4 books read, 4 reviewed

Since I last wrote I’ve managed to complete 4 books, so I’ll do some brief reviews of  them here before I start number 5.

 

5-riversI started the month with a book I picked up on a weekend away in Liverpool. Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris. Its the story of five separate lives that interconnect briefly around a single incident – a car accident in Salisbury. Judging the book by its cover, it had some decent reviews. Plus I hadn’t heard of it before…(see the paragraph below about Down Station), plus I used to live in Bournemouth so had visited Salisbury a few times back then.

The prologue is a bit of a red herring. It’s a bit of flowery prose about the five rivers that flow onto Salisbury Plain, tracing time from prehistory through to the modern era. It has nothing to do with the story other than (I’m guessing) as an analogy for the 5 people who’s lives flow separately but come together in a single moment that has it’s own story and tributaries.

The interconnectedness of people’s lives isn’t a new idea, but Barney Norris does it very well. He’s also a playwright so I can imagine the story working very well as a play or film. The characters are likeable, or at least interesting. I enjoyed the different stories (some more than others).   This is a fine read. It engages the reader, and should hold your attention right the way through. Recommended.
I moved back in time then to re-read a book I last read (I Think) about 30 years ago – The Diary of A Young Girl – by Anne Frank.  anne-frank
There’s something about how the world is at the moment that motivated me to revisit this well known work. When I read it first I was either a teen or in my early 20’s. Either way, I had forgotten much of the detail. Anne Frank in the early chapters isn’t the most likeable child. She comes across as quite vain, and full of herself. Turns out, in the case of her writing she had every right. I had forgotten how good her writing is. It’s easy for forget that she was 13 when she started and 15 by the end of the diary. I imagine after the war, people may have doubted it was written by someone so young. Her depth of understanding and articulation of her emotions and feelings towards her family are very surprising, and lift it beyond the general description of the claustrophobic life she lived for those years.

Beyond that the unwritten story is of course a vital reminder of the horrors of the time. The family’s eventual arrest and death of all but Anne’s father Otto a few weeks before the camp’s liberation a tragedy.  What strikes is the simple pleasures she lost, her desire to be a normal young person and the bravery of the people that helped the 8 people in the Anne Frank House. I don’t know if this is still essential reading in the school curriculum, but it certainly should be.

DOWN-STATION1.jpgWhether it’s because of the internet and having so much information ready to hand, or because if the shops I tend to browse in, I am increasingly finding I rarely ‘discover’ new books any more. I seem to have heard about or read about the new books I see in the shelves of my local Dubray Bookshop. So when I’m away I like to see if there is something I haven’t seen before. I’m returning to my trip to Liverpool where the local Waterstones 3 for 2 had be checking for something new. To my surprise I found Down Station by Simon Morden.

The story – a couple of groups of people are working in London’s underground network. Some sort of catastrophic event is happening. The world is on fire. The escape through a service door in a disused station and emerge in what turns out to a totally different world. The way back seems to disappear, along with it their way back. They’re not the first to come through into this world, from which there seems to be no return. They have to learn how to survive and who they can or cannot trust.

I enjoy fantasy and this is something a little different. It move along nice and briskly and has all the ingredients for a great series. I am looking forward to number 2, and learning more about the world of Down. If you like fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, but that has an intriguing dusting of magic, then you’ll like this.

orphan-xFinally, a book that’s been in my TBR pile for a while now. I fancied what I hoped would be a straight forward thriller and wasn’t disappointed by Orphan X by Greg Hurwitz. It is what I hoped and is very enjoyable. I flew through it, and enjoyed it all.

Orphan X was literally an orphan taken and trained to be an assassin/spy/tool ah la Jason Bourne I guess. He eventually leaves the world of black ops, and becomes a sort of vigilante, man for hire…like a younger Equalizer. After he has sorted your problem, your payment is to pass on his number to one person that really needs his help. And from there he gets tied up in a conspiracy with all the thrills and spills you might expect.

This is the first in a series apparently, with number 2 (The Nowwhere Man) currently available. I would expect to see a movie to go along with it too.

Crosstalk – Connie Willis

Telepathy, meets smart technology meets love and romance. I love a bit of speculative fiction, but this mixed bag of a novel doesn’t quite get there.

 

crosstalk_tpb

I’ve read Doomsday and Blackout by Connie Willis before Crosstalk. Both books that feature Time Travel, something the author might have considered using to go back and tighten up this novel before it got published.

