Tag Archives: thriller

Two SCI FI Mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear #BrainfluffSCIFImini-reviews #TheLastAstronautmini-review #Scardownmini-review

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The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

BLURB: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.
She’s wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.
Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.

I’m generally not a huge fan of space horror, as it’s often done badly, with scant respect for the actual science part of the fiction. This time, however, Wellington nails it. He has worked hard on his alien, so that the tension-filled build up is worth the wait. I found it hard to put this one down as the situation slithers out of control. And that ending is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended for fans of first contact adventures.
9/10

Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear

BLURB: The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.

Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…

I loved the first book, – see my review of Hammered – but found it more of a struggle to get into this one. But I’m also aware that when reading this, I was extremely stressed, so that could have had a bearing on my ability to focus. However, I do think the crucial bonding moment with the main protagonist should have been differently handled. The first two opening scenes ought to have been the other way around. Or merged, so that if – like me – your memory is currently operating at the level of a concussed goldfish, enough of the ongoing story is fed into that initial scene so the reader isn’t scrabbling to make sense of what is going on, instead of relaxing into the strong, engrossing writing. Once I recalled the story and characters, I enjoyed the ongoing adventure and look forward to continuing with this series. If you pick this one up before reading Hammered – whatever you do, go back and find it. Bear’s fast-paced, immersive style doesn’t hang around for the bemused or floundering.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Words are free – it’s how you use them that can cost… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffwordscovers #SciFiMonth2020

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with WORDS. I’ve selected Artemis by Andy Weir and linked this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020. See my reviews of The Martian and Artemis.

Crown, November 2017

This hardcover edition was produced by Crown in November 2017. To be honest, I think it’s just dreary. The story is a foot-to-the floor thriller set on the Moon. And with all the black, black, blacketty black going on, I don’t think you’d know it. Worse – in thumbnail both the author and title fonts simply disappear. I think this cover fails on almost every level.

Ballantine, July 2018

Published in July 2018 by Ballantine, at least this grey effort gives us an idea of the Moon. And though I’m not sure exactly why it’s there, I quite like the orange strip running down the length of the cover. Though perhaps I’m just craving something – anything else, other than GREY.

Del Rey, November 2017

At least this edition, published by Del Rey in November 2017, is an improvement over the previous miserable offerings. Though I can’t help thinking the girl staring out at us through her space helmet is a not-very-subtle reminder that this is the author of The Martian, given that one of the default covers was Matt Damon was gazing at us. And just in case we missed that allusion, there is lump of blurb telling us. Which has ruined this one for me.

Russian edition, December 2017

This Russian edition, produced by ACT in December 2017, is more like it! I love this image of the Moon, limned around the edge by the Sun. It is glorious and gives a wonderful pop of colour and excitement. And there is also a cool spaceship in the foreground… While I could have done without the MUST READ docket hanging off the ship exhaust, this is my favourite cover by a long light year.

Lithuanian edition, August 2019


This Lithuanian edition, published by BALTO leidybos namai in August 2019 is also a better effort than the top two miserable efforts. I like the figure against the craters of the Moon, though the scale and detail is slightly puzzling. And I definitely like the title running down the centre of the cover in red lettering. But which is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 2nd September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Kept From Cages – Book 1 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams – release date 22nd September

#supernatural thriller #quirky characters

BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows.

Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

I thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he offered me the chance to read an arc of Kept from Cages, I jumped at the chance. Looking forward to this one, because Phil’s books are always peopled with interesting quirky characters who ping off the page. And they are all nuanced and three-dimensional – even the ones you love to hate…

Annddd… this is the last day that my space opera adventure, RUNNING OUT OF SPACE is FREE! Click on the title link, or the cover on the sidebar if you want to claim a copy from your nearest Amazon store



Friday Faceoff – When Life gets blurry, adjust your focus… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffdoublevisioncovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring DOUBLE VISION covers. I’ve selected Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which I really enjoyed – see my review.

 

This offering was produced by Crown in July 2016. It’s actually a really simple cover. Just the title in black, against a red background and then parts of the top and bottom of the title font copied in diminishing sizes. But isn’t it effective? So very clever and eye-catching! It just goes to show that some of the best designs are those with the simplest dynamic. And yay for a complete lack of clutter – other than the title and the author’s name, there is NOTHING ELSE on the cover. This is my favourite.

