Sue has been reading This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin
This Much Huxley Knows is Gail Aldwin’s second contemporary novel and is written in first person perspective from the point of view of Huxley, a seven year old boy living in the outskirts of London during the Brexit period. His world revolves around his parents, school, church, swimming and play dates with his friend Ben. He occasionally hears things he shouldn’t when the adults are talking, assuming he is not within earshot, and he often repeats things he has heard at the most inappropriate times and to the wrong people!
Huxley is quirky and likeable with a talent for making longer words into shorter expressions, which entertains him immensely. For example “sensible” becomes “sent-a-ball” but this talent can be wearing for his parents. Sometimes these word games are more apposite than he realizes: Brexit becomes “Breaks It”.
Through his eyes we experience the casual racism often expressed by Brexiteers such as Ben’s grandmother, his fear of bullying, the contemporary political issues and the fear of strangers felt by all parents in this day and age in a charming and engaging manner. I really enjoyed Huxley’s black and white take on the world around him. Sometimes we need to take a step back and see the world through the innocence of a child’s eyes.
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.
Sue has been reading Last Hope For Hire by Matthew Wilcox
Set in Chicago, Last Hope For Hire is the story of a man who is so financially defeated by the American healthcare system that in his forties, and past his prime, he returns to a dangerous yet lucrative life as a mercenary.
His two year old son, Benjamin, is severely epileptic with daily seizures causing him to lose developmental functionality. Benjamin is unable to deal with the slightest of illnesses without hospital treatment and the bills are mounting up.
The main character, his father Allen, was once a highly sought after mercenary known as “Mystic’” due to his ability to leave no trace behind him when on a mission.
He was once college roommates with Eamon Tor, the worlds first trillionaire, who has kept an eye on Allen’s career and who has a job for Allen that would mean an end to all the bills and may even lead to a cure for Benjamin.
Such “offers you can’t refuse” tend to come with a price though, and this one will involve Allen destroying a newly developed cell-editing technology known as “Eden Therapy”, which has been shown to cure cancer and would seem to be the answer to Benjamin’s and therefore Allen’s problems.
Nobel prize winner Tor is asking a lot of Allen:
“Are you asking me to break into wherever this Eden Therapy stuff is and steal it for you? Then you’ll use it to help Benjamin?”
“No,” Eamon responded.
“I’m asking you to destroy it. Then I’ll help Benjamin.”
Allen’s team are keen to sign up for the mission, after spending a little time with Benjamin and seeing some of the problems the family has to surmount on a daily basis. They comprise Daryl, Allen’s ex-partner who originally trained him. Haley, Daryl’s daughter and Allen’s newest partner who is in her twenties. She is a rookie and this will only be her second mission. Haley’s friend Kyle is their remote support specialist, going by his online handle of “Meat Tank“. Their first job will be an intellectual property heist to get them the blueprints of the research facility in Greenland, where the Eden Therapy is being tested, owned by octogenarian Olivia Rusk, recently cured of cancer and now seen kick-boxing on a video feed.
Dr Sloan is the scientist working in the underground Greenland facility. He is not allowed to leave and has been tasked with stopping the side effects to Eden Therapy which seem to send patients into a psychotic rage resulting in multiple deaths.
Tor wants Allen to rescue Dr Sloan and destroy his work, then bring him to work for Tor instead.
There are plenty of exciting action sequences in this book as the team attempts their dangerous mission(s). In fact the story begins in the midst of Haley’s first mission as Allen’s partner and sets the scene nicely for the type of work they do. The story is peppered with hi-tech gadgets: Allen has a personal drone cycle, futuristic (but out of date to Allen) weapons, a data cloning device and somewhat outdated but functional high tech armour.
The slower-paced sections involving Allen and his relationship with his wife and son are full of heart and treated with care and just enough detail to be believable for the reader and for us to understand that the author is experienced in this subject. The social commentary on the dire state of healthcare billing in the US is telling, and probably only relatable to people living in this country, although it may act as an eye-opener to readers from other countries. Just how far would you be prepared to go to pay for necessary healthcare for your family?
