Monday, 29 February 2016

And Yet... by Christopher Hitchens

I would like to start with a thank you to the kind people at Simon & Schuster for letting me read an Advance Readers Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

And Yet... is a collection of essays written by Christopher Hitchens, one of the most irascible journalists the modern world has seen. He comes across in these pieces as being very blunt and to the point, always getting his opinion in, however unkind it can be. However, this can be hilarious at times.

My favourite essays were actually about him. He wrote them for Vanity Fair, and they are actually quite personal, but unbelievably funny...especially the part about the back, sack and crack! I was almost in tears from laughing so hard!

This was my first foray into the world of Hitchens. I loved his style of writing and, I must confess, I am jealous of his book reviews. He is so deeply honest in his opinion of what he reads and he truly says what he loved and hated about what he read. I will read more of his work in the future, that's for certain!

 So, my conclusion. One word...phenomenal!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - wonderful!


Thursday, 25 February 2016

Poseidon's Wake by Alastair Reynolds

This advance readers copy was approved for me by the publisher Ace through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks!

Another new author for me...and another one that I am very glad to have read. I had ummed and ahhed about reading Alastair Reynolds for a long time, and I kept deciding not to read him "right now", but when this book came up on NetGalley, I thought to myself "why not?". The description was interesting. When I saw that it was the third book in a trilogy I was hesitant, but that description promised that the book was stand-alone. So, I gave it a shot.

I was not to be disappointed. I immediately found the book to be incredibly readable. Reynolds writing style is easy to follow without being too simple, the plot built up at just the right pace, the characters were everything I expected, and more. There were some minor faults, but they are just some personal points and not worth going into any detail about because they took nothing away from this marvellous story.

This is not a small book. According to GoodReads, it is around 600 pages, which is quite a lengthy book to introduce yourself to a new writer, but the pace of the plot makes it seem much smaller and there is surely scope for a follow-up in this sci-fi universe, with or without the same characters.

The Akinya family history seems very complex. Maybe that is because I haven't read the two previous books in the series, I'm not sure. When it talked about three people originally being one person, I got a little confused, especially with all the relations later in the family tree, but so did the characters. It's as if Reynolds knew what would confuse his readers and tried to show that it wasn't just us poor mortals who got lost in it!

I would like to read more of Reynolds' books, starting with the rest of this series, although finding them in Moscow is a little tricky. One day, I will find them and I will read them...and I look forward to that day.

Star rating: 4 from 5 - clever, easy to read sci-fi.


Friday, 19 February 2016

Skin Like Silver by Chris Nickson

Huge thanks go to NetGalley and Severn House Publishing for granting me the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Several years ago, I spent my GAP year living and working in Leeds. It is a city I enjoyed being in and have visited it a few times since. When I found this book on NetGalley and saw it was based in that wonderful, Yorkshire city, I felt obliged to request it. And I am very glad that I did!

Chris Nickson has taken us back to 1891 in Skin Like Silver. It is the third book in the Tom Harper Investigates series, which is well worth a read. The story describes a group of policemen and investigators as they try to solve several crimes al at once...the discovery of a dead baby at the post office and the murder of a woman at the new railway station to name but two. The plot flows quite nicely from one event to another, and the tension is increased by good atmospheric writing, making good use of the typical Yorkshire weather.

I felt quite close to the main character, Inspector Tom Harper. He is a man with a very politically minded young wife, and all the problems of his job, combined with his failing hearing. He is not perfect, as a person, but who is?! The other main characters are also very likeable, and I spent the whole book thinking "Don't die!, Don't die!".

All in all, a good detective novel which is well worth reading. I found myself imaging the places I knew from my past there as I read.

Star rating: 4 from 5

Skin Like Silver: A Tom Harper Victorian Police Procedural

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Last year, my wife read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and I also became an atheist. She advised me to read this book then, but I delayed and delayed, putting off what I thought would be quite a challenging book to read. I was wrong.

The feeling I got when reading it was one of shock, surprise at people's sheer stupidity (the "science" teacher at the UK faith school, for example), and also I gained a much greater understanding of my place in the universe. It certainly is not an aggressive argument without evidence, as a lot of believers think, but a well thought out critical essay, one half of a debate, almost, full of evidence to support Mr Dawkins' point of view. And it was also really quite easy to read.

Some of Richard's arguments, I admit I found difficult to fully grasp. I am not a scientist, I do not completely understand the bio-mechanics of our planet. However, the general point was made very clear. The supporting quotes were often very useful, even the religious quotes. The section about children was incredibly interesting, especially the part about academy schools in Britain who teach, fundamentally, creationism. I got quite angry about it, and even writing this I can feel it burning inside of me.

I would recommend this book to anybody who is prepared to look at the evidence in front of them, whatever their beliefs, especially to people who were brought up in a religious family but are not sure what to believe themselves. The book, for these people, must surely help them to open their eyes and to finally believe the truth. I am proud to stand up, hold my head high and say I AM AN ATHEIST.

I would be interested to know your thoughts about this subject, whether you are religious or not, especially if you have read this book or are thinking about doing so. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Star rating: 4 from 5 - enlightening!


