Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 Reviews #SciFi Killing Adam by Earik Beann @EarikB

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Killing Adam by Earik Beann

41831601

This is a very interesting book, and I doubt anybody reading it will fail to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist. The concept is easy to grasp. Accidentally, (there was an experiment linking several people’s brains) an artificial intelligence (who later describes itself as a “singularity”) called Adam is born. Adam quickly takes control of the whole world, creating ARCs (altered reality chips), which are inserted into everybody’s brains, and allow people to control everything around them and to live get interconnected and live in an altered (virtual) reality world. Of course, the intelligence behind the inventions (and there is a company behind it too, BioCal) gets to control the brains of the people involved, in turn. You can imagine Terminator with AIs instead of physical robots, or Matrix, although in this case people are not physically hooked onto a computer, but hooked they are, nonetheless. Adam is extraordinary, but a megalomaniac and cannot stand the thought of coexisting with other singularities who might take a different view of matters. He will not stop at anything to achieve his ubercontrol and will use (and has used) any means necessary.

The story, told in the third-person by an omniscient narrator, is plot-driven. Each chapter is told from a character’s point of view (so there is no confusion as to whose point of view we’re following), mostly the main characters: Jimmy (a man who cannot be fitted with an ARC due to a brain injury suffered while he was playing American football), Adam, Trixie (another singularity, and one who sees things very differently to Adam), Jenna (one of the people —or “nodes”— hosting Trixie), and other secondary characters who play their part in the action but whom we don’t learn much about. Jimmy is the character we get to know better, but due to his personal circumstances, his life has become so limited that there is little information we gather in the time we spend with him. He is married and loves his wife, but as she’s mostly hooked onto the altered reality (23 hours a day), he can hardly spend any time with her. He attends “Implants Disability Anonymous”, an association for those who have difficulty adapting to life because they do not have an implant (and it is extremely complicated to live in a world centred on an alternate reality if you are an outsider), and has a friend, Cecil, whose life circumstances are very similar. He becomes a reluctant hero, and, perhaps preciesly because we do not know that much about him, it is easy to imagine ourselves in his place.

There are other characters with plenty of potential, especially Crazy Beard, an amateur philosopher who feels at home anywhere, and whose pearls of wisdom are eminently quotable. The language is not overly technical or complex and although there are some descriptions, these are not very detailed or lengthy. In a way, the experience of reading this book is similar to what life must be like for the characters of the novel hooked onto the alternate reality. You become so immersed in the story and focused on the content that you don’t see or notice what is around you, including the details about what surrounds you. The scenes and the actions succeed each other at a fast pace and, every-so-often you are thrown out of that reality by a detailed mention of a location or of an in-depth description of a character’s thoughts or feelings. And then, back you go, into the story.

The novel can be read as an allegory for our modern lives, increasingly taken over by social media and online content (yes, it is not a big stretch to imagine that you could walk along a crowded street and be virtually invisible because all people you come across are focused on their devices), a cautionary tale. Indeed, some of the technology, like the connected fridges and the self-driven cars are already here. It can also be read as a straightforward science-fiction/dystopian novel, with touches of humour, philosophical thoughts, and an inspiring and positive ending (and no, I won’t tell you what it is). Hard science-fiction fans might take issue with some of the novel’s premises (I missed getting a sense of how this alternate reality was, as we mostly see the effects of it but not the actual content), and a fair deal of suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the novel if you are looking for a realistic story, but if you enjoy speculative fiction, plenty of action, and are open to a story that will make you look around and think, you’ll love this novel. I look forward to the author’s future works.

Book description

The world runs on ARCs. Altered Reality Chips. Small implants behind the left ear that allow people to experience anything they could ever imagine. The network controls everything, from traffic, to food production, to law enforcement. Some proclaim it a Golden Age of humanity. Others have begun to see the cracks. Few realize that behind it all, living within every brain and able to control all aspects of society, there exists a being with an agenda all his own: the singularity called Adam, who believes he is God.

Jimmy Mahoney’s brain can’t accept an ARC. Not since his football injury from the days when the league was still offline. “ARC-incompatible” is what the doctors told him. Worse than being blind and deaf, he is a man struggling to cling to what’s left of a society that he is no longer a part of. His wife spends twenty-three hours a day online, only coming off when her chip forcibly disconnects her so she can eat. Others are worse. Many have died, unwilling or unable to log off to take care of even their most basic needs.

After being unwittingly recruited by a rogue singularity to play a role in a war that he doesn’t understand, Jimmy learns the truth about Adam and is thrown into a life-and-death struggle against the most powerful mathematical mind the world has ever known. But what can one man do against a being that exists everywhere and holds limitless power? How can one man, unable to even get online, find a way to save his wife, and the entire human race, from destruction?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #WomensFiction The Last Thing She Said by @RachelJWalkley

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley

43019315

I recently read and reviewed Rachel Walkley’s first novel The Women of Heachley Hall and enjoyed it so much that I had to check her second novel as soon as it became available. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

This is the story of three sisters, twins Rebecca and Leia, as different as two sisters can be (or perhaps not), and younger sister Naomi. Their parents move to the US when the youngest sister is in her late teens and she refuses to go with them. Rebecca becomes her ersatz mother (Nancy, their mother, does not seem particularly close to any of them, although perhaps that is the sisters’ impression) and eventually Leia also moves to the US to work on her medical research.

The three sisters are gifted, although they all have trouble dealing with their gifts, which are very different. Rebecca gives up her career as a lawyer to take refuge at home, bringing up her children and looking after her husband and the house; Naomi, a talented flute player, loves to perform but does not feel confident and dedicates most of her life to teaching music to children; Leia has a big brain and dedicates her efforts to useful research, but hates the limelight and would prefer all the credit to go to her team. Their grandmother, the member of the family that managed to get them all together with her traditional birthday celebration, also had a gift, but most people dismissed her birthday predictions as an eccentricity. When Rebecca starts investigating her grandmother’s past pronouncements —for very personal reasons—, she gets a big surprise.

