Thursday 24 February 2022

The Last Woman in the World by Inge Simpson

 Rachel lives an almost hermit-like life far from others deep in the Australian bush. So when a young woman arrives asking for help for her sick baby, Rachel is at first tempted to turn them away. But listening to the woman, Hannah, she begins to realise that the civilisation she's fled from has started to crumble under a pandemic, and that Rachel herself may be the only person left who can help.

At first they head for the nearest town ('nearest' being a bit of a relative term as the story is set in the Australian outback) to find Rachel's sister who's the doctor there. Then, finding she's already left, they follow her presumed trail to Canberra. It's road trip with a difference as besides the natural difficulties they have to face survivors as desperate as themselves, and a new plague of 'demons' or 'spirits' which kill through fear.  

There's a lot here that readers of apocalyptic fiction will find familiar - a person living safely outside of society during a time of upheaval is forced to take a journey out of their secure bubble, to confront the chaos and dangers of the outside world. And if Rachel thought the outside was dangerous before, it's now doubly, triply, so, with bush fires, survivor groups and the demons to be evaded, plus she has Hannah and the baby to look after. 

It's a gripping enough read but too similar to other apocalyptic stories to really stand out from the crowd. Its main difference comes in that, for once, the world is going to be saved by women rather than men. 

Friday 18 February 2022

Mort by Terry Pratchett


Review by The Mole

My first book in the Discworld series was, unsurprisingly, The Colour of Magic - the first in the series. What is more surprising is how it came about. My wife was getting birthday presents and asked our youngest (about 4 at the time) which she should buy and she chose it because it had the nicest cover! Since then I became a fan. In The Colour of Magic apart from Rincewind we also meet Death. Death is obviously a busy man as he shepherds the dying into their next... well we never really know what's next. 

Death is also one of the most recurring characters in the series even if only in cameo roles. And such a busy individual needs help from time to time so he decides to visit a job fair and take on an apprentice - enter Mortimer, Boy or Mort in book 4 of the series.

Do complications arise when Mort meets Death's "daughter"? Or is it part of a greater plan? Is Mort ready to deputise when Death decides to take a break or is that a complication?

This is a story that can either mess with your head or you can sit back and just enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride is what Pratchett would have wanted from you.

Another fabulously comical story and another great cover!

Publisher: Transworld

Genre: Fantasy, comedy

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett


Review by The Mole

In Ankh Morpork is the Unseen University and therein exists the library. And the library has power because of that concentration of spell books.

When I had the opportunity to get 8 books in the Discworld for review, they sat on my phone exuding the power of the Unseen University's library. Having read them all I think I shall review them in the order of the series although, as the author says, all the books can be read stand-alone.

Esk is about to be born the eighth son of an eighth son, and a wizard visits the household and bequeaths his staff to the child before dying just minutes later. But Esk is a girl and girls cannot be wizards - it's a rule apparently.

When Esk starts to display powers beyond her family's understanding she is sent to... Yes, Granny Weatherwax!, for education and training as a witch. But this proves too little - Esk is too uncontrolled - so she must break the glass ceiling and go to the Unseen University for training. But Archchancellor Ridcully believes the ceiling is unbreakable glass. But it's also the first time he meets Granny Weatherwax.

I still have 17 to read in the series but one thing that surprises me is that over the writing of 41 books you feel that the characters remain unchanged throughout the series. The first time we meet Granny she's the same grouchy, crotchety old witch who doesn't abuse the immense power with which she is given by Pratchett, as she is in the last. (The books I haven't read are dotted throughout the series)

A really great read once again and created in ebook format with all the accuracy in presentation you would get from a hard copy. Light hearted, laugh out loud at times but also often examining social issues in a fantasy setting.

Publisher: Transworld

Genre: Fantasy, comedy

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Love Marriage by Monica Ali


Yasmin Ghorami has always believed her parents to have had a perfect 'love marriage', a chance encounter leading to romance and happily-ever-after despite the difficulties they faced, establishing themselves in Britain and striving to provide the best for their children. Now she believes she's found the same herself - a fellow doctor, handsome, kind, caring, someone she's sure will make a good husband and father. Her only worry is how her traditional Muslim parents will get on with Joe's feminist, liberal, outspoken mother. 

As the publisher's blurb says, "Love Marriage is a story about who we are and how we love in today's Britain - with all the complications and contradictions of life, desire, marriage and family. What starts as a captivating social comedy develops into a heart-breaking and gripping story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another." 

Yasmin and Joe are in love, their wedding set for a few months' time, and all appears to be going well till their mothers get involved and take over the planning. Under the surface though, both of them have issues that need to be sorted before they finally commit, and as their mothers start to get to know each other a whole raft of family secrets come tumbling out. The foundations on which both Yasmin and Joe have built their lives suddenly seem very rocky. 

It's funny (though I felt a little uncomfortable being a white Englishwoman laughing at Indian stereotypes), warm, compassionate, forgiving. Although it deals with issues surrounding class and culture, it is first and foremost a story about people, about how we define ourselves, and about the stories we tell to make sense of who we are. 

I'd heard of Monica Ali but hadn't read her work before. Now I feel I should dash out and immerse myself in her back catalogue.

Thursday 3 February 2022

Devotion by Hannah Kent

 Growing up in an Old Lutheran community in 19th century Prussia, Hanne finds herself out of step with the other teenage girls. While they seem happy with the domestic world awaiting them as wives and mothers, she regrets the passing of her childhood when she was allowed to run free in the fields and forests surrounding her home. Then a new family move to the area, and Hanne meets Thea; an unbreakable bond forming between the two.

Their community though is under threat; their particular form of worship no longer tolerated. So, when it becomes possible to emigrate to Australia, the village elders vote in favour of the idea. It's not a simple move. Long months of travel by barge to the coast, then ship lie ahead of them, and it isn't without its losses. 

It's difficult to describe this latest book by Hannah Kent without giving away much of the plot. I suppose put briefly it's a sapphic historical romance with supernatural elements, but that doesn't go anywhere towards acknowledging Kent's beautiful, lyrical prose, and vivid, intimate descriptions of nature, from German forests to Australian outback.
Hanne is truly at one with her surroundings, appearing to have a form of synaesthesia which allows her to experience the world differently; to hear actual music in the dripping of the rain, the swirling of storm clouds or the movement of stars, and even become part of living creatures. 
The story is, by turns, warm and raw, heartbreaking and filled with love, as Hanne and Thea's relationship is torn apart by death but still surviving in their hearts. My first five star book of the year, and one I'd heartily recommend.