Category Archives: Review

Adrift

Adriftby Rob Boffard

The concept of being cast adrift, out of reach of help and fighting for survival is a recurring scenario repeated in many good books and films. As the word itself suggests, these stories are generally confined to the dramas set in the sea, usually under attack from an unknown or unseen assailant. In this case, though, the ship in question is a small leisure shuttle taking its passengers to view the Horsehead Nebula – it’s the best view the Galaxy according to the tourist literature.

When they board the rather shabby and far from state-of-the-art Red Panda for their short excursion into space, those on board have no idea that they’re lives, and the lives of thousands of others, are about to change forever.

It was supposed to be a routine trip. A short journey away from the sprawling Sigma Station, a quick look at the Nebula, then back in time for tea. But everything changes when a mysterious ship appears seemingly from nowhere and, as they watch, destroys the station and everyone on it. With no idea who is behind the attack or why, the passengers and crew find themselves struggling to avoid detection. They have no weapons, very little food or water, and no way to escape.

Adrift is a tense drama that keeps the reader in suspense from beginning to end. The story is driven by some interesting characters, most of whom have secrets that pose as much of a threat to the group’s survival as the mysterious enemy now stalking them.

Each twist of the plot provides insight into who the individuals are. There are heroism and betrayal in equal measure from unexpected places in this well-crafted adventure. Rob Boffard has once again proven that he is a great storyteller and a good observer of human nature.

For those who have already read his Out Earth trilogy, Adrift offers more of the same and is a must. If you haven’t yet read his work then this is as good a place to start as any. You will not be disappointed if you are looking for drama, adventure and some science fiction.

The Island

The Islandby Victoria Hislop

When this book was passed on to me I was told simply that I would love it. Reading the synopsis, I wasn’t so sure, but then you can’t always judge a book but it’s cover.

The story begins when Alexis Fielding, holidaying on Crete with her boyfriend, takes time out to visit the village of Plaska to see an old friend of her mother’s. Alexis’ mother, Sophie, was born on the island but has kept her past a closely guarded secret, even from her daughter. Alexis soon begins to learn the truth behind her connections to not only Crete but also the former leper colony of Spinalonga.

In the spring of 1939, the Petrakis family are about to be torn apart when much-loved schoolteacher and beloved mother of Maria and Anna, Elenia, is forced to leave her home and take the one-way journey to Spinalonga.

The inhabitants of Spinalonga live an isolated and peaceful existence, but nothing can hide the toll that mankind’s oldest disease can take on those who unfortunately contract it. Whilst the family are spared the worst of Elenia’s suffering, they soon face new troubles when your Maria is diagnosed with leprosy.

Anna is now married into a wealthy family but there are problems brewing and their father, Giorgis doesn’t know how to health either of his daughters.

The outbreak of war brings research into a cure for leprosy to a halt, prolonging the suffering of those living on Spinalonga.

The Island is a story of love, heartbreak, prejudice and determination. It challenged my preconceptions about leprosy and introduced me to the history and people of Crete. It is entertaining as well as thought-provoking. I loved the characters and their intricately woven lives.

 

A Bicycle Made For Two

A Bicycle Made For Twoby Mary Jane Baker

One of the great pleasures of reading is to escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life and lose yourself in a simple and more predictable one.

Mary Jane Baker delivers just that in A Bicycle Made For Two. It is a story set in the romantic surroundings of the Yorkshire Dales – where else would you expect to find a medieval-themed restaurant run by an Italian family, with the owners preparing to organise a bicycle race?

Sounds far fetched I know, but it works surprisingly well. The restaurant gives the story a unique base and an excuse for some interesting one-liners.

A chance meeting between Lorna Donati (who runs the restaurant with her brother Tom) and professional cyclist Stuart McLean sparks a series of events with an inevitable conclusion. Like all good romances, whilst the ultimate destination may be predictable, the journey itself is not.

Lorna finds herself spearheading a campaign to bring the Grand Départ route through their small village. Her search for a unique selling point leads her and her friends to start on a second campaign to re-open a disused viaduct.

Whilst this helps distract Lorna and Tom from the loss of their beloved father, it also tests them in other ways. For the shy Tom, there is his infatuation with Cameron, for Lorna, it’s her love to hate relationship with McLaren.

There is a wonderful mix of interesting characters and a plot twists that make this an easy and enjoyable read. I enjoyed the pure escapism of the narrative, the well defined and witty characters and the pace at which events unfold. A great summer read.

Rotherweird

Rotherwierdby Andrew Caldercott

Rotherweird is a somewhat difficult book to describe. It has elements of gothic horror, fantasy and drama, underlaid with subtle humour.

The story centres around the links between our world and a parallel dimension where strange and mysterious forces are at play. The bridge between these two worlds lies within the confines of the secretive town of Rotherweird. The town and its citizens live by their own rules and very little contact with the world beyond their border.