The story is told in the third person from different points of view, mostly those of the sisters, although we get some glimpses into other characters’ minds as well, and in chronological order for the most part. There are some short chapters that go back to show us past events (there are no lengthy explanations or “telling” in the novel), and these flow logically from the narrative. For example, if Naomi is thinking about the relationship with her parents, her memory might go back to how she had felt when her parents decided to leave the country. It is a great way of layering the background story of the characters without disrupting the action for too long, and it also helps us understand where the characters are coming from, and their reasons for being the people they are. Each chapter and fragment is clearly labelled with the character’s name and the date, and it is not an effort to follow the story, as it flows naturally, at a sometimes wandering but engaging pace.

There are some descriptions of places and locations, but these are limited to what is necessary to tell the story and to allow readers to see it. The story is more interested in the psychological makeup of these characters, and the author does a great work of making us understand them in their own terms. We see each protagonist from her sisters’ point of view first, but on later seeing things from their perspective, we get a completely different picture of them. By the end of the story I was attached to all of the characters, even the ones that at first I was not sure about. And although not all the characters are sympathetic, the novel is not judgmental about any of them, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Rose, the grandmother, the passages about Naomi’s playing and her thoughts about it (if you read the author’s note at the end you’ll understand why these scenes appear so vivid), and grew very fond of Leia and Howard. That is not to say I don’t like Rebecca and the rest of the chapters from Naomi’s perspective, but perhaps because they are the ones we get to know first, we are on their side from the beginning, and the rest of the characters came as a revelation much later on. There are secrets and lies, but none are Earth-shattering or beyond most reader’s expectations and experiences, and they do not require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, even the paranormal elements. There is mystery, but the strongest element of the story is the relationship between the three sisters and how they all become more their individual selves by working together and protecting each other.

The novel is both easy to read and beautifully written, and the ending… No, I won’t give you details, but let’s say I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely a feel-good story.

A book I recommend to anybody who enjoys contemporary women’s fiction, optimistic stories about family relationships with a touch of the paranormal, and who are eager to discover a new and talented writer.

Book description

Rose’s granddaughters, Rebecca, Leia and Naomi, have never taken her prophecies seriously. But now that Rose is dead, and Naomi has a new man in her life, should they take heed of this mysterious warning?
Naomi needs to master the art of performing. Rebecca rarely ventures out of her house. She’s afraid of what she might see. As for Rebecca’s twin, everyone admires Leia’s giant brain, but now the genius is on the verge of a breakdown.
Rebecca suspects Naomi’s new boyfriend is hiding something. She begs Leia, now living in the US, to investigate.
Leia’s search takes her to a remote farm in Ohio on the trail of the truth behind a tragic death.
Just who is Ethan? And what isn’t he telling Naomi?

In a story full of drama and mystery, the sisters discover there is more that connects them than they realise, and that only together can they discover exactly what’s behind Rose’s prophecy.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Fantasy The Devil’s Apprentice (The Great Devil War, #1) by Kenneth B. Andersen

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

42274251

This is a fun book. Written in the third-person form the point of view of Philip, a thirteen-year-old boy who lives with his mother and who lost his father when he was very young, this novel is suitable for younger readers and also for adults. If you have given up on new adult stories because of their heavy reliance on romance and low-grade erotica, you are safe with this book. Yes, there is a love interest, but the book is a great adventure first and foremost. Rather than a reluctant hero, we have here a reluctant villain (well, more or less). A tragic mistake makes Philip end up in a situation that is totally out of his comfort zone, and he has to undergo a training that I’m sure many boys and girls would take to like a duck to water, but not him. He has to learn to be bad, and it is a challenge.

There are some world-building and some wonderful descriptions (of locations, like Lucifer’s castle, a church with a very interesting graveyard, the doors of Hell…), but it is not excessively complex, and it does not slow down the adventures. Philip, like the readers, is totally new to this place, and his descriptions help us share in his adventures more fully. He gets a variety of guides and people explaining how things work there: Grumblebeard, the hospitable devil guarding the doors of Hell, Lucifax (Lucifer’s wonderful cat), Satina (a young female demon and a Tempter) and Lucifer in person (in demon?). Everything is dark and night (people do not wish each other good day, but good night, you don’t write in a diary, but in a nightary…) everywhere, there are many types of demons, each one with his own characteristics and roles to play, and bad humans (and there are a few not-unexpected jokes about politicians, although some of the others who end up in hell might be a bit more surprising) get punished in many different ways, but Hell itself is a place where demons go about their daily lives, have their jobs, go to school, get married, tend to their gardens… It is a place full of dangers but also full of interest, and Philip gets to experience plenty of new things, not all bad.

The book’s view of Heaven, Hell and moral issues is far from orthodox. Personally, I did not find it irreverent, but it is a matter of personal opinion. Even though I did not necessarily agree with all the views exposed, these are issues well-worth thinking and talking about and I am sure those who read the novel will feel the same. I enjoyed the sense of humour, and I liked most of the characters, from the secondary ones (I’ve already said I love Lucifax, but I grew fond of most, from the cook to Death himself), to the main protagonists, like Lucifer, wonderful Satina, and Philip. He is not perfect (well, he is perhaps too perfect to begin with, and then he turns… but I won’t spoil the book for you), and he learns important lessons on the way, and he is not the only one. Although I felt at first that some of the changes that take place in the book stretch the imagination, when I thought more about it, time in Hell moves at a different pace, and for a character who is as inflexible and extreme as Philip, for whom everything is black or white —at least to begin with— the process he goes through makes sense. And by the end of the novel, he has become more human and more humane.
The book is a page-turner, there are heroes and villains (or baddies and really evil characters), a few secrets, betrayals, red-herrings, tricks and deceits, an assassination attempt, and a mystery that will keep readers intrigued. And a great final twist. (Yes and a fantastic ending. I had an inkling about it and about some other aspects of the plot, but the beauty is in how well they are resolved). The novel is well-written, flows well, with a language of a level of complexity that should suit adults as well as younger readers, and it managed to make me care for the characters and want to keep reading their adventures.