I enjoyed it. Some parts more than others. Some things annoyed me. Some stupidly small things that shouldn’t have annoyed me. The protagonist’s name is Briddey. This jarred with me, as she is meant to be from very Irish roots and the extra D just irked me everytime I saw it. I wanted to pronounce her name Bridey (sounds like bride) but the extra D makes it seem like Bridge sounding…does that make sense? Anyway, its a very small thing, but (obviously) it got under my skin.

The story centres around Briddey Flannigan, who works for a communications company that rivals Apple. She is going to get a neural enhancement which means she and her boyfriend will be able to feel their  emotions towards each other, confirming their connectedness. There features a supporting cast of work colleagues and her slightly bonkers Irish family. Her sister Mary Clare is a very annoying and unbelievable character. The procedure has some unintended consequences, and a wee bit of sci-fi, romantic farce ensues.

I know I’ve been mostly negative so far, but I actually did enjoy the book, just not as much as I hoped I would.  The story could be shorter. There are some silly bits in it, and a couple of characters I could have done without…maybe Mary Clare was needed as a plot device for her daughter.

Blurb mentions Norah Ephron, and  the romance is of typical Ephron Rom-Com style. A perfectly suitable (on the surface) relationship, the introduction of a colleague she initially dislikes but slowly falls in love with.

The explanations of how the unintended consequences work I enjoyed. The few scrapes and avoiding detection were also parts that added pleasure and it all comes together in a satisfying way. There is a message there about how too much communication can be a bad thing.

Doomsday was my introduction to Connie Willis. It brilliant. Blackout was great, although for some reason I haven’t gotten round to All Clear. I got Crosstalk as a Christmas gift, and give it a hit and miss 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

Been so long, so here’s a catch up

Oh dear, I haven’t written anything in ages. I had a brief hiatus (for a few weeks) when I didn’t read anything, but mostly I prioritised work and other such distractions. So this post is by way of a catch up.

Books read since last I posted;

Actually, I suppose as a snapshot it shows a little of how eclectic my reading can be.

untitledOnly Ever Yours, is a dark young adult book. Yet another dystopian world, this one with shades of Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’ world, where young women compete to find their place in a male dominated society. It’s a sad, frightening existence, made more so because it takes amplifies and builds on many of the issues faced by young women today. It really is a speculative indictment of what some young women expect of themselves, of youth culture, of celebrity culture. As a youth worker I see many facets of the characters lives mirrored (obviously in a much less extreme way) in teens I work with. For that reason I finished the book feeling depressed. It is a book to be admired rather than enjoyed.

silkworm

The Silkworm is an enjoyable crime novel written by JK Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. It’s the second novel featuring likeable character Cormoran Strike. The writing and plot is clever, and fans of crime fiction this should be a treat. Crime fiction is probably a genre I don’t read a huge amount of, but this more than kept my attention and I fairly flew through it.

darkmouth

Darkmouth is the latest children’s fiction sensation from Ireland, following the success of the Artemis Fowl and Skulduggery Pleasant series’. Darkmouth is a small town in Ireland where the last Legend Hunter and his son Finn, live. There’s plenty of humour and drama here to keep the most discerning of young teen or tween engrossed. I’m sure many parents will enjoy reading this book and any subsequent episodes to follow along with their children. The scary monsters are sometimes a little scary and sometimes really not, so if looking for an excuse to read it, checking its suitability for your child is as good a reason as any.

look whos back

I was looking forward to reading Look Who’s Back for ages after seeing the larger paperback version in my local bookshop. Alas the anticipation didn’t quite match the reality. It was ok. I liked it. But it wasn’t great. 2 and half to three out of five I’d say. I was looking forward to something really funny, and a scathing attack on modern politics. There were some humourous parts, and it did have a dig at 2015 Germany, but like I’ve said, it never quite hit the heights I was hoping for. There’s probably some sort of lesson about not judging a book by its cover, but who among us hasn’t fallen for that one? It’s also probably a bit unfair to judge it on what I was hoping for rather than what it was.

ancillary sword
Ancillary Sword on the other hand met my expectations. I loved Ancillary Justice. It was one of my favourite books of last year, so I was really pleased to find the standard hadn’t dropped. If you don’t like science-fiction, you should probably leave it alone. But sci-fi fans will lap it up. Intelligent space Opera.
all the lights
The last book in this round-up is All The Lights We Cannot See, and I think I’ll give that a little post all of its own. Spoiler alert though. I loved it. Best book I’ve read in 2015, beautifully written and captivating story.