 

Published in May 2017 by Ballantine, this is the reverse of the previous effort. Except they have also added a repeating pattern of the protagonist across the background, which I think looks really effective, adding an extra dimension to the design. In thumbnail, I’d decided that this one was my favourite – until I’d enlarged it to discover they’d decided to add some chatter top and bottom, which I think compromises the visual impact of the whole design. What a shame! Otherwise, it would have been my favourite.

 

This edition, published in August 2016 by Pan, is another awesome design. It’s funny how some authors are lucky enough to have several wonderful book designs. If you have read the book, you’ll know that that this design is especially appropriate, as well as visually beautiful. It is a real contender for me – I was so very tempted to make this one my favourite, especially as I love the spiralling effect down to into the centre of the cover.

 

This edition, published in August 2016 by Macmillan is… interesting. I envisage the conversation between the cover designer and publisher going something like this –
“What – you want me to do a redesign? But it’s awesome!”
“We want our own branding. Though if you can reference the original cover regarding colours…”
“So red and black, then.”
“Yes.”
“Can I mix it up – add a couple more colours? Bring in another concept?”
“Nope. Just rebrand it with a fresh twist. Using the same colours and with a nod to the original design.”
“Okay.”
And this is what they ended up with…

 

This Finnish edition, published by Tammi in January 2017, is another strong offering. I really like the orange and black, which also works well. The two figures are effective, with orange in profile and the other fractured version facing us. Again, a pleasing nod to the story – and again – I’m delighted at the lack of chatter on the cover, which gives us a chance to appreciate the full impact of the design. But which is your favourite?


Friday Faceoff – Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftrickcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with VISUAL TRICKERY. I’ve selected The Whisper Man by Alex North.


This edition was produced by Celadon Books in August 2019. It’s it clever? The handprint that somehow turns into a butterfly works really well. And they haven’t even added a bit of colour to give us a visual clue, which would have been acceptable. I love the fact that ALL the information featured on the cover is the title, the author and the fact that this is a novel. For once the publishers have relied on the strength of the book design to sell this one – and judging by the numbers of reviews it garnered on Goodreads, this default cover did the business.

 

Published in June 2019 by Penguin, I think this is both beautiful and gruesome – and those aren’t two adjectives that go together all that often… The beautiful butterfly wing in the pale gold against the dark background is stunning – until you look a bit more closely and notice the details are skulls and parts of the human skeleton. The pin through the wing just adds to the sense of wrongness. But it is subtle and clever. This one is my favourite.

 

This Polish edition, published by MUZA S.A., in October 2019 is another cover that plays visual tricks. The white moth against the black cover couldn’t be more simple – until you look again and see it as a triangular, ghostly face. I also like the title font – the greying, slightly grubby look works really well with the monochrome effect of the rest of the cover and I applaud the designer in keeping it pared back. So many covers these days are so very busy. My only niggle – and yes, you’ll probably already know what I’m going to say, but I’ll say it anyway – are the lines of chatter under the melting moth/face. What a shame they had to be there, as they detract from the spare menace of the design.

 

This Bulgarian edition, produced by Сиела in 2019, has taken the butterfly – or is it moth? – theme in a different direction. There is a lot going on in this beautiful, ominous cover. The full moon outside provides all the light as a lightning forks across the sky and those moths flutter around the window. Nothing much to see – except the curtain has been drawn back and there is a single palmprint on the glass. If the owner of the hand pressed against the window was standing in front of it, s/he/it had to be outside… It’s cleverly done and gives a disturbing sense of wrongness without recourse to any kind of horror trope.

 

This Macedonian edition, published by Сакам Книги is less subtle, but I absolutely love the jagged cut across the title font which works so well. I’m not quite as thrilled with the spatter of blood, but that butterfly… Is it resting on the chin of a face, just below a screaming mouth? Or is that just my imagination working overtime? The indistinctness adds to the horror vibe. If I have a quibble, I think the abandoned house beneath the title font is an unnecessary addition – they should have trusted the strength of that single, shocking image, rather than hedging their bets with another horror trope. Which is your favourite?

Review of HARDBACK edition of Recursion by Blake Crouch #Brainfluffbookreview #Recursionbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed Crouch’s super-charged sci fi thriller Dark Matter – see my review – and so was keen to get hold of this one, as many folks whose opinion I respect said Recursion was better than Dark Matter. So I was absolutely delighted to discover that I’d won a beautiful hardback copy in a giveaway organised by Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy.