A few quotes to give you a taster of the style of the pitch of the book.

“Let that be your first lesson, Philip. Down here, humor is always dark.”
“God and the Devil roll dice at the birth of every human being,” the cat explained. “A one-hundred-sided die determines the degree of evil or goodness in each person. The results fix the nature of each individual.”

I particularly loved this accusation addressed at Philip:
“You look like a devil, but you’re not one. You are nothing but a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”

I am not surprised that this book is a popular read in Denmark. I expect it will do well in its English version too. And I’ll be eagerly waiting for the adaptation to the screen. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys well-written YA books in the fantasy genre, without an excessive emphasis on world building, who don’t mind some creepy and dark elements and appreciate a good dose of dark humour. I have a copy of the second book as well, and I can’t wait to see what Philip and his underworld friends get up to next.

Book description

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

The Devil’s Apprentice is volume 1 in The Great Devil War-series

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT The Swooping Magpie by @LizaPerrat set in 1970s #Australia

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat

42482664

This is the fifth of Liza Perrat’s novels I read, so you won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan. I have read her historical novels in The Bone Angel Series, and also The Silent Kookaburra, set, like this novel, in the 1970s. It seems that the author intends to write a new series of independent novels, set in Australia in the 1970s, reflecting the everyday lives and realities of women in the period, and this is the second one. All of the author’s novels have female protagonists and closely explore their subjectivities and how they adapt to their social circumstances in the different historical periods. They might be fictional but the pay close attention to details and are the result of careful research.

Here, the main character is Lindsay Townsend, who narrates the story in the first person, in three different time periods, the early 1970s, the early 1990s, and the final fragment, set in 2013. The first part, and the longest shows us, Lindsay, when she is about to become 16. She is (at least on the surface), a very confident girl, clever, pretty, with plenty of money, from a good family, although not all is at it seems. She seems to lead a charmed life, but her home life is rather sad, with a violent father more interested in keeping up appearances than in looking after his wife and daughter, and a mother hooked on pills and spending as much time as possible out of the house on her charity work. Despite all that, Lindsay is not a particularly sympathetic character, and I know that might be a problem for readers who are not that keen on first-person narratives, as placing you in the skin of a character you don’t like might make for an uncomfortable reading experience, even if it is for a very good reason. She is a typical teenager, overconfident, and a bit of a bully, showing no sympathy for anybody’s circumstances at the beginning of the book. She dismisses her peers, feeling superior to all of them, and, as usual at that age, she believes she knows better than anybody and is invincible. That lands her in a lot of trouble, as she falls for one of the teachers, with consequences that readers might guess but that, at the time, don’t cross her mind. At a time when society was far less tolerant of alternative families, and women’s liberation had not taken hold, Lindsay is faced with an impossible decision and is suddenly confronted with a reality miles away from her everyday life. Her intelligence (unfortunately not accompanied by common sense) and her stubbornness don’t provide her with any answers when confronted with a teenage pregnancy. Faced with hard work, and thrown in the middle of a group of girls from different walks of life and social classes, she discovers what she is really made off and learns a very bitter lesson.

Although Lindsay herself is not likeable, especially at the beginning of the story, when she goes to St. Mary’s we learn about the varied experiences of other girls in her same circumstances and it is impossible not to feel touched and care for them. We have girls from the rural outback, abused by relatives, others who are the children of immigrant families who have no means to look after their babies, and with Downey, the little aboriginal girl whose story is, perhaps, the most heart-wrenching because she is a child herself, we get a representation of the scale of the problem (and a pointed reminder of the aboriginal experience in Australia). This was not something that only happened to girls of a certain social class or ethnic origin. It happened to everybody.  Through the different timelines, we get to follow the historic and social changes that took place, how laws affected adopted children and their biological parents, and we also get a picture of the ongoing effect those events had on those women, the children, and their families. We have women who never want to learn what happened to their babies, others who try but cannot get any information, others who get reunited with their children many years later, some who suffer ongoing negative consequences from their experiences, whilst others manage to create new lives for themselves. But the wound of the loss is always present.

The author deals with the tragic topic skilfully. If at times some of the scenes seem to have come out of a horrific version of a fairy tale (there are characters who are like evil witches, and Lindsay and her friends confront tasks that would put Cinderella to shame), and the degree of corruption and conspiracy stretches the imagination, we only need to read the news and listen to personal accounts of women who have been in such situation to realise that, whatever the concessions to fiction, the writer has done her research and has managed to capture the thoughts and feelings of the many women affected by this issue.

The action is set in Australia, mostly in Wollongong, New South Wales, with some events taking place in Sidney and other areas of the country. I have always admired the author’s talent for recreating the locations of her stories and for making us experience them with all of our senses, submerging us in the smells, the sounds, the tastes (I don’t know some of the foods and labels included, but they do add to the feel of authenticity), the flora and fauna, the clothing, the music, and the language of the time. Although forced adoptions are a widespread problem and it has affected a number of other countries (we might not know its full scale yet), the realistic location (and the family connection and research the author refers to in the author’s note at the back of the book) makes it more immediate and real still.