The characters are all fully fleshed out and believable. Allen’s wife Kelsey is harried yet tireless in looking after Benjamin; Haley is excited to be on the team yet somewhat nervous about her inexperience. Daryl is concerned for his daughter’s safety, yet proud of her capabilities. Allen is a desperate man driven back to a life he had hoped he left behind for good.
All in all this was an intelligent and enjoyable book and I would recommend it to fans of thrillers with futuristic gadgets and dangerous missions.
Allen’s son is in danger. A rare form of epilepsy is damaging his brain and Allen’s insurance is cutting him off. To cover the costs, Allen returns to being a high-tech mercenary. Not exactly ideal for a father who enjoys carbs far more than stomach crunches. After his first mission back, Allen soothes his wounds before getting a message from Eamon Tor, America’s first trillionaire. Tor tells Allen about Eden Therapy. It treats terrible diseases but can also drive patients insane. Still, it’s exciting news—especially with the offer of complete care for Allen’s son as a reward. But Tor has a surprise. It’s a choice that puts Allen’s conscience, marriage, and abilities to the test, and sends his ragtag team on a dangerous operation halfway around the world.
Creation is a short novella, which details the creation of everything by Norse god Odin, and his brothers Vili and Ve. Its irreverent humour is refreshing and makes for many laugh out loud moments. It was an absolute blast to read!
The three gods are new to the world and to creating things, they are learning as they go along. Tripping over tree roots and one-upping each other in terms of the size of the creations they make. These gods are getting carried away with their newly discovered skills and creating all manner of things just because they can: a tree with needles instead of leaves that throws cone things down onto your head as you pass underneath? Why? Who needs that? Celery? No one appreciates that one. Odin tries to restore some kind of order over the proceedings and gets increasingly frustrated!
Determined to do better than his brother’s invention of celery to put an end to his hunger, Odin invents a cow: “You can drink from it.” he pronounces much to the cow’s consternation. When he adds that you can wrap it’s skin around you to keep warm and eat what’s inside, the cow’s outrage increases.
Odin philosophizes about what makes a thing alive and whether it is OK to eat such things. Vili continues making pretty things and Ve makes things that cause pain and destruction. Chaos ensues until a tragedy occurs and gives the gods pause. Then Odin turns introspective while considering that actions have consequences – even those of the gods…
Bjørn Larssen is a very talented comedic writer. His timing is perfect and the hilarity flows so well that you can read this novella in one sitting. This is the funniest book I’ve read for a long time and belongs on the shelves with Pratchett and Adams. If you are a fan of surreal, absurd humour you will love it! I cannot wait to read the next installment in this series.
In the beginning there was confusion.
Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Your brothers keep creating mosquitoes and celery and other, more threatening weapons. What can your ultimate answer be – the one that will make you THE All-Father and them, at best, the All-Those-Uncles-We-Don’t-Talk-About?
Sue has been reading The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards
This book was a lot of fun to read. Aimed at YA/Middle grade readers, The Ascension Machine starts off in a space station in deep space, filled with interesting alien species such as the Welatak:
“The family pod of Welatak that sat near the toilets weren’t looking at me at all. The prime of the pod was playing a game that made the podlings clack with laughter, while the other adult in the group fiddled with one of the podling’s saline suits. They needed their suits to keep saltwater on their skin; Welatak dried out quickly in oxygen.”
The many different alien species at the transport hub brought to mind the scene in the bar in Star Wars: A New Hope, where we see all the different aliens – that scene was always fascinating to me and I imagine young readers will be equally captivated by the intriguing and unusual species described here.
We are introduced to our unnamed teenaged main character, who begins to tell us his story from first person perspective. He has lived aboard space stations for most of his young life, scamming travelers to make a little money here and there, without really thinking too much about the morals or consequences of his actions. Over the course of the novel, thankfully, this all changes, and he begins to see the error of his old ways as a grifter.