BLURB: What if someone could rewrite your entire life?
‘My son has been erased.’
Those are the last words the woman tells Barry Sutton before she leaps from the Manhattan rooftop. Deeply unnerved, Barry begins to investigate her death only to learn that this wasn’t an isolated case. All across the country, people are waking up to lives different from the ones they fell asleep to. Are they suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious, new disease that afflicts people with vivid memories of a life they never lived? Or is something far more sinister behind the fracturing of reality all around him?

This one starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Like Dark Matter, Crouch gives his sci fi premise a real contemporary thriller feel with the punchy pacing and driving narrative. The surprise-filled, twisting plot sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the last page, so that I read this one in two greedy gulps and judging from the comments of other reviewers, I’m not alone in being unable to put this one down until the end. One of Crouch’s strengths is that I really cared about the two main protagonists. Both Barry and Helena are good people, trying to do their best in increasingly dreadful circumstances and I held my breath, hoping against hope that – somehow – they’d prevail.

I was pleased to see that even the main antagonist had strong reasons for doing what he’d done, so that while I couldn’t condone his actions, I could at least understand them. I really liked the way the stakes around this huge discovery kept getting greater, until that terrible climactic scene in the middle of New York… I had to put the book down for a while at that point, as I needed to draw breath.

Of course, the catch with raising the stakes so very high, is that the denouement and ending have to be able to match them. While it hadn’t been a dealbreaker, I wasn’t wholly happy with the end of Dark Matter. However this time around, Crouch brings the story to a great conclusion, with plenty of poignancy and heartache along the way. Far too often, apocalyptic sci fi focuses on the geeky consequences of the catastrophe, leaving characters with all the charisma of cardboard cutouts – not so Crouch. I minded what happened to these people and felt very invested in their ultimate wellbeing. As I rather shakily closed this book for the last time, I took a couple of deep breaths, feeling very relieved that I wasn’t a character in one of Crouch’s worlds.
10/10







Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 15th January, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Apollo Deception by Mitch Silver

#crime #thriller #whodunit

After China announce a space mission to place their own flag next to the one US astronauts planted during the Apollo 11 mission, few people bat an eyelid. Shortly after this statement Charlie Stephens, a 81-year-old former filmmaker, is murdered. The incident is made to look like an accident, but why? Going through his father’s effects, Gary Stephens – a director of beer and yogurt ads – discovers seven cans of old 35mm film. Dated before the landing, they’re identical to the footage NASA claims was shot by the Apollo 11 crew. The US flag is not and has never been in the Sea of Tranquillity, and only Tricky Dick and a handful of others knew it. Why was the real nature of the Apollo 11 mission kept hidden? And what measures will be taken to keep the secret buried?

Just to make it absolutely clear, I am NOT of the school that believes the Apollo Moon missions were some elaborate hoax – but I thought this looked like a really cool premise for a high-stakes thriller.

Sunday Post – 29th December, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been madly busy and great fun… Yes – I know I used that line last week, but it also nicely sums up this last week. Himself was working until 10 pm on Christmas Eve, so it was something of a blur to get presents wrapped and all the cooking done. My son arrived on Christmas Eve, just in time to start tucking into the homemade vegan mince pies and we had a lovely natter together. Christmas morning was spent cooking – Himself was in charge, despite struggling with a terrible cold. My sister and nephew joined us for lunch and stayed for the evening. We had a lovely time – Rob and Michael hadn’t seen each other for far too long, so were able to have a good catch up. After lunch was eaten and cleared away, we opened presents and played a couple of cracking games – Ticket to Ride and Scotland Yard.

On Boxing Day, we were due to drive over to my daughter’s for the afternoon to play yet more games, when she phoned me to say the conditions on the A27 were horrendous and she didn’t want me driving over. So they bundled into their all-weather terrain jalopy and came to us, instead. She then made a meal for eight in my kitchen before we played the Present Game and I subjected the family to my Christmas Quiz. So much laughter – the walls rang with it…

We have been taking it easy since, while Himself is trying to recover from his cold. He is off work until New Year’s Day, which is a real treat. Rob went back to Cambridge yesterday evening, so the house is a lot quieter… I can’t quite believe it’s all over.

Last week I read:

The Zig Zag Girl – Book 1 of the Stephens and Mephisto mystery series by Elly Griffiths
Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

I’ve enjoyed reading some of the Ruth Galloway series by this author, so was intrigued by this series set in a city I know quite well. This entertaining, historical whodunit did not disappoint. Review to follow.

 

Recursion by Blake Crouch
‘My son has been erased.’
Those are the last words the woman tells Barry Sutton before she leaps from the Manhattan rooftop. Deeply unnerved, Barry begins to investigate her death only to learn that this wasn’t an isolated case. All across the country, people are waking up to lives different from the ones they fell asleep to. Are they suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious, new disease that afflicts people with vivid memories of a life they never lived? Or is something far more sinister behind the fracturing of reality all around him?