The story is extremely well-written, with enough description, both of the place and of the period, to ground the action without making it drag, but although it manages to combine action and surprises with reflective passages, the strongest point of the novel is its exploration of the psychological effects of losing a child, especially in those circumstances. The author manages to capture the thoughts and feelings of the character and through her conversations; we also get some insight into the experiences of others. In the first part of the book we have a young girl, and we get to share her thought process, her hesitations, doubts, and we feel trapped with her by a situation she is not in control of, and even though we might not have much in common with her, we do empathise and get to see things from her point of view. We do suffer with her and her friends, and although we might not like everything she says or does, we appreciate her kindness and the way she gets to bond with the other girls at St. Mary’s. Lindsay lives through much heartache, and grows and changes as a result, but people reading this book need to be aware that there are disturbing scenes and the topic of adoptions and depression might hit close home for many.

This is another great novel and although it can be read simply as fiction, I would recommend it in particular to readers interested in adoptions, particularly forced adoptions, and the perspectives of the families involved. I think it would make for a great book club choice, as the subject is one that will interest many readers, and it will bring much discussion, and the author includes a detailed list of some of the resources she has used to research the topic, providing extra material for those interested. Personally, I felt more empathy for other characters than for Lindsay, but no matter how much or how little we like each individual who went through such experiences, this novel will give readers pause and make them reflect upon the horrors that have been enforced in the recent past in the name of morality and decency. A powerful and poignant novel, to add to the catalogue of an accomplished and talented writer.

Book description

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Histfic The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau @Tudorscribe @Endeavour_Media

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

40121191

As soon as I read the description of this novel I was intrigued by the topic. I’ve read about the different fancies and frenzies that have taken societies (or at least the upper parts of them) by storm over history. Suddenly, something “new” becomes popular, and, especially if it is difficult to obtain, people will go to almost any extreme to get hold of it and then use it to their advantage. People have made fortunes (and got ruined) over the years by pursuing and purchasing items as diverse as tulips, silk, spices, exotic animals, dies, precious stones, gold, and indeed, porcelain. (I know some things don’t change much, and a few items that have replaced those in modern society easily come to mind). Some of them seem almost impossible to believe when looked at from the distance of time, especially when the object of desire is something with very little (if any) practical use, and it comes at a time of crisis and historical upheaval, where more important things are at stake. The morality of such matters is one of the more serious aspects of this novel, and it is compellingly explored.

The author, who has a background in history, does a great job of marrying the historical detail of the period (making us feel as if we were in the London of the late XVIII century first, then in Derby, and later in France) with a fairly large cast of characters and their adventures, weaving a mystery (or several) into a story that reminded me of some of my favourite novels by Alexandre Dumas.

Guinevere, the protagonist, is a young woman who does not seem to fit in anywhere. She is a Huguenot, and although born in England, she is the daughter of French-refugees (and that is a particularly interesting angle of the story, especially because the author is inspired by her own heritage), and is considered a French woman by her English neighbours, a particularly difficult state of affairs at a time when England and France are at war. Her people had to escape France due to religious persecution and she feels no love for France, and yet, she is not fully accepted in England either, being in a kind-of-limbo, although she lives amongst people of her faith at the beginning of the novel. Guinevere narrates her tale in the first-person, and she is insistent in writing her own story, at a time when that was all-but-impossible for a woman. I have recently read a book which mentioned Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and I could not avoid thinking about Wollstonecraft (who, like Guinevere, was born in Spitalfields and lived in the same era), and her own complex and controversial life as I read this. Guinevere is not a writer but an artist, and she feels constrained by the limitations imposed on her by the fact of being a woman. She wants to paint like Hogarth, not just produce pretty flowers to decorate silk. But that was considered impossible and improper for a woman at the time. She also wants to pursue knowledge and is attracted to revolutionary ideas and to dangerous men. She is eager to learn, intelligent, but also ruled by her desires and fears; she is stubborn and at times makes decisions that might seem selfish and unreasonable, but then, what other options did she have? Personally, I find Guinevere a fascinating character, a woman of strong convictions, but also able to look at things from a different perspective and acknowledge that she might have been wrong. She is a deep thinker but sometimes she cannot control her emotions and her impulses. She has a sense of morality but does things that could cost her not only her reputation but also her life and that of those she loves. And she ponders and hesitates, feels guilty and changes her mind, falls in love and in lust, and feels attracted and fascinated by driven and intellectually challenging men and by bad boys as well (a bit like the moth she masterfully paints, she gets too close to the flame sometimes).

Guinevere is not always sympathetic, but that is part of what makes her a strong character, and not the perfect heroine that would be unrealistic and impossible to imagine in such circumstances. There are a number of other characters, some that we learn more about than others, and I was particularly fond of Evelyn, who becomes her friend in Derby, and whose life shares some parallels with that of Guinevere, and although I liked her love interest, Thomas Sturbridge, a man who keeps us guessing and is also driven by his desire for knowledge, I was fascinated by Sir Gabriel Courtenay. He is far from the usual villain, and he has hidden motives and desires that keep protagonist and readers guessing. He entices and threatens, he offers the possibility of knowledge and protection one moment and is ruthless and violent the next. He is one of those characters that are not fully explained and one can’t help but keep thinking about and wondering what more adventures they might go on to experience once the book is over.

There are also real historical figures in the book. I have mentioned painters, and we also meet and hear about a fair number of other people, some that will be quite familiar to readers interested in that historical period. The author is well informed, her research shines through the novel, and I was particularly fascinated by the history of Derby porcelain (now Royal Crown Derby). Her descriptions of the workings of a porcelain factory of the period, the actual running of the business and the machinations behind it make for an enthralling read, even for people who might not be particularly interested in porcelain (I am). I have already mentioned the adventures, and there are plenty of those. Although I do not want to go into the plot in detail (and the description offers more than enough information about it), readers only need to know that there are mysteries (not only the famous Blue of the title), impersonations, spies, criminals, robberies, books with hidden compartments, false letters, murders, kidnappings, experiments, plenty of painting (watercolour, oils…), secret formulas, wars, surreptitious journeys, imprisonments, philosophical debates, and even a wonderful party. There is also romance and even sex, although the details are kept behind closed doors. In sum, there isn’t a dull moment.

