Thursday, 31 May 2012

Blackbirds

Miriam Black sees how people will die. All she needs is skin on skin contact and she'll be blessed with an unpleasant vision of their final moments. We're all going to die, that's one thing that's certain. Most die of disease or accidents, but when she hitches a ride with Louis, she is shocked to see his brutal murder. She doesn't want to get involved, it is his fate after all and there's nothing she can do to stop it. Yet, as their paths keep crossing, Miriam starts to like the trucker and she must brace herself for the inevitable.

Miriam is foul mouthed and has a couldn't care less attitude on the outside. How else would she cope with the things she sees every day? Her visions aren't toned down at all and coupled with the language, means this book is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. Whilst I became concerned it was going to be all swearing and violence, Miriam soon starts to connect with people. The characters may be instantly un-likeable but as you learn more about Miriam, you begin to soften towards her. I did feel that Frankie, Harriet and Ingersoll were slightly stereotypical villains, sadistic and power hungry yet there's always one that doesn't quite belong.

The book goes back and forth between the now, where Miriam meets Ashley and Louis (gives a new meaning to “love triangle”) on the road and an interview she gives with Paul, the nephew of a man whose death she once foretold. There are also a few jumps to first person narration by certain characters but this is brief and the chapter headings are clear to point out the who and the when for those who easily lose track. The structure never causes the plot to lose pace and it barrels along until you're at the edge of your seat. There's a vein of dark humour throughout but I wouldn't say it made me laugh, except perhaps for Harriet's story the first time round. It is one line and to the point.

There is a sequel due out later this year entitled Mockingbird and I can't wait to find out what happens next. Obviously, I bought this for the extraordinarily wonderful, Joey HiFi cover. You should know me by now.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Angry Robot

June Sci-Fi Link-Up




Thank you to everyone that shared their thoughts this month. Apparently you like the group reads even if you're not actively taking part. However the linky entries were down after I announced the lack of monthly giveaways... Remember each review you link will count as an entry into the big draw at the end of the year! If you missed out on previous months, you can go back and add your links now.

This month's group read (as decided by a democratic vote, if you were paying attention) is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I've heard lots of good things about this book recently although it is a modern classic so isn't a new release. If you've already read and reviewed this, please add a link in the comments (instead of the linky).



Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Or buy as part of an 8 book set from The Book People for £8.99:



Once you've read a sci-fi book and written down your thoughts please add your link below. If you don't have a blog you can link to any public book-sharing site. Please add the direct link to your review. Any links not relevant to the challenge will be removed.



Please add both YOUR NAME and the TITLE OF BOOK in the "Your Name" field.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Snatched

Will has managed to annoy his boss, Amanda, yet again and has been assigned men's toilet duty at the airport. His main job is to intercept men meeting up for a bit of hanky panky but when he overhears a man telling off a young girl in the stall next to him, his gut tells him there's something wrong. Is he about to chase a stressed father across the airport for no reason or is the little girl in danger?

Snatched is either a long short story or a short novella in the Will Trent/Grant County universe. Whilst nothing crucial happens to ongoing plot threads during the book, there is a relationship spoiler for the rest of the series on page one, so you may want to avoid it if you think you want to read the rest in order. It does however work perfectly fine by itself, being an entertaining little filler. It seems to be a growing trend in the marketing of series, to release a shorter ebook in the months before the next instalment is due and Snatched also contains a sample of Criminal.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Monday, 28 May 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey

Summer has arrived! And that means more time spent outdoors away from the distractions of the interweb and more reading time. Of course, that means I'm still behind with writing up reviews, especially as it's too hot to have the laptop on for long. Why can't it blow out cold air?



Read last week:
Railsea by China Miéville
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
The Glimpse by Claire Merle
Snatched by Karin Slaughter
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
The Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green

Also reviewed:
Straight to Hell by Michelle Scott
Straight to Heaven by Michelle Scott
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Currently reading:
The Black Path by Asa Larsson

Upcoming reads:
The Trapeze Artist by Will Davis

Also on the blog:
Incoming!



The Glimpse

In the not too distant future, the genetic mutations for all mental illnesses have been identified. In order to protect the human race, Pure communities have been set up, where only those who pass the Pure test can live and continue their genetic heritage by starting families. The Carriers and Sleepers must live in the City and are medicated by the state. Those who become Active are rounded up by the Psyche Watch and sent to mental institutions. Ana is a Pure, awaiting the day she will become bound to Jasper.

