Thursday, 13 November 2014

Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch

Thomas Sweterlitsch has created a downbeat, dystopian vision of the near future dressed up as a whodunit. Dark from the outset, this tale follows John Dominic Blaxton, who works as a researcher in what is known as the archive. This is a virtual record of the city of Pittsburgh, which has been destroyed by a terrorist with a nuclear bomb.
John is obsessed with the archive as his pregnant wife died in the blast and he is unable to let go of the past.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow  isn't an easy read, as the prose is often detailed and this hampers the flow of the story somewhat. However, you feel more immersed in the story for the same reason. Imagine a world where there is no escape from augmented tech hard wired into your head and as you walk along adware and commercials vie for your attention.  The thought of a world like this horrifies me and I'm a self-confessed gadget geek. This   society is obsessed with fashion, images, art and sex. These are the overriding factors that come out of the page. A chilling and melancholic read at times where you know a happy ending is unlikely. An absorbing and interesting read that could well prove to be prophetic.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

The past might feel like ancient history, but no one knows better than Rebus how it has a habit of catching up with you.

When politics and policing mix no stone is left unturned and everyone can be hurt when those in powerful places are looking to score points against their enemies.

Rebus finds himself torn between doing the right thing and protecting old friends. As the bodies start to pile up Rebus must put his trust in Michael Fox, a man who has little respect for Rebus, and whose actions could lead to John's loyalties being tested to the limit.

Rankin on top form showing us once again that there is always another Rebus story to tell and this one was absolutely gripping.

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A lovely and thought provoking novel that made me smile and made me sad in equal measure. When we are children monsters are real and anything is possible.  When we're older the monsters become other people and, perhaps, the grim realities of the human condition. This book reflects upon both - beautifully. Like all master wordsmiths Gaiman makes the connection between the story and the reader so effortlessly. He never over complicates the prose.
A book in which impossible things happen, as they do daily in the fervent imagination of a seven year old. Never let the child inside you die. Who's for a game of conkers? 

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Search For Ethan by Robert Cowan

One of the things I enjoy about this fantastic indie publishing era is that you can come across a little gem  of a novel like this around every corner.  It's not been clinically edited to death, like a fine piece of vinyl there are hisses and crackles but you enjoy it more for those idiosyncrasies than a clipped and cold digital recording.

Searching for Ethan is a charming novel full of warmth, humour and real character. The author, like myself, enjoys adding cultural references of music and film to his work. This is the kind of novel that would make a great film in the vein of Rita, Sue and Bob, Too or Raining Stones. The characters are reminiscent of Roddy Doyle's chancers and layabouts.

It's fair to say there are some very sad moments but a smile is never very far away in this character driven tale. A story of best friends, of love and a coming of age novel. A very enjoyable read that I didn't want to end.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Imagine being stranded light years from Earth. The planet you're on has no natural sunlight, the flora and fauna have evolved to provide their own light.  You know that you'll be missed and that someone from earth will come to rescue you, right? Wrong. This is the setting of this wonderfully thoughtful novel.

The descendants of our stranded space travellers have built up a society based around the idea that earth is coming to their rescue. But after over a hundred and fifty years is that really going to happen? John, a rebel with big ideas of change, knows that it's a stagnant society doomed to ultimate failure unless changes and progress are made. But who will listen to a pubescent troublemaker like John?

Apart from being an intimately recounted sci-fi tale Dark Eden is about rebellion, stagnation and the innate evils caused by the jealousy and pride we all harbour within ourselves.

I read this on my kindle and it felt a tad long winded but I was fascinated by the sociological aspects of their captive little universe. Ultimately, I found that I enjoyed the journey the author took me on. The first person perspective helped the reader to feel the aching sadness of their situation. An open-ended conclusion that could well mean a sequel. I'd say with the right media attention this intelligent novel could well become a classic. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Elite: Mostly Harmless by Kate Russell

I remember the original Elite, which I played endlessly on my ZX Spectrum, my imagination roaming alongside the vector graphics into far away galaxies.  So not only was I delighted to hear of the games latest incarnation, I was intrigued to see there was a whole series of novels set in the Elite universe.

Elite: Mostly Harmless was something of a lighthearted read for me but what an enjoyable novel it was. It reminded me of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel rat series. There was action and adventure enough to appeal to younger readers and adult humour for older readers. Kate did a great job bringing the setting to life, the characters were well drawn and the plot was pacy, exciting and always interesting.  A five star read that will appeal to gamers and sci-fi fans alike. The space opera is reborn.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Like the rest of the world I knew this was a J.K. Rowling novel before I started reading. Whilst not her greatest fan, I’ve enjoyed her Harry Potter novels and adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. She has her critics who can’t understand her success and who bemoan a lack of originality in her work. I’ve often thought some of the comments unfair and she does know how to create an enjoyable page turner of a novel. So I wanted to see how she was going to tackle the crime genre. She didn’t do half bad at all.