Notwithstanding all that, the writing is smooth and flows well, and although there are occasional words or expressions of the period, these are seemingly incorporated into the text and do not cause the reader to stumble. There are moments of reflection, waiting, and contemplation, and others when the action moves fast, there is danger and the pace quickens. I think most readers will find the ending satisfying, and although I liked it (and would probably have cheered if it was a movie), it had something of the sleight of hand that did not totally convince me (or perhaps I should say of the Deus-ex-machina, that I am sure would be an expression the character in question would approve of. And no, I’m not going to reveal anything else).

This book is a treat for any lover of historical fiction, especially those who like adventures reminiscent of times past, and who enjoy a well-researched novel which offers plenty to think about and more than a parallel with current events. A great combination of history, adventure, and topics to ponder upon. Although this is the first book by Bilyeau I’ve read, I’m sure it won’t be the last one.

Book description

A novel of suspense that asks: What would you do for the most beautiful color in the world?

The year is 1758, and a headstrong woman artist, 24-year-old Genevieve Planche, is caught up in a high-stakes competition to discover the ultimate color that threatens to become as deadly as it is lucrative.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #WW2 #Histfic The Lost Letters by @SarahM_writer @bookouture

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell

40054356

The novel tells two stories centred in two different times, one set in the 1940s, mostly in WWII Norfolk, although with some visits to London, and another taking place now, also set in Norfolk in its majority. The chapters set in the past are written in the past tense from the point of view of Sylvia, a married woman, mother of two children, still pining for her teenage love. When her aunt dies she leaves her a beach hut and through it she meets Connie, a girl from London, and her brother Charlie. Despite the distance and the difficulty in maintaining communication during the war, they become friends, and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The chapters set in the present are written in the present tense (something I must confess took me some time to get used to, although it means it is very difficult to get confused as to where you are or who is talking), and told from the point of view of Martha, a Canadian teacher whose father was evacuated during the war from England to Canada. Following the death of her father and gaps in the information about his childhood (as he was working on an autobiography when he died), she decides to use the opportunity offered by her father’s plane ticket and the hotel and beach hut he had booked to do some research into his past.

Both women, whose stories most readers will guess must be connected in some way, have their own problems. Sylvia’s marriage is not exactly happy, the war takes her husband away, and apart from the everyday danger and destruction, she has to face the evacuation of her son. The author manages to create a good sense of the historical period and, in particular, of women’s lives during the war, without being heavy-handed in the use of descriptions or over-the-top in the nostalgic front. We experience the character’s turmoil, her doubts, and although we might not always agree with her decisions, it is easy to empathise and understand why she does what he does.

Martha is at a bit of a loss. She is divorced and although her ex-husband has moved on (he has remarried and has twins), it is not that clear if she has, as she still sends him birthday cards and seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father’s new wife. She knows her relationship with her daughter Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, is strained but seems to have forgotten how to communicate with her. Her research into her father’s childhood and past gives her a focus, and the mystery behind Catkins (a file her sister finds in her father’s computer) and his/her identity help give her a purpose.

We have some male characters (and Martha’s father and his past are at the centre of the novel), but this is a novel about women: about mothers and daughters, about friends, about women pulling together to survive and to get stronger (I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the war recalling the tasks women were doing in the home front, and how they supported each other becoming all members of an extended family), about the difficult decisions women were (and are) faced with for the good of their families and their children. The author is very good at conveying the thought processes of her characters and although it also has a great sense of place (and I am sure people familiar with Norfolk will enjoy the book enormously, and those of us who don’t know it as well will be tempted to put it on our list to visit in the future), in my opinion, its strongest point is its great psychological depth.

The book is well researched and it has a lightness of touch, avoiding the risk of slowing down the story with unnecessary detail or too much telling. As the different timelines are kept clearly separate I do not think readers will have any difficulty moving from one to the other.

The book flows well and the intrigue drives the reader through the pages, with red herrings and twists and turns included, although its pace is contemplative, as it pertains to the theme. It takes its time, and it allows its readers to get to know the characters and to make their own conjectures. I worked out what was likely to be the connection slightly before it was revealed, but it is very well done, and I don’t think readers will be disappointed by the ending.

A great first book, that pulls at the heartstrings, recommended to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction, especially those interested in WWII and the home front in the UK. I will be following the author’s career with interest in the future.

Book description

What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again? 

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Unusual #crimefiction Scorn by Paul Hoffman

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Scorn by Paul Hoffman

35826900

My review:

When I was first approached about reviewing this novel I was beyond intrigued. It sounded like something utterly unique and out there. I wasn’t sure it would suit my reading taste, but I knew I had to read it because it sounded like nothing I had read before. And although it took me a while to get to it, I am happy to report my first impression was right. This book is… extraordinary.

Yes, this book is extraordinary because it is out of the ordinary, pretty much so. If we try to define its genre, we’ll have many difficulties. Is it a thriller? There is a pretty special serial killer (those of us who regularly read thrillers know that they are becoming more and more bizarre and extreme, but this one is beyond the usual, even by modern standards) and a series of murders and desecrations connected by a several cryptic clues (yes, crosswords also come into it), but it has too many other elements that do not fit in well with this genre. There are mystery and police-procedural elements to a point, and a couple of interesting and quirky detectives (Scrope and Lister, both from the upper crust with outstanding education, interesting connections, and an armed forces background), and a female PC, Molly Coates (a heroine of the working classes, from the North of England and from as different a background as possible to the dynamic duo but as clever).

There is a paranormal/fantasy element (well, there is a wolf/shifter involved, and there are references to other creatures that might fit into a number of different categories), but the plot takes place in the world we live in (scarily so at times) or a close version of it with ‘interesting touches’ (some fictional, some are a matter of interpretation). There is a scientific explanation for some of the events (involving the Large Hadron Collider) that could put one in mind of science fiction novels, but this is not the main focus of the plot.