Searching for a lookalike to take over his responsibilities, while he goes off on some unidentified escapade, offensively rich Mirabor Gravane runs into our shady main character on the space station, running from his latest mark. Persuaded to take on the job, against his better judgement and for no small fee, our hero decides to call himself ‘Grey’ for short and reluctantly boards the ship for which Gravane handed over his first class ticket, without knowing what is in store at his destination. Another first class passenger, a somewhat scary looking large green alien of the Brontom variety, known as Seventhirtyfour turns out to have an enthusiastic and upbeat personality and quickly takes Grey under his four arms, eagerly showing him the commercial for the Justice Academy they are both heading towards – a college for would-be superheroes. The commercial makes it clear that you do not need superpowers to become a superhero – being true to yourself and having the right mindset will get you a long way on the path towards your goal and the courses on offer will build on these character traits:
“At the Justice Academy, we will equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs. Self-defence! Clue Analysis! Parkour! Rocket-Grapnel Maintenance! Rescueology!” Rescueology? “But we will also teach the other side of being a superhero.” And now there was a flurry of more studious, earnest learning scenes. “We have award-winning classes in marketing and public relations, costume design, and even philosophy, morals and ethics.”
In this way the Justice Academy is more inclusive than other similar schools such as Professor X’s Xavier Institute in the X-Men franchise.
The group of diverse friends Grey makes at the Justice Academy become his found family and they support each other in any way possible. In addition to the effusive Seventhirtyfour, they comprise Pilvi, a female human farmer and plant expert; Gadget Dude, a tech genius; reptilian female Dez; and winged Avrim. Seventhirtyfour was my favourite of the bunch, due to his unwavering positivity, friendliness and enthusiasm. Indeed at one point he is described as “a wall of green enthusiasm”. He is the glue that holds the group together.
The friends soon form a team for the inventive school sport of PowerBall and quickly learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Grey makes full use of his problem-solving skills, honed when running from his targets onboard space stations and now given full rein. These strengths and weaknesses translate well into the real world and when they are sent on a mission by Gravane’s mother they find themselves face to face with notorious gangs on a distant planet named Bantus, and make use of everything they have learned so far at the Justice Academy as well as their own natural skills to save the victims of these gangs. Hanging around with the morally upstanding Seventhirtyfour has already had a positive effect on Grey – he is no longer simply out for himself, he cannot ignore a mugging and also feels bad about his previous thievery. He acts as a spy rather than superhero and foils the gang leaders on Bantus. Thrown into the situation at short notice, Grey has been unable to decide on an appropriate superhero name:
““Who are you?” he asked. “I’m the Grey…” Accountant? Ghost? Avenger? None of them sounded right. “The Grey?” he repeated. Great, now my superhero name was the same as my assumed secret identity…”
Grey is brave, if also reckless, and puts his friends in harm’s way again and again, never seeming to learn from his mistakes.
The pace of this book is fast with a chase right at the beginning and continuing in this vein with exciting adventures and escapades: chases, gang fights and action sequences involving superheroes (both with and without powers and tech gadgets), spying, criminology and detective work, a kidnap plot, an evil and possibly insane enhanced arch-villain with an army full of alien henchmen, a thrilling escape through a cave system and since they are young adults at college, there is even some social and emotional awkwardness between Grey and a girl called Sky Diamond.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good coming of age, action-packed school story with superheroes, aliens and a main character whose personality develops for the better and matures through his story arc. I loved how this book is filled with tongue in cheek humour and positive messages.
Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero?
Sue has been reading The Last Tiger by Anthony Lavisher
Following on the heels of the Covid19 pandemic, a feline ‘flu has been raging and claiming the lives of millions of domestic and big cats around the globe. It is believed that tigers are now extinct, but imagine if one had survived? How much money would that be worth to anyone who could lay claim to it?
Set in the near present, the action begins as Jon Galnia, a multi-billionaire nefarious business tycoon and Mafia Don, is on his private jet, about to crash over India, since its engines have failed due to suspected sabotage.
Shortly thereafter Jon finds himself stranded in the Indian jungle. His underhanded business dealings have made him enemies, and he suspects the Russians he had just been visiting are behind this attempt at his life. Or perhaps it could be one of the rival mafia families who would like him out of the way. He has plenty of time to ponder who might want him dead as he fights his way through the jungle in his inappropriate expensive clothing and shoes.
The prose of this novel reads very smoothly as the jungle scene is set. There is a wealth of descriptive detail as Jon makes his way through the jungle:
Coloured birds swooped through the jungle, screeching warnings and flashing their long tails as they glided away from him. There were other sounds, too, and fleeting glimpses of agile, long-tailed and white-furred monkeys that leapt through the tree canopy around him and fell silent as he passed them by, watching curiously, as if to say ‘What are you doing here, pale face?’