Saturday, 13 February 2016

Typewriter in the Sky by L. Ron Hubbard

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Another new writer for me. L. Ron Hubbard has been floating in my periphery for years, but I had never picked him up and tried him out. When the chance came to read him, I decided the time was right, so I dived head first into the unknown with Typewriter in the Sky...

Oh dear...I didn't enjoy the story very much, although it did have it's good moments. Admittedly, the pace of the story was electric - I read it very quickly as a result - but I got bored quite easily with it. The book tells the story of Mike de Wolf, a musician trying to make his name. He is friends with a writer, who we see very little of in the story, but when they have a disagreement, the writer makes Mike the villain in his new novel...and he ALWAYS kills his villains! Make, realising that he is stuck in this bad novel, tries everything in his power to change the plot to keep himself alive for as long as possible. On paper, it sounds very interesting, but it didn't feel that way to me.

On the positive side, I did enjoy Hubbard's writing style. It made the story flow, and helped to improve the rating. The character of Mike is well thought-out as well, despite the bad story. It has made me more interested in reading more by Hubbard, but I think I will leave it for a while! Another positive was the introduction by Kevin. J. Anderson, famous for his Star Wars novels. This was a good addition to the book as it showed his thoughts on the book as well, his positive views.

Star rating: 3 from 5 - a bad story well written!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick Volume 2 by Philip K Dick

I was given an advance readers copy of this book through Net Galley by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I'd only read one book by Philip K Dick before, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. I remember enjoying that so when the opportunity to read some of his early short stories, I jumped at the chance.

This collection of short stories were all written in the space of a year in the mid 1950s. They are very much a mixed bunch, and the only connection between them in this anthology is when they were first published.

I can't say that I loved this collection. Some of the stories were really fantastic and swept me off my feet, as I would expect from well written sci-fi, but others really had to drag me through to the other end. I guess that is a problem with all short story collections because they have to appeal to a lot of different people to hit the biggest audience possible.

Very much on a positive note, I got the same vibe from the differences in styles used as those of H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman, and I would recommend them for people who enjoy both of these writers shorter works. Also, the morals in the stories are well defined, and it is clear that Dick knew how to write this kind of fiction more.

My favourite story was called The Adjustment Team, which was the inspiration behind the movie The Adjustment Bureau. Having never seen the movie, this story really was quite interesting for me. My least favourite was a long story called Upon the Dull Earth. I'm sorry to say that DULL was the right word to describe it! Not my cup of tea at all!

Overall, I did enjoy reading the collection, but it is nothing to write home about.

Star rating: 3 from 5 - some good, some bad

Monday, 8 February 2016

Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler

I received an advance readers copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wow! This was brilliant to read! I loved every twist and turn, every little detail that this carefully plotted mystery threw at me. Having read only some Bryant & May short stories before, I was eager to see what Christopher Fowler does with them in the longer form, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The failing Peculiar Crimes Unit has a huge challenge on it's hands. Senior detective Bryant is suffering from memory loss and hallucinations, while the rest of the team comes under investigation as to it's effectiveness in his absence. At the same time, a challenging case appears when a young woman is found drowned, chained to a ring at Tower Beach, near Tower Bridge. They have this case to solve and clear their reputation to save their careers. The plot flows easily from each twist to the next, and considering the complex nature of this wonderful story that cannot be easy! The writing is very colourful, and you can really imagine yourself in modern day London as you read.

All that is great, but it wouldn't be complete without the bizarre range of characters on offer. Each has his or her own clearly defined life, and each is worth a mention but, for me, the star of the story is Arthur Bryant. He is old-fashioned, bad with technology, clearly he needs clinical help...and yet, he is unbelievably endearing. It is something I noticed in the short stories as well. But the thing I love about Bryant is his sheer bloody-mindedness. He doesn't care if he bends a few laws here and there to get results. Also, he is just so bloody funny!

I'm planning to go to the beginning of this series in future and read all of the books so I can follow the characters development throughout. This book is so brilliant, I don't have enough stars to give it what it deserves!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - because I can't go higher!

Strange Tide (Bryant & May, #13)

Friday, 5 February 2016

Death in the Valley of Shadows by Deryn Lake

I received an advance readers copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

It's always interesting when you pick up a book by an author you have never heard of. This was definitely the case with this murder mystery. I found out that there are a few more books about John Rawlings, the main character, already. I must also admit that I wasn't sure when I picked this up whether or not I would enjoy it as much as several of the other murder mysteries that I've read in the last 12 months or so. I was in for a really pleasant surprise.

The main character, as I have already mentioned, is John Rawlings. He is an apothecary in London, where he lives with his wife and the staff. The book starts off in an intriguing manner - a man enters his shop, seemingly terrified. He explains to John that he fears for his life and asks to see him privately to deliver some papers. And here, the story really begins.

Death comes knocking, not once, but several times in this gripping tale, based in the 19th century, based on what I could understand from the clues in the story. The setting, characters and stye f this novel are a great match. I especially liked John because he is quite curageous, although I didn't like that he put his hobby, basically, ahead of his family...even if he didn't enjoy doing so.

All in all, a lovely read, with a plot full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way to the end. Go on, give it a try!

Star rating: 4 from 5: fiendishly good!