I was lucky enough to win this lovely hardcover edition from Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy in one of her international giveaways. I tucked into it as a Christmas treat and despite not having all that much time, once I opened it, I couldn’t put it down. It truly is an addictive page-turner… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Borderline – Book 4 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Friday Faceoff featuring Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis

Christmas Trivia 2019

Christmas has come early – thank you so much, Tammy!

Sunday Post 22nd December 2019

Huge apologies – with all the festivities and my son staying over, I simply haven’t been online enough to interact, comment or be able to recommend any articles. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Dark Matter by Blake Crouch #Brainfluffbookreview #DarkMatterbookreview #@SciFiMonth

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I was aware the rest of the universe had read and raved about this one and was all set to somewhat sulkily shun it for that very reason, but one of my book blogging buddies persuaded me to give it a go. Sorry if it was you and I haven’t namechecked you, but I have the memory of a goldfish. I am also linking this review to @SciFiMonth, where you can find lots of sci fi goodness.

BLURB: Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters. It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”. Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And someone is hunting him.

And if that sounds like a rather creepy thriller, you’d be right – it is. But there is also a solid sci fi element nested within the plot that I thoroughly enjoyed. As the story unfolded, I found this one difficult to put down as I had thoroughly identified with solidly nice Jason, loving husband and father. Crouch has a knack of writing the familiar and everyday with conviction and colour, so that when everything suddenly upends into violence and sci fi weirdness, the reader is truly shocked. This reader was, anyway…

I very much enjoyed the characterisation of Jason and his lovely wife, whose promising artistic career was cut short by debilitating post-natal depression, which lost her openings and opportunities when she was ‘a coming talent’. I also liked the fact that nice, solid Jason also had darker depths that become all too apparent in the final stages of this thriller.

Any grizzles? Hm. Call me very, very picky – but I wasn’t absolutely happy with the ending. Having spent a fair amount of time close-up and personal with teen boys, I’m not sure the finale would work successfully under those conditions. He was the one character who, I felt, was a little sketchy and lacking in depth. That said, for most of the novel he didn’t need much fleshing out. Therefore I’ve knocked a point off, though that still makes it a five- star review – and quite right too.

Highly recommended for fans of thriller adventures who would appreciate a sci fi element in their story, along with those who generally enjoy the SFF genre.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Hope is a thing with feathers… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofffeathercovers

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is FEATHERS. I’ve selected The Devil’s Feather by Minette Walters as I think at least two of the covers are extraordinarily good…

 

This edition was produced by Alfred A. Knopf in August 2006 and is a strong contender. I love the drama of that red feather against the black background – a classic colour combination that always works well. For once, I’m not complaining about the rather ordinary white font, because with the red strands of feathers threaded through them, it gives that special lift so many title and author fonts lack. Overall, this classy offering is eye-catching and clever, with a strong clue as to the genre – what more could you ask from a cover?

 

Published in October 2006 by Pan Books (UK), this is also a really stylish design. The feather with the girl’s eye looking through is both arresting and original. I also very much like the author font – and given that is the book’s selling point, it makes sense to make that the major feature. However I’m less impressed with the chatter in the middle of the design, cluttering it up and diminishing the visual effect.

 

This edition, published by Macmillan in September 2005, shows what a huge impact colours can have. While the previous cover with the white background and tawny feather was eye-catching – this one with the black background and that single feather with the eye looking through is sheer class. Much as I love the first cover, this is the one that actually lifted the hair on the back of my neck. And no chatter across the cover to spoil that fabulous effect either!

 

This Dutch edition, produced by De Boekerij in 2006, is also an interesting cover. The view has the reader trapped behind a screen watching birds wheeling in the sky – the greenish hue and the whole design is really disturbing. While it isn’t my favourite, I do think it is effective at making me stop and look twice at what is going on. If I have a peeve, I think the small title font is underwhelming and an odd choice.

 

This Croatian edition, published in 2006 by Mozaik knjiga, is the most disappointing of all my choices and has more of a feel of someone let loose with photoshop. While a plain white background can be effective – as in the second choice – this time around it simply looks as if they couldn’t be bothered to add another layer of visual interest. And though I appreciate that the wing chopped off like that is supposed to somehow look wrong – it isn’t the right kind of wrongness, more that the design doesn’t hang together. Which is your favourite?