Jon realises he must put aside thoughts of revenge for the time being and concentrate on his survival. Like most mafiosos, he is not a very likeable person. He is worried more about the compensation he will need to pay the widow of his dead co-pilot than whether anyone else survived, and he admits to himself that he barely ever thanks anyone. His billions have been accumulated by dishonest means.
The pilot Robert Williams has also survived as has Sara Gonzalez, the flight attendant. They are captured and held against their will by a group of violent mercenaries who they assume are searching for their employer, Jon.
Meanwhile a day later Jon falls down a steep jungle slope towards a stream, eager to finally drink and finds himself in the vicinity of a tiger. Probably the last tiger on Earth due to the deadly virus, which was passed onto felines by birds infected by avian flu:
Jon blinked, shaking the sun from his eyes. On the cusp of the jungle, beyond the creek, past the rocks and boulders, he could see the beast, laying in the shade, watching him with huge orbs of liquid amber.
The tiger’s foot is caught in a snare and he frees it but in doing so he is caught on camera.
There is more to this situation than meets the eye and Lavisher shows his knowledge of the workings of Indian politics as we delve deeper into the background of the tiger’s planned capture and the no fly zone over the Madhya Pradesh. First secretary Aasim Rana has secrets he wants to remain hidden. Galnia may well have unwittingly just set the tiger among the pigeons, and messed up the Prime Minister of India’s best laid plans.
Jon the Don and the tiger are not the only predators in the jungle and not the most dangerous ones either. Someone is hunting both him and the tiger and if either of them gets caught it will not end well for them. The author builds the sense of apprehension expertly as Jon picks his way through the jungle looking for civilization, not knowing who is on his trail. Could it be people working for those who sabotaged his jet? Or something totally unrelated? Poachers angry that he freed their prize? The corrupt Indian government, unhappy to have interlopers in their cherished wildlife reserve? After finding signs of violence and murder, Jon is certain it is not a rescue party responding to the crash of his plane.
The plot thickens with the introduction of a large cast of characters, and the tension rises as we discover more about the political machinations driving this intriguing story. There are some brutally violent scenes to be aware of for readers who are faint of heart, but they are not gratuitous when in the context of a story concerning kidnap and starring mercenaries and a Mafia Don. If you are OK with such things then I would definitely recommend reading this thriller with its highly original premise.
Jon Galnia is a husband, a father, a Mafia Don, a man who believes that Fate and Destiny are two sides of the same fickle coin. Rich beyond his wildest dreams, his inherited empire expands beyond America, far beyond the streets of his bloody playground, currently far beyond the reach of the authorities desperate to pin even a traffic violation on him.
Fate is about to intervene.
Plucked from the sky by those who hate him, or perhaps by those who want what he has, Jon’s private jet crashes in central India, sabotaged by fate, though, perhaps, guided by destiny. Unbeknownst to him, Jon is about to play a daring hand in an even bigger power struggle, one that will shock the world and, perhaps more importantly, the self-centred, ruthless Don.
A tale of corruption, of adventure and heroism, The Last Tiger is a thrilling tale of one man’s quest for survival and his uncertain hand on the pages of history.
Sue has been reading In the Shadow of Ruin by Tony Debajo
In the Shadow of Ruin, the first book in The Fractured Kingdom series, is a fascinating insight into Nigerian culture, history and folklore.
A war is raging between King Jide and his half brother, prince Olise in Yoruba, West Africa.
“There comes a time when every man must stand and fight, discarding all his fears and embracing his fate.”
This novel is written from multiple points of view and each one is engaging and intriguing. There are also many tribes and names to get used to – which I found a little confusing. There is a useful list of the tribes and characters and a glossary at the beginning of the book for the unfamiliar African terms, but I find when I’m reading a digital copy of a book I tend not to refer back to these as often as I might with a print version.
We learn through flashbacks that Jide’s mother, Bunmi, died soon after his birth after making a pact with the river goddess who demanded a life for a life. Following her death King Adeosi hastily married Ekaete who is known to practice occult black magic, known as juju. King Adeosi’s health declined in conjunction with the growth of Ekaete’s baby. She didn’t leave his side until he passed away, which suggests she was poisoning him.