After a shaky start, The Glimpse turned out pretty fantastic. But first impressions count and the setting of the scene was a little awkward and rushed in an attempt to get a few key facts across. It's reliant on a quick tell instead of a show, Ana is a Pure, her mother died, she remembers seeing her mother in hospital and not recognising her, that she requested a death certificate and now she is found out, her mother committed suicide, she is not Pure, her father faked the results and he happens to be the geneticist who invented the Pure test. And breathe. It's a lot of information to be thrown at you in the first chapter and it is done a little clumsily. Perhaps the narrative mirrors Ana's slow realisation that she's been brought up to believe what she's told because as the story continues, the writing becomes about more about showing what's going on instead of telling the reader. Something that might have come across better in a first person narrative.

However, I don't want to dwell too long on the poor start. I decided I'd give it a bit more of my time even though I wasn't expecting much and I was very much proved wrong. What at first seems like just another dystopian teen novel, starts to unravel and explore the horrors of eugenics. Because the Pure system is a eugenics program, where only those consider genetically superior can breed and get the best jobs and homes. Just like the eugenics carried out in America in the 20th century, many thought they were doing no harm and what they were doing would help everyone in the long run. In the City, the underclass are controlled by drugs and patrols but they somehow seem more normal and have more freedom than Ana at least. But there's another layer, the seedy underbelly of the future government of England.

In the early stages of the book, where Ana still believes in the world she has been brought up in, there are a few things that I thought didn't make sense. The beauty of this book is that they're not meant to as Ana discovers more about the world, this discrepancies become clear. For instance there is a four year old boy who is depressed and suicidal and we are told this is not uncommon amongst the crazies. Not enough time has passed for this to be something that have evolved so I questioned it...but everything will make sense, I promise.

I also enjoyed the fact that it was set in London in around 30 years time. There was a lot that was recognisable to me and helped make the world of The Glimpse, utterly believable. The rest of the world hasn't been forgotten about either, but they're not in a very good state.

There's a lot to think about, including segregation and the atrocities than humans manage to repeat throughout history. It's hard to talk about eugenics without thinking about the Holocaust and there is some of the book that may be uncomfortable reading, especially if you realise these things are not a figment of someone's imagination.

The Glimpse is published by Faber and Faber and will be available in paperback and ebook formats from 1st June 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I got a package sent to my online name this week, gave me a chuckle, although I've had them sent care of the blog before. The postie probably thinks I'm a little crazy by now...




For Review:
The Murder of Halland - Pia Juul (Peirene Press)
Blackwood - Gwenda Bond (Strange Chemistry)
Archipelago - Monique Roffey (Simon & Schuster)



Showcase Sunday is Hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

The Murder of Halland

Bess wakes up one morning to find her partner, Halland gone. There's a knock at the door and the police are arresting her for his murder. A witness declared his last words were “my wife has shot me” but Bess and Halland never married.

The sentences are short and the language sparse, creating the illusion of a woman in shock. She gradually goes through the stages of grief as she learns little things about Halland's life. It's a very believable little crime story in that Bess doesn't get involved in the investigation other than on her own personal level. It's much more about her feelings and trying to work out what was going on in Halland's mind.

The introduction, unmissable in large font, urges you not to skip the quotes. Each one is carefully selected for each chapter and I thought they added a little extra something. I am even tempted to look up some of the books they are taken from (and there is a handy bibliography at the end).

Originally written in Danish by Pia Juul, The Murder of Halland has been translated by Martin Aitken for Peirene Press. Peirene's mission is to publish the literary equivalent of films, top quality translations that can be read in an evening. Each year they publish three books under one theme, this year's being Small Epic and you can purchase a subscription to have the books sent to you as they are released. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Goodreads | Peirene Press

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Ashes

Alex is hiking alone in Michigan when the electromagnetic pulse hits. Of course, she doesn't know what it is. She's too busy being annoyed with young Ellie and her grandfather when the pain strikes. She's no stranger to pain, she's not got long to live with the monster that is inside her head. The tumour has taken away her sense of smell and taste and this trip is the one last thing she wants to do. But when Ellie's grandfather doesn't get back up off the ground, she realises she has someone else to look out for. And she can smell. Everything. Whilst the EMP may have given Alex a super-sense, others have now gained a taste for human flesh.

Ashes is close enough to believable to be scary. Our brains are firing little charges all the time so it makes sense that an EMP could disrupt them and permanently change the way they work. Alex's new power isn't over the top, animals are often sense to be able to smell emotions on people. The fact that a lot of the book is told through the description of scents makes it all the more enjoyable. Even if some of what she smells is repulsive because those that now eat flesh seem to have regressed to a more primitive state.

Without technology to help them, Alex and Ellie must learn how to survive the best they can. They are fortunate to meet Tom, a soldier with his own reasons to be out in the wilderness. He teaches them survival techniques and protects his new little unit. Alex has never had the chance to have boyfriends but she starts to grow close to him. It's not at all a mushy story though and some things happen which send it in a new direction half way through. It really makes you think want would happen if we had to start everything over again and who would come out on top.