Tsundoku..or, The ‘to read’ list

Everybody (ok maybe not ‘everybody’) has a big pile of books that is slowly building and that is optimistically called their ‘To read list’.
The books below are what makes up mine. Some have been on the list for a while. I recently got rid of a big pile of books that have been on it too long and whcih I conceded I probably wouldn’t read. Some have been added just this week. Others may not get read, but I want them on my self, eg Stanger in a Strange Land, or The Earthsea Quartet.
tsundoku
Anyway…here they are…Don’t judge me…

Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Darkmouth – Shane Hegarty
Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey
1Q84 – Books one and two – Haruki Murakami
1Q84 – Book three- Haruki Murakami
The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James
A Girl is a half formed thing – Eimer McBride
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
HhhH – Laurent Binet
Nazi Literature in the Americas – Robert Bolano
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell
We are water – Walter Lamb
The Lonely Polygamist – Brady Udall
The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear – Walter Moers
The Alchemist’s Apprentice – Walter Moers
A Wild Ride Through Night – Walter Moers
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
The Time of our singing – Richard Powers
The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littel
The Art of Fielding  – Chad Harbach
How To Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
The Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Water Method Man – John Irving
Last Night in Twisted River – John Irving
In One Person – John Irving
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The love song of Queenie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
Anicillary Sword – Annie Leckie
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
Hang Wire – Adam Christopher
Shift – Hugh Howey
Sand – Hugh Howey
Bitterseed – Ian Tregiillis
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
The Hydrogen Sonata – Iain M Banks
Robogenisis – Daniel H Wilson
Robopocalypse – Daniel H Wilson
Hotwire – Simon Ings
Glass House – Charles Stross
Singularity Sky – Charles Stross
The Croning – Laird Barron
Soft Apocalypse – Will McIntosh
Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
Cryptonpmicon -Neal Stephenson
The Confusion – Neal Stephenson
Anathem – Neal Stephenson
Orphaned Worlds – Michael Cobley
Ascendent Stars – Micheal Cobley
Pasazade – Jon Courtney Grimwood
Stamping Butterflies – Jon Courtney Grimwood
The Rook – Daniel O’Malley
Blood of the Dragons – Robin Hobb
John Dies at the End – David Wong
This Book is Full of Spiders – David Wong
Ecko Rising  – Danie Ware
The Earthsea Quartet – Ursala Le Guin
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlen
Dodger – Terry Pratchett
Unlundun – China Meilville
The Magician King – Lev Grossman
Magicians – Lev Grossman
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time book 14) – Robert Jordan
A Dance With Dragons (1+2) (A Song of Ice and Fire) – George RR Martin
Dread – Gail z Martin
Sworn -Gail Z Martin
The Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
Shadow of the night – Deborah Harkness
Lonely Werewolf Girl – Martin Millar
The Furies of Calderon(Codex Alera Book 1) – Jim Butcher
Academ’s Fury (Book 2) – Jim Butcher
First Lord’s Fury (book 6 ) – Jim Butcher
The Scarab’s Path (book 5)- Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Sea Watch (book 6 ) – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mr Shivers – Robert Jackson Bennett

Half Bad – Sally Green
Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow
After The Snow – S D Crockett
One Crow Alone – S D Crockett
Infinite Sky – C J Flood
Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill
She’s Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick
Power of Six – Pittacus Lore
The Rise of Nine – Pittacus Lore
Ciity of Glass – Cassandra Clare
City of Lost Souls – Cassandra Clare
City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare
Specials – Scott Westerfeld
Extras – Scott Westerfeld
Pretties – Scott Westerfeld
Mad Fat Diary – Earl Rae
The Humans – Matt Haig
The Possession of Mr Cave – Matt Haig
Non-fiction
The Island That Dared – Dervla Murphy
Chavs – Owen Jones
The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
A Little History of the World – Gombrich
I left my tent in San Francisco – Emma Kennedy
Homocide: A year on the killing streets – David Simon

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Its not time travel, its just the ability to be in two different times, one real and one virtual…although that’s real too. But it’s not time travel.

The-Peripheral

You have to keep your wits about you reading William Gibson. He introduces so many different ideas in his books. ‘The Peripheral’ is his first future based novel in some time. Its set in two different futures – one, probably late 21st Century or early 22nd, close enough that the reader can regognise tech and references extrapolated from today. The second future is a more dystopian ‘post-jackpot’ world set a further 70 years further into the future. While the post jackpot world is dystopian, the earlier future is hardly a barrell of laughs either. The employment choices appear to be ‘building’ drug, 3d printing or ‘fabbing’, the armed forces, and playing different roles in online games.