There are plenty of references to religion (which is one of the main themes of the book, in particular, the Roman Catholic Religion) but a word of warning, I think truly devoted and orthodox followers of the Catholic faith or even convinced Christians might feel offended by some of the content. There are also plenty of references and a focus on current and recent events (like the sexual abuse of children by members of the RC priesthood, there are also comments about politics, media, and political figures, some international but many centred in the UK, and we have close encounters with preeminent figures like Tony Blair, the Queen of England, the Pope…) but although the references are accurate and there are plenty of quotations from books, newspapers, media, and the internet, these are weaved into the story and it is not non-fiction or a factual account. As I mentioned already, there are plenty of details about everyday British life peppered through the book, and although in my opinion it is not necessary to be British or an expert on the UK to fully understand or enjoy the book, I think people with a good knowledge of UK politics, society, and current affairs will find much to enjoy (and think about) when they read this book. There is also romance, a story of opposites attract that goes beyond the conventional, but it is only a subplot (and not typical of the romantic genre).

Oh, and there are some illustrations (like ink etchings) of characters and events in the book, but I wouldn’t call it a comic, or a picture book (although they add greatly to the overall effect).

The book has also an extraordinary narrator that from very early on challenges the readers, promising some things (a great twist at the end, that, let me tell you now, he delivers), coaxing them, warning them, and never letting them become too complacent or ‘safe’. The narrator, whose identity readers will wonder about for much of the book, is opinionated, has strong points of view and is not, and never pretends to be, a neutral observer. He is witty, well-informed, dismissive at times, rude and pushy, but never ever boring. Scorn, the title of the book, is the mode of much of his narration, and I loved his voice from the beginning, but if you don’t, you will have difficulties with the book. I always recommend readers to check a sample of the book before buying, and this is one of those cases when I feel that is a must. Although some of the narration, mostly to do with the investigation and the main characters (I am trying not to reveal too many details of the plot, but let’s say, things are not what they seem, as most readers will suspect from the beginning) is written in the third person, much of what makes the book special and gives it its structure and its distinctiveness is the narrator.

Do not get me wrong, though, there are plenty of other characters, like the investigators I have mentioned, whom we get to know quite well and whose personalities and adventures would provide sufficient material for gripping, if more conventional, novels in their own right. There is also Aaron Gall, the character at the centre of the plot, who is both the anti-hero and victim, and also acts as a catalyst for the action in the book. We get to know him, and the rest of the characters, quite well, and he is also a stand-in for the many people who have survived abuse (more or less extreme) at the hands of those who were supposed to be looking after their education and spiritual well-being. If I had to choose, my favourite would be Molly, perhaps because I have more in common with her than with the rest of the characters, and Lou, the therapist, but they are all interesting and likeable. Here I am referring to the main characters. Some of the other characters, many of whom we only get temporary glimpses of (including the victims) are not necessarily likeable, but they are far from caricatures or cut-out types, and we do get insights into their thoughts and motivations that make them, if not sympathetic, at least real and human. And, that includes the guest appearances by true historical figures.

I have tried very hard not to give away much of the plot, although I hope my mention of some of the themes would suffice to get prospective readers interested. I found it a compelling read, both due to the main storyline, and also to the detours, the narrator comments, and the fanciful asides. But this is not a book that zeroes on the action and dismisses anything that is not relevant to the plot (in that way it is perhaps more of a literary fiction novel, but not quite either). This is a long book that meanders on and off through tangents, which eventually we realise are relevant to the overall book but not always to the thriller part of it, so if you’re an impatient reader looking for a light and thrilling read or a who-done-it, this might not be for you. The style of writing is breath-taking, a tour-de-force, with detailed but clear explanations of scientific points, collections of facts and events that make for gripping reading, psychologically astute descriptions of characters and their motivations, philosophical and moral commentaries that will make readers think, and I highlighted so much of the book that I found it almost impossible to choose some fragments to share, but I will try (avoiding major plot points as well):

But that’s the thing about human beings. It’s not laughter or the ability to stand upright that distinguishes man from the animals, it’s the capacity for incompetence. When any other creature makes a mistake, it gets eaten.

It was a truth universally acknowledged in the police force that the middle classes were generally terrified of the police and would shop their grannies without a moment’s hesitation once a cop asked them a question.

Ever had a sudden moment of realisation, an epiphany of the truth that marked out a momentous line in the sands of self-knowledge between everything you thought was the case about the kind of creature you were and everything that was really true? Neither have I.

I have already warned readers about the religious aspects of the book that might not sit well with many readers (no, this is not a Christian book in the usual sense, probably a book that in certain circles and in eras past would have been called a ‘wicked’ book), and there is also violence and some sex scenes (the violence is far more graphic than the sex, in fact it is so extreme that the effect is somewhat cartoonish, but I am not squeamish, so don’t take my word for it). It also deals on a serious and difficult subject, and although it does so in a peculiar way, it does not shy away from the most horrific aspects of it. Having said all that, this is a book I thoroughly recommend. It is not a book for everybody, as you’ll have surmised if you’ve read the rest of the lengthy review (sorry. I got more carried away than usual), but if you like to challenge yourself, you love outlandish thrillers, cryptic crossword clues, unique scornful narrators, satire, and are looking for a new author to follow, do yourself a favour and check it out. It’s a ride on the wild side.

Book description

After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes horribly wrong, depressed scientist Aaron Gall wakes up to discover his mind and body have undergone an astonishing transformation. Now bursting with the joys of life, he is inspired to undertake a radical new therapy: to talk to the priests who brutalized him and his school friends, point out the intellectual dishonesty and inhumanity of their religious beliefs – and then eat them. Aaron enjoys the process so much (as well as taunting the police and MI5) he decides to extend his murderous conversations to include the Archbishop of Westminster, recently converted Catholic Tony Blair, the Queen of England – and, finally, the Pope himself. But a Catholic Church that has given the world the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Papal Infallibility hasn’t survived for two thousand years without a reason. Aaron is in for the greatest shock in the history of mankind.