Established during the reign if Elizabeth I, Rotherweird enjoys almost complete independence, but does exist with a number of restrictions, the most important being that nobody studies the town or its history. This presents a bit of a challenge for Jonah Oblong, the newly appointed History teacher at the Rotherweird School. Undaunted by this he soon begins to become acquainted with the townsfolk and their ways but he is not the only new face in town. The old manor has a new inhabitant, the mysterious Sir Veronal and his “wife” Lady Slickstone.

There are a plethora of interesting characters, all playing their part in the events that are about to unfold, bringing great danger to not only Rotherweird but the strange the inhabitants of the mysterious Lost Acre. Not everyone is as they seem and it soon becomes clear that there is a very good reason for keeping the town’s history a secret.

The plot has all the twists and turns you would expect from a good drama but I have difficulty with the more fantastic elements of the story. Strange creatures, reminiscent of something from ancient mythology, ancient books and characters who are much older than they seem make for an interesting mix.

As I said, it is a rather strange book and one that I had some trouble following at times. I enjoyed the story but some of the narrative lacked clarity. Having said that there are some strange and enticing characters whose stories I found intriguing. I enjoyed the book and was happy with the plot and the eventual outcome. However, I am not too sure about seeking out the next books in the series.

Great Small Things

Small Great Thingsby Jodi Picoult

Reading Small Great Things made me angry!

Now I know that may not be the way you would expect a positive book review to start I suppose I really need to explain myself.

You see, if there is one thing that is guaranteed to get my hackles up, it’s blatant injustice. I am by and large a tolerant, liberal-minded person. I always look for the good in people and am willing to see the best. But when I see innocent people suffer at the hands of institutions, governments or individuals for no good reason I find myself wanting to do nasty things to those behind it all. To read or hear of people persecuted or denied their basic rights simply because of the circumstances of their birth I find totally unacceptable and it makes me very angry.

Small Great Things made me angry. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I did. The story was very frighteningly real. The plot, the narrative and the issues it raised forced me to question my own preconceived ideas about race and equality in a way I never have before.

The story centres around the death of a newborn baby, Davis Bauer following a routine procedure. When the fingers start pointing there is an inevitability about where the grief-stricken father’s finger is pointing – the nurse who he had banned from looking after him. But why had she been told not to treat young Davis? Did the family question her qualifications? Had she done something terrible? No, to the child’s parent’s Ruth Jefferson’s only crime was not being white.

The story is told through the eyes of the book’s three main protagonists: Ruth Jefferson the nurse accused of murdering the baby, her lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and Turk Bauer, the father. As they each tell the story as they see it, it becomes very clear that although each is doing what they think is right, their perceptions are very different.

Using three voices to tell the story highlights the very different life experiences and turns this from a gripping drama into something very special. We all see the world from our perspective; what this book does is give the reader an insight into someone else’s point of view.

From the initial events, through the investigation and trial to the gripping conclusion, Great Small Things is an exceptional work of fiction that reads like a true story. A great book that I can thoroughly recommend.

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Innby Daphne Du Maurier

Starting to read one of the literary “classics” always brings with it a sense of trepidation. For one reason or another, I have often been disappointed by those novels everyone tells me I ought to have read. This particular book is not one I would have normally choose to read, but I happened to pick it up whilst visiting Jamaica Inn itself on a recent holiday to Cornwall. It was just something I felt I had to do.

Right from the start, having visited the bleak and windswept setting brought the narrative to life. But even without that prior experience, Du Maurier’s vivid descriptions of the building and the desolate moorland that surrounds it provide an excellent backdrop to this gothic tale.

The book’s heroine, Mary Yellan, is a young woman plucked from her hard but comfortable life and transported into a dangerous world of smugglers and vagabonds where no one is entirely what he seems. Whilst Mary faces the challenges of adapting to her new life in the care of her Aunt Patience and her violent husband Jess Merlyn, Mary is also seen to be dealing with internal conflicts.

From the start, we are made aware that Mary does not consider herself to be a typical “woman”. She is jealous of what she sees as the freedom of men and resents her perceived delicate nature. Brought up working with her mother on their farm, Mary’s life has been tough and she is no stranger to hard work and manual labour, despite her tender age. But this does not mean that she has completely denied her feminine side.

Jamaica Inn is a captivating tale that kept me intrigued from beginning to end. There are a few twists in the tale, but nothing is wasted as the characters and events unfold in a take as dark and brooding as any ghost story.

All in all, an excellent book, but I do recommend a visit to the Inn itself.

The Ex-Files

The Ex-Filesby Jane Moore

Not to be confused with the relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Skully, Jane Moore’s Ex-Files examines relationships between people with very different characters. At a push, I could extrapolate on several similarities between the stories but that really would be pushing things a bit too far.

The Ex-Files is a rom-com, but like most of Jane Moore’s stories, there is a twist. In this case the main focus of the story is Faye and Mark’s wedding weekend. Inviting four exe’s may not have been the best idea either of them has had, but as it turns out, it was not the worst. 

