Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) by Marie Gameson

review by Maryom

Following a moment of revelation on a mountain top in Taiwan, Winifred Rigby believes she's attained a state of enlightenment, discarding all thoughts of  'self' along with her memories. Now forced by her family to return to London, she tries her best to live a life of Buddhist detachment and mindfulness, concentrating on the present, and forgetting the past, but is puzzled and frustrated by the almost obsessive care shown by her mother and sister, and, despite her intentions, the past seems unwilling to let go of Winnie. First she's approached by one of her former teachers who believes he is being haunted by his father, Mr Gadd, and that the answer to how to appease this ghost is to be found in an old school essay's of Winnie's - The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased). This leads to other random encounters  - with her best friend from her teenage years, and a former boyfriend - and more deliberate journeys into the past through her school essays. Maybe Winnie needs to re-connect with her past to find a future?

The story (apart from a short 'epilogue' is narrated by Winnie herself, and at first I took her words as 'true'. She believes that her family have tricked her in various ways - pretending her sister was ill to make Winnie come home from Taiwan, clearing a large amount of money from her back account, acting as if her father were dead when Winnie herself has seen him selling Big Issue at the tube station. I loved the tone of Winnie's voice, but it's obvious from the first page that Winnie and her family aren't quite communicating on the same wavelength and gradually I began to get the feeling that Winnie wasn't exactly the most reliable of narrators. Soon a number of mysteries emerge - why does her sister Ursula keep such a close eye on Winnie? what really happened to bring Winnie home from Taiwan? has Winnie chosen to forget the past or has she lost her memory in some way?  - and, of course, I needed to know why/what/ how, and was hooked.
Thought-provoking is a tag often used when reviewing books, but here, without stressing or labouring over them, the author introduces a variety of themes to mull over or discuss with bookclub friends - how do you care for or continue to love a person who has undergone a radical personality change? isn't change of some sort necessary to personal growth? is it good or bad to cut oneself loose from the past? is the detachment that Winnie seeks necessarily a good thing or can it make us careless of other people's emotions? It's a book I feel I could return to time and again, and always find something new hidden there.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Strategist by Gerrard Cowan

Review by The Mole
(The Machinery Trilogy, Book 2)

(Book 1 - The Machinery)

"Ruin is coming.

For ten millennia, the Machinery Selected the greatest leaders of humanity, bringing glory to the Overland. But the Machinery came with a Prophecy: in the 10,000th year, it will break, and Ruin will come.

Now, the Prophecy is being fulfilled. The Machinery has Selected a terrible being to rule the Overland, an immortal who cares little for the humans she governs. Some call her the Strategist. Others call her the One. Everyone knows her as Mother.

Mother will do anything to find the Machinery and finally bring Ruin. But only one creature knows where the Machinery is – the Dust Queen, an ancient being of three bodies and endless power.

And if Mother wants the Dust Queen’s help, she must ready herself for a game. A game from older times. A game of memory. A game in which mortals are nothing more than pawns."

Book 1 left us on a cliff hanger ending and, as with all such books, it's difficult to précis the next without including spoilers. It would be simple to say that the immortals are going to play a game where some of our mortals from The Machinery are pawns and this book sets the game up - but that sounds dull and boring while the action is anything but.

It appears that no-one is who they seem and this comes as a shock to them while we also meet a whole raft of new characters in engaging action that has you not wanting to put the book down. Once again the author leaves us on not one cliff hanger, but several as each character moves closer to the game. It's very much a story of 'pick your hero', particularly amongst the mortals.

I really loved this book and had forgotten how much I enjoyed the first one. Bring on book 3 (The Memory) please and let's see if the game starts and who actually gets to play.

This is classified as science fiction/fantasy but still carries a strong steampunk feel.

I read The Machinery 2 years ago and the paperback of The Strategist is only out in January 2018 (although the Kindle version has been available quite a while) but I found that picking the cliffhanger up after so long a little difficult - as well as remembering each of the characters etc. But the good news is that The Memory comes out in Kindle form in June 2018 so picking this up (or starting the trilogy again) now would be a good time to do it.

An excellent read for SF/Fantasy/Steampunk fans of all ages.

Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre - Fantasy 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Darien by CF Iggulden

review by Maryom
Conn Iggulden is well known as a writer of historical fiction, but here he's taking the first steps into the world of fantasy, under the slightly different name of CF Iggulden - and although Darien is only the first book of a trilogy, it certainly bodes well for the stories still to come. 
To be honest, apart from the addition of a sprinkling of magic, there's often little difference between fantasy and historical fiction set, as Iggulden's novels are, in the ancient world - the story will generally be set at a time of upheaval, armies will march across the land, battles be fought over thrones, and sometimes there's one special character with a special skill - whether magical or merely the charisma to influence others - around whom the plot turns. Basically it's the stuff of legends, whether set in our own world, or one of the author's imaginings. In outline, I'd say Darien falls pretty much under that synopsis.