As with all of her novels it was a touch over long. She could have shaved off at least a hundred pages. Cormoran Strike is an interesting character with a fantastic name. Two things frustrated me about the novel: Stike’s relationship with his temporary secretary, Robin, has far too much time devoted to it. It felt like they were going to be lovers and, frankly, it was unnecessary and detracted from the plot. My second frustration was Rowling’s occasional lapses into overly descriptive prose, for these brief moments, it didn’t feel like a crime novel at all. Strike’s observations were also, periodically, annoyingly out of character.

Negatives aside she did a decent job overall and it was a fun read, with a satisfactory conclusion. My four stars represent how much I enjoyed the novel overall, the negatives I’ve pointed out were a minor irritation at best. She’s clearly finding her feet in the genre.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Totalitarian Drone Groove by Jason Michel

Totalitarian Drone Groove is not so much a novel as a series of dark, I'd go as far as to say bleak, scenes. There's a dark poetry about Michel's musings that can at times hold you in thrall. The author ties together the narrative very cleverly indeed, as I found out at the conclusion. This is just the kind of experimental work that the kindle age was made for. By no means a perfect essay on the flaws of our society, and it's possible futures, but a very laudable effort. It’s an intelligent, cynical, dystopian read that is not lacking in humour. Look for the music references – Michel knows his tunes.

Michel sticks two fingers up to conventional fiction with TDG and he certainly entertained this cynical heart. Bold. Brash. Bolshy.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Magical Tragical Life of Edward Jarvis Huggins by Stuart Ayris

I suspect Stuart Ayris will collect a cult following. A following of those seeking a little more from this brief life that can, at times, be filled with pain and anguish. Ayris gently nudges one towards enlightenment with a soft hand and a kind word. Is he a guru? He’d laugh at the idea and yet I find his novels touch me in a way that is rare in literature.

His writing breaks every conversation in the book, pun intended. He remains playful slipping in poetic lines whenever he damn well pleases and to hell with the hard hearted critic.

I’ve been known to drone on with the books I’ve loved but I feel the need to keep this succinct.
This novel is about cricket and a little boy who seems heaven sent. It is about loss, grief and redemption. It is about friendship, teamwork and the human spirit. Whatever this fabulous novel teaches you enjoy it. That is all.  Now go. Read. Be uplifted.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Angel of Death by Ben Cheetham

Sheffield's Rebus?

A young woman hell bent on revenge. A detective determined to self-destruct. A sinister cabal of powerful people who will keep their terrible secret, whatever the cost. Angel of Death is an accomplished thriller from author of Blood Guilt, Ben Cheetham. Fans of Rankin's Rebus will almost certainly enjoy this novel, where one of the main characters is a detective who feels so jaded by the job that he just doesn't care for authority any more. Retirement beckons and it's with bitterness that Jim Monahan goes about the job.

Another damaged character is the Angel of the title. A hooker's handle but one she lives up to in a deadly fashion. The chance to do a good deed for a young girl leaves her feeling powerful and alive for the first time in years. She comes to the terrible realisation that she can and must hit back at those that have mistreated her. She becomes the Angel of Death.

Cheetham tackles some big issues, and we are left feeling no small amount of empathy for the main characters as they both tread their separate trails of self-destruction. Trails that we know must at some point cross. The author has a rare talent for story telling and character creating.  Expect more steel city thrillers. A gripping read for thriller fans.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Wasteland Saga by Nick Cole

The Wasteland Saga is a post-apocalyptic trilogy with a difference. Where other authors perhaps concentrate on the interesting question of: What if there was a nuclear war? Or perhaps: There has been a nuclear, what now? What Nick Cole does is look back, introspectively. Feelings of guilt, anger, regret and hopelessness are fully explored throughout the Wasteland Saga. Sounds depressing? Not at all. Cole’s realistic narrative was not only a breath of fresh air but a brilliant exploration of the human condition, after the bomb has dropped.

In the first part/novel we follow the Old Man on his journey across the Wasteland. The reason for his solo road trip? To rid himself of his curse. Whilst other members of his small community are able to find salvage, for nearly a hundred days, the Old Man returns to the village empty handed. He feels a burden and useless. This journey of exploration has him dealing with his feeling and making discoveries along the way. He proves to be a resourceful character and one thing I must stress is the emotional intelligence Cole weaves into his characters. You get so involved. This novel felt special in a way that very few novels do – it gripped me, it made me feel his emotions. I could almost feel the hot desert wind on my cheek.