In the present her son, Olise, is now at war with King Jide and Ekaete is using all kinds of black magic to help his cause. Olise, via his mother’s counsel, has taken captive the children of the various tribal leaders in order to force them onto his side in the war. Jide, however, is a respected and merciful king.
“Olise’s birth would henceforth be attributed to the single moment the destiny of the tribes was irrefutably altered.”
Selfish Toju, wise Niran and the youngest Enitan, are King Jide’s three sons and each are written with a distinctly different personality. They managed to escape the palace while Olise’s army sacked their capital city of Ile-Ife. The two eldest are fleeing together at first, later splitting up, along with their blood guards, having seen their mother dying in the palace. They are driven by vengeance for their Mother’s death and a need to keep their bloodline alive and gain followers to take on their uncle Olise. The youngest son, Enitan is traveling in a different direction, towards his mother’s family, unaware that his father and brothers are still alive.
Tony Debajo has a lovely writing style with delightful turns of phrase:
“he looked at his peers hoping that someone would speak up for him, but they all seemed extremely interested in anything else in the room; a lizard scurrying across the floor, a fly buzzing lazily in the room, anything but Soji.”
“The boy took his seat at one side of the fire, his men arrayed about him like the spikes on a porcupine’s back, all bristling with spears.”
When Toju arrives at the lands of the Hausa, the northern horse lords, we are treated to some beautiful descriptions of the palace and the local architecture and the impressive engineering feats of this people. The worldbuilding in this novel is extremely well done and makes for an easy to imagine landscape and immersive experience.
The pace of this novel flows fairly steadily with increases during the fight sequences. I found it difficult to put down and really enjoyed all the lore and back stories that added colour to the misery and determination of the battle scenes. I would recommend it to anyone intrigued by African lore and culture, and the ever present long-feared hint of black magic in the background:
“Others suggested that if you took a cane to a large banana tree in the dead of night during a full moon, witches would spew from the tree and howl into the night skies like birds released from a cage, taking your sight along with them, and henceforth you would live a life of sickness and suffering.”
I would also recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well-written story about the conflict of good vs evil.
King Jide Adelani has ruled the lands of the Yoruba in West Africa for many peaceful years, but now his kingdom is in turmoil and the cold grasp of death’s embrace is closing in around everything he holds dear.
Jide spent years garnering the respect and loyalty of the tribes in the hopes of uniting them into one cohesive empire when his half-brother, Prince Olise, returns from banishment to claim the throne as his own.
The offspring of a union between the late King Adeosi and the evil enchantress Ekaete, the bitter Olise has devoted the last decade to one purpose; to seize the throne and rule the kingdom. If he fails, he risks his name being erased from the history of the tribes.
With the support of his mother, a powerful witch whose name is whispered in fear across the lands of the tribes, the outcast Olise now seems unstoppable in achieving his goal.
Facing overwhelming military might and dark forces that he cannot comprehend, Jide must either choose to ignore the warnings of the gods, and seek help from those who also practice dark arts; or risk losing his kingdom.
Sue has been reading Kings And Queens by J.N. Eagles
Kings and Queens is a fantastic fantasy poem, set in the kingdom of Benvolio and told exclusively from the point of view of the queen. We don’t learn the names of any of the characters.
It is an amusing rhyming poem about the life of a young queen who is mostly ignored by her power-hungry, unfaithful husband and how she reacts when her realm is beset by a dragon, due to the King’s greed:
“The beast had red scales And sharp nails. Its claws dug in the ground. The knights were spellbound. And as it crept nearby, They shook at the dragon’s cry”
A knight comes to the castle and the queen falls in love with him and he reciprocates her love. The king has been cruel and neglectful to the queen, but when he hears rumors of their love from the nosy ladies-in-waiting, he becomes jealous, sending the knight out to fight the dragon.
The knight is compassionate and cannot kill the dragon, but instead he rides it back to the castle, where he presents it to the queen. She hopes that now she is the owner of a dragon this might make the court listen to her, since she has had precious little luck at making her voice heard at court so far. She had expected to be seen as an equal to the king, but that has been far from the case. She is frustrated that being queen is not enough to make her desires heard. Instead the king locks her up in a tower like a damsel in distress.
