As Mhairi hadn’t seen it, I was very glad to have an excuse to watch it again.

Released in 2009 by TriStar Pictures and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this science fiction thriller is set in the very near future, when a huge space ship appears in the sky over Johannesburg in South Africa. And just hangs there. Three months later, a task force eventually breaks into the ship to find it contains around half a million sick and starving aliens. Transported to a camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the aliens are provided with food and the most primitive, rudimentary basics required for existence and left to get on with it. They do.

Living in squalor, they barter whatever they can for tins of cat food and pieces of meat. Inevitably, illegal interest in their technology is centred around their impressive weaponry. Despite the fact that humans cannot activate these lethal pieces of kit as they are keyed to alien DNA, a Nigerian crimelord based in the centre of District 9 is busy building up an arsenal. He is convinced that if he consumes enough alien body parts, he will eventually be able to activate these guns which will give him an unassailable advantage in the human criminal underworld.

The years wear on and the alien population continues to grow, despite their revolting living conditions. Ill educated and brutalised by their bleak existence, the aliens – or Prawns, as they come to be known – don’t make comfortable neighbours and the humans living alongside them become increasingly vociferous in their complaints. So some twenty years after they first appeared, a scheme is hatched to move the aliens on from District 9, where they have been living, to District 10 – a barren hellhole right out in the bush. The move is to be overseen by a tough military organisation, the MNU, who go in mob-handed with an enthusiastic Afrikaner office jock by the name of Wikus van de Merwe played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley. However, things don’t go according to plan…

The timeline is fractured, with much of the backstory very effectively told as a documentary, first of the alien roundup and then of the unfolding events. The wobbly camera-work, abrupt stops and various narrators giving their thoughts and opinions on what occurred is very cleverly interleaved with the visceral action.

It doesn’t take a genius to quickly realise that this film is more than just an escapist junket about yet another alien visitation. The district9.2proposed clear-out of District 9 is based on the forced evictions and removals of whole populations, both during the South African apartheid years and since, when in an attempt to dislodge some of the shanty towns that had built up during apartheid, the government have resorted to the kinds of tactics shown in this film. The less than subtle nod to recent history – District 9 in reality was the infamous District 6, where 60,000 blacks were forced to move out – gives the action extra emotional punch. This is echoed in the haunting soundtrack, which plays as aliens are shown scrabbling around on rubbish tips…

However, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is just some neo-political rant about man’s inhumanity to man. This film also produces plenty action-packed chases, fire fights and destructive explosions to keep the most avid action-junkie satisfied. I loved the ending – which managed to be moving and tie up the main story arc, while conveniently leaving the door open for the sequel. And if this team get together to produce said sequel, I’m definitely going to be right up at the front of the queue to see it at the cinema. An intelligent, thought provoking science fiction thriller that exposes humanity’s greed and brutality in an entertaining action-fest doesn’t come along every day of the week…
9/10

Review of Lightning by Dean Koontz

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I hadn’t read any Dean Koontz until earlier this year, when I read Odd Thomas and thoroughly enjoyed it – read my review here. So when Himself came home clutching this offering with a grin on his face, I knew it needed to go to the top of my To Read list…

lightningThe first time the lightning strikes Laura Shane is born… And that’s as much of the blurb I’m going to give you – whatever you do, don’t read the back cover – it reveals faaar too much of the storyline. Suffice to say that every time Laura faces major peril, her guardian appears after a bolt of lightning. Which is just as well, because Laura tends to face a lot of danger.

I now know exactly why Koontz is read around the world as a best-selling author – he certainly knows how to produce a page-turner. I should have turned the light off and put the book down, but stayed up to see what would happen, next. Laura is a strong sympathetic protagonist, however she isn’t overly complex or three-dimensional. This doesn’t matter, because the character who retains a sense of mystery and some menace is the gunman who threatens the drunk doctor about to attend Laura’s birth. This shadowy figure, who Laura calls her guardian, seems to be a force for good – although we learn early on that he is capable of killing without much compunction. And that he, in turn, is being followed by someone who regards him as a traitor…
Koontz provides plenty of narrative tension to keep the reader hooked – watching a child come under threat is certainly a strong motive to wish her benefactor well. The only catch is – and my main grizzle about the whole book – is that Koontz’s depiction of children and their dialogue didn’t really ring true. It didn’t become a dealbreaker, but was an irritation until Laura grew up sufficiently that it was no longer a problem.