Yet, this is not just a dry emotional journey, it’s an adventure story too. I don’t tend to give away plot points in my reviews so I’ll leave it there for part one.

The second part deals with Savage Boy. The boy is unsure of his heritage, all he knows is that he was raised by a US Soldier, Sergeant Presley, now dead. There is much more action in this novel but again a lonely introverted narrative – the boy is joined by the voice of Father figure Presley, who lives on in the boy’s thoughts. Again, Cole concentrates on the human story and we feel the aching loneliness of life in this terrible, poisoned world.

I can’t say a great deal about the third novel without giving away a few things so I’ll just say this – you’ll be moved to tears by the expert story telling of this fantastic author who combines elements of the first two novels in a dramatic conclusion. This novel will be hailed as a classic landmark of the genre.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Wool by Hugh Howey

I had heard of the novel before I bought it, I knew that it had critical acclaim but as always I chose to just plunge in and form my own opinion.  Post apocalyptic, dystopian and captive universe novels have always fascinated me. The whole quest of: What if we had a fresh start? Captures my imagination. I'm a pessimist and a bit of a cynic so it is perhaps unsurprising that this kind of fiction appeals to me.

Wool is most definitely a page-turner. I wanted to discover the secrets of the silo from the opening pages. Howey kept me reading at a voracious rate. The story telling aspect was top notch, the prose was uncluttered and it flowed superbly. However, I found the characters a tad undeveloped. Bernard was a convincing enough villain and we do discover his motivation ultimately but he's just a little two dimensional. A cartoon villain if you will. I felt much the same about Lukas. This strange dreamer was a character I could neither understand nor get to grips with.  Overall a book worth reading but it didn't rock my world. A solid three stars.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Humans by Matt Haig

When an alien comes to Earth with a mission and deadly intent it finds that inhabiting a male human body gives more insights into the primitive species than it would have liked.

The Humans is a philosophical exploration of the human condition, dressed up cunningly as a novel. The alien inside Andrew Martin's body is, at first, disgusted by all he sees of this degenerate and crude species. However, it soon starts to see things from a human perspective. Music, love, culture, poetry and sex are all things it must tackle before it can complete its task of destroying those that have knowledge of Andrew Martin's mathematical breakthrough.

Matt Haig tackles some big issues with a sense of humour and a heart. There is no preaching or negativity here, just a lovely book that was a delight to read. You'd need a cynical heart of stone not to appreciate this wonderful novel. I shall try to keep some of the insights with me in troubled time. Note to self: I must read Emily Dickinson.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

News from the Squares by Robert Llewellyn

In News from Gardenia Robert Llewellyn explored the idea of a society more advanced than our own. We saw through the eyes of Gavin Meckler, an engineer, who finds himself inexplicably catapulted into the distant future by a freak meteorological anomaly.

News from the Squares sees Gavin, stranded once more in a futuristic and bewildering age, in which he has no place. What I like about Llewellyn's fiction is that it is intelligently written and well considered. Meckler spends much of his time wandering around baffled, in much the same way that Douglas Adams had Arthur Dent wandering the galaxy.  You can't help but like Gavin Meckler.  He seems like one of those chaps without a nasty bone in his body. Much of the humour comes from Meckler's surprise at each new revelation this new earth has to offer. Yet the book comes across as an exploration of gender roles and even the hapless Gavin realises that he has deep seated prejudices that he never knew were there. This alternative earth is run by women, it is a patriarchal society. There are no wars, no poverty and all disease has been eradicated. Perhaps this is somewhere Gavin can settle? Yet he soon discovers that all is not well in this potential utopia. There is still room for hatred and anger but why is so much of it directed at him?

I devoured this novel voraciously, so it's fair to say the author's narrative gripped me. There's a refreshing gentleness to the Llewellyn’s work that you don't often see. This equates to not a great deal of action and no sex or violence, if you're looking for that go elsewhere. If you want a novel that'll guide you teasingly through a future filled with hope then try this excellent novel.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam is Pratchett's usual mix of humour and humanity. It's largely the story of the age of steam coming to the Discworld,  in the form of the train. However,  in his adept fashion, Pratchett seamlessly weaves other themes into the story. The dwarves are having problems with extremists, which leads to an attempted coop.

Moist Von Lipwig is, for the most part, the main character.  It feels like Pratchett has crammed so much into this novel but as with all of his works it leaves me chuckling and with a sense of hope. Aftet reading Pratchett you just feel that all is well with the world.