The dark queen attacks their land in retaliation for the loss of her husband, by the dragon, so the queen needs to find the courage to help defend her kingdom and eventually she manages, realising that she no longer needs a protector and can take care of herself, despite what the king has made her believe. She rides off to battle on her dragon, but unfortunately. tragedy strikes during the battle.
The young queen’s character has developed throughout the poem and she has become a much stronger person, able to command respect and beat her foes.
The poem is a quick but very enjoyable read and I look forward to hearing more from this author. I imagine an audio version would probably sound like a rap and I would quite like to hear that! In fact I can also imagine parents reading it out to their children like a rap. The poem is suitable for all ages.
Kings and Queens is a coming of age poetry book. The story follows a young queen as she struggles to find herself while dealing with the king’s rule, the fire-breathing dragon, and the evil queen.
Sue has been reading The Sum Of Our Sorrows by Lisette Brodey
This book is an emotional roller coaster ride. It begins at the funeral of a mother of three, who died in a horrific car crash, while her middle child, Charlotte, watched, and continues relentlessly as her family tries to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout caused by this tragedy.
Lily, the eldest daughter and main character of this book, has her life turned upside down almost immediately by her stern, unlikeable father announcing that she must take over both running the household and raising her two younger sisters, while forgoing her job at the diner with her friends and also her place at design school in LA in the Fall. Try as I might to forgive the widowed father’s stern demeanor and cold manner towards his girls I found him completely unlikeable and the way he disregarded his grieving eldest child’s needs unforgivable.
I enjoyed the adorable sisterly dynamic between the three girls, particularly the close bond between Lily and her youngest sister Willow. The antagonism between the middle child, Charlotte and her replacement caregiver, Lily was frustrating and I kept yelling at my Kindle that the whole family needed grief counseling!!
The youngest daughter, Willow does seem to be written much older than twelve. I have a twelve year old son and most communication consists of grunts and declarations of hunger!!
I also think most nineteen year olds are much more self-centered than poor put-upon, modern day Cinderella, Lily. However mild mannered she might be I think she would have railed against her father’s decisions much more and something would have given sooner than it actually did. Lily is also far too insightful for her years. There is a conversation after a party, where she talks like she has so much life and relationship experience to draw from.
Charlotte’s nightmare helps Lily understand exactly how traumatized Charlotte is:
“Charlotte opened her eyes, her tear-streaked face and look of absolute terror hitting Lily in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to fully grasp before. In that moment, Lily was there in the car during the tragic moment that changed her family’s lives forever. She saw her mother’s light go out in as little time as it took to scream her name. “
None of the characters in this book have an easy ride, there is so much pain and suffering, whether caused by events in the story or in the characters’ pasts. Dak, who Lily becomes reacquainted with in Malibu, has some insight into how to keep going when consumed by tragedy:
“And then I thought about the waves … they drew me here too. Look at how they break … but see how they gather their strength and form again … only to keep breaking … over and over again? This is exactly what life makes us do if we want to keep going. We have to learn how to break.”
The second half of the book moves away from the tragic events of the first and we meet a larger than life waitress called Bonnie, short for Bonstance Constance Universe. She is quite a character. Her turn of phrase is unique and hysterical.
The story also develops into a love story at this point and I found myself relieved for Lily that she was finally catching a break!
There are themes in this story which could act as triggers for certain readers. That is all I am prepared to say without “spoiling” anything!
I enjoyed The Sum of Our Sorrows and read it fairly quickly. I did feel that all the loose ends got tied together a bit too nicely in a bow at the end – but I was willing to suspend my disbelief in light of all the separate tragedies these poor people had suffered!
In an idyllic suburb in Northern California, tragedy strikes the Sheppard family when Abby, the mother of three daughters and wife to Dalton, is killed in a car accident. Charlotte, the middle daughter, is in the car with her mother and survives without physical injury but remains deeply scarred on the inside.
Dalton tells Lily, his eldest daughter, that she must sacrifice long-awaited college plans and put her life on hold to take care of her sisters. Lily is torn between her devotion to family and an increasing need to find her place in the world — but how can she leave, knowing her family may crumble?
Will her presence eventually cause more problems than it resolves?