Darien itself is a huge city-state, nominally ruled by a king but the real power is held by twelve families, with their own armies to back them if necessary. The King's most experienced and feared general, though, holds the belief that he would be the fittest person to rule - and is about to act on that, with a plan to assassinate the king and seize power in the chaos that follows; caught up in his schemes are Elias Post, a hunter with special Neo/Matrix-like sword-dodging skills, and Vic Deeds, a master of the new martial art of gun-fighting. As the general's forces advance on the city, life is continuing as always - elderly ex-swordsman,Tellius, sends his gang of young pickpockets out into the streets and takes a new one under his wing, while Daw Threefold, always looking out for ways to get rich, finds Nancy, a girl with a special gift which might make him a fortune.
It's a really enjoyable read - not too violent considering the amount of bloodshed of a civil war, and with great array of characters, each with their faults and foibles to make them rounded and more human than some rather 2D fantasy hero. It's especially nice to see among them, in Nancy and Lady Sallet, strong female characters with interests beyond clothes, jewels and men. They're not all necessarily likeable (after all that would be stretching the imagination too far), and you're bound to have favourites among them, those you hope will win through and live happily ever after (though this is book one of three, so don't be too relieved even if your favourite made it to the end of this story). I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult fantasy fiction

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Liveships Trilogy by Robin Hobb

review by Maryom

It's a little unusual (and maybe a little lazy) to review a trilogy at one go but this really is one long story (extremely long as even an individual book can be over 900 pages!)

I'm a late-comer to Robin Hobb's work, only really plunging into it last year with Assassin's Apprentice  I'd started out with the plan of reading all Robin Hobb's Farseer novels before publication of the last - Assassin's Fate - but that plan fell well behind. I'm still carrying on though as I'm become enthralled by her world-building and story-telling and sheer range of imagination. Something that also makes Hobb's stories stand apart is that, as in Ursula le Guin's work, among the twisting plot-lines and fantastic creatures you'll come across an idea - political, moral or ecological - that is just as applicable to our world as it is to the fantasy one.

At the heart of this trilogy are the Liveships themselves - made from special 'wizard' wood, after their owners have lived and, just as importantly, died on their decks, the ships become sentient and bond with their captain. When her father dies, Althea Vestrit is denied the chance to bond with her family's ship Vivacia, as her brother in law decides he will be the new captain, forcing his son to become the bond with the ship - but that's only a little part of the story. There are slave traders, pirates who are determined to disrupt that trade, mysterious masked people who live along the Rain Wild river and control the source of wizard wood, intelligent giant sea-serpents, and dragons.
The Liveships trilogy fits into the complete series as Books 4-6, though could easily be read as a stand-alone story, and after the first three, Assassin's trilogy, came as a complete change of pace and setting. To be honest I didn't settle in quite so quickly,  mainly because I'd expected to be back in Fitz's world, perhaps with him playing a minor role in the story, although obviously not a central character. As it is, at first the two story-lines don't seem related at all. It's only perhaps halfway through the second Liveships book that the connection becomes apparent, but by that point I was well and truly engrossed in this new, astounding world.

That's six of the series read, and I'll now be returning to Fitz and the Fool with the first book of  the Tawny Man trilogy - Fool's Errand.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

review by Maryom

Twenty-seven year old Sarah Browne is struggling to make her way as an artist in New York when she's hit by two major emotional blows - the married woman she's been having an affair with decides to return to her husband, and news arrives that her estranged mother has died, leaving Sarah a large inheritance including a cabin in New Mexico. Doubly cast adrift, Sarah decides she'll not return home to England for her mother's funeral but head off to New Mexico - to start again, maybe to find some connection to her mother that was lacking in life, or maybe just to hide the way an injured animal will. The cabin is remote and isolated; the only neighbours, Theo and his middle-aged mother, living on the opposite side of the valley. Sarah soon embarks on a relationship with Theo, earning his mother's disapproval, but it's an uneven, unstable relationship bound to end, possibly in violence.

I had slightly mixed feelings about this book from its synopsis. I hope the author will forgive me for suggesting it sounded like the story of a pampered woman, running out on her responsibilities, to 'get in touch with herself' in the wilderness, and then presumably going to find true love; a light, almost romcom scenario. It's not at all like that. It's a much darker read, exploring the way grief, particularly unacknowledged grief, can work on people turning them to anger and violence. 