Its through the latter that Flynne, who thinks she is covering for her brother running security for a game in a beta test glimpses the dystopian London of the future and witnesses a murder. This brings her unwanted attention of unseen and powerful forces and the story kicks on from there.

The Peripheral’s of the title are not printers or scanners that we have now, but bodies or exoskeletons that can be used to be present in places other than where you are physically placed. This allows our characters to interact and be present in different time continua (but it’s not time travel). In the future, the rich and powerful of the remaining 20% of the population that survived the Jackpot have discovered the ability to access timelines from the past. The points they travel to create new branches to the timelines lives of the people they observe or interact with.

The early part of this book is slow going. Characters, places, ideas and language are introduced to the reader chapter by chapter, skipping back and forth through time and place, but once it gets going it you won’t want to put it down. At its heart we find a crime noir whodunnit, wrapped up in techno thriller.

While early William Gibson novels were arguably gamechangers, at the forefront of cyberpunk, I’m not sure the same will be said for The Peripheral. It introduces some new ideas, its entertaining, and paints a suitably gloomy view of the future. Its weakness however is that it all lacks a little bit of depth and the ending especially is all wrapped up a little bit easily and conveniently. We’re brought to a hinted brink of global economic catastrophe, brought on by the behind the scenes battle of future forces, but as events reach a climax we’re led to believe things just sort of settled down fairly quickly. The Jackpot is also kind of glossed over and never totally explained. Its a minor quibble, and doesn’t remove from the story while reading it. But it does reduce that overall sense of satisfaction that comes with finishing a really great book.
A really good return from William Gibson, but one that doesn’t quiet reach the level of (unfair?) expectation that probably accompanies the work of such an iconic favourite of the genre.

The Kills – Richard House

Four books in one, read in two different chunks. A murder, a fraud, serial killers, missing persons, across different countries, on different continents. Its a sprawling novel with something for everyone.

the kills

The Kills by Richard House is a 1000+ page tome made up of 4 different books with connecting stories. Book Three, ‘The Kill’ apparently being the original story to which he added or extended to make into this novel. I began it during the summer while on holiday, but then left it down when I finished book two. I picked it back up last week to finish it.

Apparently its a more satisfying read in its digital format with a lot of added material that you can log on and access as you go along. Audio from different characters for example. I don’t own an e-reader so I’m not sure if it would have added to my enjoyment, I’m a bit old school still.

The story itself was enjoyable if slightly convoluted. As you might expect over 4 books, it moves about a bit.Ostensibly its the story of Richard Sutler who is contracted by a huge organisation to oversee work in Iraq. a thousand pages later we’ve covered industrial espionage, murder, terrorism, embezelment, serial killers, urban legend, a novel, a movie, a fugitive on the run and visited Italy, Syria, Cyprus and probably a bit more than that.

It mostly holds your attention, although I found some slow bits. As I had a few months between the first and second two books I didn’t always connect the dots the way I probably should have, but overall I enjoyed it without loving it. Its an ambitious work, and maybe its intended to be best enjoyed with the extra material.

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir is basically McGyver stuck on Mars, and it’s great fun.

the-martian-by-andy-weir-2

I’m probably repeating every review of The Martian by saying this book is Robinson Crusoe, meets McGyver, meets Apollo 13, but it’s very difficult to get away from those comparisons.

The premise – Astronaut Mark Watney gets marooned on Mars due to a freak accident that leaves his crew mates having to abort their mission, assuming him already dead. It’s no spoiler to say that he survived that accident, presumably to die quite soon after he wakes up.  As he says in the opening line, “I’m fucked”.

He’s a botanist and an engineer and what follows is 300+ pages of gung-ho geeky battle against the odds.  Told through his daily log we can’t help rooting for Watney with his mix of gallows humour and ingenuity.

I laughed a lot during this book and let out more than a few mental hooraaahhs as he overcomes each obstacle between him and survival for another day.

I don’t know how accurate the science is. I don’t care. It all sounded feasible. Clearly a lot of research has been done for the different scenarios painted. It’s all very nerdy as he explains (for example) how to grow potatoes on Mars. I was initially a bit wary that there would be so much detail that it would bore me, but far from it. It just added to the realism and helped along the suspense.

It’s apparently being released as a movie starring Matt Damon later this year. I reckon I’ll be going along, if only to moan to my friends about how, “it didn’t happen that way in the book. The book was much better. You should read the book”. Yep, I’m that guy.

Read The Martian – you won’t regret it.