The Sum of our Sorrows reveals how the aftermath of a family tragedy can precipitate sorrows never imagined.
It is a tale of grief, hope, healing, coming-of-age, friendship, and survival. It is also a love story of two broken souls living through pain in search of better days and the renewal of one’s spirit.
Sue has been reading The Dead Boxes Archive by John Leonard
The seven stories included in this anthology of the macabre are:
A Plague of Pages
The Screaming Mike Hawkins Story
These are clever and interesting stories filled with wit and intelligence. I enjoyed the mentions of the Wombles and the New Musical Express and references to other popular culture peppered throughout the stories, including songs by Snow Patrol & Nelly Furtado. These references acted as a kind of light relief amidst the delectably disgusting and relentlessly repulsive images that kept getting put in my head by John F. Leonard’s ghastly descriptions of fearful, revolting episodes and horrific circumstances. Episodes and circumstances brought about by a character’s possession of one of the Dead Boxes of the title.
Themes within these stories include murder, infidelity, poisoning, and plenty of twisted madness. The stories are populated by unpalatable people made fearsome and horrific by the events of their lives. For example, in Doggem, childhood rejection of uncaring parents and personal greed leads to murderous, poisoning tendencies. Infidelity and double crossing by spouses and business partners lead to murder in Call Drops and A Plague of Pages.
The Dead Boxes Archive is a book full of victims. Victims of spousal infidelity, parental hatred, financial double crossing, suicide, being on the wrong bus or at the wrong football stadium at the wrong time. In most cases these victims of life and society turn the tables and make murder victims of their oppressors. We could ask if these murder victims therefore bring their fates upon themselves – but no one deserves such horrific fates as those dreamed up in these gruesome stories.
Many of these despicable characters have in common their lack of respect for human life:
“On the whole, humankind were a pretty motley crew. Loathsome, grubby creatures who invariably descended to the lowest level and wallowed in the filth they found there.”
I particularly enjoyed the tongue in cheek wit from a writer of horror:
“Some things didn’t bear contemplating, there was already enough horror in the world without inventing more.”
I also enjoyed spotting the connections between the stories. The geographical locations of Bledbrooke and the eerie wooded ‘beauty spot’ of Cenet Chase are mentioned multiple times throughout the collection. The Salton Marsh antique shop was mentioned in Call Drops and then echoed in A Plague of Pages.
Noel Bayley the private detective is run over and killed in Call Drops and later referred to in A Plague of Pages to name just a few.
My favourite story in the collection was Night Service in which a hapless young man and his new girlfriend take the night bus back to her place but the journey quickly becomes even more terrifying than the night bus journeys I remember taking from Trafalgar Square in the early 90s.
All in all I enjoyed my foray into the world of the Dead Boxes. Heaven forbid any of us should do anything to cross someone in possession of one of these accursed items – or get on the wrong bus, for that matter!
The Dead Boxes Archive is a chilling collection of short horror stories and horror novellas. Together for the first time in one volume, seven tales from the critically acclaimed Dead Boxes series.
Dead Boxes are scary things. Wonderful and dreadful secrets hiding themselves in plain view. On the surface, they often appear to be ordinary, everyday objects. Items which are easily overlooked at first glance. Perhaps that’s just as well because the Dead Boxes are as far from ordinary and everyday as you can get. They hold miracle and mystery, horror and salvation, answers to questions best not asked and directions to places better left unfound.
This collection offers an insight into some of these delightfully eerie articles. A stunning omnibus of old school inspired horror, the brooding and ominous variety. Not to say that there isn’t a little gore and gruesome in the mix. But one of the beauties of horror is that it comes in many forms. Blood and guts don’t need to be stars of the show for a story to be dark and disturbing. Something that will stay with you long after the reading is done.
Sue has been reading The Chef Who Made Ionions Cry by Chilli Kippen
The Chef Who Made Onions Cry: A Goldfarb Adventure is a fun-filled story set onboard a ‘wellness’ cruise with a cast of wonderfully quirky characters. It is the second in a series about Pushkin Goldfarb, a professional gambler from New York, but it is not necessary to have read the first book in order to enjoy this one.
We are introduced to each character chapter by chapter and each one seems more unusual than the last. The chapters are all written in third person POV, occasionally even from the point of view of the pig and also from a mischievous albatross that also travels with the ship.