Sarah is a complex character, shaped by the unresolved issues stemming from her childhood - a odd upbringing in a house of women; her mother and aunt (both alcoholics if Sarah's point of view is to be believed) and surprisingly level headed, well-adjusted cousin. Always feeling neglected by her mother, she alternately loved and hated her in return, eventually running away from home at 17. With her mother's death the outside chance of a reconciliation is gone, but also so is the focus of Sarah's anger. She won't acknowledge any love for her mother, or grief at her death, yet it's easy to see that both are buried somewhere deep inside her. 

This is a book which I found growing on me as I read - initially because I realised it wasn't going to be that light fluffy read I'd dreaded, but then as I became immersed in Sarah's troubles and dreading how she might act. She's somewhat like a pressure cooker, waiting to burst, or even the extinct volcano that formed the valley her mother's cabin sits in; anger simmers just below the surface, and it's obvious that sometime or other Sarah will 'explode'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult literary

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How Much the Heart Can Hold edited by Emma Herdman

review by Maryom

Last week I was out at a book event the theme of which was the short story, and by pure coincidence my first review this week is of a short story collection.  How Much The Heart Can Hold describes itself as 'seven stories on love', but these aren't romantic tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. Instead they explore the different forms that love can take. The ancient Greeks drew distinctions between seven types of love - for self, for family, charitable love for all mankind, love that borders on obsession, is unrequited, or endures for ever, and, of course, sexual, erotic love - and here they're taken as the starting point for seven very different short stories, each by a different author. The paperback edition which I was given for review contains an extra story - It Was Summer by Phoebe Roy, the winning entry for the SceptreLoves short story prize.
I came to this book just after finishing an epic 900+ page fantasy novel, so at least each tale was short if not necessarily sweet. Faced with a collection from a variety of authors, I'm often tempted to seek out the familiar names and start reading there, but there's a theory that says the editor does more than check for spelling mistakes, also deciding on the order of the pieces and shapes the feel of the whole, and I think that's certainly the case here. Ending, as the original collection did, on Bernadine Evaristo's story of universal love, The Human World, brings a feeling of completeness to the work.
I did, of course, have my favourites, and, yes, they were by those favourite authors, Carys Bray and Donal Ryan. Bray's story, Codas, explores the love and bonds of family from the point of view of a single mother suddenly having to deal with her father's illness after a stroke, balancing his needs against those of her son. Ryan's Magdala, Who Slips Sometimes is a story of obsession, in which a woman clings desperately to the belief that, despite his marriage and children, her teenage sweetheart still loves her above all others.
This isn't to say that the others weren't enjoyable - they all were in their way, though some seemed hard at first to fit to their 'brief'. Of these, I particularly liked Before It Disappears by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, a tale of love that's no longer returned; Nikesh Shukla's White Wine, about learning to love oneself rather than change to fit others' expectations; and Bernadine Evaristo's The Human World, a sad, yet humorous look at what it's like to care for the whole world. Just don't go into this book expecting hearts, flowers and cuddly teddies; love is more complex than the romantic hype of Valentine's Day and this story collection reflects that.

authors; - Carys Bray, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Bernadine Evaristo, Grace McCleen, Donal Ryan, Nikesh Shukla, DW Wilson, and Phoebe Roy.

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher -  Sceptre
Genre - short stories, 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Nomad by James Swallow

Review by The Mole

Marc Dane is a man with a dark past and is working with MI6 on covert activities within the comfort of the support vehicle behind the lines. He is part of the Nomad team, as is his girlfriend Sam, when everything goes pear shaped and he finds himself of the run from MI6. But others also want him dead except a guardian angel who wants him kept alive - but Marc is unaware of this angel.

If you want an action thriller without flaws then you are going to be very hard pressed to find one - ever. But Nomad is as close as they come and it takes you away from your daily routine to an action packed, gory, blood spattered world that won't creep you out. I know because I am the king of squeamish.

The moment you meet Marc for the first time you know that; here is the hero, this guy will still be with us on page 487 and that he won't hurt a fly if he doesn't have to. It sounds a bit sickly sweet, but truly it works very well.

It keeps you on the edge of your seat. No, it doesn't because you KNOW Marc will survive but you still won't put the book down while the action unfolds. And it starts unfolding on page 1 and doesn't finish unfolding on the last page - Pass the sequel.

A great book that should offend no-one and entertain any reader who likes an action thriller.

Publisher: Zaffre
Genre: Adult Action Thriller