Over the course of the weekend Faye, a successful model, comes face to face with an unexpected extra ex, the consequences of which will affect everyone involved.

Although the book deviates slightly from the traditional rom-com format, the plot is intrinsically the same as her other books. Whilst there are opportunities along the way for the plot to deviate, the end result is pretty much as I expected.

The Ex-Files is a quick and enjoyable read. Not in any way taxing but all the better for it. The characters are all well developed and the narrative fairly interesting. I enjoyed the book which provided some light relief.

 

The Dark Forest (Rememberance of Earth’s Past #2)

The Dark Forest

by Cixin Liu

In the second of CixiinLiu’s Remembrance Of Earth’s Past trilogy, we find ourselves facing humanity’s end. The Trisolarian fleet is heading our way and it seems that the outcome of the ensuing conflict is in little doubt. With their extra-dimensional agents watching our every move and effectively putting a halt to scientific progress humanity looks set to pray for the ultimate price for being foolish enough to make its existence known. In a universe full of predators they best way to ensure survival to remain hidden. By contacting the Trisolarians humanity had made a seemingly fatal mistake.

Like the opening book of the series (The Three-Body Problem), although Dark Forest is global in scope, the book’s focus is, not surprisingly, focuses on the Chinese point of view. 

The story spans 200 years with the main characters popping in and out of hibernation. But rather than being used as a convenient vehicle to help cover issues with the plot, it is an important part of the narrative. 

Dark Forest is a clever, intense and very well-told story. There is a lot of speculative science and interesting philosophical debate throughout the book as well as some very interesting characters and one of the most imaginative plots I have read in years. The book never drifts too far from what might realistically be possible in the near future it portrays. 

Cixin Liu has proven himself to be one of the best science fiction visionaries of his generation. His depiction of the first contact between Earth and Trisolarian technologies is quite gripping and totally unexpected. His characters are well defined and engaging. 

The Dark Forest continues with the same intensity and imagination as The Three-Body Problem and I am looking forward to reading the final instalment in this gripping trilogy.

An Unsuitable Attachment

An Unsuitable Attachmentby Barbara Pym

Originally submitted in 1963, An Unsuitable Attachment was rejected by her publishers. Even after revision it failed to be accepted and marked the end of Barbara Pym’s initial success as a published author. Barbara enjoyed a second helping of success in the late 1970s but this, which should have been her seventh novel was not published until 1983.

Reading the book now I can see why it failed to excite the interest of publishers at the time. It is in much the same vain as her previous six novels but if lacks full characterisation and the premise is dated, even for the early 1960s. The story lacks focus and seems to meander about between the various characters, as if looking for somewhere to land. The central characters of the story, whose relationship inspires the title, are ill formed and lack any real depth. This is down to the fragmented nature of the narrative rather than the ability of the author. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good characters, they are just not fully realised in the way they deserve to be.

There is still plenty of gentle humour and wry observation that are the hallmark of Barbara Pym’s work and make her books so enjoyable. But, for me, it was a little disappointing. I really wanted to know more about Ianthe Bloom and her beau John Challow.

This is not one of her best works. It is a pleasant enough read but failed to capture my imagination.

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easyby Jasper Fforde

Having previously experience of Jasper Fforde through his highly imaginative Thursday Next series I was well prepared for this first look at the work of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading Police Department.

Actually, the best way to embark on one of Fforde’s literary adventures is to put your mind in to a sort of free-fall, leave all preconceptions, hang ups and preconceived logic in the locker room before entering. Believe me, the last thing you need when facing a world inhabited by the likes of DI Jack Spratt, DS Mary Mary and the late Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III is any kind of link to reality. It would just confuse things and might actually lead to psychological problems in later life. Best to play safe.

Now, you might think that any book that lists the three pigs amongst its characters would be aimed at the younger reader. You would be quite wrong. Despite the almost childish nature of some of the characters and themes, The Big Over Easy is a book for grown-ups, all be it, grown-ups with one toe still firmly holding on to childhood.

The story begins when DS Mary Mary, fresh from Basingstoke (which isn’t her fault) turn up at Reading Police HQ to take up her new role working alongside the long suffering DI Jack Spratt. We are introduced to a dysfunctional set of characters who at first glance you might hardly credit with the ability to solve a 12-piece jigsaw let alone a full blown murder enquiry. But first impressions can be deceptive, especially in a world where the measure of a policeman’s success is getting their cases published in Amazing Crime Stories. Simple solutions just don’t make the grade.

What follows is a tour-de-force of clever wit, painful puns and, surprisingly, a damned good whodunit. All of the characters are clearly drawn and easily visualised as they weave their way through a clever, although sometimes painfully twisted, plot.

For those who have already survived earlier expeditions in to the warped mind of Jasper Fforde, Big Over Easy is more of the same and you know what to expect. For Fforde virgins I suggest you make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a literary journey like to other. Put on your safety googles, dive in and enjoy.