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

#Romcom The Not So Perfect Plan To Save Friendship House by Lilly Bartlett @MicheleGormanUK ‏

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Not So Perfect Plan To Save Friendship House by Lilly Bartlett 

40616870

Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.

The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence.  Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.

I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.

There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.

Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):

We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.

Book description

Meet Phoebe, who’s 28, and Laney, Dot and Maggie, who are 68, 78, and none of your business. Together they’ll prove that age doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship, belonging and an unquenchable zest for life.

When Framlingham’s famously all-female retirement home goes co-ed, a war between the sexes is declared.

Stuck in the middle, chef Phoebe Stockton is desperate to help her friends plot to keep the community that means so much to them. It’s become her life raft, too. She finds comfort in her beloved career that might finally make her parents proud. But Phoebe’s darling Nick is lining up on the other side of the battle, and their romance is suffering collateral damage.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the home’s owner can’t improve business by moving the men in, he’ll have to close down Friendship House.

The women aren’t about to let that happen.

About the author

Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.

Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power comedies under her own name.

Lilly Bartlett

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Action #Scifi Survivors’ Club by @MKMartinWriter

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Survivors’ Club by M.K. Martin

39358526

Let me start by saying that this book is a pretty wild ride. I quote one of the Amazon reviewers (Eric Witchey) because he says it very well and more concisely than I can (as those who read my reviews know all too well): If Andromeda Strain had mutant, undead Cthulhu babies, this would be the offspring. Yes, indeed. Those of you who follow my blog and my reviews probably know I read some science-fiction but I’m not a big authority on it and it is not one of my default genres. But somehow, when I read the description of this book and the biography of the author, I decided to give it a go. I’ve been interested in genetics since long before I decided to study Medicine, and although I pursued a different line of work, I know I’m not alone in following new discoveries and studies on that field. The book also promised plenty of action, and the author’s own military experience and her degree in psychology intrigued me as well.

The story is narrated in third-person from a variety of characters’ points of view, although each chapter is only told from one point of view, so there is no head-hopping or confusion (although due to the frantic pace the story moves at once the infection starts, it’s important to remain attentive). The three main characters are a scientist (a geneticist), Marius, the head of security at Chrysalis Biopharmaceuticals, John Courage (perfect name), and Miranda, the 18-year-old daughter of the company’s CEO (she joins them later in the book, during the first appearance of the monster/infection). Other members of Chrysalis and other settings also play a part and help create a more rounded view of the events and provide an outsider’s evaluation of the characters. Although there are no lengthy disquisitions, navel-gazing, or tons of biographical information, the main characters are fleshed-out, and they have their quirks (Marius is quite nerdy, with a love of British TV series, while Miranda is a credible young girl, at times losing focus of what is at stake to moan about lack of TV, and she can easily be swayed by the winning smile of a charmer, while John is strong and professional but not without his humanities), their strengths and weaknesses.

The voices of the characters are credible and they use the jargon and technical terms appropriate to their jobs and positions, although the alternating points-of-view ensure that we gain the necessary knowledge from other characters who are also novices, and the story is not difficult to follow, without ever falling into dumbing down or easy explanation. There are likeable and less likeable characters and we get to change our minds about some of them as we read, but I think most readers will find somebody to identify with or care about (and a few individuals to hate too, not to mention the monstruous creature, which has more nuances and is far more intriguing than at first might appear).

The first part of the novel is mostly about setting up the characters and introducing the background information (equivalent to world building) necessary to fully appreciate later the scale of the threat and the difficulties in navigating Chrysalis. The company and its labs are set in an isolated location and their procedures and features turn it into a complex and effective setting for the action scenes, as eerie and creepy as the gothic mansions of the classic horror genre.

The writing is nimble, the scientific and the security topics are well-researched, the action scenes very visual and gritty, showing the expertise of the author, the pace increases as the infection/invasion advances; there is gore, the creatures… Well, the Cthulhu mention is quite apt. There is humour and there are lighter moments, although towards the end of the novel there is not much letting off and the rhythm ramps up to a mad crescendo.

There are pop culture references and some themes running through the novel (what happened in Argentina?) that will amuse some readers more than others, but I feel they add to the atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the mix of danger and humour, the realism and inside knowledge of how the ex-army security personnel worked and their esprit de corps, and the way the three seemingly disparate protagonists come to know and care for each other. Ah, and there is no explicit love story (there are hints at possible loving feelings between some of the characters but, thankfully, no true or fake romance going on. Hooray!).

The is a sample of the catalogue from the publishers, Not a Pipe Publishing (I love Magritte as well), at the very end of the book, so don’t get too comfortable while you read it, as it will end before you expect it, but the blurbs of the novels made me feel very curious and I’ll have to try to explore it further.

Talking about the ending, yes, it ends with a promise of more adventures and a twist that did not surprise me but I found satisfying. (Oh, and I’ve also read that the author is thinking about writing a short story about what happened in Argentina for her subscribers. I think that’s a great idea and something I was thinking of suggesting as well). I wonder if adding a list of abbreviations or technical terms at the end might assist readers in not missing a single detail, but it is not essential.

In sum, a wild ride, with plenty of thrilling action, scarily credible science, likeable and relatable characters, good doses of humour, in a great setting, and with horrifying and intriguing monsters, who are not, by far, as guilty as the corporate greedy industry behind the plot. I recommend it to lovers of adventures set in a scientific/genetic research environment, especially those who like their monsters to go beyond easy scares. An author to keep an eye on.

Book description

People have always wanted to be stronger, faster, smarter, better. The scientists at Chrysalis Biopharmaceuticals believe they’ve found a virus that will allow them to unlock humanity’s hidden potential. The cost is small. A few lives here and there, but it’s all for the greater good … and the corporate bottom line.