I'm not sure why it was written in third person though. The narrative never leaves Alex and it's all about her thoughts without the perspective of other characters. It feels as if it should be first person so much that I sometimes forgot that Alex was the protagonist when her name was mentioned.

Did I say it was scary? It made me close the bedroom window on a hot summer night. There's something about being alone in the wilderness where you know there are things out there that want to harm you and dangers that are a lot less passive. The final pages are truly terrifying so bear that in mind if you're reading late at night...

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Railsea

People have wanted to narrate since we first banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There'll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned out lights. Some such stories are themselves about the telling of others. An odd pastime. Seemingly redundant, or easy to get lost in, like a picture that contains a smaller picture of itself, which in turn contains - & so on.

In the world of the railsea, danger lurks under the earth where giant moles, earwigs and flesh-eating worms make their home and their hunting ground. The humans make their way safely in trains, running across the rails that cover most the land. The world ends where the railsea ends, that is what everyone knows.

Sham is a doctor's assistant on a mole train. His captain is intent on catching Mocker Jack, an ivory (or more accurately, yellow) moldywarpe (read, giant, vicious mole), her lifelong nemesis who took her arm. Sham's not so interested in the moles but he is an orphan and he has little choices. When he finds some photos in a wrecked train, he is determined to return them to the victim's family. Yet there is something odd in the photos, a lone, alien looking rail...could there be something beyond the railsea?

But he felt possessed by the souls of generations of youngsters chased through neighbourhoods by adults for reasons unclear or unfair. He channelled their techniques of righteous evasion.

Railsea does have the feeling of being a children's book for adults. It's full of adventure, pirates and, um, trains yet the characters lack a little depth. The vocabulary will be challenging for a lot of younger readers although I can imagine it would be a joy to have it read out loud. I especially liked the parts where it felt the narrator was addressing the reader without it being done through second person. It really felt like being told a story and having the narrator pause to comment on something.

“He says he's a pirate,” whispered Sham to Daybe. Images came to Sham – how could they not? - of pirate trains. Devilish, smoke-spewing, weapon-studded, thronging with dashing, deadly men & women swinging cutlasses, snarling under cross-spanner pendants, bearing down on other trains.

However, I very nearly gave up on it. Miéville's world building is excellent and I loved the idea of an ocean on land, but it goes on so long before anything really happens. It took until nearly halfway for me to get into the book although I really enjoyed the second half where the characters start to come alive. Oddly, my favourite character didn't even have a speaking part; Daybe the day bat who Sham befriends at the start of his adventure. I loved that little bat!

You may have noticed the use of ampersands in my quotes. This is not an accident or formatting fault. Being used to uncorrected proofs, they didn't really register in my mind until the narrator pointed out that once & was spelled with 3 letters. From then on it grated on me a bit. I liked the idea that an ampersand is reminiscent of the curves of the railsea but it isn't the most natural thing to read.

If you're a big fan of fantastical worlds and like the idea of the nautical world of Moby Dick reworked on land, with moles instead of whales, and trains instead of ships, really do give Railsea a try. If you're looking for character driven storytelling you may well be disappointed.

Railsea is published today in the UK by Macmillan and is already available in the US via Del Rey. Thanks go to Del Rey for providing me with a copy to review via NetGalley.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pandemonium

Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy and therefore this review will contain spoilers for the first book. You can read my review of Delirium here which will also explain a little more about the world.

Last time we saw Lena, she was running off into The Wilds, leaving Alex on the other side of the fence. Pandemonium alternates between “then” and “now” on a chapter by chapter basis. It starts with Lena in a classroom in a new life which leaves you a little confused as to what's going on, especially if it's been a while since the first book. Has she been captured? What happened to Alex? Why is she back in school when she should be living off roast squirrel and berries? But soon it switches back to the “then” which is all about how Lena survives in The Wilds.

I found the “now” storyline much more compelling. In The Wilds, there seem a few too many characters with very little development. For people who have lost everything in the name of love, they come across as rather devoid of emotion. I'm not sure how much it contributed to the plot and I suspect the few key moments were things being set up for the final instalment. Whilst the two plots do eventually meet up, I was repeatedly frustrated about being taken away from the “now”, in which Lena is an undercover agent for the invalids, dipping her toes into the politics of the world. She meets the poster boy for the cure and ends up in the clutches of who knows who.

If you read my review of Delirium, you will know that I wasn't quite convinced by Lauren Oliver's world. What Pandemonium does is explain that the whole thing is much more about controlling the people through fear and peer pressure than around a disease. If it weren't for all the time wasted in The Wilds, I would have found this the better story. The “now” plot is fast paced and there is enough doubt in the love interest to be compelling. However I did role my eyes after reading the final page, it was going so well up until then but I'm sure the ending will leave fans clamouring for more.

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