Any lingering doubts about whether to continue the book was the first major plot twist – I didn’t see that coming… Not only did it ramp up the stakes another several notches, the pace and quality of the book steadily increased, so that I devoured the rest of the 500+ page story in two greedy gulps. The ending was suitably climactic, with another interesting twist right at the end. All in all, a really enjoyable, addictive read.
7/10

Review of Glasshouse by Charles Stross

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I’m a fan of Charles Stross’ writing – his work is intelligent, sharply witty, often funny and always enjoyably engrossing. So when I unexpectedly came across this offering on the shelves, I snatched it up with delight.

When Robin wakes up in a clinic with most of his memories missing, it doesn’t take him long to discover that someone else is trying to glasshousekill him… It is the 27th century: interstellar travel is by teleport gate, and conflicts are fought by network worms that censor refugees’ personalities and target historians. Robin is a civilian now – demobilised following a civil war – but someone wants him dead because of something his earlier self knows.

Fleeing from his ruthless pursuer, he volunteers to participate in a unique experimental polity, the Glasshouse. It seems the ideal hiding place for a posthuman on the run, but in this escape-proof environment, Robin will undergo even more radical change, placing him at the mercy of the experimenters – and of his own unbalanced psyche.

If that seems rather a lot of blurb, it is. Because this book carries a large amount of backstory that immediately impacts on Robin’s current plight. Problem is, he cannot exactly recall what it is about his past his would-be assassins are objecting to, because he has undergone memory surgery…

Posthumanity regularly crops up in far-future science fiction and the problem I generally have with it, is that these very old, highly evolved beings often appear so alien and different I find it difficult to really care about them. Not so Robin. He is short-fused, argumentative, judgemental, occasionally violent, amusing and suspicious of everyone to the point of paranoia. He is also very damaged. In order for Glasshouse to work, we have to care for this tricky protagonist, because in a shifting, difficult world full of secrets and treachery, it is Robin who guides us through this landscape. And I found myself immediately drawn into his worldview, his problems and this apparent solution.

But the Glasshouse isn’t all it seems, either. Neither is Robin… I’m not going to continue as I’m allergic to spoilers and the plot to this book corkscrews off in all directions. Maybe other cleverer souls who read it realised where it was going – but I regularly found there was yet another shock as the storyline revealed yet another layer of surprise. Robin finds it hard to keep up, too. And the damage he has sustained becomes all too apparent just at the time when he needs to be at his shiny best – and he isn’t. So as well as a flawed uncertain world, reeling from the savage wars when reality itself melts taking with it the pockets of humanity caught up in the folds, Stross also provides an unreliable narrator through whose first person viewpoint we access this world. It’s an almighty big task – and in many ways, Stross manages to pull this off.

I really cared about Robin – and when he undergoes major physical and gender changes, while the depiction isn’t as visceral and raw as Richard Morgan’s sleeved protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, there is still a strong sense of confusion and anger. It was interesting to note that Robin never seems fully comfortable in a woman’s body, any more than he is happy wearing silk, which s/he describes as ‘bug vomit’. The steady trickle of amusing asides, while Stross ridicules our way of life through future eyes, adds to the pleasure of this thriller as it steadily builds towards the climax.

If you’re sensing a but, you’d be right. As to the major plot denouement, I have no problem – the climax and reveal are all enjoyable and satisfying. If only the final couple of pages weren’t there… For me, Stross’ final solution to Robin’s misery strikes an entirely false note and seemed utterly unrealistic. We’re into major spoiler country here, so I won’t go into details. But suffice to say, given Robin’s history, where he ends up and with whom simply didn’t convince me, which was a real shame.

With many other books, this would be sufficient to have given the book a 5 and not bother reviewing it – I don’t review books I don’t like – but despite the wrong ending, there is so much about this novel that is excellent, I’m still going to recommend you track it down and read it. Who knows? Maybe you’d even like the ending…
7/10