Chef Armand the titular chef, hails from Marseilles, where he lives alone with only his beloved pet truffle-hunting pig for company. Due to a misunderstanding with the local imam he fears for the life of his pig, which he antagonistically named ‘Arafat’ and decides to bring her on the cruise with him. This is much to the disgust of the other kitchen staff, since this means there is a pig in the galley most of the time while they are preparing food.
We are introduced to ex-psychiatrist turned assassin Major Barbara Cock who has been retained by a mysterious island-dwelling man called Mr Rufus whose spouse, Mrs Rufus just happens to be a dog. He wants Major Cock to kill the mysterious Sheikh Hasim.
“A stocky woman severely dressed but not unattractive with shoulders of a weightlifter.”
Sheikh Hasim travels with his double who he claims to need for security purposes, due to death threats.
“At the Captain’s table, the Saudi reclined, like a pile of freshly washed laundry next to Captain Svensen”
Animal rights groups are threatening the sheikh’s fast food chain due to the unethical manner in which his sheep are transported. It is this animal cruelty which has led to Mr Rufus hiring the assassin.
Gold digger Pamela Lawson-Groves III is also onboard, searching for her next husband and she sets her sights on the sheikh. Unbeknownst to her all of her romantic dealings with him are actually with his double, a penniless out-of-work actor whose desperate state of unemployment led him to undertake plastic surgery in order to take on the role of the sheikh’s double.
We also meet Pushkin Goldfarb, who is there to win big at Blackjack. The previous year (in the previous book in this series) he stole away both one of the sheikh’s wives and also a large amount of his money during a game of Blackjack on a cruise. Goldfarb encounters a bunch of elderly bridge players onboard and decides to teach Blackjack so that he can relieve them of their retirement funds.
Mahmoud is a member of the kitchen staff on the ship and is the nephew of the imam in Marseilles, who has declared a fatwa on the chef’s pig. When Mahmoud finds favour with the chef and is made sous-chef he is faced with a difficult choice – obeying his uncle by carrying out the fatwa and killing the pig he has grown fond of, or a possible glittering career working alongside the pig’s owner.
Mahmoud’s unfriendly uncle the imam has persuaded a congregant, Ahmed to also take a position on board the ship in order to ensure Mahmoud gets rid of his pig nemesis, thus completing the fatwa during the cruise.
The story unfolds with many opportunities for farcical humour. A strawberry birthmark on the left buttock of the sheikh’s double, with the words ‘lick don’t bite’ tattooed below it is the only difference between them. So how is Major Barbara Cock going to find out which sheikh has it? She actually comes up with a good plan but is foiled by the truffle-hunting pig who thinks the double’s discarded underpants smell like a truffle and follows her very sensitive nose into their cabin.
This was a delightfully amusing story, full of unexpected twists and turns. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to be entertained by a quirky cast of entertaining cariacatures and stereotypes and the nonsensical events they get wrapped up in.
An assortment of recipes made using truffles are included at the end of book.
I will be on the lookout for any subsequent ‘Goldfarb Adventures’ and will be recommending this one to family and friends.
As on all cruise ships, the most important person on board the Pacific Belle, apart from the Captain is the Master Chef. It is the quality and yes indeed the quantity of food that makes or breaks a cruise.
The reader is introduced to Master Chef Armand Barrique – twice Michelin starred – dreamt recipes, who is not only a Master Chef but also a man of sensitivity and devoted to his trainee expert truffle-hunter pig. Chef is also central to the plot and his planning and delivery of the spectacular Versailles dinner is a highlight, not only for the cruise guests, but also for the reader.
Our old friend Alexander Pushkin Goldfarb continues his run of luck in the ship’s casino as he observes the foibles of his fellow passengers while new characters such as Major Barbara Cock, a retired army psychiatrist and now assassin for hire, introduce elements of intrigue and revenge and somewhat paradoxically humour and sympathy for her cause.
As in her previous novel, as the plot twists and turns in Ms Kippen’s hilarious and deliberately absurd trademark style, she tackles another important social issue and delivers a powerful blow to the proponents of Live Animal Transportation. The marked contrast of sober descriptions of this cruel practice brings home the message that it must be stopped! Now!