Brilliant and idealistic geneticist, Marius Tenartier, has dedicated his life to battling the world’s worst diseases – from malaria to Ebola, tuberculosis to cancer. When Chrysalis offers Marius the chance to carry on his work with no budget caps, he accepts, no questions asked.

While Marius tackles the most challenging pathogens, Chrysalis secretly uses his work to develop an experimental vaccine intended to artificially evolve the human race. Instead of making people into super humans, it mutates them into terrifying abominations. After Marius is caught in an outbreak, he realizes that Chrysalis has been using him. Worse, they’ve covered up the outbreak.

Bureaucracy, incompetence, and greed threaten civilization and even the human race’s survival. Surrounded by danger and cut off from the outside world, time is running out to contain the virus, and Marius can’t do it alone.

Who can he trust – Chrysalis’ ambitious vice president, the rigid head of security, or the CEO’s fearless daughter?

Can Marius discover the truth about the virus’s origin before it’s too late to prevent a global pandemic?

About the author

M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind.

M.K. Martin

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Unusual #SciFi The Last Feast by Zeb Haradon #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Last Feast by Zeb Haradon

40615088

My review:

I had read a number of reviews of this author’s previous novel, The Usurper King, and although I haven’t read it yet I was intrigued by the subject and the feedback on the quality of his writing, and following a recommendation of his new book by a fellow reviewer, I could not resist.

This book is difficult to categorise and, for me, that is one of its appeals, although it will perhaps put off some genre readers. I won’t rehash the plot as the description is detailed enough and the book is quite short (it is perhaps a bit long for a novella, but it is shorter than most novels). The setting and much of the action would fit into the science-fiction genre. The degree of detail and description of technology and processes is not such that it should put off casual readers (I found the scientific background intriguing although I’m not an expert and cannot comment on how accurate it is), although it might not satisfy hard science-fiction fans.

A number of characters appear in the short novel, but the main character and first-person narrator of the story is Jim. Like Scheherazade, he is doomed to be forever telling stories, although, in his case, it is always the same story, the story, or history, of his (their) origin. Somehow (I won’t go into the details. I’ll leave that for readers to discover), Jim has managed to cheat death and has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although the story he is forever retelling is, at least in appearance, the story of how he ended up in his current situation, through the process of telling the story, we learn about Jim himself. Snippets of his life keep coming up, and these are enmeshed with the history of humanity at large, as he has become, accidentally, the somewhat reluctant chronicler of human civilisation. I am not sure any of the characters are sympathetic

The story —which gets at some of the fundamental questions Philosophy has been studying for centuries— involves a small spaceship crew faced with an impossible situation. What if they were the only beings left alive in the universe and only had access to finite resources in order to survive? (Yes, this sounds familiar). Would they hold on tight to the hope of a possible rescue from outside and risk their survival possibilities to pursue that dream? Or would they try to survive at whatever cost? The book divides the crew into two, the ones who are more realistic and are happy to continue living on their current circumstances, and the ones that refuse to give up the hope for a better but uncertain life. There are members of the crew that seem to cycle from one position to another, and some who keep their cards close to their chests and we don’t know full well what they think. Suicide is high in the book, and the desperation of the characters that choose that way out is credible and easy to understand and empathise with. The narrative takes the characters to the limit and then pushes them beyond it. Ultimately, it is impossible not to read this book and wonder what makes life worth living. Is life itself enough in its own right? Is survival against all odds the best attitude? What is the result of, and the price to pay for, pursuing such a course of action?

I am fascinated by the novel, and particularly by Jim’s character. As he tells the story, it becomes clear that at some point he made a momentous decision. He says he has been on the brink of suicide for hundreds of years, but after something tragic happened (no spoilers), he decided he would keep on living. Although the book has plenty of strange goings on (cannibalism, BDSM sex… which make for a hard read but are not the most graphically detailed and gore examples I have read, by any means) and it shuns conventional morality, this decision and Jim’s motivation behind it are what will keep this book present in my mind, and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time. (Why would anybody put himself or herself through such a thing? How do we deal with loss and grief?)

There are references to literary classics (and the author’s note at the end mentions some of them and also the conception of the project, its development, and its different incarnations), to historical artefacts and works of art, and the distinctive voice of the narrator (a mixture of wit, matter-of-factness and the odd flash of dark humour), the quality of the writing, and the story combine to make it a compelling and disquieting read. After reading this book, I’ve become very intrigued by the author, and I’m curious about his previous novel, as the protagonist of that book was also called Jim. That Jim was quickly becoming old and this one is determined to live forever. I wonder…

I recommend this book to people looking for an exceptional voice and a unique story, who don’t mind being challenged by difficult topics, dark subjects, and stories that don’t fit neatly into a clear genre. If you like to experiment and are looking for something different, I encourage you to give it a go.

Book description

Jim, the only human still alive in the universe, lives his life on a small escape pod orbiting a black hole, where he survives by replicating himself and eating his clones. Before eating one of his duplicates, he entertains his meal by recounting the story of how he got here and how he managed to survive.

It began when he had decided to travel to an interstellar colony where he could sell some museum pieces he owned. En route, the ship he is on gets momentarily caught in the powerful gravity of a black hole and is flung trillions and trillions of years into the future. The passengers find themselves in a time of maximum entropy, where all life is extinct, all the stars have burned out, and there is nothing left in the universe except a black hole and a complete vacuum extending in all directions.

As the original crew of seven is slowly reduced through suicide, murder, and accident, two factions form. One group believes, against all evidence, that somehow, somewhere, there exists intelligent life in this universe that can rescue them from this hell, and they devote their energies to sending out more and more powerful distress calls. The other group simply wants to preserve the ship’s power, so that they can live comfortably in this hopeless universe as long as possible.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS